Thursday, February 24, 2005

A Trial Worth Covering

Wednesday's Christian Science Monitor reports that some of the most vicious mass murderers of the late 20th century will soon be facing justice:

War-crimes trials for Saddam Hussein and 11 of his Baathist Party cohorts, accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations, will begin within the next two to four weeks, according to a US government official who works with the Iraqis.


The first to sit in the dock is likely to be Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali," for the role he played in the chemical weapons attacks that killed as many as 100,000 Kurds in northern Iraq in 1988. Then, Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, commander of the Special Republican Guard as well as director of the Mukhabarat, the notorious intelligence service, is expected to be tried for torturing and murdering thousands of people.

In the International Herald Tribune, Roger Cohen lays out the scope of Saddam's atrocities:

One such moment comes in a midmorning conversation with Iraq's human rights minister, Bakhtiar Amin, a Kurd in whom all the injury inflicted by Saddam on the Kurdish people seems concentrated. "Iraq," he says, "is a museum of crimes."

The layout of the museum is a work in progress. Amin is assembling a data base that will list all the dictator's murders; a delegation is being sent to Bosnia and to Kosovo to learn how to organize the data. "We are working with bones, with teeth," he says. "It's hard work to identify victims."

How many are there? Amin does not know. He says his ministry was sifting through 150,000 files and 60 kilograms, or 130 pounds, of material recently delivered by the Red Cross. Perhaps half a million Kurds were killed, he suggested, and hundreds of thousands of Shiites. "For the total numbers, we need time" he says.

The trials of Saddam and his cronies will be a history-making event, a 21st Century Nuremberg tribunal. For the first time, a Middle Eastern tyrant, in fact the worst of them, will be held to account by his own people. The impact on Iraq and the broader region, coming in the wake of January's elections, will be substantial. We can only hope that the cable news outlets can tear themselves away from Michael Jackson long enough to take notice.


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