Justice for Iraqis: Out of a Hole

For the people of the Middle East to see Saddam Hussein in the dock, tried by a court of fair Iraqi judges, will do as much to rid the region of terrorist-breeding regimes as bringing democracy to Iraq.

Just the news that the former dictator, once feared at home and by Iraq's neighbors, was captured on Saturday while cowering in a dark hole, lonely and resigned, should remind all those living under the abusive hand of unelected leaders that power lies not in persons or guns but in ballots, laws, and liberties, the real safeguards of human dignity.

Mr. Hussein's atrocities are already commonly judged to be the worst in the modern Middle East, but a fair trial will put on display Iraq's desire to create for itself a civil society and not just seek retribution.

For Iraqis to have justice after Hussein's decades of horrific deeds can be the cornerstone of a new democracy.

The trial should not be orchestrated by the United States, which would leave the impression of victor's justice. And while a trial might be wisely held outside Iraq for the sake of security and the avoidance of pressure on judges, the rules and procedures should be Iraqi-designed.

The world does have a stake in seeing Hussein tried for crimes against humanity but not yet in an international court. Iraqis, and indeed the Arab world, have much to gain in showing they can bring fair and open justice even to leaders who order mass executions of their people.

Still, Iraqis may want the assistance of experienced foreign jurists. And perhaps eventually, an international trial might be appropriate for atrocities committed during Hussein's rule against non-Iraqis, especially civilians in Kuwait.

Hussein's capture is an emotional and visible sign of progress for Iraq and also a tribute to the ability of US-led forces to gather intelligence against opponents of the country's emerging democracy. More Iraqis will now feel safer to openly support the US-led efforts with less fear.

And perhaps Hussein himself might tell the truth about his weapons of mass destruction or any ties he might have had with Al Qaeda. If a fair panel of Iraqi judges can persuade him to tell the truth about such things, that surely would help Iraqis find the kind of peace that justice can bring.

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