Comment: We Are Not Saddams

Giving a fair trial to a dictator who denied that right to so many will set the Iraqi people on the right track to a better future.

Comment: We Are Not Saddams

Giving a fair trial to a dictator who denied that right to so many will set the Iraqi people on the right track to a better future.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

We Kurds should not seek revenge from Saddam Hussein - we will have our revenge when we have given him a fair trial, and emerged as a nation based on the rule of law, with legal rights secured for all citizens.

For the symbol of a regime that ruled Iraq with iron and fire, that outcome will hurt more than any physical pain could.

There are Kurdish voices, on the street and in the media, calling for immediate retribution against the man they hold responsible for the bloody destruction of our culture and the decimation of our families. They want Saddam ripped apart at the gates of Halabja. They want him put into a cage and displayed at the local zoo. They want him rotting in a stinking jail cell, like so many of their brothers.

But such voices sound like the ones that made Saddam Hussein what he was. They sing the song of the robotic henchmen who perpetuated his regime of fear and tyranny.

As they did before, these voices could kill justice, stifle freedom, and trample on human rights – the very values we claim to be pursuing in the new Iraq.

To repeat the crimes that Saddam and his regime committed against all of us would be the death knell for our own humanity.

We Kurds - we Iraqis - should instead see his trial as an occasion to eliminate once and for all the Baathist mentality and the culture of violence it spawned.

Saddam’s upcoming trial provides an opportunity for all Iraqis to establish that we are different – that we are not Saddam Husseins. We have survived his regime, risen above it, and chosen a new path.

For years, Saddam dragged his political opponents into show trials and stripped them of all rights to defence and appeal. They were guilty before any trial even began.

We Iraqi citizens should reject that culture, by granting our former tormentor the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

That might be difficult for the average citizen to accept, since concept of blood revenge runs deep in our society. But we are facing the challenge of a lifetime – one that will shape our country's political future.

We could surrender to the logic of revenge. We could treat him like Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania. We could simply kill him and dump his body in a Baghdad alley.

Or we can offer him a fair judicial process, and at the same time put on trial the dark and bloody days that he presided over.

If we fail to give Saddam his legal rights, we will be denying the legal rights all Iraqi citizens are due.

It is not in our interest to obliterate civil liberties – that would only benefit those who made Iraq what it is today, and who still sow fire and death with the aim of returning us to the dark past.

In his arraignment, Saddam implicitly recognised that we are indeed different from him. He called for a lawyer to be present to sign the list of charges against him, and in doing so he recognised the legitimacy of our court. Had Saddam been standing in one of his own courts, he would have been denied access to legal counsel.

Saddam's physical fate should not be of concern to us. He is already a spent man.

Whether he lives or dies, what will remain alive after a fair and open trial is the Iraqi people’s hope of reaching another place: a world of peace, democracy, human rights and stability. We should make the trial a stepping stone to those goals.

We Kurds, we Iraqis, should understand that life will not start the day after Saddam's death. A new life will start when the remnants of Baathism are eradicated from the fibre of our collective consciousness.

That is a lot more challenging than taking revenge through one more death.

Twana Osman is an editor with Hawalti, an independent newspaper in Sulaimaniyah.

Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq
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