It’s always a pleasure to read an op-ed from an Objectivist writer that makes me think, “Wow, I never thought of that!” I had that feeling upon reading this op-ed on Saddam’s trial by Elan Journo. Here’s how it starts:
The American-endorsed trial of Saddam Hussein is touted as an opportunity to render justice and lay the groundwork for an Iraqi transition from the arbitrary courts of a dictatorship to a proper legal system. But the trial will accomplish neither goal.
A trial that presumes Hussein’s innocence can achieve nothing but a travesty of justice.
Saddam Hussein is not a private citizen, whose guilt requires proof in an objective court of law, but a dictator whose incontestable evil was manifest to any rational observer of his tyranny. The Bush administration, after all, determined that Hussein was so vicious that we had to go to war to topple his regime.
Once we defeat and capture a militant dictator like Hussein, he deserves to be definitively condemned as evil and then executed–immediately, or after any valuable information is extracted from him. Prior to his execution, there can be a legitimate reason to hold a public hearing–not to establish his guilt, but to fully expose his secretive dictatorship by publicly cataloguing its myriad vile deeds. Such a hearing would recognize that, unlike a private citizen, a dictator is responsible not merely for his own individual acts of violence but for all crimes committed by his regime, whether or not in any given case he himself pulled the trigger or gave a direct order to murder the victims.
I think that’s right: If we’re justified in deposing some dictator by force, then we’re also justified in summarily executing him.
However, I’m not so convinced that the exclusion of American judges from the trial of Saddam was due to the fact that “justice, on the premise of the trial, is determined by the tribe,” as the op-ed argues toward the end. It’s a plausible thesis, given the rampant tribalism in full flower in Iraq since the invasion. Yet I don’t think it was adequately demonstrated. That might just be me though, so I’d be interested to hear whether others stumbled over that point.