Sunday, January 17, 2010

'Chemical Ali' gets sentenced to death -- again

While it's certainly exciting to see society returning to normal in Iraq after all those terrible years of uncertainty before and after the 2003 U.S. invasion ousted Saddam Hussein's despised government, it's getting harder to tell how interested the country's elected leadership in Baghdad is in justice as opposed to revenge. What brings this to mind is Sunday's decision by the Iraqi High Tribunal to sentence Ali Hassan al-Majeed to death for the fourth time, according to the Reuters international news service. Nobody, apparently, disputes that Majeed, a Saddam cousin who became known as "Chemical Ali" for ordering the use of poison gas against civilians, was an awful person. But nobody who saw the extraordinary show trial and execution of Saddam in 2006 -- except, perhaps, those bent on revenge for his widely renowned cruelty -- could help but be troubled by the apparent lack of fairness in the proceedings. Saddam's conviction and execution were so obviously predetermined that there was little justification for the trial at all, except as a formality. At least Saddam was only sentenced to death once -- for crimes against humanity in the slaying of 148 Shiite men and boys after a failed assassination attempt in 1982 -- even though he is believed to be responsible for the deaths of nearly 300,000 people, Reuters said. But Majeed had already been sentenced to death three times before the trial that concluded Sunday for a 1988 gas attack that killed 5,000 Kurds. Then again, Majeed is still alive, while Saddam was rushed to the gallows and hung while the families of tens of thousands of his victims waited for some accounting. In addition to Sunday's verdict, Majeed has been sentenced to death for a 1988 military campaign against ethnic Kurds, for ruthlessly suppressing a Shiite revolt following the 1991 Gulf War and for a 1999 slaughter and displacement of Iraqi Shiites, Reuters said. Everyone hopes post-Saddam Iraq will be a stable, democratic nation going forward. But show trials and executions only undermine the moral character of the state and serve as a warning that the inhumanity that flourished in Saddam's Iraq may not yet be extinguished.

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