George Will makes a persuasive case for trying Saddam in Iraq by Iraqis rather than an international tribunal:

An Iraqi trial can build the authoritative record of Saddam’s crimes.

It also can give the new regime dignity.

The long, dispiriting history of Holocaust denial – a thriving lie in the Middle East, and alive elsewhere – would be a far worse plague had not the Nuremberg tribunal painstakingly rubbed the noses of various nations in what they did, or did too little to prevent. An unsparing presentation of Saddam’s crimes would also usefully complicate the moral exhibitionism of some of America’s critics.

In addition, an Iraqi tribunal would be a dramatic opportunity to demonstrate progress toward something even more crucial than the reliable production of electricity – competence at governing. It is axiomatic that hard cases make bad law, but this is not a hard case. There is no doubt that the person to be tried committed criminal enormities.

The attempts of “internationalists” to hijack Saddam’s prosecution are partly for the purpose of derogating the importance and legitimacy of nation-states generally. But Iraqi nationhood – currently tenuous as a political and psychological fact – can be affirmed by entrusting it with the trial. By serving Iraq’s national memory, the trial can be a nation-building event.

The Nuremberg tribunal, although necessary as a means of civilizing vengeance, raised troubling questions not only because of its Stalinist component but because of an ex post facto taint attached to the charge of “crimes against humanity.” But Iraqis, not the abstraction “humanity,” were Saddam’s victims and should be his prosecutors.

Indeed. Further, it would remove the taint of “victor’s justice” that is usually present in these things.

Will can’t resist getting into the domestic politics of this:

Furthermore, no Democrat is running for president as a little ray of sunshine, but John Kerry used the occasion yesterday morning to tell Fox News that although the capture was good, the administration still has not done enough about AIDS. Can someone that tone-deaf govern?

Howard Dean was more gracious than he was when Saddam fled Baghdad.

Then Dean said he supposed that Saddam’s removal was a good thing. Saddam’s capture was the third element in last week’s trifecta for George W. Bush, coming after Al Gore strengthened the candidacy of Bush’s preferred opponent, and the Dow passed 10,000. But perhaps yesterday’s euphoria among the vast majority of next November’s voters will cause Democrats to pause on their double-time march toward nominating the one serious candidate of whom it can be indisputably said that, were he president, Saddam would still be a president.

One would hope. As one who will almost certainly vote to re-elect President Bush, I suppose I should hope for the easiest plausible candidate to defeat. I think Dean is that man. But given that Bush could certainly lose–we haven’t had back-to-back two term presidents since James Madison and James Monroe (unless we count the back-to-back-to-back-to-back elections of FDR)–I’d prefer the Democrat who could best govern.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.