A symbolic start for Iraq's new leaders

What a gloriously symbolic start for the new government of Iraq - to see Saddam Hussein go to court to be tried for war crimes.

No doubt there is much sentiment around the world that Hussein should have suffered the same fate as his sons, summarily dispatched as casualties of war. But there is much at stake for the credibility of that country's leaders to show their own people, as well as the rest of the world, they are capable of rising to the demands of justice.

Due process, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to confront your accusers - all are concepts Americans take for granted because they have faith and trust in their legal system. In Iraq, they will be new concepts but no less vital to the formation of a society capable of governing itself.

Who knows what will happen in a trial of Saddam Hussein? It could become a propaganda fest, a target of terrorists, a legal morass, a kangaroo court. It could end up with Hussein headed for the gallows.

However, starting with several lesser Hussein henchmen and working up to the former dictator himself, the Iraqi legal system will have plenty of opportunity to show the world it is prepared to act as the arbiter of a civilized nation.

Perhaps the greatest contrast within the Islamic world will be to the kind of "justice" meted out by terrorist groups on hostages. Terrorists seem to believe that beheadings, among the most gruesome of acts, will frighten people in the West into opposing the war in Iraq.

More likely, just the opposite is happening. The cold-blooded killings are strengthening resolve in the West to take the battle to the terrorists. Meanwhile, residents of the Middle East who may have had mixed feelings about U.S. intervention and the causes of the terrorists surely must be sickened by such murders.

They can see laid out before them in Iraq the most elemental of choices, between civilization and anarchy. The next giant leap will be free elections in January.


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