Monday, November 06, 2006

The Rule of Law is So Quaint

In the wake of Saddam Hussein's conviction and death sentence, NPR was supposedly going to look at questions of the trial's legitimacy. To accomplish this Renee Montagne interviewed lawyer Michael Scharf who as NPR's website indicates "helped train Iraqi judges and prosecutors for the case." This seems odd. Where are those who have criticized the trial -- such as someone from Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. Even Voice of America had a wider range of opinions on the trial back in April of 2006.

I had such an odd feeling as I listened to the interview. I was struck by how -- in spite of very serious problems with the trial procedures -- Mr. Scharf sounded like a spokesman for the US government. First he made two favorable comparisons of the trial to the Nuremberg trials at the end of WWII. Second he minimized some very serious problems noting that "well, yeah, this trial ended up being a very messy trial" where "there were procedural errors" and "the defense counsel, some of them were assasinated." But still he reassured us, "it was the most transparent trial ever in the Middle East." He concluded that "the international rules that the tribunal was employing were the rules that have been accepted internationally."

The problem is not having Mr. Scharf on, since he was intimately involved in the case, BUT what about a little diversity of opinion? Given that we are living in a period where the Bush administration is often violating the rule of law, arguing that what matters is the result, I found it disturbing that an "expert on international law" would be so cavalier about such serious shortcomings in this trial. Then again I looked at Professor Scharf's biography and noticed that like so many spokespeople on NPR he has strong connections to the US State Department and served in the administrations of Bush Sr. and Clinton.

Addendum: Juan Cole's Informed Comment points out Helena Cobban's astute comments on the trial. (Would've been nice to hear from her on NPR--though she doesn't seem to be a favorite on their guest list. )

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