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Unraveling the trial of the century

Greg McNeal '99, left, at a book signing with co-author Michael Scharf.

When Saddam Hussein was hastily hanged Dec. 30, the swiftness of his execution didn't surprise Greg McNeal '99.

“The death penalty has been a part of the Iraqi legal system since The Code of Hammurabi,” says McNeal, co-author of Saddam on Trial: Understanding and Debating the Iraqi High Tribunal (2006). “The fact that Saddam was executed so quickly is an element of the Iraqi Criminal Code that requires all judgments to be carried out within 30 days. Saddam’s execution reinforces the Iraqis' dedication to the rule of law despite the desire by many to see a different result.”

The speed of Hussein’s execution marks just one element of an intricate series of trials that, although widely publicized, has been largely misunderstood by the public. As academics and attorneys, McNeal and his co-author, Michael Scharf, felt it was their obligation to ensure that the public understands the complex legal issues that are oftentimes overlooked in the media coverage of trials such as Hussein’s.

McNeal, who graduated with a degree in international relations from Lehigh and is now senior fellow in terrorism and international law and assistant director of The Case School of Law Institute for Global Security Law and Policy, decided to write Saddam on Trial in part because of his and his co-author’s personal involvement with and support of the Iraqi High Tribunal as both academics and attorneys.

To hear Greg McNeal discuss the trial on talk radio, click here and scroll down to the Jan. 6, 2007 program. His part of the interview begins at the 23 minute mark.

The book focuses primarily on Hussein’s first trial, the Dujail trial, where Hussein and his henchmen were found guilty of torturing and killing 148 residents of the village of Dujail. Hussein was also on trial for the Anfal campaign, where he is alleged to have ordered the genocide of more than 100,000 Kurds.

“Michael and I have supported the Iraqi High Tribunal since its outset as members of the academic consortium providing research support to the tribunal,” McNeal says. “We put the book together to provide answers to the questions that arose during the formation and conduct of the first trial in a series of trials for Saddam Hussein and his henchmen. We set out to answer questions such as: Was it a mistake to try Saddam in Baghdad before a panel of Iraqi judges rather than an international tribunal? Was the Iraqi High Tribunal a legitimate institution? And what impact did the violence in Iraq and the legitimacy of the war have on the trial?”

Allowing readers to make own judgments

To answer those questions and more, McNeal and Scharf brought together the opinions of the world’s leading experts, expanded on that knowledge, and assembled resources to help readers make their own judgments about the trial of Saddam.

One such expert was a former CIA political psychologist who prepared a psychological profile of Hussein, who said, “consigning Saddam to the realm of madness can mislead decision makers into believing that Saddam is unpredictable when in fact he is not.” Instead, Hussein was a judicious political calculator. “Those political calculations were certainly on display in Saddam’s frequent open court outbursts, where he invoked the Koran and attempted to encourage the insurgency,” McNeal says.

And although Hussein’s outbursts may seem exceptional, compared to other dictators on trial throughout history, they really weren’t. “Saddam’s behavior was natural and typical,” McNeal says. “Accused tyrants are humbled publicly before those they terrorized, and they don’t like it. Outbursts such as Saddam’s occurred at Nuremberg, at the Hague, at Arusha, and at Freetown, and such outbursts will happen again. It is a painful realization of these individuals that the law now controls them and not the other way around.”

Well-researched book

Cover of McNeal's book on Saddam Hussein's trial

After conducting the extensive research for the book, McNeal says putting Hussein on trial was the morally and legally correct thing to do. “How nations treat defeated leaders oftentimes determines the success of a lasting peace and has an impact on reconciliation in post-conflict states,” McNeal says.

He cites the example of the Nazis after World War II: “The Allies could have executed the Nazis, rather than going through the military prosecution at Nuremberg. But I believe that trying them rather than summarily executing them was the right decision. The reason for these trials is to demonstrate our commitment and the international community’s commitment to human rights and justice. The trial ensured that those who were victimized by Saddam and whose family members were killed by Saddam have their day in court.”

Hussein’s trial also sent a warning to leaders around the world that they cannot act with impunity against their own people. “For a long period of time, it was more likely that an individual would face a trial for killing one person than for killing millions; but with trials like the Iraqi High Tribunal, impunity is becoming a thing of the past,” McNeal says.

As a lawyer, McNeal is quick to point out the downside of Hussein’s recent execution. “Saddam was executed prior to the conclusion of the Anfal campaign trial, which denied some justice to those victims and their families,” he says.

Overall, McNeal says Saddam on Trial is important because it separates the trial from the war. “Whether one supports the war in Iraq or opposes it, what everyone can agree upon is that those who commit genocide against hundreds of thousands of people should face a fair trial for their crimes.”

To get your copy of Saddam on Trial, order online at
Carolina Academic Press or call 1-800-489-7486.


To contact Greg McNeal, please visit the Institute for Global Security Law and Policy Web site.

--Elizabeth Shimer

Posted on Wednesday, January 24, 2007

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