Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Shadowland: Power vs. Justice, 4 Jan 2006

Washington understands that a truth commission won’t work in Iraq. But after five years of White House deception and intimidation, perhaps it’s time for Americans to hold their own panel on reconciliation.

By Christopher Dickey

Jan. 5, 2006 - We ended 2005 in a time of trials--show trials, in fact. Saddam Hussein was in the dock for allegedly ordering massacres in an Iraqi Shiite village. Libya (our new friend) expediently ordered the “retrial” of six foreign medical workers sentenced to death by firing squad for plotting to infect patients with AIDS from bad blood; this in a country where bad hygiene is pervasive and so is paranoia. Turkey (the great example of a pro-U.S. Muslim democracy) hauled a novelist into court for talking about the Armenian genocide of a century ago. An Egyptian judge sentenced my old friend Ayman Nour to five years of hard labor, ostensibly for forgery but in fact for offering a liberal alternative to the country’s U.S.-funded one-party, one-family political machine. And in Washington, speculation about the impeachment of President George W. Bush hung in the air like mist over the Potomac.

Show trials are about raw power, of course, not blind justice. They’re spectacles put on by winners to humiliate losers, cover up other crimes and intimidate the opposition. Nobody understands that fact better than Saddam. In 1979 he conducted one of the most horrifying bits of political puppetry ever recorded on videotape. After years as the power behind the throne in Baghdad, he had seized the top slot for himself. Then he convened a congress of the Baath Party to reveal what he said was a plot against the regime. A terrified aide to the former president stood for hours in front of the Baathist delegates recounting details of his own supposed crimes. Occasionally, plaintively, he turned to Saddam, who sat behind a table onstage, handsome as Dracula in a bespoke business suit, smoking a Churchill cigar and sipping from a glass of water. “Was that right?” the accused would ask. Saddam would nod, or correct him. The recitation continued.

Every time the confessor named someone in the audience as a fellow conspirator, that man was forced to stand up and leave the hall, to be shot outside. More than a dozen were named, and no one knew who might be next. Even in the front row, where Tariq Aziz was taking notes flanked by other men who had risen to the top with Saddam (and sit in the dock with him now) it was hard to tell whether some of them were wiping away sweat or tears. Then the repentant plotter was led off stage to be killed and Saddam got up to speak. The remaining delegates at that 1979 conference went wild, shouting Saddam’s praises, cheering, thinking they had been spared. But no. Saddam reached into the pocket of his suit and pulled out a list of more names. He called them out one by one, and they were led away, too, to be killed....

This column provoked hundreds of e-mails, which made me wish I'd elaborated more on the idea. Following are some picked up by Newsweek's Online Mail Call:

Jan. 6, 2005 - In his Web-exclusive column, “Power vs. Justice,” Christopher Dickey writes that the “most exalted form of show trial in the United States is impeachment.” But he suggests that, “better than show trials are the `truth and reconciliation commissions’ we saw in several Latin American countries and post-apartheid South Africa”—an option Dickey says Americans might consider. “After five years of deception and intimidation [by the White House],” he writes. “I’m afraid we Americans are now the ones who need truth and reconciliation. The process couldn’t start too soon.” Readers who wrote to us, for the most part, seem to agree:

Bruce from South Bloomingville, Ohio, writes: “I am all for a commission that exposes behavior that is truly un-American and helps bring these policies to an end.”

An anonymous reader adds: “You hit this one on the head. This country does not need another impeachment. This country needs the truth.”

But Marcia from Las Vegas writes: “George W. Bush and Dick Cheney should be impeached or put on trial for high crimes and misdemeanors. Impeached and then tried in the World Court for crimes against humanity.”

Tim from Olympia, Wash., believes the current administration isn’t the only one at fault: “The American people have not heard the truth from the White House and the U.S. capital for the last 75 years, not [just] the past five years.”

John, who doesn’t give his hometown, agrees: “I think impeaching Bush would be a fair thing given the amount of lies and the number of dead he is responsible for. But I think the American people just aren't paying enough attention to care.”

Elizabeth from Oregon laments: “Never have we been so divided as a country and from the world. The deceptive practices of this current administration should not be tolerated.”

Sydney from Boca Raton, Fla., adds: “Until serious scrutiny is leveled against all persons in government and their connections with not only lobbyists and PACs, but, most importantly, corporations, and until these people are punished to the highest extent possibly allowed by law, we shall have no real truth or reconciliation.”

Robert from Protem, Mo., adds: “It's time to hold the Bush administration accountable for their disregard of our basic values that has been the basis of our country's leadership in the world. The Constitution seems to mean little to those currently in power. Some may be right when they refer to Bush as a dictator. We must stop our government from becoming a police state.”

But Markus from Palm City, Fla., writes: “Every nation has the government it deserves.”

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