BAGHDAD, Nov. 5 -- Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was found guilty by a special tribunal Sunday of crimes against humanity for the torture and execution of more than 100 people from a small town north of Baghdad 24 years ago. He was sentenced to death by hanging.
"Long live the people!" Hussein shouted as the verdict began. "Down with the stooges! Down with the invaders! God is great!"
I agree. God is great, and he's just, too.
The verdict and sentence will automatically be sent to a nine-judge appellate panel for appeal. That panel has wide latitude to review the case and call for additional testimony, and it has an unlimited time to rule. But once it does, any sentence must be carried out within 30 days.
Celebratory gunfire rang out over Baghdad as jubilant Iraqis expressed their happiness with the outcome by racing to rooftops, front yards and windows to fire into the air. National television showed smiling Iraqis dancing in the streets of cities around the country, including in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, which technically was under an all-day curfew.
In the Tikrit, Saddam's home town, thousands of people reportedly took to the street in defiance of the curfew, many crying and screaming and firing guns into the air in anger. "With the soul and blood we sacrifice for you Saddam!" some protestors screamed. Protestors in Tikrit attacked the local Iraqi army base with light weapons. No casualties were reported.
One of the key points in Iraq's halting transition to democracy is highlighted by the verdict. Sunnis in Tikrit and in other locations will think of the verdict as "Shiite government convicts Sunni ex-leader," rather than as "democratic government convicts vicious murderous despot." That transition, it seems, will take a lot more time. Still, one would hope that Sunnis could recognize the case against Saddam for what it is, and not for the religious overtones. This, for example, is not helpful.
"This government will be responsible for the consequences, with the deaths of hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands, whose blood will be shed," Salih al-Mutlaq, a Sunni political leader, told the al-Arabiya satellite television station.
It would be beneficial if such encouragement to violence, like yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater, were suppressed, voluntarily or not. Yes, I know about free speech, but inciting your followers to murderous rage does not fall under any free speech exception that I know.
The sentencing had at least one humerous moment.
Today's session began with the eviction of former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark for insulting the tribunal as "a mockery of justice" in a memo he sent to Chief Judge Abdel-Rahman, a no-nonsense jurist with a perpetual scowl who ran a tight courtroom. "This statement presented by the American lawyer Ramsey Clarke -- how would I describe it? I don't know. He presented a statement ridiculing himself, not the country. He's a laughing stock. Get him out of the court."
"A laughingstock." I couldn't have said it better myself.
Lots more at Memeorandum.
11/5/06 1015: Curt at Flopping Aces has video of the verdict and sentencing.