“Nothing like attending a speech by the Chief Prosecutor of the Iraqi High Tribunal detailing the atrocities of Al-Anfal to set you straight.” That’s what I tweeted after hearing Monqeth al-Faroon address my local Bar Association a couple weeks ago. It was a little out of the ordinary, to say the least. I commend the planners of the event for landing this amazing gentleman, along with Assistant US Attorney Larry Ferrell, as the keynote speakers.
I wasn’t familiar with Mr. Ferrell or his work previously, but he gave a very thorough, though brief, glimpse into what it was like to serve two tours in Iraq and assist in the prosecution of Saddam Hussein. As an attorney who typically deals with car accident and slip-and-fall cases, this was utterly fascinating to me. An entirely different universe from the one in which I live and practice.
One of the things Mr. Ferrell emphasized in his speech was the importance of the Rule of Law — and how the Iraqi’s made a point to incorporate it into the Preamble of their Constitution:
“We, the people of Iraq, who have just risen from our stumble, and who are looking with confidence to the future through a republican, federal, democratic, pluralistic system, have resolved with the determination of our men, women, elderly, and youth to respect the rule of law, to establish justice and equality, to cast aside the politics of aggression, to pay attention to women and their rights, the elderly and their concerns, and children and their affairs, to spread the culture of diversity, and to defuse terrorism.” (The full text of the Constitution may be found here: http://www.uniraq.org/documents/iraqi_constitution.pdf )
At first blush, it seems self-evident that the Rule of Law would be an integral part of any sovereign nation’s Constitution. Without such a framework, how could a nation hope to function? Of course, what that overly-simplistic notion fails to take into account is how things work under a tyrannical dictatorship. Listening to the speakers that day, it slowly dawned on me just how much we, carefully ensconced in our well-established constitutional republic, truly do take for granted. Freedom, jealously guarded by the Rule of Law, is all we’ve ever known. Oh, it takes its share of blows. We regularly see bits and pieces of it picked or poked away by this feel-good notion or that well-intentioned safety measure. Ever-present is the vague foreboding that we’re venturing down a path which will ultimately lead to its demise. Still, our Freedom remains an awesome — in the true, non-over-used sense of the word — thing. A Force, if you will.
What really brought home to me just how very precious it is, though, was hearing the words of Mr. al-Faroon, as he spoke to us, through an interpreter, of his tremendous gratitude and respect for our Country, for what we helped the Iraqi people to accomplish, and for what we stand. This wasn’t simply an exercise of blowing sunshine up the derrieres of his gracious hosts, mind you. He swiftly pointed out that Iraq was, in essence, where the Rule of Law was born. The Code of Hammurabi dates back to almost 1800 B.C. It’s easy to forget that, and look only to recent history.
As Mr. al-Faroon also acknowledged, however, somewhere along the way, the Iraqi people lost their way. I can’t really pretend to be familiar with Iraqi history. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned in studying it, but I’d only be borrowing from Wikipedia and its cited sources to do so. And you don’t need me for that. What I do know is that after Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. Forces, there then came the question of what to do with him? How do you handle a man alleged to be responsible for the deaths of tens — perhaps hundreds — of thousands? Instinctively, thoughts turn to summarily executing the monster. Why even bother with a trial? In such an extreme case, is it really warranted? Ultimately, the Rule of Law prevailed — a Special Tribunal was created, and Saddam was tried for his crimes.
The first trial, in 2005, was for his role in the Dujail Massacre. He and seven other Defendants were tried for crimes against humanity for arresting, torturing, and murdering residents of Dujail and a neighboring town after a failed assassination attempt on Saddam’s life. Saddam was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging on November 5, 2006.
A second trial commenced in August, 2006, for his role in the Al-Anfal Campaign — a sampling of what that entailed:
According to the HRW during the Anfal campaign, the Iraqi government:
- Massacred 50,000 to 100,000 non-combatant civilians including women and children;
- Destroyed about 4,000 villages (out of 4,655) in Iraqi Kurdistan. Between April 1987 and August 1988, 250 towns and villages were exposed to chemical weapons;
- Destroyed 1,754 schools, 270 hospitals, 2,450 mosques, 27 churches;
- Wiped out around 90% of Kurdish villages in targeted areas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Anfal_Campaign#Trial_of_Saddam_Hussein
Though it was ultimately the Dujail trial which resulted in Saddam’s execution (the charges against him for Al-Anfal were dropped after he was hanged), it was Mr. al-Faroon’s description of the Al-Anfal atrocities that truly hit home with me. He described families being torn from their homes, fathers encouraging their children to bring a cherished toy with them to remind them of home, while knowing they would never return. He described the bodies of so many of those children, found later in mass graves, still clutching their toys to them. He became quite emotional, even invoking Jesus’ name and his call to “let the little children come unto me,” as he mourned the thousands of little lost souls who suffered at the hands of Saddam and his regime.
Yet, Mr. al-Faroon serving as a prosecutor, helped ensure that the Rule of Law was followed in Saddam’s trial. He did this even though his own brother was murdered by Saddam’s supporters during the trial. He served as a witness to the execution, and even admonished guards who began hurling insults during the hanging, to ensure that it “was done correctly — as required by the law.” http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,458223,00.html He grasped (and conveyed in moving fashion) the importance of the Rule of Law and the precious freedom it protects.
As I reflect on his comments this Memorial Day, they remind me just how very precious our freedom is. We have our fair share of worries — economic recession, upcoming elections, for instance — but we live lives blessedly free from fear of true tyranny. Most of us are celebrating this holiday weekend with cookouts and ballgames and pool time with friends and family. How fortunate we are, and how thankful we should be that this amazing, wonderful, FREE nation of ours is kept safe by the sacrifices of those courageous men and women who’ve chosen to serve and to fight for it. God bless them. God bless the fallen. And God bless the USA.