IN OTHER WORDS: Iraq trial

The trial and sentencing of Saddam Hussein for one circumscribed atrocity can hardly be considered a model for future prosecutions of heads of state who commit crimes against humanity.

The crucial question that hovers over the tribunal’s future concerns the will to pursue a more complete justice. The reason to arraign Saddam in a court of law should not be merely to exact punishment, much less revenge, for his crimes. The Pol Pots, Stalins, and Hitlers of history belong to a special category. As mass murderers wielding state power, they carry a strain of institutionalised malice that is forever in danger of recurring in new forms. The best antidote is remembrance. As things now stand in the case of Saddam, however, there is a chance he will be put to death soon after his appeal of this guilty verdict runs its course - before he can be fully tried and judged for his worst crimes.

The core obligation of the Iraqi government conducting the tribunal should be to history. It should be to document legally the guilt of Saddam and his henchmen for their genocidal crimes against entire ethnic and religious communities in Iraq as well as their war crimes against Iranians and Kuwaitis.

To cut short the Iraqi tribunal would be to deprive future generations of a powerful antidote against a future despot.