- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

“Ladies and gentlemen, we got him,” Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, the senior U.S. official in Iraq, said in a press conference yesterday in Baghdad. “The tyrant is a prisoner.” With that announcement, the world learned the news that Saddam Hussein had been captured alive Saturday by 4th Infantry Division troops and special operations forces. He was caught without a fight, cowering in a dirt hole under a farmhouse near his hometown of Tikrit. The pictures of Saddam — first with matted hair and a long unkempt beard and later with his beard shaved off — represent a critical juncture in the fight to liberate Iraq.

“The capture of this man was crucial to the rise of a free Iraq,” President Bush noted in his address to the nation yesterday. “For the Ba’athist holdouts largely responsible for the current violence, there will be no return to the corrupt power and privilege they once held.” But for the great majority of Iraqi citizens “who wish to live as free men and women, this event brings further assurance that the torture chambers and secret police are gone forever,” the president added.

By any measure, the capture of Saddam, the former Iraqi dictator who had terrorized his own people for the better part of 35 years, is a tremendous victory for Mr. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the allied military coalition that liberated Iraq. Allied forces have long suspected that Saddam was behind at least some of the attacks on coalition forces and that many of these attacks were being carried out by individuals loyal to him. The news of his capture is a tremendous blow to the morale of the hardened killers responsible for these attacks and a shot in the arm for the Iraqi Governing Council. It was greeted with jubilation in the streets of major cities like Baghdad and Kirkuk.

While the capture of Saddam is an essential step toward ending the insurgency in Iraq, it will not in and of itself bring the violence to an end — a point emphasized yesterday by Mr. Bush and other administration officials. It is possible that, in the short term, the remaining violent holdouts could try to step up their attacks.

Clearly, the best course of action now would be to ensure that Saddam is brought to trial by the special tribunal established last week by the Iraqi Governing Council. The tribunal will cover crimes committed between July 17, 1968, when Saddam and his fellow Ba’athists seized power, and May 1, 2003, the day Mr. Bush declared major combat hostilities over. Prosecutors are likely to make use of evidence from the excavation of some of the more than 260 mass graves that have been unearthed in Iraq.

It’s time that Saddam faces a public trial before the Iraqi people and be punished for his crimes.

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