- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

With the arrest of Saddam Hussein Iraq truly begins to move from the rule of warlord to the rule of law.

America has recast the strategic conflict in the War on Terror as Middle Eastern democrats vs. dictators, be the autocrats Ba’ath fascist or Islamo-fascist. Despite Osama bin Laden’s best agitprop efforts, the great struggle isn’t Islam vs. the West, but authoritarian thugs vs. freedom.

Iraq is thus the key battlefield in this campaign to bring genuine freedom to the Middle East, the world’s most dangerously dysfunctional region. Tyranny — the rule of the warlord — is the root cause of poverty and terror.

In that lens, Saddam’s arrest dramatically combines both substance and symbol. To quote Ambassador Paul Bremer, “We got him.” That’s the raw substance, the Ace of Spades in the Ba’athist ratpack is behind bars, fully stripped of political and military power.

Check the furrows and wasted eyes in Saddam’s first official post-arrest photos — his strongman myth, his power to inspire fear, is smashed. Saddam’s so dog-whipped even Al Jazeera can’t jazz him up. The smirking dictator, who once defiantly fired a carbine into the air while evading U.N. sanctions, is reduced to an old, tattered brute groveling in a hole behind a shepherd’s hut.

Those first photos, however, demonstrate more than the effects of life on the lam with U.S. Green Berets as your pursuers. The photos are a testament to American and Free Iraqi perseverance. After Operation Iraqi Freedom drove him underground, Saddam loyalists launched daily attacks on coalition troops, police and international agencies, relying on the “if it bleeds it leads” crowd in the press to magnify the effects of this strategy of harassment and degrade American and Iraqi will to stick it out.

His arrest won’t bring holdout fascist crime to a screeching halt, but it deflates the biggest fear of the Iraqi people, the return of the dictator after the U.S. and Britain leave.

At a more subtle level, those first photos illustrate the path to a more secure and just future in Iraq.

Following his capture by U.S. troops in the 4th Infantry Division, the wasted and weary Butcher of Baghdad received medical aid. For genuine democrats, a disheveled mass murderer opening his mouth to say “Ahh” for the doctors is more than a perfect portrait of defeat. The once-defiant thug who gassed Kurds and Iranians, threatened to “burn half of Israel,” who raped Kuwait, who slaughtered Shi’ite Arabs, who minced his Baghdad opponents in plastic shredders, who — yes, the evidence is building — facilitated both secular and religious terrorists, gets instant health care at the hands of his American captors. Object lesson: The rule of law and basic respect for human rights means the worst among us will get an aspirin, once the bum is imprisoned.

America arrested him, but how and when Saddam faces justice is the decision of a free Iraqi people. Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi has already insisted Saddam’s judicial process “be an Iraqi process.” Mr. Pachachi also noted Saddam’s arrest means “the state of fear, secret police and oppression is gone forever.” Mouwafak al-Rabii, another member of the council, said Saddam’s trial would meet the toughest standards of democratic justice. “Iraq is truly victorious now because of the arrest of the tyrant,” Mr. al-Rabii said, “but we won’t lose sight of human rights and international standards.”

It is fortuitous that last week Iraq’s Governing Council announced its intention to create a war crimes tribunal. Several members of the council want public and open trials, preferably televised trials that demonstrate the thoroughness and fairness of the criminal investigations as well as the depravity of the crimes.

Unfortunately the usual defeatists in the U.S. and Europe sneered and dismissed the proposal, but former Saddamite sidekick Tariq Aziz took that announcement seriously. One report has Mr. Aziz hiring French attorney Jacques Verges, who defended the Nazi Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie and the Marxist terrorist Carlos.

Saddam should ask Mr. Verges for his card.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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