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Rehearsing for Saddam

DURING A VISIT to the Globe yesterday, retired General Wesley Clark, a Democratic presidential contender, recounted how he learned of Saddam Hussein's capture just after landing in Amsterdam Sunday to testify against the former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic before a UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague. The coincidence led Clark to reflect upon the similarities and differences between two mass murderers who committed their crimes with state power.


Clark recalled the four wars Milosevic started, the 2 million people driven out of their homes, the 150,000 killed in Bosnia, and the 10,000 who died in the Kosovo war. These mind-numbing figures, horrific as they are, pale against the tally of Saddam's wars -- the million casualties in his eight-year war with Iran, the 180,000 Iraqi Kurds summarily shot or gassed to death in what Saddam titled his Anfal campaign, the Kuwaitis murdered and tortured when Saddam tried to wipe their country off the map in 1990.

If there is a telling difference between the crimes of the Iraqi and Serb tyrants, it may be that Saddam slaughtered and tortured so many more of his own people.

Clark reasoned that Milosevic's ethnic cleansing in Kosovo was destabilizing Europe, costing Germany alone $20 billion to care for Balkan refugees. A crucial difference between Milosevic and Saddam, Clark argued, was that the Serb demagogue had been an imminent threat to his region while Saddam was no longer an imminent threat when US forces moved to depose him.

The purpose of Clark's testimony at The Hague, however, was not to draw such distinction but to assist the tribunal in the slow, methodical labor of bringing the rule of law to bear on crimes perpetrated by a chief of government. Clark had relevant testimony to give about the power Milosevic once possessed either to order that war crimes be committed or to prevent them.

The UN tribunal for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia has been effective in this civilizing mission of supplanting the code of the Balkan vendetta with the rule of law. The proceedings in The Hague are also establishing crucial foundations for the historical truth about the wars Milosevic engendered. And since people in Serbia are able to watch the trials at The Hague on television, they are being inoculated against a recurrence of Milosevic's ethnic demagoguery.

It is up to Iraqis and the international community to make Saddam, like Milosevic, account for his crimes in a true court of law. In both cases, the outside world pretended for too long not to be responsible for saving the victims of these two killers with state power. At The Hague and on the lintel of the courtroom where Saddam is tried should be written: Never again.

Saddam Hussein Saddam Hussein after his capture by US forces. (Reuters Photo)
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