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OJ, MJ and Saddam

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The coverage of the Saddam trial on the news may be the best reality show on TV this season. All it's missing is a pair of pajamas and an umbrella for the defendant, perhaps Kato Kaelin living in a white Bronco out back peddling Ramsey Clark action figures.

I believe in the justice system, really I do. But c'mon, I can't be the only pacifist here rooting for someone to just shoot the guy not only for his butchery, but also because he's plain annoying.

We will have to settle for a fair trial, I guess, hopefully to be followed by something I never thought I would suggest, a fair hanging.

Saddam, the great haughty dictator, is not so impressive these days. Living off beans and hotdogs and Snickers bars in a hidey-hole will do that to a guy. Who needs nerve gas?

And for such an imposing murderous figure, it must be a tad embarassing to be captured putting up less than a struggle than it took to take down Michael Jackson at Neverland.

Genocide isn't my style, but if I am ever arrested for, say, jaywalking, I'm going to bring along a stylish pair of briefs in which to pose. Saggy white BVDs are so 15 minutes ago, so K-Mart. One would expect a tyrant to do better. That's going to be hard to live down, assuming he lives to down anything.

Luckily, Queer Eye for the International Iraqi War Tribunal Insane Guy was at work, and the bearded, homeless-looking Saddam is now a being of sartorial splendor in the latest cuts of suit jackets and stylish silky shirts, seemingly borrowed from the made-for-TV Miami Vice reunion movie. The media dutifully details Saddam's wardrobe for us in excruciating detail, as if describing Faith Hill at the Country Music Awards or something.

I've covered a few trials in my day, even a couple of murder cases. But I've never seen a trial more entertaining than "Being Bonaduce" before.

If you should ever be on trial, I would advise you not to scream "Go to Hell!" at the judge. It's bad etiquette, for one thing. And it's liable to get you rooming with a 400-pound maniac with an oddly romantic look in his eye.

And for a steel-hearted dictator, Saddam whines an awful lot.

He complained bitterly about a broken elevator that required him to actually walk up stairs. As if some lunges would hurt those legs. He didn't like the underwear that was provided for him (if I was him, I wouldn't bring up underwear for a while). He didn't like the ethnic background of his guards, or the fact they touched him. One of Saddam's seven co-defendants lashed out at guards for offering only "the worst brands" of cigarettes. The trial couldn't start until Saddam had demanded a pen. And now he's walked out anyway. He decides to boycott his own trial. Try that someday at the BV Courthouse and see how far it gets you.

Sadly, no one seems capable of telling the old fart to sit down and shut up. Instead, the trial will serve as a platform for a disheveled and powerless former leader from a cowardly spider hole to be made a martyr to the already volatile middle eastern world - one element to this carnival that isn't quite so funny.

Gunmen kidnapping the 8-year-old son of a bodyguard for a judge - that also should remind us of what we are dealing with here.

This is a group on trial in the deaths of more than 140 Shiite Muslims following a 1982 assassination attempt against Saddam. (Can you imagine not liking such a personable guy? )

Saddam is alleged to have ordered the use of poison gas against the Northern Iraqi Kurds, to have dammed rivers in order to starve out the Southern Marsh Arabs, and to have deported, detained, tortured, and executed thousands of opponents of the Ba'ath regime. Altogether, there are said to be nearly one million victims of his regime.

And yet we have a suspect swaggering into court to issue orders to the judge, and seemingly getting away with it, at least for now.

We have gotten used to a steady diet of farcical celebrity trials, from smirking O.J.'s glove to creepy Michael's bedtime antics with little boys. Lawyers using courtrooms to make media superstars of themselves. We scarcely even expect that anyone famous could be found guilty of their crimes any more.

In possibly the most important war crimes proceeding since Nuremberg, the trial of Saddam Hussein may produce a "Grotian Moment" - a legal development that is so significant that it may change the way we seek to prosecute international terrorists for all time. It can't be allowed to end in a mockery, or all of our costly efforts in Iraq could be in vain.

You may note that there is not a full transcript, full live broadcast, or independent tape recorded record of the trial. Security reasons, we are told. Security from what? Perhaps from fear that the truth of past U.S. government association with Saddam will be brought to light?

Powerful as he may have been, Saddam's legal briefs still stink. If he is freed, he won't be going golfing or petting his monkey. This is one trial that we can't afford to make a comedy of.