Saddam Hussein’s conviction and death sentence before an Iraqi court Sunday, a story that broke too late to make the final editions of yesterday’s East Coast papers, leads the Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times, and also tops the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox. USA Today, as is its wont, goes its own way and leads with a midterm-election analysis that suggests the outcome of tight Senate races in Tennessee and Virginia will determine what party controls the upper chamber.
Hussein’s trial, on charges of crimes against humanity, had an appropriately circus-like ending. First, the judge removed Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general who is one of the lawyers representing Hussein, from the courtroom after he submitted a court filing that sharply criticized the court. “Get him out!” the judge yelled, according to the WP, which has the most vivid courtroom reporting. “He’s coming from America to insult the Iraqi people and the court.” When the judge prepared to read his verdict, Hussein refused to stand, so bailiffs were ordered to pull the dictator to his feet. As the judge attempted to read the sentence of death by hanging, Hussein shouted a barrage of insults, such as: “You are servants of the occupiers and lackeys!” The Post notes that one of the guards surrounding the former president, “smiled mockingly, then laughed” as the death sentence was read. The NYT goes across the top with one last finger-wagging photo of the graying Iraqi dictator.
Two additional defendants, including Hussein’s half-brother, were sentenced to death at the same hearing, while four others were sentenced to long prison terms and one was acquitted.
This trial did not actually concern the most heinous atrocities of Hussein’s rule, such as the use of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians. Rather, the charges referred to a narrower set of crimes: a campaign of reprisals against the town of Dujail, including the execution of 148 men and youths, that followed a 1982 assassination attempt against Hussein that took place there. “The Dujail trial was originally conceived as a way of building up to the much bigger cases under preparation, involving the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis under Mr. Hussein,” says the NYT, which has the most thorough coverage of the legal issues. One such case is already underway. However, given the present political situation in Iraq—the country’s Shiite prime minister went on television to applaud the verdict and compare Hussein, a Sunni, to Hitler—it seems likely that the ex-dictator’s trip to the gallows will be a swift one. The NYT cites Iraqi officials who say the execution could take place “in a matter of months.”
There is considerable disagreement among legal experts about whether the trial, which was plagued by assassinations of lawyers and the resignation of its original judge, met international standards of fairness. However, the WP reports that American officials said the outcome “vindicated” their stance against having Hussein tried by an international war-crimes tribunal.
The LAT’s lead story suggests that, in the short term at least, the trial, “once viewed as a means of reconciliation and justice,” now only seems likely to heighten Iraq’s ethnic strife. Shiites celebrated the verdict, complaining only that the trial took too long, while the WP interviewed a young shopkeeper from Hussein’s hometown who’d strapped an explosive belt to himself, vowing to take revenge against American troops.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, President Bush hailed the verdict as a “milestone.” The NYT’s off-lead explicitly ties the two big stories of the day together, saying that the White House expects the announcement to boost Republican candidates. Tony Snow, the president’s spokesman, curtly dismissed suggestions that the timing of the verdict—which was originally scheduled to be handed down in October—might have somehow been linked to the U.S. election calendar. “Are you smoking rope?” Snow asked a reporter who posed a question about the, ahem, coincidence.
As for what’s going to happen on Tuesday, USAT’s poll-based lead finds the Democrats poised to retake the Senate, provided they can pick off either Virginia or Tennessee, while the NYT finds “gains for Republicans” across the country, while the WSJ finds that Democrats are winning over independent voters, while McClatchy’s Washington bureau, working off its own poll, says that left-for-dead Republican Senate candidates in Rhode Island and Montana have suddenly come back to life, and it seems Maryland might be back in play, too. Also, at this point, getting out the vote is very important, and one or the other party may have an advantage there. Follow all that? The good news: Tuesday’s only a day away!
In other Washington news, the WP suggests that House Speaker Dennis Hastert is probably out of a job regardless of whether the Republicans win or lose Tuesday.
The U.S. isn’t the only country having an election this week—so is Nicaragua. Remember Nicaragua? How back in the ‘80s, Ronald Reagan tried to overthrow the country’s leftist leader, Daniel Ortega, with some unfortunate consequences? Well, guess who’s back?
The WSJ has an interesting inside piece on how China has quietly turned the economic screws on North Korea, shutting off the rogue state’s oil supply and its access to Chinese banks. The piece suggests that the moves are indicative of China’s “greater willingness to embrace global institutions and norms.”
The WP fronts a front-page feature in which a reporter takes three successful Washington-area professionals out to lunch, and they talk about how their lives are eerily interconnected, mostly because they are all named Mark Plotkin. Two questions come to mind: Has J.J. Abrams heard about this? And can the WP get me together with this guy for a little game of one-on-one?