Even among those who opposed the Iraq war from the start, there was always hope that bringing Saddam Hussein to justice would be a saving grace of the entire misbegotten enterprise. Now it seems that even this comfort will be denied. Far from healing old wounds, as some suggested it would, his conviction by the Iraqi special tribunal has exerted little effect on the deepening civil conflict between Shiites and Sunnis. The often circuslike atmosphere of the trial, as well as the murder of three defense lawyers, led groups like Human Rights Watch to condemn the tribunal as flawed and illegitimate. And the charge for which Saddam Hussein received the death penalty did not include his most heinous acts. His execution must still remind the world of the horror of the atrocities he committed while in power. But unfortunately, the disarray of the legal process calls greater attention to the failings of the United States, the Iraqis and the international community in dealing with all that has come after.
Since its inception, the tribunal has been haunted by a fundamental problem that bedevils the new Iraqi government more generally: the nature and origin of its authority.