The Topeka Capital-Journal Editorial


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The Topeka Capital-Journal Editorial

The Topeka Capital-Journal

December 16, 2003

Happy Birthday, Bill of Rights -- Lucky Saddam

Former Iraqi president, Iraqi citizens will get a glimpse at why we cherish our freedoms

By The Capital-Journal editorial board

Saddam Hussein may be a horrible person, but he's no dummy.

When he surrendered over the weekend to U.S. and coalition forces about 10 miles from Tikrit, he made a calculated decision that his chances of survival were fairly high with the Americans.

Had he been subject to his own former "justice" system -- or the wrath of Iraqis who had to live under his repressive regime for decades -- he most probably would have been dragged out of that hole in the ground, summarily found guilty of crimes against humanity, blindfolded and shot in the head on the spot.

Instead, he'll be able to look forward to humane treatment, three squares a day and, at some point, his day in court.

Monday was the 212th anniversary of the signing of the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Had Saddam not been captured, that would have been the subject in this space on Monday morning.

With his capture, however, the United States has a unique opportunity to demonstrate to the former Iraqi leader, the Iraqi people we have liberated, other Arab nations and the rest of the world why we Americans cherish those individual freedoms spelled out in our own Bill of Rights.

Saddam likely will be tried by the Iraqis at some point and possibly later for war crimes, but had he been subject to the U.S. system of justice, he would be afforded the opportunity to defend himself, to confront his accusers, to be tried by a jury and, if convicted, to be given an appropriate punishment for his crimes.

Of the 10 amendments in our cherished Bill of Rights, the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth refer specifically to the legal rights of citizens, suspects and the accused in America.

The Fourth Amendment protects us in our "persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures" and requires that warrants be issued only with probable cause, "describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized."

The Fifth Amendment is often referred to as the "due process" amendment. No one can be subject to "double jeopardy" or be compelled to be a witness against oneself in a criminal case or deprived of property without just compensation.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees our right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusations against us, to be confronted by witnesses and to have the assistance of counsel.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial in civil cases in addition to criminal cases.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bail and fines or cruel and unusual punishments.

While Saddam awaits his fate, liberated Iraqis can assemble in the streets, pray to Allah (or some other god or even no god at all), shout for joy and read whatever they want (that's our First Amendment) and shoot their guns into the air in jubilation (our Second Amendment).

They now can taste freedom much the way we have for more than 227 years.

They'll never want to go back to the old ways.

Freedom has that kind of an effect on people.

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