The List

Victor’s Justice

Victor’s Justice

SADDAM HUSSEIN

Country: Iraq

Charges: A long list of counts starting with the 1998 ethnic cleansing campaign against Kurds (including gassing the town of Halabja), the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the crushing of the Kurdish and Shiite rebellions following the war, the killing of political activists, the 1993 massacre of members of the Kurdish Barzain clan, the 1974 killing of Shiite religious leaders, and the killing of 148 people in the Shiite town of Dujail following a 1992 assassination attempt.

Justice: U.S. troops pulled Saddam out of an 8-foot-deep “spider hole” on Dec. 12, 2003, and turned him over to Iraqi authorities a short time later. He made his first appearance in an Iraqi courtroom almost two years later and immediately challenged the legitimacy of his trial, saying, “I preserve my constitutional rights as the president of Iraq…. I do not respond to this so-called court, with all due respect.”

Saddam was convicted and sentenced to death on Nov. 5, 2005, for the killings in Dujail. He was hanged on Dec. 29. As a formality, the court dropped the rest of the charges against him, including genocide, in January, prompting protests from Kurdish groups. (Saddam’s henchman Ali Hassan “Chemical Ali” al-Majid would eventually be executed for his part in the massacre of Kurds.) The emotional victory for Iraqis glad to see Saddam finally face justice was undercut somewhat by unauthorized video footage showing guards taunting the former leader in his final moments.

ALBERTO FUJIMORI

Country: Peru

Charges: 12 charges including organizing death squads that killed at least 25 people in the early 1990s, ordering the kidnapping of a prominent journalist and a businessman, illegal wiretapping, paying off members of congress, and embezzling $15 million.

Justice: Facing a massive corruption scandal, Fujimori resigned the presidency in 2000 and fled to Japan. Tokyo granted citizenship to Fujimori, a Peruvian of Japanese descent, and repeatedly refused the new Peruvian government’s requests for his extradition. Fujimori was arrested in Chile in 2005 and extradited back to Peru in 2007.

Fujimori’s trial began in December 2007 with the former leader angrily denying the charges against him. “As a result of my government the human rights of 25 million Peruvians are respected…. If there were exceptions, I condemn them, but I didn’t order them,” he said.

Fujimori was sentenced to a six-year prison term in 2007 for abuse of power, then convicted of mass murder and kidnapping in 2009 and sentenced to 25 years in jail. He received a third sentence of seven and a half years in 2009 on corruption charges. The best hope for 73 year-old Fujimori, who remains popular among many Peruvians who credit him with rescuing the country’s economy, is his daughter Keiko, currently a leading candidate for president. Keiko has promised she will not pardon her father if elected, but few believe she will keep to her word.

KANG KEK LEW

Country: Cambodia

Charges: Crimes against humanity including the torture and murder of at least 14,000 people.

Justice: Pol Pot, who led the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror over Cambodia from 1976 to 1979, during which nearly one-fifth of country’s population was killed, died under house arrest in 1998 without ever paying for his crimes. But Cambodians finally got a measure of justice for the Khmer Rouge years in 2010 when Kang Kek Lew, better known by his nom de guerre “Duch” was sentenced for crimes against humanity.

Duch had been the leader of the Khmer Rouge’s “Special Branch,” charged with rooting out the enemies of the movement’s brand of agrarian communism, and oversaw the torture and murder of thousands at the infamous S-21 prison. Only a few dozen people are thought to have survived incarceration there. 

Following the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Duch went into hiding, eventually converting to Christianity and working as a teacher in a village school. He was discovered by Western journalists in 1999 and arrested shortly afterward. He was held in a military prison for more than eight years before his first appearance at a U.N.-supported tribunal in 2007. His claims that his rights had been abused during his long imprisonment prompted laughter in the courtroom.

Duch was sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2010 but had his sentence knocked down to 19 years because of the long time he had already been illegally imprisoned. Duch never denied his crimes, only saying he felt “regretfulness and heartfelt sorrow.”

JORGE RAFAEL VIDELA

Country: Argentina

Charges: The torture and murder of 31 dissident prisoners.

Justice: The process of bringing Videla, the general who led Argentina’s military junta from 1976 to 1981 and is considered the architect of the “dirty war” against the government’s leftist opponents, to justice was a long one. More than 30,000 people are believed to have been “disappeared” under Videla’s regime, many of them thrown into the ocean from airplanes. Videla was first sentenced to life in prison for torture, murder, and other crimes in 1985, but he was pardoned five years later by President Carlos Menem. 

He was jailed again in 1998 after being convicted of the kidnapping of children, but transferred to house arrest a short time later due to health issues. In 2007, a court overturned his original pardon, leading to a trial for the murder of 31 activists who shot dead in the city of Cordoba shortly after the military took power. He was sentenced to life in prison (once again) in 2010. He has taken full responsibility for the military’s actions under his rule but is unrepentant, saying that his harsh measures were necessary to prevent a Marxist revolution, and that Argentina is now run by “terrorists.”

JEAN-CLAUDE “BABY DOC” DUVALIER

Country: Haiti

Charges: Corruption and embezzlement.

Justice: Baby Doc followed his father’s example, presiding over economic plunder on a massive scale and the torture and disappearances of hundreds of opponents during his 25 years in power before being ousted in a revolution in 1986. But in January 2011, he made a surprise return from exile in Europe. His homecoming provoked confusion in Haiti, which was still reeling from the effects of a devastating earthquake and in the midst of a contentious presidential election.

Duvalier was arrested and charged with bribery and embezzling state funds a few days after his return. (Many human rights activists were disappointed that he hadn’t been charged with the torture and disappearances that were widespread under his rule.) Several months later, the courts don’t seem to be making much progress in prosecuting Duvalier, who is living in a mansion near Port-au-Prince and is frequently spotted dining out at local restaurants and attending jazz concerts. And with the election of Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, who has stocked his cabinet with former Duvalier officials, it’s appearing less likely that Baby Doc will ever see the inside of a jail cell.