The Journal Editorial Report | October 21, 2005 | PBS
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briefing and opinion
October 21, 2005

This Week in News
Adnan Fadil al-Saadi and his wife
Adnan Fadil al-Saadi, right, who said his brother Sadeeq Fadil was executed in 1982 for being a member of an opposition party, and his wife Eman, left, react with anger, while watching Saddam Hussein's trial on television in Baghdad, October 19, 2005. (AP/Hadi Mizban)

In the news this week, more controversy surrounding the president's Supreme Court nominee, top administration aides under threat of indictment and a former dictator went on trial.

Harriet Miers
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Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers came under fire from Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate, who have asked her to re-submit parts of her judicial questionnaire, saying her responses were inadequate and insulting. And it was revealed this week that in a questionnaire she submitted during her 1989 campaign for the Dallas City Council, Miers said she would support a constitutional amendment banning abortions except when necessary to save the mother's life.

PAUL GIGOT: John, the Harriet Miers nomination has been getting hit from right and left. What is the White House strategy for getting her through the Senate confirmation?

JOHN FUND: There is a White House strategy. Unfortunately, it's a new one every morning. Every morning the news comes in and it is worse than the day before. This week Senator Arlen Specter and Senator Pat Leahy, the two ranking members of the judiciary committee, almost invited the president to think again about whether or not this is the nominee that he wants. I have to tell you, talking to senators on Capitol Hill, I do not see how this nomination will get through hearings and through confirmation. I think that next week the president is probably going to be visited by some senators who may give him some ideas on an alternative.

GIGOT: Have you heard that talk directly?

FUND: Yes. At least one senator has approached the White House and I think next week several will.

GIGOT: Wow.

DAN HENNINGER: I think it is doing damage to the president. It has certainly doing damage to Harriet Miers. It is almost cruel in a way what has been happening to her and it is beginning to resound I think to the president himself because the public watches it. They see it is a spectacle and somehow it affects the president's standing.

KIM STRASSEL: This is also a sideline too. We are not having a debate about judicial philosophy, which is what the president promised us we were going to have. We were having a debate over Harriet Miers' background and her credibility, about her time on the Texas Lottery Commission.

GIGOT: It is unfair, I think, to Harriet Miers who deserves better. Somebody who is not really familiar with constitutional law in the same way John Roberts was because she hasn't been doing it her entire career. Yet they are sending her up there and expecting her to be able to compete.

HENNINGER: What makes it worse is now the hearings are going to have a very large audience and any small mistake she makes will be magnified far beyond what it should be. Any slip-ups she makes may well cause senators to simply say we can't go forward with this.

Karl Rove
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GIGOT: Two of the most influential men in the Bush Administration -- the president's senior adviser, Karl Rove, and vice-president Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby -- waited for word this week on whether they would be indicted in connection with leaking the name of a CIA agent. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has to make a decision within a week and it has enormous implications for the Bush presidency. Dan, how did this investigation over what was after all a routine kind of Washington leak come to this point?

HENNINGER: Well, it came to this point because the original story, the alleged leaking of this covert CIA agent's name, was a mole hill that was generated into a mountain of controversy. The mistake was that the administration decided that the only way to resolve it was to appoint a special prosecutor. Special prosecutors are very unusual institutions. They are not like a normal prosecutor who looks for a crime and then decides whether you have an individual attached to it. They are appointed to investigate individuals, in this case Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. Having spent all this time and money on this investigation, he has to have something to show for it. We are faced with the prospect of the president's closest advisor being indicted which will be catastrophic for the presidency.

GIGOT: It would be damaging, wouldn't it John?

FUND: Very much so and of course the White House is already in disarray on all these other issues that we've been talking about. I have to say though, if it happens, I think it will be one of the strangest stories ever in Washington because there is no underlying crime. Almost everyone agrees that the law that was investigated probably should not even have been investigated.

GIGOT: And there has been these stories in the press the last couple of weeks about how Patrick Fitzgerald is still mulling this before the grand jury runs out next week. If it is such a difficult decision, if it is such a close call, then why would you make such a momentous decision to indict? You are really essentially torpedoing a second administration and you are doing potentially great damage to the ability of the government to function.

Saddam Hussein
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Almost two years after his capture, Saddam Hussein went on trial this week, charged with ordering the killings of nearly 150 people after an attempt on his life in 1982. Saddam was defiant, even arguing that he was still the president of Iraq. Kim, how important is this trial of Saddam both for Iraq and the Middle East?

STRASSEL: This is huge. I mean what we have here is a very rare example of a dictator in a court of law being tried by the people that he once oppressed. That in its own right has a lot of importance. For one, there is going to be a lot of Middle East dictators who are watching this and they are going to be wondering if something like this couldn't happen to them at some point. Two, it's going to be a great legal education for Iraqis who are going to see due process and see how laws, that they never had while Saddam was in power, can actually be applied. Then three, this is going to be a great example for Americans to see why we went in and did this. They are going to explain the crimes that Saddam Hussein did.

HENNINGER: I think we should also point out that this trial is being criticized for not being up to Western standards. The suggestion has been made that it should be taken out of Iraq and sent perhaps to The Hague. Well Slobodan Milosevic is on trial at The Hague, his trial started in the year 2002.

GIGOT: Former dictator of Yugoslavia.

HENNINGER: The former dictator of Yugoslavia. Three years later it is still rolling with no resolution in sight. The Nuremberg trials tried 24 war criminals in a single year. They too were criticized for not having an appeals process and being victor justice. But the Nuremberg trials are thought to be the gold standard.

GIGOT: Saddam's strategy here is apparently going to be to play to the galleries of Arab nationalist sentiment and blame the Americans, say that this is all their fault and this is all a set up. I don't know that that's going to play though since you're talking about an Iraqi court with Iraqi judges and presumably Iraqi witnesses who are going to testify to what Saddam did to them.

FUND: The witnesses are the most important thing. Never has such a trial ever been seen on Arab television. Now with the satellites they can see it and when they see what Saddam actually did to his own people I think that will speak volumes for what they might start eventually demanding in their own countries.

GIGOT: The due process point is really important here especially if the court grants Saddam's lawyer a delay or certain evidentiary privileges. That is a lot more than they would get in most Arab countries like Saudi Arabia.

STRASSEL: It is important to point out that one of the reasons the trial is being adjourned is so Saddam's lawyers have more time to go through the papers.