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German Press Review: Saddamned

Editors at newspapers across Germany raised questions about the legitimacy of the court that will try Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Many also condemned the interim government's decision to reinstate the death penalty.

The new Iraqi government is in a "catch 22" situation wrote the Düsseldorf-based financial daily Handelsblatt. "On the one hand, it has to convince the Iraqi population that Saddam and his minions will be punished," the paper commented, "but on the other, the former president will try to use the hearing to hold a tirade against the Americans and Kuwaitis in order to mobilize his supporters." That's why, the paper warned, the judges must indicate they're not acting simply out of revenge.

The Financial Times Deutschland opined that Saddam Hussein's first appearance before an Iraqi judge raised doubts about whether the trial will truly fulfill the hopes of many. The paper commented that the decision to not broadcast the sound of the former dictator answering questions as a type of censorship. The paper also pointed out that the special tribunal "is already lacking in legitimacy as it was not set up by a democratically elected government" and concluded that the decision by the interim government to reinstate the death penalty and Thursday's false start "don't raise expectations."

There are many points of comparison between Saddam Hussein and ex-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, wrote the editors of the Neue Ruhr/Neue Rhein Zeitung in Essen. "Both felt they were being treated unjustly, both condemned their trials as a theater and both refused to recognize the legitimacy of the courts." But that's not surprising, the editors added, saying "that independence of the judiciary is not part of the standard makeup of a dictatorship."

The Thüringer Allgemeine from Erfurt argued that just like Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein should have been tried before a United Nations International Tribunal. "If a new Iraqi constitution and democratically elected government had already existed, then there would be no reason to fault a domestic trial," the paper wrote. "But the reinstatement of the death penalty by the interim government stands in the way of a fair trial that is supposed to be a model for the region." The paper also warned that, unlike the execution of the Romanian dictator Ceausescus, "there should not be the impression that this is an act of revenge."

Meanwhile, the first speech before parliament by Germany's new president has impressed Bonn's General Anzeiger, which wrote that Horst Köhler has shown himself to be a "thoughtful" and "personable" president. According to the paper, Köhler will no doubt suffer from the limitations of his post just like his predecessor, but his first speech covering a range of issues raises "hope."

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that Köhler said what he thinks and in such a way that it could reach ordinary people. As Köhler himself said, Germans are sick of hearing the word "reform," and the paper praised his ability to not to overdo this "blood and tears" issue. "This could be the start of an unusual presidency" opined the daily.

The situation in Germany has never been as serious as it is now began an editorial in the Mannheimer Morgen, yet Horst Köhler did not lose his sense of humor. With Köhler's presidency, the paper heralded the start of "a new style of politics," one that rather than trying to whine and complain away an economic crisis instead offers a "cheerful attempt to tackle the problem." "It's been a long time since such a fresh heartwarming speech has come out of Berlin's parliament" proclaimed the paper.

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