THE SCRIPT for Kuwait's first postwar trial of alleged pro-Iraq collaborators might have been written in Baghdad by Saddam Hussein -- or in Prague, by Franz Kafka. After less than three hours of hearings a martial-law court convicted and sentenced six people in a process that one Western diplomat described as "bizarre." To the bewilderment of defense attorneys, no witnesses for the defendants were allowed nor were the attorneys permitted to cross-examine their clients. Allegedly incriminating evidence wasn't made public. The accused were given no chance to face their accusers. Some among the defendants said their confessions had been extracted under torture.
The sentences, which can't be appealed, were in keeping with the mode of trial. The most extreme saw a young man accused of wearing a T-shirt with Saddam Hussein's picture on it -- defined as as act of collaboration -- being imprisoned for 15 years. About 300 more persons, most of them foreigners, await trial on charges of aiding Iraq's seven-month-long occupation of Kuwait. Many of these accused undoubtedly helped the Iraqis. But if last weekend's summary trial is indicative of Kuwaiti justice then the fairness of what is about to follow is inevitably called into question.
The United States and other Western countries have urged Kuwait to conduct open trials that respect the rights of the accused. This first trial was open, but the defendants were utterly denied those rights that in any society are essential to judicial fairness. Najeeb al-Wugayan, one of the defense attorneys, says the trial mocked the ideals that guided the American-led campaign to restore Kuwait's independence. Islamic and traditionally autocratic Kuwait shouldn't overnight be held to Western ideals of due process or civil rights. But the chief judge at this trial promised fairness. Under no conceivable definition of the word did that occur.