Smith & Saddam – Faits Accomplis

Done! And the timing was perfect too, just before the new year.

Near midnight Friday, December 29, US Marine Cpl. Daniel Smith, convicted rapist, was spirited out of the Makati City jail and surrendered to the custody of US embassy authorities. It was the start of the new year’s weekend and all interested parties were out partying. The Philippine and US governments, taking advantage of the prevailing holiday mood, made the switch quietly and efficiently. By the time the press and the public learned about it, Smith was safe in the loving embrace of Uncle Sam, at least for the time being.

Nicole, supposed rape victim, was properly outraged, calling President Arroyo a shameless back-stabber for giving in to US demands. Malacanang justified the move as an “executive decision”, thus allowing the Chief Executive to enter into an agreement with the US authorities that Smith be returned to American custody pending appeal of his conviction.

Smith’s detention was a farce anyway. He was given special living quarters during his 25-day stay and was never included in the general prison population. He was under 24-hour guard by burly U.S. security personnel, who could be spotted at various Makati coffee places near the city jail when not with Smith. His food was brought to him, according to his wants and specifications. This special treatment made a mockery of the trial court’s order for his detention at the city jail and his transfer, though sudden and surreptitious , was no surprise.

It was a calculated move on the part of President Arroyo. Faced with the possibility of a reduction in US military support and having the opportunity to remove an irritant in Philippine-US relations, GMA acted with dispatch. The long weekend and the holiday hangover would blunt the impact of any immediate public outcry. Moreover, those who would protest most loudly are the same ones calling for her resignation over other issues. They would still hate her whatever she does. So she did the most politically expedient thing.

Some lawyers warn of a constitutional crisis since the executive action was in defiance of judicial prerogatives. This probably won’t materialize. There is a credible argument for the position that the transfer is allowed under the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the U.S. The courts can also take the convenient cop-out that the issue is “political” in nature, involving the overriding national interests of both countries, and that that the courts therefore cannot rule on the matter.

The U.S. also had opportunity during the weekend to rid itself of an even bigger vexation in the person of Saddam Hussien. He was convicted for ordering the killings of Shiite Muslims in the city of Dujail in 1982 after a botched assassination attempt. Saddam was hanged at the start of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic world’s largest holiday, which marks the end of the Muslin pilgrimage to Mecca, the Haj. It was generally assumed that the week-long holiday would stay his execution. He was also still under trial for genocide and other crimes, notably the killing of an estimated 180,000 Kurds in northern Iraq in 1987-88.

But the U.S.- backed, Shiite-dominated government wasted no time. Saddam was sent to the afterlife in the early Baghdad dawn of December 30, calm and composed but still defiant. A video clip of Saddam in the execution chamber, a noose being tied around his neck, was shown by the BBC and other international news channels.

It is expected that there will be a spike in the internecine violence in Iraq in the weeks following Saddam’s death. U.S. plans for an early exit would have to be reevaluated accordingly.

As the Chinese curse goes, may you live in interesting times. 2007 promises to be an interesting year.

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