Monday, February 13, 2006

Saddam’s Innocent Till Proven Guilty

This article about Hussein’s trial, written by an Ayn Rand Institute person, makes a strange claim: “A trial that presumes Hussein’s innocence can achieve nothing but a travesty of justice.” Now, if the article were just about the fact that the trial has become a farce, I would agree. If the claim were that the Islamic world needs profound philosophical reform before it can even lay a legitimate claim to the opportunity to provide objective, real justice in a trial format, I would agree, also.

But the claim that no trial may presume Hussein’s innocence is different. The presumption of innocence is not a matter of political preference or judicial expediency; it’s an epistemological necessity that can’t be escaped. It arises from the rule of “onus probandi,” that the person who makes the positive claim must also provide the reasons supporting that claim. And that rule rests on the fact that it is simply impossible to prove a negative: a person cannot logically disprove the infinite number of hypothetical claims that might support a claim. For example, one simply cannot prove that Columbian drug lords, or space aliens, or space alien drug lords, did not murder Nicole Brown Simpson. But one can prove that there is no reasonable doubt that O.J. Simpson did murder her.

So, yes, a rational trial of Saddam Hussein would presume his innocence. I think that presumption would be very, very easy to overcome, but it cannot be dispensed with.