Most people remember Tariq Aziz as the international face of the Saddam Hussein regime Dapper, well-spoken, and nothing but a toady for perhaps the worst dictator of the latter half of a century known for its bloody and lunatic dictatorships, Aziz faces charges of complicity in the judicial murder of Shi’ite merchants in 1992. The former Saddam deputy faces the new Iraqi justice system, starting today:

He was the international face of Saddam Hussein’s regime — defending Iraq and taunting the West for more than a decade. Now, Tariq Aziz awaits an Iraqi court as the latest member of the Saddam’s inner circle to face trial.

Aziz, 72, the only Christian among Saddam’s mostly Sunni Muslim coterie, and five other defendants face charges in the 1992 execution of dozens of merchants accused of profiteering.

The trial, scheduled to begin Tuesday, could represent the last high-profile Saddam-era figure to face prosecution for alleged atrocities. ….

The trial deals with the execution of 42 merchants accused by Saddam’s government of being behind a sharp increase in food prices when the country was under strict U.N. sanctions.

This trial could prove more difficult than those of previous Saddam deputies, whose hands had more obvious bloodstains. In this case, Aziz stands accused of signing the death orders as a member of a rubber-stamp council. The Revolutionary Command Council did nothing but provide Saddam a fig leaf of supposed oversight; they wouldn’t have dared defy Saddam by refusing to endorse his will. The signatures on the execution orders were, in that sense, meaningless.

However, dictators stay in power by devising mechanisms like the RCC. It gives them a veneer of legitimacy, and it also invests others with enough responsibility to keep them within the fold so as to prevent coups d’etat. Regardless of whether the 42 doomed merchants — executed within hours of their arrests — would have taken place with or without Aziz’ specific signature on that day, men like Aziz made it possible for Saddam’s brutal oppression to take place by routinely signing off on his atrocities.

Joachim von Ribbentrop didn’t actually pull triggers or drop cyanide into shower stalls, either. The strutting diplomat of Adolf Hitler represented the Nazis to the international community, just as Aziz did. He helped Hitler build his death machine by actively participating in the deceptions that kept the international community from interceding, and then negotiated the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that doomed Poland and all of Europe. He wound up swinging from the same gallows that ended the lives of Jodl, Frank, Kaltenbrunner, and most of the first Nuremberg Trial defendants.

Aziz will argue that he just followed orders and knew nothing of the atrocities committed by the dictator he slavishly served. We’ve heard that before, too.  Aziz will discover that civilized justice gives no quarter to enablers.