Read an analysis of the many problems facing Mubarak's trial here.
Justice is said to be blind. But when the defendant is Hosni Mubarak, the former president of Egypt -- whose trial started on Wednesday, Aug. 3, in Cairo -- and the charges include killing protesters and profiteering through abuse of power, courtroom theatrics will inevitably play some part in the proceedings. Sometimes the purpose of a trial isn't so much to achieve objective justice, but to write a new chapter in a country's history -- and in those cases, stentorian speeches about human rights just won't cut it. You wouldn't want the country to mistake the politically freighted proceedings for a purely judicial event.
To be fair, defendant's cages aren't unusual in much of the world, where courtroom proceedings are often closed and judges are accustomed to the sight. But it does seem somewhat pre-Byzantine to those more familiar with Western legal systems that count on a jury's objectivity. And there's a long history of notorious figures pleading from behind bars -- from Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann's famous trial in Jerusalem to Saddam Hussein's courtroom reckoning in Baghdad. Indeed, while transitional justice proceedings usually feature sober assessments of high crimes, the trials themselves are sometimes intended to be part of the punishment: What better way to exact revenge against your former high-and-mighty rulers, after all, than to humiliate them in public?
As for the ousted Mubarak, his first day in court was more humiliating than most. "I deny all these accusations completely," he said, wagging his finger while lying prostrate on a hospital bed that had been wheeled into his courtroom cage. What remains to be seen is whether Mubarak will be given a fair opportunity to make his case. Not all his predecessors who were forced to appear at their trials from behind bars were given that chance.