Monday, November 06, 2006

Sinning, Preaching, Hypocrisy and the Saddam Verdict

Let Him Who is Without Sin Tie the First Noose.

As Bush welcomed the news of Saddam's impending hanging, one could almost suspect that his fervour against the Iraqi leader is motivated by the same fears that led Ted Haggard to preach Hellfire so strongly against homosexuality-to expunge the guilt of his White House cabal.

Civilized countries no longer execute criminals-not even someone like Saddam Hussein who is indeed guilty of the most heinous crimes, Ramsey Clark and similar apologists notwithstanding. Even less do they engineer the timing of a death sentence in order to win a Mid-Term election.

If the Iraqi prosecutors had tried and found Saddam guilty of the much bigger massacres using poison gas at Halabja rather than the token case of the mass murder in Dujail in 1982, it would have raised some very interesting questions. Instead, Iraqi prosecutors, backed by American legal brains, showed singular restraint. Of all his crimes, and all his hundreds of thousands of victims, they chose this one incident with 148 dead. That is rather fewer than Palestinians accuse Ariel Sharon of killing in the Sabra and Shatila two months later.

It is of course horrendous, but in scale far less than Saddam achieved in later years, and indeed far less than George W. Bush alleged against the Iraqi leader when he was trying to spur the UN General Assembly into supporting invasion in 2002.

Even so this verdict does firmly establish that the hand that Donald Rumsfeld shook in 1983 was already blood-soaked. But subsequent events show the active complicity of the White House cabal. Following that massacre, and while Saddam was waging a war of aggression against Iran, the US extended billions in agricultural credits, which amounted to a "War for Food" program, to Baghdad. Indeed, in 1984 Washington sold Iraq the Bell helicopters used later in 1988 to spread the poison gas.

The Republican administration and its chums in London sold the fixings for weapons of mass destruction to rain on the Kurds and Iranians, in the war that the UN later (albeit somewhat shamefacedly in the teeth of Washington's displeasure) declared that Saddam Hussein had started.

In the context of the prosecutors' decision to hang the whole case on Dujail, the refusal to refer the case to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, or to a special international tribunal, or even to allow a hybrid international tribunal as in Sierra Leone, acquires a new significance.

When the trial began, John Bolton's pathological opposition to the UN in general and to the International Criminal Court in particular looked like sufficient motive not to internationalize the trial. Rationally of course, the Iraqi legal system was hardly experienced in conducting fair trials on such matters, and the social implications of Sunni perceptions of Shi'a vengeance should have raised alarms. However, the Bush administration ran the Occupation, as their British allies at the time complained, and almost everyone now agrees, with FEMA-like incompetence and ignorance.

In legal matters we know the Bush administration has the A-team. (Just check with the Supreme Court in re Bush vs. Florida in 2000!). They would have realized that if the case had gone to an international tribunal, with an independent prosecutor, then the case would almost certainly have been much more voluminous and extensive, and would have covered crimes committed during the honeymoon initiated by Rumsfeld's visit.

How could the Bush administration applaud the hanging of a man whom they supported when he was carrying out his crimes? He did not become a murderer when he invaded a Kuwait: he was already a recidivist aggressor, murderer and torturer when US diplomats effectively stopped the UN reviewing both his invasion of Iran and his use of poison gas.

In any real justice system, the severity of the former Iraqi leader's crimes after 1982 is in no way diminished by the support that the British, American and even Russian governments offered him while he was carrying out some of the worst of them.

There is a very good case for the ending of impunity for sovereign leaders that international jurisdiction now offers, and to that extent, it is satisfying to see Saddam Hussein brought to justice. But that cause is diminished when the illegal invaders and occupiers of a country set up a court and manipulate a trial and execution for political advantage at home.

That picture of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein should be on every Democratic candidate's web site and election material to remind voters of who not only started the disastrous current war in Iraq, but gave such a hands-up to the murderous career of the current fall-guy.

No comments: