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Pulling the Court Strings


At last, the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein, on trial. At first glance, the event seems a landmark symbol of victory for the Iraqi people. But beneath the sense of vindication and hope experienced by countless Iraqis that justice will, finally, be done, there lies a bitter irony.

Which is this: Saddam and his Ba’ath Party were brought to power by the west. Indeed, the west is deeply complicit in the vast majority of the heinous crimes against humanity he perpetrated during his iron fisted rule. We seem to have forgotten that Saddam himself was hired by the Americans in 1963, as confirmed by former Ba’athist leader Hani Fkaiki, when he helped to compile black-lists of Iraqis to be killed in the pursuit of the Ba’athist rise to power. He was one of many exiles working at CIA stations throughout the Middle East. The ensuing bloodbath, orchestrated by the CIA, resulted in the deaths of 5,000 Iraqis, including doctors, teachers, lawyers and professors. Saddam himself participated in the massacres.

After coming to power, Saddam was considered a great friend of the United States in its strategic vision of Middle East “order.” A National Security directive issued by President Bush in October 1989 described Saddam as the “West’s policeman in the region.” Such statements were backed by consistent and massive financial–and of course military–support to his regime. The problem is that western sponsorship of Saddam meant, inevitably, the sponsorship of his crimes. Take the notorious Anfal campaign in 1988 killing nearly 190,000 Kurds, where Saddam’s forces used mustard gas and nerve agents at Halabja. Approximately 5,000 Kurds died due to the chemical attack, and another 12,000 were seriously injured.

After the massacres, despite urgent concerns raised at government level by the Senate, NGOs and other international observers, the US was granting new licenses for dual-use technology exports–materials that could be used to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons – at a rate more than 50 per cent greater than before Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds. At around the same time, US Customs Service inspectors had “detected a marked increase in the activity levels of Iraq’s procurement networks. These increased levels of activity were particularly noticeable in the areas of missile technology, chemical-biological warfare and fuze technology.”

All of this grim history has not been lost on the Americans, who have controlled the trial process from the beginning, and see it as a way of convincing the world of moral and humanitarian principles behind US aims in Iraq. They have ensured that the case against Saddam is limited to his having ordered the killings of approximately 145 people from the Shi’ite town of Dujail in 1982. While certainly a heinious atrocity in itself, it barely scratches the surface of Saddam’s massive record of repression, largely achieved with unwavering green lights from the west. These include crushing the 1991 Shi’ite uprising in southern Iraq, the 1990 invasion of Kuwait (remember April Glaspie?), as well as the genocidal Anfal campaign.

Court officials say that the 1982 incident was the easiest and quickest case to put together. Wrong. As Noah Leavitt, a professor of law at Whitman College, observes, the Anfal atrocities are far better known, involving “much larger numbers of victims, more witnesses and more documentation.” So why, after two years of waiting around with ample time to construct a powerful case against Saddam for all his crimes, the exclusive focus on one mass killing in 1982?

The answer is simple. It simply would not do for the United States to have the Saddam trial collapse into a gore-filled revelation of precisely how the west connived in Saddam’s rise to power, jockeyed to supply him with financial and military assistance, and actively supported him throughout his blood-soaked career.

Such a spectacle would reveal the ironic fiction that unforunately pervades the entire trial proceedings: the fact that Saddam is now being tried in a court made by the very governments most complicit in his crimes.

So the goal posts have already been fixed. As Amnesty International pointed out, the tribunal’s statute “is not consistent with international law.” The problems with due process are so bad, that “trials and further investigations should not proceed” until the concerns raised by independent international legal experts are “adequately addressed.” No sign of that so far.

The tribunal was established by the Iraqi interim government under the supervision of US occupation authorities. There is no jury, only five Iraqi judges assisted by American and British advisers, appointed again with US guidance. The rules of evidence and procedure they will use were also formulated under US tutelage. Unbelievably, the case will proceed according to Saddam’s own 1971 criminal law, and judges need only be “satisfied” of the defendant’s guilt–not “satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt.” With the death penalty on the table, the possibility remains that Saddam could by tried, convicted and executed solely for his role in a single killing spree in 1982, without any of his other crimes coming under any sort of legal scrutiny.

The presence of the death penalty, of course, raises other pertinent questions. Imagine an unlikely scenario where the United States and Britain were brought into the case as co-defendants for their complicity in the myriad of Saddam’s crimes extending well beyond the 1982 atrocity, both before and after? Would the death penalty still apply?

NAFEEZ MOSADDEQ AHMED is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development in London (, and the author of three books including Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq and his latest, The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism. He teaches courses in international relations at the School of Social Sciences and Cultural Studies at the University of Sussex.


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