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Is Saddam’s Arrest a Pyhrric Victory?

The “capture” of Saddam Hussein is being hailed as a great victory for President Bush. After all, who needs to worry about the missing weapons of mass destruction or the lack of ties between Hussein and the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, now that we’ve caught the “Butcher of Baghdad”?

Bush is likely to gain some political mileage from Hussein’s arrest. But the terrorism Bush’s war has unleashed in Iraq is likely to continue or increase, and Hussein can no longer be blamed for it now that he’s in custody.

The media have treated us to wall-to-wall coverage of Hussein’s arrest — including shots of a doctor looking into Hussein’s mouth as he grimaces. This violates the Geneva Convention, which forbids subjecting prisoners to humiliation and public ridicule. We have not, however, been reminded that Hussein was one of the United States’ main allies in the 1980s when he used chemical weapons given to him by the United States.

Will Hussein really “face the justice he denied to millions,” as promised by Bush the morning after Hussein’s arrest? The new Iraqi criminal tribunal statute under which Hussein will likely be tried was established with $75 million of U.S. money by the administration’s handpicked Iraqi Governing Council and approved by the Pentagon and the State Department. It is the first criminal tribunal that has no international or U.N. involvement. Its decisions will also be tainted because it was created while Iraq was under occupation.

Bush has once again thumbed his nose at the International Criminal Court, which was developed during a 50-year period by international legal experts and scholars to try genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. None of the three existing tribunals — the International Criminal Court, the Yugoslav and Rwanda tribunals — allow for the death penalty; yet, the new Iraqi court may well permit capital punishment. Will Hussein be executed right before the U.S. election next November?

Moreover, Iraq must afford defendants the fair trial rights guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iraq has ratified. It requires that the accused be brought promptly before a judge, informed of the charges against him, and be afforded a speedy, public and fair trial with the presumption of innocence, counsel of his choice and the privilege against self-incrimination. The United States, which has also ratified this covenant, has denied all of these rights to the prisoners at its Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison camp.

Fortuitously, Hussein’s arrest came right after the Bush administration was put on the defensive by the revelation that Vice President Dick Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, overcharged U.S. taxpayers $61 million for delivering oil to Iraq. The arrest of Hussein is also likely to deflect criticism from Bush’s preferential awarding of lucrative Iraq reconstruction contracts to countries that backed his war on Iraq, in violation of the rules of the World Trade Organization.

Perhaps the most tragic aspect of this media spectacle is that it distracts us from the hell our troops are facing for no good reason in Iraq. Not only has the Bush administration denied us the right to mourn with the families of dead soldiers as the caskets return shielded from media cameras, it has withheld some Purple Hearts so the hundreds of wounded cannot be accurately tallied.

Notwithstanding the arrest of Hussein, we must call on our government to turn the administration of Iraq over to the United Nations and bring our troops home immediately.

MARJORIE COHN, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, is executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild. She can be reached at: cohn@counterpunch.org

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.