Theater of Cruelty

Saddam Hussein and the beam in the United States eye

American politicians should sit on the bench with Saddam Hussein, writes Dag Sørås in this article.


Trial against Iraq's former dictator Saddam Hussein has finally started up again, and the world community welcomes the fact that the despot will eventually have to deal with his crimes. However, there is one pressing question that is likely to be kept far away from the agenda in the flora of Western commentary on the subject; should Hussein have joined the prosecution bench of both US and European heads of state?

Although the George W. Bush administration during the build-up to the attack on Iraq presented the crimes of Saddam Hussein's regime in a historical vacuum with no room for nuance or historical reflection, it may be instructive to take a brief (but sincere) look back at how the "monster" Saddam came to power: US authorities, through the CIA, were directly involved in the coup that overthrew Abdul Karim Qasim's government in 1963. U.S. intelligence provided Iraqi insurgents, including Saddam Hussein himself, with a list of Communists, left-wing intellectuals, radical nationalists, and other potentially troublesome people who should be liquidated. The ensuing massacre killed around 5000 people and brought the Ba'ath party to power. Throughout the 70s, however, there were some tensions in relations between the United States and Iraq, when Iraq signed a pact of friendship with the Soviet Union in 1972. After the Khomeini revolution in Iran in 1979 (which overthrew Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlevi, another dictator in office of the West) Iraq, on the other hand, developed into a close and strategically important ally of the United States.

Despite opposition in Congress In 1982, Ronald Reagan removed Iraq from the list of states that support terrorism, thus allowing Hussein's regime to officially receive assistance. The Americans, along with Britain, Germany and France, among others, provided massive military, economic and diplomatic support to Saddam's tyranny throughout the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). Gary Sick, who at this time worked in the National Security Council, denies that the United States directly urged Saddam to attack Iran, but admits that "we let Saddam assume it was a green light because there was no clear red light." The war included the merciless Anfal campaign in Northern Iraq, which cost about 190,000 Kurds. Most notorious was the attack by mustard and nerve gas on the city of Halabja in March 1988, a massacre that George W. Bush and Tony Blair shamelessly used as an example of the Iraqi regime's relentless brutality. On the other hand, they never mentioned that Saddam, in a White House security directive dated no more than nineteen months after Halabja, was referred to as "the Western policeman in the region". Thus, the despot's use of "chemical weapons against his own people" had no bearing on America's relationship with the country. On the contrary, as Bruce Jentleson knows The Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy have documented, so increased in fact, Americans export to their friend Saddam by up to 50 percent after this massacre. Included in these exports were materials that could be used to procure chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

In Washington's eyes In fact, Saddam Hussein did nothing wrong until he invaded Kuwait in August 1990. This came a month after April Glaspie, the US ambassador to Iraq, had explained to Saddam that the US had "no point of view" on the border conflict between Iraq and Kuwait. But American cooperation with the Ba'ath regime even continued by that the Gulf War ended when the US military in March 1991 allowed Saddam to crush a rebellion in northern or southern Iraq that would very much topple the dictatorship. Bush senior openly explained afterwards that it was better in "the name of stability" that Saddam remained in power. Thomas Friedman i New York Times, which backed the 2003 war on a "moral basis," wrote in July 1991 that "the best of all worlds" would have been a "military junta" that ruled Iraq with "iron hands". In other words, the best would be someone who ruled Iraq just like Saddam Hussein, but at the same time followed orders from Washington.

With this story in mind, we now arrive at the settlement hour with Saddam Hussein, behind a huge security ombud in the so-called "green zone" in Baghdad. Curiously, the charge against Hussein is based solely on a massacre in Dujail in 1982, in which about 143 Shi'ites were killed. While this was undoubtedly a terrible crime in itself, it is by Hussein's horrendous yardstick a small offense. The argument for limiting the case to a relatively minor crime is that it was easiest to gather evidence against Saddam in exactly this case. This is highly debatable. For example, Noah Leavitt, law professor at Whitman College, has observed that the Anfal campaign consists of "a much larger number of victims, more witnesses and more documentation". The Occupation Force, on the other hand, fears that the shameful and bloody details surrounding their own collaboration with Hussein will need attention.

With his declaration of a worldwide "war on terror" after September 11, George W. Bush made it clear that the United States would not distinguish between the terrorists who carried out the attacks against New York and Washington, and those who sponsored and protected them. If we use this (basically sensible) principle in the lawsuit against Hussein, then it means that those who sponsored the wrongs of the Iraqi regime should of course also be made available for their involvement in mass murder. It is now too late to hold Ronald Reagan responsible for his massive criminal actions, but there is still life left in accomplices such as George HW Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Margaret Thatcher and John Major. In other words, if we recognize very basic legal principles about complicity in murder, then Saddam Hussein should be joined by his old friends on the prosecution bench in Baghdad. Since this seems highly unlikely at the present time, one should at least be able to ask that the US authorities not invoke any moral authority in this matter.

Dag Sørås is a former master's student in English at NTNU, Trondheim. Delivered a master thesis entitled "Through A New Paradigm: Operation Iraqi Freedom And Beyond".

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