Who should pay for Saddam's crimes?

November 10, 2006

"In practice, it has been a shabby affair, marred by serious flaws that call into question the capacity of the tribunal, as currently established, to administer justice fairly, in conformity with international standards", Amnesty International spokesperson Malcolm Smart told journalists in London after the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (SICT) imposed the death sentence on Saddam Hussein and two of his seven co-accused on November 5.

The former Iraqi president, who was ousted from power in April 2003 by invading US, British and Australian troops, was convicted of crimes against humanity for his involvement in the execution by Iraqi authorities of 148 people from the village of Dujail after an assassination attempt against him there in 1982.

In a November 6 media release, Amnesty said the trial — which began in October 2005, almost two years after Hussein was captured by US troops, and ended in July — was "seriously flawed". Amnesty said that "political interference undermined the independence and impartiality of the court, causing the first presiding judge to resign and blocking the appointment of another, and the court failed to take adequate measures to ensure the protection of witnesses and defence lawyers, three of whom were assassinated during the course of the trial.

"Saddam Hussein was also denied access to legal counsel for the first year after his arrest, and complaints by his lawyers throughout the trial relating to the proceedings do not appear to have been adequately answered by the tribunal."

The SICT was created by the US-led occupation authority and its proceedings have been heavily influenced by US officials. The January 25 Washington Post reported that the "US Embassy and the US Regime Crimes Liaison Office run much of the day-to-day arrangements for the trial".

The May 24 New York Times reported: "The American influence has been undeniably pervasive, with about 90 percent of the $145 million in annual costs for the court and associated investigations paid for by the United States Justice Department, and lawyers sent by Washington acting as advisers."

Thus the US appears to have even influenced the timing of the court's verdict. The November 5 Washington Post reported that the "court originally planned to render a verdict in October but delayed it until two days before the [November 7 US mid-term congressional] election, prompting a defense lawyer for Hussein to write a letter accusing [US President George] Bush of manipulating the proceedings for campaign purposes."

Hussein's regime was undoubtedly responsible for "crimes against humanity". The greatest of these was the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980 — undertaken a year after the Iranian people had risen up and ousted their US-backed autocratic ruler Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Hussein's war of aggression against Iran lasted for eight years and resulted in the deaths of around 500,000 Iraqis and 400,000 Iranians were killed.

During the course of Hussein's war against Iran, around 100,000 Iranian soldiers and some 5000 Iraqi Kurdish civilians were killed by Iraqi poison gas attacks.

Why wasn't Hussein tried for any of these "crimes against humanity"? Because throughout that war Hussein's regime had Washington's support. In December 1983, US President Ronald Reagan dispatched his special Middle East envoy, Donald Rumsfeld (Bush junior's defence secretary until his November 8 resignation) to Baghdad with a hand-written letter to Hussein.

Twelve days after the meeting, the January 1, 1984, Washington Post reported that the US "in a shift in policy, has informed friendly Persian Gulf nations that the defeat of Iraq in the 3-year-old war with Iran would be 'contrary to US interests' and has made several moves to prevent that result".

Three months later, Rumsfeld was back in Baghdad for meetings with then-Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz. United Press International reported on March 24, 1984, that "mustard gas laced with a nerve agent has been used on Iranian soldiers in the 43-month Persian Gulf War between Iran and Iraq, a team of UN experts has concluded … Meanwhile, in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, US presidential envoy Donald Rumsfeld held talks with foreign minister Tariq Aziz on the Gulf war before leaving for an unspecified destination".

The December 15, 1986, Washington Post reported that in July 1984 the CIA began secretly helping Hussein's intelligence service to "calibrate" its mustard gas attacks on Iranian troops. In August 1984, the CIA established a direct Washington-Baghdad intelligence link, and for 18 months, starting in early 1985, the CIA provided Iraq with "data from sensitive US satellite reconnaissance photography … to assist Iraqi bombing raids".

On March 21, 1986, the UN Security Council made a declaration stating that "members are profoundly concerned by the unanimous conclusion of the specialists that chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian troops and the members of the council strongly condemn this continued use of chemical weapons in clear violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925 which prohibits the use in war of chemical weapons". The United States was the only member of the Security Council that voted against the issuing of this statement.

Throughout the period that Rumsfeld was Reagan's Middle East envoy, Hussein's regime began purchasing military equipment from US companies. The February 13, 1991, Los Angeles Times reported: "First on Hussein's shopping list was helicopters — he bought 60 Hughes helicopters and trainers with little notice. However, a second order of 10 twin-engine Bell 'Huey' helicopters, like those used to carry combat troops in Vietnam, prompted congressional opposition in August 1983 … Nonetheless, the sale was approved."

In March 1986, during a major battle with Iranian troops, Hussein's forces attacked the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja with a mix of mustard and nerve gas, killing an estimated 5000 residents. The LA Times reported in 1991 that US intelligence sources had told the paper they "believe that the American-built helicopters were among those dropping the deadly bombs".

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