Gary Bass in the NYT comments on the possibility that Saddam could be sentenced to death and executed for a 1982 massacre of about 100 villagers, without ever being brought to trial on the main array of charges against him, including killing political rivals, crushing the Shiite uprising in southern Iraq in 1991, invading Kuwait in 1990 and waging the genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurds in 1988, including gassing Kurdish villagers at Halabja. As Bass says,
Â A thorough series of war crimes trials would not only give the victims more satisfaction but also yield a documentary and testimonial record of the regime’s crimes.
But looking at this list raises a more basic question. Why hasn’t Saddam been charged with any crime more recent than 1991?. In the leadup to the war, and in its aftermath, it was routinely claimed that Saddam’s regime, at the time it was overthrown was among the most brutal dictatorships in the world. Even among opponents of the war, including myself, hardly anyone doubted that the regime routinely practised murder and torture. Why then aren’t there any charges covering this period? Presumably both documents and witnesses are more readily available than for a crime committed more than twenty years ago.
This Washington Post story gives some background to the Dujail case, which involved a combination of collective punishment and rigged trials in the wake of a failed assassination attempt:
Hussein is alleged to have ordered the killings in Dujail, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, in retaliation for an attempt on his life there on July 8, 1982. In an ambush organized by the Dawa party — a Shiite political group whose members include Iraq’s current prime minister, Ibrahim Jafari — gunmen concealed in a palm grove fired on Hussein’s passing motorcade. Within hours, army helicopters were conducting airstrikes on Dujail and soldiers were rounding up villagers. Hundreds were imprisoned, and many of them were tortured or executed.
Three men who allegedly orchestrated the massacre are Hussein’s co-defendants in the case: his half brother and former intelligence chief, Barzan Tikriti; former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan; and Awad Haman Bander Sadun, the former chief judge of the Revolutionary Court that sentenced 143 men from Dujail to death.
A verdict finding that this kind of collective punishment is a war crime, and that those involved risk execution or life imprisonment would certainly be a valuable precedent: Saddam is far from unique in using helicopter gunships, indiscriminate arrests, torture and murder [judicial or otherwise] in cases of this kind.
Still, the idea that Saddam and his main accomplices could be executed for the Dujail massacre, precluding any trial for the great crimes of the 1980s and early 1990s, or for the continuing crimes we went to war to stop (at least in the revised version of history now adopted by most supporters of the war) is deeply disturbing. An obvious interpretion of such an outcome is that too many people have something to hide in all these cases, and that the Dujail case has been chosen because it does not run the risk of raising any awkward questions.
fn1. “Murdering political rivals” is a possible exception, but there weren’t many rivals left after Saddam consolidated his hold on power.