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Saddam trial

September 29th, 2005

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,

 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?[1]. 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.

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  1. GDP
    September 29th, 2005 at 16:51 | #1

    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.

    An incompatible yet equally obvious interpretation is that the Dujail case has been chosen because it is the most likely to succeed and carries the maximum possible penalty.

    Al Capone was only ever sent down for tax evasion.

  2. Terje Petersen
    September 29th, 2005 at 17:49 | #2

    I think that proving genocide by the gassing of Kurdish villagers at Halabja is defendable in so far as there is a large body of evidence to suggest that it was not genocide and that it was not Iraqi gas that did the bulk of the killing.

    At the time of the gassing their were supposedly Iranian forces stationed in the town and the gas was targeted at those forces with the intent of getting them to move (the main purpose of gas in warfare is to force the relocation of troops).

    Also there are eyewitness accounts that lend credence to the idea that retaliatory VX gas attacks by the Iranians were the cause of most of the deaths. Certainly this is what the CIA report of the time concluded.

    I am not so naive to think that Saddam was some type of saint. However neither do I automatically believe all the horror stories that circulate about what he did here or there. Propoganda happens on both sides of war. Remember we still have not found the human shredding machine or the weapons of mass destruction.

    The purpose of any trial should be to get to the truth. However I suspect that a non-political trial for Saddam is impossible. If the court found that he was innocent (the correct presumption at the beinging of any fair trial) then would he really be a free man? Such an outcome would no doubt be politically impossible to accept. Any trial will be simply for show. As such it would be far more honest to simply have an execution.

  3. brian
    September 29th, 2005 at 22:23 | #3

    Obviously amongst those giving thought to Saddam’s trial are his old friends like Rumsfeld. We have all seen that infamous photo of the two,Saddam and Rumsfeld meeting in Baghdad in 1980,when Saddam was Washington useful allay against the Iranian revolution. What would saddam have to say in Court in an open trial about Runsfeld and the Reagan regime I wonder, so better to constrist the trial to prevent too mush comming out. When one criminal(Saddam) falls out with a mafia gang like the washington Neo-Cons,et.al. who knows what would emerge !

  4. still working it out
    September 30th, 2005 at 07:38 | #4

    If Saddam is only tried for this relatively unimportant crime it is going to cause big problems for the legitamicy of the new Iraqi state. Alot of Iraqi’s have suffered at the hands of Saddam and they will have been eagerly awaiting for Saddam’s trial for a long time now. This very limited prosecution is going to be questioned and cause disappointment, mainly among the Kurds and Shia.

    The obvious answer to those questions is that people who have control of the new government were in one way or another involved in Saddam’s atrocities. But if the new government has the same people as the old one how can it gain the support of the Shia and Kurds? Or if Western interests vetoed the prosecutions of Saddam for the other crimes, how can it claim to be representing Iraqi’s?

  5. Geoff Honnor
    September 30th, 2005 at 08:04 | #5

    Perhaps the prosecutors have been following the interminable progress of the Milosevic trial in the Hague – now three and a half years – and are understandably wary about the stickability of the grand accusatory sweep?

  6. Roberto
    September 30th, 2005 at 08:19 | #6

    The simpler option with Saddam and the likes of Milosevic and others was to have had them executed summarily.

    Bringing these people to trial is always difficult, because of the political show-trial nature that these hearings always generate. And ultimately the victims never get the compensation they so deserve (be it emotionally or financially).

    The other factor involves evidence. If we look back to Nuremburg, the Nazis had a fastidious, almost to the point of banal, preoccupation with documenting every action and decision taken. In contrast, Saddam’s tin pot dictatorship was riddled with corruption, and cheap petty larceny and given the scheming that went on, the last thing these thugs and crooks would have been concerned with was documenting atrocities. Hence the needle in a haystack in tracking accountability back up the chain to Saddam.

  7. RoD
    September 30th, 2005 at 13:14 | #7

    Nice logic Roberto. What to do with these criminals who summarily execute their political opponents? Well, they should be summarily executed by their political opponents. Its the only way to get justice!

    There is plenty of evidence in Iraq showing what the regime did and to whom and where they bought it all – well, at least there was! I am sure much of it has been carefully destroyed to protect his western accomplices.

    Don’t forget he was ‘our’ dictator for most of the 1980s. The CIA reports that Iranian VX killed most people in Halabja show the extent the West would go to protect Saddam back then. Launching an exocet missile into the USS Stark (hey, these triggers are funny, its easy to blow up a ship protecting your oil tankers)…

    The show-trial will ensure no curly questions are asked. Whether the Great Pr*ck himself will be able to speak freely and name names remains to be seen. 3/1 he contracts a mysterious blood disorder and drops dead before the trial.

  8. Roberto
    September 30th, 2005 at 16:17 | #8

    RoD I think you’ve misunderstood/misinterpreted my comments. My intention was to relay the pragmatic politics/circumstances.

    Take for example the Milosevic case. His ‘human rights’ to a free and fair trial have been fully exercised, however the many thousands of Kosovans who were victim to his ethnic cleansing policy did not and the living victims continue to not receive the same courtesy.

    In addition, the argument that Saddam was ‘our’ guy in the gulf is all a bit silly.

    So if the West was wrong to support Saddam originally, therefore it was also wrong to take him out? So it was better to have kept him in place? In hindsight, it probably was. I’m sure the West could have concocted a deal with Saddam, per the Gaddafi arrangement. So Rod, would you have preferred Saddam to have been kept in place?

  9. September 30th, 2005 at 17:43 | #9

    So Rod, would you have preferred Saddam to have been kept in place?

    This question has about the same resonance as “Have you stopped beating your wife?”.

    The flaw in Roberto’s logic is that he assumes that Saddam’s continuance in office was always only at the discretion of “The West” – which is basically a very neo-colonialist attitude. I have no doubt, like Suharto, that he’d have been brought down by his own people given enough time, and whatever would have emerged from that would have had a lot better chance of succeeding and much greater legitimacy than the current morass.

  10. Roberto
    September 30th, 2005 at 17:48 | #10

    The flaw in Mark’s logic is that had Saddam remained, and either died of natural or unnatural causes, the West would have been sucked into Iraq as a civil war would have inevitably and quickly occured, with both Kurds and Shia rising simultaneously.

    And given no physical presence prior to the ‘revolution’ the West would have found it militarily/logistically far more difficult to control the place.

    Had there been no Western presence, Iraq would have been fractured into 3 parts long ago, with fascist Iran and Syria to either side.

  11. September 30th, 2005 at 18:54 | #11

    No – had Saddam gone the way of all dictators, the system would have been stable enough to find a new dictator pretty smoothly with at worst a palace coup of the “we only kill our own” variety. If you only measure the pragmatic side, it would have been a lesser evil by far than what has happened to date.

  12. Ian Gould
    September 30th, 2005 at 19:55 | #12

    There are three principal problems with prosecuting Saddam fro many of his crimes.

    The first two are practical:

    1. prove that Saddam personally knew of and approved the actions of his hechman and that these actions were illegal.

    2. Saddam’s defence could well claim that as the elected head of state of Iraq he has immunity from criminal prosecution for most ex officio acts. (Yes those elections were blatantly fraudulent – but can the prosecution prove it?)

    The third is political:

    Jalal Talabani. currrent President of Iraq and Masudi Barzani, current Prime Minister of Kurdistan, were both active alliews of Saddam at various points. In Barzani’s case this extended right up into the 1990′s – well after Hallubja anthe Gulf War.

    Given the opportunity, I fully expect Saddam’s defence to call Talibani, Barzani and former-Baathist turned interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi as witnesses for the defence.

  13. Ian Gould
    September 30th, 2005 at 20:56 | #13

    Roberto: The flaw in Mark’s logic is that had Saddam remained, and either died of natural or unnatural causes, the West would have been sucked into Iraq as a civil war would have inevitably and quickly occured, with both Kurds and Shia rising simultaneously.

    Roberto:

    1. Why didn’t this “inevitable” civil war break out following the fall of the Ottoan Empire; the 1921 uprising agaisnt the British; the military coup in the 1950′s that overthrew the monarchy; the Baathist coup that overthrew Kassim’s military dictatorship or Saddam’s coup against the Ba’athist heirachy?

    2. My death is inevitable. I still want to delay it for as long as possible.

  14. jquiggin
    October 1st, 2005 at 06:05 | #14

    Roberto and others are taking the doctrine of pre-emptive war to a new extreme. Three years ago the idea was that we should go to war to prevent people attacking us. Now it seems we should scan the world looking for potential trouble spots and invade them before the trouble starts. Sort of pre-emptive peacekeeping.

  15. Ian Gould
    October 1st, 2005 at 08:41 | #15

    A further thought after thinking on the matter: even if we grant everything that Roberto said there was no particular urgency in attacking Iraq in 2002 (when planning started in earnest) and 2003.

    Wouldn’t it have made sense to wait until the US had won the war in Afghanistan and the US economy wasn’t in such a parlous state?

  16. Ian Gould
    October 1st, 2005 at 08:41 | #16

    A further thought after sleeping on the matter: even if we grant everything that Roberto said there was no particular urgency in attacking Iraq in 2002 (when planning started in earnest) and 2003.

    Wouldn’t it have made sense to wait until the US had won the war in Afghanistan and the US economy wasn’t in such a parlous state?

  17. Roberto
    October 1st, 2005 at 10:38 | #17

    John, I like the title and the concept “pre-emptive peacekeeping”. Any copyright issues on using the term – would make a great book title.

    Ian, the reasons for “Why didn’t this “inevitableâ€? civil war break out following the fall of the Ottoan Empire; the 1921 uprising agaisnt the British; the military coup in the 1950’s that overthrew the monarchy; the Baathist coup that overthrew Kassim’s military dictatorship or Saddam’s coup against the Ba’athist heirachy?” are well documented in a number of books such as Kaplan’s “The Coming Anarchy”, and Hiro’s “Iraq: In the Eye of the Storm “

  18. Katz
    October 1st, 2005 at 11:41 | #18

    On the question of civil war in Iraq, Robert Fisk claims that only al Qaeda and the US occupiers of Iraq are talking about the possibility of civil war. Ordinary Iraqi civilians, according to Fisk, are not.

    Fisk is a journalist for the Independent and according himself one is of the few western journalists brave or foolhardy enough to venture beyond the Green Zone in Baghdad. His evidence for the relatively good feelings between Sunni and Shia is anecdotal.

    Now, it is possible that Fisk is misrepresenting his Iraqi interlocutors. It is possible that Fisk is talking to the wrong folk.

    However, it is also possible that both al Qaeda and the US occupiers have a community of interest in talking up civil disruption, and perhaps even to foment it. And now perhaps the Iranians are getting into this game too.

    It is notorious that al Qaeda in Iraq claim responsibility for many of the bombs exploded in Shiite neighbourhoods.

    It is also notorious that one of the few remaining justifications for US remaining in Iraq is to save Iraqis from themselves.* (see below). It seems clear that US forces have been ordered to hunker down and to maintain a low profile. Apologists claim that Iraqi forces are taking more responsibility. However, mission-capable batallions have reduced from three a year ago to ONE today. So, it is possible that the US has resolved to do less about the pervasive violence in Iraq than they could and less than they did. The fact that Iranian-supplied shaped explosives that are particularly lethal to Humvees are beginning to appear might also explain the US lowering of their profile.

    This hands-off US policy might serve two purposes:

    1. To blunt the body-bag rhetoric kicked off so effectively by Cindy Sheehan.

    2. To demonstrate to the Iraqis that they need the US.

    It could be argued that this a policy born of desperation. A civil war would render irrelevant any claim that the outcome of US intrusion was “democracy”. This would have very unfavourable domestic political consequences in the US. The fact that Iranian arms are finding their way into the hands of killers of US troops suggests the beginning of a whole new dynamic in Iraq.

    *(Bush also tells US audiences that the US invasion of Iraq has saved “freedom” in the US. Most of the rest of the world neither believes this nor cares very much, and it is likely to be a very provocative statement on the streets of Baghdad.)

  19. Marko
    October 1st, 2005 at 11:56 | #19

    Sounds like the War in Iraq could become the source of the reason to go to war against Iran. But if that were the case, what sort of a war would it be? Without conscription and a more pragmatic approach to Weapons of Mass Destruction, how would the US deal with a country of 60 million when it can’t suppress one a quarter of that size? Someone is backing themself into a very dangerous corner.

  20. Ian Gould
    October 2nd, 2005 at 07:38 | #20

    “On the question of civil war in Iraq, Robert Fisk claims that only al Qaeda and the US occupiers of Iraq are talking about the possibility of civil war. Ordinary Iraqi civilians, according to Fisk, are not.”

    Fisk obviously has first-hand knowledge that I don’t6 but if this is the case, Al qaida and the US military seem ot have doen a great job of conning normally skeptical journalists and academics.

    The only name that coems immediately to mind is Juan Cole but if anyone really wants me to I can provide plenty of others.

  21. Ian Gould
    October 2nd, 2005 at 07:43 | #21

    >how would the US deal with a country of 60 million when it can’t suppress one a quarter of that size?

    A war with Iran need not follow the same model as the wars agaisnt Afghanistan and Iraq. Specifically, the US could engage in an air war, bombing the Iranian military and infrastructure with only limited ground fighting.

    This obviously wouldn’t lead to the occupation of the country but might result in the destruction of Iran’s nuclear program and destabilize the current regime.

    More importantly in the eyes of some Republicans, such a war might allow them to go to the 2006 elections with a major distraction from the Iraqi mess.

  22. Ian Gould
    October 2nd, 2005 at 07:57 | #22

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-1687910,00.html

    Allawi: this is the start of civil war
    Hala Jaber, Amman
    IRAQ’S former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi has warned that his country is facing civil war and has predicted dire consequences for Europe and America as well as the Middle East if the crisis is not resolved.

    http://www.wpherald.com/Middle_East/storyview.php?StoryID=20050202-030739-6129r

    BAGHDAD — Restaurant owner Mohammad made what might sound like a surprisingly pessimistic prediction Wednesday: Ethnic clashes leading to civil war will break out within 30 days somewhere in the country, probably in the southern port city of Basra.

    It will take about 10 days for the vote to be tabulated and announced for Sunday’s historic election to seat a 275-member parliament, says Mohammad, who declined to give his real name to protect his safety. In the next 10 days, existing armed groups will step into place, he says. Anytime after Feb. 20, all bets are off, he says.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,7374-1698308,00.html

    IRAQ is slipping into all-out civil war, a Shia leader declared yesterday, as a devastating onslaught of suicide bombers slaughtered more than 150 people, most of them Shias, around the capital at the weekend.

    “What is truly happening, and what shall happen, is clear: a war against the Shias,� Sheikh Jalal al-Din al-Saghir, a prominent Shia cleric and MP, told the Iraqi parliament.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,7374-1746919,00.html

    IN A dramatic midnight turnaround, Iraq’s ruling Shia pulled back from threats to force the new constitution through parliament, putting off a vote to buy more time to win over Sunni Arabs who had threatened civil war if it was passed.

    “If it passes, there will be an uprising in the streets,� Saleh al-Mutlak, a senior Sunni negotiator, said.

    “We will not be silent,� Soha Allawi, another Sunni Arab member of the drafting committee, said. “We will campaign to tell both Sunnis and Shias to reject the constitution, which has elements that will lead to the break up of Iraq and civil war.�

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,7374-1782654,00.html

    ‘Who said there is no civil war? It has started’
    From car dealers to professors, Iraqis are deeply concerned about their country’s plight
    JASSIM SWADI, 36, car dealer, Shia: “Who said there is no civil war in Iraq? It has already started, but the Iraqis are trying to hide this fact because they know how awful this term is. We daily hear about another incident in which Sunnis are getting killed by Shias and Shias who are getting killed by Sunnis. We hear about people who had to leave their home cities and towns to go and live in another place because of the death threats they received. What can you call these incidents other than civil war?�

    Ahmed al-Samara’i, 33, Sunni: “We should thank God that civil war hasn’t started yet. Everything in this country is pointing towards the threat of a serious civil conflict, but I feel really proud of all Iraqis. They managed to stay calm and have not followed their anger. I do feel worried because, if the situation continues like this, people might lose their patience, and that will lead to disaster. I don’t think Zarqawi represents Iraqi ideology, and (he) would never have any influence over Iraqis’ minds. The real problem is the Government and its militias. Their role has been very sectarian, which is creating a split in the Iraqi community.�

    Mohammed al-Jabouri, 26, engineer, Sunni: “The Shias should be very grateful that Sunnis are still calm and are not looking for retaliation for Falluja, Ramadi, Mosul, Tal Afar and all other Sunni cities. This Government, which has been elected by the Shias and is still supported by them, is nothing more than a fascist, sectarian Government. Zar- qawi’s ideology is rejected by all Sunnis, and that’s why we do not have civil war yet. But I’m worried that if the Government keeps oppressing Sunnis, they might turn all Sunnis into Zarqawis, and that (would) destroy the country.�

    Abdel Hussein Mahmoud, 30, barber, Shia: “If you ask any Shia about what he wants to do personally, the answer would be revenge. But the nature of the Shia community differs from other communities in that we follow our marjiya (leading clergy). Sistani is asking all the Shias to stay calm, and not to drag this country into a civil war, and we all share with him the idea that retaliation would turn this place into Hell.�

    Adnan al-Azawi, 49, Professor of Economics, Baghdad University, Shia: “It is a very critical moment in the life of Iraqis because there are many political powers which are trying to create this ethnic split in the country, so Iraqis have to resist this by all means and not give these powers the chance. The situation reflects how Iraqis are very well-educated politically, but there are still some simple people who might misunderstand the situation, and such a misunderstanding might lead to a disaster here. I do not think people listen to what Zarqawi is saying.�

  23. Katz
    October 2nd, 2005 at 14:49 | #23

    Yeah, IG.

    Your citations tend to knock Fisk’s assertions into a cocked hat.

    I’m no apologist for Fisk. I can’t find any credible way to adjust his apparent sincerity with the abundant evidence that throws doubt upon his statement, admittedly made en passant in a radio interview on Melbourne ABC.

    The Sunnis you cite seem very angry at the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government but are unwilling to associate themselves with Zarqawi.

    The Shiites you cite present themselves as loyalists of Sistani who claims religious and civil authority over Shiites and who supports a policy of non-violence toward the Sunni.

    None of them cite the presence of the United States military as a calming force in Iraq.

    Perhaps this can be interpreted as meaning that Iraqis will come to a decision about the necessity of civil war regardless of the presence of US troops.

  24. Ian Gould
    October 2nd, 2005 at 15:04 | #24

    As long as the US is present and the US-aligned Iraqi government forces are overwhelming Shi’ite it’s possible for commentators to portray Sunni/Shi’ite violence as “insurgency”.

    Worryingly, the main alternative to a Sunni/shi’ite civil war seems to be Al Sadr uniting his Shia followers and the indigenous Sunni insurgents in a common front against the US.

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