"…a tragic assault upon truth and justice"

Back from my short travels, whilst I was going to post up about what I’ve been up to, which for the most part has been a lot of fun … I’ve elected not to for now … given that my thoughts have been overshadowed with something else … it’s taken me several days to rationalise my thoughts and I’ve edited this post in dribs and drabs whilst I was away … just trying to articulate what it is that bothers me. If it appears disjointed then I apologise in advance.

What’s been bothering me over the last few days is The Execution of Saddam of Hussein on Eid. It’s safe to say the event divided opinion amongst the group of people I was with – and it was a pretty diverse group of folks from all around Europe. Not enough to completely ruin our excursion but enough to give us all pause, and a need to debate the issue. What did suprise me was that everyone agreed the trial was a farce, but the penalty he received was probably what he deserved.

Before I go on, I guess I need to qualify anything further with some caveats: I’m in no way a supporter of Saddam, or sympathiser or trying to defend any of his actions. I couldn’t possibly describe myself as a pacifist and I’m certainly not against the death penalty … which was a truth I discovered whilst working with Amnesty International when I was younger … I started off with spirited idealism which was fine up until the point I came to believe that for some crimes death was an appropriate sentence, which unfortunately wasn’t in line with Amnesty’s views and I moved on … although I do have great respect for the work that organisation does.

So if I think he did deserve to die for his crimes, why am I bothered about it, or writing this?

My concern is with the farce that was his trial and the politically motivated execution that took place on the holiest day in the Islamic calendar. I’m hardly the most devout of Muslims … like many people I’m trying to find my faith, yet as despondent as I am even I was stunned by the insensitivity of executing him on the day that they chose to. For anyone who cant understand why that bothers me, imagine the distaste you might feel, for example, as a Christian, if Mr Bush or Blair was executed on Christmas Day for Crimes against Humanity? Put it this way I know this single event overshadowed the Eid celebrations for every Muslim I know.

Before I go on I have to thank Wikipedia, it truly is an invaluable resource when researching anything these days and I’ve certainly been using it a lot particularly in finding some of the materials I reference in this discussion.

I want to start by talking about the trial.

When Saddam was captured and it was evident that he would face trial, like many people I assumed that this monster would be tried in the International Criminal Court, he would undoubtedly be charged with Crimes against Humanity and given the unstable state of Iraq, and the fact that it is currently occupied, surely it would be in the interest of justice and truth for the trial to be neutral and held under the auspices of being fair and independent – I just couldn’t see how the national judicial system would be able to provide that. As with the Nazi’s at Nuremberg the facts of Saddam’s atrocities would thus be documented for the world to see.

As a student of history I like to believe that we can learn from the mistakes of the past. The Nuremberg Trials, whilst flawed in some ways, where formed by the Allies under Truman and Churchill’s genuine hope at the time that they were keen for justice to be done, and to be seen to be done. On September the 30th 1946 the War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg gave its judgement on 22 Nazi War Criminals. I believe its greatest achievement was in providing a fair trial under the most difficult of circumstances to a group of men who most people felt deserved it the least. Nuremberg uncovered the horrors of those atrocities, detailed them for the world to see, the ramifications of which still haunt us today.

I was studying the aftermath of the second world war at college, and how Nazi war criminals were brought to justice, when I first I read this, and the warning it carries:

We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.

– Justice Robert Jackson at Nuremberg

Interestingly I’m not the only one … I came across this article written by Curtis Doebbler, one of the defence lawyers assigned to Saddam. Doebbler describes in no uncertain terms how the Iraqi Special Tribunal (IST) handled the case. He points out what I believe the fundamental flaw behind this trial:

The trial was undertaken by a court set up and controlled by the United States, an occupying power. This violates the express provisions of international humanitarian law in the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Which is compounded by the revelation he makes that …

In addition the US has allegedly written the final decision as they wrote the closing statement for the defense after the judge forced the defense lawyers chosen by the defendants out of the courtroom.

It’s seems incomprehensible to me that a foreign power that clearly wanted him dead could write the closing statement for the defense in his trial, it also makes a mockery of President Bush’s assertion that “Saddam was executed after receiving a fair trial”. Now I don’t know if its possible that Saddam could ever have received a fair trial anywhere, but at least call it what it was, a scripted show put on for the benefit of making some impotent gesture to create the appearance of propriety. The entire proceeding was a denigration of law and should rightly outrage our sense of justice … and perhaps the reason it doesn’t is because he was a monster. But even if he was should that diminish our responsibility to the ideals we supposedly believe in? It’s hard to extol the virtues of democracy if were willing to shelve them in order to get rid of a thorn in our side.

Of everything I’ve read around these proceedings nothing captivated me as much as a short interview I saw, whilst away, on BBC News 24 with Ramsey Clark who said the following in answer to the question: “The execution itself is it any justice?”

Its a tragic assault upon truth and justice, and the consequences for the future can be dire not only to the people of Iraq and the passions it will inflame and perhaps ripple beyond, but to the idea and hope for international law. The court reeked of prejudice … before the trial started the judge said we don’t need a trial we just need a hanging.

You can view the interview here on the BBC site.

Alarmingly of all the atrocities that Saddam is known to have committed his trial was based around a single atrocity, the killing of 143 Shiites from Dujail, in retaliation for the failed assassination attempt of 8 July 1982. Why is this alarming? Well why not put him on trial for the Halabja Poison Gas Attack? It also falls under the description of a Crime against Humanity, it was an even more barbaric act than the one for which he was ostensibly executed. In answering this question you come to what I think was the truth behind his trial and the reason the US and other nations were so eager for him to be tried for the single atrocity, that would appease the overwhelmingly Shiite government, and for the court not to venture into anything else. The answer lies in how Saddam came to power and the assistance he received.

In 1958, a year after Saddam had joined the Ba’ath party, army officers led by General Abdul Karim Qassim overthrew Faisal II of Iraq. The Ba’athists opposed the new government, and in 1959, Saddam was involved in the attempted United States-backed plot to assassinate Qassim. Concerned about Qassim’s growing ties to Communists, the CIA gave assistance to the Ba’ath Party and other regime opponents. This paved the way for Saddam to eventually become the leader of Iraq and an ally of the US. For a more detailed account read this.

In 1979 Iran’s Shah was overthrown in the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. This alarmed the west and they needed a buffer between themselves and Khomeini and his expansionist Islamic state. That’s why they armed the Iraqi dictator with amongst other things the materials with which to build … chemical weapons, I’d insert a quip here about what happened to the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction but it isn’t as though anyone gives a flying f*** if its the Americans dishing out WMD’s to their buddies 😉 … Ok im being unfair …. its important to point out that it wasn’t just the US but a number of other nations who must share the responsibility … these nations are listed here. In fact I wonder if any of the companies listed here ever faced legal proceedings or even censure for their part in equipping the regime, or ever revealed how much money they made from these transactions ( as well as who they made political contributions too at the time 😉 )

Here’s an extract from Wikipedia:

During the war, Iraq used Western supplied chemical weapons against Iranian forces fighting on the southern front and Kurdish separatists who were attempting to open up a northern front in Iraq with the help of Iran.[16]

On March 16, 1988, the Kurdish town of Halabja was attacked with a mix of mustard gas and nerve agents, killing 5,000 civilians, and maiming, disfiguring, or seriously debilitating 10,000 more. (see Halabja poison gas attack) [10]. The attack occurred in conjunction with the 1988 al-Anfal campaign designed to reassert central control of the mostly Kurdish population of areas of northern Iraq and defeat the Kurdish peshmerga rebel forces. The United States now maintains that Saddam ordered the attack to terrorize the Kurdish population in northern Iraq,[17] but Saddam’s regime claimed at the time that Iran was responsible for the attack[18] and the US supported the claim until the early 1990s.

So perhaps the real reason Saddam’s trial was so short was that a proceeding as thorough and competent as the Nuremberg trial would have revealed in detail not only the historic truth of what happened at Halabaja, but of all the other atrocities that the US, and other regional powers, colluded with him in. That might have been a bit much for our western sensibilities to palette. Not to mention demands from survivors and their relatives for reparations, compensation etc. etc. and thats exactly what would happen since one of the results of the Nuremberg Trials was drafting of The Convention on the Abolition of the Statute of Limitations on War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in 1968, which basically meant there was no period of limitation for crimes against humanity … to further expound on this:

Article 2. If any of the crimes mentioned in article I is committed, the provisions of this Convention shall apply to representatives of the State authority and private individuals who, as principals or accomplices, participate in or who directly incite others to the commission of any of those crimes, or who conspire to commit them, irrespective of the degree of completion, and to representatives of the State authority who tolerate their commission

It’s certainly widely believed that the proliferation of weapons in this manner was aided by the CIA as well as the knowledge to build them. At some level this would have had to have been authorised directly or tacitly by individuals in government … mmm I’m beginning to understand why the United States never signed up to the International Criminal Court (from Wikipedia):

To date, 104 countries have ratified or acceded to the court, including nearly all of Europe and South America, and nearly half of all African countries.[5] A further 35 states have signed but not yet ratified the treaty,[6] which under the law of treaties obliges states to refrain from “acts which would defeat the object and purpose” of the treaty.[7] The USA and Israel have “unsigned” the Rome treaty in order to avoid these obligations.

I guess in their own way Truman and Churchill had a better understanding or belief in the ideals of law and justice than their current successors do; Nuremberg was their testament to those ideals. Whilst the Iraqi Special Tribunal will stand as a Testament to their contemporaries.

Oh well I guess it’s ok to demonise some foreign monster … just don’t do anything to remind us how we created that monster … colluded with him in committing his atrocities … oh and please don’t tell us that some of those other monsters that helped him … well they’re still out there … getting rich off it …. some of them are even running the countries we live in probably planning their next regime change.

Sarcasm aside, has his death accomplished anything. Has it given justice to his victims? Perhaps in some sense it has, although I wonder if those victims can ever truly have justice whilst the representatives of powers that colluded with him and the companies that profited from their deaths will probably never face trial for their part in these atrocities. If it had been a relative of mine killed in Halabja I wouldn’t just want Saddam swinging from the gallows but everyone else that colluded with him, how could I possible rest knowing that some of those just as responsible were still out there.

His death certainly isn’t going to end the violence in Iraq, if anything, as Ramsey Clark stated it will probably “inflame passions” further. To execute him on the day that most Sunni’s celebrated Eid in Iraq (and much of the world) will be seen by many as a deliberate affront given that Shiites celebrated Eid the following day. The subtext in this decision alone is hard to ignore, to consider that it was an innocent coincidence is beyond my ability to stomach.

A video released on the internet that was recorded by someone actually present at the execution shows how Saddam was heckled and taunted by his Shiite captors right up to the moment he was hanged, I haven’t linked to the movie itself, you can find it on Google Video if you want to see it. Far from appearing frightened or defeated he was defiant right to the end admonishing the hecklers for their lack of bravery in taunting a shackled man. He managed to retain his dignity in the moment of his death not succumbing to fear or begging for mercy … defiant to the end. He actually managed to appear more dignified than those tormenting him at his execution … and that doesn’t bode well for this supposedly democratic new government in Iraq – their neolithic incompetence in this entire affair has turned a monster into a martyr and that’s a gross travesty of justice – but I guess it’s disingenuous to lay the blame entirely at their feet … its not as though they actually govern the country or make any decisions.

I think I’ll end this discussion firstly with this statement by Louis Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

“All sections of Iraqi society, as well as the wider international community, have an interest in ensuring that a death sentence provided for in Iraqi law is only imposed following a trial and appeal process that is, and is legitimately seen as, fair, credible and impartial.

“That is especially so in a case as exceptional as this one.”

and this reflection by Richard Dicker, of the Human Rights Watch.

“The test of a government’s commitment to human rights is measured by the way it treats its worst offenders…

“It defies imagination that the Appeals Chamber could have thoroughly reviewed the 300-page judgment and the defence’s written arguments in less than three weeks’ time… The appeals process appears even more flawed than the trial…

“History will judge the deeply flawed Dujail trial and this execution harshly.”

As for Iraq’s future … I have to admit that at the moment it appears bleak. The country is in the midst of a civil war, and whilst that’s not a fact politicians in the west are willing to acknowledge one only has to look at the daily body count to appreciate the tragic reality of the situation. I cant help but feel that things are going to get a lot worse, before they get better. The flawed trial, the subsequent execution and its timing have only served to deepen the sectarian divides, not only within Iraq but across the whole of the middle east.

I cant help but wonder whether that was someone’s intention all along?

3 thoughts on “"…a tragic assault upon truth and justice"

  1. Pingback: Alan’s blog » Nad’s post on the Saddam execution

  2. Thanks for an informative posting. I imagined that the US would fear a fair and independent trial because this would highlight that themselves and Britain are engaged in an illegal war in Iraq (but I wasn’t aware of the detail of the kind of hypocritical realpolitik that the west has engaged in during the past few decades). Has Saddams death given justice to his victims? I would say not because truth is part of the concept of justice and the trial was partial and therefore untruthful. I think most victims of abuse need the satisfaction of some kind of “legalised revenge” (one term for justice) but they also need the truth (they need to know why). This is why something like the South African Truth and Reconciliation commission was successful in that it uncovered the truth, exactly what when on, in a lot of human rights abuse cases. I would have hoped that a similar setup should play a part in a trial such as this. I think in most societies legalised revenge (truth plus justice) is meeted out so that the human instinct to “get even” doesn’t spiral out of control. Sadly what was delivered here was show-trial revenge without truth or justice … and which looks set to spiral out of control.

  3. Pingback: Alan’s blog » keeping track of history (Blair, Iraq, and all of us)

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