Posted on Wed, Jan. 03, 2007
The American government wanted Saddam Hussein executed for the Dujail killings to avoid revealing its complicity in his bigger crimes.
By Gwynne Dyer
It was not the Iraqi government but its American masters who chose to execute Saddam Hussein in a great rush as soon as the first sentence was confirmed, thus canceling all of the other trials on far graver charges that awaited him. The current Iraqi government had nothing to hide if those trials went ahead; the United States government did.
Cast your mind back to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Washington's pretext for war then was Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, with barely a word about bringing democracy to the downtrodden Iraqi people. But to persuade us that Saddam's WMD were a threat to the whole world, we were told a lot about how wicked he was, how he had even "gassed his own people."
Well, there weren't any weapons of mass destruction, so now the script has been changed to say that the war was about bringing democracy to Iraq. But that still requires Saddam Hussein to be a monstrous villain (which he certainly was), and it needs some dramatic supporting stories about how he abused his own people, like his poison-gas attacks on rebel Kurds in 1988. So let's try him for the slaughter of the Kurds in 1988, and then we'll hang him.
Fair enough, and the trial for the gassing of the Kurds actually did get started a couple of months ago. Other trials, for his savage repression of the Kurdish revolt in 1988 and the Shia revolt in 1991, were scheduled for the new year. But none will come to pass. All other trials have been canceled - what they hanged Saddam for was the judicial murder of 148 villagers in the town of Dujail, villagers who were allegedly involved in a plot to kill him in 1982.
Dujail? Here is a man who began his career in power in the late 1960s by exterminating the entire (mostly Shia) leadership of the communist party in Iraq, went on to launch an invasion of Iran in 1980 that cost up to half a million lives, massacred his own Kurdish population in 1987 and 1988 when some of its leaders sided with the Iranians, invaded Kuwait in 1990, and massacred Iraqi Shias in 1991 when they rebelled against his rule at the end of that war.
And they hanged him for Dujail?
It's as if they had taken Adolf Hitler alive in 1945, but ignored his responsibility for starting the Second World War and his murder of six million Jews and just put him on trial for executing people suspected of involvement in the July 1944 bomb plot. With all of Saddam's other crimes to choose from, why on earth would you hang him for executing the people suspected of involvement in the Dujail plot?
Because the United States was not involved in that one. It was involved in the massacre of the Iraqi communists (the CIA gave Saddam its membership lists). It was implicated up to its ears in Saddam's war against Iran - to the point of arranging for Iraq to be supplied with the chemicals to make poison gas, providing Baghdad with satellite and AWACS intelligence data on Iranian targets, and sending U.S. Air Force photo interpreters to Baghdad to draw Saddam detailed maps of Iranian trenches 'that let him drench them in poison gas.
The Reagan administration stopped Congress from condemning Saddam's use of poison gas, and the U.S. State Department tried to protect Saddam when he gassed his own Kurdish citizens in Halabja in 1988, spreading stories (which it knew to be false) that Iranian planes had dropped the gas. It was the United States that saved Saddam's regime by providing naval escorts for tankers carrying oil from Arab Gulf states while Iraqi planes were left free to attack tankers coming from Iranian ports. Even when one of Saddam's planes mistakenly attacked an American destroyer in 1987, killing 37 crew members, Washington forgave him.
And it was George W. Bush's father who urged Iraq's Shias and Kurds to rebel after Saddam was driven out of Kuwait in 1991, and then failed to use U.S. air power to protect the Shias from massacre when they answered his call. The United States was deeply involved in all of Saddam's major crimes, one way or another, so no trial that delved into the details of those crimes could be allowed.
Instead, the spin doctors in the current Bush administration put the Dujail trial first and scheduled the trials for Saddam's bigger crimes for later, knowing that they would all be canceled once the death penalty for the Dujail incident was confirmed. The dirty laundry will never have to be displayed in public. But it does mean that the man hanged Saturday morning was executed for the wrong crime.
Gwynne Dyer writes on international affairs from London. His latest book is "War: The New Edition."