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Paper No. 1046                                            05.07.2004

by K. Gajendra Singh

“There is no law but the law of the Anglo-Saxons” Anonymous   

When Mithradates VI of Pontus was defeated and cornered by foreign legions, he refused to surrender , but even poison would not kill him, for ;like kings liable to be poisoned by enemies he had developed immunity by taking it in small dozes. So he ordered his guard to cut him down with a sword. He was one in the line who stood up to the West. In that conflict 2 millennia ago , the power breaking all the rules was the Roman empire, who  ruthlessly exploited and taxed their subjects in Asia, a complaint similar to what the Arabs have about the exploitation of their oil resources, with the connivance of the client rulers. In some ways Saddam Hussein represents Mithradates VI. He styled himself as Nebuchadrezzar and Salahaddin the Great, a Kurd from his home town Tikrit. Salahaddin had expelled the Crusaders from the Holy land.  In spite of all his mistakes, in the eyes of the Arab masses and even elsewhere Saddam Hussein stood up to US power and supported the Palestinian cause.   

Of course Saddam Hussein was caught in a hole ( where else,a palace ! all occupied by the conquerors ), probably betrayed for the US reward . The truth will come out sooner or later. He was then shown apparently drugged and disheveled being examined like in a zoo. Even His Holiness the Pope’s office was constrained to protest. Then the West protests when its soldiers or hostages are shown on Al Jazeera and other Arab channels, when western media does it everyday. 

Now Saddam Hussein has been “ handed over” for “ Justice “ to the US selected Iraqi authorities led by the exiles. Ayad Allawi, the‘ prime minister”, once in the pay of US and British intelligence agencies, just popped to this honour, Ahmed Chalabi a Pentagon favourite, still wanted for embezzlement in Jordan. But his cousin Salem Chalabi is in charge of the judicial trial management. Since his capture in December BBC and western media repeated the same photographs which only humiliates the Arab street. Only on 1 July US military censors released some extracts from his first appearance in the Court, where he was his defiant self.  He is not the first eastern leader nor would be last to be so demonized. Others are North Irish leaders, who were also humiliated by the British and CIA’s own man in Panama, dictator Noriega.  

In spite of some recent breast beating in US media led by the New York Times that it failed in its duty during the Iraq war, with Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi dissidents taking the top US willing journalists for a ride about weapons of mass destruction, Iraq- Al Qaida cooperation, western media still remains pathetically biased . BBC which declares “demand a broader view”  gave in its over all coverage a mere 2% time to opposition’s anti-war voices, which was really the majority view of the British people. It was the worst of the leading broadcasters, including US networks, according to Media Tenor; a Bonn-based non-partisan media research organization. So much for the most hyped pristine western media outlet. ABC of USA with 7% was the second-worst case of denying access to anti-war voices. The coverage of the transfer of so called “ sovereignty “ to Iraqis was no different nor of Saddam Hussein‘s first day in the hastily organized Court. After Lord Hutton’s whitewash of the British government, the BBC has deteriorated further. 

Saddam and US Policy on Assassinations; 

It will remain a matter of speculation why the US led Coalition decided to ‘capture’ Saddam Hussein last December and not kill him or had him assassinated as they had tried earlier many times. After all his sons Uday and Qusay could have been captured by waiting out but were killed in north Iraq city of Mosul after a 6 hour fierce  battle. The last to go down fighting against almost impossible odds was Saddam Hussein’s grandson Mustafa Hussein, not yet accused of any crimes .

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, Coalition commander in Iraq had said ,"We remain focused on finding, fixing, killing or capturing all members of the high-value target list." US Administrator L. Paul Bremer appearing on NBC TV's "Meet the Press said without any compunction, "The sooner we can either kill him (Saddam Hussein) or capture him, the better." Before the war the US government spokesman had publicly suggested assassination of Saddam Hussein saying that “one bullet would do”. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said "People who are in charge of fighting the war to kill United States troops cannot assume that they will be safe," thus making it clear that Saddam Hussein was included. USA targeted Saddam Hussein many times, based on intelligence reports, but failed to assassinate him. It only brought destruction and death – some more collateral damage.

In theory, pursuing with intent to kill violates a long-standing US policy banning political assassination. It was President Ford who had put a ban on assassinations in a 1976 executive order. It was reinforced by Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and made no distinction between wartime and peacetime. There are no loop holes. How ever bad the leader might be, he could not be targeted by US directly or by a hired gun. But winking at assassination or murder seems to have become a normal policy when it suits.

The ban was placed after a Senate committee had disclosed a series of US assassination attempts abroad for many years, and not all successful .There were as many as eight attempts on the life of Cuban president Fidel Castro. Patrice Lumumba of the Congo in 1961 and Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam in 1963 were both assassinated, with suspicions about the hand of US agencies. There are many other examples .Assassination was also a weapon of retaliation, like against Libya when its agents allegedly killed US soldiers in a disco in Germany in 1986 and the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988 in which 270 persons, mostly American, were killed.

When asked if the 1986 bombing of Moammar Gadhafi's residence in 1986 was an effort to kill him, President Reagan said ,"I don't think any of us would have shed tears if that had happened,". Recent U.S. assassination attempts have included Osama bin Laden, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic among others.

Abraham Sofaer, a former State Department legal adviser theorized that, "If a leader ... is responsible for killing Americans, and is planning to kill more Americans ... it would be perfectly proper to kill him rather than to wait until more Americans were killed." Never mind that a White House spokesman said just before the war on Iraq, "There's an executive order that prohibits the assassination of foreign leaders, and that remains in place."

Handover of “ Sovereignty”;

US and British officials said that the handover was a key step on the path to democracy, but the new government wants to impose martial law, including curfews to crack down on guerrillas.  “Security seems to be the key thing for the Iraqi government.”. Prime minister Ayad Allawi also “indicated that elections might not be held in January if there is no security.” And they could not even secure a 20-minute transfer-of-sovereignty ceremony that was planned for 30 June. Ironically the Iraqi flag has “Allahu Akbar” written across it in Saddam’s handwriting. A new national flag, introduced by the Coalition was rejected by most Iraqis in favour of the old one. 

First we had “Operation Iraqi freedom”. Then we had transfer of “Sovereignty” to the people of Iraq, a dark deed done in public darkness.  In between we had US Middle East initiative to democratize the region. Now we will have “ Justice to Saddam”.  

But it is clear that the trial will be orchestrated to help Bush’s re-election in November. 

"Trial of the Century".- Interim Iraqi Government spokesman 

Saddam Hussein was quite different compared to the pictures broadcast after his arrest in December .With an intimidating style he ran circles around the 40-year-old prosecuting judge who tried to take his deposition. Saddam Hussein questioned the legitimacy of the tribunal set up to try him and refused to cooperate.  He asked: "How do you bring me to this place without any defence attorney ?  (It is strange that he was not allowed lawyers). He refused to sign any papers on the grounds that his attorney was not present.

The seven charges against him and his 11 co-accused are as follows ;

  • Intentionally killing civilians using chemical weapons in Halabja, north of Iraq.
  • Intentionally killing civilians without trial
  • Intentionally killing Barazanis in 1983
  • Intentionally killing men of religion
  • Intentionally killing civilians in al-Anfal operations against Kurds in northern Iraq
  • Intentionally killing civilians in the south of Iraq in 1991
  • Invasion of Kuwait

When asked by the judge to identify himself, Saddam answered, "I am Saddam Hussein al-Majid, the president of the republic of Iraq." 

Saddam Hussein asked the judge to identify himself and enquired from where he obtained his degree in law. He also demanded if he was an authentic judge and what laws he was using.  When the judge replied that he was nominated by the Coalition authorities, Saddam Hussein mocked the judge and said "this means you are applying the invaders' laws to try me".  

Saddam Hussein defended his 1990 invasion of Kuwait by saying. “Kuwait is an Iraqi territory. It was not an invasion." Saddam Hussein called the Kuwaitis "dogs" and referred to the tribunal as "a play aimed at Bush's chances of winning the US presidential elections.” 

While accusation of war crimes and crimes against humanity have been leveled the trouble is charges against Saddam have not been quite put together yet. It will take at least a year to decide the exact details of the charges. So the whole show was geared to raise George W. Bush’s popularity ratings now at the lowest. 

Robert Fisk of Independent commented, “Journalists(western) will do their best to turn all this into a success story. Even yesterday, the BBC was telling viewers that Saddam's appearance in court was "exactly what Iraqis have been waiting for". Alas, Iraqis have been waiting for electricity and safety and freedom from crime and elections far more than the trial of the miserable old murderer who will be paraded before us. As an Iraqi woman financial consultant - no friend of the Ba’ath party - put it to me yesterday: "This is a childish play, written by children for children. We have real needs and they want us to go and watch a play." 

“I want to behead Saddam Hussein for what he did. He killed four members of my family,” said a Baghdad driver after the “sovereignty “ handover, “Despite that I hope he comes back because only he can end the security crisis.”  

Sunni Iraqis in general and those in Tikrit reportedly admired the performance, but in the Shiite South and in the Kurdish regions apparently some Iraqis were delighted to see Saddam in custody and possibly facing a death sentence. This could only create more trouble between the ethnic communities over his trial and possible execution. According to a poll 41% of the Iraqis want him to be released while an equal number want him to be executed.

It is quite obvious that Saddam's trial would not be allowed to have its full run. After all Saddam Hussein can accurately describe how Donald Rumsfeld came to him in 1984 with a letter from George Schultz saying that the US did not really mean it when it criticized Iraq for using chemical weapons against Iranian troops. (The documents have been published by the National Security Archive). Other damaging information might also come out in a trial.

“ Gassing of Kurds at Halabja”

One of the charges repeated ad nauseum is the charge of gassing of the Kurds. In a Jan. 31, 2003 New York Times article “ A War Crime or an Act of War? Stephen C. Pelletiere stated that “ the truth is, all we know for certain is that Kurds were bombarded with poison gas that day at Halabja. We cannot say with any certainty that Iraqi chemical weapons killed the Kurds. This is not the only distortion in the Halabja story.

”I am in a position to know because, as the Central Intelligence Agency's senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and as a professor at the Army War College from 1988 to 2000, I was privy to much of the classified material that flowed through Washington having to do with the Persian Gulf. In addition, I headed a 1991 Army investigation into how the Iraqis would fight a war against the United States; the classified version of the report went into great detail on the Halabja affair.  --- immediately after the battle the United States Defense Intelligence Agency investigated and produced a classified report, which it circulated within the intelligence community on a need-to-know basis. That study asserted that it was Iranian gas that killed the Kurds, not Iraqi gas.

”The agency did find that each side used gas against the other in the battle around Halabja. The condition of the dead Kurds' bodies, however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent - that is, a cyanide-based gas - which Iran was known to use. The Iraqis, who are thought to have used mustard gas in the battle, are not known to have possessed blood agents at the time.

These facts have long been in the public domain but, extraordinarily, as often as the Halabja affair is cited, they are rarely mentioned.

Invasion of Kuwait and Iraq

Before the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, all Arab states and Kingdoms in the Gulf and the West had supported Iraq's long war against Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran, who was threatening to revolutionise them. Western nations had supplied virus samples and equipment for poison gas manufacture. US had granted loans to Baghdad worth billions of dollars. In 1990 amid high tension between Kuwait and Baghdad over Kuwait ( & Emirates ) conspiracy to keep oil prices down, which hurt Iraq the most, differences over common oil wells, two islands, and the return of a $10 billion loan, Iraq threatened Kuwait with war. A few days before the Iraqi invasion on August 2, 1990, US Ambassador April Glaspie told Saddam Hussein that his dispute with Kuwait was a bilateral Arab affair. This was never clearly refuted by the US and Ambassador Glaspie disappeared from view. The Western media never pursued her as they do others, and allowed themselves to become a handmaiden of the Western propaganda machine.

Meanwhile, all attempts to find a peaceful solution to the Iraq-Kuwait row by Arab nations, led by King Hussein of Jordan and later joined by King Hassan of Morocco, were rebuffed by the US, as was Kuwait's offer of indirect negotiations. Feelers for negotiations by the Saudis were drowned in Western cacophony. Saddam's reported offer to the UN secretary general to withdraw from Kuwait, made just before the US retaliation, was brushed aside. Efforts by Mikhail Gorbachev, who had just unraveled the USSR, were treated with disdain.  

It was George Bush Sr, who at the end of the 1991 war, without consulting his allies, encouraged Iraqis, especially Kurds in the north and Shi'ites in the south, to revolt. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, most of which have large Shi'ite populations, were horrified, as a Shi'ite state in south Iraq would strengthen Iran ( It might be achieved by George Bush Jr) The prospect of independence for Iraqi Kurds worried Turkey, whose own Kurds were fighting for freedom.  The Kurds and Shiites killed thousands of Republican guards and other supporters of Saddam Hussein. USA watched from the side lines while the hapless Iraqi Kurds and the Shi'ites paid a terrible price. Tens of thousands were killed by Saddam's forces. The Iraqi Kurds and Shi'ites still remember the false US promises.  The Shiites still do not trust USA and Kurds now feel betrayed.  But was US not an accomplice in the massacres the western media keeps referring to. Will western governments put up with rebellion? 

Bush Administration and Rule of Law :

It is an established fact that the US led invasion of Iraq, against the will of the majority of members of United Nations, was clearly illegal. Even the fig leaf of the causes belli of weapons of mass destruction and Iraq’s alleged links with Al Qaida have not been proved  So where is the international law? US academic and media claimed “ Emperor  of the neo-cons “ ( no longer written now ) with out his clothes makes not a pretty sight, with most canons of wars and occupation, tarnished by till recently a law abiding nation, an example to others. 

Since coming into office, George W. Bush has torn up more international treaties and disregarded more UN conventions than the rest of the world in past 20 years.

The list is familiar, including but not limited to the withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, failure to ratify the Rio Pact on biodiversity, withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the pursuit of National Missile Defense. It appears ready to violate the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. It opposed the ban on land mines and has sought to immobilize the UN convention against torture so that it could keep foreign observers out of its prison camp in Guantanamo Bay and hide its treatment of al-Qaeda prisoners. It has sabotaged the small-arms treaty and is opposed to new provisions of the biological-warfare convention. It experiments with biological weapons of its own and has refused chemical-weapons inspectors full access to its laboratories. It is opposed to the International Criminal Court and is coercing other countries to sign separate agreements not to charge US citizens. It has permitted CIA hit squads to recommence covert operations of the kind that included, in the past, the assassination of foreign heads of state. Even its threat to go to war with Iraq without a mandate from the UN Security Council is a defiance of international law. 

The Bush administration's foreign policy has undermined the fragile structure of international law and conventions built up during the past three centuries, to which the United States made important contributions. 

The hastily rigged up Iraqi Special Tribunal will be the only war-crimes court in the world that does not have an independent international judiciary, and some will see this as a reflection of the Bush Administration's continuing opposition to international criminal tribunals.

(K Gajendra Singh, served as Indian Ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan in 1992-96. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to Jordan (during the 1990-91 Gulf war), Romania and Senegal.  He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies.  The views expressed here are his own.-