The Show Trial of Saddam Hussein


In the run up to the US invasion of Iraq in March, 2003 there was one unusual but very interesting proposal for peace circulating among taxi drivers in Bangkok.

The idea was simply to call off the impending war and instead organize a bout of Thai-style kickboxing between Messrs. Bush Jr. and Saddam Hussein. The winner would take control of Iraq’s oil wealth along with exclusive rights to all of Bin Laden’s ‘Scary Movie’ video messages, both past and future.  

Adding a very pragmatic touch to this seemingly wild scheme the boxing match itself was to be broadcast live to all corners of the globe and funds raised for the rehabilitation of the Iraqi people, suffering at that time from a decade of brutal sanctions. Given the propensity of both Bush and Saddam to keep trouble at arm’s length and duck when in personal danger their clash would of course have resembled more an elaborate Thai dance than a proper fist fight- all perfectly entertaining of course.

We know now that instead of taking up this brilliant suggestion George Bush Jr. went ahead with the cowardly invasion of an already emasculated nation resulting in nothing short of a genocide of innocent Iraqi civilians. Whether the number of Iraqis who died is ‘just’ 100,000 as claimed by the puppet Iraqi government or over 650,000 as published by the respected medical journal Lancet – the fact is that every one of these deaths was an avoidable one and a direct result of the US invasion.

And while there are those who would quibble over the use of the term ‘genocide’, which implies ‘deliberate targeting’ of a community or ethnic group, the fact is nobody in the US government cared a whit about how many Iraqis would die because of their actions- a case of ‘deliberate indifference’ to human suffering. There is no doubt at all the deaths of all these Iraqis was essentially the ‘blood revenge’ extracted by the elders of Chief George ‘Wanton’ Bush’s tribal council for their own failure to prevent the death and destruction of September 11, 2001. (Nothing on Earth is deadlier than the wrath of the impotent and the incompetent)

But amidst all this heartrending tragedy unfolding in Iraq there was one event that stuck out starkly as a comedy – as much of error as of the entire War on Terror- namely the farcical trial of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Billed by US colonial forces and its subservient media as the ‘most important war crimes trial since Nuremberg’  the quality of justice involved in the proceedings was as low as anything Saddam’s own regime was accused of delivering during his rule (So instead of Thai kickboxing we had an American kangaroo court).

After ten months of high drama on November 5 the so called Iraqi High Tribunal finally passed a death sentence against Saddam on charges of crimes against humanity relating to the deaths of 148 people in the mainly Shia town of Dujail following an assassination attempt on the Iraqi leader in 1982.

Here is what the US based Human Rights Watch had to say about the judgment: “The proceedings in the Dujail trial were fundamentally unfair. The tribunal squandered an important opportunity to deliver credible justice to the people of Iraq. And its imposition of the death penalty after an unfair trial is indefensible.”

In a newly released report titled ‘Judging Dujail’ the rights group’s pointed out serious procedural flaws in the trial, including: 
 
• Regular failure to disclose key evidence to the defense in advance; 
• Violations of the defendants’ basic fair trial right to confront witnesses against them; 
• Lapses of judicial demeanor that undermined the apparent impartiality of the presiding judge; and 
• Important gaps in evidence that undermine the persuasiveness of the prosecution case, and put in doubt whether all the elements of the crimes charged were established. 
 
The report also shows that the tribunal as an institution has struggled to competently perform basic administrative functions that are essential to a fair and effective trial. It failed to develop effective programs to address the needs of witnesses and victims or to ensure the security of defense lawyers, and ignored the important task of explaining the trial process to the Iraqi population. Three defence lawyers were murdered during the ten-month long trial.

“The tribunal failed to meet basic fair trial standards,” said a HRW official who wrote the report.

As if all this were not bad enough Saddam’s chief defence lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi told the BBC after the judgment his team had been prevented from filing appeal papers. The tribunal’s statute requires that death sentences be implemented 30 days after the final appeal, and that no commutation is possible.

While the show trial of Saddam Hussein would rank quite low in the various crimes that George Bush Jr. and his men have committed till now in Iraq its exposure is still an extremely necessary exercise for several reasons. For, to use a Saddamism, this was nothing short of a ‘Mother of All Trials’, where it was not just the defeated dictator of a devastated nation but a series of principles, arguments and concepts used to justify the US occupation of Iraq that were also up for judgment in the larger court of global opinion.

For instance, with the early collapse of the cooked up charges of the former Iraqi regime’s alleged possession of  ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ the elevation of Saddam to the post of the globe’s Number One Monster and knocking him down was the sole rationale left for the US occupation. Securing Saddam’s conviction thus became top priority even if this meant trampling on all notions of fairness and principles of jurisprudence.

What was also on trial along with Saddam was the lofty claim by the Bush regime that the US invasion was supposed to bring ‘freedom, democracy and rule of law’ to Iraq. Given the pathetic performance of the Iraqi High Tribunal there is little doubt that not even the most ardent supporters of Bush Jr. believe such nonsense anymore (maybe they do, but I am essentially an optimist by nature).

Formally trying Saddam in a court of law – and not shooting him on capture- was necessary also to establish the ‘moral’ and ‘civilizational’ superiority of the Western ‘fair play’ over the ‘despotic’ East. Never mind, of course, the many hundred thousand Iraqis who have been executed without trial through direct armed action by US forces or the sectarian and other violence provoked by their political manipulation.

Lastly, Saddam’s trial was also part of the political theatre that the US and its ‘Coalition of the Killing’ wanted to enact to explain the death and injury of their own soldiers to their people back home. The message the trial was supposed to give to domestic audiences was that ‘it is fine for you to send off your sons and daughters to die’ so that at the end of the horror show this infamous villain would have been finally brought to justice.

It was of course not a coincidence that the announcement of Saddam’s death sentence was timed for release just before the recent US polls as a second attempt at pulling off the ‘Mission Accomplished’ routine and impressing voters. Mercifully the US public concluded that the only mission that needed to be truly accomplished was the booting out of Republicans from office.

Some have dubbed the sentencing of Saddam Hussein as part of what is usually called ‘victor’s justice’. But that would be quite untrue, for the reality is that the US is today a sorely beaten force in Iraq seeking desperately to pack its bags and run back to Mama in Alabama.

Defeated both at home and abroad, the time may finally be ripe now to put George Bush Jr. and key officials from his cabinet on trial for ordering the war of aggression against Iraq in violation of established international law and conducting  the war in a way that that has resulted in the wholesale slaughter of innocent people. If Saddam can be tried for his past crimes against humanity his ‘sparring’ partner George Bush should certainly be brought to court for his current crimes against humanity. 

A beginning has already been made in this regard by the filing of charges in a German court against Bush’s former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld for sanctioning torture of prisoners at the Guantanamo detention center. It is a ‘known known’ that the disgraced Bush regime official will surely get a fairer trial than what Saddam got though we still do not know if the Germans have the guts to do a ‘Nuremberg’ back on the Americans.

Unlike in the aftermath of the American War on Vietnam –this time around there should be no US war criminal left unpunished. Ensuring punishment to the architects of the Iraq war will itself be the ultimate trial of how much the rest of the planet cares about the future of all humanity itself.

Satya Sagar is a writer, video maker and journalist based in New Delhi. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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