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U.S., West blamed in the handling of Hussein's execution

COMMENTARY | January 08, 2007

Editorial writers and columnists say the U.S. orchestrated the trial and speedy execution of Saddam Hussein to prevent him from talking about help he got for decades from American and other western governments.

By John Burke

The taunting and derision during the last minutes of his life aside, for much of the foreign press Saddam Hussein’s execution meant a lot more than the end of a tyrant.

Technically, the dictator was tried and condemned under the jurisdiction of an independent Iraqi court. But from what many considered a farcical trial to grainy images of Hussein swinging from the gallows, foreign columnists openly accused the United States of calling all the shots, or almost all.

For many overseas newspapers, the expediting of Hussein’s sentence was not to show that the Iraqi judicial system works. It was to avoid prosecuting the dictator for more of his various crimes against humanity. Had such trials been held, the argument goes, the extent of American support for Hussein and complicity in his crimes, kept secret all these years, would most likely have been revealed.

The Independent’s (UK) veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk wrote several pieces on Saddam’s execution, all of them highly critical attempts to expose the support of Hussein by the West and the United States.

In a column titled “A dictator created then destroyed by America,” Fisk wrote:

“In the aftermath of the international crimes against humanity of 2001 (the West has) tortured, (the West has) murdered, (the West has) brutalised and killed the innocent – the West has) even added (its) shame at Abu Ghraib to Saddam's shame at Abu Ghraib - and yet (the West is) supposed to forget these terrible crimes as (it) applaud(s) the swinging corpse of the dictator (it) created.

“Who encouraged Saddam to invade Iran in 1980, which was the greatest war crime he has committed for it led to the deaths of a million and a half souls? And who sold him the components for the chemical weapons with which he drenched Iran and the Kurds? We did. No wonder the Americans, who controlled Saddam's weird trial, forbade any mention of this, his most obscene atrocity, in the charges against him. Could he not have been handed over to the Iranians for sentencing for this massive war crime? Of course not. Because that would also expose our culpability…

"’Handed over to the Iraqi authorities,’ he may have been before his death. But his execution will go down - correctly - as an American affair and time will add its false but lasting gloss to all this - that the West destroyed an Arab leader who no longer obeyed his orders from Washington, that, for all his wrongdoing (and this will be the terrible get-out for Arab historians, this shaving away of his crimes) Saddam died a ‘martyr’ to the will of the new ‘Crusaders’.

In a second piece, titled “He takes his secrets to the grave. Our complicity dies with him,” Fisk wrote:                                                                                                                

“We've shut him up. The moment Saddam's hooded executioner pulled the lever of the trapdoor in Baghdad yesterday morning, Washington's secrets were safe. The shameless, outrageous, covert military support which the United States - and Britain - gave to Saddam for more than a decade remains the one terrible story which our presidents and prime ministers do not want the world to remember. And now Saddam, who knew the full extent of that Western support - given to him while he was perpetrating some of the worst atrocities since the Second World War - is dead.

“Gone is the man who personally received the CIA's help in destroying the Iraqi communist party…

“At the time, the Iranians claimed that this terrible cocktail (chemical weapons in the Iraq-Iran War) had been given to Saddam by the U.S.. Washington denied this. But the Iranians were right. The lengthy negotiations which led to America's complicity in this atrocity remain secret - Donald Rumsfeld was one of President Ronald Reagan's point-men at this period - although Saddam undoubtedly knew every detail. But a largely unreported document, ‘United States Chemical and Biological Warfare-related Dual-use exports to Iraq and their possible impact on the Health Consequences of the Persian Gulf War’, stated that prior to 1985 and afterwards, U.S. companies had sent government-approved shipments of biological agents to Iraq.

“We still don't know - and with Saddam's execution we will probably never know - the extent of US credits to Iraq, which began in 1982. The initial tranche, the sum of which was spent on the purchase of American weapons from Jordan and Kuwait, came to $300m. By 1987, Saddam was being promised $1bn in credit. By 1990, just before Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, annual trade between Iraq and the US had grown to $3.5bn a year. Pressed by Saddam's foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, to continue U.S. credits, James Baker then Secretary of State, but the same James Baker who has just produced a report intended to drag George Bush from the catastrophe of present- day Iraq - pushed for new guarantees worth $1bn from the U.S.…

“The whole truth died with Saddam Hussein in the Baghdad execution chamber yesterday. Many in Washington and London must have sighed with relief that the old man had been silenced for ever.”

London’s The Guardian echoes Fisk, concluding that the United States expedited Saddam’s execution to save its own image. It accuses Western countries of a double standard, ultimately saying “These shameful events have humiliated the Arab world:” 

“It was always clear that Saddam's fate was sealed from the moment U.S. forces ‘got 'im’, in Paul Bremer's tasteless phrase. He was to be used as a trophy of a mindless and catastrophic war, to redeem America's dented image. But it was also essential to stop him revealing secrets about the west's past enthusiasm in supporting and arming his regime. Hence he was tried on the relatively minor charge of killing 148 people in the village of Dujail, after a plot to assassinate him. Far better to put him away safely for that rather than risk his exposing western hypocrisy, treachery and double-dealing.

“For the Arab world, this has been a shameful, humiliating event that underlines its total surrender to western diktat. The execution was carried out under the auspices of a foreign occupying power, and with a clear western message: we give ourselves the right to invade a sovereign Arab state and remove its leader because he offends us; we think you Arabs are incapable of sorting out your own affairs in accordance with our interests, so we will do it for you.

“Saddam was held in US custody right up to the end and only handed over to the Iraqis for the distasteful deed, his body whisked away immediately afterwards by a U.S. helicopter for a hasty burial. Yet this was billed as an independent decision of a ‘sovereign state’, as if any such thing were possible under occupation. The fact that this was the act of an Iraqi government dominated by Saddam's Shia enemies made the final outcome a foregone conclusion. Yet the Arab states stood by, swallowing their humiliation in silence and letting U.S./Iraqi ‘justice’ take its course, hoping no one would notice how some of them had supported Saddam's war on Iran in the 80s, fought to a large extent on their behalf…

“For everyone concerned, this was a lost opportunity: for the Arabs, to have protested against this western humiliation and regained some dignity; for the Islamic world, to speak out against a sacrilegious act; and for Britain and America, to have made up, however belatedly, for their arrogance and aggression against an Arab nation that had never harmed them. Most of all, it was a chance for the ‘new’ Iraq to have shown that it would not conform to the western stereotype that led to the country being invaded in the first place - of an unruly, despotic people who thrive on bloodshed and revenge.”

Israel’s YNetNews blames the Bush administration for upending a stable, however brutal, Iraqi regime, one that could have contributed to peace in the Middle East. The web-based publication also sees it as obvious that the war was launched for American benefit and that the immoral execution of Saddam reflects this:

“When passing judgment on Saddam Hussein's execution we must mainly relate to the identity of those who handed down the verdict and carried it out on the Feast of Sacrifice.

“Those are the American occupiers and their yes-men in Iraq… those who carried out the brutal verdict against Saddam are those who are leading a government that brought anarchy and disaster to Iraq and divided the Iraqi people to ethnicities and murderous militias that kill dozens of Iraqis every day.

“Those are the people who used the West in order to topple Saddam's regime, occupy Iraq, and take over its resources, including oil resources. The occupiers in Iraq sought to reinforce American army bases in the Gulf as they wish. They are the neo-conservatives of the Bush Administration who proved their diplomatic blindness and their hatred for Islam and the Arab world time and again…

“Saddam's killing is an immoral act on the one hand and an ineffective one on the other. It has no legal basis as we're talking about a court made up of American puppets brought there to carry out a blatantly illegal order, which is the execution of a deposed president.

“Both the act itself and the provocative, cruel timing that hurt Muslims on the first day of the Feast of Sacrifice said it all about the plotters, planners, and implementers. It constituted stupidity and indifference.

“After September 11 Bush was looking for a scapegoat. Saddam Hussein and Iraq were labeled with the fault of terrorism and support for al-Qaeda, which was proven to be a lie. Iraq could have continued to be, despite its totalitarian regime, a strong country and possibly even an element that could have assisted a genuine regional peace process.”

From the Iranian News Agency, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Parliamentary and Consular Affairs, Hamid-Reza Asefi, commented that Saddam Hussein’s execution was a victory for the Iraqi people, but that its hastening was to cover past American sins:

"’Saddam's regime was overthrown because the Iraqi people didn't support him. What is crystal clear is that the U.S. administration shouldn't misinterpret his fall by taking credit for it. No other country should take credit for that…’

“In response to a question on Iraq's insecurity, Asefi said, ‘Insecurity in Iraq is the aftermath of Saddam's evil policies, which were implemented under U.S. influence. The U.S. was the prime mover behind Saddam's crimes.’

"’Saddam's case was closed too soon. If the wars on Iran and Kuwait had also been examined, the collusion of the U.S. alliance would have been disclosed. Washington succeeded in ending his trial after a brief investigation into the crimes in Dujail.’

Pakistan’s The Nation calls Saddam’s execution an “Act of revenge” by the United States:

“But for all that, it has been rightly pointed out that his execution was an act of revenge, not justice. Even the most gullible would raise their eyebrows at the claim that it was an Iraqi decision. The Bush administration refused to accept repeated pleas that a court situated outside of Iraq and composed of jurists of international repute should try him. He would take no chances with the judgment. Human rights groups apart, impartial jurists like former US Attorney-General Ramsey Clark made it known that the trial was flawed. President Hussein’s end should serve as an object lesson for those rulers who serve US designs to secure their stay in power rather than their countries’ interests, which are the best guarantee of security.”

Kurdish Media calls Saddam’s execution perhaps the “greatest travesty to occur for Kurds,” lamenting that the repressed population it represents will never rest because the speedy, ‘politically motivated’ trial instigated by the United States failed to hold the ruthless Iraqi dictator accountable for crimes against the Kurds:

“It demeans the entire struggle of the Kurds. Saddam's swift execution is symbolic in saying that the Kurdish struggle is so insignificant that they couldn't even wait three days after the [Eid Al-Adha holiday] to hang Saddam. It tells the world that Kurdish suffering doesn't mean much, and that Saddam wasn't such a bad guy since he was only charged for killing around 150 people. How pathetic to see that the death count he got charged for was less than those who didn't wield power over the lives of millions for over 20 years, like Timothy McVeigh of the Oklahoma bombings. It's like saying that the lives of over a thousand Kurds are worth less than one Arab...”

“Just imagine when children think, ‘Oh, Saddam wasn't such a bad dictator; he only did one tiny bad thing in Dujail. Sure, there were hiccups here and there, but he handled Iraq way better than America and Friends did. And those Kurds are just complainers, Saddam never really committed genocide against them, after all, he was never charged of genocide.’

“His execution was no doubt politically motivated, as it were the political leaders who pushed for it. However, the reasons for his sudden execution remain a little elusive. Was ‘America/France and Friends’ afraid of the dirty secrets and truths that would come up during the trials (i.e. Ronald Regan spoon-feeding Saddam)? Was ‘Anti-Kurds and Enemies’ afraid of their dirty secrets and truths as well? Could it have something to do with the shift in American strategy in Iraq? Was it for a punch line in George Bush's upcoming speech? Or was it just a mix of good ol' fashion Arab racism packed in a convenient can of Aunt Jemina's Pancake Syrup.”

In two separate opinion pieces, the Saudi Gazette calls Saddam’s execution “Revenge Played Out” and “Offensive Timing”, referring to the questionable interrogation methods that the U.S. has used and insisting that Washington and its Baghdad supporters knew what they were doing in executing Hussein on a religious day: 

Revenge played out

“Interestingly, the United States played a hands-off role in Saddam’s execution, urging caution and restraint to the Iraq government.

“But Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal Al-Maliki overrode constitutional and religious precepts that would have given the condemned man a more dignified death and showcased to the world that Iraq is a government seeking justice and demonstrating compassion…

“This was a trial backed, if not orchestrated, by the US government, which has demonstrated that suspected militants in the U.S., Iraq and elsewhere can be detained without due process and considers torture a legitimate interrogation method.”

Offensive Timing

“In breath-taking audacity and sheer disrespect the Iraqi government, supported by the Bush administration, managed to insult the entire Muslim community in a single act by executing Saddam Hussein on Eid Al-Adha…

“The logic of executing Hussein on the Eid day defies explanation. Whatever his sins – and there were many – Saddam Hussein was to many Arabs a courageous fighter who stood up to the U.S. government. And to execute a Muslim on Eid, when another week’s delay would have made no difference, makes little sense.

“We won’t debate the merits of the case against Hussein or whether he deserved to die for his crimes. But surely the Iraqi and American governments were well aware of the message they were sending when they decided that the former Iraq leader should die on this day.

“What we have, though, are leaders of this lawless country who are so dysfunctional and so beholden to the country’s occupiers that they failed to recognize the insult hurled on its own religion.”

In a particularly anti-American rant, Mexico’s La Jornada opines that the United States had to get rid of Saddam as quickly as possible so that their own past crimes in dealing with the dictator were not revealed, also concluding that a noose like the one to which Saddam succumbed is tightening around the situation in Iraq:

“As if from a B-movie script, Saddam ‘knew too much.’ 

“Only he knew the names of the companies that sold him chemical weapons to bomb Kurdish towns and Iranian troops. He knew the names of the officials in Washington and Brussels that authorized the sale of weapons and materiel during the 1980s - despite the restrictions on the weapons trade in the Middle East. He also knew the agents that provided him with satellite images of enemy positions during the war with Iran, which cost over a million lives.

“Saddam would have been a formidable witness for the prosecution regarding crimes perpetrated by the United States across the entire region for the past 20 years. For that reason, it was unthinkable to allow him to suffer the fate of Slobodan Milosevic, the deposed president of Serbia, and send him to be judged by an international Court in The Hague. There are plenty of technical arguments to justify international prosecution, but the United States preferred that he be judged by their puppets in Baghdad. Otherwise, Saddam would have spoken freely of the past, to delight the international press.

“Henry Kissinger has been known to say that it's more dangerous to be an ally to the United States than to be its enemy. He was right and Saddam can confirm it…

But they had no need to explain what he already knew: the United States needed to eliminate the most important witness to their war crimes. At Nuremberg trials after World War II, even the Nazi criminals were judged by an international tribunal. But in Baghdad, the United States has just set a degrading precedent…

“But the death sentence imposed after a trial mounted by an invading power has nothing to do with justice. And yes, this once again reveals the taste for capital punishment in the United States. It's an old idea very strongly rooted in the country: it's alright to kill someone if one feels that it's the right thing to do. This is how vengeance disguises itself as justice.

“The execution of Saddam Hussein inside Baghdad's super-fortified Green Zone is another ostentatious scene in the bad script that is Washington's adventure in Iraq. The United States still has no strategy for its crazy war. The only thing that exists in Bush's feeble mind are props in this mediocre screenplay.

“One thing is incontrovertible: in Washington no one knows what to do in Iraq. Meanwhile, a slipknot is closing inexorably on the imperial adventure.”

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