That the U.S. would rather avoid embarrassment than see real justice done for the victims of Halabja is beyond the pale.
Saddam Hussein's show-trial began Wednesday, October 19, 2005. Actually, it's not so much a trial as it is a means of providing a semblance of procedural legitimacy to the foregone conclusion of Saddam's execution. Saddam's trial has less to do with achieving justice - which requires that the game not be fixed in advance - as it does with Iraqis exacting revenge and the U.S. covering its tracks.
As an example of how the trial is rigged, Saddam's guilt will be proven merely to the "satisfaction" of the judges, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt. Additionally, while Saddam does have a right to remain silent, should he choose to exercise that right, his silence will be considered as evidence of his guilt. Furthermore, there is some question as to whether or not Saddam will even be permitted - as opposed to entitled - to confront and cross-examine witnesses who testify against him. The same judges who will unquestionably be "satisfied" of Saddam's guilt get to decide whether the prosecution's witnesses should be subjected to cross-examination.
No one can be blamed for simply wanting Saddam executed, preferably in public. He certainly caused the Iraqis enough suffering to warrant their cries for retribution. The thing is, if the sole desire of the Iraqis and the Bush administration (which established the rules of the court) was to see Saddam dead, they should have just shot him when he was pulled from his hole. If, however, the Iraqis and the Bush administration want to see justice done; if they want to see Saddam tried, convicted, and punished under the rule of law; if they want to illustrate the fundamental difference between a democracy and an autocracy, turning Saddam's trial into the proverbial kangaroo court is not the way to go.
Saddam committed enough atrocities, leaving behind enough evidence, to legitimately convict him without resorting to a sham legal proceeding. Indeed, when the U.S. invaded Iraq back in 2003, one of its first acts was to seize all documents pertaining to all of Saddam's abuses and murders. Additionally, the U.S. has in its custody more than half of Saddam's former senior ministers, any of whom could be convinced to testify against Saddam at trial. Moreover, Saddam's most heinous crimes (i.e., gassing the Kurds in Halabja) were well-documented at the time they were committed, and have continued to be documented since. In short, any legitimate case against Saddam would be so one-sided anyway that there is simply no reason to convict him by cheating.
By trying, convicting, and ultimately executing Saddam through dishonest means and by ignoring established principles of justice, the Iraqis and the Bush administration will have revealed themselves to be little better than Saddam himself. They will have revealed themselves as unconcerned with justice, fairness, or the rule of law. They will have sacrificed well-established and long-recognized legal and moral principles to exact revenge. True, it will be revenge dressed up like justice, but revenge and justice are not the same thing. Justice cannot be achieved through cheating.
So, then, if Saddam could just as easily be tried and convicted through legitimate means, why not do so? Why needlessly debase traditional notions of due process and justice? Judging by the crimes for which Saddam is being tried, and by the court's procedural rules against cross-examination, it seems likely that the Bush administration wants to see Saddam hang while avoiding the embarrassment of airing, for all the world to see, America's complicity in Saddam's most heinous offenses.
Consider the charges with which Saddam is being tried. Saddam will be tried, convicted, and executed for the deaths of 143 people in the Shiite-dominated town of Dujail in 1982. This was a horrible crime, to be sure, and one for which Saddam most certainly deserves to be punished. Be that as it may, when most people think of Saddam's atrocities, Dujail does not leap to mind. Rather, Saddam's gassing of the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988, resulting in as many as 5,000 deaths in a single day, is the atrocity most commonly associated with Saddam. Indeed, in the months leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Saddam's gassing of Halabja was one of the principle casus belli repeatedly invoked by the Bush administration.
So, why not try Saddam for a crime 35 times worse than Dujail? Simple: trying Saddam for what happened in Halabja would inevitably result in the global exposure of America's significant involvement therein. The U.S. desperately wants to avoid reliving on an international stage its complicity in the Halabja massacre. The U.S. would much prefer the world forget that for years before and after the Halabja atrocities, Saddam was a close ally of the U.S. and a grateful recipient of its largesse. The U.S. would prefer the world not remember that in 1982, despite the fact that Iraq was "actively acquiring" chemical weapons, and despite the fact that it was a notorious sponsor of terrorist groups, the U.S. removed Iraq from its list of terrorist states, making Iraq eligible for U.S. dual-use and military technology. Iraq was, after all, at war with Iran, a theocracy which held dozens of Americans hostage for more than a year. Accordingly, an indignant U.S. struck a deal with the devil and started selling Iraq such chemical and biological agents as anthrax and sarin gas.
After Iraq indisputably began deploying chemical weapons against Iranian forces in 1983, the U.S. secretly provided Iraq with intelligence, including satellite images, to "calibrate" its chemical weapons attacks against Iranian forces. Then, in 1984, with complete knowledge of (and cooperation in) Iraq's use of chemical weapons against Iranian forces, the U.S. re-established full diplomatic ties with Iraq on November 26, 1984.
Previously, in 1983, after determining that "civilian" helicopters could be weaponized in mere hours and could be used to surreptitiously provide military support disguised as civilian assistance, the U.S. sold Iraq 70 "civilian" helicopters on the pretense that they would be used for crop spraying. All-too predictably, Saddam used the helicopters in 1988 to spray chemical weapons on Halabja.
Desperate to conceal its involvement in the massacre of thousands of Iraqi Kurds, the U.S. intentionally and falsely shifted the blame for Halabja to Iran. The U.S. ordered its diplomats around the world to emphasize Iran's falsified responsibility for the slaughter in Halabja. Indeed, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), based entirely upon photographs and video images of the victims, went so far as to declare that the chemicals used in Halabja were Iranian in origin. Of course, the DIA, CIA, and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community, charged their tune in the late 1990s and used Halabja as a prime example of Saddam's WMD capabilities in the buildup to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Put differently, they tacitly admitted that they lied about Iran's involvement.
Clearly, Saddam's trial is a mockery of justice on several levels. First, it is nothing more than a sham, needlessly lacking the procedural safeguards necessary for a fair trial. Second, it fails to hold Saddam accountable for his most serious crimes, choosing instead to convict and execute him for a lesser offense. Third, and most significantly, it fails to hold accountable all of the parties responsible for Saddam's most heinous of atrocities - the 1988 massacre of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in Halabja.
By selectively prosecuting Saddam for his relatively minor crimes in Dujail, Iraq and the U.S. government continue to conspire and collude to the Kurds' detriment. This politically-based prosecution of Saddam only perpetuates the injury and injustice done to the Kurds in 1988 by Saddam and his accomplice, the government of the United States of America.
That the U.S. justified its invasion and occupation of Iraq in large part on an atrocity in which it played a significant role is bad enough. That it would rather avoid embarrassment than see real justice done for the victims of Halabja is beyond the pale.
Ken Sanders is a lawyer and writer in Tucson, Arizona. His publishing credits include Op Ed News, Z Magazine, Democratic Underground, Dissident Voice, and Common Dreams. More of his writing can be found on his weblog at http://www.kensanders.blogspot.com.