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Home > News > Columnists > Praful Bidwai

Saddam's execution was illegal, vengeful

January 15, 2007

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The hanging of Saddam Hussein was an outrageous instance of 'victor's justice', on top of a mountain of atrocities in Iraq, beginning with its unjust and illegal invasion. It was a colossal political miscalculation by the United States and its puppet regime in Baghdad to execute Hussein on the first day of Eid-al-Adha. This aggravates the grave crisis in which the Bush administration's West Asia strategy finds itself.

Hussein's hanging effectively conferred martyrdom upon a despot who committed unspeakable atrocities against his people, invaded Iran and Kuwait, and used chemical weapons against Iraq's Kurdish civilians as well as Iranians. The fact that Hussein didn't bow his head until his neck snapped and stood up to obscene taunting by a sectarian lynch mob will bestow a halo upon his already mystified image of defiance.

If President George W Bush wanted to further inflame the sectarian strife in West Asia, deepen Iraq's ethnic divides, destroy the last vestiges of its government's legitimacy, and discredit the occupying powers themselves, Hussein's execution was the perfect recipe.

The hanging must be regarded as a vile act of savagery. It only became possible because of the verdict of the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal, SICT, one of several crucial legal arrangements, including a new constitution, imposed upon Iraq by the occupation powers. The judgment held Hussein guilty of a 1982 massacre of 148 Shias.

Hussein deserved to be tried fairly on a number of counts, on the basis of irrefutable evidence, and punished. But his trial was a cynically manipulated farce, which violated all norms of fairness. Consider the following:

  • The US rejected the legitimate and reasonable demand for an international tribunal, similar to that established for trying Slobodan Milosevic. Washington knows the Iraqi legal system can't deliver justice. Recently, Iraqi judges have summarily pronounced harsh verdicts after 15-minute trials. As The New York Times reported: 'Almost every aspect of the judicial system is lacking, poorly serving not just detainees but also Iraqi citizens and troops...'
  • SICT was set up by the occupying powers, which rigged its rules of procedure to favour the prosecution. Most of its judges were imparted special legal 'training' in Britain, an occupying power. SICT wasn't even remotely sovereign, independent, impartial or legitimate. This is the opinion of the United Nations' Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, WGAD, established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1991. WGAD received its mandate from the General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council.
  • WGAD's final opinion, delivered in September, determined that 'the deprivation of liberty of Saddam Hussein is arbitrary, being in contravention of Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR, to which Iraq and the US are parties.'
  • The accused were denied the elementary right to defend themselves. Hussein didn't have unimpeded access to his lawyers, nor adequate time or facilities to prepare his defence. WGAD says that 'the presence of US officials' at his meetings with lawyers 'violated his right to communicate with counsel,' mandated by ICCPR's Article 14(3).
  • Two of Hussein's lawyers were assassinated, in October 2005 and June 2006. This 'seriously undermined his right to defend himself through counsel of his own choosing.'
  • SICT's first chief judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, resigned because of political pressure to prevent a fair trial. Judge Abdel-Rahman, who delivered the final verdict, was totally biased. He abruptly, arbitrarily ended the trial in June 2006. He made 'statements incompatible with impartiality and the presumption of innocence enshrined in Article 14(2) of the ICCPR.'
  • According to WGAD, Hussein couldn't 'obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same condition as witnesses against him.' His right to do so, guaranteed by the ICCPR, was 'undermined by the failure to adequately disclose prosecution evidence to the defendants, the reading into the record of affidavits without an adequate possibility for the defence to challenge them', and the trial's sudden termination.
  • WGAD says it's impossible 'to verify whether (the concerned) judges meet the requirements for judicial office, whether they are affiliated with political office, whether their impartiality... is otherwise undermined.' Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both say the trial was a mockery of justice.
  • One of Hussein's defence lawyers, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, was ejected from court for saying that the trial failed to meet international legal standards.
  • Even before the trial ended, Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki demanded that Mr Hussein be hanged. More recently, he declared the hanging would take place before the end of the year, thus usurping the judiciary's prerogative to set the date. The final procedural clearances were obtained in unseemly haste and secrecy.

Bush welcomed Hussein's hanging as 'an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy'. This will further convince large numbers of people throughout the world -- and not just Muslims -- that the US was directly complicit in the processes that led to the hanging, despite belated attempts to distance itself. They won't be too wildly mistaken to regard the US as a mighty power which is incapable of being fair, just or compassionate.

Washington invaded Iraq by inventing lies about 'weapons of mass destruction'. It brutalised Iraqi society, imposed collective punishment on its people, and carried out terrible atrocities in Abu Ghraib and Fallujah. An overwhelming majority of Iraqis regard US troops at an inimical force.

A University of Maryland poll says 78 per cent of Iraqis believe US troops are 'provoking more conflict' than they're preventing; 71 per cent, including 74 per cent of Shias, and 91 per cent of Sunnis, want them out.

Sixtyone per cent of Iraqis actually favour attacks on American troops. Unsurprisingly, Iraq has a flourishing insurgency. The average number of daily attacks on US troops have risen from 14 in July 2003, to 70 two years later, to 185 now. Today, the Iraqi regime's writ does not run beyond the four-mile square known as the Green Zone. It's dependent for its survival on two Shia militias, controlled by the ruling coalition's two most powerful parties.

The occupation has reduced Iraq's once-prosperous middle-level human development society to penury, disease and malnourishment. As many as 1.8 million people have fled Iraq (population: 17 million) and 1.6 million have been internally displaced. Homes in Baghdad have electricity for just 7.3 hours a day. The percentage of homes connected to sewers has fallen to just 37. Over four-fifths of Iraqis say they're much worse off now than under Hussein.

This is not to condone Hussein's gross violations of human rights or his perverse, deceptive nationalism. For all his pretences to be anti-imperialist, he collaborated for long years with the US, which encouraged him to invade Iran in 1980, and passed on military intelligence to help him during that eight-year war. Hussein fully exploited the US's aversion to Iran's Islamic Revolution. The West supplied Hussein with components of chemical weapons and looked the other way when he used them.

The grotesque irony is that while Hussein was hanged for killing 148 people, the leaders of the US and its allies won't be tried for killing half-a-million Iraqi children through the post-1991 sanctions, nor for the death of 655,000 Iraqi civilians since the March 2003 invasion, estimated by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Nor will they be brought to justice for the supreme crime of committing unprovoked aggression against a sovereign nation.

Three considerations seem to have motivated Washington to be complicit in Hussein's elimination. The first was to consummate 'regime change' and prevent his possible emergence as a power-centre in Iraq's destabilised and deteriorating situation. A second consideration has to do with possible 'exit' plans being discussed in Washington in the light of the Baker-Hamilton report. Iraq's partition along ethnic lines is no longer excluded. A deepening of the Shia-Sunni rift caused by Hussein's hanging could promote this option.

However, a third consideration may be even more pernicious: to humiliate the US' enemies. When Henry Kissinger was asked why he supported the Iraq war, he replied: 'Because Afghanistan wasn't enough.' In the conflict with 'radical Islam', precipitated by 9/11, he said, they want to humiliate us. 'And we need to humiliate them.' Many American policymakers share this view. They wanted to create a 'demonstration model' out of Hussein to show that America will destroy anyone with the temerity to flout its authority.

These motives must be forthrightly and strongly deplored by the international community. It is simply not enough for the Indian government to express 'disappointment' at Hussein's hanging and piously hope for 'reconciliation' and 'restoration of peace' in Iraq. It must unequivocally condemn the execution, warn against the Islamophobic premises of US policy, and demand an end to the occupation.


Praful Bidwai


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