December 23, 2003

Who Will Testify At Saddamís Trial?

Joe Conason: Charged with the use of poison gas against Kurds and Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam could summon a long list of Reagan and Bush administration officials who ignored or excused those atrocities when they were occurring.
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Who Will Testify At Saddamís Trial?
by Joe Conason

President George W. Bush and the provisional Iraqi
authorities have promised that before Saddam Hussein
is executed, he will most certainly receive a fair
trial. Conveniently enough, the Iraqis set up a
war-crimes tribunal in Baghdad for this purpose just
last week. So sometime after Saddamís Army
interrogators are finished sweating the old monster,
the preparations shall begin for what promises to be a
courtroom spectacular.

Advocates of human rights and international law hope
that the prosecution of Saddam will improve somewhat
upon his regimeís standard of criminal justice, which
generally entailed horrific torture followed by
confession and punishment. They have urged that
Saddamís trial be conducted with complete fairness and
transparency. Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagonís favorite
member of the Iraqi Governing Council, says that
Saddam must be afforded the lawful treatment he denied
his victims.

Those laudable aims presumably require that he be
permitted to defend himself legally, no matter how
indefensible he actually is. Human Rights Watch, which
demanded action against Iraqi atrocities before such
concerns became fashionable in Washington, now insists
that the captured dictator "must be allowed to conduct
a vigorous defense that includes the right to legal
counsel at an early stage."

Apart from blaming his underlings for the genocidal
crimes on his indictment, what defense can he (or his
lawyers) offer? Following in the style of Slobodan
Milosevic, he may well wish to spend his final days on
the public stage bringing shame to those who brought
him down.

Unfortunately, it isnít hard to imagine how he might
accomplish that if he can call witnesses and subpoena

Charged with the use of poison gas against Kurds and
Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam could summon
a long list of Reagan and Bush administration
officials who ignored or excused those atrocities when
they were occurring.

An obvious prospective witness is Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld, who acted as a special envoy to
Baghdad during the early 1980ís. On a courtroom easel,
Saddam might display the famous December 1983
photograph of him shaking hands with Mr. Rumsfeld, who
acknowledges that the United States knew Iraq was
using chemical weapons. If his forces were using
Tabun, mustard gas and other forbidden poisons, he
might ask, why did Washington restore diplomatic
relations with Baghdad in November 1984?

As for his horrendous persecution of the Kurds in
1988, Saddam could call executives from the banks and
defense and pharmaceutical companies from various
countries that sold him the equipment and materials he
is alleged to have used. He might put former President
George Herbert Walker Bush on the witness stand and
ask, "Why did your administration and Ronald Reaganís
sell my government biological toxins such as anthrax
and botulism, as well as poisonous chemicals and

Saddam could also subpoena Henry Kissinger, whose
consulting firmís chief economist ventured to Baghdad
in June 1989 to advise the Iraqi government on
restructuring its debt. "After my forces allegedly
murdered thousands of Kurdish civilians in 1988," he
might inquire, "why would you and other American
businessmen want to help me refinance and rearm my

Indeed, Saddam could conceivably seek the testimony of
dozens of men and women who once served in the Reagan
and Bush administrations, starting with former
Secretary of State George Shultz, and ask them to
explain why they opposed every Congressional effort to
place sanctions on his government, up until the moment
his army invaded Kuwait during the summer of 1990.
Pursuing the same general theme, he might call Vice
President Dick Cheney, who sought to remove sanctions
against Iraq when he served as the chief executive of
Halliburton Corp.

The long, shadowy history of American relations with
Saddam would be illuminated not only through witness
testimony but literally thousands of documents in U.S.
government files. Memos uncovered by the National
Security Archive show that Reagan and Bush
administration officials knew exactly how the Iraqi
government was procuring what it needed to build
weapons of mass destruction, including equipment
intended for construction of a nuclear arsenal.

From time to time, during those crucial years when
Saddam consolidated his power and prepared for war,
U.S. diplomats issued rote condemnations of his worst
actions. Then, as the record shows, they would
privately reassure Saddam that the United States still
desired close and productive relations. The other
governments that were Saddamís accomplices include
both opponents and supporters of this administrationís
pre-emptive warófrom France, Germany and Russia, to
Japan, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Pertinent as these issues are to Saddamís case, they
do not mitigate his record of murder and corruption.
And the man dragged from his pathetic hideout near
Tikrit hardly seems to possess the will or the
capability to raise them. Either way, he will get what
he deserves. Yet it will be hard to boast that justice
and history have been fully served if his foreign
accomplices escape their share of opprobrium.

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This column ran on page 5 in the 12/22/03 edition of


Posted by richard at December 23, 2003 11:02 AM