Justice for Saddam and His Victims

I‘m not a big fan of Saddam Hussein.

I know it violated the Geneva Convention, but when photos of the deposed dictator in his underwear appeared in newspapers around the world last month, I couldn’t help but smile. What else can you do when you see a man who killed hundreds of thousands during 25 years of barbarous rule virtually naked in newspapers throughout the world?

Let’s just say that Saddam never allowed basic decency to get in the way of burying tens of thousands of Shi’ite civilians under wheat fields near Babylon or lining up Kurdish civilians to be shot and pushed into trenches – sometimes while still alive – south of Kirkuk.

As for embarrassing him in the press, it goes without saying that Saddam would have done the same and more – public killings, sometimes broadcast live on television, were staples of his Ba’ath regime.

Still, I can’t help but feel uncomfortable this week watching footage taken by a barely known "Iraqi judge." And I can’t help wondering why the trial is starting with one of his relatively small crimes – the massacre of civilians in the northern city of Dujail after a failed assassination attempt in 1982.

My suspicion is that the case was chosen because it doesn’t have any of the sticky geopolitical implications that mar Saddam’s other crimes.

Take, for example, the regime’s killing of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr on April 5, 1980. The spiritual founder of the Da’wa Party (whose current head is Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari) was executed after trying to foment an Islamic revolt against Saddam’s secular state.

Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr is one of the most important Shi’ite political figures of modern times. Why not start with his case? Maybe because he’s the uncle of a current American enemy, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Or maybe it’s because, at the time, the Iran hostage crisis was still going on, and it’s impossible to imagine that the administration of then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter was unaware of unrest next door.

Then there is the crackdown on the Da’wa Party itself – when tens of thousands of innocent Shi’ites were killed under the watch of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who sent current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad and met Tariq Aziz at the White House shortly after the killings concluded.

A declassified official note from Rumsfeld’s trip reads: “Saddam Hussein showed obvious pleasure with the president’s letter and Rumsfeld’s visits in his remarks.”

Neither the killing of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr nor the crackdown on the Da’wa Party is among the 14 charges filed against Saddam.

None of this should be surprising, of course. Since the toppling of Saddam’s regime on April 9, 2003, the Bush administration has been extremely careful in planning Saddam’s trial.

At first, the Bush administration appointed Salem Chalabi to try Saddam Hussein. Salem Chalabi is the nephew of former CIA man Ahmed Chalabi and the lead lawyer for a number of international companies doing business in Iraq. The Bush administration only removed Salem Chalabi from the case after his uncle lost favor with Washington over ties to Iran.

These are just a few of the conflicts of interest inherent in trying Saddam in Iraq under American occupation. His trial and the occupation need to be separated if truth is to be told and justice is to be done.