Hanged for the wrong crime

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 January, 2007, 12:00am

It was not the Iraqi government, but its American masters that chose to execute Saddam Hussein in a great rush as soon as the first sentence was confirmed - thus cancelling all the other trials on far graver charges that awaited him. The current Iraqi government had nothing to hide if those trials went ahead; the US government did.

Cast your mind back to the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Washington's pretext for war then was Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD), with barely a word about bringing democracy to the downtrodden Iraqi people. But, in order to persuade us that Hussein's WMD were a threat to the whole world, we were told a lot about how wicked he was, how he had even 'gassed his own people'.

Fair enough, and the trial for the gassing of the Kurds actually began a couple of months ago. Other trials - for his savage repression of the Kurdish revolt in 1988 and the Shiite revolt in 1991 - were already scheduled for the new year. But none of that came to pass. All the other trials have been cancelled, and they actually hanged Hussein for the judicial murder of 148 villagers in the town of Dujail, who were allegedly involved in a plot to kill him in 1982.

Dujail? Here is a man who began his career in power in the late 1960s by exterminating the entire (mostly Shiite) leadership of the Communist Party in Iraq, went on to launch an invasion of Iran in 1980 that cost up to half a million lives, massacred his own Kurdish population in 1987-1988 when some of their leaders sided with the Iranians, invaded Kuwait in 1990, and massacred Iraqi Shiites in 1991 when they rebelled against his rule. And they hanged him for Dujail?

With all of Hussein's other crimes to choose from, why on earth would you hang him for executing the people suspected of involvement in the Dujail plot?

Because the US was not involved in that one. It was involved in the massacre of the Iraqi communists (the CIA gave Hussein their membership lists). It was implicated up to its ears in Saddam's war against Iran. The Reagan administration stopped Congress from condemning Hussein's use of poison gas, and the US State Department tried to protect Hussein when he gassed his own Kurdish citizens in Halabja in 1988. It was the US that finally saved Hussein's regime, by providing naval escorts for tankers carrying oil from Arab Gulf states - while Iraqi planes were left free to attack tankers coming from Iranian ports. Even when one of Hussein's planes mistakenly attacked an American destroyer in 1987, killing 37 crew members, Washington forgave him.

It was US President George W. Bush's father who urged Iraq's Shiites and Kurds to rebel after Hussein was driven out of Kuwait in 1991. He then failed to use US air power to protect the Shiites from massacre when they answered his call. The US was deeply involved in all of Hussein's major crimes, one way or another, so no trial that delved into the details of those crimes could be allowed.

Instead, the spin doctors in the current Bush administration put the Dujail trial first and scheduled the trials for Hussein's bigger crimes for later, knowing that they would all be cancelled once the death penalty for the Dujail incident was confirmed. The dirty laundry will never have to be displayed in public. But it does mean that the man who was hanged on Saturday morning not only had a farce of a trial before a kangaroo court; he was executed for the wrong crime.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries