Saddam's US collaborators
It was no coincidence that the US administration has backtracked on plans to try Saddam Hussein for war crimes before an Iraqi-international court. The US has suddenly decided to treat Saddam as a prisoner of war (PoW). This radical change in Washington's position came as a shock to many Iraqis, to members of the Interim Governing Council, and perhaps to Saddam's foes in Kuwait, all of whom were eagerly awaiting the moment when the tyrant would appear in public to answer for crimes committed in Halabja, for the deaths of many by poison gas, for the executions and unjust imprisonment that occurred over decades and for the hundreds of Kuwaiti prisoners who vanished forever into unmarked graves.
Saddam's changed status has altered plans for his trial. The US authorities are no longer going to hand him over to an Iraqi-international court, as had been expected. According to article 17 of the Geneva Conventions, by which the Americans have decided to abide in this case, if not in the case of Guantanamo Bay prisoners, a PoW is obliged to disclose no more than his name, rank, birth date, and serial number. A PoW cannot be threatened or coerced to give information. As a PoW, Saddam cannot be tried except by a US military court or an international court convened by the occupation authorities.
The shift in the US position, which ended speculation over Saddam's fate and method of trial, is due to political reasons. One reason is connected to documents recently disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act. Apparently several major US companies, including Bechtel, helped, and carried out transactions, with Saddam. If Saddam were to appear at an international court, a court free from all pressures, the US administration could quickly find itself caught up in a major scandal. Certainly many embarrassing questions about the true objectives of US foreign policy would be raised. Should the investigation touch on the individuals who helped and abetted Saddam in his crimes against humanity, men such as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Secretary of State George Shultz will have to be subpoenaed.
According to recently released documents, Rumsfeld and Shultz told Saddam's aides that Washington's condemnation of the use of chemical weapons would not interfere with relations between Iraq and the Reagan administration. The US had lifted Iraq from its list of countries sponsoring terror having reached the view that Saddam's secular system was the first line of defence against Iran's radical Islamic regime.
According to the same documents Laurence Eagleburger, then deputy secretary of state, told Saddam's envoys that the US wanted to prevent an Iranian victory and that US condemnation of the use of chemical weapons was for local consumption. Washington, he said, wanted to strengthen its relations with Iraq.
Rumsfeld visited Iraq twice during this period. In December 1983 he informed Saddam of Washington's wish to fund an oil pipeline from Iraq to Aqaba, Jordan. Rumsfeld said nothing of Saddam's use of chemical weapons. After all, he was president of Bechtel, the company that was going to build the pipeline.
No wonder, then, the US administration is now refusing to treat Saddam as a war criminal, preferring instead to consider him a PoW. US papers have already published details of the released documents. One can now expect that many of Saddam's 55 aides now in detention will be released, or perhaps serve light sentences in US prisons, so that the page of US collaboration with Saddam can be quietly turned.