Why Saddam is important
The trial of Saddam Hussein is the lynchpin of America's bid for global hegemony and the verdict is already in: America loses, writes Ian Douglas
The trial of Saddam Hussein is the straw that will break the back of America in Iraq, whichever way it goes. A conviction on the basis of what we are seeing will make a martyr of Saddam, reveal the entire process as a foregone conclusion, and steel the national popular resistance for years. Unless the neocons in Washington have a secret agenda of bankrupting the United States, it is already over for them, bar the shouting. The resistance fights not for Saddam, but the trial will be seen -- like the constitution, like the elections -- as another fait accompli railroaded upon Iraq, and to which the resistance will respond. Even if Saddam's defence fails, America has already lost. It is one thing to establish an illegal tribunal (and under articles 64 and 67 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the keystone of international humanitarian law, this tribunal is outlawed), but it is quite another to televise proceedings which expose law as machination in naked iniquity. This is what this trial is achieving. On the other hand, if the prosecution fails, and Hussein walks -- and on the basis of its opening salvo it would be hard to proffer otherwise -- the second shoe falls, after the lies about weapons of mass destruction, and no justification remains for the illegal pre-emptive war the neocons waged. Bye, bye the Iraq chapter of the Project for a New American Century.
Let us roll up our sleeves and be frank. The United States did not enter Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people. Nor was the euphemism of Saddam being a "threat to his neighbours" -- read the state of Israel, not Kuwait or Iran on Iraq's borders -- credible. The United States waged war on Iraq because the oil economy is on death row. At current rates of consumption, it has 35 years left. So the world's most oil-dependent economy, backed by the world's least ethically educated military, took advantage of the opportunity of the "new Pearl Harbour" that was 11 September in one of the most audacious moves in the history of power politics. But ours must be an infamous age, because none could tell the truth of what was really in play. Every justification, bar the honest one, was evoked: weapons of mass destruction, Saddam's regional ambition, ties to Al-Qaeda and the events of 9/11, gross human rights violations. While the majority of the world's population instinctively understood the lie, corporate media -- fearful of government disfavour -- fell into line. The best we get now is "We should have probed deeper." Yet truth was on the surface. Who but the gullible or idle was convinced by Powell's UN performance? Not even he is proud of it. And who believed Hans Blix had a free hand, or that anyone would have listened if his final report contradicted what had already been decided, as indeed it did?
The neocons who staged a coup d'etat in Washington in 2000 prepared for regime change in Iraq in the 1990s. This was their contribution to the legacy of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Everything now was possible. And by the time they were ready, Saddam wasn't playing ball. On 1 November 2000, Iraq began selling oil in euros, and others (Venezuela, Iran, Russia, Libya) soon followed. Later Iraq converted its $10 billion reserve fund at the UN, also to euros. So in the aftermath of the 7 November 2000 presidential election, with a supplicant media and collapsed domestic opposition, time was not merely ripe but urgent. Having seized enough room for manoeuvre, the Republican right dusted off their wildest dreams, driven by their gravest nightmares. If the oil economy were to shift to euros (the US long having forced the situation whereby OPEC oil sales would be transacted only in dollars, in exchange -- particularly in the case of Saudi Arabia -- for security guarantees), the American economy would collapse. This is the context surrounding the secret deliberations of the Bush energy policy task force in early 2001. All indications are that this was also the time when the draconian measures later embodied in the Patriot Act, Patriot Act II and the Homeland Security Bill were drafted. The ground was being prepared not only for the destruction of Iraq, but ahead of the global war sure to occur -- most likely in the middle period of this century -- as capitalism confronts the largest challenge it has ever faced: the end of the oil economy, and the dollar economy with it.
The crisis ahead will make the Cold War look like a storm in a children's paddling pool. The United States, under the leadership of the neocons, is preparing for that moment by perfecting its methods as history's most vicious imperial empire. Indeed, 11 September was a convenient trigger. Serious questions about that day remain completely unanswered and practically untouchable by mainstream media. With a swiftness that is suspect, US military planners launched the "global war on terror"; a war (and at least they are candid on this point) that Vice President Dick Cheney said would "not end in our lifetimes." Indeed, Iraq is just the beginning. But this is also what makes Iraq so important. At stake is not only the moral right of a people to live and be sovereign on the lands of their forefathers, free from oppression by foreign forces, but the future of all nations as the primary source of global energy production dwindles. The golden age has already passed. Until New Year's eve 2040 there are two possibilities: one player controls everything (the United States), shielding itself from the effects of the destruction of capitalism at the cost of all others, or the community of states wakes up, faces the inevitable, and the preventable, and charts a common path to a different way of living and co-existing in this world. Though the responsibility was not of their choosing, the Iraqi popular resistance bears the burden of being the most important anti-imperial force in history, for above all other demands they fight for sovereignty over Iraq's natural resources.
Set against this context, Saddam Hussein appears but a small player, yet he is key -- more to the Americans than the Iraqis. Having chosen the path of brutal military imperialism in a bid to control all that remains of the age of oil, the destruction of Iraq and requisitioning of its natural resources became imperative to the neocons. Iraq, however, was a sovereign state with a sovereign leadership, and no Iraqi was about to sign up for the loss of their country. Attempts to end Iraqi sovereignty indirectly (the murderous sanctions regime which claimed one and a half million Iraqi lives and the illegal no-fly zones used as cover for a continuous campaign of bombing) failed. A different approach became necessary: occupation, the highest form of dictatorship. Yet the unlawful assumption of property that belongs to another is not a principle lauded openly in the discourse of international politics. Luckily for Bush et al, Americans and the world had already been primed. Saddam, Saddam, Saddam: Iraqis would be better without him. The demonisation campaign kicked in, picking up where it had left off in 1991. Now, with the weapons of mass destruction lie exposed, along with the absurdity of American claims to be the guarantor of human rights (Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, Tel Afar?), the "butcher of Baghdad" is the last card the Americans have got: they have to make this trial pay.
From the start, this trial has had nothing to do with restitution for Iraqis. In a superb piece published last week on uruknet.info, Sara Flounders of the New York-based International Action Centre writes, "Since the days of the Roman Empire, victor's justice has meant humiliation, degradation and placing the defeated leader in the dock in order to establish a new order. It hides the brutality of overwhelming force and gives legitimacy to the new rulers." With this agenda it is no wonder that the trial is flawed. The court is illegal: it was established under occupation, in clear violation of international humanitarian law. The court is not competent: not only had its judges to be schooled in international law and war crimes procedure by US handlers and academic mercenaries, but by definition the court lacks legitimacy in being exceptional and contrary to prior Iraqi judicial practice. The court is far from impartial: funded to the tune of $75 million and politically vetted by the United States, it's hard to imagine that anything but conviction -- which means execution -- awaits those over whom it claims to hold jurisdiction. In previous articles I have outlined these flaws in detail. But this isn't even the point. No armistice was ever declared. The Iraqi army never capitulated. Like it or not, Saddam Hussein is the president of Iraq and this court has no claim over him or his aides.
Under Article 40 of the 1970 Iraqi interim constitution, "The President of the Revolutionary Command Council, the Vice-President, and the members enjoy full immunity. No measures can be taken against any of them without a priori permission of the Council." This, along with pointing to the illegality and legal incompetence of the court, and the impossibility of the presumption of innocence amid an international demonisation campaign spanning more than a decade, is the essence of the defence. The court, however, seems unwilling to even countenance that domestic Iraqi law, never mind international law, has any bearing on this trial. During heated discussions in last week's court sessions, presiding Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin was provoked to declare twice, "This is a legitimate court!" Denying leave for high-level defence advisors former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark and former Qatari Justice Minister Najeeb Al-Nuaimi to intervene prompted a walkout by the defence. After a short recess when Clark was allowed to address the court, demanding better security following the assassination of two defence team lawyers since the opening of the trial on 19 October, the judge cut him short after five minutes, ordering Clark to sit down. Referring to the court in interview with journalists, Clark summed it up: "Reform is impossible."
Saddam Hussein himself remains anything but cowed. If this court is to apply law in full transparency he has every reason to be confident. As Robert Verkaik wrote in The Independent, "The charges boil down to Saddam signing death warrants in his capacity as president, raising the question of whether the tribunal can convict him for an offence of obedience to Iraqi law." But Hussein knows -- as the defence team knows -- that this is a political show trial, and so he is giving them hell. After complaining about his guards to the judge and receiving the answer that the judge in his capacity would ask for rectification of his grievance, Hussein snapped back, "You are the chief judge. I don't want you to tell them. I want you to order them. They are in our country. You have the sovereignty. You are Iraqi and they are foreigners and occupiers. They are invaders. You should order them!"
US officials would like to portray such scenes as grandstanding, and his defence team as "stalling" and "manoeuvring". "His strategy is to derail the trial, and if he can't do that, disrupt the trial, and if he can't do that, discredit the trial," opines Michael Scharf, director of the International Law Centre at Case Western University; one of those who helped train the judges and officials partaking in this sad affair. Much to the contrary, it appears Hussein fully understands that in court, as for the past 15 years, the fight of Iraqis continues for their sovereignty. It is a powerful message, and in accordance with law, and doubtless speaks to sentiments US legal experts just can't understand. "When I speak, I speak like your brother," Hussein said to the judge during one exchange. "Your brother in Iraq and your brother in the nation. I am not afraid of execution. I realise there is pressure on you and I regret that I have to confront one of my sons. But I'm not doing it for myself. I'm doing it for Iraq. I'm not defending myself. But I am defending you."
Even Iraq's puppet government is asking questions, eager to see the whole affair over already, or place blame somewhere. "The judge is doing a very bad job," National Security Adviser Mowaffak Al-Rubaie recently told The Washington Times. Al-Rubaie expressed concern about "public disquiet" resulting from the slow progression of the trial. "People want to eat the judge now and not Saddam," Al-Rubaie said. Vice President Ghazi Al-Yawer joined him in sentiment, quoted as saying, "I don't know what this is. It's a comedy show. I don't know who is the genius who is producing this farce."
With only flimsy evidence to go on, indication is that the prosecution hopes to deploy the controversial principal of "command responsibility"; that Saddam is guilty because he gave reign to subordinates who acted with murderous violence. In this regard, the absence of a "smoking gun" is moot. Simply by being head of state, Saddam bears responsibility. For human rights advocates who have long opposed the principle of state immunity this is a step forward in the struggle against state violence. The problem for Saddam's prosecutors, however, is that the principle goes both ways. If Iraq is sovereign, as America needs to claim, the US military but subcontracted as mercenaries, how is it that after at least nine major offences across Western Iraq this year, killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands more, Iraqi's puppet president, indeed the whole interim Iraqi government, is not standing in the dock alongside Saddam answering to charges of mass murdering their own people?
The answer is simple: the US war against Iraq never ended, and neither did the occupation. On the record, US forces remain in Iraq by request of the US-protected interim government -- a precaution to ensure stability. Yet which stabilisation force, anywhere in the world, uses white phosphorus -- a chemical weapon US officials are working overtime to present as "legal" -- as well as napalm equivalents against civilians in cities? Add to this the "useful" role afforded by US authorities to torture, the deliberate targeting of hospitals and educational institutions, the conscious disbanding of the police, clearing the way for a campaign of covert terrorist operations conducted by British and American operatives aimed at fomenting sectarian and ethnic tensions, and the failure to protect Iraq's cultural and religious heritage, one sees the outline of an unmistakable strategy: the US entered Iraq to divide it and own it.
In the last article I wrote on Saddam's trial I asked which state would have courage to stand up, use the mechanisms available -- the UN General Assembly, special rapporteurs in Geneva on summary executions, arbitrary detention, and the independence of judges -- to ensure referral of Hussein's trial to a competent international body. There are two reasons why this should happen and one why it won't. But there is also a very good reason why it shouldn't. Because legality is being flouted in the current trial in ways not possible if an appropriate international court were established, the argument can be made that the trial should be taken out of Iraq. An ancillary reason is the security of the defence. Second, because an international court would be obliged to adjudge the invasion of Iraq illegal, because it was, and thereby everything that followed -- court, constitution, elections -- also illegal, it could forestall the Project of the New American Century before its architects open up new fronts, or more Iraqis die fighting it in Iraq. The reason why no international court is forthcoming is implicit in this second reason as to why it should be.
Yet, while the two arguments for an international trial are persuasive, there is a principle at stake that is lost if an international court is formed: the principle of Iraqi sovereignty. It is for the Iraqis to decide if they wish to judge Saddam and his regime, and for that to be possible the occupation must end. What exists at present is the worst of all worlds: a trial that pretends to be Iraqi but is actually US-directed, taking place in a court as far removed from Baghdad as The Hague. The international community did not act to protect Iraqi sovereignty and an international court would mark a further violation of it. The Iraqi national popular resistance, in the absence of the government, is the legitimate and legal representative and protector of that sovereignty.
The people of Iraq have the legal right to decide their own future, the use of their resources, and the fate of Saddam Hussein. After all, who knows better than the Iraqi people what Saddam Hussein has done or has not done? Not only will this sham trial never reveal or allow Iraqis to confront the contemporary history of Iraq, it is set up by an occupying power diametrically opposed to everything Saddam represented. Undeniable is his refusal to bend to the will of American imperialism. It was not human rights abuses under Saddam that pricked the ears of the Americans. It was how close Iraq came to the potential of being an independent, secular welfare state, whose population was able to achieve democracy in the Middle East, a function of the insistence of Saddam on the control of Iraqi oil as the age of oil ends. An international court would be victor's justice cloaked in legal precision.
Perhaps the point is not so much that states propose this alternative, as they demand the end of the occupation and prevent the kidnapping of other heads of state and the acquisition by force of the sovereign resources of sovereign peoples.
The writer is visiting professor of political science at An-Najah National University in Nablus, Palestine.