Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Dead men don’t talk 

Ten days ago Saddam Hussein was rushed to the gallows in an execution that was as ineptly handled as everything else in Iraq since the U.S. invaded. The video of the execution was simply amazing. Hussein may have been an evil and murderous dictator but he was certainly a courageous one. Hussein was stoic and unbowed as he faced his demise – I doubt the coward who runs the U.S. will look even half as composed as he stutters through his teleprompted speech trying to explain to the American public why after for four years they still have to throw away thousands of more lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to have any chance of winning.

In fact if you could momentarily forget that Hussein was a dictator his performance could leave you in awe. As he was being taunted by guards hiding behind ski masks chanting “Moktada” his rejoinder of “is this how real men conduct themselves?" reminded me of Che Guevarra’s famous statement before the Bolivian firing squad – “go ahead and shoot, you are about to kill a man”.

Yet the details of how a dictator met his end is neither here nor there. Save that it now appears a big part of why Saddam was rushed to the gallows was so that the U.S. and its puppets would be free to write history as they please with the person at the center of it all no longer there to contradict them.

This was made clear in today’s New York Times front page article about the trial of Saddam Hussein which is apparently continuing even after he has been executed. How interesting that they would execute him just before the key part of one of his trials was to begin and brand new evidence, alledgedly voice recordings of Hussein himself, were to be made public:

BAGHDAD, Jan. 8 — The courtroom he dominated for 15 months seemed much smaller on Monday without him there to mock the judges and assert his menacing place in history. But the thick, high-register voice of Saddam Hussein was unmistakable. In audio recordings made years ago and played 10 days after his hanging, Mr. Hussein was heard justifying the use of chemical weapons against the Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s, predicting they would kill “thousands” and saying he alone among Iraq’s leaders had the authority to order chemical attacks.
In the history of prosecutions against some of the last century’s grimmest men, there can rarely have been a moment that so starkly caught a despot’s unpitying nature.

Now it is interesting that this trial would continue without the presence of the main person being accused. Yes, trials are sometimes held in abstentia but that is when the defendant has died for some other reason or is otherwise beyond the reach of the authorities – not because it was decided to execute first and finish the trial later.

So lets be very clear what exactly is going on here. Yes Hussein went through one complete trial where he was found guilty of having about 150 people killed. Certainly no small crime and certainly one worthy of punishment. But that crime won’t do for the history books. How can they justify invading a country, killing thousands and starting a civil war simply to overthrow some-one guilty of having 150 people killed? After all Augusto Pinochet had three thousand people killed and he walked out of British custody scott free.

No, a conviction for killing 150 won’t suffice. They must show that he murdered tens of thousands or better yet hundreds of thousands, preferable using those infamous weapons of mass destruction. Hence the continuation of this trial without its main defendant.

On one recording, Mr. Hussein presses the merits of chemical weapons on Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, his vice-president, and now, the Americans believe, the fugitive leader of the Sunni insurgency that has tied down thousands of American troops. Mr. Douri, a notorious hard-liner, asks whether chemical attacks will be effective against civilian populations, and suggests that they might stir an international outcry.

“Yes, they’re very effective if people don’t wear masks,” Mr. Hussein replies.
Yes, and accusations are more “effective” when the person against whom they are made is no longer there to contradict them.

Before he was hanged Dec. 30 for offenses in another case, Mr. Hussein had used the so-called Anfal trial, involving the massacre of as many as 180,000 Iraqi Kurds, as a platform for arguing that the chemical weapons attacks of the kind that devastated the town of Halabja on March 16, 1988, were carried out by Iranian forces then fighting Iraq in an eight-year war.

But the recordings told another story. Court officials gave no hint as to how they obtained the recordings, which Iraqis familiar with Mr. Hussein’s voice said seemed to be authentic. But they appeared to have been made during meetings of his Revolutionary Command Council and of the Baath Party High Command, two groups that acted as rubber stamps for his decisions. Mr. Hussein regularly ordered meetings to be recorded, according to Iraqis who knew the inner workings of Mr. Hussein’s dictatorship.

So these recordings, which no-one knows how they were obtained, “seemed to be authentic”. But there is one person who would probably know immediately if they were authentic or not and who could object if they were fabrications. But that won't happen as dead men don’t object.

When the chief judge, Muhammad Ureibi al-Khalifa, began the proceedings by abruptly cutting the microphone as Mr. Majid stood to intone a prayer in memory of Mr. Hussein, the former dictator seemed to be judicially, as well as existentially, dead. But the anticlimactic beginning swiftly gave way to the most astonishing day of testimony since Mr. Hussein and his associates went on trial. Once more, it was Mr. Hussein, this time in an involuntary orgy of self-incrimination, who dominated.

Note that “the most astonishing day of testimony since Mr. Hussein and his associates went on trial” was saved for after Hussein was executed. Maybe they couldn’t risk Hussein being there to call his own witnesses, to cast doubts upon the prosecutors evidence, and to point out inconsistencies in their version of events. They simply couldn’t have Hussein calling into question their “astonishing” evidence. And dead men don’t call anything into question.

One recording revealed, more clearly than anything before, Mr. Hussein’s personal involvement in covering up Iraq’s attempts to acquire unconventional weapons, the program that ultimately led to President Bush sending American troops to overthrow him. Talking to the general who led Iraq’s dealings with United Nations weapons inspectors until weeks before the 2003 invasion, he counseled caution in the figures being divulged on the extent of Iraq’s raw supplies for chemical weapons, so as to disguise the use of unaccounted-for chemicals in the attacks on the Kurds.

But it was Mr. Hussein’s chilling discussion of the power of chemical weapons against civilians that brought prosecutors and judges to the verge of tears, and seemed to shock the remaining defendants. One of the recordings featured an unidentified military officer telling Mr. Hussein that a plan was under development for having Soviet-built aircraft carry containers, packed with up to 50 napalm bombs each, which would be rolled out of the cargo deck and dropped on Kurdish towns.

“Yes, in areas where you have concentrated populations, that would be useful,” Mr. Hussein replies.

The U.S. leadership, and some reporters like the author of this article, John Burns, have never gotten over the fact the weapons of mass destruction which they assured the entire world existed and which justified their glorious war turned out not to exist. It is never fun having egg on ones face, especially when thousands have died as the result of your stupidity. So they need something to redeem themselves and now they can claim to have it with these tapes supposedly showing that Saddam had “personal involvement in covering up Iraq’s attempts to acquire unconventional weapons”.

Of course, if Saddam were in the courtroom things could be interesting. Maybe he could tell us who exactly gave Iraq the chemical weapons that it supposedly used against the Kurds. Hussein famously met with former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and was photographed shaking his hand. If Hussein were alive maybe he would spill the beans on that meeting and tell the court it was Rumsfeld who suggested using chemical weapons on the Kurds and Iranians to keep the Middle East’s oil safe for the U.S. But dead men don’t spill any beans.

The prosecutor, Munkith al-Faroun, came to court as almost the only person who attended Mr. Hussein’s execution on Dec. 30 to emerge with an unsullied reputation. It was he, as he and others confirmed, who attempted to halt the taunts hurled at Mr. Hussein as he stood with the noose around his neck, moments before the trapdoor opened. Over the hubbub, an illicit camera phone recording showed Mr. Faroun calling out for silence, “Please, no!” he said. “The man is about to be executed.”

But back in the courtroom, Mr. Faroun became, again, the man holding Mr. Hussein to account and, in one poignant moment, counseling restraint among those who have expressed outrage over the manner of the former ruler’s execution. That moment came after the court watched television images taken after the Halabja attack, which more than any other event focused world attention on the atrocities committed under Mr. Hussein.

The video showed the horrors: a father wailing in grief as he found his children lying along a street littered with bodies; dead mothers clutching gas-choked infants to their breasts in swaddling clothes; young sisters embracing each other in death; and trucks piled high with civilian bodies. “I ask the whole world to look at these images, especially those who are crying right now,” Mr. Faroun said, referring to the outpouring of sympathy for Mr. Hussein.

The farce continues. In any REAL court where REAL evidence is being presented the accused is allowed to examine that evidence, present their own evidence, and to confront and cross examine those accusing them. But dead men can’t examine evidence, nor present their own evidence, nor even know by whom they are being accused. As Saddam might have said: “Is this how a real court conducts itself?”

The recordings played at Monday’s trial session, seemingly eliminating any doubt about Mr. Hussein’s role in the attacks on the Kurds, may go a long way to answering criticism of the government for executing him before he was judged for the worst of his crimes.

But of course, you always wait until after you’ve executed the person before presenting the evidence “eliminating any doubt”!?!? I doubt this new “evidence” will answer any questions posed by thoughtful people but we may now finally know why some wanted the accused dead so quickly.

American justice department lawyers, who have done much of the behind-the-scenes work in sifting tons of documents and other evidence gathered after the invasion of 2003, had never hinted that they held the trump card, judicially and historically, that the audio recordings seem likely to be.

You play your “trump card” after you dispose of the accused?!?! Well, maybe you do if you are afraid they aren’t really “trump cards”. Three kings may seem like a strong hand but it may not win if the accused is able to speak freely in a court of law and play their royal flush. But fortunately for the American justice department lawyers dead men can’t show their cards.

But even what dead men can or cannot do is now beside the point. The point is none of this has been happening in a “court of law”. The farce that is this trial has been held in a kangaroo court, set up by a puppet government, which is in turn kept in place by an imperial power. The victors may be able to write their own version of history but they can’t change that fact.


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