Tyrant's Attorney Tells All
Saddam Hussein: An Obituary
Curtis F. J. Doebbler/Al-Ahram Weekly, December 28, 2006
Rarely has a single killing epitomised more clearly American aggression towards Arabs and Muslims around the world. The Iraqi president understood this and in his final days made it known to those around him that he was willing to be sacrificed to expose the ill intentions of the United States towards Arabs and Muslims worldwide.
The Western press understood this message and began, even before the body of the former Iraqi president was buried, to desecrate his memory with a barrage of unproven allegations to which he could no longer respond.
Every one of the dozens of obituaries I have seen from the Western press focuses on the president's alleged brutality and the unproven cases of his violation of human rights. None absolutely none focused on the man who had held Iraq together better than the US and its billions of dollars and Iraqis they could buy. None absolutely none focused on the man who against all odds stood for the justice of the Arab and Muslim cause around the world, especially in Palestine, and even against the world's most expensive, most powerful and most deadly army. And none absolutely none focused on the fact that the capture, trial and the execution of the Iraqi president were illegal and unfair, according to the almost unanimous opinion of the international community and international legal experts.
As one of the president's lawyers and counsellors in his final days I came to know a very different Saddam Hussein than that which the Western press portrayed. The image I saw is one the West is scared to confront.
Western timidity was made clear in its media. CNN's Larry King, for example, refused to allow defence lawyers on the show to speak about the illegality and unfairness of the ongoing trial, but instead conditioned any invitation to appear on the president having been executed. Canadian CTV objected when a defence lawyer told their audience how unfair the trial had been, saying that they only wanted details of how the president was being buried as they interviewed the lawyer who had led the fight to expose the illegality and unfairness of the president's trial. And when the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a group of international experts empowered by all state members of the United Nations, and including an Iranian expert, after having considered representations by US and Iraqi authorities decided that the trial of the Iraqi president seriously violated international human rights law in September 2006, the Western media completely ignored this opinion.
If we are to believe the Western media, there was only one side to this story. If we are to believe the propaganda circulated by the US government and its allies, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was not a man but a myth the proportions of Peer Gynt. While the West's fabulous vilification of the Iraqi president may serve to strengthen the internal resolve of people too ignorant to test fiction against observed reality, it will not fool most.
Saddam Hussein was born to a working class family in small village named Al-Auja near Tikrit in Iraq. His father was lost to his family at an early age and he was reared by his mother and her husband, a shepherd. As the son of a shepherd, he learned to care for his flock and inevitably had to defend them against predators. To find work and education, at 10 years of age he was sent with his uncle to Baghdad. His uncle despised the colonisation of Iraq by the British and undoubtedly instilled in the young Saddam Hussein the spirit of freedom from foreign oppression and occupation, a spirit that was to grow through out his life.
By the time he turned 18, Saddam Hussein was involved in politics and challenging the legitimacy of the foreign-backed monarchy as a member of the Arab nationalist Baath Party. Shortly after the monarchy was overthrown by a military coup in 1958, Saddam Hussein participated in a bold daylight attack on the military dictator that had been installed. The attack failed but Saddam Hussein's escape to Syria and then to Egypt became legendary in Iraq as fled wounded with the military in pursuit.
Saddam Hussein continued both his education and political activities in Cairo where he gained attention for his uncompromising defence of Arab independence and nationalism. In 1961 he entered law school at Cairo University, but only two years later in 1963 the military dictatorship was overthrown in Iraq and Saddam saw a chance to remove foreign domination from Iraq forever. He immediately returned to Iraq.
He quickly be came a prominent member of the Baath Party. His unrelenting commitment to the cause of Arab nationalism and independence of the Arab people catapulted him through the party ranks. He became deputy secretary-general of the Baath Party in 1966 and when the party came to power through another coup directed by his older cousin General Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr two years later, Saddam Hussein was appointed deputy chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council in charge of internal security. This position gave him opportunity to consolidate his power. It led to many actions for which he was later criticised. He never, however, compromised his commitment to Arab nationalism and independence.
When he believed Iraqi President Al-Bakr might compromise Iraq's commitment to Arab nationalism and independence, Saddam Hussein urged him to resign. In July 1979 President Al-Bakr resigned. The overwhelming majority of the Baath Party agreed Saddam Hussein should become the Iraqi's president.
Like his predecessorsincluding the British occupiers of Iraq and the subsequent monarchy supported by international powersPresident Saddam Hussein consolidated his power using means described by his critics as ruthless. It is likely that these means were motivated by the fear that Iraq would spiral into an endless cycle of coups, or even worse a civil war. President Saddam Hussein pre-empted these tragedies by identifying persons who he believed would or were inciting such violence.
When he became president of Iraq he took over a developing country with a growing number of poor and climbing child mortality rates. As president he pledged to change this and within merely a few years Iraq was on track to becoming a developed country where child mortality was under control and poverty was decreasing. This development was driven by a highly coordinated and committed state apparatus that poured money into public works.
Amidst Iraq's fast-track development its larger northern neighbour Iran began to express its unease. This unease may also have been motivated by the fact that most of the individuals identified by the Iraqi president as threats had been Shias with close contacts to Iran and often members of the Dawa Party, which had pledged its allegiance to Iran's Shia government. The dispute between Iran and Iraq spiralled into a deadly war in which it is estimated that more than a million Iraqis and Iranians were killed using Western weapons supplied to both sides. Although President Saddam Hussein viewed this war as necessary, he regretted the death and destruction that had been brought upon Muslims through the support of foreign powers.
Ironically, Iraq's main arms supplier of both conventional and chemical weapons was the US. It is during this war that later to become US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Iraq to assure President Saddam Hussein of America's unwavering support for a war against Iran. The war with Iran changed Iraq and handicapped its development. President Saddam Hussein had, however, further consolidated his rule and he now governed without challenge. He did so with the same commitment to his people that had characterised his commitment to Arab nationalism and independence. Having realised the importance of his country's resources, particularly its oil, he used these resources to protect the standard of living of his people employing nearly 50 per cent of the Iraqi people in government service by the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.
Immediately after the war, President Saddam Hussein heightened his country's vigilance over its resources issuing immediate notice of dispute to any country that exploited the resources of Iraq for anything but the benefit of the Iraqi people. It was one of these notices that led to a mounting confrontation with Iraq's small oil-rich and Western-friendly neighbour Kuwait.
When Kuwait ignored claims that it was expropriating Iraqi oil by drilling into border reserves, President Saddam Hussein repeatedly warned of the consequences before finally invading and quickly subduing his small neighbour in the summer of 1990. Perhaps, however, he had not calculated well the way this action would meet with the dissatisfaction of the American government whose friendship with Kuwait ensured the supply to the US of Kuwaiti oil.
Famously, the visit and representations of American envoy to Iraq, April Gillespie, left even the most removed observers of her comments querying whether the US had not given its implicit consent to Iraqi's invasion of Kuwait. Whatever the answer and reason for that, Iraq's 1990 invasion of Iraq did bring about a freeze in US-Iraqi relations. In January 1991, this freeze cumulated in a US-led invasion of Iraq. In 1991, however, the US did not or was not able to consolidate control over the whole country. Instead, US forces withdrew imposing a no-fly zone and deadly sanctions on the people of Iraq.
The no-fly zone measure subjected Iraq to regular attacks whenever its defence forces challenged American and allied planes inside and outside the zone. In fact, the 1991 war, despite the agreement of Iraq to a ceasefire ending the war, never stopped as American-led allies continued to carry out bombing raids in Iraq through out the 1990s and right up to present day, now with the consent of the present 'Iraqi' authorities.
Even more deadly was the decade of sanctions imposed upon the Iraqi people, which according to the International Study Team's report on the "Human Effects of the Gulf War" in 1991, had almost instantly increased child mortality three times. By the time they ended, the sanctions are reliably estimated to have accounted for more than a half million additional child deaths and the loss of tens of millions productive life-years for Iraqis. Perhaps no other society in modern history had suffered so much at the hands of the international community.
Throughout this time, and despite disinformation campaigns undertaken by the western-led allies, once again Iraqi President Saddam Hussein managed to consolidate and strengthen his grip on power. He did so by sparing no effort to circumvent the internationally imposed sanctions, once again pumping the acquired resources into public works. The US "shock an awe" campaign during the 1991 war, which included the carpet bombing of urban areas and the use of depleted uranium weapons, left much of Iraq in rubble. The Iraqi President responded by ensuring that the public coffers were utilised to put his country back to work. He even created grander than life public works, such as a project to build one of the world's largest mosques in central Baghdad.
He also kept his predatory neighbours at bay despite their close alliance with the United States by allowing them to speculate about his military capabilities. It was this speculation that fuelled suspicions that Iraq had nuclear weapons. Despite the fact that President Saddam Hussein had once pursued such weapons understanding, correctly in aftermath, that they might be the only deterrent against an American invasion of his county, he was convinced by the UN to stop this pursuit.
Instead Iraqi President Saddam Hussein concentrated his efforts on showing the inhumanity of the sanctions that were being imposed on his country and the injustice of the Palestine question. His envoys relentlessly protested the sanctions against Iraq in every forum to which they were privy. And his commitment to Palestine was illustrated by his doing more than any other Arab leader to support the Palestinian struggle for national liberation and self-determination.
When George W Bush became president of the United States in 2000, Saddam Hussein congratulated him and sought to establish a cooperative relationship with the United States. The Iraqi president demanded, however, that this relationship be based on respect for the Iraqi people and American fairness in relations with the Arab people, especially the Palestinians. Such terms where unacceptable to the US.
Despite some talks between Iraqi and American officials, the events of September 2001 changed the American perspective significantly. Across America there arose an emotional hatred against Arab and Muslim people everywhere in the world. For President Bush, however, this hatred was fixated on Iraq, and particularly Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The reasons for this were largely personal.
After the 1991 war against Iraq and in light of continuing armed attacks against the county by the US, the Iraqi president, Bush believed, had ordered his father, who was then the US president, assassinated. Although clear evidence of any such order never appeared, and despite the fact that killing the commander-in-chief of a country at war with your own is permitted under the laws of war and indeed was attempted by the US targeting the Iraqi president several times, the new American president swore to avenge this attempt on his father's life.
To do so he enlisted Iraqi Shia who had also lost loved ones in the war with Iran or through President Saddam Hussein's efforts to preserve order in the country. Among those he turned to was Ahmed Chalabi, who had lived for years outside of Iraq but who had sworn to kill the Iraqi leader. He turned to Kurdish leaders Talabani and Barzani, who had sometimes allied with the Iraqi president, but now saw getting rid of him in their favour. In other words, he turned to people who would lie and cheat to gain power in Iraq. And this strategy worked because these people did just that to convince the international community that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Having been given by Congress largely unlimited authority to wage a war against the ambiguous enemy of "terrorism", President Bush declared that his war extended to anyone who was not "with us" on America's violent campaigns of aggression around the world. As these campaigns were exclusively aimed at Muslim or Arab countries, the Iraqi president had not supported them, but neither had Iraq become involved against them.
Nevertheless, by the end of 2002, after having invaded and occupied Afghanistan and still riding the wave of Arab and Muslim hatred, the United States turned its attention towards other Arab and Muslim nations. The hatred was supported by false and often manufactured evidence showing that Iraq supported terrorism or possessed weapons of mass destruction. That these claims were untrue and even proven so by American and international investigators was irrelevant. The United States was speaking power over truth, the latter being completely drowned out.
Regardless, by early 2003 the Iraqi president had substantially agreed to the conditions imposed by the United Nations and the US. Intermediaries conveyed this agreement to the Bush administration. It was too late. The US had made up its mind. Before a group investigating the probably consequences for children of renewed fighting in Iraq travelled to Iraq in January 2003, they were told by the office of a US Senator that a war with Iraq was inevitable. Indeed, it later emerged that the US Congress had both given its implicit and explicit consent based on the misinformation provided by the Bush administration.
In March 2003, a US-led coalition attacked the Iraqi people. The bombardment devastated the country, threatening every person living in Iraq. Within days of the first bombs falling, a deadly ground offensive began, destroying everything in its path. Oddly, even as they began ravishing Iraq, the US administration believed that the Iraqi people would masochistically welcome this wave of death and destruction. In part this was due to the fact that the "Iraqis" advising the US were not even in Iraq, but were those who would profit from the war. These expatriate Iraqis were willing to put personal profit over the welfare of the Iraqi people. Unsurprisingly, they continue to do so as they now run the country with US money being used to buy the resources of Iraq cheaply and US firepower to cower those who can't be bought.
Moreover, except for the participants in the US-led aggression, the international community, almost unanimously, condemned the attack as illegal. International jurists were even more confirmed in their opinions. Nevertheless, as they had with the facts on the ground the US and its allies ignored the international condemnation of their deeds and put their trust in their destructive power.
The Iraqi President, however, remained a problem. First, he could not be found for months as he commanded the national resistance for liberation of his country from ever changing headquarters. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, however, never left Iraq. He refused to do so. He was Iraqi and repeatedly stated that he would not be forced to run from his own country by a foreign power.
In December 2003, he was finally captured after a nationwide manhunt costing billions of dollars and hundreds of lives. As the American President had stated before the war began he again confirmed that the captured Iraqi President would be put on trial.
The law, however, stood in the way of this plan. A fair trial or a trial before an independent international tribunal would allow the Iraqi President a forum in which to condemn the American invasion. This would be counterproductive to everything that the American propaganda had achieved and more seriously might strengthen the national liberation movement fighting to rid Iraq of the illegal American occupation.
Instead, with the support of a corps of junior American lawyers, the US planned, financed, and orchestrated an Iraqi Special Tribunal (IST). Every independent expert from NGOs to governmental actors who have reviewed the IST declared it to be illegal and/or unfair. And instead of choosing one of the most serious cases for which to try the Iraqi president, the US choose an insignificant case where by the US itself could not be implicated in the crimes allegedly committed.
And if that was not enough, the US led the Iraqi authorities that they had installed through the unfair trial process. Without embarrassment they replaced judges whose politics or demeanour they did not like, hid exculpating evidence, manufactured witness testimony, threatened defence witnesses and defence lawyers, and when that did not work assaulted defence lawyers, stole defendants' money, and even prohibited the defence from preparing a defence by giving them the charges after the prosecution had rested and forcing them to start their preparations of a defence within hours after having received the charges.
If all that were not enough, they killed defence lawyers who were brave enough to protest. The litany of violations of the right to fair trial reads like a course book on how to achieve a mistrial and would have invalidated the trial anywhere else in the world, except in the American controlled Green Zone in Iraq.
From its inception the IST was flawed, but as the violence increased in Iraq and the US controlled propaganda machine touted the trial as necessary to stop violence while the international community turned a blind eye. Even the office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour arrogantly commented that the unfairness of the trial was not such a big problem. Arbour also famously commented just days before the extrajudicial execution of the Iraqi president that she could not tell if the trial was unfair because she had to study the court's opinion. While Ms Arbour was doing so the extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary execution of the president took place and not even the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions did much to stop it.
American President George W Bush, British Prime Minster Tony Blair and Australian Prime Minister Michael Howard went even further declaring the trial to be fair despite the fact that the body that they had unequivocally mandated to make such determinations, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said the trial was illegal and unfair. Again the UN had failed in its most prominent mission: the protection of human rights.
Throughout the US orchestrated trial the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein maintained his dignity and repeatedly urged his people to resist the US occupiers of his country and to strive for Arab and Muslim unity against America. It was undoubtedly his unbreakable spirit of resistance that finally caused the US to concede that allowing him to live was more dangerous than sacrificing him as a martyr to the cause of Muslim and Arab nationalism and independence.
But even in his death Iraqi President Saddam Hussein maintained his calm and determined demeanor. While the American President had clumsily dozed off on Saturday night, the Iraqi President was challenging his executioners to be brave and to fight the American occupiers.
In some of his last words, the Iraqi President reminded the world that there is something more vital than preserving one's own life and that this can only be found in the integrity of one's faith. He declared his faith to the cause he had championed so valiantly in life as he declared loudly, "God is great and Palestine is an Arab land."
Like this final rallying call, the death of the Iraqi president, who had held the steady sword of Arab and Muslim pride against Western aggression, could be a turning point. It has laid bare the challenge of hatred, of exploitation, of lawlessness and of the total disdain with which the West under US hegemony deals with the Middle East. It is a symbol of how the US would like to treat every Arab and every Muslim who opposes its will. With this truth laid bare the gauntlet has now been thrown down at the foot of every proud and courageous Arab and Muslim and all who support them in their struggle.
Will Arabs and Muslims around the world cowardly surrender to the blood money offered by America and its allies or will they bravely confront the challenge as the Iraqi president and martyr Saddam Hussein has done and fight for the freedom of their people until the end? Every Arab and Muslim and all their supporters must ask him or her self this question.
* The writer is an international human rights lawyer and attorney to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.