The legal hearing over Saddam Hussein will be remembered as one of the most notorious and scandalous trials in history.
The former dictator (or President as he calls himself) has something to say about his ruling Iraq and the US role in the past and current events in the region. Saddam is unlikely to be allowed to speak about everything he wants, but the first trial session already demonstrated that the trial is going to be difficult for the prosecutors.
First, it seems easy to find evidence of Saddam’s guilt of genocide, war crimes, mass executions of his political opponents and other crimes. In fact, he was recognized being guilty even before the court verdict. However, being not so quick would be more relevant in this case.
All of a sudden for Saddam’s prosecutors, one of the main charges – of the genocide of Kurds – has been questioned. This is about the mass murder in Khalabia in Northern Iraq – several thousand people died there after the use of chemical weapons. For this massacre Ali Hassan al-Madzhid (who commanded Basra garrison during the war) was given the nickname “Chemical Ali”.
Saddam said at the first trial session that he learned about the mass murder of Kurds only from the newspapers. Nobody would have paid attention to this statement several days ago as Saddam’s denying the allegations was predictable. However, the information appeared that the dictator could learn about the massacre in Khalabia from the newspapers indeed.
According to the Inter Press Service, CIA investigated the events in Khalabia and came to the conclusion that not Saddam Hussein, but Iran is guilty of the deaths of the civilians. At that time, there was a war between Iran and Iraq., and the two countries frequently used chemical weapons against each other.
According to CIA officer Steven Peletie who was the chief political expert on Iraq in the 1980s and the chief of the group writing the report on Sandstorm operation in 1991, the investigation revealed that “the Kurds had been killed by the Iranian gas, not by Iraqi gas”. Mr. Pelitie says that the post-mortem examination demonstrated that the Kurds were poisoned by some gas containing cyanide. This kind of gas was used by Iran, while Iraq used mustard gas.
Pelitie wrote this in January 2003 that is shortly before the Iraqi war, in the New York Times. According to Pelitie, “those who needed this” were aware of the investigation results. Probably, not many “needed this” as Pelitie’s article “War crime or part of war?” was not noticed by the public. It took 1.5 years, war, capturing Saddam Hussein and, at last, starting trial on him, to remember about this article.
On the other hand, it is not surprising that the article was not noticed by those “who needed it” as the author wrote “Accusing Saddam of genocide by killing his people in Khalabia is not correct as, according to our information, the areas where the gas was used were the scene of the military actions, and these were war tragedies”.
If Saddam manages to prove that he was not involved in the tragedy in Khalabia, the US administration will have one more serious defeat. After the weapons of mass destruction were not discovered in Iraq, the emphasis was put on the “humanitarian causes” for the war – the USA overthrew Saddam who allegedly was a dictator killing his own people. Now the situation becomes much more complicated…
In addition, the legal hearing can reveal some facts of Saddam’s cooperation with the USA and Great Britain, and the coalition will not be happy about this. According to Inter Press Service, after the tragedy in Khalabia the USA and Great Britain increased their supply of the chemicals for producing poisonous gas, to Iraq. The USA allegedly were about to sign a $1 billion contract for constructing the plant (officially –oil and chemical), and Iraqis were going to produce mustard gas at the plant.
The trial on the former dictator will bring many surprises being unpleasant for the key members of the anti-Saddam coalition. Of course, he is a tyrant, but how about the facts revealed recently and the ones which are going to be revealed soon? Will anyone be held accountable for them? This is obviously a rhetorical question.
This is a paradox, but the trials on the former political leaders – either Milosevic or Hussein – have turned into farce recently. The reasons for this are obvious – in fact, many opponents of Milosevic and Saddam should be on the one dock with them.
Photo from BBC Archive