Talking Points on the Execution of Saddam Hussein

31 December 2006
Hanging Saddam Hussein after a profoundly flawed trial, designed to keep all evidence of US complicity from emerging, shows once again that real democracy and justice were never part of the US agenda in Iraq, says Bennis.

1) The execution of Saddam Hussein was not Nuremberg. Despite their flaws, the Nuremberg tribunals for the first time recognized that the crime of waging aggressive war lies at the root of all other war crimes. Nuremberg empowered international law in entirely new ways. Justice Jackson, one of the Nuremberg prosecutors, wrote that the individual accountability determined there must apply to the victors as well as the vanquished. And while Jackson’s goal has yet to be implemented, the Nuremberg precedent set the terms for using international law as a weapon against leaders of powerful as well as defeated governments. The flawed U.S.-controlled trial of Saddam Hussein did not even abide by, let alone chart new ground in international law. This was victor's justice of the worst sort – just the opposite of what Justice Jackson called for. Despite the Iraqi faces in the judge’s chair and at the prosecutors’ table, there is no question that U.S. occupation authorities were determining how and under what kinds of laws Saddam Hussein would be brought to trial. Dozens of U.S. government-hired American and expatriate Iraqi lawyers had worked for the U.S. occupation authorities from the earliest days of the U.S. invasion and occupation in spring 2003. With U.S. officials still running the legal show in Baghdad, the U.S. military occupation still in control of the country, and the escalating war engulfing Iraq, no trial held under these conditions can be considered legitimate.

2) Some ask "if the trial had been fair, would the results have been different?" The conviction of Saddam Hussein for huge crimes against the Iraqi people would almost certainly be the same. The key difference would have been that a fair trial would have allowed -- insisted on -- including evidence implicating those who enabled those crimes: the U.S. for providing military, financial and diplomatic support for the regime, as well as providing the seed stock for biological weapons; the Brits for providing growth medium for biological weapons; the Germans for providing chemical weapons; the French for providing missile technology... etc.... Also, in a "new Iraq" the convictions after a fair trial would have led to life imprisonment -- not the death penalty.

3) Shouldn’t Saddam Hussein have been executed though? The people of Iraq have suffered enormously for more than a quarter of a century of repression, war, sanctions, invasion and occupation. There is plenty of accountability to go around, and certainly Saddam Hussein is responsible for a great deal of suffering. But he did not act alone. For U.S. officials to orchestrate a trial so profoundly flawed, that was designed to keep all evidence of U.S. (as well as European and other international) complicity from emerging, simply shows once again that real democracy and real justice were never part of the U.S. agenda in Iraq. Hanging Saddam Hussein has done nothing to improve the lives of the suffering people of Iraq. What the Iraqi people want, and so desperately need, is an end to the occupation so they can end the war. Many also want an end to the state-inflicted violence that Iraqi governments, both before and since the U.S. invasion, have practiced – that means an end to the death penalty.

4) The fact that the first confirmation, for almost an hour, came only from the U.S.-backed propaganda station al-Hurra, indicates again that the U.S., not the Iraqi government, is still calling the shots around the trial and execution. (U.S. and some British outlets were running headlines saying "Arabic language media reporting SH's execution..." as if al-Hurra was a legitimate independent news outlet.)

5) Most Iraqis are facing such dire circumstances in their day-to-day lives, with escalating violence and other consequences of the U.S. occupation, that after years of his imprisonment the execution of Saddam Hussein is unlikely to have much impact on them. Many Iraqis will no doubt be pleased, some will be angry; the violence is so intense that any violent attack specifically tied to the execution is unlikely to have much additional impact.

6) George Bush is likely to claim the execution heralds "a new Iraq" much as the "mission accomplished," the capture of Saddam Hussein, the election, the constitution, etc. were all supposed to mean a "new Iraq." No one in Iraq is seeing a new Iraq today.

7) There are reports of Iraqi government officials and perhaps others, witnesses to the execution, who danced around the body "shouting Shi'a chants" (according to CNN). Whether true or not, such reports are clearly designed to further inflame sectarian hostilities.