According to Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, it would be imprudent to hang Saddam Hussein this year, despite his conviction for mass murder.
“Carrying out this verdict,” Mubarak said, “will explode violence like waterfalls in Iraq,” and “will transform it into blood pools and lead to a deepening of the sectarian and ethnic conflicts.”
Hussein has been sentenced to hang for his role in the deaths of 150 Shiite Muslims, slaughtered in the aftermath of an assassination attempt against him.
He has yet to be tried for genocide in the deaths of about 180,000 Iraqi Kurds during the late 1980s, but there are those who say why bother? We can only hang him once.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sees no reason to delay.
“The way I understand the law that we passed … the execution of the sentence should happen within a month, one month,” al-Maliki told the BBC. “I expect it to happen before the end of this year.”
Why al-Maliki would be less concerned than Mubarak about the potential for an escalation of violence in Iraq is open to conjecture.
It may be he sees beyond the pools of blood to some advantage for himself, or it could be personal — al-Maliki lived in exile for years under threat of death from Hussein.
Or maybe he’s under some pressure from his US supporters to get the old butcher down from the witness stand and off the front pages as soon as possible.
When there’s a dispute about how speedily to execute a public figure, look to those in the greatest hurry and chances are you will discover his accomplices.
So guess who wants Saddam dead? Who wants most in the world to shut that foul mouth, once and for all?
If you guessed Donald Rumsfeld, you’re probably right, and although Rummy finds himself suddenly sidelined, there are plenty of powerful men around Washington with secrets from the days when Iraq was a US ally.
Leaving aside the issue of capital punishment, and whether it behooves civilized people to hang even such as Saddam Hussein, hanging is the maximum penalty under the law, and it’s a mistake to withhold that penalty because of how the criminal’s supporters might react.
Mubarak may be right about the outcome, but who can foretell the quantity of blood it will cost in the future if we set a policy of treading lightly on mass murderers?
But there is a good reason not to hang Hussein now, and it’s this: he still has charges to face.
So far, he’s only been charged with offences he committed while he was on the White House nasty list.
Guess whether he suddenly changed his ways in the early ‘80s, after Ronald Reagan, Donald Rumsfeld, and Co. started cozying up to him?
In 2003, the US National Security Archive at George Washington University released several papers concerning the relationship between Saddam Hussein and the Reagan administration during the Iran/Iraq war.
The evidence points strongly to American complicity in Iraq’s use of chemical weapons.
These documents offer evidence Rumsfeld was lying in 2002 when he told CNN that during a controversial 1983 meeting between himself and Saddam, held while Iraq was gassing Iranians on the battlefield by their thousands, “I cautioned him about the use of chemical weapons.”
They include a US National Security Directive delineating US priorities in the Gulf — hegemony and oil — with no reference to human rights or chemical warfare.
Reagan, Rumsfeld and the rest continued to pass Iraq critical intelligence on Iranian troop movements long after they knew that Hussein’s army was using gas “almost on a daily basis.”
A 1994 congressional inquiry found that various strains of anthrax had been shipped to Iraq by US companies under licence from the commerce department.
In 1988, Dow Chemical sold Hussein large quantities of pesticides “despite suspicions they would be used for chemical warfare.”
Coupled with the evidence that’s already on the table, Hussein’s testimony could cause a lot of damage around Washington, which is all the more reason to keep him alive at least long enough to try him for all of his crimes.
Surely the US hasn’t tossed away hundreds of thousands of lives and destabilized the whole Middle East to punish the deaths of 150 people?
The US National Security Archive file contains a moral for Rumsfeld, Bush, and Co., one they should have taken to heart three years ago.
It comes from the 1984 US public condemnation of chemical weapons use in the Iran-Iraq war, and it is in response to Ayatollah Khomeini’s assertion that the war would continue until Saddam Hussein had been driven from office.
“The United States finds the present Iranian regime’s intransigent refusal to deviate from its avowed objective of eliminating the legitimate government of neighbouring Iraq to be inconsistent with the accepted norms of behaviour among nations and the moral and religious basis which it claims.”