If it had been my decision, I would have chosen a life sentence over a death sentence for Saddam Hussein, but what has happened has happened.
History does not repeat itself; however, the death penalty against Saddam Hussein and some of his aides in the Dujail case brings to mind the 1931 sentence against the famous US gangster, Al Capone, who received 11 years imprisonment and a fine of $50,000 US over tax evasion. The only similarity is that the US law enforcement agencies kept hunting the mafia icon, whose activity was based on different kinds of organized crime, but could “legally” charge him only for tax evasion. In most of the cases, law is blind; and even if a crime is as big as a mountain, the limitations of law cannot catch it. But this does not mean that the crime does not exist.
Saddam has committed a number of crimes, and though he was second to none in doing so, it was not only him who killed, sent people to prison and committed genocides. He alone, however, due to his arrogance and stupidity, sealed his dark fate over the Dujail case.
Since the onset of Saddam Hussein’s trial in October 2005 over charges of crimes against humanity for killing 148 people in Dujail following a failed assassination attempt on his life in 1982, he has pleaded not guilty. He also pleaded not guilty to the Anfal campaign against the Kurds. He pleaded not guilty to the occupation of Kuwait, which he carried out because a Kuwaiti official had offended Iraqi women, as he told judge Raed Juhi in the first hearing session. He pleaded not guilty to all the killings, detentions, executions, mass graves and most importantly and worst of all, the termination of Iraq as an influential country and leading his people into destruction and chaos. He pleads not guilty, and so too did his advocates and defence team, from American Clark, to Iraqi al Dulaimi, Jordanian parties and Egyptian groups. All of them say he is not guilty and he is being humiliated and tortured and forced to stand in an inhumane trial!
Despite all its loopholes being the first Iraqi trial with such a level of transparency, the trial was historic and a plus for Iraq.
Some may not like these words, but compare this trial to those held under Saddam’s regime that prosecuted and handed out death sentences in no time. Such was the case with Taha Yassin and Awad al Bandar. This is the recent past and it is all recorded however it seems that some people are completely oblivious.
The special tribunal on the Dujail case alone started in October 2005 and lasted until a matter of days ago. Saddam, along with Barzan, Taha and the rest, has made speeches, defended himself, taken notes, abused the court and sought to divert the track throughout the televised trial. One question is raised here; did such behaviour exist under Saddam?!
Yes, Iraq is under US custody, and the trial took place under sharp political division between the Iraqis, which makes it part of such division. There has been a multifaceted and interlaced war being fought by several parties in Iraq. There has been a war between the Shia militias and the armed Sunni groups, whether said to be affiliated with Al Qaeda or the Baathist. It is a hideous war, in which people are killed because of their affiliations. There has been war between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi government and US forces. There has been war between the US forces and “some” government forces and Sadr militias and the like. There has been war amongst Shia groups in Basra for example. Finally, there has been war amongst Sunni groups, such as in Ramadi, between western tribes and Al Qaeda.
We should also remember however, that more than half of the Iraqi people regard Saddam’s trial as a basic, indispensable demand. Thus holding the trial, from this perspective, is also a unification factor for many Iraqis. There are examples of American stupidity in administrating and capitalizing on the “success” of toppling Saddam’s regime in April 2003. Such was a golden and decisive period in which the crisis could have possibly been managed successfully and stability secured, without agitating the Sunnis or the Baath members, some of whom could have apparently accepted the ousting of Saddam had it not turned into a campaign of revenge and a “witch-hunt” against all “suspect” Baath members. But the “genius” Bremer and the “great” advisor, al Chalabi did not do that. The Baath (a short yet powerful word that means terminating about a million people!) was uprooted, and the army (a word with a similar meaning) was dissolved, which transformed the Sunni or Baathist expectation into worry and rage and the feeling that they were marked for death and termination. They were a human and practical resource for “rejection” or fight against any attempt to build a new democratic, pluralistic Iraq, whether this rejection came from Syria or Al Qaeda. This was accompanied by naive and stark American “courting” of fundamentalist Shia parties, which plagued the country with a fundamentalist Shia disease. The public sentiment was that the country was endorsed for a specific party, as it had been under Saddam, but this time with al Hakim, al Sadr and Dawa instead of Baathism. There was a single difference, that is, the ability to resist this monopolization of the country at present can be combated with arms and such resistance can be hailed on the Arab street as resistance of US occupation.
Now this has become a reality, and Saddam is “practically” finished, whether or not the verdict is appealed. I think that those who condemned the death penalty in Iraq are the first to benefit from his execution because his absence will remove the “stigma” of Saddam Hussein. Al Qaeda and its camp will now say ‘We are not linked to Saddam Hussein. We are an independent endeavour, a different pursuit and a different vision’. They said the same in the past, but Saddam’s absence would further clarify their confirmation.
Baathist resistance groups, originally Saddam’s historic “base”, that grow on a daily basis and that are equipped with arms, experience, terminated officers and tribal support, will also benefit from Saddam’s absence. These groups will now have more freedom to move and stress the “originality” of their approach and that they are not finished simply because their individual leader is, even if such leader is of the magnitude of the “fearless comrade” Saddam Hussein. This does not mean, however, that we expect to hear this publicly from the Baathists. Rather the same public address will continue, but undoubtedly, in some secret negotiation sessions with the Americans or Iraqi mediators, they will say something to this effect: ‘Saddam, to whom you linked us and because of whom you hunted us, is finished. We are still here and we have demands’.
More generally, Iraq’s Sunni Arabs are the real beneficiaries from Saddam’s absence from the scene as this will put an end to their association to him. It is true that it was the population of the Sadr city and the like who applauded and rejoiced at his death penalty, and that it was the population of Tikrit and the like who chanted pro-Saddam slogans. However, regardless of the simple, spontaneous populations of both parties, this remains an initial reaction that we are used to in the Arab world and which usually backfires in the end.
As the Iraqi judiciary ended the Saddam era after a whole year of sessions and since, for example, Sadr or “Badr” militias cannot uproot al Azamiyah neighbourhood of Baghdad neither can the armed Sunni groups uproot the Shia neighbourhood of al Kazimiya, what is important now is to reach a major reconciliation between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shia and Arabs and Kurds, that is, amongst all constituents of Iraq. The Iraqis are destined to coexist, whether they like it or not! Now it remains that such transparency and “great” justice in the trial of Saddam Hussein and his aides should not be exclusive to a specific party. All the perpetrators of killings and mass crimes against the Iraqis since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime should also stand trial.
We need, for example, to know who committed the hideous murder of Abdul Majid al Khoei in Najaf, as everyone says Muqtada al Sadr is responsible. A case needs to be established in this regard. We also need to know the truth behind the beheaded bodies in the Sunni areas. We need to know who is behind bombing and killing Baqir al Hakim and his procession. We need to know the truth behind “Shariaa courts” that commit killing, imprisonment and torture in the strongholds of the Sadr movement. We need to know the truth of the Badr Brigade and the sectarian “cleansing” that it carries out.
All wounds of Iraq should be healed. Candour is a cure for the heart, and there are complicated grudges that can be treated only by the painful act of disclosure, and then settling accounts or forgiving, as the case was in South Africa after revealing all the crimes committed by the apartheid regime. The problem is that present-day Iraq has not been cut off from Saddam Hussein’s era and has not shifted into another period. The state of fear, political crimes and repression can only cease with the rise of a state of transparency and a national culture.
Therefore, despite all reservations made by Arab and non-Arab speakers and commentators following the verdict of the death sentence that the trial took place under the Americans (as if it would have taken place had the Americans not ousted Saddam’s regime!), such comments would vanish once the Iraqis reconcile. These usual Arab reservations will not change the truth; that the Iraqi judiciary nevertheless deserves applause, Saddam Hussein deserves his sentence and that Iraq deserves rulers better than the incumbent ones.