Wed, 06 Aug 2003

Dead dictators tell no tales

Eric S. Margolis, The Dawn, Asia News Network, Karachi

In 1987, Libya's leader, Moammar Qaddafi, led me through the ruins of his Tripoli residence, showing me the bedroom where American 2,000-pound bombs, launched in an attempt to assassinate him, had killed his two-year old daughter. The bombing of a Pan Am airliner filled with Americans two years later may have been revenge for this attack. Murder breeds murder.

Now, the latest irksome Arab leader is in Washington's gun sights. Time seems to be running out for Iraq's fugitive former president, Saddam Hussein. Chances are Saddam, like his sons, will be killed in a Bonnie and Clyde shoot-out. He is unlikely to be captured, unless incapacitated.

The Bush administration will be delighted not to put Saddam on public trial. Dead dictators tell no tales. The White House would much prefer to display a bullet-riddled Saddam as a trophy to divert mounting criticism over U.S. casualties in Iraq and the litany of falsehoods it used to drive America to war.

If put on public trial, Saddam Hussein would have a field day revealing the embarrassing alliance between his brutal regime and Washington. For example:

o CIA's role in bringing the Ba'ath Party to power in a 1958 coup, opening the way for Saddam to take control.

o U.S., Israeli, Iranian destabilization of Iraq during the 1970s by fueling Kurdish rebellion. Washington's egging on the aggressive Shah of Iran in the Shatt al-Arab waterway dispute, a primary cause of the Iran-Iraq war.

o U.S. secretly urging Iraq to invade Iran in 1980 to overthrow that nation's revolutionary Islamic government.

o Covert supply of Saddam's war machine by the U.S. and Britain during the eight-year Iran-Iraq conflict: Biological warfare programs and germ feeder stocks, poison gas manufacturing plants and raw materials. Billions in aid, routed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Italy's Banco del Lavoro, and the shady bank, BCCI. Heavy artillery, munitions, spare parts, trucks, field hospitals, and electronics.

Equally important, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and CIA operated offices in Baghdad that provided Iraq with satellite intelligence data on Iranian troop deployments that proved decisive in the war's titanic battles at Basra, Majnoon and Faw.

o The murky role played by Washington just before Iraq's 1991 invasion of Kuwait. The U.S. ambassador told Saddam, "The U.S. takes no position in Arab border disputes." Was this a trap to lure Saddam to invade Kuwait, then crush his army, or simple diplomatic bungling? Saddam could supply the awkward answers.

Saddam was one of America's closet Mideast allies during the 1980s, a major recipient of U.S. military and financial aid. Saddam's killing of large numbers of Kurds and Shia rebels occurred while he was a key U.S. ally. When Bush Senior called on Kurds and Shia to revolt in 1991, the U.S. watched impassively as Saddam slaughtered the poorly armed rebels.

Saddam should be handed over by the U.S. to the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague that is trying Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic and other accused Balkan war criminals. After all, it was Washington that engineered Milosevic's delivery to the Hague, an act for which the U.S. deserves high praise.

It would be better for the Iraqi leader to stand trial at the newly constituted International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague. But the Bush administration has refused to join this tribunal or cooperate with it.

Should Saddam be gunned down, there will be glee among many Americans. But Saddam is not a simple gangster. However odious, he was the leader of a sovereign nation and government recognized by the U.S.

Killing foreign heads of state violates international law and the directives made by three American presidents. Dropping 2,000- pound bombs on sites where Saddam was believed to be is called attacking "leadership targets" in the new Pentagonspeak, but it's still old-fashioned murder.

America has no business murdering foreign leaders. Such behavior is criminal, immoral, undemocratic, the law of the jungle. Past U.S. attempts to murder foreign leaders have proved self-defeating.

Last week, Task Force 20, a trigger-happy U.S. military hit squad hunting Saddam, killed between five and 11 innocent Iraqi civilians in a botched Baghdad raid. This outrage is worthy of Saddam's former secret police.

George W. Bush may yearn to drape the body of Saddam over his jeep but he should be forcefully reminded that the American president represents the laws of the land. Bad enough that the White House waged a totally unnecessary, unprovoked, undeclared war on Iraq based on outright lies, this grave offense should not be compounded by cold-blooded murder, no matter how odious the intended victim.