Evildoer Caught! No Secrets Revealed!
December 21, 2003
Saddam Hussein was captured hiding in a tiny cellar ("a spider hole" said one U.S. General) within sight of one of his sumptuous palaces. His bearded visage upon capture was evocative of the mid-1990s Unabomber Ted Kasczinski. Bedraggled, eccentric, Kasczinski's homemade weapons of precise destruction were more easily documented than the menacing arsenal Saddam supposedly possessed, the reason for which the United States and Britain invaded Iraq But Kasczinski is no longer the top hirsute terrorist haunting our time. Saddam's resemblance upon capture to Osama bin Laden will undoubtedly feed the pervasive illusion that the two were in cahoots over 9/11, and raise questions about the nature of his trial.
International interest will not idly let this big fish languish incommunicado in Guantanamo. Hopefully the dictator will not disappear forgotten in American brigs, like Bernard Coard of Grenada or Noriega of Panama, both removed from power by American occupation forces in the 1980s. Some clues to how Saddam will be treated in captivity might be gleaned from interviews with the U.S. President and cabinet. Lesley Stahl of CBS interviewed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who crowed that Saddam will be treated as a "prisoner of war, according to the Geneva Convention". Stahl then asked "The Red Cross can see him soon?" but Rumsfeld backpedalled, "Those are judgements that'll be made by the lawyers". Like the President he serves, given enough camera time Rumsfeld soon contradicts himself or sounds illogical, saying Saddam would be treated "as if he was a prisoner of war, not that he is one. A lawyer might say either different from, or in addition to."
Stahl asked about torture, whether Saddam might be deprived of sleep or subjected to extreme hot or cold — obviously enjoying herself and revealing a disturbing vengefulness — at which Rumsfeld acted shocked! shocked! that she would even ask, and brusquely asserted "The U.S. doesn't torture people". Two nights later, Diane Sawyer asked President George W. Bush, if Saddam is uncooperative will he be deprived of sleep or subjected to extreme hot or cold? Bush replied "The U.S. doesn't torture people". Amnesty International would beg to differ with the government line.
A rubber-gloved U.S. Army medic checked Saddam's head for lice, as if he were an impovershed gradeschooler being checked under programs the Bush administration has now cut. There is resentment among some Iraqis that Saddam did not go out in a blaze of glory, Johnny Too Bad or Scarface with guns blazing, a sentiment to justify their fear of him when he was in command. Lesley Stahl asked Donald Rumsfeld "Did it cross your mind it might be better if Saddam were killed?" Rumsfeld quickly asserted that the U.S. government's policy had always been first to try to capture Saddam alive rather than summarily execute him. Saddam Hussein's humiliating but gentle treatment so far serves the interests of Bush and Blair, contrasting Ba'athist tyranny with their fairness. Saddam's meglomaniacal cult of personality only fed the personalized vendetta of President Bush. Bush said the Iraqi people would decide Saddam's fate in a fair trial but added, with that weird little smirk of his, that he thought Saddam should pay "the ultimate price". "Bush calls for Saddam's execution" trumpeted the leader for the Detroit station's 11 o'clock news moments later. Now out of state power, no longer enjoying the romantic cachet of a fugitive, Saddam Hussein appears to personally be irrelevant to Iraqis who continue to fight the occupation. From peaceful but forceful demonstrations of Shia and trade unionists, to the organized International Brigade of radical Islamicists and opportunist Syrians, opposition to the occupation continues. Still, one can't help but suspect many bullets fired at the occupying armies are shot by autonomous, self-willed patriots, defending their homes as you or I would ours.
One hopes for the best international standards of justice to prevail, as the integrity of U.S. justice has been seriously diminished in the past couple years. It almost seems as if the Patriot Act and John Ashcroft's assault on hard-won constitutional process in our nation's criminal courts meant that Al-Qaeda had won, for their single attack of 9/11/01 pushed the U.S. away from some of its greatest democratic strengths, into secret military tribunals and weasel-words that define Afghanistan's "enemy combatants" undeserving of Prisoner of War status. The U.S. has committed $75 million for Iraqi war crimes investigation to the new Iraqi tribunal set up to try top Ba'ath officials, and convened only a week before Saddam's capture, though Iraq still lacks any judiciary indepedent of the executive function of government. One hopes against the odds to see Saddam turned over to the United Nations "World" Court, which right-wing jingoism keeps the United States from joining as the active and exemplary participant it should be. When Adolf Eichmann was tried in Jerusalem in 1962, the court transcripts were published internationally, so it would be instructive for Saddam to have a trial with total transparency, fully televised from start to finish. NBC, CNN and Fox commentators might give it their right-wing spin, but for the world to hear the testimony would keep the process honest. Saddam might remind the world of the civilians killed in American bombardment the process of deposing him. In the dock he might refer to the U.S. shells full of depleted uranium as "weapons of mass destruction", and we'd be obliged to argue why they weren't. If a prosecutor echoed Bush's reminder to Diane Sawyer that Saddam had "gassed his own people", Saddam might retort that the U.S. had supplied the chemical weapons. One recalls the catalog put together by a hopeful delegation of U.S. munitions manufacturers a few years before the first Gulf War. Its cover featured President George (the 41st) Bush's warm greetings to President Saddam and his Iraqi purchasing agents, under George's smiling visage. Past U.S. government support of Iraq in its war with Iran is an issue too complex to air in an election year.
In despair, one sometimes wonders if the entire Iraq invasion was intended as a distraction from the hunt for Osama bin Laden, as if the search for him sniffed too close to strategic allies in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Upon capture, bin Laden might never see public trial, like a big city cop killer shot "resisting arrest" or "trying to escape". Singing to the U.N. Court in the Hague, he might name names of U.S. and international officials who supplied and aided him when he was considered an anti-Soviet ally. Forgive a display of paranoid style, but one would not be surprised to see introduced at his trial some unearthed 1980s photo of the Bush and Binladen (now spelled differently, for distance from the disowned Osama) families talking oil business together at a Texas barbecue, then-rising sons George W. and Osama pictured clinking longneck beer bottles, before they left such pleasures behind them and their ideological paths diverged to reintroduce them as enemies.
To rage at the havoc the United States invasion has created in today's Iraq is not to say Saddam's arrest isn't a good thing. Once dictators are out of power, the graves of the victims of grim regimes like Saddam's are uncovered. The fear is that the unpalatable truth of the American government's complex relationships with once-convenient murderers like Saddam and Osama will remain buried, or hidden in plain sight.
Mike Mosher is a member of the Bad Subjects Production Team.