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Sunday, Jan. 7, 2007

Hanging Hussein for the wrong crime kept America's dirty laundry hidden

LONDON -- It was not the Iraqi government but its American masters that chose to execute Saddam Hussein in a great rush as soon as the first sentence was confirmed, thus canceling all the other trials on far graver charges that awaited him. The current Iraqi government had nothing to hide if those trials went ahead; the U.S. government did.

Cast your mind back to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Washington's pretext for war then was Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, with barely a word about bringing democracy to the downtrodden Iraqi people. But to persuade us that Hussein's WMD were a threat to the whole world, we were told a lot about how wicked he was, how he had even "gassed his own people."

Well, there weren't any weapons of mass destruction, so the script was changed to say the war was about bringing democracy to Iraq. That required Hussein to be a monstrous villain (which he certainly was), and it needed dramatic supporting stories: So let's try him for the slaughter of the Kurds in 1988.

Fair enough, and the trial for gassing the Kurds actually got started a couple of months ago. Other trials, for his savage repression of the Kurdish revolt in 1988 and the Shiite revolt in 1991, were already scheduled to happen in the new year.

But none of that came to pass. All the other trials were canceled, and they actually hanged Hussein for the judicial murder of 144 villagers in the town of Dujail who were allegedly involved in a plot to kill him in 1982.

Dujail? Here is a man who began his career in power in the late 1960s by exterminating the entire (mostly Shiite) leadership of the Communist Party in Iraq, went on to launch an invasion of Iran in 1980 that cost up to half a million lives, massacred his own Kurdish population in 1987-88 when some of their leaders sided with the Iranians, invaded Kuwait in 1990, and massacred Iraqi Shiites in 1991 when they rebelled against his rule at the end of that war.

And they hanged him for Dujail?

It's as if they had taken Adolf Hitler alive in 1945, but ignored his responsibility for starting World War II and his murder of 6 million Jews and just put him on trial for executing people suspected of involvement in the July 1944 bomb plot.

With all of Hussein's other crimes to choose from, why on earth would you hang him for executing the people suspected of involvement in the Dujail plot?

Because the United States was not involved in that one. It was involved in the massacre of the Iraqi Communists (the CIA gave Hussein its membership lists). It was implicated up to its ears in Hussein's war against Iran -- to the point of arranging for Iraq to be supplied with the chemicals to make poison gas, providing Baghdad with satellite and AWACS intelligence data on Iranian targets, and seconding U.S. Air Force photo interpreters to Baghdad to draw Hussein the detailed maps of Iranian trenches that let him drench them in poison gas.

The Reagan administration stopped Congress from condemning Hussein's use of poison gas, and the U.S. State Department tried to protect Hussein when he gassed his own Kurdish citizens in Halabja in 1988, spreading stories (which it knew to be false) that Iranian planes had dropped the gas.

It was the U.S. that finally saved Hussein's regime by providing naval escorts for tankers carrying oil from Arab Gulf states while Iraqi planes were left free to attack tankers coming from Iranian ports. Even when one of Hussein's planes mistakenly attacked an American destroyer in 1987, killing 37 crew members, Washington forgave him.

And it was George W. Bush's father who urged Iraq's Shiites and Kurds to rebel after Hussein was driven out of Kuwait in 1991, and then failed to use U.S. air power to protect the Shiites from massacre when they answered his call.

The U.S. was deeply involved in all of Hussein's major crimes, one way or another, so no trial that delved into the details of those crimes could be allowed.

Instead, the spin doctors in the current Bush administration put the Dujail trial first and scheduled the trials for Hussein's bigger crimes for later, knowing that they would all be canceled once the death penalty for the Dujail incident was confirmed.

The dirty laundry will never have to be displayed in public. But it does mean that the man who was hanged on the morning of Dec. 30 not only had a farce of a trial before a kangaroo court; he was executed for the wrong crime.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist and historian.

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