Sunday, December 31, 2006

An important milestone on the road to losing any vestigial moral high ground

Upon hearing yesterday morning that Saddam Hussein had been executed, I was surprised at my main emotional response to the news. I was partly surprised, as I had not expected that the sentence would be carried out so promptly. After all, I had expected that he would actually be present at the ongoing trial surrounding events at Al-Anfal. Not that there’s much doubt that he was indeed responsible for the death of 180,000 Kurds in 1987-88, it’s just that surely the point of such a trial is to make the guilty party face up to his crimes, and to send out the message that such behaviour will not be tolerated or go unpunished. There’s nothing much the court can do to redress the situation, and in my mind and that of many others, it’s not the business of the courts to facilitate revenge. Obviously, not everyone shares that view.

I had rather expected that my first thought would be “Well done, it couldn’t have happened to a nastier chap”, or something along those lines. Only it wasn’t. The emotions that the news of Saddam’s demise stirred up were anger mixed with shame. The two often go hand in hand. The anger comes from the fact that the entire process leading to Saddam Hussein’s arrest, trial and execution has been a complete travesty. I don’t want to once again bring up a topic that never fails to lead to an intractable argument, so let’s say that the circumstances leading to his arrest were at the very least of dubious legality. What is beyond doubt is that the arrest warrant, if you will, was for being under suspicion of possessing weapons of mass destruction, which has proved to be a trumped-up charge on the part of the UK government. Alternately, as far as the US government is concerned, it was for being an accomplice to Al-Qaeda and associates, which was also utter tripe. It isn’t as if there weren’t any other charges that they could have made stick.

Of course, because of the uncertainty over the legal standing of the circumstances leading to Hussein’s arrest, he had to be tried in a “special Iraqi court”, not by an international one as are other suspected war criminals and their illustrious brethren such as Slobodan Milosevic. No matter how nasty a man Saddam was, he deserved a fair trial as much as anyone else, and there was no chance at all of such a thing happening in Iraq. Of course, that was his own fault for having given just about everyone in Iraq a reason to want to see him dangling, but the desire for revenge is different from justice, even if the practical end result is arguably the same. To be fair, the Iraqi court did a remarkable job given the almost impossible circumstances in which the trial took place: several of Saddam’s lawyers were assassinated for example.

But the fact remains that the outcome of it all was that Saddam was sentenced to death and executed with the complicity of the US and UK governments. All the talk of letting the Iraqi people judge Saddam as they see fit without outside intervention is transparent nonsense. It’s just George Bush and Tony Blair washing their hands of the situation unconvincingly. Of course, George Bush doesn’t have to care quite so much about this. He governs the only real democracy in the world to regularly execute so many of its’ citizens. Capital punishment isn’t so much of a political hot potato in the US as it is in Europe. But here, it’s anathema, at least it’s meant to be. The EU makes it a requirement for membership that capital punishment should be abolished. It’s just a fundamental human right. But it would seem that it’s only a human right for people like us, a group of which membership is subject to fluctuating criteria. Margaret Beckett, on behalf of the British government, said that “the British government does not support the use of the death penalty, in Iraq or anywhere else. We advocate an end to the death penalty worldwide, regardless of the individual or the crime. ‘We have made our position very clear to the Iraqi authorities, but we respect their decision as that of a sovereign nation.’”

This is quite obviously a cop-out. You have to be singularly na├»ve to believe that the Iraqi government can’t be influenced by the US or the UK.

The main problem with the outcome of this miserable mini-epic is not that Saddam’s dead, or that he didn’t deserve it. No one much regrets his passing. This will have no discernible impact on what people still amusingly refer to as “the security situation” in Iraq. Saddam Hussein hasn’t mattered in this conflict since he went into hiding in April 2003. The problem is that this is the schematic version of events leading up to this: The US and the UK invade Iraq and arrest Saddam on trumped-up charges. He is then tried by a kangaroo rat court with the collusion of the US and the UK who unconvincingly claim that it’s nothing to do with them. He is then sentenced to death and executed with the complicity of at least on government that opposes the death penalty. Where’s the moral high ground that it supposed to provide us with the justification for using violence against countries when we oppose it when used by anyone else? Why on earth would anyone listen to a word we say any more? Why would they pay lip service to all our admonestations on human rights and democracy?

George Bush says of Saddam’s death that “it is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy”. Well I suppose that’s one interpretation of what democracy is supposed to be. It’s not one that the Militant Pine Marten shares though.