U.S. war criminals’ show trial of Saddam Hussein

As the first trial of Saddam Hussein nears a verdict and sentencing, former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, a member of Hussein’s defense team, has cautioned that a guilty verdict and likely death sentence could be catastrophic.

Speaking of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal, or the Iraqi High Criminal Court (IST), at


Former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark speaks at a press conference, Washington, D.C., Oct. 5.
Photo: Natasha Persaud

the National Press Club on Oct. 5, Clark charged that: “This court is illegal, incapable of fairness. It lacks independence and impartiality manifestly. It was created for a political purpose and that is to vindicate the war of aggression.” The press conference was widely covered in the bourgeois media.

Hussein was taken prisoner by occupying U.S. troops on Dec. 13, 2003, and has been held in a military prison by U.S. forces since then, supposedly in Iraq. Since that time, his capture, imprisonment and “trial” have been key elements in U.S. propaganda aimed at both the Arab and U.S. people.

The handpicked IST operates under the auspices of the Pentagon’s Regime Crimes Liaison Office.

The tribunal makes no pretense of impartiality. Its sole purpose is to carry out the show trial of the former Iraqi government. It is not authorized, for example, to try U.S. soldiers or officials for war crimes committed against the Iraqi people.

Even pro-imperialist “human rights” groups like Human Rights Watch have what they call “serious concerns” about the tribunal’s legitimacy.

Clark noted that the trial has been a corruption of justice from start to finish. The Iraqi puppet government just replaced the main judge because he acknowledged that Hussein was “not a dictator.”

Other judges have remained because of their slavish adherence to U.S. imperialism’s dictates. One judge recently expressed his hatred for Saddam and the co-defendants, saying that “a trial is not necessary, just a hanging,” and the defendants “all have had blood on their hands since childhood.”

In addition, four defense attorneys have been kidnapped, tortured and executed, and court personnel and their family members have been killed. At times, some defendants have had no attorneys as terrified lawyers have refused to appear in court. Defense attorneys have not even been given a transcript of the trial.

Leaders of the current U.S.-backed puppet regime, including President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, have stated their commitment to have Saddam executed.

Proceedings orchestrated by Washington

Saddam is one of eight defendants, including Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, in the current Dujail proceedings. The charges against them are based on an alleged order to execute 148 people after an attempted assassination of Saddam Hussein in the town of Dujail, which is located near the Iranian border.

The assassination attempt, and attempts on the lives of former foreign minister and deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz and other prominent Iraqis, took place in the summer of 1982 during the Iran-Iraq war. Defense attorneys have been denied access to transcripts of the earlier cases, which form the basis of the current charges.

The trial has been orchestrated by Washington to further U.S. imperialism’s interests. Clark said, “[J]udges had been selected and trained by the U.S. in advance. They were paid and protected by the U.S.”

During the U.S.-supported elections in Iraq, Washington excluded politicians from Saddam’s Baath Arab Socialist Party. They only allowed candidates who were opposed to the former government to run for office.

The Hussein show trial that has unfolded is a continued expression of Washington’s attempts to dominate Iraq.

According to rules governing the conduct of the IST, if defendants are found guilty, sentencing must be pronounced when the guilty verdict is rendered. If defendants are sentenced to death they must be executed within 30 days. Defense attorneys have 10 days to file appeals after the verdict is given.

Clark emphasized that the court is controlled by the U.S. government and that “the prisoners are absolutely and solely in the custody of the armed forces of the United States.”

Clark noted that the IST had said that sentences would be rendered on or near Oct. 16, conveniently timed just before the 2006 U.S. congressional elections. Now, the court is indicating that a ruling might be delayed.

Complications have arisen for the imperialist-run court. On Sept. 2, a coalition of 300 Iraqi tribal leaders, including the

head of the 1.5 million member al-Obedi tribe, demanded the release of Saddam and called for armed resistance against U.S.-led forces.

Clark strongly cautioned, “The surrender of the defendants to the present government of Iraq would set off tremendous violence.”

The real reason for the trial

Saddam Hussein’s role in Iraq is long and complex and needs to be seen in the context of the 1958 Iraqi revolution. Hussein represented a strongly anti-communist wing of the Baath Party. This wing was engaged in a violent struggle against communists and other left forces, including some within the Baath Party itself. But at the same time, much like European social democratic parties, it combined this violent anti-communism with a program of social reforms that benefited sections of the masses as well as Iraq’s national development.

Baathism in Iraq represents the aspirations of a nationalist bourgeoisie that is trying to overcome the legacy of colonialism. As a consequence, the Baathist governments had a complex and contradictory relationship with imperialism. At times they collaborated, while at other times they confronted the imperialist powers.

In spite of its anti-communism, Baathism took root in the social soil created by the 1958 Iraqi revolution as a rival to the then-revolutionary Iraqi Communist Party. The 1958 revolution was a thoroughgoing bourgeois nationalist revolution aimed at developing the Iraqi society and breaking the bonds of British imperial domination.

Saddam Hussein collaborated opportunistically with the United States in launching the 1980 war with Iran. But the regime was never a comprador, puppet government of U.S. imperialism in the same way as the client regimes in Jordan, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, for example.

When Hussein began to assert Iraqi national interests independent of U.S. imperialist interests—for instance, with the 1991 invasion of Kuwait—his regime was demonized and targeted for destruction.

The crimes for which Hussein and the other members of the Baath government are charged pale by comparison with the genocides and massacres committed by U.S. client regimes like Colombia, Israel or the Philippines. They especially pale compared to the crimes committed by consecutive U.S. governments against Native American, Puerto Rican and African American communities in the United States or against oppressed peoples around the world.

The real reason Hussein and members of his government are on trial and facing execution today is that they dared to stand up to U.S. imperialism. All the rest of the charges are window dressing to deceive public opinion.

Anti-war and anti-imperialist activists should expose the hypocrisy of U.S. occupation forces carrying out a trial for “crimes against humanity” while U.S. troops and their puppets commit daily rapes, massacres and assassinations against the Iraqi population.

The U.S. occupation regime has no right to try Saddam Hussein or any of his co-defendants. They should be released immediately.

Real trials for “crimes against humanity” would see Bush administration officials and Pentagon generals in the docks.

Click here to read the English version of the legal memorandum filed by Hussein’s defense team.
Click here to read more from PSL about the imperialist show trial of Hussein.


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