Rush to Hang Hussein Was Questioned (New York Times)
This is a very curious story. Some of it is probably true, some of it is patently false â€“ and all of it is a massive, panicky CYA job by American officials. However, through the heavy fog of this assemblage of spin, it seems fairly obvious what has really happened: the same group of dim-witted fools, ideological cranks and violent sectarians who have driven the whole misbegotten enterprise in Iraq came up with yet another plan that they thought was a great idea. But as always, it turned out to be a botched job that has made a hellish situation even worse.
Two things stand out in this story by Burns and Santora â€“ or rather, two salient facts lurk behind the furious spin that the reporters have assembled. First, that despite all the protestations by U.S. officials here, it was the Americans who actually had the final say in letting the execution go forward. And second, the rank lawlessness of the execution is in fact a direct emulation of American "democracy" under the Unitary Executive Decidership of George W. Bush.
The latter point brings out some of the bitter black comedy in the story, where Burns and Allen â€“ sorry, Burns and Santora â€“ convey the words of a "senior Iraqi official" eager to tote PR water for the American bosses:
Told that Mr. Maliki wanted to carry out the death sentence on Mr. Hussein almost immediately, and not wait further into the 30-day deadline set by the appeals court, American officers at the Thursday meeting said that they would accept any decision but needed assurance that due process had been followed before relinquishing physical custody of Mr. Hussein.
"The Americans said that we have no issue in handing him over, but we need everything to be in accordance with the law," the Iraqi official said. â€œWe do not want to break the law."
You must admit this is rich: Bush officials â€“ creators of the special "military tribunals" for their special, made-up category of "enemy combatants" who can be jailed indefinitely without trial or charges or even killed, all at the arbitrary order of the omnipotent president â€“ fretting over "due process" for Saddam Hussein. American citizens are no longer guaranteed due process â€“ which is now solely in the Decider's gift â€“ but we are to believe that Saddam's rights were uppermost in occupier's mind before his execution.
Well, who knows? Maybe this is one of the true bits of the story. It may well be that Bush was more concerned with Saddam's legal niceties than those of his own citizens; after all, he and Saddam have much more in common than Bush does with the overwhelming majority of Americans. They love power, love torture, love blood to be spilled at their command, see themselves as world-historical figures, great warriors inspired by God, etc.
But of course, it's far more likely that these concerns over "due process" are ex post facto fictions. At least at the highest levels. It could well be that some of the American officials on the ground realized how utterly stupid it was to rush Saddam's execution and hold it on one of Islam's highest holy days, and to let the hanging itself turn into a farce, with hecklers from Motqada al-Sadr's gang allowed in to thug it up. So yes, there may be a germ of truth in these butt-covering exercises. But obviously, if any such officials really exist, they were overruled by Washington â€“ as always is the case with any U.S. official who has the slightest knowledge of the realities in Iraq.
After all, why should any Bush minion fret over the execution procedure? As a Maliki mouthpiece points out, Saddam was tried and convicted under a "special tribunal" operating outside the ordinary Iraqi justice system â€“ exactly like Bush's "military tribunals." Why shouldn't the Iraqis make up the law as they go along, just like their liberators? These crocodile tears over "due process" for Saddam mask a deep and sinister hypocrisy.
I think this is how the deal went down, more or less. Maliki â€“ the leader of a faction of violent sectarians â€“ wanted Saddam hanged right away, as an Eid holiday gift to his base, as stated in the story. In response to this, Bush Faction leaders said, Well, OK, why not? Bush too wanted Saddam killed as a blood sacrifice to his base. U.S. officials on the ground â€“ the ones who will have to deal with the backlash â€“ tried to make the best of a bad situation and at least delay the execution. But they were overruled â€“ not by Maliki, as the story ludicrously suggests â€“ but by the White House.
For the overriding fact remains: the execution on Saturday could not have been carried out at that time, and in that manner, without approval from Washington. Now, we don't want to fall into the fallacy here that ascribes omnipotent power to the Bush Faction, as if they exercised absolute control over events in Iraq. Clearly, events there have outrun the Bushists control almost from the very beginning. (They are, however, responsible for all the events that have grown out of the war, which they launched, very deliberately, in the full knowledge that it was not necessary.)
But in this particular case, they did have control of events â€“ because they had literal, physical control of Saddam's body. (A control they continued to exercise after the execution, by the way, transporting the corpse to its resting place by an American helicopter. It seems the "sovereignty" of the Iraqi government in this case lasted only for the brief time it took for the hanging.) Saddam could not have been hanged by the Maliki government if the Americans had not physically turned him over to the executioners, who did their work under American auspices, on an American base. If U.S. officials â€“ those with any real power, that is â€“ had had genuine concerns about the timing of the execution, they could have simply refused to turn Saddam over until, say, after Eid or at some other point. What could Maliki have done about it? Nothing.
The fact is, the leaders of the Bush Administration wanted Saddam dead, sooner rather than later. So they let Maliki kill him. They are doubtless glad to let Maliki take the heat for the botchery â€“ thus the insultingly crude stories about Bush and his gang wringing their hands and whimpering, goodness gracious me, we didn't want it to happen this way, but what we could do? That big bad Maliki threw his weight around, and we had to give in.
No, despite the noble stenography of Burns and Santora, the facts are plain: Saddam was killed on Saturday because â€“ or whatever reason, or reasons, or no clear reason at all -- the Bush White House wanted it to be so. If they hadn't, it wouldn't have happened.
Glenn Greenwald delves more deeply into more angles of the implications of the NYT story in Iraqis learn the art of legal "workarounds". (He graciously links to this post in the piece, which ordinarily would prevent me from linking back to it. But my distaste for log-rolling must give way in this instance to the need to point as many people as possible to Greenwald's telling insights, which, as noted, go much further than my brief post on the matter.) Some excerpts to whet your whistle before you head off to his Unclaimed Territory:
It really is striking, and a potent sign of just how absurd is our ongoing occupation, that the "Iraqi Government" which we are fighting to empower could not even conduct this execution with a pretense of legality or concern for civilized norms -- the executioners were not wearing uniforms but leather jackets and murderers' masks, conducting themselves not as disciplined law enforcement officers but as what they are (death squad members and sectarian street thugs).
And the most revealing, and most disturbing, detail is that Saddam's executioners -- in between playground insults spat at a tied-up Saddam -- chanted their religious-like allegiance to Moktada Al Sadr, the Shiite militia leader whom we are told is the Great Enemy of the U.S., the One We Now Must Kill. This noble and just event for which we are responsible was carried out by a brutal, murderous, lawless militia. Freedom is on the march...
No matter what we touch in Iraq, no matter what we do, it only makes things worse -- never better -- because the root of what we are doing is itself so rotted and incoherent and corrupt. It's beyond doubt that we're going to be treated to much more "freedom" and "justice" like this over the next two years in Iraq, at least.