Hussein’s execution represents cowardice because it stands as the most ruthless cover-up yet by a White House set on deception and evasion. Previous war crimes trials, such as those held in Nuremberg, Germany after World War II, the various tribunals examining the mass murder ravaging Rwanda and Burundi in the 1990s, or the trial of Slobodan Milošević unfolding in The Hague until interrupted by the Serbian tyrant's sudden death last March, have not been simply about assessing the guilt of particular individuals, but about establishing an historical record.
The evidence amassed at Nuremberg represents the best refutation for ridiculous Holocaust deniers, from author David Irving to former Klansman and would-be politician David Duke to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Such cases produce archives that allow future historians, legal experts, and other scholars to examine and hopefully understand the complex phenomena of dictatorship, militarism and genocide.
The farcical Saddam Hussein trial, by contrast, was not about establishing an historical record. The deposed dictator was swiftly hanged for an ugly and relatively minor, though certainly evil and bloody, incident early in his presidency (the reprisal against the village of Dujail after a failed assassination attempt in 1982.) George W. Bush had no interest in historical truth. He used this trial as a pretext to quickly enact vengeance against a man who tried to engineer the assassination of his father, former President George H.W. Bush, in Kuwait in 1993. Bush 43 decidedly did not want trials to examine Hussein's other extensive crimes against the humanity, particularly those committed during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War.
Such a trial, conducted in a fair manner by an objective international court in The Hague would have cast a spotlight on the complicity of Ronald Reagan's administration in Hussein's war crimes against the Iranians. The court would have heard testimony on how American officials encouraged Hussein to invade his Shiite neighbor in order to destabilize the revolutionary regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini. The court would have heard how the United States provided Iraq with weapons of mass destruction, such as poison gas, and how the American military provided satellite photos that aided Hussein's generals in using those WMDs to butcher Iranian soldiers, who were often barely teenaged.
The court would have been treated to a parade of witnesses who would tell the world that the United States continued to give military and financial support to Saddam Hussein up to the eve of the Iraqi dictator's 1991 invasion of Kuwait, in spite of the CIA's thorough knowledge of Hussein's genocide against Kurds and human rights abuses against Iraqi Shiites and political dissenters.
These facts are widely known, but have not undergone the exhaustive documentation and testimony required in international war crimes trials. At a time when the administration faces investigations from a hostile Democratic Congress over cooked intelligence estimates of Iraqi WMDs, corruption by defense contractors that have grown rich from the Iraq war like Halliburton and KBR, and American human rights abuses in places like Abu Ghraib, Bush 43 has little stomach for a widely-publicized inquiry into the crimes of a past Republican administration, particularly one that included his father as vice president. Hanging Saddam was about shutting up him and his defense team, not about justice.
Americans should take no comfort from this event. In fact the hanging itself became further evidence of what a disaster this war has become.
Before Hussein dangled from a noose, a man taunted him by chanting ""Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada," a reference to the radical, anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the head of a political movement that has demanded American withdrawal from the country, and a man whose death squads have carried out deadly attacks against both American troops and minority Sunnis. Saddam's execution does not portend the end of totalitarianism in the region, or the dawn of free speech and religious liberty in the Middle East. It just represents more evidence that the anti-American regime in Iran has gained a powerful and oil-rich ally in the Shiite-dominated fragment of what used to be Iraq.
And sadly for this country, which this weekend lost its 3,000th soldier in a misbegotten children's crusade, the Shiite enemies of our enemy, the late Saddam Hussein, are most definitely not our friends.
Michael Phillips has authored the following:
White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006)
(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)
“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)
“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ” in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)
“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)
(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013).
“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).
He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.