A special Iraqi tribunal handed down the death sentences after a tainted legal process that saw Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki oust the original chief judge for making comments viewed as favorable to the defense. The defendants also were denied the opportunity to call witnesses because of security concerns.
The prospect of real justice was impaired, too, when Maliki rushed Hussein to the gallows on Dec. 30, 2006, eliminating the possibility that the former dictator might offer explosive testimony, including how his regime got the chemical weapons that were deployed against Iranian troops and their Iraqi Kurdish allies during the Iran-Iraq War.
So, when the special tribunal resumed in January 2007, the prosecution could play an incriminating tape recording of Hussein discussing chemical weapons without the risk of him fingering U.S. officials or other Westerners.
Because of the hasty execution, Iraqi judges couldn’t turn to Hussein and question him about the tape’s authenticity or its context. An obvious follow-up would have been how Hussein had obtained the poisons that allegedly killed tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds.
In that sense, Hussein’s silence was golden for the international arms dealers who supplied his regime and for foreign officials who facilitated the shipments.
Former President George H.W. Bush, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and current Defense Secretary Robert Gates were among those who could breathe a little easier after the hangman’s noose had choked the life out of Hussein.
The elder George Bush, as Vice President in the 1980s, allegedly oversaw a covert U.S. operation to assist Hussein’s war machine; Rumsfeld, as special U.S. envoy to the Middle East, held private chats with the Iraqi dictator about his war needs; and Gates, as a senior CIA official, reportedly rebuffed Israeli protests about U.S. tolerance for third-country military shipments to Iraq, including precursor chemicals.
Thus, with Hussein dead and with only a truncated defense allowed his surviving co-conspirators, a full historical understanding of Iraq’s chemical weapons program was blocked. A fairer judicial process – and a more complete historical record – might have emerged if the defendants had been turned over to an international court.
But an international court would have eliminated the satisfaction that George W. Bush sought in having Hussein and other Iraqi “evil-doers” drop through the gallows’ trap door and dangle at the end of a noose.
The ghoulish theater of Hussein’s execution captured on a grainy cell-phone camera – including taunts from Shiite guards and Hussein’s haughty response – obscured the other significance of the moment, that important chapters of history were dying with Hussein on the gallows.
Hussein could no longer disclose what Rumsfeld told him at their hand-shake meeting in 1983, or whether he got an alleged message from Vice President Bush in the mid-1980s about how to deploy his air force against Iran, or if his regime knew that deputy CIA director Gates was running interference for Iraq’s military supply line in the 1980s.
Nor could Hussein give his account of the mixed messages delivered by George H.W. Bush’s ambassador April Glaspie before Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Was there an American “green light” or did Hussein just hear what he wanted to hear?
All that history and more might have been salvaged if Hussein had been turned over to an international tribunal at The Hague as was done with other tyrants, such as Yugoslavia’s late dictator Slobodan Milosevic.
Instead George W. Bush insisted that Hussein be kept under tight American guard and be tried in Iraq despite the obvious fact that the Iraqi dictator would receive nothing close to a fair trial before being put to death.
The major U.S. news media missed this larger story: how Hussein's hanging, after his conviction for his role in executing 148 men and boys from the town of Dujail in 1982, silenced a key witness to the larger historical narrative.
With the three latest death sentences, that process – what some might call a cover-up – has now been repeated. Again, the American angle is missing in the U.S. news media.
[For more details on what Hussein might have revealed, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege or Consortiumnews.com’s “Missing U.S.-Iraq History” or “The Secret World of Robert Gates.”]