Verdicts of history and Saddam Hussein’s death sentence

By Arshin Adib-Moghaddam (for Safe Democracy)

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam explains the influence of outside interests and a quasi-legal framework in determining the outcome of Saddam Hussein‘s trial. With a hastily announced death sentence, the United States, Britain, Germany and their allies have avoided acknowledgement of their history of collusion with the Ba’thist regime and involvement with Saddam Hussein‘s war crimes and chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs. In Adib-Moghaddam‘s opinion, the verdict ignored truth, impartiality, and comprehensiveness, clarifying the distinction between justice, and victor’s justice.

 Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is the author of “The International Politics of the Persian Gulf: A Cultural Genealogy” (Routledge). Educated at Hamburg, American and Cambridge Universities, he teaches International Relations at Oxford University.

THE TRIAL OF SADDAM HUSSEIN WOULD NOT HAVE OCCURRED without pressure from outside interests (including the governments of Iraq, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and the quasi-legal framework of a country under occupation. Don’t get me wrong. In saying this, I am by no means excusing the crimes of Saddam Hussein and his Ba’thist regime. But I think it is important to dispute the notion that the West is a virtuous bystander when it comes to crimes against humanity.

Saddam Hussein represents the kind of Third World dictator that the United States and its allies love to support when it is convenient. In the name of expedience, the West encourages these dictators’ positions, reciprocates their favours, and covers up their brutality. Why then, has Saddam Hussein been convicted before the whole range of his war crimes could be addressed by the court?

One way to address this question is to go back to the Iran-Iraq war when Western governments provided the know-how and diplomatic cover for Saddam Hussein’s burgeoning WMD programmes as a means to counter the revolutionary tide growing in Iran. In a speech to the House of Representatives on July 27, 1992, Rep. Henry Gonzalez (D-TX) explained that between 1983 and the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Iraq received 5 billion dollars in –Department of Agriculture Commodity Credit Corporation– guarantees that allowed them to purchase United States agricultural products on credit.

In October of the same year, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs held hearings, whose findings were later confirmed by a committee report, revealing that the US had exported not only agricultural products, but also chemical, biological, nuclear and missile-system equipment to Iraq that was converted to military use in Iraq’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons program. Chemical weapons were in turn used against US soldiers in the 1991 war. On May 25, 1994, another investigation showed that the US government approved sales of a wide range of chemical and biological materials to Iraq, including components of mustard gas, anthrax, clostridium botulinum, histoplasma capsulatum, brucella melitensis, and clostridium perfringens.

In December 2002, Andreas Zumach, an investigative journalist working for the German Tageszeitung, gathered and published classified information excerpted from a report presented to the United Nations by the Ba’thist regime in hopes of averting the ensuing invasion of Iraq in 2003. According to the report, 14 American corporations, including Hewlett-Packard, Unisys and Dupont, were directly involved in the buildup of Iraq’s biological, chemical and atomic industries. The report also listed the Departments of Defense, Energy, Commerce and Agriculture, and the nuclear research facilities Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia, as suppliers of Saddam Hussein’s conventional and/or non-conventional weapons programs.

German and British companies are also implicated. German involvement in Iraq’s chemical weapons industry was initially concentrated on the chemical plant in Samarra, built by Iraq’s State Establishment for Pesticides Production. The companies involved in this project were Preussag Heriger, Hammer, Rhein-Bayern, Karl Kolb/Pilot Plant and Water Engineering Trading, a company based in Hamburg. The German weekly magazine Stern reported on December 10, 1987 that Kolb/Pilot Plant exported a gas chamber to Baghdad suitable for testing chemical weapons on dogs and cats. The same company was involved in the second-largest chemical weapons plant in Falluja.

In 1990, a report submitted to the German parliament by the late German Minister of Trade, Jürgen Möllemann, provided further insight into the involvement of Kolb/Pilot Plant in Iraq’s chemical weapons industry. On page 22 of the report, evidence is presented that the German government knew as early as 1982 that German companies were involved in Saddam Hussein’s chemical warfare industry and that these allegations were verified in 1984. The German government subsequently pursued informal talks with the companies concerned, without obtaining any results. In fact, Kolb/Pilot Plant constructed a new chemical plant in Falluja in 1988, a reason presented to the UN Security Council in February of 2003 by former Secretary of State Colin Powell as a case to invade Iraq. Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee Report of September 2002 also used this data to justify an invasion, to the great benefit of Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In March 2003, the Guardian revealed the involvement of the British company Uhde in Falluja’s chemical plant; central to Iraq’s chemical warfare arsenal during a period when senior officials recorded in writing that Saddam Hussein was actively gassing his opponents. Uhde had received a contract to supply a chlorine plant in December 1984, agreeing to pay its German intermediary a commission of almost one million pounds. Uhde, which is based in Hounslow, west of London, had only a handful of employees, and was run by German executives. It was wholly owned by a German firm of the same name, headquartered in Dortmund, at the time a subsidiary of the German chemical giant Hoechst.

The documents made available to the Guardian also showed that ex-Trade Minister Paul Channon rejected a strong plea from the foreign minister, Richard Luce, who argued that the deal would ruin Britain’s image in the world. I consider it essential that everything possible be done to oppose the proposed sale, Luce pleaded, and to deny the company concerned –Export Credit Guarantee Department– cover.

A ban, Channon replied, in line with the Thatcher government’s support for Saddam Hussein against Iran, would do our other trade prospects in Iraq no good.

Why is it, therefore, that none of these connections with the West were mentioned in Saddam Hussein’s trial? With a hastily announced death sentence, what will happen to truth, national reconciliation, and international humanitarian norms? A comprehensive, politically disinterested trial against Saddam Hussein would have disentangled the whole range of Saddam Hussein’s war crimes and implicated the West. And so when one hears Tony Blair and George W. Bush welcome the verdict, one realises once more the meaning of victor’s justice.

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For footnotes and documentary evidence see Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, The International Politics of the Persian Gulf, London, New York: Routledge, 2006 and ibid., The Whole Range of Saddam’s War Crimes, Middle East Report, Summer 2006, pp. 30-30.