Putting Saddam Hussein on Trial

Crimes Against Humanity and the Transition from Dictatorship to Democracy Congress, May 25, 1993

Report issued by the Executive Council of the Iraqi National

Though the United States long supported Saddam Hussein in order to challenge the regional ambitions of Khomeini’s Iran, George Bush compared the Iraqi dictator to Hitler when it came time to rally support for Desert Storm. A mountain of evidence now suggests that while this comparison was off the mark in extent it was not inaccurate in kind.

By now we have detailed knowledge of the crimes of Saddam Hussein and his associates against their fellow Iraqis. They include the systematic practice of extreme torture, often with fatal consequences. Saddam Hussein’s is the only government ever to use lethal chemical weapons against its own citizens; it did so as part of a longterm campaign against the Kurds, in which some four thousand of their villages were completely destroyed, many toward the end of the Iraq-Iran War in 1987–1988. The government also carried out heavy and indiscriminate retaliation against Shiite communities that took part in the March 1991 uprising at the close of the Gulf War, including attacks on their holiest sites and their hospitals. (During the uprising both Shiites and Kurds committed their own terrible abuses against suspected government agents.) Trying to combat insurgency in southern Iraq the government also deliberately devastated the marshlands; much of the territory of an ancient people with a distinctive way of life has become uninhabitable.

Such a list leaves out Saddam Hussein’s crimes during the wars he began against Iran, in which he also used chemical weapons, and against Kuwait; his departing act, one without any military purpose, was to set fire to Kuwait’s oil fields, and to release huge quantities of oil into the Persian Gulf.

In June 1992, some two hundred dissident Iraqi Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, and others met in Vienna to draw up a program of action against the Saddam Hussein government; perhaps the best known among them was Kanan Makiya, the architect-turned-writer who published Republic of Fear under the pseudonym Samir al-Khalil at a time when he considered it too dangerous to use his own name. (Makiya’s most recent book, Cruelty and Silence, criticizes the failure of Arab intellectuals and politicians to speak out against Saddam Hussein’s atrocities.)1 The members of the group in Vienna announced that they aimed to replace the regime of Saddam Hussein with “a constitutional, parliamentary, democratic order based upon political pluralism and the peaceful transfer of power through elections based upon the sovereignty of law.” Another resolution called on the United Nations Security Council to bring Saddam Hussein and his top associates to trial for crimes against humanity.

In May, the body that was formed the previous year in Vienna, the Executive Council of the Iraqi National Congress, published Crimes Against Humanity and the Transition from Dictatorship to Democracy, which presents some of the gross violations of human rights committed by the Iraqi regime. It contains drafts of indictments against Saddam Hussein, his cousin, Defense Minister Ali Hasan al-Majid, who conducted the genocidal campaign against the Kurds (whom they refer to as…

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