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Partners in Crime:
U.S. Complicity in the War Crimes of Saddam

by Paul Rockwell
Oakland, California

Notwithstanding the upcoming show-trial of Saddam Hussein in Occupied Iraq, U.S. complicity in the war crimes of its former military ally may well become the most eye-opening issue facing the international community in the coming months.

There is a revealing photograph of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with a known war criminal in 1983 -- Saddam Hussein. If Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld were forced to testify at an impartial, international war crimes tribunal, no doubt he would be asked: "What did you know, and when did you know it?

Of all the conventions in humanitarian law, none is more relevant to contemporary affairs than the Nuremberg principle: "Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, is a crime under international law."

The jurists at Nuremberg enacted the law of complicity only after long deliberations about the essential dynamics of modern war crimes. They recognized that modern industrial atrocities are collective in nature. War criminals do not act alone, and their capacity for mass brutality depends on a supply of sophisticated weapons, business deals, international finance, contracts and covert shipments, coordination and training, diplomatic protection, and the winks and nods of international Machiavellian politics. Nuremberg's farsighted judges codified the complicity principle in order to protect future generations from the scourge of war and terror.

There is no better interpreter of war crimes, of man’s inhumanity to man, than Hannah Arendt, who published a definitive book on the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1963. Eichmann was not a top official in the Nazi Party. He was a mere accomplice, a bureaucrat who facilitated the deportation of millions of Jews into the concentration camps. He never pulled a switch, and he kept a healthy distance from the consequences of his handiwork. As an administrator who “did his job,” made no big decisions, he was still a key part of the machinery of mass murder. It was not any demonic trait of Eichmann's personality, but the “banality of evil” that appalled Arendt most of all.

Arendt warned against sensationalistic accounts of the Holocaust, the demonization of individual personalities. She called attention to “the unspeakable horror of the deeds and the ordinariness of the men who committed them.” Impartial, dignified war crime tribunals are not an occasion for gloating or propaganda. At their best they give voice to all the victims, produce a complete record for future generations, and help to prevent more war crimes from taking place. They produce a sense of humility among all the participants. Triumphalism degrades mankind’s memory of itself.

International accomplices of Saddam Hussein have yet to be arrested, named, interrogated, much less held accountable for their crimes against peace and humanity.

The victims of Saddam and his accomplices, Iranians as well as Iraqis, have a right to know: Who armed Iraq? Who built Saddam’s arsenal of terror in the ’80s? They also have a right to interrogate Rumsfeld, other U.S. officials, CIA agents, and U.S. arms merchants as suspects or witnesses. The executives of Alcoliac International of Maryland, that transported mustard gas precursors to Saddam; the Tennessee manufacturers that provided sarin-based chemicals; the heads of the Dow Chemical Company who sold toxins that cause death by asphyxiation; the heads of Bechtel that produced chemicals for Saddam in their Iraqi plant; the CIA agents that made covert arms deals and transported heinous cluster bombs to a known war criminal -- all the participants in Iraq's machine of death should come before an international court and answer a single question: What did you know, and when did you know it? It is not just the buyers, it is suppliers of death who are accountable under the Nuremberg Conventions.

Justice will be served only after the official records of U.S. and European complicity are made public.

In December 2002, Bush seized 800 incriminating pages of the 2,000-page Iraqi report to the U.N., pages that contained the names of U.S. companies that supplied arms to Saddam, including details on weapons, dual-use technologies, and materials of mass destruction. That censored report, which rightfully belongs to the victims, not Bush, constitutes a major piece of evidence for any impartial war crimes tribunal.

The National Security Decision Directive 114 of November 26, 1983, replete with revelations on U.S. collusion with Saddam Hussein, should be declassified. The world has a right to know the truth and see the evidence.

28 Years of U.S. Support

U.S. officials colluded with Saddam’s regime for over 28 years. Like the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein became another son of Frankenstein, a creature of U.S. foreign policy.

In 1963 the CIA helped the Baathist Party overthrow General Abdel-Karim Kassem, who was gunned down with other leaders from a list supplied by the CIA. One of the conspirators was a young, ruthless insurgent named Saddam Hussein. After a purge and revolt, the Baathists took total control of Iraq, and Saddam Hussein took power in 1979. Together, the U.S. and its surrogate waged a brutal, illegal war against Iran for eight years. In violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925 (which outlaws chemical warfare) the Reagan-Bush Administration authorized the sale of poisonous chemicals and deadly biological stocks, including anthrax. Iraq was already was using chemical weapons -- on an “almost daily basis,” according to the Washington Post -- when envoy Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein in 1983, an historic meeting that consolidated an active military partnership. The repression and brutality of Saddam's regime was not a secret when U.S. and Iraqi officials coordinated their military efforts. Not only did the U.S. supply planes, munitions and bombs, it supplied the satellite images that enabled Saddam to massacre thousands of Iranians. Twenty-four U.S. firms exported arms and material to Baghdad. France also sent 200 AMX medium tanks, mirage bombers, and Gazelle helicopter gunships.

What is the legal and moral difference between German industries that manufactured ovens for concentration camps in Europe and U.S. and European merchants of death who supplied Saddam Hussein with cluster bombs, nuclear materials, anthrax spores, helicopters, and the most heinous weapons directed against innocent Iranian people?

The vast, lucrative arms trade in the Middle East laid the groundwork for Saddam's aggression. Without high-tech weapons from the U.S., Iraq’s wars against Iran and Kuwait would never have taken place. Complicity makes a difference.

It was not Saddam's atrocities -- his torture rooms, his gassing of the Kurds, the use of chemicals against Iranians, his crimes against peace -- that turned Rumsfeld and U.S. officials against Iraq. It was the invasion of Kuwait which threatened Western oil that transformed Saddam from an ally into “the butcher of Baghdad.” Prior to the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, few Americans ever heard about Saddam's atrocities. In a typical whitewash of Saddam’s crimes the New Republic (April, 1987) noted “a degree of moderation,” in Iraq. Its editors described Iraq as “an independent militaristic regional power ... the de facto protector of the regional status quo.”

And it is certainly reasonable to believe that, had Saddam refrained from invading Kuwait, the alliance between Iraq and the U.S. would still be in place today. No doubt the photo of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam would still be hanging from the wall of the White House.

Paul Rockwell is a writer in the Bay Area

Published in In Motion Magazine December 29, 2003.

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