Labor Advocate Online

Who Will Judge the War Criminals?
by Bill Onasch

Saddam Hussein has been captured. Slobodan Milosevic is already on trial.

To be sure, these are two evil men who committed terrible crimes against their own people as well as others. It’s hard to imagine a suitable punishment for their barbarous deeds.

But who is entitled to judge and punish them? They are not being tried by their victims. Their crimes are being used to cover the tracks of other—even bigger—criminals reporting to the top Godfather in the city named after our first President.

The U.S. government steadfastly refuses to endorse the International Criminal Court—for good reason. Congress has passed resolutions threatening cut off of all U.S. aid to countries not recognizing U.S. exemption from war crime indictments.

For years Washington, along with NATO allies, stayed clear of the savage atrocities committed by both Serb and Croatian forces in disintegrating Yugoslavia. When they finally concluded that things were getting out of hand, threatening European stability, President Clinton assigned General Wesley Clark to lead a NATO war against Serbia (still clinging to the pretense of being Yugoslavia.)

In a 78-day period 23,000 bombs and missiles were dropped on Serbia—a country with an area and population roughly equal to Ohio.

Victims of the same criminal tactics that were euphemistically called "strategic bombing" in World War II, it was working class neighborhoods that took the brunt of this assault. Also hit were civilian hospitals, the Chinese embassy, a train full of civilian passengers, and a television station. Thousands of innocent Serbs perished.

NATO won and now General Clark is a prosecution witness in the war crimes trial—instead of answering for his own crimes against humanity. Indeed, Clark is billed as a hero, and is making a bid for the White House, even commended by Michael Moore as a man of peace!

Who will judge Saddam Hussein?

It was the Eisenhower administration that engineered a failed coup attempt in Iraq during which the young Saddam Hussein was wounded and had to take refuge in Egypt. It was the Kennedy administration that engineered the successful 1963 coup that overthrew the Kassem regime and brought the Baath Party to power in Iraq. Shortly thereafter Saddam Hussein became the party leader. (According to the former Baath leader Hani Fkaiki, Saddam Hussein was among those party members colluding with the CIA in 1962 and 1963.)

U.S. intelligence provided Saddam Hussein with the names of Communists and Trotskyists. According to one account, "Armed with the names and whereabouts of individual communists, the national guards carried out summary executions. Communists held in detention...were dragged out of prison and shot without a hearing... [this] terror campaign claimed the lives of an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 communists."

The Johnson administration backed still another coup in 1968 setting up Saddam's cousin, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr as the new dictator. Saddam was put in charge of state internal security.

After Saddam replaced his cousin as President of Iraq in 1979 another bloody political purge was carried out. This time many Baath Party leaders and militants were included alongside communists, socialists, and trade unionists. It was also at this time that Saddam's labor code, effectively outlawing legitimate unions, was proclaimed (a law still enforced by the occupiers.)

In spring 1980 Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security advisor, signaled the U.S.'s willingness to work with Iraq in a meeting with Saddam Hussein in Jordan—just two months before Iraq invaded Iran. "We see no fundamental incompatibility of interests between the United States and Iraq," declared Brzezinski. Brzezinski assured Saddam Hussein that the U.S. would not oppose the Iraq takeover of southwest Iran. The pro-U.S. regimes of Kuwait and Egypt also urged Iraq to invade.

In September 1980 Iraq invaded Iran with tacit U.S. support, starting a bloody eight-year war. The U.S.—both the Carter and Reagan administrations—supported both sides in the war. Their goal was to prolong the war and weaken both sides. The U.S. opposed UN action against the invasion, removed Iraq from its list of "terrorist" nations, allowed U.S. arms to be transferred to Iraq, provided Iraq with intelligence on Iran, economic aid, and political support, and encouraged its Gulf allies to lend Iraq over $30 billion for its war effort. The U.S. military provided important intelligence information on Iran and advice on strike plans to the Iraqi military—while fully aware that the Iraqi regime had chemical weapons in its arsenal and was prepared to use them.

In 1983 President Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld as a special representative to Baghdad to firm up relations with Saddam Hussein.

In 1988 the Iraqi regime launched poison-gas attacks on Kurdish villages in northern Iraq, killing thousands of Kurds. The Reagan/Bush [1] administrations said nothing and actually increased support for the Iraqi regime.

In July, 1990 April Glaspie, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, met with Saddam Hussein, who revealed Iraq's intention to take military action against Kuwait. Saddam Hussein’s complaints were that Kuwait was overproducing its oil quota, slant drilling for oil in Iraqi territory, and encroaching on Iraqi territory—seriously harming war-weakened Iraq. Glaspie replied, "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait."

But when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the U.S. turned on their man, Saddam Hussein—seizing the moment to assert U.S. hegemony in the post-Soviet world and strengthen their grip on the Persian Gulf. The U.S. condemned Iraq, rejected a diplomatic settlement, imposed sanctions, and, after a six-month military buildup, the U.S.-led coalition launched Operation Desert Storm.

A decade of sanctions against defeated Iraq followed. Among other consequences of this vengeful policy was the collapse of what had been far and away the best health care system in any Arab country. Thousands of children died needlessly because of lack of medicine. The country's infrastructure crumbled.

They Knew All Along
The U.S. government not only was aware of the brutal repression of Saddam Hussein over a forty-year period—they were often directly complicit in much of it and helped cover up most of the rest.

The current invasion and occupation of Iraq had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein’s brutality. And, of course, it has now been well demonstrated that claims of weapons of mass destruction were a complete fabrication.

This war was about establishing a new doctrine of preemptive intervention wherever and whenever the bosses’ government thinks they need to in order to advance the interests of Big Business.

Yes Slobodan Milosevic, and Saddam Hussein are guilty of crimes against humanity and should be punished. But so are their prosecutors. The "strategic" bombing of cities, the sanctions leading to thousands of children needlessly dying, the continuing enforcement of Saddam Hussein’s outlawing of trade unions—are these not also crimes against humanity?

The Democrat "peace" candidates are shuffling and stammering in the face of Bush’s moment of triumph over an old man cowering in a dugout. We’re not so impressed.

After Hitler's defeat many Germans claimed they didn't know about the worst crimes of the Nazi regime. Others replied, “you knew as much as you wanted to know.”

Americans have a special responsibility to deal with the crimes of those who speak in our name. The truth is not hard to find if you face up to the unpleasant task of looking for it. Exposing the wretched inhumanity of Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein does not excuse or effectively disguise the wretched inhumanity of Bush/Blair and their predecessors.

But let us be clear: The American men and women grunts in uniform are not the war criminals. They signed up to defend their country and that was how their mission was described to them: get the weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of the mad man and liberate the Iraqi people from the tyrant.

The brass and the politicians never told them they were fighting to keep the world safe for U.S. Big Business—such as the swindlers of Halliburton. No one told them that part of their mission was to arrest trade union leaders and trash union offices. They were not warned that when shooting back at a seemingly invisible but deadly resistance they inevitably would wind up killing innocent women and children as well.

No, the ranks of the armed forces are more victim than criminal. They are among those who need to be liberated from a tyrant.

Above all we American workers have the obligation to try to stop the biggest ongoing war crime—end the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and bring our GIs home now!