War criminals

December 30, 2006

Why some war criminals are more equal than others

Rajeev Srinivasan on show trials and victors’ justice

Tower of Skulls, Killing Fields, CambodiaTower of Skulls, Killing Fields, Cambodia

The precipitate hanging of former President Saddam Hussein of Iraq on 30th December was probably inappropriate, illegal, and counter-productive. This is for several reasons: one, that there were several other cases against Hussein that should have been heard; two, that this punishment is likely to increase the level of violence in Iraq; but three, and most of all, because it is hard to escape the feeling that the proceedings were stage-managed.

The crime for which Hussein has been hanged was that of killing 148 people in Dujail. But there are far bigger crimes for which he could and should have been tried, for instance, the campaign against Kurds in which 100,000 may have been killed. And to get a sense of proportion, let us remember that one million (15% of the entire population) were killed by the ghastly Marxist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during their heyday.

Furthermore, from India’s point of view, Hussein was indeed a relatively good friend, in that he generally stood by India whenever Pakistan chivvied Mohammedan states into condemning India about imaginary oppression of Mohammedans. Besides, India did get relatively good terms on hydrocarbons from Iraq. Thus Hussein was far more useful than the Arab tyrants to whom India constantly and fruitlessly sucks up.

We must not forget that there were other positive things about Hussein’s rule, as well, notwithstanding the fact that he was beastly to his own people on occasion, and did throw his weight around the neighborhood a bit. Under his determinedly secular Baath party, Iraq was one of the most progressive and prosperous of Arab nations, with little religious tyranny or oppression of women or non-Mohammedans.

Life for Iraqis under American occupation, with total anarchy and extreme bloodshed, is probably far worse than life under the dictatorial Hussein. Besides, the long years of the US-led embargo against Iraq deprived the nation of basic medical supplies and other critical goods, and led indirectly to the deaths, according to reputable reports, of roughly 500,000 Iraqi children: in effect, a genocide and a wiping-out of an entire generation.

Thus, an impartial observer could argue that the cure was worse than the disease, and that Iraq would have been better off if America had left it alone and not pursued the neo-conservatives’ vendetta against Hussein. So who is to blame for the Iraqi casualties, including the above-mentioned Iraqi children? Will there ever be a war-crimes court to try the Americans who masterminded these moves?

Of course, we all know there will not be. These people will die peacefully when their time comes. And that is the crux of the matter. Why are they not accused and tried for crimes against humanity? Why the double-standards?

I have had mixed feelings about the American invasion of Iraq right from the get-go, as I expressed in a 2003 column “The new crusade: It’s about ideology, not oil” http://www.rediff.com/news/2003/mar/28rajeev.htm . It is not that I opposed the invasion per se, although it would be convenient for me to claim so now that it has bogged down. No, I know the military-industrial-media complex needs a good little war now and then to try their latest toys out on foreign civilians (which India can also look forward to when untested, possibly obsolete American nuclear reactors arrive on Indian soil).

There are ideological plays as well. For instance, the Ethiopians – with American blessings – have just routed fundamentalist Mohammedans from Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. This may well be a good thing, but it is a crusade, nevertheless, Christian Ethiopians against Mohammedan Somalis.

Rather, my misgivings about the Iraq invasion were based on the many overt agendas on display. For instance, if the invasion were truly intended to spread democracy and to reduce anti-Americanism in West Asia, a far better candidate to invade would have been Saudi Arabia – after all, the 9/11 bombers were Saudi, and all of the money going into Wah’abi triumphalist-Arabist indoctrination in the US (and everywhere else) is from Saudi windfall-profit funds.

But of course Texas oil-men have long been very cozy with Saudis, and much largesse has flowed from the Saudi Embassy in Washington to many ex-Ambassadors and other influential beings; therefore it was a matter of “We can’t attack Saudi Arabia, so let’s attack someone else who’s easier to beat up”. That appears more than a little unfair.

Besides, the entire weapons-of-mass-destruction controversy about Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons carried a whiff of self-righteous arrogance about it. The Americans were determined to find nuclear and biological weapons in Iraq, regardless of whether they existed or not. It was a case of ‘truth by repeated assertion’ that certain elements – especially religious fundamentalists in the West – excel at.

From the invasion to the hanging there is a simple logical thread. But the whole affair has made the Iraqi courts look like kangaroo courts controlled by Americans. This is unfortunate, especially at a time when American credibility is diminishing – this is no way for an imperial power to behave. Ceasar’s wife must be beyond reproach, as they say. Even the appearance of impropriety is verboten if you are peddling pax Americana.

It also makes it appear that there are double standards in terms of who is accused of crimes against humanity. I am yet to hear of any white Westerner who stands so accused, although there are some very deserving candidates. For example, Henry Kissinger, who instigated the holocaust in Cambodia, dragging a peaceful bystander nation into war and the horrors that followed. But good old professor Kissinger, I can guarantee, will die peacefully in his own bed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, of old age.

This is precisely why the Americans will not submit to the rulings of the International Criminal Court: they are certain that their soldiers and others will be hauled up for genuine war crimes. There are examples: William Calley of My Lai fame; the unnamed airmen who massacred refugee civilians from the air in Korea; the men who ordered the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Just like the British – their queen (and the ancient queen mother who is in her 90s, if I am not mistaken) should be tried for crimes against humanity for her role in Jallianwallah Bagh and the horrors of Partition. But they are somehow ‘untouchable’.

This dangerous hypocrisy – one yardstick for Anglo-Americans and one for others – seriously erodes the moral stance taken by the Bush Administration. It also calls into question the celebrated war-crimes trial in Japan after World War II, in which a number of top Japanese military leaders were convicted and executed.

There was one dissenter at these trials, it is useful to remember: Radhabinod Pal, the lone jurist from India. He was of the opinion the trial was flawed, regardless of whether the accused were guilty as charged, which he accepted was possible. In his opinion (which was not allowed to be published by the occupying Americans), Justice Pal said: “I would hold that every one of the accused must be found not guilty of every one of the charges in the indictment and should be acquitted on all those charges.” This was because he had good reason to believe that it was a show-trial motivated by victor’s revenge, and therefore unfair and illegal.

This is why I am overwhelmed with mirth whenever I observe Atlanticists (the Economist is a prime example) thunder against Japanese prime ministers visiting the Yasukuni shrine where their war dead are honored (and incidentally where there is a memorial to Radhabinod Pal). What about American presidents visiting Arlington National Cemetery, where surely some of the interred were guilty of war crimes? What about British PMs visiting Westminster Abbey, ditto?

From these examples, we can now deduce the real meaning of ‘war criminal’: someone who makes life inconvenient for the Anglo-American ruling caste’s interests, which, these days, means primarily oil. This, needless to say, is not exactly the most pristine, pure-as-driven-snow rationale for accusing people, and thus it would be appropriate to view the show-trials with much skepticism.

However, there is no point in India making a fuss about these proceedings. And that is not because of that ridiculous nuclear deal. It has now become fashionable to say that because of the nuclear deal – otherwise known as a complete sell-out of India’s national interests in perpetuity – nobody must question anything the Americans do. That’s not true at all; these are two different animals. No, the reason to keep quiet is that Iraq is not India’s problem: It is somebody else’s war. A potential American attack on Iran is also somebody else’s war: Let them fight it out. India’s best bet is to maintain an inscrutable, Sphinx-like silence in things that are not India’s business.

30th December, 2006


9 Responses to “War criminals”

  1. wanderlust Says:

    you’ve said all that i was planning to say.

  2. chandramahal Says:

    Is the elimination of Saddam due to his insistance on accepting payments for oil, only in ‘euros’ and NOT in dollors?

    Of course,his trial on other charges might have ended up in embarrassing the Americans because it was they who were egging him on and it was so convenient to finish him off before all that came out.

    But was his asking for payment in only euros the clinching factor?

  3. manishbhagat Says:

    This is exactly how we traditionally think, dont we? Why bother if someone broke into your neighbour’s house. Its his problem. Why bother if USA proclaims today that Iran is on the axis of evil. Why fret if it pillages Iraq in the name of nation building!

    But hey, what would you say to the fact that if no one questions the bullying, USA will soon run out of traditional enemies and then in the name of saving a nation, will attack India! Iran will be replaced by India. Islamic fundamentalists will be replaced by Hindu nationalists. Saddam Hussien will be replaced by Narendra Modi. Think I am overreacting? Do you not see this as a possibility? Perhaps a look at the history of Afghanistan. A country systematically destroyed by the USA. And now perhaps Pakistan. Wonder whats to become of this nation caught in a Catch 22.

    So while Iraq is someone else’s problem, Iran is someone else’s war, Afghanistan is someone else’s worry… USA was, is and will remain the biggest threat to world peace. Go figure.

  4. So Saddam is gone. That is good, but that isn’t the solution to all of our problems. Putting more troops in Iraq isn’t the solution either. We need to stop fighting wars because it just kills people and loses money. There’s got to be another way.

  5. underboss Says:

    Saddam (a monster we put in power and helped him kill his own people by providing military aid and chemical weapons) was lynched by an Iraqi proxy government acting on our behalf for killing 148 villagers.

    Bush and Blair have gotten away by illegally attacking a country that posed no threat to the US or UK and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis:


    Using MOABs, depleted uranium, carpet bombing civilian areas and white phosphorus:


    Why aren’t they accountable? Why isn’t George W. Bush being made accountable?

    Peaceful Warrior

  6. saketsaurav Says:

    Hi Rajeev,

    very well written.

  7. greenteeth Says:

    You make a good point in reminding us that Saddam was the most progressive of Middle Eastern Muslim leaders. That does not excuse his crimes of course but the show trial was not only a disgrace to the Western nations that managed it, I think it signals the point at which Iraq cannot be brought back from descent into chaos.

  8. mgvinod Says:

    It would be naive and stupid of us to think that the “trials and victors’ justice” would not be how the victor wanted. Also, defeated has to go through the complete humiliation of paying for the war that has happened, even if they did not start it. So, what to say about a war against a weakened country against international protests on the pretext of some dodgy things. What justice can we expect from a victor of that war?

    US is a country trying to maintain its hegemony over the world. Its economy is slowly weakening, technology edge is also being eroded by other rising nations. So, US looking to the future, would use its military superiority to arm-twist its way, to maintaining its hegemony in everything. To think otherwise, would not only be stupid but could be suicidal(ex: Saddam).

    Saddam is no saint, neither are the many rulers in this world. So, Saddam reaped what he sowed, and I’m sure US will reap the good and bad of its actions. The coming dollar collapse and Iran war are few of the things that may speed up US’s downfall.

  9. rajeev2007 Says:

    Folks, thank you for the various comments. Here are a few responses.

    1. Chandramahal, I think the euro vs. $ issue is only one amongst several issues, and it was probably not the major reason for the US invasion of Iraq. There were many other reasons including a) neo-con hubris, b) greed for oil, c) revenge, d) a need for an easy victory (given that iraq had been ‘softened up’ by the 10-year sanctions.

    2. Manishbhagat, India does not gain anything from doing the old NAM-dance like Cuba of being anti-American all the time in all things. It’s better off only piping up in things where it can make a difference — otherwise, India will be like NAM, which everybody tolerates with bemused scorn. In things like oil, etc. India is a heavyweight big buyer, so people will listen to it. On the other hand, India’s views will be treated with due contempt when India does not have the clout or the gunboats to force its will on others. Whether India has any will is another good question. On balance, it doesn’t.

    3. MGVinod, I am pro-America, starting from the basic idea that I prefer America to the other emerging heavyweight, China. China is far more ruthless, imperial and bloodthirsty than America is. So an abrupt and precipitate American decline is nothing to be wished for, and indeed, it will not happen considering that America is far better endowed than just about any other nation, in terms of resources.

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