Making a Martyr

Saddam Hussein’s trial will go down in history as a masterpiece of mis-judgment which played directly into the hands of the enemies of the West.


His crimes and brutalities are manifest.  He ruled Iraq with a ferocity of method and maniacal cruelty that would justify his execution many times over, but the method and publicity surrounding his trial will make him what he wants to be, a hero for the ages to many, many in the Islamic World.  He wants to be remembered not as a persecutor of Iraqi Shia and Kurds but rather as a modern Saladin ( Yusuf Salah al-Din al-Ayyoubi, etc.).  He is positioning himself to be remembered as the man who "stood up to" the Christian imperialists and Zionists of various persuasions.  His antics in the court room are intended to establish an argument for the illiegitimacy of the court, the injustice of its actions and the continued existence of the previous government.  He believes himself to be president of Iraq.  His government never surrendered.  He never resigned.  No major units of his army surrendered.  They dispersed but did not surrender.  He believes that as the decades pass the memory of his misdeeds will fade and that the trial, and his behavior as a defiant example of the kind of "manhood" widely admired in the Arab World will persist and grow into a legend, a legend of the trial and execution of a legitimate Arab head of state by the "occupiers" and their "lackies."

Are we contributing to this?  Yes, we are.  This trial, conductd on television, may meet Iraqi standards of probity, but it will not stand up under long term examination in the court of history.  The trial is being conducted largely on the basis of testimony by witnesses who thus far have not connected him directly to the massacre in the village concerned.  These witnesses are not available for cross-examination except on the basis of questions submitted to the judge who can decide whether or not to allow them, and in some cases they are hidden behind a screen and their voices are disguised.  What happened to a right we Americans hold sacred, the right to confront one’s accuser?  People in the Arab World are not stupid.  A lot of them want Saddam dead, but they know a shoddy proceeding when they see one.

To add to the drama, someone is killing and attacking members of the defence team.  These lawyers are threatening a "walk-out" based on a claim of fear for their lives.  The way things are in Iraq, we may see physical attacks on all concerned.

Why are we doing this?  We have enemies incarcerated all over the world without trial.  This man’s trial, as it is being conducted, is a major long-term victory for our enemies.

Thirty years from now kids will be buying "Saddam T-shirts" in the suqs of the arab World.

Shot in the foot again.

Pat Lang

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17 Responses to Making a Martyr

  1. ed_finnerty says:

    go read riverbend on this

  2. W. Patrick Lang says:

    riverbend? Ah! I see it. Someone who thinks clearly

  3. donna says:

    Riverbend is one of the more famous Iraqi bloggers. She tends to be critical of the occupation:
    You can find a good selection of Iraqi blogs and others over there (including some of the soldier’s blogs) at:

  4. J says:

    the main ‘foundation’ of the bush admin.’s iraq house of cards — ‘if’. bush and his cohorts are ‘if-ing’ this, and ‘if-ing’ that. that’s not strategy, nor is it defined goals. their heads are in the clouds detached from reality, real goals, real objectives. no wonder that iraqi anger against the u.s. being there grows every day, more and more.
    rep. murtha hit the nail on the head over and over again as he responded to the bush admin.’s pie-in-the-sky approach. time bring ‘all’ our troops home from iraq, ‘all’ of them — now, all of them.
    rep. murth is right! one has to wonder just how long it’ll take before the errant lieberman, hoyer, and clinton wake up and smell the coffee and realize murtha is basing his assessment on reality.

  5. ed_finnerty says:

    I don’t know if she sees clerly or not but she does represent the perspective of a group of iraqi’s and I think her take on the trial is similar to yours.
    According to her it is seen in iraq as a clown show.

  6. ali says:

    I read that Riverbend piece. Then I went and read the trial testimony. She has a point and it is sad that she does.

  7. nykrindc says:

    One thing that struck me about what the witnesses were saying- after the assassination attempt in Dujail, so much of what later unfolded is exactly what is happening now in parts of Iraq. They talked about how a complete orchard was demolished because the Mukhabarat thought people were hiding there and because they thought someone had tried to shoot Saddam from that area. That was like last year when the Americans razed orchards in Diyala because they believed insurgents were hiding there. Then they talked about the mass detentions- men, women and children- and its almost as if they are describing present-day Ramadi or Falloojah. The descriptions of cramped detention spaces, and torture are almost exactly the testimonies of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, etc.
    It makes one wonder when Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and the rest will have their day, as the accused, in court.
    She has some good points, though like most of us when writing on any topic that is of importance to us, she tends to go to the extreme. For example, while most of us would agree that the administration bungled the post-war phase of the Iraq war, and acknowledge that because of those mistakes and the improvisation that followed, more mistakes were made, few of us would agree with her comparison of the US’s conduct of the war to Hussein’s repression of Iraqi kurds.
    Yes there are some similarities (i.e. Abu Ghraib) but the scale of those abuses and atrocities is completely different. Degrees matter.
    That said, I read Riverbend often as she provides me with the other side of the coin that is sometimes missing from Iraq the Model.

  8. tim fong says:

    We should have established an ad hoc tribunal to try Saddam in the Hague.
    Wait, that would mean recognizing international law and perhaps universal jurisdiction.
    Oh well.

  9. nykrindc says:

    Agreed. We need a Core wide system to process not only the likes of Saddam but also “enemy combatants” like al Qaeda members who have allegiance to no country just an ideology and terrorist group. It is urgent that we do this, because otherwise we loose more legitimacy as time goes by.

  10. Noumenon says:

    This trial, conductd on television, may meet Iraqi standards of probity, but it will not stand up under long term examination in the court of history. The trial is being conducted largely on the basis of testimony by witnesses who thus far have not connected him directly to the massacre in the village concerned.
    And the “village concerned” is a tiny little misdeed that we picked because there isn’t anything in it that could implicate the U.S., as dredging up old 1980s behavior might.

  11. J Thomas says:

    Once we agreed to iraqi sovereignty and iraqi courts, we couldn’t interfere with too heavy a hand or everybody would believe we were lying. Maybe everybody alerady believes that to the point we might as well intervene publicly, but that’s a pretty big step. So we have to let the iraqis make a lot of the trial decisions themselves and it isn’t clear which of the mistakes are ours and which are theirs.

  12. W. Patrick Lang says:


  13. I disagree. The Iraqis who suffered under Saddam would never have agreed to give him up to a Hague tribunal, which would have let him off rather easily, given the history of the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals. Check out the sentences which have been given out, and the sentence reductions, at the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals.
    A few bumps in the trial, a few continunces, and everyone has written the Special Tribunal off, but the Iraqi judges who are on the panel are very brave and intelligent and know the eyes of the world are upon them.
    Compare this with the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at the Hague – why so little criticism of that farce?

  14. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I think the main point is that we are making a martyr of him. In the short run there are many, I am sure, who rejoice in what is going on but as the years pass, perceptions will change a lot. pl

  15. Colonel,
    I agree that executing Saddam may not be the best move, I hope the process is extended by lengthy appeals and he dies of old age. But I don’t think he will achieve iconic martyr status: too venal, too secular, too corrupt. Bin Ladin will be on the t-shirts, not Saddam.
    The US contribution to Saddam was more than 50 flat bed trucks. A few Google search terms: Banca Nazionale di Lavoro Atlanta Branch + Commodities Credit Corporation + Matrix Churchill = 4 billion plus in “agricultural commodity” loans, laundered to supply military equipment and technology to Saddam’s regime in the 1980s.

  16. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Green Guy
    Ah, I forgot the t-shirts. You are projecting your own expectations and standards of government onto a different people.
    That’s how we got into this mess.
    3o years from now T-shirts with the images of Che Guevara, Saddam and Usama will be on the same rack in the suqs. pl

  17. Babak Makkinejad says:

    It is much much worse than that. For example, in Mugadishu (sic.?) young people are wearing Osama Bin Ladin T-shits. In other parts of Africa, say Kenya, people believe that Osama Bin Ladin is fighting for Islam. By implication, that means that US is fighting against Islam. The so-called “information war” is lost by US and no amount oftactical military gains on the ground can compensate for it, in my opinion.

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