Memo To: Attorney General John Ashcroft From: Jude Wanniski Re: Why is He Being Held at All?
I see in the papers, John, that our government has decided that we will maintain physical custody of Saddam Hussein even after the June 30 transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government. An anonymous official told Associated Press the reason is the Iraqis do not have a prison safe enough to hold Saddam, and I suppose there may be some concern that if the Iraqi interim government got their hands on him there may be no need for a u201Ctrial.u201D They might sooner have him u201Cdie of natural causesu201D in his cell rather than have him answer the charges of war crimes, which have yet to be brought against him. But I now wonder why he is being held at all?
If you think about it, 18 months ago Saddam Hussein was sitting in his office, the duly constituted president and prime minister of Iraq, minding his own business. The United States did not have diplomatic relations with Iraq and so did not formally recognize him as head of state. But most of the rest of the world did, and Iraq had a seat at the United Nations and in its proper rotation could even take a seat on the Security Council. It was at this point that President Bush decided Saddam had weapons of destruction and was conspiring with Al Qaeda to menace peace-loving nations like the United States. He took his assertions to the UN Security Council and the Council agreed by a 15-to-0 vote to demand Saddam permit UN inspectors back into Iraq to search for the WMD. If you followed the U.N. proceedings over the following months, you will find that Baghdad fully complied with every demand made upon it by the Security Council.
Even if you missed the TV coverage, if you read the papers carefully you would find no instance where Saddam thumbed his nose at the Council. When he read of accounts from President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Powell that he was still hiding stuff from the inspectors that our CIA knew about, he said he would invite the CIA to come and look in every nook and cranny. Remember? And when the UN inspectors were given tips by the CIA on places to search for WMD, they did so and found no traces of WMD. Not a teensy weensy bit of evidence. So when President Bush asked the Security Council for a resolution backing a war with Iraq, the Council turned him down. The other members pointed out that U.N. diplomacy had indeed worked and that the inspectors could clean up the last bits and pieces in a few months and certify that Iraq was absolutely clean.
President Bush did have authorization from the U.S. Congress to go to war with Iraq to get his WMD, but the resolution required that before he committed troops he had to certify in letters to the House and Senate that diplomacy had failed. Mr. Bush sent such letters to the House and Senate two days before our generals led coalition troops into Iraq from Kuwait. Some members of Congress objected, but what could they do but sit back and wait for our troops to defeat the Iraqi army and then locate the hidden WMD?
As we now know, Saddam Hussein was telling the truth. He had no WMD, had in fact gotten rid of them in 1991 when the U.N. passed a resolution demanding that he do so. Well, the administration of which you are the chief legal officer then insisted the war was justified because of Al Qaeda connections to Saddam's regime. We don't need a permission slip from the UNSC if we see there is a potential threat from a government somewhere, anywhere, that might develop WMD and give them to Al Qaeda, who would then sneak them into the United States and cause catastrophic loss of life. But now we find Saddam was absolutely telling the truth that he had no contact with Al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden and that the one overture that came from Al Qaeda to an Iraqi official several years ago, asking assistance from Baghdad, was rebuffed. Apparently our intelligence agencies knew all this, as the 9-11 Commission has since discovered, but the administration you serve chose to believe otherwise. The war went forward and the mission was accomplished, at least in its formal military phase. Estimates of the number of Iraqi military and militiamen killed in combat range as high as 60,000 and estimates of the collateral damage to civilians range from 16,000 to 35,000 deaths.
Saddam Hussein was eventually located in his spider hole and whisked away, put under lock and key in a secure prison, with the idea that he would eventually be turned over to a duly constituted court of law and tried as a war criminal. President Bush on many occasions has pointed out that Iraq is better off without Saddam because his regime was known to have used u201Ctorture and rape roomsu201D at Al Ghraib prison. Now you know President Bush did not order our military people to use those same rooms to rape and torture Iraqi u201Cdetainees.u201D He says so and I believe him. But I wonder if you have evidence that Saddam ordered the Iraqi state or local police to u201Ctorture and rape,u201D or might he also insist as Mr. Bush has that he was at the tippy top of the national government and if he had known what excesses were committed by local cops, he would have put a stop to it.
To tell you the truth, John, as far as I can recall, there have been no assertions of the u201Cbrutalityu201D of Saddam's regime from anyone but the Iraqi exiles associated with Ahmet Chalabi or those Kurds who fought on the Iranian side in the Iran/Iraq war. There are all kinds of anecdotes about Saddam doing dreadful things, entire books written about them, but the source of all of them is the same pool of people who have been feeding faked u201Cevidenceu201D of WMD and Al Qaeda connections to our government. Can it be that there is nothing that Saddam has done all these years that cannot be justified as the permissible acts of a head of state acting in defense of his people. Yes, he invaded Kuwait in 1990, but in retrospect that was a really easy war to justify, given the economic warfare being conducted against Iraq by the Emir of Kuwait. I mean easy in relation to now having to justify this American invasion and destruction of good chunks of Iraq, on false premises.
President Bush still has it in his head that Saddam tried to assassinate his father in 1993, but if you did the smallest bit of digging you would find this was a hoax perpetrated by the neo-cons. The President also has it in his head that Saddam committed genocide against the Kurds in 1988, killing tens of thousands of them with poison gas and/or machine guns. If you lifted a little pinky to get to the bottom of this story, you will find it is also made of neo-con whole cloth. I'm not making wild assertions, John, because I have spent countless hours on this subject and find no loopholes left. Just call Human Rights Watch and ask if they have yet found the mass graves of those tens of thousands of Kurds and they will sheepishly admit they are still looking.
I'll have to admit there is no easy way out for the Bush administration in explaining how it could have been snookered from first to last about Saddam Hussein. I'm not suggesting you ask to meet with the President and tell him he should go on TV and tell the American people he made a Bigtime Boo-Boo. I'm only suggesting you go back to your law books and, for your own good, get a good grip on why Saddam Hussein is behind bars when it now turns out he doesn't seem to have done anything wrong. You might then be in a better position to advise the President on how to proceed in the best way to avoid further Bigtime Boo-Boos.
June 24, 2004