The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

On indicting Saddam

Title: On indicting Saddam
This is not a reply to Ben Rempel's comment on my piece A Note of Strategy, but just a comment on one aspect of it: the proposal to establish an International War Crimes tribunal which I understand to be the aim of the Indict Saddam campaign.

Perhaps I have not sufficiently studied the matter, but this is a campaign which I do not understand. It presupposes the existence of a tribunal competent to make the indictment. For the moment, a war crimes tribunal competent to cover the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait could only be established by the Security Council and that requires the consent of Russia and China, both of whom would, I imagine, under present circumstances, demand a pretty high price in exchange.

Otherwise, there is a proposal that an independent war crimes tribunal be established in permanence, capable of judging all crimes everywhere, but since this would have power to indict American citizens, the USA has vetoed it (acting in this instance in an interesting alliance with the 'rogue states' ­ Libya, Iraq and North Korea).

I would myself favour such an independent tribunal in principle but would hope that if it were to indict President Hussein it would also indict those who were responsible for the massacre on the road to Basra, which surely must be regarded as a war crime by anyone's standards.

Perhaps the indictments of General Pinochet and of General Noriega could be used as a precedent for an indictment with the force of international law taking place within an individual country? This seems to me to be a terribly dangerous notion that could, if taken seriously, be a source of endless wars and conflicts throughout the world. I also wonder if anyone else has noticed the similarity in principle to the indictment of Salman Rushdie on a charge of blasphemy by the highest juridicial authority in Iran. Which also had, or, if you like, has, the force of a well established body of international law.

But even if this hurdle of getting the indictment is overcome (i.e. it is issued by any old judge in any old country; or Russia and China agree to the establishment of a special tribunal to deal with Iraq, perhaps in exchange for being allowed to get on with their problems in Chechnya and Tibet) this still leaves the problem of implementation.

The immediate consequence is that President Hussein is no longer recognized as a legitimate head of state. Will that make a great deal of difference? As in the case of Serbia it will facilitate the imposition of heavy sanctions on the civilian population. Heavier than they already are? And to what end? In the hopes of a revolt that will topple the dictator?

Alternately, it justifies a full-blooded invasion to snatch the dictator. Is that what its advocates want? A full scale war? Such an aim would not be totally irrational since it would at least bring the present unbearable situation  to an end and oblige the conquering power to take on responsibility for governing the country it has destroyed ­ a new mandate much like the British mandate in Iraq after the First World War, or the present Italian, French, German, British and American mandates in Serbia.

The conquering power would in this case, of course, be the United States ­ the only power which has the means to implement such a policy. The policy of indicting President Hussein (like many of the other appeals for an international law that would override national sovereignty) only makes sense if it is part of an overall strategy of establishing throughout the world an American monopoly of power ­ a real Pax Americana, on a world scale, really equivalent to the old Pax Romana.

This makes a certain sense, but it has nothing to do with justice. It is simply a recognition of the fact that government, all government, is a sort of protection racket. And that, rather than living under conditions of war between rival protection rackets it is better that one protection racket should win decisively over all the others and thus assume a monopoly of power, or, if you like, the right to protect, or if you like, terror.

This is broadly the theory of politics advanced by Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan to justify the principle of absolute monarchy, and if it is the overall strategy of the Indict Saddam campaign then I think it is interesting and deserves to be taken seriously. Otherwise I think the call to indict Mr Hussein is just a recipe for the indefinite prolongation of the sanctions régime and its consequent suffering.

If the United States is not prepared to conquer Iraq and take responsibility for governing it; and if we are not allowed to deal with Mr Hussein as legitimate head of the Iraqi state, the only solution that occurs to me is to offer him a comfortable retirement on a tropical island with numerous guarantees for his personal security and an endless supply of wine, women and cigars for himself and all his family, if they like that sort of thing as, it appears, the younger ones do. This was how ex-President Carter eventually secured a peaceful transition of power in Haiti. But it would be more difficult in the case of Iraq, partly because President Hussein seems to be made of sterner stuff than the Haitian military leadership, and partly because we are ourselves so full of our own hatred and righteous indignation.

So. I come back to my note on strategy. We have to stop treating President Hussein's administration as a paria and to return to it the normal rights and privileges of a sovereign government.

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]