Meanwhile, in Iraq...
I haven't had a great deal to say about international politics of late. Since the US invasion, I'm one of those who has sort of sunken into despair - protesting doesn't do much good, caring doesn't do much good, even knowing what's going on doesn't do much good. I've committed the sin of looking away, mostly out of a feeling of hopelessness. It's odd, though, to note that Saddam Hussein is going to be executed soon.
The press seems relatively restrained in its reportage, at least compared to what you'd expect. You'd think this would be front page news on every newspaper in the world; it should be a momentous event, a symbol of justice being meted out, a sort of triumph - but it seems instead more like people are ashamed and uncomfortable about it. Maybe this will all change tomorrow, I don't know; but right now I'm struck by how nothing at all was mentioned on the Independent site today, where I usually check for world news; and today is the first day since the sentence was handed down in November that I noticed an article on Yahoo, which prompted me to poke around. Znet, my usual source for left-leaning political commentary, doesn't have much that I can see; the political bias is so heavy there that any events in the world that don't immediately lend support to leftist causes aren't really mentioned, in much the same way that news stories that don't lend support to the war effort might not get that much time on Fox News. (It's kind of odd that with Hussein's execution impending, Znet is devoting time to articles on Mel Gibson's new movie and on the late Joe Strummer; it actually reminds me of my own aforementioned desire to look away. But maybe I've missed something). After the Independent and Znet failed me, I was forced to look at an American source, hence the CNN article linked above - it's the one country in the world where the news can still be spun in the right direction, without too many awkward questions being raised.
Turns out that not all leftist websites are so devotedly blinkered, though. Common Dreams - a site pointed out to me by Gerry Hannah during a recent interview - fares quite a bit better than Znet, with an article by a former chairmain of the British Iraqi Foundation. Burhan al-Chalabi writes:
The US presents the Iraqi people with this phoney act of accountability, but no one has been held accountable for invading and occupying Iraq or the mass human rights abuses carried out in the process. If this generation of Iraqis is not able to get justice, future generations will make sure they do. They will look to the established system of international justice to recognise these atrocities and hold people accountable retrospectively.
The occupying forces continue to peddle the nonsense that they cannot withdraw immediately - that this would only spark civil war. I am convinced that the opposite is true: when the occupiers leave, the prevailing civil war will subside. Ordinary Iraqis will have to choose between killing each other or rebuilding the country - which they can only do in an independent, sovereign Iraq.
I am not convinced that the remedy to Iraq's problems is the departure of the US; while I don't think the US presence there must be maintained at all costs, lest anarchy and fascism reign - I'm not Christopher Hitchens -- I also suspect that if the occupiers left, the violence would escalate, not subside, at least in the short term. That doesn't necessarily mean that they should stay, though. Peace might well arrive faster if the US and Britain got the hell out.
Riverbend hasn't posted anything on her blog for a couple of months, but wrote after Hussein's sentence:
I’m more than a little worried. This is Bush’s final card. The elections came and went and a group of extremists and thieves were put into power (no, no- I meant in Baghdad, not Washington). The constitution which seems to have drowned in the river of Iraqi blood since its elections has been forgotten. It is only dug up when one of the Puppets wants to break apart the country. Reconstruction is an aspiration from another lifetime: I swear we no longer want buildings and bridges, security and an undivided Iraq are more than enough. Things must be deteriorating beyond imagination if Bush needs to use the ‘Execute the Dictator’ card.
Iraq has not been this bad in decades. The occupation is a failure. The various pro-American, pro-Iranian Iraqi governments are failures. The new Iraqi army is a deadly joke. Is it really time to turn Saddam into a martyr?
...It’s not about the man- presidents come and go, governments come and go. It’s the frustration of feeling like the whole country and every single Iraqi inside and outside of Iraq is at the mercy of American politics. It is the rage of feeling like a mere chess piece to be moved back and forth at will. It is the aggravation of having a government so blind and uncaring about their peoples needs that they don’t even feel like it’s necessary to go through the motions or put up an act. And it's the deaths. The thousands of dead and dying, with Bush sitting there smirking and lying about progress and winning in a country where every single Iraqi outside of the Green Zone is losing.
She also notes that after the verdict was announced, two television stations carrying reports of pro-Saddam demonstrations were shut down by the government (and, we assume, the occupying forces).
To me, it all speaks of ridiculous black farce. Saddam Hussein appears to be a ruthless, but not particularly dangerous, figure - a dictator of the sort the US routinely backs if it serves their business or political interests, probably not much worse than the guy who boils people alive in Uzbekistan, a US ally (see Gerry's song about that here). I have no doubt that there are crimes that Hussein could rightfully be sentenced to death for. To be executed, however, as the result of an illegal invasion by an occupying power that has no moral or judicial rights in Iraq - this is bizarre, a kangaroo court where the big criminals try the little ones. The folly seems so extreme, so perverse that I actually end up feeling some degree of sympathy for Hussein, monster though he may be; what a strange, strange death he is being dealt; it's the stuff of black comedy, not martyrdom. There's a terrific satirical novel to be written about all this, perhaps with the dictator whistling and singing and cracking absurdist jokes on the way to the gallows. We could commission VS Naipaul, maybe...
I mean, stop me if I sound like a Baathist, but the CNN article mentions some of the crimes for which Hussein has been sentenced: "his role in the 1982 killings of 148 people in Dujail, a mostly Shiite town north of Baghdad" - a crime which pales against the 50 000 or more Iraqi civilians killed as a result of the invasion (admittedly, I wonder - is Iraq Body Count tabulating deaths caused by sectarian violence, as well, as being the result of the invasion? I don't think so, but there's some argument to be made for including them as being at least PARTIALLY the result of US actions, since civil strife of the sort we now witness was widely predicted and offered to the US as a reason not to invade). Hussein has also been found guilty of "torture" (like at Abu Ghraib? Isn't it bizarre that this news article saying Hussein will be hanged there never once mentions Americans torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib? How can they NOT mention it, though? Maybe the authors hope that ignorant readers will assume that any torture they've heard about at Abu Ghraib was perpetrated by Hussein himself?) He's also accused of "forced deportation." Hm - seems like I've read a few stories about that happening in the US, too. (And we won't even mention Maher Arar. Hey, who was that other Canadian Muslim who got sent someplace where the CIA outsources torture? Damn, I forget. What's on TV?). It gets stranger and stranger the more you think about it, until you simply have to stop. Continuing through the CNN article, we read that "550 men, women and children were arrested without warrants" in one episode that Hussein was tried for; eerily, about 500 detainees are currently held without legal representation, charges, or any date of release in Gitmo (that's a Wikipedia article; more here, at Amnesty International's site. Some prisoners have been held for over five years).
To be clear, if Saddam Hussein could be fairly tried and sentenced, perhaps by an international court, of war crimes, or if his own people had deposed him and tried him, none of the above would be so jarring, so puzzling. As things are, the execution of Saddam Hussein will stand as a symbol of something - I'm not quite sure what, but certainly NOT the triumph of the rule of law. Somehow the death of a tyrant will become something like the symbol of the triumph of international lawlessness - everything has been stood on its head. And if there seems something wrong with this picture to ME... well, imagine how Iraqis must feel.
I fear what will happen next. I don't want to know. There is a horrible future looming that I don't want to think about. Denial, decadence, distraction. Can we have some music? Does anyone have some pot?