By Stephen, Chris
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 134, No. 4763
"I love Saddam too much," the Kurdish barber told me as I sat down to get a haircut in Zakho, northern Iraq, shortly after the Gulf war of 1991. "I will show you how much." He unbuttoned his white shirt and rolled up his sleeves, and a workmate lifted the back. There, across his olive skin, were the scars of dozens and dozens of razor cuts, each about an inch long. They were made by Saddam Hussein's troops, the barber explained, when he was held in an Iraqi jail in the late 1980s. "Torture?" I asked. He shook his head. In Hussein's Iraq, torture was much more serious. This was done by Hussein's troops just for fun, because he is a Kurd. "You see how much I love Saddam."
Now, finally, Saddam Hussein is being brought to court to answer for his crimes. Yet one thing is certain about this trial: the case of the barber of Zakho, like so many others, will not be heard.
Hussein's charge sheet should be one of the longest in history, including the gassing of the Kurds, ecocide against the Marsh Arabs and the beating of captured allied pilots in the first Gulf war. Then there is the murder, torture, enslavement, rape, robbery, incarceration, eviction and blackmail of millions of ordinary Iraqis. Instead the Iraq Special Tribunal for Crimes Against Humanity, meeting in Court No 1 inside Baghdad's Green Zone, is hearing one main charge--that of premeditated murder. Hussein and seven co-defendants stand accused of the massacre of 143 Shia men in Dujail, north of Baghdad, in 1982. There is no doubt that this is a serious case, but it hardly constitutes the mega-trial that Hussein's rule deserves.
The reason for this has to do with politics--not Iraqi politics, but a battle raging between the United States and the International Criminal Court. When the ICC was inaugurated as the first permanent international war crimes court in July 2002, human rights groups declared that the world had turned a corner. America thought otherwise. The US government fears the risk of "political" prosecutions by a court that operates, of necessity, outside normal democratic controls. Supporters of the court insist there are safeguards against abuses, but Washington is not convinced.
Since 2002, the US has been pushing for its citizens to be granted immunity from prosecution through the court. The campaign hardened in 2003, when Washington began to withdraw military aid from some of the nations refusing to sign an immunity deal. In December, Congress extended this ban, via the Nethercutt Amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill, to cover non-military aid too. This summer, $47m was lopped off grants to dozens of nations, including some of the world's poorest.
Nevertheless, the International Criminal Court has prospered. A total of 99 states, more than half the world, are now members, and there are three active cases before the prosecutor, all concerning war crimes in Africa. The European Union has signed up, even if it did so more out of pressure from human rights groups than through real commitment. African states have signed up hoping the court will provide a way of swatting warlords who hop across national borders. South Americans have joined it as an "insurance policy" against the return of the military juntas.
Even Britain, America's ally in so many other things, is quietly going out of its way to support the ICC. In 2002, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, joined EU ministers in collectively refusing to sign US impunity deals. Then, last year, Britain gave extra cash to the court, allowing its chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, to add to his underfunded staff. In April, Straw politely refused to support the US in trying to stop the UN from hiring the ICC to run its Darfur war crimes trials. Now Britain is the first country in the world to launch a prosecution, against servicemen who were based in Iraq, using ICC law.
The failure to get immunity from the ICC has only sharpened Washington's desire to keep the court out of Iraq. …