|Iran: US control of Saddam's trial would ensure cover-up
| Cilina Nasser - The Daily Star - Mon 5th, July 2004
|BEIRUT: Americans want former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to stand trial in a US-controlled Iraq rather than before an independent international court to cover up their silence over the former Iraqi dictator's use of chemical weapons against Iran, according to current and former Iranian officials.
In interviews with The Daily Star, Iranians described Saddam as a war criminal who committed atrocities beyond the borders of his country. Therefore, they argued, states harmed by his regime, such as Iran and Kuwait, should be able to file charges at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
But this option would embarrass the United States, said Mohammed Sadeq al-Husseini, an adviser to former Culture Minister Ayatollah Mohajerani.
"Americans handed over Saddam to an interim government, which they themselves have appointed to make sure the Iraqi court trying him would not examine any US involvement in his war against Iran," Husseini said from Tehran.
"They are concerned that an international tribunal could expose close US relations with Iraq when Saddam was bombing Iran with chemical weapons," he added.
The US removed Iraq from the State Department's terrorism list in 1982, two years after the start of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. Washington sought a rapprochement with Saddam after Ronald Reagan's administration perceived a possible Iranian victory over Iraq as a destabilizing factor in the Gulf, which would threaten US oil supplies.
Earlier this week, influential former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani called on Iran to press charges against Saddam for using chemical weapons on Iranian territories during the 1980-88 war.
A UN fact-finding mission comprised of four specialists confirmed the use of banned weapons in a trip they made to Iran in March 1984.
"The specialists unanimously concluded that chemical weapons in the form of aerial bombs had been used in the areas they inspected ... and that the types of chemical agents used were ... mustard gas, and ... a nerve agent known as Tabun," read the 1984 UN Yearbook.
Mustard gas evaporates slowly enough for an area over which it has been scattered to remain dangerous for many hours, and even days, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
The gas burns any body tissue it touches and can cause blindness, blisters and lung damage.
SIPRI describes Tabun as a very powerful poisonous liquid, whose vapor can result in immediate symptoms, felt first in the eyes and chest. A lethal dose of Tabun causes a runny nose, followed by sweating, involuntary urination and defecation, and eventually convulsions, paralysis and unconsciousness.
It remains uncertain if such agents were developed inside the country or supplied to Iraq by external sources. But Iran believes the US and other Western governments provided Saddam with equipment that helped him use chemical weapons against the Islamic Republic.
"We faced severe chemical attacks at the beginning of the war when world powers were giving Saddam the green light to do anything to prevent Iran from winning," said Rafsanjani.
The former head of Iran's Supreme Court told The Daily Star that Iran should press charges against Saddam at The Hague to obtain international recognition of the crimes committed against his country.
"If we really want to ensure a fair trial ... then Saddam should be treated no different from (Slobodan) Milosevic and stand trial at The Hague," said Ayatollah Mohammed al-Mussawi al-Bojnordi.
Milosevic, the former Serbian leader, is on trial for genocide and war crimes committed in the Balkans in the 1990s.
"Only such an independent international court will allow facts to emerge, such as who was supplying (Saddam) with chemical weapons," Bojnordi said.
In December 2002, The Washington Post revealed that the US administration and its special envoy to the Middle East, Donald Rumsfeld, did little to stop Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction.
"Declassified documents show that Rumsfeld traveled to Baghdad at a time when Iraq was using chemical weapons on an 'almost daily' basis in defiance of international conventions," wrote Michael Dobbs of the Post.
Based on these documents and interviews with former policymakers, Dobbs added that the US administration had authorized the sale to Iraq of numerous items that had both military and civilian applications, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses.
In Kuwait, the editor of Al-Qabas newspaper, Walid Nusf, said it did not matter where the trial was taking place.
"What counts is that all legal facilities are available ... They should secure a lawyer for him so that people can realize the difference between a dictatorial regime and the new democratic system in the country."
Ahmed Baghdadi, a professor of political science at Kuwait University, disagreed.
"An international court is 1 million times better than a local one. ... There is an attempt to belittle the entire issue."
Arab League spokesman Hisham Youssef said from Cairo that the league had "no preferences over which court should try" the former dictator.
But footage of Saddam answering the judge's questions regarding the seven broad charges against him Thursday - and which was shown on satellite channels for millions to see - showed "a desire to keep things transparent," he said, adding: "But we still have to wait and see."
One of the charges initially leveled against Saddam, but removed late Thursday, was about the war he waged against Iran.
Dropping a charge that concerned a state regarded as Washington's main arch-foe raised even more concern over a dominant US role in the trial directed by US-trained Salem Chalabi.
"If the Iraqi court refuses to include (Saddam's responsibility) in the unleashing of the war against Iran, it means it is on an order from the Americans," said Rafsanjani.
"Why is the war against Kuwait, which only lasted several months, among the major charges while the war against Iran, which lasted eight years, is omitted?" he asked during Friday prayers.
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