The Chain Gang
As the Iraqi elections approach, the interim government has decided to press forward with the trial of members of Saddam's former Ba'athist regime. Twelve senior leaders will be the first to be tried, including Ali Hassan al-Majid (AKA Chemical Ali) and Tareq Aziz.
These men wielded great power in Saddam's Iraq. Tareq Aziz was Saddam's Foreign Minister who circled the globe meeting with foreign leaders, and was accustomed to the finest comforts the world had to offer. Chemical Ali was Saddam's cousin and hatchetman, the secretary of the Ba'ath party who was responsible for the gassing of the Kurds and the numerous mass graves littering the countryside.
The men were questioned in front of Iraqi judges, and the months in prison have not been kind to them. Aziz has been described as frail and thin; Chemical Ali "looked haggard and leaned on a cane." Even Saddam has not been immune to the rigors of prison. Saddam has become an ordinary man, with ordinary illnesses and pursuits (Saddam poetry can be viewed at this link). Saddam's henchmen, in a futile attempt to gain sympathy for their imprisonment, have gone on a faux hunger strike, and it was rumored that Saddam himself participated.
Prison does interesting things to those fallen from power, as Albert Speer, the Nazi Germany's Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production, expertly describes in his memoirs from Spandau prison. Men used to wielding power and influence in their nations are reduced to petty squabbles amongst themselves over latrine duty and other chores, status in the prison hierarchy, visitation rights, and other concerns They also bear witness against each other in an attempt to gain the upper hand.
Tareq Aziz has turned on his former masters, and has given testimony on Saddam ordering murders, the payoffs to foreign governments, including France, to vote against Iraq war, and bribes to United Nations officials. Coupled with the audiotapes of Chemical Ali, this should make for an interesting and revealing trial, as former regime members scramble for their lives. Chemical Ali had much to say about his crimes.
"As soon as we complete the deportations we will start attacking them everywhere according to a systematic military plan," he says. "I will not attack them with chemicals just one day but I will continue to attack them with chemicals for 15 days."
Al-Majid even criticises his master for being too lenient when he orders that the families of Kurdish resistance leaders should not be harmed. "A message reaches me from that great man, the father [Saddam], saying 'Take good care of the families of the saboteurs ' Take good care of them? No, I will bury them with bulldozers."
Saddam's regime is compared to the Nazi Third Reich because it mirrored the Nazis in every aspect except for scale: Saddam's cult of personality; Sunni superiority; the Ba'athist party, whose members were above the law; a brutal police state; the mass murder of peoples via gassings, mass shootings and other means; ethnic cleansing; wars of conquests.
The seemingly small men who committed unthinkable crimes during Saddam's reign should not be forgotten when looking at their pitiful state today. Saddam's allies - indifferent Western nations, the Left and the Arab Street - will decry the treatment of these "Arab statesmen", but nothing that happens to Saddam, Chemical Ali, Tareq Aziz and the rest of Saddam's enablers, either in prison or at the gallows, can ever repay for the unspeakable crimes they committed against their own people and the Muslims of the Middle East.