The capture of Saddam Hussein is being treated as a celebratory occasion, but it is one that the Bush administration might come to regret.
The onus is on the United States to accord this former ally and head of state all the rights due a high-level prisoner of war, as established at Nuremberg and The Hague. His testimony in open court could prove fascinating if he is allowed to detail his past relationships with top U.S. officials — including the president's father and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who worked out terms of cooperation with Hussein in 1983.
And now that the "fear factor" of Hussein's ghostly presence has been removed, there is no longer any valid explanation for why former members of Hussein's regime and key scientists cannot show us where all those infamous weapons of mass destruction went. After all, this invasion — based on a new doctrine of preemptive war that bypassed United Nations inspectors — was not pitched to the American people as a mercy mission.
We were told that Hussein posed an imminent threat to the world and was close to building nuclear weapons that he might give to Al Qaeda. Occupying Iraq, it was stated over and over again by the White House, was a legitimate response to the horror of Sept. 11 and a way to prevent, as Condoleezza Rice once put it, "a mushroom cloud" from appearing over an American city.
Of course, President Bush was finally forced to concede that there was no evidence that linked Hussein to 9/11. Yet, in his brief statement after the capture of Hussein, he again connected the secular dictator to the threat of fundamentalist terrorism. He did this while continuing silence on the Bush family's old business buddies in Saudi Arabia, backers of Al Qaeda and other religious fanatics, who numbered Hussein among their enemies.
We have lost valuable time and resources in the struggle to quell Al Qaeda and similar groups while creating a morass in Iraq. Hussein's removal was a politically motivated exploitation of our nation's anger and fear over the 9/11 attacks. With the historical footnote of his arrest now in the books, the White House needs to stop its daily lies of commission and omission regarding the war on terror. For example, the administration must stop its stonewalling of the panel Bush reluctantly formed to examine the origins of 9/11.
This official obstruction would seem to be a clear indication that Bush is worried about embarrassing details emerging that could threaten his reelection. Yet Congress and the public must know the truth about 9/11 so that we may make our judgments about what happened and about how similar tragedies can be prevented.
The capture of Hussein, while providing the president with fantastic propaganda footage, does nothing to make us safer from international terrorism. It could, however, shine a harsh light on Washington's decade-long military and economic support of the barbaric Hussein in his war against Iran's religious fanatics, who were making inroads with their brethren in Iraq.
For example, Bush has made frequent reference to Hussein's gassing of his own people, yet those incidents occurred when Bush's father and President Ronald Reagan were using the Sunni Baathists as a foil against Shiite Iran in a war that Hussein launched. Reagan removed the designation of Iraq as a terrorist nation and established diplomatic relations with Hussein's regime. The first President Bush extended $1.2 billion in credits to Hussein after the dictator used poison gas against Kurdish civilians.
This is a dirty history that calls into question our current motives in Iraq.
The threat of Hussein's return to power has been a key reason given by the United States for its hesitation to turn over any significant authority to Iraqis. Surely internationally supervised fair elections are now in order, and decisions about the rebuilding of Iraq and the disposition of its oil resources should be made by an Iraqi — not an American — government.
To linger in power over Iraq now is to suggest that our motives are imperial, rather than an affirmation of self-determination for the Iraqi people.
Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times