Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday  8 January 2007

An inauspicious start to 2007

It was not a good start to the New Year.  Saddam Hussein’s hanging was seen as a mob lynching and raised questions of double standards.  Why are other “war criminals” let off and allowed to parade as world statesmen?  In Asia, there was bad news of an air crash, bombings in Bangkok and continued jamming of Internet services.  Signs of the “interesting times” we will live through in 2007.


It’s been an inauspicious start to the New Year. One week into 2007, and we have seen the adverse consequences of the blotched hanging of Saddam Hussein, a spate of bombings in Bangkok, and the first air crash of the year – in Indonesia, with the aircraft not found for several days – and serious clashes between Palestinian factions in Gaza.

Meanwhile, the fragility of global inter-dependence is still starkly on display with internet connections still slow or in some cases inoperable in Malaysia and other Asian countries weeks after the earthquake off Taiwan damaged the undersea cables. 

The execution of Saddam Hussein is proving to be the most costly mistake of the United States and Iraqi governments -- that his trial was so blatantly biased, that he was executed at all, that it was done so quickly after the failed appeal, on such a religiously auspicious day, and in the manner of a mob lynching rather than a quiet hanging.

The consequences are opposite to what the US and Iraqi governments wanted.  First, Saddam has been elevated to a posthumous hero of the Arab and Muslim world, for having stood up to the American and British invaders to the last, and for behaving in a dignified manner despite the taunting during his last minutes.

The tyrant who killed thousands when in power was transformed into a martyr by the nature of his trial, his defiance in court, and the nature of his death.

Second, the hanging and its circumstances will now worsen the sectarian violence in Iraq and widen the rift between the Arab and Muslim world on one hand and the Western countries on the other.

And third, questions are now increasingly asked about the double standards.  Yes, Saddam did monstrous things, like waging wars and killing thousands of his own people.

Saddam was hanged for his crimes.  Chile’s former President General Pinochet, who overthrew an elected government and killed many thousands was not only let off but won tribute from the American administration when he died last November.

An even more pertinent question being asked is why Saddam was hanged when those responsible for his hanging retain their “statesman” status and go free.

It is widely recognized that the invasion and war against Iraq was illegal, and thus so is the present occupation. 

Many thousands of civilians have died as a result, either due to the actions of the occupying forces, to sectarian violence or to the terrible deterioration of social and economic conditions.  A famous recent scientific paper in the Lancet estimates the death toll at 600,000.

Many people around the world consider United States President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair to be guilty of war crimes.  If Saddam was tried, so should they.  The reason Saddam was tried and convicted in an unfair trial is that he lost and the victors sought vengeance.

Western writers and politicians themselves are highlighting the double standards.  Robert Fisk, probably the most respected Western journalist covering the Middle East, wrote two powerful articles at the time of Saddam’s hanging last week.

“History will record that the Arabs and other Muslims and indeed many millions in the West will ask a question not posed in other Western newspapers – what about the other guilty men?” wrote Fisk in The Independent of London.

“No, Tony Blair is not Saddam.  We don’t gas our enemies.  George W. Bush is not Saddam.  He didn’t invade Iran or Kuwait.  He only invaded Iraq.  But hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians are dead because Messrs Bush and Blair and the prime ministers of Spain, Italy and Australia went to war in 2003 on a potage of lies and mendacity and with great brutality.

“We have tortured, we have murdered, we have brutalised and killed the innocent…and yet we are supposed to forget these terrible crimes as we applaud the swinging corpse of the dictator we created.”

Boris Johnson, British Member of Parliament, attacked Blair for having remained silent after Saddam’s hanging when he was “directly co-responsible” for the execution.

“Was this what we fought for?  This wasn’t justice, it was a sectarian lynch mob.  This was a snuff movie. How dare the British Prime Minister pretend it has nothing to do with him?”

Many people are now arguing that since the war on Iraq was illegal (as even Kofi Annan recognized, when he was still United Nations Secretary General), then those who led it should be held accountable and punished.

Bush and Blair and others should be tried in an international court and if convicted sentenced at least to long jail terms.  And if they themselves believe Saddam’s crimes are worth a death sentence, then they should make themselves eligible for the same level of punishment. 

That it is unthinkable this will happen shows how much control the Western powers have over the international system of military action, security and justice.  They decide who to bring to trial at the International Criminal Court, and who not to. 

The United States does not recognize that court, and has its own methods of dealing with 

people it does not like, as witness how Saddam Hussein ended up, or the kidnapping and detention of persons it chooses from around the world.

Thus, the New Year began with a reminder that we live in an unjust world of double standards and selective justice.  Some persons are treated as criminals and others who are equally or even more so criminals are treated as statesmen and world leaders.

Other than the Saddam saga, the start of 2007 came like bad news for the Palestinians, who now have increasingly violent conflict between the Hamas and Fatah factions besides their having to contend with Israel.

In Thailand, the New Year eve bombings in Bangkok have exposed the undercurrents of dissent and are a harbinger of uncertainty, confusion and instability.

And our other neighbours have also had a bad start – Indonesia suffering an air crash so soon after floods, and the Philippines plunging into another crisis as the public protests over the handing over of an American soldier convicted of rape to the American embassy.

As pointed out in Global Trends last week, we are going to live through “interesting times” in this New Year.