December 16, 2003

December 16, 2003 | Commentary on Middle East

The Face of Evil: Saddam found in Iraqi rat hole

How infinitely appropriate that, in the end, Saddam Hussein was captured, hiding in a rat hole in Northern Iraq.

Rather than being out in the field, commanding the terrorist resistance against the United States, the former Iraqi dictator was cowering, desperately trying to save his own skin. The scene brings to mind Adolf Hitler's demise, who likewise ended his days in a hole in the ground, joined by a few crazed loyalists. While Hitler managed elude capture by killing himself, Saddam was caught by U.S. soldiers of the U.S. 4th infantry division. He surrendered, spitting and cursing -- in French reportedly.

No sooner did we capture him, than the debate began over what to do with the Butcher of Baghdad. Advocates of international tribunals have already called for Saddam to be handed over to the ICC or the international tribunal in The Hague where he might occupy a cell next to the Butcher of the Balkans, Slobodan Milosevic. This must not happen. Milosevic is now in his fourth year in The Hague and is even running for the Serbian parliament from his prison cell in elections. (In fact, his party might even win.)

No, justice had better be left to the Iraqi people. As President Bush said during his press conference on Monday, "The Iraqis need to be very much involved. They were the people that were brutalized by this man. He murdered them. He gassed them. He tortured them. He had rape rooms. . . I have my own views of how he ought to be treated, but I am not an Iraqi citizen. It's going to be up to the Iraqis to make those decisions."

Some people are concerned that Saddam might not get a "fair trial" in Iraq. Actually, that is just what Saddam would get - and the death penalty that would go with it.

Now, pictures of a human being falling apart often evoke pity rather than wrath. On Saturday, Saddam looked pathetic with his graying, tangled beard and hair and look of sheer defeat. Having his mouth inspected by a U.S. Army dentist before television cameras was particularly undignified. Indeed, evil, as remarked by Jewish historian Hannah Arendt about the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, can seem "banal." But that does not make it any less evil.

So, for justice to happen, what must be kept before the international public is the horrendous harm Saddam inflicted on his own people - and on thousands upon thousands of others in the Middle East, on Kurds on Shiites, on Iranians, Kuwaities, and Israelis. Some of this story is part and parcel of the much-debated record of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction. In fact, we may still find connection with the September 11 terrorists.  
Who can forget the tape of the scenes of Saddam's cold-blooded consolidation of power within the Ba'ath Party on July 22, 1979? At a meeting of the Ba'ath Party senior leadership, names of "traitors" were read aloud and the accused taken out and shot. Saddam even cried a crocodile tear for each of them - and of course filmed the entire proceedings for future use.

In 1980, Saddam, as newly appointed president of Iraq, invaded Iran aiming for its vast oil fields. During the war, which cost a million lives, Saddam deployed chemical weapons, bought from Germany and delivered with French and Russian weapons, against Iranian troops - and against his own Kurdish population, of whom 5,000 were gassed.

Ruling a country of 23 million on the basis of the 1.5 million members of the Ba'ath Party, Saddam needed extensive intelligence networks and sheer terror to keep his population under control. Iraqis believed that some 2 - 4 million served as informants. Everyone in Iraq had to live with the assumption that they were surrounded by security agents, informants, and surveillance devices.

John Sweeney, a veteran correspondent for the BBC, once said that "being in Iraq is like creeping around inside someone else's migraine. The fear is so omnipotent you could almost eat it. No one talks."

Until Saddam himself was caught, that fear persisted and understandably made many Iraqis afraid of cooperating with the Americans and other allies in Iraq. Though terrorist attacks are continuing by anti-American forces, the terror has now lifted from Iraq. "The Fall of Saddam is Complete and the Sun has Returned to Shine on Iraq," said the headline in the leading independent Iraqi daily, Al-Zaman, summing up the mood of jubilation. Now, let justice be done.

Helle Dale is Deputy Director of The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in The Washington Times