Bush allows Saddam to claim the high ground.

How do you end an illegal war? Perhaps it was always asking too much of George Bush and Tony Blair to find an answer to that burning question. Perhaps, in fact, it is a question without an answer.

Saddam Hussein had to be brought to trial. But the seeming inevitability of his execution by a US-appointed administration is morally wrong, legally shaky and politically mistaken.

At the beginning of this conflict, those of us who refused to let go of the need for a UN mandate and compliance with international law were ignored. Once the conflict had started, such "academic" questions were brushed aside. But now, billions of pounds and thousands of lives later, all of a sudden law matters again.

Let us never forget that Saddam Hussein was an evil and brutal dictator. But let us also remember that we invaded a sovereign country on a false premise, have set up a new regime without legitimacy from the Iraqi people, and are now claiming that regime has the right, in the name of the Iraqi people, to execute Saddam.

The reason international law mattered at the start of this conflict was precisely to avoid such a situation. With a UN mandate and the full force of international law, the world community would have the authority - political, legal and moral - to depose Saddam and, having done so, to try him in the International Criminal Court.

If the invasion had been legal, there would be no question marks over the jurisdiction of the Iraqi court. Instead, Saddam Hussein has been handed a propaganda weapon and, appallingly, a sense of the moral high ground.

For amid all of the spurious defences Saddam will lodge, his central contention - that the court is illegitimate because the invasion was illegal - has some weight. That the Bush-Blair axis has handed this tyrant a legitimate argument that he is being mistreated demeans us all.

If we were to be the invading force determined to liberate Iraq, we needed to be on much stronger ground than this. Liberation was not about replacing an evil regime with another of dubious legality. It was surely about being better than that - offering a democratic and legitimate government and legal process in place of the whim of a dictator. Reducing the trial of Saddam to this sorry charade helps no-one.

Why didnít the US contemplate using the International Criminal Court? Because, in keeping with the sense that the US wants to dominate the world community rather than be an equal player, Bush wonít submit to the due processes of the ICC.

Why not wait until there is a democratically elected Iraqi government, or at least one not appointed by the US and led by a former CIA agent? Well, thatís easy - the US presidential elections demand closure of the Iraq issue long before then.

Donít listen to those who say it is only fair that Saddam gets to court quickly - those same voices have been silent for the last months as he was held by the Americans for questioning and slipped out of the headlines. This is primarily about grubby domestic advantage for President Bush.

Consider also the questions raised by human rights lawyers like Geoffrey Robinson, QC, over the impossibility of an impartial trial for Saddam in Iraq. Do these questions not need to be addressed - or are human rights only for those we deem worthy? My understanding of the term was that these were "fundamental, inalienable rights", but perhaps I am out of date.

So much for the law; what of the politics? The most important point is that in handing Saddam a legitimate grievance, his trial allows the former dictator to protest loud and long about the sense of a "kangaroo" court and obscures the piles of evidence linking Saddam to various atrocities. Saddam will make this trial a rerun of all the arguments against western domination, and portray it as a clash of civilisations and religions.

There is, of course, the blatantly disingenuous spin about the necessity of this trial being in Iraq for the benefit of the people. That line of argument offends anyone with an IQ above 50. First, it is impossible to argue that handing Saddam to the judicial equivalent of a lynch mob satisfies the need for a fair trial. Worse still, it ignores the convenience for the West of passing Saddam into a legal process which is overwhelmingly likely to result in his execution.

Killing Saddam on his arrest or in custody would not have looked good for the West. This way Saddam is taken out of the equation and Blair and Bush can look straight down the cameras and say it was a decision for the Iraqi people.

I can almost see Bush, with phoney regret, informing us of Saddamís execution and offering to pray for him, as is his way. It is cowardly, and it is wrong.

I donít support the death penalty and neither, apparently, does the Prime Minister. Yet he is prepared to turn a blind eye to the US body-swerving the International Criminal Court jurisdiction and to support the handing-over of a human being to near certain death, promising to "respect" the decision of the Iraqi court.

There will be those who will struggle to see why so much attention to a fair trial, human rights and the right to life should apply to Saddam Hussein. They will say that he does not deserve such consideration after his barbaric slaughter of the innocent. But they are wrong. Acting within the law and according to the basic principles of human decency and morality is an absolute. Isnít that, after all, why we went to war?

When the trial is over and Saddam is dead, the questions will remain. The US will not be bound by international law or by the UN. We have a superpower out of control, and until that issue is resolved the world will not be safe. John Kerry may be no JFK, but that doesnít matter. What does matter is that he is no George Bush.

[Source: By Duncan Hamilton, The Scotsman, 05Jul04]

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War in Iraq
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