[Nasional-e] Why should international law protect Saddam?
Tue Dec 10 23:24:18 2002
Why should international law protect Saddam?
Fred Hiatt WP Tuesday, December 10, 2002
Put Iraq's people first
WASHINGTON In the United States and throughout Europe, antiwar organizations
cite international law in urging President George W. Bush not to overthrow
Saddam Hussein. The National Council of Churches and other religious groups
warn Bush that military action would "heighten concern in other countries
about American respect for their integrity as nations, as well as for
international law." The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Britain
threatens to haul Prime Minister Tony Blair into court and backs up its
threat with long briefs and many footnotes.
All this is perfectly understandable. No one wants a world in which powerful
countries feel free to go about smashing into weaker ones. The groups'
reading of the law - that the United States and its allies would have no
right to take action without another Security Council resolution - may well
And yet, given that they have taken on Saddam as their client, you have to
wonder whether, if their reading of the law is right, there isn't something
peculiar, something out of whack, about international law itself. Yes,
national borders should be respected. But why should a gangster who has
maintained power only by violating every norm of morality and law -
including international law - be permitted the sanctuary of those borders?
Why should his regime be entitled to the same protection as a government
that represents its people?
No one, not even the most dovish of the doves, maintains that Saddam is the
legitimate representative of the Iraqi people. He rules by means of a brutal
secret police using murder (of thousands and thousands of innocent people
over the years) as its tool.
The British government last week issued a brief report on Saddam's crimes
that listed some of his favored methods of torture, in addition to the usual
beatings and fingernail extractions: eye gouging, piercing of hands with
electric drill, suspension from the ceiling, electric shock, sexual abuse,
mock executions, acid baths. Wives are raped to extract confessions from
husbands, while children are made to watch. Prisoners "are kept in rows of
rectangular steel boxes, as found in mortuaries, until they either confess
to their crimes or die."
Westerners who agitate against war are aware of all this, of course.
"Understanding that Mr. Hussein poses a threat to his neighbors and to his
own people," the Rev. Robert Edgar and his colleagues write, "we
nevertheless believe it is wrong, as well as detrimental to U.S. interests
to take such action."
"We have no illusions about the behavior or intentions of the Iraqi
government," the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement
last month. "The Iraqi leadership must cease its internal repression, end
its threats to its neighbors, stop any support for terrorism, abandon its
efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction and destroy all such existing
weapons." Perhaps in their own realm the bishops are used to being obeyed.
But on whose say-so they expect Saddam to "cease his internal repression"
the bishops do not explain.
The opponents of war often claim to be speaking for the Iraqi people. In any
dictatorship, it is impossible to gauge how the people feel, particularly in
one as brutal as Iraq. Still, there are clues. About one in seven Iraqis has
left the nation rather than live under his regime, as the British report
And last week, the International Crisis Group, or ICG, a nonprofit
organization that conducts research in troubled regions in an effort to
encourage wise policy, issued, to little notice, a compelling report
entitled "Voices From the Iraqi Street." The ICG researcher, interviewing
ordinary Iraqis for the sixth time in recent years, found them more open
than ever before. This in itself might be seen as an initial success of
Bush's policy; the ICG attributed it to "the feelings shared by many Iraqis
that some kind of political change is now unavoidable."
More remarkable, the interviewer found an "overwhelming sentiment" of
"frustration and impatience with the status quo." People want change, are
willing to say so and, "if such a change required an American-led attack,
they would support it."
This was almost too much for the ICG itself to swallow. "It was striking and
unexpected to find how much willingness there is to embrace a U.S.-led war
as a scenario for change," said Gareth Evans, ICG president and a former
Australian foreign minister. "But that doesn't in itself mean that war is
either advisable or inevitable."
His reaction mirrored that of Amnesty International to the British human
rights report. Accustomed to complaining that no one takes its findings
seriously, Amnesty now expresses horror that someone might actually respond
to the abuse. The group wouldn't want the record to be "used selectively in
order to achieve political goals," a spokesman said.
But why not? The peace groups, the religious organizations, the human rights
advocates want the moral high ground of always condemning repression - and
always opposing the use of force. They may have international law on their
side. Whether the interests of the Iraqi people are there too is a harder
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