There’s an MIT professor who claims that if all leaders were held to the same standards as the Nazis at Nuremberg, every U.S. president of the past half century would have been sentenced to death.
This is not a terribly popular idea in the United States and it’s not one that, as far as I know, has ever been expressed in the corporate, capitalist U.S. media. But as Saddam Hussein, who has frequently been referred to as a "modern-day Hitler," undergoes his trial it would be a lark, at the least, to test this theory.
If U.S. leaders have committed similar types of international crimes but are not on trial, then the theory is correct. If they have not, the theory remains unproven, and we can watch and enjoy the trial knowing that our government is not as bad as that of Saddam Hussein’s.
The first charge, which may lead to death by hanging, is for the torture and murder of 148 Shiites following a failed assassination attempt in 1982. If necessary, the next charges would be for the gassing of the Kurds and the suppression of the Shiite uprising in Southern Iraq following the Gulf War.
Presidents Clinton and Bush know something about murdering civilians in retaliation for failed assassination attempts. President Clinton committed the same crime 11 years later. In 1993 a car bomb exploded intended to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush while on a trip to Kuwait. The coffee shop owner and whiskey smugglers who carried out the attempt went to trial in Kuwait, but two months later President Clinton, having assigned the blame to Saddam Hussein, fired 23 $1.1 million Tomahawk cruise missiles at Iraq, killing eight civilians. The Clinton administration rejoiced, with Secretary of Defense Les Aspin telling the Los Angeles Times, "There is no question that the strike was a success."
U.S. presidents also know something about torture. According to a Human Rights Watch report last week, while the U.S. is not the only country to torture prisoners, it is " the only country in the world to claim a legal justification" for the practice, something not even Saddam ever did.
1982, the year of Saddam’s terrorist massacre, was also the year the Reagan administration removed Iraq from its list of terrorist states. The Reagan administration provided Saddam with various kinds of support useful in committing his atrocities, including intelligence and military support in his war with Iran, as well U.S. taxpayer guaranteed loans for the purchase of U.S. grain exports.
In 1983 the U.S. had intelligence describing " almost daily" chemical weapon attacks against Iranian forces and "Kurdish insurgents." To maintain the credibility of the official U.S. position on chemical warfare and "to avoid unpleasantly surprising Iraq," as it did not wish "to play into Iran’s hands in fueling its propaganda against Iraq," the U.S. tried to dissuade Saddam from further chemical weapons use, according to internal memos.
After a brief pause Saddam resumed using them, but rather than condemn him the U.S. restored diplomatic relations, which had ceased in 1967, and continued and increased support.
According to a 1994 Senate report, between 1985 and 1989, one year after the gassing of the Kurds, "The United States provided the Government of Iraq with ‘dual use’ licensed materials which assisted in the development of Iraqi chemical, biological, and missile-system programs," including chemical warfare agent precursors, chemical weapons production facility plans, biological warfare related materials and the missiles to launch them.
According to the Air Force Times, after the Gulf War a group of Shiites in southern Iraq "listened to appeals by the first President Bush and rose up against the Baghdad government in the mistaken belief the United States would help out. Instead, the U.S. military stood by as Saddam’s military cracked down on [them]."
The U.S. not only stood by and watched, but Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf actually authorized Saddam to use the weapons to carry out the suppression. He later claimed that he had been “suckered” and that he had no idea that Saddam would actually use those weapons to suppress the insurrections he was fighting.
Not only are U.S. leaders guilty of torture and murder, just like Saddam, but they also participated directly in the crimes for which he is on trial. If there were justice the law would apply to all evenly, and Presidents Clinton, Bush and his father, as well as the senior officials in their administrations (and Reagan’s, too) would be on trial with him. But the law, like Saddam’s trial, is a tool the powerful use to punish the weak when it serves their interests, just as they support torturers and murderers when that serves their interests.