Antiwar Europe Worries About Saddam Hussein Trial

For European online commentators who opposed the invasion of Iraq, the trial of Saddam Hussein is a welcome event, with worrisome undertones.  Two concerns stand out: International legal norms may not be observed because of U.S. influence and the proceedings will intentionally avoid examining the U.S. alliance with Hussein in the 1980s.

A defiant Saddam Hussein refused to recognize the authority of the Iraqi tribunal Wednesday.  (Getty Images)

Le Monde, the Paris daily that tenaciously defends multilateralism, has straightforward news coverage. The paper sent a reporter to Dujail, the scene of the first crime for which Hussein will be tried -- the massacre of 143 people after a failed assassination attempt in July 1982. The imam of a local mosque, a follower of anti-American radical cleric Moqtada Sadr, told the reporter that Sunnis from neighboring villages have mounted many attacks on the town since it was announced that Hussein would be charged for the Dujail incident. He said he wished the trial would be postponed. Another man said he wanted to remind the Sunni attackers that Hussein had once killed 50 Sunnis in a single day in the city of Samara.

Le Monde has a separate story on the concerns of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that the tribunal process will not be fair or meet international law standards.

(An explanation of the trial, the court's standards and the prosecution and defense cases can be found here.)

Liberation, a leftist daily in Paris, interviewed one of Hussein's former lawyers who said that Dujail was chosen for political reasons. "There is no risk that someone will mention the name of [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld, for example," said Ziad al-Khassaouneh, a Jordanian lawyer who was on Hussein's defense team until last summer. Rumsfeld, as special envoy for then-President Reagan, met with Hussein twice in 1983-84 as part of a secret U.S. effort to bolster Iraq's government, which was then fighting a war against Iran. 

I could find no mention of the French government's ties to Hussein's regime in French commentary.

Germany's Spiegel Online coverage is detailed, especially about U.S. support for the tribunal and the brutality of Hussein's rule. The newsweekly notes that "Saddam's attorneys are also anxious to call as a witness US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who met with the dictator in 1983.

"The fact that this is unlikely to happen has prompted complaint -- even from Iraqi Minister of Justice Abdel Hussein Shandal -- that the Americans are exerting too much influence over the trial. 'It seems there are lots of secrets they want to hide,' said Shanda," according to SO.

The editors of the Guardian, the most vocal British newspaper opposing  the war, summed up the antiwar media consensus. 

"It is right that [Hussein] be called to account for terrible crimes committed both against his own people and others -- whether or not he was then a friend of the west, or indeed whether the US-led war that overthrew him was itself legal. But even the end of a nightmare has to stand up to international scrutiny. Justice, as ever, must be seen to be done."

By Jefferson Morley |  October 19, 2005; 7:19 AM ET  | Category:  Europe , Mideast
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Are these the only European newspapers to cover the trial? It's hard to believe that no European newspaper published a report that took a more positive view of this event. This report tell us only about the anti-war segment of Europe. While this group may represent a substantial majority, it is misleading to leave out coverage that takes a more positive tone.

Posted by: Chris | October 19, 2005 10:35 AM

You're wrong to say The Guardian was 'the most vocal British newspaper opposing the war.' The Independent also opposed the war, and was - and remains - considerably more vocal than The Guardian in staking out that position. The tabloid The Daily Mirror was also more vocal than the Guardian in opposing the war. And the Financial Times, while more restrained in its coverage, also opposed Bush's ill-conceived adventure in Iraq. All of these newspapers saw their credibility enhanced as a result of their positions, unlike U.S. media outlets (including the Washington Post and the New York Times), which, by running unfounded scare stories on WMD spun by administration sources, allowed themselves to become mouthpieces for the Bush propaganda campaign in the run-up to war and whose credibility has yet to recover. European media, unlike American media, offered the public a variety of perspectives on this war before it began. That diversity of perspective has served the European public well. The lack of it, prior to the war, in the U.S., helped bring about thousands of needless deaths. It's not just the Bush administratoin that has a lot to answer for. U.S. media have a lot to answer for too.

Posted by: James Thompson | October 19, 2005 10:50 AM

Hi, Just to let you know that I am French and that I can tell you that there has been an extensive coverage of France-Iraq ties in the 1980's and after...just like the Americans by the way... The Western World wanted to have an ally against the USSR and that's why they met with Sadam Hussein. Of course, France has always has "special ties" with the Arab world.

In addition, this is Sadam Hussein's trial, not the trial of the Iraqi war so I don't see why the French ties with the regime would be evoked.

Posted by: Elle | October 19, 2005 11:14 AM

Jefferson Morley quotes The Guardian as saying, "But even the end of a nightmare has to stand up to international scrutiny. Justice, as ever, must be seem to be done." While one can readily concur with this statement, we must also consider the current climate wherein there is a loud clamor for the head of Saddam, no matter what. Quick justice is not necessarily fair justice, though.

What might be required, I think, is fair process. As in every criminal case, both prosecutors and defendents must be given a fair hearing and political pressure must be off limits. I doubt this is ever going to happen.

Posted by: Joe M. | October 19, 2005 11:31 AM

The world allowed this man and others like him to create such a society. Therefore, the world should know keep its nose out of this and let the Iraqi people handle it. Fair or unfair trial, this is between the Iraqi people and ONLY the Iraqi people.

Posted by: Iraq Vet | October 19, 2005 12:11 PM

If the U.S. and Iraqis give Saddam an unfair trial, it will go down in history that way and it will create martyrs in his name. That is the last thing the world needs. All criminals need to be given a fair trial and face the punishment that awaits them. The U.S. needs to be an example to the rest of the world, proving that our our legal values are universal and aren't applied arbitrarily. Give Saddam a fair trial so he can face fair punishment.

Posted by: MS | October 19, 2005 01:48 PM

I didn't say that The Guardian was the only antiwar paper in the UK and I didn't mean to give that impression. I'll stick my view that The Guardian was "the most vocal" because it ran many more pieces against the war than the other two.

Posted by: Jefferson Morley | October 19, 2005 02:37 PM

Mr James Thompson takes pains to illustrate that the European press gave its "public a variety of perspectives on this war before it began. That diversity of perspective has served the European public well." He goes on to fault the US media for lack of the same.

Then tell us, Mr Johnson, what were the European media outlets that could have been considered pro-war in their approach? Where is this variety you speak of? Didn't at least one European media outlet explore the upside of a world without Saddam Hussein in power?

Posted by: C2TBF | October 19, 2005 04:32 PM

non-europeans - including non-european-americans and those least indocrinated into eurocentric-supremacist-ideology (which is an ideology that fundamentally values the life of europeans/european-americans moreso than the lives of non-europeans/non-european-americans...) will see the intellectual dishonesty and unequal treatment of 'leaders', peoples, and countries by europeans/european-americans - even moreso than what is obvious to europeans/european-americans... many non-europeans/non-european-americans live amoungst and at mercy of europeans/european-americans... and are often subject to unequal treatment before durring and after so called "fair trials". although there are 'fair' skinned people who also don't get fair trials, dark skinned people are essentially precluded from a 'fair trial' - even by other dark skinned people.

but in any case, justice is not served nor is equality amoung human beings evident

Posted by: anon | October 19, 2005 04:59 PM

>I could find no mention of the French government's ties to Hussein's regime in French commentary.

At least there is one (

The ex-secretary of the Foreign affairs -Roland Dumas- noted besides that " there is too much unpacking in prospect(perspective) " in this lawsuit. " You should not lose sight that Saddam Hussein had relations privileged with all the countries of the West, as well the Americans, the English people that the French people ".
" We can ask the question to know if this first lawsuit is not exactly made to avoid the others, the thorough lawsuit, (...) On his schemes during twenty years, on his collusions with the western countries "

I could not find much mention of the US government's ties to Hussein's regime in US commentary either.

Posted by: | October 19, 2005 05:11 PM

Thanks for the link.

My point is that no governments care to delve into their close relationships with Saddam Hussein's regime, the United States perhaps least of all.

Posted by: Jefferson Morley | October 19, 2005 05:36 PM

I don't think it matters to U.S. or Western governments what action is taken against Saddam Hussein. If he is hanged or put in jail for life, the situation is resolved from their point of view. It will be one of those two options.
However this is an Iraqi Court, and they do not play by Western Rules. There were a lot of mass graves in Iraq, and it is highly probable that he will be hanged.
However, it is my belief that, that for the sake of resolving internal conflicts in Iraq, it would be better if he would turned over to the International Court for trial. He would live out his days in prison, but you would create no martyr for a segement of the Iraqi population.
Of course, this is not a likely as there are too many mass graves in Iraq. There are too many Iraqis that want him dead.

Posted by: P. J. Casey | October 19, 2005 08:13 PM

Whatever the reality of the trial is, if it is PERCEIVED as manipulated or swayed by US interests, we might be in some serious trouble. The last thing we need right now is one more example (real or imagined) of America throwing its' weight around.

Posted by: MMMM | October 19, 2005 09:26 PM

C2TBF challenges me to name some European media that were pro-war. That's easy: many if not most of the right-wing outlets - and there are many of these in Europe - supported Bush on Iraq. In Britain, the Telegraph and the Times of London were pro-war, as were most of the tabloids. In Italy, whose pro-war prime minister owns most of the country's media outlets, there was no shortage of pro-war coverage either. In fact, if anything, Europe's anti-war majority came to this view **despite** media efforts to sell Bush's war. Yes, despite the strong airing given to pro-war views in Europe, there was also something resembling a debate, with opposite perspectives given a fair airing as well.
This is in sharp contrast to the U.S., whose news media quickly abandoned their duties as impartial observers and hopped on the pro-war bandwagon, with the tragic results we see today. (Judith Miller's shameful complicity with Cheney's office is but one of the more infamous examples of this.)
One can only hope that Amerians will one day insist on a higher standard of journalism than what is now offered up by our news media, which quickly falls into line whenever a president utters the word "freedom," wraps himself in the stars and stripes and bangs the drum for war.
Maybe one day our media will live up to the standard set by the Europeans, whose media give voice to a much broader range of perspectives, and whose public is consequently much better informed of world affairs than ours.

Posted by: James Thompson | October 20, 2005 01:24 AM

It speaks to the moral depravity of Europe that they are more focused on having a trial that can embarrass the US than on having a trial whereby the prosecution presents evidence and the defense rebuts that evidence.

America was wrong to support Saddam Hussein, but whether America (or France) did so in the past is beyond the scope of this trial. Limiting Hussein's Lawyer's ability to call Rumsfeld does not make his trial unfair. It is merely an attempt to keep the evidence presented at trial relevant and on topic. Hussein, is on trial here not America. As much as you liberals hate that fact, whining is not going to change it.

Posted by: Andrew | October 20, 2005 05:16 PM

It speaks to the moral depravity of Europe that they are more focused on having a trial that can embarrass the US than on having a trial whereby the prosecution presents evidence and the defense rebuts that evidence.

America was wrong to support Saddam Hussein, but whether America (or France) did so in the past is beyond the scope of this trial. Limiting Hussein's Lawyer's ability to call Rumsfeld does not make his trial unfair. It is merely an attempt to keep the evidence presented at trial relevant and on topic. Hussein, is on trial here not America. As much as you liberals hate that fact, whining is not going to change it.

Posted by: Andrew | October 20, 2005 05:17 PM

From Jeff's writing, one would get the impression that the Guardian overthrew Saddam Hussein over US objections. It seems to me that Jeff is stretching mightily when he says that the Euro antiwar press considers Hussein's trial to be a "welcome" event, since the examples he cites are so grudging and pinched. There are plenty of good reasons to have opposed the war, but now that Hussein is actually on trial, the antiwar press has to find a way to avoid acknowledging the fact that it resolutely opposed bringing him to accountability. Focusing so sharply on the past sins of the United States allows those writers to obscure the fact that it is only through the efforts of the United States that this moment has come at all.

Posted by: Tom T. | October 20, 2005 07:31 PM

What "Andrew," above, fails to understand is that the U.S. go-it-alone approach to Iraq has totally undermined its credibility on this issue, and hence its war effort. The world knows full well that the Bush administration invoked false reasons for overthrowing Saddam, then thumbed its nose at the world and defied international law to invade Iraq unilaterally, even after everyone from the chief U.N. weapons inspector to other governments had correctly pointed out that the reasons being invoked by the U.S. were in fact unproven (and, as it now turns out, were patently untrue). As a result, the U.S. Iraq initiative has zero credibility inside Iraq or anywhere in the rest of the world. In that context, trying the former Iraqi dictator in a "court" that has no international standing, under U.S. rules that are designed to help the U.S. administration avoid further embarassment, only further undermines the credibility of the entire U.S. effort. Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. In the world's eyes, justice has not been done, and is not being done, in Iraq. And like it or not, what the world thinks does matter. How many thousands more U.S. dead will it take to drum that simple fact into the heads of obstinate rightists like "Andrew"?

Posted by: Irwin from Canada | October 21, 2005 09:53 AM


Whatever our "go it alone" approach has done, Europe (and Canada) should be morally grounded enough to focus on Saddam Hussein receiving justice. In this case the people whose standards of justice needs to be satisfied are not Europes, or America's. Its Iraq's. I supported this war, but if Iraq decided not to convict Hussein, I would accept it. They suffered the most from his rule, so neither you, I, nor the "international community" have a right to tell them what to do with Hussein.

I am not here to argue with ignorant liberals about the war. If you would rather have Hussein back in power just say so, but rest assured neither I nor most of America (outside of NY and DC) care if you are offended by our "go it alone" approach. It seems that America ignoring a corrupt, weak, and phoney UN really does seem to upset the left, doesnt it? Get over it!

Most Americans are angry at the administrations poor handling of the war. They do not object to the war itself. I can sleep at night knowing that while I mourn the loss of our troops, I pray that they succeed in Iraq.

The left has put itself in a position where bad news for our troops is good news for them. Irwin, it seems that most of you leftist are actually cheering the insurgents on as long as it is bad news for Bush and America. Trust me Irwin, with "allies" like you up in Canada, we have learned that our allies act more like spoiled teenagers than friends who actually care about our country's well being. Based on the actions of you and those like you America will be all to happy to "go it alone" again and again.

Posted by: Andrew | October 21, 2005 09:46 PM


You just hit it right on the nose. Through all of this anti-americanism in the British and US press the "big white elephant" in the room, is that without America, this monster would still be at large.

Since that fact is unpalatable to the Guardian and the NY Times, they grudgingly acknowledge that to bring Saddam to justice is a good thing without admitting that if they had their way, none of this would be happening.

Posted by: Andrew | October 21, 2005 09:58 PM

You just don't get it, do you? Getting rid of Saddam was a fine idea but it had to be done right -- in full respect for international law and with the legitimate and defensible human-rights motives front and center. Instead, Bush invaded unilaterally, thumbed his nose at international law and at the well-founded concerns of his allies, ridiculing people like the chief U.N. weapons inspector (whose concerns about lack of evidence for WMD turned out to be well founded) and used lies and scare stories to justify the rush to war, shifting rationales after the fact when one scare story after another was revealed as bogus. Don't you see that by going it alone and invoking false reasons that were quickly debunked to justify this war, Bush and company have deprived the invasion and occupation of any legitimacy it might have had, both within Iraq and within the rest of the world. I and other Canadians would have supported sending Canadian troops to help get the job done had this been done in accordance with international law and with human-rights motives front and center. (That's why we're in Afghanistan.) But I would certainly not tolerate even one Canadian dying for a war that was sold by an arrogant U.S. government that pitched the whole adventure deceitfully and showed such immense disrespect for those who had the courage to call them on their WMD lies. Your government chose to go it alone, so it's your boys who are coming home in body bags, not ours, and it's your government that will bear the cost of cleaning up this immense and worsening fiasco. If you don't think you need the consent of the rest of the world to embark on these adventures, fine. But please don't be surprised when the rest of the world turns its back on you and leaves your nation carrying the full human and financial cost of these grotesque and ill-advised adventures. Reading comments from people like you makes me understand why nations like mine, once firm allies of the U.S., are turning anti-American. All your bellicose bluster cannot hide the fact that your government's stupid decision to go it alone and disregard international law has left it weaker, more vulnerable and more isolated than ever.

Posted by: Irwin from Canada | October 22, 2005 01:46 PM


Wow! Where to begin? First, I want to reiterate that you are right that I have no respect for you or most of the leftists in this world. I think the UN is a corrupt organization that was already antiamerican before Bush and the Iraq war.

Therefore, the idea that America should subcontract out its foreign policy to leftist anti-american Canadians and Europeans to me is comical. Contrary to your comments about me "just not getting it" I think it is you who just dont get it.

52% of Americans decided back in November that we have seen one too many Europeans burning the American flag, one too many Canadians politicians calling Americans "morons" and "bastards", and one too many leftist too ready to protest against America without mentioning a word about the stalinist homicidal dictator that American blood help to remove. We have decided quite frankly not to care what our so called "allies" think of us.
Irwin, we are tired of seeing our allies behave like spoiled children, tired of seeing British MPs who make friends with Saddam Hussein praised by the global left for standing up for the "truth" of America's "imperialism", and tired of seeing leftist human rights organizations compare a prison where a female Private sexually molests Iraqi terrorists to a "Gulag", where Stalin killed tens of millions of innocent people. Yes, Irwin I am very tired of people like you and your ilk.

Irwin, a majority of us, including me are angry at the President and the Pentagon for botching this war. Their planning for this conflict was awful. I am stunned that they made as many mistakes as they have. Polls show a majority of Americans agree with me. But dont mistake that with actually caring about what socialist, anti-american, college freshman protester types thinks of the United States.

One last thing, what exactly would or could Canada have contributed to the war in Iraq even if you joined us? Would Canadian "aircraft carriers" have helped reduce the number of US dead? What exactly would the French ship "Charles DeGaulle" have done to save the helpless American military? Do you think the Luxembourg Air Force would have been a decisive factor if only Bush had been more "sensitive" to the feelings of well meaning leftist Canadians and Europeans? What in the world do you think you could do to help us? Your militaries are already lightyears behind that of the US and the UK.

Anyway, the point is, we are tired of you Irwin. We are very tired of your ankle-biting, sneering, and sniping. All of your hypocrisy and hysteria has desensitized us, so that even if in the future, you do offer well meaning criticism, we no longer want to hear your whining. You have burned all the credibility you could possibly have with the "American Street". In sum, most of us dont care what you think.

Posted by: Andrew | October 22, 2005 04:06 PM

Andrew, I read an awful lot of insults in your last posting but nothing in the way of substantive responses to the points I raised. This leads me to believe you're bereft of arugments.
So you're "tired" of Canada, "tired" of Europe, "tired" of the citizens of just about every foreign country, it seems, except the miniscule minority outside the U.S. who are still buy in to the hogwash that's been peddled by your Bush administration on Iraq.
I do appreciate that it must be difficult for folks like you - raised as you are in a nation that puts patriotism ahead of logic - to comprehend that the rest of the world actually does count for something, and that America cannot simply thumb its nose at international law, launch pre-emptive wars on false premises, ignore the facts as reported by neutral bodies, and ignore the opinions of its friends.
But as those friends turn against you -- deny you petroleum, for instance, as more and more Canadians now want to do, or deny you military cooperation, as the Turks did on Iraq, or deny your warships docking rights, as New Zealand's just-re-elected government is doing -- you will slowly learn that cooperation, and respect, from allies is essential to your security.
Yes, you have lots of big warships, Andrew, but they aren't doing you a lot of good in Iraq, are they? And that's because your whole invasion of that country was bereft of legitimacy from the outset. How many more thousand dead Americans will it take to drum that basic fact through your thick skull?
But don't listen to me. Stick with Fox TV, the New York Post and Rush Limbaugh. They'll keep telling you what you want to hear.

Posted by: Irwin | October 23, 2005 12:57 AM

Right on, Irwin! I expect we'll be seeing more and more angry outbursts from the likes of Andrew and likeminded Republican true believers. This gang pushed ahead with this war, ignoring the law, and ignoring the evidence. Now they faced with criticism of the fiasco they created, and they are unable to rebut. Their only viable stance: anger and ersatz patriotism.

Posted by: Scott Delaney | October 24, 2005 08:01 PM

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