Saddam Hussein’s rushed execution looks even more suspicious now that the trial of his co-defendants has resumed with prosecutors playing an incriminating tape recording of the dead Iraqi dictator discussing chemical weapons – but now without any possibility of him fingering U.S. officials and others who may have helped him get the poisons.

President George W. Bush and his supporters are sure to cite the tape recording as further evidence of Hussein’s guilt and thus vindication of Bush’s decision to press ahead with Hussein’s controversial hanging on Dec. 30.

But the troubling reality – virtually ignored in the major U.S. news media – is that Bush also silenced a particularly dangerous witness who could have implicated prominent U.S. officials from both his father’s and his own administrations.

The hasty execution prevented the Iraqi judges from turning to Hussein after the tape was played on Jan. 8 to question him about its authenticity and its context. Another obvious follow-up would have been how had Hussein obtained the dangerous chemicals that he allegedly deployed to kill tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds.

In that sense, Hussein’s silence was golden for the international arms dealers who supplied his regime and for government officials who facilitated the shipments.

Former President George H.W. Bush, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and current Defense Secretary Robert Gates were among those who could breathe a little easier after the hangman’s noose had choked the life out of Hussein.

The elder George Bush, as Vice President, allegedly oversaw a covert U.S. operation to assist Hussein’s war machine during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War; Rumsfeld, as special U.S. envoy to the Middle East, had private chats with the Iraqi dictator about his war needs; and Gates, as a senior CIA official, reportedly rebuffed Israeli protests about U.S. tolerance for third-country military shipments to Iraq, including precursor chemicals.

Hussein was a unique witness to these events. Perhaps no other Iraqi possessed so much direct knowledge of these high-level discussions and what resulted from them.

Thus, with Hussein’s execution, the witness with the fullest overview of Iraq’s chemical weapons program is gone, a breach of judicial process that would never have been allowed if Hussein had been turned over to an international court.

Rush to the Gallows

When Hussein was rushed to the gallows, George W. Bush’s administration also knew that the tape recording would soon be presented as evidence. Indeed, U.S. investigators had culled it from the volumes of records seized from Hussein’s archives after U.S. forces captured Baghdad in 2003.

On Jan. 9, New York Times reporter John F. Burns described Hussein’s voice on the tape – as a moment of self-revealing clarity – coldly discussing the effectiveness of chemical weapons on an unprotected civilian population.

“In the history of prosecutions against some of the last century’s grimmest men, there can rarely have been a moment that so starkly caught a despot’s unpitying nature,” Burns wrote, while noting that Hussein’s “high-backed, black vinyl seat at the front of the dock was left ominously empty.”

At another point in the article, Burns added that Hussein’s alleged Iraqi accomplices “glanced furtively toward TV cameras” during the court proceedings. But Burns makes no mention of how Hussein’s hanging was a lost opportunity to identify people outside Iraq who aided and abetted the alleged genocide against the Kurds. [NYT, Jan. 9, 2007]

The rest of the U.S. news media pretty much missed the same part of the story after Hussein was hanged for his role in executing 148 men and boys from the town of Dujail in 1982, following a foiled assassination attempt on Hussein and his entourage.

While the U.S. media has devoted considerable time to the unruly scene at Hussein’s hanging, little has been said or written about how the world witnessed on Dec. 30 what amounted to the snuffing of a witness who could have implicated key figures around George W. Bush, possibly including the President’s father.

The ghoulish theater of the execution – taunts from Shiite guards and Hussein’s haughty response – obscured the other significance of the moment, that important chapters of history were dying with Hussein on the gallows.

As I noted in an article after the execution, Hussein now won’t be around to give troublesome testimony about how he obtained the chemical and biological agents that his scientists used to produce the unconventional weapons that were turned against Iranian forces and Iraqi civilians. He can’t give his perspective on who got the money and who smoothed the deals.

Hussein also can’t disclose what Rumsfeld told him during their famous hand-shake meeting in 1983, or whether he got an alleged message from Vice President Bush in the mid-1980s about how to deploy his air force against Iran, or if his regime knew that deputy CIA director Gates was running interference for Iraq’s military supply line in the 1980s.

Nor can Hussein give his account of the mixed messages delivered by George H.W. Bush’s ambassador April Glaspie before Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Was there an American “green light” or did Hussein just hear what he wanted to hear?

All that history and more could have been salvaged if Hussein had been turned over to an international tribunal at The Hague as was done with other tyrants, such as Yugoslavia’s late dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

Instead George W. Bush insisted that Hussein be kept under tight American guard and be tried in Iraq despite the obvious fact that the Iraqi dictator would receive nothing close to a fair trial before being put to death.

[For more details on what Hussein might have revealed, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege or Consortiumnews.com’s “Missing U.S.-Iraq History” or “The Secret World of Robert Gates.”]

What Can Be Done

Still, even with Hussein’s execution, there are actions that the American people can take to recover pieces of that lost history.

The U.S. government is now sitting on a treasure trove of documents seized during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. From those captured records, U.S. analysts discovered the tape recording of Hussein that was played on Jan. 8.

The Bush administration also has exploited the documents to discredit the United Nations over the “oil for food” scandal of the 1990s, ironically when Hussein wasn’t building weapons of mass destruction. But the Bush administration has withheld the records from the 1980s when Hussein was producing chemical and biological weapons.

In 2004, for instance, the CIA released the so-called Duelfer report, which acknowledged that the administration’s pre-invasion assertions about Hussein hiding WMD stockpiles were “almost all wrong.”

But a curious feature of the WMD report was that it included a long section about Hussein’s abuse of the U.N.’s “oil for food” program in the 1990s, although the report acknowledged that the diverted funds had not gone to build illegal weapons.

Regarding the 1980s, however, the report did the opposite, acknowledging the existence of a robust WMD program but offering no documentary perspective on how that operation was organized and who was responsible for the delivery of crucial equipment and precursor chemicals.

In other words, the CIA’s WMD report didn’t identify the non-Iraqis who made Iraq’s WMD arsenal possible in the 1980s.

One source who has seen the evidence told me that it contains information about the role of Chilean arms dealer Carlos Cardoen, who has been identified as a key link between the CIA and Iraq for the procurement of dangerous weapons in the 1980s. But that evidence remains locked away from the public.

With the Democrats now in charge of Congress, they theoretically could force out more of the story, assuming they don’t follow their usual course of putting “bipartisanship” ahead of oversight and truth.

The American people also could demand that the surviving members of Hussein’s regime be fully debriefed about their historical knowledge before their voices also fall silent either from natural causes or additional executions.

If the goal is to get the witnesses to speak freely, the interrogations should be carried out at a neutral setting like The Hague.

But George W. Bush has made sure that the singular figure who could have put that era of Iraqi history in its fullest perspective never got to present his side of the story about Iraq’s chemical weapons, either how they were obtained or how they were used.

Less than 10 days before that story might have been presented to the world, Bush ordered Saddam Hussein turned over to his Shiite enemies and silenced for good.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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