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 Iraqis in Kansas City fear Hussein may go free 

 Source : The KC Star
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Iraqis in Kansas City fear Hussein may go free 5.12.2005


Imagine your brother was killed for escaping service in the Iraqi army.

Or think of yourself as a Kurd, and Saddam Hussein attacked your people with poisonous gas.

Picture having spent your teen years hounded by the secret police, locked in a prison and tortured by the dictator’s thugs.

Then flip on the TV and listen to Hussein complain about having to take the stairs.

“Since we have a new Iraq we are supposed to show the world that we treat Saddam Hussein humanely, even though he didn’t do that for anybody, not any body,” said Rizgar Hamawandy, a Kurd-ish Iraqi living in Kansas City.

“I think we should use his type of justice against Saddam,” he said, “and then start the new way.”

Iraqis in Kansas City watch the trial of Hussein and stew.  

Former dictator Saddam Hussein
Photo : AFP

How, they wonder, does this monster warrant a trial when he summarily dished out bloody injustice for so many years? And how come the trial looks — to their eyes, anyway — so American? Don’t get them started on Ramsey Clark, the former Carter-era attorney general who has joined Hussein’s defense.

And a few worry that somehow — perhaps because of secrets he might harbor about the Americans who were once his benefactors, or maybe just because evil men seem to evade justice — Hussein will escape execution.

Prosecutors have accused him in the killing of 2 million people. His trial was scheduled to resume this morning.

For now, he is standing trial in Baghdad on a more specific charge of slaughtering 148 men and teenage boys in the Shiite stronghold of Al Dujail in 1982 — his response to an assassination attempt. That case was chosen as the first partly because much of the evidence is so black-and-white. His signature appears on the death sentences.

Later he could stand trial for murdering prominent religious leaders in 1974, for slaughtering the Kurdish Barzani clan in 1983, for gassing the town of Halabja in 1988 and killing 5,000, for the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, for the brutal suppression of the 1991 uprising prompted by the first Gulf War, for 30 years of assassinating political partisans, and for the 20-year “Anfal” campaign of displacing Kurds and forcing the “Arabization” of their oil-rich territories.

In Kansas City, Iraqis he terrorized watch with revived anger as Hussein gripes and poses, as he scribbles out poetry in court that declares “truth is our characteristic … lying is theirs.” They notice how he sits, rather than standing like Iraqi criminal defendants traditionally have done. They take note of his suit, and what looks like expensive tailoring.

And then they catch themselves picking up on such details.

“It’s all so ridiculous,” said Suad Alnahi, a 40-year-old Shiite woman from Basra who spent a year in one of his jails. “There should be no trial, or it should be over like that,” she added, snapping her fingers.

Her entire family spent a year in prison after her brother, a political dissident, fled the country in the 1980s. At times she was hung by her wrists and subjected to electrical shocks, she said, or thrown in a closet where she could only tremble as other torture victims screamed. She worried that she would be raped.

So when she sees Hussein chewing out the judge for not ordering the elevator fixed or watches the months slip away as his delays extend the trial and, likely, his life, she finds the whole situation absurd.

“Everybody knows he did all these things,” she said. “All this is just for show for this crazy man who still thinks he is president.”

Sitting in the living room of her apartment, her youngest daughter squirming in her lap, she remembers with her husband, Hassan, and her son Ali watching on television when the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad tumbled after Americans took the city. Then months later a friend called Ali at 3 a.m., telling him to turn on the TV. Hussein had been pulled from a hole in the ground.

“I got everybody in the house up to watch,” recalled Ali, a 19-year-old gas station attendant. “At first we thought it might just be someone who looks like him. But then we were convinced and that made us very happy.”

That glee has faded. Hassan Alnahi can’t fathom why Clark is helping the despot.

“No person, at least no educated person, could not be aware of all the people he has killed,” said the 44-year-old cab driver. “Why would you help him?”

To expatriate Iraqis, it’s more than just maddening that a man who denied others justice — denied them simple human dignity — can bellow on at his own public trial. Even the fact that he is in court — rather than surrendered to the rough justice of the streets — raises the possibility in some minds that he might somehow beat the rap.

Watching on satellite television, Herish Askari, a Kurdish Sunni, grew concerned that Hussein was being tried initially just in the Dujail case.

“When there’s so much that he’s done, I don’t know why they would focus just on that one,” said Askari, a Kurd who lost a brother in the Anfal campaign in 1988 and who came to the United States in 1996. “I’m sure he will be executed eventually, but still you worry that something could go wrong.”

Consider the videotaped testimony submitted in late November of former secret police officer Wadah al-Sheik, who was supposed to be a link in establishing Hussein’s orders for the Dujail killings. It appeared to be poor ammunition for the prosecution’s case. “I did not hear anything direct from Saddam Hussein,” said Sheik in testimony taped in October before his death from cancer.

At the Huda cafe on Independence Avenue, Ali Al-Rubaley speculated about the possibility that Hussein might escape responsibility for his genocidal ways.

Maybe the evidence won’t meet the Iraqi Special Tribunal’s American-like standards of proof, he said, and the jailed dictator will receive just a life sentence. Then, just maybe, Hussein might arrange an escape.

Al-Rubaley acknowledges that few prisoners have been guarded as closely as Hussein. Still, he imagines that the captive may hold some leverage over his captors. After all, he was a sort of American ally against the Iranians in the 1980s and Al-Rubaley can imagine Hussein holds information that could embarrass the Americans.

“You can never count Saddam out,” he said. “I hope he will die. But I can never be sure.”    


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