The Crimes of Saddam Hussein

By Dave Johns

The following timeline outlines the crimes for which Saddam Hussein is expected to stand trial.

Saddam Hussein

In July 2004, in his first appearance before the Tribunal, Saddam Hussein was asked by the judge to state his name. “I am Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq,” he said. Since that first day, Saddam has spent much of his time in court attacking the Tribunal’s legitimacy, criticizing the judges as Coalition puppets, and posing as a martyr. “Even if I were thrown into the inferno … I would not show a sign of pain, all for your sake,” he told the court and its television audience. He often speaks of himself in the third person: “America wants to execute Saddam Hussein. It is not the first time. … This game must not continue. If you want Saddam Hussein’s neck, you can have it!”

It is an old act for the deposed strongman. From the earliest days of his presidency, attending to his image as the indomitable “Father–Leader” of Iraq was among Saddam’s first obsessions. Thousands of giant portraits staring down from city walls reminded Iraqis of his power. On television, he was ubiquitous to the point of absurdity: in trenches with military men; meeting with Shi’iah imams; operating heavy machinery; berating his party underlings. “The political reality behind all the photographs and appearances is the politics of fear,” wrote Kanan Makiya, under the pseudonym Samir al–Khalil, in Republic of Fear. Saddam’s intimidation forced Iraqis to accept lies as truth. In the early 1980s, he published a family tree that traced his ancestry to Mohammed’s daughter Fatima and son–in–law Ali, the founding father of the Shi’iah faith. “This gesture … signified total contempt for the populace, large numbers of whom he knew would accept this proof of ancestry, largely because there was no longer a soul in the length and breadth of the country who could be heard if they were prepared to deny it,” wrote Makiya.

The true story of Saddam is more prosaic and more terrible than the myth. Born April 28, 1937, in Ouija, a typical Sunni village on the outskirts of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein al–Tikriti came of age in a nation fractured by coups and countercoups. In 1959, CIA director Allen Dulles said, “Iraq today is the most dangerous spot on Earth.” After the Ba’ath Party came to power in 1968, Saddam would more than do his part. He rose through the party ranks to become president in 1979, honing a leadership style reminiscent of The Godfather, his favorite movie.

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Dave Johns is a writer and public radio reporter in New York. His work has appeared on many national public radio programs, including NPR’s Living On Earth, PRI/WNYC’s Studio 360 and The Next Big Thing, and other shows.

SOURCES FOR THIS FEATURE: Al Jazeera; Asharq Al–Awsat; Associated Press; BBC; CBC; The Christian Science Monitor; CIA World Factbook; CNN; Creighton Lawyer Magazine; The Daily Telegraph; Federation of American Scientists; Gendercide Watch; Grotian Moment: The Saddam Hussein Trial Blog; The Guardian; Human Rights Watch; The Iraq War Reader, Micah Sifry and Christopher Cerf; Kurdish Human Rights Project; The Los Angeles Times; Middle East Intelligence Bulletin; The New York Times; New Yorker magazine; Newsday; Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; Out of the Ashes, Andrew and Patrick Cockburn; The Outlaw State, Elaine Sciolino; Republic of Fear, Samir al–Khalil (Kanan Makiya); Reuters; U.S. State Department; The Washington Post