Monday, January 01, 2007

White House Spin: "We Tried to Stop Them! It's Their Fault!"

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The White House is trying to distance itself from the growing outrage over what is looking more and more like a thinly veiled lynching. The cover story at the moment -- put forth in a New York Times article by John Burns and Marc Santora -- is that the Bush administration objected to the way Saddam Hussein was being rushed to the gallows, warning the Iraqi government that it was politically unwise and legally questionable -- but the Iraqis were hell-bent on stringing him up right then and there, and the U.S. did not feel it could interfere with the decisions of a sovereign nation.

John Burns relates this spin straightforwardly, without questioning its credibility:

With his plain pine coffin strapped into an American military helicopter for a predawn journey across the desert, Saddam Hussein, the executed dictator who built a legend with his defiance of America, completed a turbulent passage into history on Sunday.

Like the helicopter trip, just about everything in the 24 hours that began with Mr. Hussein's being taken to his execution from his cell in an American military detention center in the postmidnight chill of Saturday had a surreal and even cinematic quality.

Part of it was that the Americans, who turned him into a pariah and drove him from power, proved to be his unlikely benefactors in the face of Iraq's new Shiite rulers who seemed bent on turning the execution and its aftermath into a new nightmare for the Sunni minority privileged under Mr. Hussein.
The American role extended beyond providing the helicopter that carried Mr. Hussein home. Iraqi and American officials who have discussed the intrigue and confusion that preceded the decision late on Friday to rush Mr. Hussein to the gallows have said that it was the Americans who questioned the political wisdom -- and justice -- of expediting the execution, in ways that required Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to override constitutional and religious precepts that might have assured Mr. Hussein a more dignified passage to his end.

The Americans' concerns seem certain to have been heightened by what happened at the hanging, as evidenced in video recordings made just before Mr. Hussein fell through the gallows trapdoor at 6:10 a.m. on Saturday. A new video that appeared on the Internet late Saturday, apparently made by a witness with a camera cellphone, underscored the unruly, mocking atmosphere in the execution chamber.

This continued, on the video, through the actual hanging itself, with a shout of "The tyrant has fallen! May God curse him!" as Mr. Hussein hung lifeless, his neck snapped back and his glassy eyes open.

The cacophony from those gathered before the gallows included a shout of "Go to hell!" as the former ruler stood with the noose around his neck in the final moments, and his riposte, barely audible above the bedlam, which included the words "gallows of shame." It continued despite appeals from an official-sounding voice, possibly Munir Haddad, the judge who presided at the hanging, saying, "Please no! The man is about to die."

The Shiites who predominated at the hanging began a refrain at one point of "Moktada! Moktada! Moktada!"-- the name of a volatile cleric whose private militia has spawned death squads that have made an indiscriminate industry of killing Sunnis -- appending it to a Muslim imprecation for blessings on the Prophet Muhammad. "Moktada," Mr. Hussein replied, smiling contemptuously. "Is this how real men behave?"

American officials in Iraq have been reluctant to say much publicly about the pell-mell nature of the hanging, apparently fearful of provoking recriminations in Washington, where the Bush administration adopted a hands-off posture, saying the timing of the execution was Iraq's to decide.

While privately incensed at the dead-of-night rush to the gallows, the Americans here have been caught in the double bind that has ensnared them over much else about the Maliki government -- frustrated at what they call the government's failure to recognize its destructive behavior, but reluctant to speak out, or sometimes to act, for fear of undermining Mr. Maliki and worsening the situation.

But a narrative assembled from accounts by various American officials, and by Iraqis present at some of the crucial meetings between the two sides, shows that it was the Americans who counseled caution in the way the Iraqis carried out the hanging. The issues uppermost in the Americans' minds, these officials said, were a provision in Iraq's new Constitution that required the three-man presidency council to approve hangings, and a stipulation in a longstanding Iraqi law that no executions can be carried out during the Id al-Adha holiday, which began for Iraqi Sunnis on Saturday and Shiites on Sunday.

Burns appears to have accepted this "narrative" at face value; nowhere does he give any indication that he checked to find out if the gloss being placed on events by U.S. officials accorded with reality.

For that, we have to go to the bloggers. Chris Floyd also thinks the story smells fishy:

This is a very curious story. Some of it is probably true, some of it is patently false – and all of it is a massive, panicky CYA job by American officials. However, through the heavy fog of this assemblage of spin, it seems fairly obvious what has really happened: the same group of dim-witted fools, ideological cranks and violent sectarians who have driven the whole misbegotten enterprise in Iraq came up with yet another plan that they thought was a great idea. But as always, it turned out to be a botched job that has made a hellish situation even worse.

Two things stand out in this story by Burns and Santora – or rather, two salient facts lurk behind the furious spin that the reporters have assembled. First, that despite all the protestations by U.S. officials here, it was the Americans who actually had the final say in letting the execution go forward. And second, the rank lawlessness of the execution is in fact a direct emulation of American "democracy" under the Unitary Executive Decidership of George W. Bush.
You must admit this is rich: Bush officials – creators of the special "military tribunals" for their special, made-up category of "enemy combatants" who can be jailed indefinitely without trial or charges or even killed, all at the arbitrary order of the omnipotent president – fretting over "due process" for Saddam Hussein. American citizens are no longer guaranteed due process – which is now solely in the Decider's gift – but we are to believe that Saddam's rights were uppermost in occupier's mind before his execution.

Well, who knows? Maybe this is one of the true bits of the story. It may well be that Bush was more concerned with Saddam's legal niceties than those of his own citizens; after all, he and Saddam have much more in common than Bush does with the overwhelming majority of Americans. They love power, love torture, love blood to be spilled at their command, see themselves as world-historical figures, great warriors inspired by God, etc.

But of course, it's far more likely that these concerns over "due process" are ex post facto fictions. At least at the highest levels. It could well be that some of the American officials on the ground realized how utterly stupid it was to rush Saddam's execution and hold it on one of Islam's highest holy days, and to let the hanging itself turn into a farce, with hecklers from Motqada al-Sadr's gang allowed in to thug it up. So yes, there may be a germ of truth in these butt-covering exercises. But obviously, if any such officials really exist, they were overruled by Washington – as always is the case with any U.S. official who has the slightest knowledge of the realities in Iraq.

Glenn Greenwald observes that Iraqis have demonstrated their mastery of the "legal workaround" in their intricate legalistic maneuverings to make what was really a thinly veiled lynching appear legitimate:

It really is striking, and a potent sign of just how absurd is our ongoing occupation, that the "Iraqi Government" which we are fighting to empower could not even conduct this execution with a pretense of legality or concern for civilized norms -- the executioners were not wearing uniforms but leather jackets and murderers' masks, conducting themselves not as disciplined law enforcement officers but as what they are (death squad members and sectarian street thugs).

And the most revealing, and most disturbing, detail is that Saddam's executioners -- in between playground insults spat at a tied-up Saddam -- chanted their religious-like allegiance to Moktada Al Sadr, the Shiite militia leader whom we are told is the Great Enemy of the U.S., the One We Now Must Kill. This noble and just event for which we are responsible was carried out by a brutal, murderous, lawless militia. Freedom is on the march.

Despite all of these grim events, it must at least be encouraging to the Bush administration that the Maliki government is quickly learning some of the most important tools for governing. For instance, after Prime Minister Maliki was told that his Order to quickly exectue Saddam would violate several different legal constraints -- i.e., "laws" -- this is what ensued:

Told that Mr. Maliki wanted to carry out the death sentence on Mr. Hussein almost immediately, and not wait further into the 30-day deadline set by the appeals court, American officers at the Thursday meeting said that they would accept any decision but needed assurance that due process had been followed before relinquishing physical custody of Mr. Hussein.

"The Americans said that we have no issue in handing him over, but we need everything to be in accordance with the law," the Iraqi official said. "We do not want to break the law."

The American pressure sent Mr. Maliki and his aides into a frantic quest for legal workarounds, the Iraqi official said.

That is a sublime phrase -- "legal workarounds". Our polite media here at home refers to deliberate and knowing government lawbreaking as "bypassing" the law, or sometimes they will even pretend that the law being violated just does not exist. But "workaround" is a nice phrase, too.

Riverbend gets the last word:

A Lynching...

It's official. Maliki and his people are psychopaths. This really is a new low. It's outrageous- an execution during Eid. Muslims all over the world (with the exception of Iran) are outraged. Eid is a time of peace, of putting aside quarrels and anger- at least for the duration of Eid.

This does not bode well for the coming year. No one imagined the madmen would actually do it during a religious holiday. It is religiously unacceptable and before, it was constitutionally illegal. We thought we'd at least get a few days of peace and some time to enjoy the Eid holiday, which coincides with the New Year this year. We've spent the first two days of a holy holiday watching bits and pieces of a sordid lynching.

America the savior... After nearly four years and Bush's biggest achievement in Iraq has been a lynching. Bravo Americans.
One of the most advanced countries in the world did not help to reconstruct Iraq, they didn't even help produce a decent constitution. They did, however, contribute nicely to a kangaroo court and a lynching. A lynching shall go down in history as America's biggest accomplishment in Iraq. So who's next? Who hangs for the hundreds of thousands who've died as a direct result of this war and occupation? Bush? Blair? Maliki? Jaffari? Allawi? Chalabi?

1 comment:

Joan said...

Hey Kathy!

I am glad to see you are starting the New Year off with a sense of humour! I can't believe we are now being sold that the execution of Hussein was a LYNCHING! I guess those Black people in the South had it easy with the KKK compared with poor old Hussein. I bet they are all crying for him.

If Riverbend is who she says she is, she can be forgiven. Living in the midst of a war and a civil war, it is understandable that she is uneasy. But the rest of those writers need a good old fashioned lyncing to remind themselves what a lynching really is.

Take Care