By MARC MCDONALD
For the Bush White House, the trial of Saddam Hussein can't start soon enough. The Bush team is eager to steer the focus of the world's media away from the ongoing disaster of the Iraq war to the crimes of Saddam.
Given that the Iraq war has been an unmitigated catastrophe, the Saddam trial is the final fig leaf the Bush White House can use to try to justify the whole god-awful mess. And what better way to expose to the world the crimes of Saddam than a high-profile trial that'll be broadcast around the world?
The Bush White House is eager for the world to know all the details of Saddam's crimes over the years. But the Bush people ought to be careful what they wish for.
For a start, if Saddam receives anything remotely resembling a fair trial, then the world will not only learn about the dictator's crimes, it'll also learn the deep, dark secrets about America's relationship with Saddam over the years.
It's clear that Saddam was an evil dictator. However, I've long believed that the U.S. really doesn't have a moral leg to stand on when it criticizes Saddam's crimes. After all, two decades ago, when Saddam was at the zenith of his power and was committing his worst atrocities, the U.S. was funding and supporting him.
The U.S., in fact, had a cozy relationship with Saddam that lasted for decades. How many Americans are aware that, in 1959, the CIA hired the then-22-year-old Saddam to carry out a plot to assassinate the Iraqi prime minister, General Abd al-Karim Qasim? (Saddam's assassination attempt failed when he fired too soon and he only wound up killing Qasim's driver).
Bush has long condemned Saddam for crimes such as gassing the Kurds in the town of Halabjah in 1988. But how many Americans know that the U.S. in fact sold materials to Saddam for creating biological and chemical weapons in the 1980s?
As Craig Unger reported in his 2004 book, House of Bush, House of Saud,:
"Beginning in 1984, the Centers for Disease Control began providing Saddam's Iraq with biological materials--including viruses, retroviruses, bacteria, fungi, and even tissue that was infected with bubonic plague."
Unger notes that the latter exchange may have been initiated in the spirit of an "innocent" transfer of scientific information. But as he points out: "It is not difficult to argue against giving bubonic-plague-infected tissues to Saddam Hussein."
Unger quotes former Senate investigator James Tuite: "We were freely exchanging pathogenic materials with a country that we knew had an active biological warfare program."
The fact is that Saddam was a monster---but he was a Frankenstein of America's own making. I'd suspect that if Saddam's trial truly delves into the truth of Saddam's crimes, there will be quite a few nasty, embarrassing episodes involving the U.S. that will come to light.
In short, before the U.S. gets on its high horse in condemning Saddam for crimes like torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, we need to remember that we tortured people there, too. The problem is the U.S. spends too much time pointing the finger at the crimes of other nations and not enough time reflecting on our own crimes.