Iraq’s Supreme Court yesterday passed the death sentence on Saddam’s loyal deputy Tariq Aziz. John Simpson of the BBC writes:
His crime, essentially, was that he was Saddam’s front-man, arguing publicly and cleverly for some of his worst policies.
The Iraqi opposition, like the Americans and their supporters, felt a particular hatred for him.
He was a strong supporter of violent action against Shia and other resistance groups – the crime for which he has been sentenced to death.
But again, it is hard to feel that final proof of his involvement in this kind of action was demonstrated.Tariq Aziz was Saddam Hussein’s loyal courtier. If he had questioned his judgements, he would have died. This is not an argument for his innocence, but it does temper his direct responsibility for the policies he backed.
In a similar vein, the Guardian‘s Mark Seddon makes the point that Aziz is sitting on a deep archive of personal knowledge that many don’t want to see the light of day:
Could it be, then, that the death sentence is partly an insurance against any future Iraqi government showing clemency? Tariq Aziz is old and unwell, but he has the mother of stories to tell. Throughout the 1980s, when Saddam was seen as an invaluable bulwark against the Iranian ayatollahs, a succession of western politicians and businessmen paid homage at the court of Tariq Aziz.
Donald Rumsfeld was even pictured watching Iraqi rockets being fired on the Fawr Peninsula. Perhaps Aziz, who could tell the whole story of western involvement in Iraq, before, during and after the war, simply has to be got rid of.
Which is why the British government probably won’t appeal for clemency, even though it should.
Seddon has a point. The British, and indeed all western governments who claim to oppose the death penalty, should stick to their principles, even for allies and accomplices of Saddam Hussein. Of course he should answer for his crimes, but this needn’t be at the end of a rope. Aziz is an old man who will probably not last in prison more than a few years.
From a historian’s point of view, he seems the most likely Albert Speer of the Ba’ath regime, who might offer some genuine insights into the workings and the realities of Saddam’s regime. Surely it is as important to study and understand regimes such as the Iraqi Ba’ath’s in order to prevent such atrocities from occurring again as it is to seek retribution from those who committed them?
I fear this point is lost on the western governments who won’t be pressing for an appeal on Aziz.