Fighting Words

Sticking Up for Saddam

Ramsey Clark admits that his client is guilty.

The best defense is … not this guy

All must agree that Saddam Hussein is entitled to the best legal defense team, and that it is a very special responsibility of the Coalition authorities to provide cast-iron protection to those who undertake the task. (This remains true even if, as is strongly implied in a Nov. 29 article by John Burns in the New York Times, Saddam and his lawyers have been caught hinting at involuntary changes in the composition of the prosecution team.)

But the phrase “best defense” and the name “Ramsey Clark” do not have the same apposition as, say, peaches and cream. Clark used to be Lyndon Johnson’s attorney general and in that capacity tried to send Dr. Benjamin Spock, Marcus Raskin, and others to jail for their advocacy of resistance to the war in Vietnam. (In a bizarre 2002 interview in the Washington Post, he took the view that he was still right to have attempted this, even though the defendants were all eventually exonerated.) * From bullying prosecutor he mutated into vagrant and floating defense counsel, offering himself to the génocideurs of Rwanda and to Slobodan Milosevic, and using up the spare time in apologetics for North Korea. He acts as front-man for the Workers World Party, an especially venomous little Communist sect, which originated in a defense of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

I was wondering when Clark would pop up in Baghdad, and there he was last Monday, presenting his credentials to the judge in the Saddam Hussein case and being accepted at his face value as a defense spokesman. He lost no time in showing what he is made of.

The first charge being brought against Saddam Hussein is that in 1982, after his motorcade came under fire near the mainly Shiite town of Dujail, he ordered the torture and murder of 148 men and boys. It’s a relatively minor item in the catalog, but there it is. The first prosecution witness in the case, Wadah al-Sheikh, has actually testified that he knows of no direct link between Saddam and the killings. The defense team has to hope that it can prove the same, or perhaps suggest that no such massacre occurred. Not so Ramsey Clark. In a recent BBC interview, he offered the excuse that Iraq was then fighting the Shiite nation of Iran:

He (Saddam) had this huge war going on, and you have to act firmly when you have an assassination attempt.

Just go back and read that again. Ramsey Clark believes that A) the massacre and torture did occur and B) that it was ordered by his client and C) that he was justified in ordering it and carrying it out. That is quite sufficiently breathtaking. It is no less breathtaking when one recalls why Saddam “had this huge war going on.” He had, after all, ordered a full-scale invasion of the oil-bearing Iranian region of Khuzestan and attempted to redraw the frontiers in Iraq’s favor. Most experts accept a figure of about a million and a half as the number of young Iranians and Iraqis who lost their lives in consequence of this aggression (which incidentally enjoyed the approval of that Nobel Peace laureate Jimmy Carter). And Ramsey Clark says that the aggression is an additional reason to justify the massacre at Dujail.

Rather than say what substance I think Ramsey Clark is made of, I shall quote from Jeffrey Blankfort. There are various Web sites devoted to undermining the war effort in Iraq, one or two of which are also devoted to attacks on my own moral turpitude. I can’t read them all but I do usually look at the e-mail I get from Blankfort. He is a very serious guy with whom I have had a few exchanges. He is one of the few to have noticed what Ramsey Clark said, and here is his comment:

The problem is … that Clark is one of the most well-known representatives of the anti-war movement and represents the ANSWER coalition and in my mind this is more than the conflict of interest that it unquestionably is. Thus, the message that it sends to the Iraqi people is that the anti-war movement doesn’t really care about any Iraqis other than those who have been killed by US and UK forces, that it, in fact, does not condemn Saddam for his long history of human rights violations and for his launching a bloody war against Iran that took well over a million lives.

That is to say the least of it. He adds:

It is long past time for the anti-war movement to drop its double standards. It can begin by saying Ramsey Clark does not speak for us. He certainly does not speak for me.

This is a nice twist on the self-regarding “Not In Our Name” slogan under which the anti-war movement filled the streets to hear speeches from Saddam sympathizers, Fidel and Kim groupies, and Islamic fundamentalists. Not really anti-war at all, but pro-war on the other side. It was more like a single standard if you ask me, but let’s put this to the test.

So, how about it, Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore and Tim Robbins and all the rest of you? Do you need any prompting to say what you think? Or is the only crime scene to be found in the Downing Street memo and the identifying of a CIA bureaucrat? We know what Clark is made of: What about you? I meanwhile shall recline, happy in the knowledge that Saddam Hussein has engaged the services of an attorney who proclaims him to be guilty as charged.

Correction, Dec. 2, 2005: This article originally and incorrectly stated that Dr. Benjamin Spock, Marcus Raskin, and their alleged co-conspirators were acquitted of the charges Ramsey Clark brought against them. In fact, only Raskin was acquitted. Spock and three others were convicted, though those convictions were subsequently overturned by a higher court. Return to the corrected sentence.