How convenient for Saddam Hussein to be convicted two days before the midterm election by a U.S.-elected and -directed court, providing President Bush with his much needed November surprise. How irresponsible for the mass media to neglect to point out that the “crimes against humanity” for which Hussein was convicted occurred 15 months before Donald Rumsfeld, then the special envoy to Iraq, met with Hussein in Baghdad to develop an alliance between the administration of Ronald Reagan and that of the murderous Iraqi dictator.

The record of that trip, an enormous stain on our nation’s human rights record, is detailed in State Department memoranda readily available on the Internet. Rumsfeld journeyed to Baghdad as President Reagan’s special envoy after the bloody crackdown in the town of Dujail. Ironically, Hussein’s terror campaign was a response to an assassination attempt on his life by Shiite militants belonging to the party now in power in Baghdad, thanks to President Bush’s invasion.

Back then, Rumsfeld and the Reagan administration he represented viewed the Iraqi Shiites, who detested Hussein, with suspicion, considering them natural allies of their co-religionists in Iran. Rumsfeld’s mission was explicitly intended to align the United States with Hussein’s Iraq and offer military support in the ongoing war with the Iranian ayatollahs, regarded as our main enemy in the Mideast.

Rumseld met with Hussein in December 1983 and returned again on March 24, 1984 — the very same day the United Nations released a report that Iraq had committed war crimes by using mustard gas and tabun nerve agent against Iranian troops. “American diplomats pronounce themselves satisfied with Iraq and the U.S., and suggest that normal diplomatic ties have been established in all but name,” The New York Times reported five days later.

The official transcripts of Rumsfeld’s report on his meetings with then Iraq Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz and Hussein himself make clear that our defense secretary never even mentioned the brutal suppression of the Dujail Shiites, which has now earned the dictator a death sentence. The diplomatic message was clear: Hussein’s brutality, and even his use of chemical weapons, was not an obstacle to warm relations between the United States and Iraq.

“I said I thought we had areas of common interest, particularly the security and stability in the [Persian] Gulf, which had been jeopardized as a result of the Iranian revolution,” Rumsfeld wrote in a memo to the U.S. secretary of state, summarizing his meeting with Aziz. “I added that the U.S. had no interest in an Iranian victory. To the contrary we would not want Iran’s influence expanded at the expense of Iraq. As with all nations, we respect Iraq’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.”

Clearly, Rumsfeld, brought back to the White House more than a decade later by President Bush the Younger, had by then lost whatever interest he might have had in “Iraq’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.” But even at the time, his high-minded rhetoric bore no relation to reality: At no point did Rumsfeld ever criticize Iraq’s invasion of Iran, which had actually started the eight-year-long war, one of history’s ugliest. Nor did Rumsfeld indicate in any way that Hussein might be associated with terrorism.

According to news reports and official affidavits, Reagan had decided as early as 1982 that the United States could not afford to allow Iraq to lose. Indeed, the United States would become the major supporter of Iraq’s war efforts, funneling billions of dollars in cash, arms and so-called dual-use technologies through intermediary channels. The United States directly sold $200 million in helicopters to Hussein’s regime, and our allies were encouraged by Reagan to be just as accommodating.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even sent Iraq 14 agents “with biological warfare significance,” including West Nile virus, according to U.S. Senate investigators, in a 1994 report led by Sen. Donald Riegle. Another Senate committee report, also in 1994, detailed 70 shipments of dangerous biological strains, including anthrax bacillus, which later were found to be “identical to those the U.N. inspectors found and recovered from the Iraqi biological warfare program,” the Senate Banking Committee report said.

A fair international tribunal judging Hussein’s many crimes would have provided a venue for exposing the tyrant’s international backers, led by the United States and its allies. That is why this trial was conducted, at Bush’s insistence, not in a neutral setting but rather in occupied Iraq. While this arrangement served Bush’s domestic political agenda, as a means of dispensing justice it is an outrage befitting a president who has besmirched the ideals of democracy in the eyes of the world.

E-mail Robert Scheer at [email protected].

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