I WAS told I would be only 30ft from Saddam Hussein, the closest I have ever been to the dictator who owned my life for three decades. But in the event, all I can see across the courtroom is a skinny old man sitting in a cage.
Next to me two other Iraqi translators are sweating and looking very nervous. It’s five minutes before the trial begins, and the three of us are about to start a simultaneous translation on day three of Saddam Hussein’s trial, but not one of us has yet stepped up to the microphone.
But who wasn’t one of his victims? Isn’t this the man who caused all that suffering to me and my people? Isn’t it the man who banned me three years ago from travelling to see my father in his last days, when he was dying abroad? Wasn’t he the man behind the Iraq-Iran War, during which my uncle was killed?
Wasn’t he the source of all the fear we lived in for decades, forcing many of my relatives, including my brother, to leave the country?
After five minutes I realised that this old man sitting in the defendants’ cage in front of me was not the person I used to hate. He is another person. The man I see looks completely different from that man who used to appear on TV in his army uniform, holding a pistol and shooting in the air as if he were aiming at creatures on another planet because he had got bored of killing Iraqis.
This man in the courtroom has to wait for his turn to talk, otherwise his mike will be turned off. Saddam never had to wait for his turn because it was his turn for decades, and there was no time for anyone else to say anything.
It may look to outsiders as if he has taken control, shouting at the judge. But up close you can see desperation in his eyes.
The witness was talking about people getting tortured and killed collectively, talking about losing brothers and loved ones, but that is still going on. Iraqis are still getting killed and tortured, still losing their loved ones. Nothing has changed yet.
Iraq’s main problem wasn’t simple enough to be about one man called Saddam. It wasn’t just about this old man sitting in his cage. It was about an entire regime, an international community turning a blind eye to things that fit with its strategies. It was about children dying of hunger during the years of sanctions, whether because of Saddam or not. It is about innocent people losing their lives through weapons, national and multinational.
It is about a very dangerous gamble on the fate of a country by the West that isn’t yet “mission accomplished”, as President Bush once claimed.
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A little comment: with all my respect, without the intervention this man would still be torturing, killing, maiming, raping, etc, etc, your parents. The fact that now he has to wait for “for his turn to talk, otherwise his mike will be turned off”, is simply a consequence of that intervention. It’s true that people are dying just now, BUT the difference is that people who die now are killed by people who are not in power, who are just criminals and can be driven to court the momment they are detained by the police. Saddam IS also a criminal, but he was in power, so he could make what he wanted into law.
Lastly, would the situation have changed if all public opinions in Europe, for example, would have supporting the intervention against a dictator and not the poor Saddam? I think this is quite the most important question we have to ask ourselves now.