Sun Sep 8, 2013, 07:25 PM
arely staircase (10,974 posts)
The New Yorker: Crossing the Line
Early in 1987, Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi President, decided to clear out scores of Kurdish villages, in order to undermine separatist rebels. He asked Ali Hassan al-Majid, a general and a first cousin, to lead the project. In tape recordings later produced by Iraqi prosecutors, Majid told Baath Party colleagues that the novelty and the terror of chemical weapons would “threaten” the Kurds and “motivate them to surrender.” On April 16th of that year, Iraq became the first nation ever to drop gas bombs on its own citizens; the gassing campaign lasted two years and killed thousands of people. “I will kill them all with chemical weapons!” Majid told his colleagues. “Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them! The international community and those who listen to them!”...
...International laws and informal warnings of retaliation are designed to dissuade dictators and terrorists from using weapons of mass destruction under any circumstances. A failure to enforce such norms in Syria would likely lower the threshold for chemical use in this and future wars. Obama’s deliberateness about military action in Syria is understandable. The consequences of intervention may be difficult to control; the Syrian opposition is fractured and influenced by jihadi fighters. As Iraq has shown, the public requires transparency, accountability, and democratic deliberation when war crimes become a basis for more war.
In Iraq, starting in 2006, Chemical Ali went on trial for mass murder and other crimes against humanity. The proceedings were undeniably flawed. Yet they put Majid’s murderous arrogance on full display to his countrymen, and guaranteed that the record of his guilt can never be obscured. He was hanged in 2010. The prospect of even such rough justice for Syria’s chemical bombers looks elusive. Yet Obama’s original instincts were sound. There are red lines even in a war as devoid of clarity as Syria’s. The best available evidence is that on August 21st Bashar al-Assad’s forces crossed to the other side. ♦
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