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How to deal with irritatingly good news

by Janet Daley Thursday, Dec. 18, 2003 at 6:06 PM

Within minutes of Paul Bremer pronouncing the words "We got him" to ecstatic cheers from Iraqi journalists, there were solemn-faced experts crowding on to my television screen to proclaim that the capture was largely irrelevant, or positively counter-productive, to the present difficulties in Iraq. The very same interviewers who had once invited their interviewees to prophesy endless anarchy as a consequence of America's inability to locate this man were now asking more or less the same people if his arrest was not pretty useless after all. Or (better yet) if it might not "inflame" the situation even further.

am stunned with admiration at the mental agility of the anti-war lobby. Having spent months taunting George W Bush and Tony Blair for their failure to capture Saddam Hussein, and thus accomplish one of the most fundamental aims of the "illegal war" in Iraq, it was able to recover its composure almost instantaneously when the worst happened.

Within minutes of Paul Bremer pronouncing the words "We got him" to ecstatic cheers from Iraqi journalists, there were solemn-faced experts crowding on to my television screen to proclaim that the capture was largely irrelevant, or positively counter-productive, to the present difficulties in Iraq.

The very same interviewers who had once invited their interviewees to prophesy endless anarchy as a consequence of America's inability to locate this man were now asking more or less the same people if his arrest was not pretty useless after all. Or (better yet) if it might not "inflame" the situation even further.

After a further 24 hours, the media had really got their act together. The important issue was not the triumph of having taken alive, without a twitch of resistance, one of the most infamous homicidal tyrants in modern history. No, the matter over which we were to obsess was whether and how this monster could be guaranteed his civil rights. Yesterday, I heard somebody on the Today programme say something like: "Now that the euphoria is ending about the capture of Saddam, attention is turning to the question of whether he can receive a fair trial."

Oh really? Whose attention is that exactly? Just treatment under law is not an inconsequential issue, but, under present circumstances, you will forgive me if I put the establishment of stability and justice for the people of Iraq a bit higher on my list of priorities than the problems of providing the Butcher of Baghdad with a fair trial. And, I must say, if the BBC conveyed any sense of euphoria about Saddam's capture, I must have missed it. The coverage I saw on the day went straight from disconcerted disarray to cynicism, without passing through jubilation.

So, being as resourceful as it clearly is, the anti-war (which is to say, the anti-American) party may not need any help at all. But, in the seasonal spirit of good will, I offer a guide to Guardian comment writers, BBC interviewers and Labour backbenchers on how to deal with any foreseeable circumstance that may arise from the current state of emergency.

What To Say If:

--Saddam refuses to co-operate with his interrogators.--

The arrest of this man is a sideshow. He clearly knows nothing about the current state of resistance and has played no role in the planning of insurgency. His trial will simply be an exercise in vengeance with no constructive outcome for Iraq.

--Saddam sings like a canary, identifying the perpetrators of insurgency.--

Saddam is obviously being tortured by his American captors. Or else, they are lying about his testimony and justifying their own persecution of innocent Iraqis on the basis of his alleged "confession". (Note to broadcasters: these hypotheses need not be stated baldly. They can simply be hinted at or implied by leading questions and incredulous facial expressions.)

--Saddam admits to having had weapons of mass destruction all along and gives a detailed account of a) where they can be found, b) how and when he destroyed them.--

If a) then switch the focus immediately to the role that America (with particular reference to Donald Rumsfeld personally) played in the past in allowing Saddam to develop these arms. Avoid if possible any tactless references to the much more recent contributions of our European partners in building Saddam's armoury. If b), float the idea that Saddam is lying - simply telling his captors what it would suit their political purposes to hear, in the hopes of cutting a deal for himself.

--If Saddam's trial is conducted by Iraq without outside interference.--

This is nothing more than a kangaroo court: a lynch mob bent on tribal vendetta, licensed and abetted by America, which has, typically, waged an irresponsible war and then walked away, washing its hands of the consequences.

--If Saddam's trial is conducted under American and British supervision.--

This makes a mockery of the hope that Iraq is becoming a self-determining democracy. It is now nothing more than a neo-colonial satellite of American imperialism. The United States has, typically, set up a puppet government in Iraq in order to establish control over the region.

--If Saddam's trial, by whatever agency, produces previously unknown evidence of crimes against his own people that is so horrific that it shames those who resisted his forcible removal.--

No one (certainly not you) ever said they thought Saddam was a hero, or that they wanted him restored to power. They just wanted international law to be permitted to take its own good time to decide how and when he should be stopped.

--If the arrest, trial and possible execution of Saddam results in a free and democratic Iraq.--

This is irrelevant to the War on Terror. Iraq had no links with al-Qa'eda. Bush and Blair will never defeat terrorism until they catch Osama bin Laden.

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