Some Questions for Jon Snow


Some Questions for Jon Snow by Oscar Clarke

The news last week of the death of Tariq Aziz, Iraq’s Foreign Minister under Saddam Hussein, elicited the expected mournful response from George Galloway. Announcing his candidature for the mayoral race in London, it seems, has not in any way tempered Galloway’s willingness to publically admire totalitarians.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was the saddest moment in his life, but he found refuge in the “courage and indefatigability” of Saddam and his National-Socialist regime. When Saddam was no longer there for him, Galloway turned cheerleader for Jihad, and also for another Baathist slaughterer, “the last Arab leader,” President Assad. Now Galloway writes on Twitter:

“The death of Tariq Aziz in the hands of the Govt. of Iraq was cruel, unjustified, [and] pointless.” 

Aziz, in actual fact, was not killed by the Government of Iraq. He had been allowed to leave prison, owing to his illness, which was the actual cause of his death – and the scene of his death was a hospital. By comparison with the innumerable victims of the regime for which Aziz was a mouthpiece to the outside world, his death was really anything but cruel and pointless.

But George Galloway’s judgement, impaired as it is by years of yearning for a totalitarian fatherland, should probably be taken seriously by precisely no-one. Jon Snow, however, the most senior news anchor for Channel Four, is a different proposition. He tweeted the following:

“Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz has died in jail: Nice guy in a nasty situation – made no better by Bush/Blair’s Shock and Awe.”

“I spent time with Tariq Aziz, interviewed him often. Christian that he was – they didn’t kill him, they just let him rot to death in jail.”

Snow has been a little bit more honest than Galloway, admitting at least that he was not killed, but died. But on the essential point, both men are in agreement: Mr Aziz was a “nice guy,” who deserved something other than to spend his final years in jail; he was a victim of “Bush/Blair” who found himself in a “nasty situation,” as if by sheer bad luck.

I would like to ask Jon Snow the following questions: How has he arrived at his judgement of Mr Aziz’s character? Is he aware of what the charges against Mr Aziz actually are?

It is true that, back in 2010, the Iraqi War Crimes Tribunal did sentence Tariq Aziz to death, which to those of us who are against the death penalty full stop was something to be opposed for obvious reasons. It is also true that Aziz’s death sentence was the result more of sectarianism than of justice. The specific crime for which he received it was his role in the suppression of Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa party, and the Shiite Prime Minister had exercised his influence over Aziz’s case. (It has been suggested that one of the reasons for the start of the war between Iran and Iraq was that Iran had tried to carry out a hit on Aziz in 1980. Whether this is true or not, the testimony of Rolf Ekeus, who was head of the UN weapons inspection team in Iraq – that Aziz referred to Iranians as “Persian Beasts” – demonstrates that the animosity between Aziz and Iraq’s Shia probably had a long history.)

However, another thing that is true is that Aziz had already been sentenced to a number of years in prison for his role in a far greater crime against humanity, which was his complicity in the massacre of the Kurdish people. As a member of the Revolutionary Command Council, Aziz was one of those who signed off the measures of the genocidal al-Anfal campaign. His defenders might use the lame Nuremberg excuse that no-one could defy Saddam Hussein, which might be true, but it was also true that in his capacity as Foreign Minister, Aziz denied to the world that any chemical weapons had been used against the Kurds – even while “Chemical Ali” was boasting that they had. And if Aziz had possessed any moral scruples about what was actually happening, he was, owing to the travel permitted him by his position (not to mention his friendship with the Pope), in perhaps a better position than any other member of Saddam Hussein’s government to seek refuge abroad. He didn’t.

The reason Aziz was never actually put to death was because the then President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, refused to sign his death certificate. A socialist, Talabani was opposed to the death penalty, and had tried to prevent it being applied in the case of Saddam Hussein, too. A Kurd also, Talabani championed law and justice, recognising that the negation of these things had been the tragedy of Iraq under the Baathists. And justice was the reason that Tariq Aziz spent his final years behind bars. He was not tortured, nor was it his fate to end up buried in a mass grave. The difference between these features of the regime that Aziz was a part of and the kind of regime that people like Jalal Talabani have fought for are as clear as day. I ask Jon Snow: would your solidarity not be better placed with the Talabanis of this world than the Azizs?