Video: History's influence on Saddam trial

msnbc.com
updated 6/9/2005 2:16:21 PM ET 2005-06-09T18:16:21

One of the charges Saddam Hussein will defend himself against in his upcoming trial is the gassing of 5,000 Kurds in the village of Halabja back in 1988. However, Hussein's use of gas against Iranian troops, which occurred within months of that incident, was not one of the 12 charges brought against the Iraqi dictator.

According to MSNBC Military analyst Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona, the omission of that incident from the list of charges likely has much to do with the fact that the U.S. was actively advising Hussein in his military effort against Iran.

"This is an interesting omission from that entire list we see," Francona said on MSNBC Live on Wednesday. "I think that they just don't want to raise this issue for the defense team to pick apart. They're going to want to know, 'Why was the United States supporting Saddam Hussein when now you're putting him on trial?'"

Francona, one of only two U.S. military officials present in Iraq at the time, was working in the defense attaché office in the American embassy in Baghdad. But, in an interview with MSNBC's Randy Meier, said he didn't know the gassing of the Kurds had happened until after the fact.

He did, however, learn quickly of the use of gas on Iranian troops, which combined with the news of the Halabja incident, initiated a quick response from Washington.

"The Reagan administration's response was that we were to cease operations inside Iraq immediately, and we all returned home on the next plane."

However, Francona said that once he returned to Washington, he attended a series of meetings to decide whether to abandon the effort and risk letting Iran win the war.

"The decision was taken that we would continue to help the Iraqis and we returned to Baghdad," Francona said.

Returning to Baghdad with the knowledge of what Iraqi troops had done was not easy, Francona said.

"It wasn't pleasant returning in that circumstance. We knew we were working with military people who had given the orders to use chemical weapons - not only on Iranian troops, but against their own people - so it was kind of distasteful," Francona said. "But here, we were dealing with the lesser of two evils. The foreign policy goal was to make sure the Iranians didn't win the war."

To watch the complete interview between Randy Meier and Rick Francona, click on the video link above. MSNBC Live with Amy Robach and Randy Meier can be seen weekdays from 9 a.m.-Noon.

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