To: David Broder, Washington Post
Remember, David, back on Sept. 27 I posted a memo
on the margin that I wrote to you, complimenting you on your
column about how the news media had been u201Closing their wayu201D? It
had to do with your observation that the major news media was chasing
sham stories while not asking serious questions about the most important
topics of the day, including the war in Iraq — which both your newspaper
and The New York Times acknowledged in price, apologizing
for not being more aggressive in the months leading up to the President's
decision to go to war. In my note you, I suggested you look into
the long-held conventional wisdom that Saddam Hussein committed
genocide, a view largely propagated by Human Rights Watch. The organization
estimated that as many as 290,000 Iraqis were killed by Saddam during
his reign, with 100,000 Kurds slaughtered in 1988, in the last months
of the Iran/Iraq war. Prime Minister Tony Blair at one point said
as many as 400,000 Iraqis had been killed by Saddam's regime.
Partly as a result of the HRW assertions, the Bush administration
justified its use of force to replace the duly constituted government
in Baghdad. The most recent estimates of the dead total 100,000
Iraqi civilians and 60,000 to 80,000 Iraqi military, plus the almost
1200 Americans who have died during the course of the war. We are
currently bombing the 300,000 people of Falluja in hopes of pacifying
the city and may wind up leveling it altogether. Is the sky the
limit on what it will take to bring freedom and democracy to the
people of Iraq? Don't you wonder?
Meanwhile, this week Human Rights Watch issued its long-awaited
conclusive report on Saddam's genocidal record. As far as I know,
the major news media has not picked up the report, which
is available on the Internet at HRW's website. I read about
the report in the British press. It turns out that in 19 months
HRW's experts have not been able to find the missing 100,000 bodies
it said were of Kurds who had been rounded up and trucked south
of Kurdistan, machine-gunned to death and buried in mass graves.
In fact, it now blames the U.S. coalition for not securing those
mass graves containing smaller numbers of Iraqis or keeping looters
from carrying off official Iraqi records of the genocide and the
mass graves. You should read the report in its entirety, David,
and maybe you will get your editors to take a look too. Here are
two pertinent graphs from the summary:
the case of both documents and mass graves, U.S.-led coalition
forces failed to secure the relevant sites at the time of the
overthrow of the former government. They subsequently failed to
put in place the professional expertise and assistance necessary
to ensure proper classification and exhumation procedures, with
the result that key evidentiary materials have been lost or tainted.
In the case of mass graves, these failures also have frustrated
the goal of enabling families to know the fate of missing relatives.
The findings of the report are all the more disturbing against
the backdrop of a tribunal established to bring justice for serious
past crimes, the Iraqi Special Tribunal. Human Rights Watch has
serious concerns that the tribunal is fundamentally flawed and
may be incapable of delivering justice.
The extent of the negligence with which key documentary and forensic
evidence has been treated to date is surprising, given that the
U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi authorities alike knew that trials
of Hussein and key Ba’th government officials would be important
landmarks in Iraq's political recovery, that successful trials
require solid evidence, and that, as international experience
has shown, preserving such trial-ready evidence is a difficult
task. Some of the evidence has been destroyed, but it is not too
late to assume custody of millions of additional pieces of evidence.
Some of this material, if it is given the urgent attention it
needs and deserves, may prove critical in the proceedings of the
upcoming trials. It will also play an important role as Iraqis
attempt to construct an accurate historical record of their traumatic
experiences under Ba’th Party rule.
you see what I mean? Saddam Hussein will soon be put on trial for
crimes against humanity, and the Iraqi prosecutors will not have
the goods on him.
Now that the election is over, maybe you will have more time to
devote to this exercise. You should at least give a call to Dr.
Stephen Pelletiere, the retired CIA analyst who has never believed
in the genocide stories, but has awaited the report of Human Rights
Watch to see what it has found. After reading the report in its
entirety, he told me they had, as he expected, come up empty:
claim of HRW that they haven’t got evidence that will stand up
because the graves have been compromised, overlooks one key fact:
they were claiming that the Ba’th killed hundreds of thousands.
If these graves really contained all the bodies they’re supposed
to contain, the numbers of dead alone would convict the Ba’th.
If you read the report, they say over and over again they “believe”
such-and-such a grave actually contains thousands of bodies; but
all they’ve been able to find is a few score (at best). I think
that’s what gives the scam away. They can’t produce the hundreds
of thousands, or even the tens of thousands they promised they
to get lots and lots of reporters interested in the story, David,
but in every case they have a reason why they just can't do it at
this time. They've lost their way, as you noted. As the dean of
the Washington press corps, you should please help them find it.