Fool Me Once . . .

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I
recently received this message from an acquaintance . . . 

I
think it is simply perverse of you to claim that Iraqis are no freer
than they were under Saddam. The mass graves are being exhumed,
not added to; the prison rape rooms are shut down; Saddam and his
thugs are going on trial; and instead of ripping themselves apart
in a vicious civil war, Iraqi Shiites, Kurds, secularists, and even
Sunnis are busily engaged in politics. No freer? Come on, Harry!
Don’t let your animus against Bush and the war blind you to the
good American arms have accomplished.

I
can well understand why the message-writer feels as he does. After
all, rarely does a day go by when you aren't reminded by politicians,
TV announcers and commentators, or radio talk-show hosts of the
terrible acts Saddam Hussein committed.

And
the orgy of celebrations that occurred on American TV on Iraqi Election
Day, January 31 – hammering home the idea that the war had
been worth it after all – was "Mission Accomplished"
all over again. It was enough to convince almost anyone that, whatever
mistakes had been made, it turned out that George Bush was right
to persevere and forcibly impose his way upon Iraq.

In
what way was he right?

Well,
he's been proven right to think that he could forcibly remake Iraq
into a peaceful democracy. And the elections were clear evidence
that Iraq is better now than when it was ruled by an evil, brutal
dictator who mistreated his downtrodden subjects.

Meanwhile,
Back at Reality . . . 

Or
so we're being told.

In
a moment we'll look at the charges made against Saddam Hussein –
charges made so frequently that we come to believe that no one could
possibly doubt them.

But
let's begin by trying to gauge how free and democratic Iraq has
become.

The
Free Society

The

list of restrictions imposed
by the U.S. military on Iraqi citizens
is quite lengthy.

The
Iraqis must carry ID cards at all times, there's barbed wire around
many cities, people must be in their homes by curfew time, there
are still roadblocks and checkpoints, American troops sometimes
arrest families and hold them as hostages until suspected "terrorists"
surrender, private property is frequently demolished, there are
prohibitions on protests, and so on.

There's
more about this in my December 2003 article "How
Do I Liberate Thee? Let Me Count the Ways
." Very little
has changed since I wrote it.

More
than likely, a lot of Iraqis are ecstatic that Hussein is gone.
It's just as likely, however, that many Iraqis are doing what people
in occupied countries have been doing since time immemorial –
saying whatever the occupiers, in this case the U.S. military, like
to hear. And there may be quite a few who find it hard to choose
between an orderly police state and a chaotic, violent foreign occupation.

I
wouldn't be so presumptuous as to try to guess how much better off
Iraqis are today.

The
Unfree

However,
I am so presumptuous as to assert that there's one group
of Iraqis who are not better off or freer than they were
under Hussein. And that group is the people killed by the U.S. military.

We
don't really know how many Iraqis have died in the war and the occupation.
The U.S. government has made it a point
to ignore the number of Iraqi fatalities
. As General Tommy Franks
said, "We don't do body counts."

But
several private agencies have attempted to estimate the fatalities.

The
Project on Defense Alternatives
estimated that about 13,000
Iraqis died just in the first seven months of the war. However,
the British
medical group Medact
put the number between 21,700 and 55,000
for that same 7-month period.

The
Iraq Body Count Project
has counted about 18,000 deaths just
among civilians – and counting only those deaths that have
been reported in the media. But the Iraqi
Freedom Party
has surveyed the country and counted 37,157 deaths
among civilians alone.


The British medical journal The Lancet
, by extrapolating
from the information it could get from hospitals and morgues, said
the death toll could be as high as 100,000 – including both
civilians and soldiers.

There
probably never will be an authoritative body count. But we do know
that it's at least in the tens of thousands of Iraqis – including
thousands and thousands of civilians.

Who
are we to condemn those people to death – just to fulfill the
fantasy of an American President who knows virtually nothing about
Iraq, its people, its culture, or its history?

And
when did it become the business of the U.S. government to decide
which foreign countries should have their governments violently
deposed? Just where in the Constitution is the President or Congress
authorized to do that with our money – putting our lives at
risk of retaliation in the process?

The
Peaceful Politics

And
it amazes me that anyone could place Iraq in the column of free,
democratic, peaceful countries just because one election was held.

Elections
were held in the old Iraq, in Nazi Germany, in the Soviet Union
– and are held today in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and in virtually
every one of the dictatorships around the world. Holding an election
means virtually nothing.

Iraq
should really be three different nations – Sunni, Shiite, and
Kurdish. Instead, the three should-be nations have been joined at
the hip and are expected to operate a British-style parliament.

In
the two months since the election, the parliament has met only twice
– the second time erupting into shouting and screaming.

The
unique characteristic of government is force. What happens
when the three groups begin deciding how that force is going to
be used? What happens when one of the three gains the power to forcibly
impose its way upon the others?

I
really don't think you can label Iraq a peaceful, working democracy
until it's been operating efficiently for ten years or so. If then
it resembles the Canadian parliament on C-SPAN, it might be fair
to proclaim "Mission Accomplished."

Our
Inside Source

The
issues of whether Iraqis are really free and whether the country's
grand democratic experiment will succeed are important and interesting.
But the issue that really fascinates me is the recitation of Saddam
Hussein's record.

We
all know about the terrible things he did.

But
how do we know about them?

We
know about them because George Bush and his cohorts have told us
so.

In
fact, virtually all we know about Saddam Hussein and his dictatorship
are what the Bush administration has told us.

And
how do they know?

Well,
they know because their pre-war sources inside Iraq told them so.

Those
same sources – along with the CIA, the State Department, the
Defense Department, and other Bush advisors – created the stories
about
mobile laboratories
, aluminum
tubes
, unmanned
aircraft
that could carry WMDs to America’s east coast, ballistic
missiles
that could threaten the whole Middle East,
uranium purchases in Africa
, Al-Qaeda
training camps in Iraq
, and much more.

And

George Bush repeated to us verbatim all these unverified assertions
.
However, he didn't mention that they were unverified. He didn't
say he had "reason to believe," or that he thought "there
might be," or "it's possible that." He delivered
these assertions as simple, definite, undeniable facts –
as certain as that Cincinnati is in the state of Ohio.

It
turned out that not one of these undeniable facts was true. Whether
George Bush knew they were false or was himself deceived, one thing
is sure: George Bush is a very poor source of information about
Saddam Hussein or Iraq.

So
when trying to decide now whether to believe what Bush says about
Saddam Hussein, remember the old adage: "Fool me once, shame
on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

And
in fact George Bush has tried to fool us more than a dozen times
– not only about Iraq, but about his claims to be for
limited government
, or his claims that judges and politicians
should stick
to the Constitution
.

So
we should set aside the Bush assertions and look at each piece of
evidence through fresh, independent eyes.

Rape
Rooms & Torture Chambers

What
is it that everyone knows about Saddam Hussein?

The
message-writer alludes to these things when he says, "The mass
graves are being exhumed, not added to; the prison rape rooms are
shut down." He didn't bring up the gassing of the Kurds. He
might also have mentioned the torture chambers – but for obvious
reasons Saddam-haters have found it a bit embarrassing to mention
those since we've become aware of the treatment of prisoners
at Abu Ghraib
and
other prisons
operated by the American military.

As
badly as George Bush has needed good news about Iraq and verification
for his claims that it was worth going to war with Iraq, you'd think
that we would constantly be seeing pictures of rape rooms and torture
chambers on TV, on the Internet, and in newspapers and magazines
– together with detailed 1-2-3 explanations of the way each
sadistic apparatus operated. This is the way the media normally
operates with such stories – showing scenes over and over and
over again.

But
I haven't seen a single one.

Have
you?

But
George Bush says . . . [well, you've heard it
all a dozen times].

Fool
me twice, shame on me.

Gassing
his Own People

But
of course we all know that Hussein gassed his own people at Halabja.

After
all, George Bush has told us so – and told us so and told us
so.

However,
the verdict on that is far from settled. Because the event occurred
on the battle line during the Iraq-Iran war, it's
entirely possible that the gas came from the Iranians
(both
sides used gas), or – if from the Iraqis – that it was
directed at the Iranian soldiers. And if the gassing was done by
Iraqi soldiers, it was done with
chemical weapons that came from the United States
. If it was
such a terrible act, why did
the Reagan administration
make it possible?

Lastly,
if gassing your "own people" is such a heinous act, why
did the U.S. government do it at Waco in 1993?

The
Mass Graves

The
"Mass Grave" atrocity has always puzzled me.

Why
is it somehow more heinous to bury people in mass graves, rather
than in individual graves?

Obviously,
anyone wants his loved ones to be honored and buried in a respectable,
individual grave. But it may be that the circumstances of someone's
death – in war or in an epidemic – preclude that possibility.

However,
whenever George Bush utters the words "mass graves," we're
all supposed to react in horror that someone would be so sadistic
as to have authorized mass graves.

But
the relevant question is: why are there mass graves?

I
may have dozed off once or twice, but I haven't heard anyone answer
that question. I guess we're supposed to assume that Saddam Hussein
executed so many opponents of his regime that they had to dump all
the dead bodies in huge, mass graves.

So
is that what happened?

Possibly,
but I haven't seen any proof of it. No pictures, no eye-witness
accounts. Just uttering the words "mass graves" over and
over like a mantra. From what we've seen, you'd be hard put to believe
there even are any mass graves.

But
in fact they do exist – some of them for certain, and several
others possibly. Here are a few I'm aware of . . . 

  1. In February
    1991, just after the start of the brief Gulf War, there was a
    large fight at the "Neutral Zone" located at the Iraq-Saudi
    border. American troops slaughtered thousands of Iraqi soldiers,
    after which
    American earth-movers plowed the Iraqis
    into the ground and
    covered them up. Possibly thousands of Iraqis were buried in the
    mass graves the American military created.
  2. Near the
    end of the 1991 Gulf War, U.S. troops slaughtered thousands of
    Iraqi soldiers who were retreating from Kuwait. Once again, the

    dead soldiers were plowed into the ground
    . I can only wonder
    what weeds will grow from those seeds.

  3. One mass grave near a Baghdad palace
    is known to contain Iraqi
    soldiers who died when American soldiers stormed Baghdad.
  4. When the
    U.S. Marines destroyed Fallujah, at least 600 Iraqis died –
    and most of them were buried in
    mass graves set up in soccer fields
    , called the "Graveyard
    of the Martyrs" by Fallujah residents.

Those
four sets of mass graves have been documented. But (to the best
of my knowledge) they haven't been shown on TV – probably because
it was the U.S. military that created them. There may be other mass
graves as well. For example . . . 

5.
In the 1980s, Iraq and Iran fought a terrible war in which, most
likely, hundreds of thousands of people died. It's certainly possible
that many of them were buried in mass graves.

6.
Lastly, perhaps the ghastliest possibility has to do with the end
of the 1991 Gulf War.
George Bush Sr. exhorted the Iraqi people
to "take matters
into your own hands and force Saddam to step aside." This provoked
a tremendous uprising that won a few victories against the Iraqi
army.

The
Iraqi rebels naturally assumed that the U.S. military was going
to help them "force Saddam to step aside." But George
H.W. Bush suddenly reversed himself, and
the U.S. military did everything possible to prevent the
uprising from succeeding
. As a result, the Iraqi Republican
Army slaughtered thousands of Iraqis.


A mass grave near Al Hillah
was unearthed in the summer of 2003,
producing the bodies of 900 of the Shiites who were massacred as
a consequence of George H.W. Bush's false promises.

Fool
me thrice, and a lot of Iraqis die.

In
2003 the U.S. State Department produced a webpage
designed to make us repulsed by the horrible mass graves in Iraq.
However, for some unexplained reason, it doesn't mention that some
of the graves were created by the U.S. military.

Fool
me quadrupily, what's the matter with me?

P.S.
Do you remember all the talk about the mass graves in which Serbs
supposedly buried up to 100,000 innocent Kosovo civilians during
the NATO war of 1999? Well, it turned out that the investigative
teams of the War Crimes Tribunal
couldn't find evidence of
even one grave that might be called "mass."

Fool
me quintupily, and I'd better see a therapist.

The
Devil Incarnate

So
what do we know for sure about Saddam Hussein?

If
we set aside all the assertions of the Bush administration –
and the parroting of those assertions by the media – we don't
actually know very much.

Non-Bush
sources indicate that, under Hussein, Iraq was a secular nation
– possibly the most advanced and best educated of the Muslim
countries – but a brutal, one-party dictatorship, similar to
those in Pakistan, Turkminestan, Uzbekistan, and some of the others
that George Bush likes to call "our partners in the war on
terror."

I'm
sure I wouldn't have liked living in Iraq pre-2003. And I'm sure
I wouldn't like living there now either.

I
have little doubt that Saddam Hussein was a very bad man (as is
virtually any human being who has such power at his disposal). But
I refuse to accept all the propaganda about him – no matter
how many times it's repeated and no matter how many people repeat
it. It still comes primarily from the man who brought us The Great
Myth of WMDs and a dozen more related "facts" that proved
to be whoppers.

Fool
me sextupily, and I shouldn't be allowed out of the house.

So
I'm not convinced – and not likely to become convinced –
that what is going on in Iraq now was worth the deaths of tens of
thousands of human beings – human beings who, if they could
talk, might not agree with George Bush that "freedom is always
worth it."

But
then, I value human life.

And
I don't value the assertions of people who have proven to have no
respect for the truth.

Fool
me once, shame on Bush.

Fool
me two dozen times, I'd have to be nuts.

April
1, 2005

Harry Browne [send
him mail
], the author of Why
Government Doesn’t Work

and many other books, was the Libertarian presidential candidate
in 1996 and 2000. See his website.

Harry
Browne Archives

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