A Fair Trial for Saddam?

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To: New York Times Editors
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: At least in the Times, OK?

Please be assured that if Saddam Hussein gets a fair trial when
he is brought before an Iraqi court later this year, and is convicted
of crimes against humanity, I would applaud his execution if it
comes to that. As many of you know from my periodic e-mails, I have
for years been disputing assertions made in the mass media in general
and the Times in particular that Saddam is known to have
u201Cgassed his own people,u201D committing mass genocide. It has not mattered
how much evidence I presented to you as editors or reporters, or
to the newspaper's ombudsman, the news dispatches regarding the
genocide issue continue to make the same unproven assertions. In
your Sunday edition, a front-page piece by your chief foreign correspondent,
John F. Burns, wrote under the headline, u201CTown That Bled Under Hussein
Hails His Trial.u201D In one paragraph, John made several of the key
unsupported assertions that prompted me to write to him directly
yesterday, following with this memo to you today. Here is the e-mail
I sent him:

Dear John:

Your account of Dujail in today’s Times is the first I’ve
seen in such detail and I’m sure the townspeople remember the great
loss of life and many would like to see Saddam executed. I’m not
sure Saddam could be convicted in a western court, given the fact
that there was an attempt to assassinate him to effect regime change….
because, as you wrote, many in Dujail “despised him for starting
a war with Iran, Iraq’s Shiite neighbor.”

I would only quibble with your assertion that he started the war
with Iran. My reading of history is that when the Ayatollah Khomeini
came to power in Iran, he urged the Shiites to overthrow the secular
government in Iraq, and although Saddam did all he could to appease
the Shiites, they were bent on fulfilling the Ayatollah’s wishes
and made several attempts in several places to oust the secular
government. And of course, at the time the US was doing all it could
to assist Saddam, who was the enemy of our enemy in Tehran.

There is more than a quibble in the following paragraph of your

crimes for which Mr. Hussein is likely to face eventual prosecution,
in separate trials, include the Anfal campaign – the Arabic
word means spoils – of the late 1980’s, in which as many
as 150,000 Kurds were killed, many shot and dumped into mass graves,
others killed in poison-gas attacks; the chemical weapons attack
on the Kurdish town of Halabja in March 1988 that killed about
5,000, which is likely to be treated as a separate case, like
Dujail; and the repression of a Shiite rebellion in southern Iraq
in 1991, in which 150,000 people are believed to have been killed.
Also under investigation by the tribunal are the executions of
more than 200 Baath Party leaders after Mr. Hussein seized power
in 1979.”

  1. If you
    would have said “as many as 150,000 Kurds were ALLEGED TO
    HAVE BEEN killed, I would have had no problem, but there is
    no evidence that ANY Kurds were killed in the so-called Anfal
    campaign. The first account was that 80,000 Kurds had been
    rounded up in the last months of the war with Iran, gassed
    to death, and buried in mass graves. Human Rights Watch supported
    this story for many years until the very idea of gassing people
    in open fields was not supported by any specialist in bio-warfare.
    Besides, no “killing fields” were ever found in Kurdistan
    where the deaths allegedly occurred. Four years ago, Human
    Rights Watch then changed its story. In a
    letter to the NYT
    , it said there had been 100,000
    Kurds rounded up in Kurdistan, put in trucks and transported
    outside the Kurdistan protected no-fly zone, taken out and
    machine-gunned to death and buried in mass graves. Joost Hiltermann,
    who had been the lead HRW advocate on this matter, told me
    they would find these killing fields once the US liberated
    Iraq from Saddam and the places where the Anfal dead were
    buried could be located. To this day, those “dead” have not
    been found. The chief CIA analyst covering the Iran/Iraq war
    (1980–88), Stephen Pelletiere, has written that the Anfal
    campaign never happened, that it was a hoax perpetrated by
    the anti-Saddam Kurd leaders who supported Iran during the
    war with Iraq.

  2. If you
    go to the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate of September
    2002, you will find that to this day the CIA dismisses Anfal
    as hearsay in the process of reporting on Iraq’s use of chemical
    weapons in the war with Iran (a fact that Iraq never disputed,
    especially amid fairly credible reports that the US assisted
    Iraq in getting the ground weapons used to fire mustard-gas
    cannisters against Iranian human-wave attacks. In that same
    report, the CIA disputes your assertion that “the chemical weapons
    attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in March 1988 that killed
    about 5,000.” If you do a
    simple check on the CIA public website
    , you will find they
    say the last known time Iraq used gas was in March 1988, which
    the CIA says killed “hundreds,” not 5000. Of course, if Saddam
    had ordered the gassing of his own Iraqi Kurds, even one who
    died of poison gas would be enough to convict. But the official
    reports of our own Intelligence Community conclude that there
    was an exchange of gas attacks between the Iraqi and Iranian
    armies at Halabja and those civilians who died were caught in
    a crossfire… and were most likely casualties of the Iranians,
    using a cyanide agent that the Iraqis were not known to possess.
    A Marine
    Corps report
    of December 10, 1990, on chemical weapons used
    in the war also u201Cfinds no evidence whatsoever that the Iraqis
    have ever employed blood gasses,u201D which the Army war college
    says were used by the Iranians and caused the civilian deaths
    at Halabja.

  3. There
    was of course a Shiite rebellion in southern Iraq in 1991, at
    the tail end of the Gulf War, when the US decision was made
    not to chase the Iraqi army all the way from Kuwait to Baghdad,
    but to stop at the border and use the CIA to promote a civilian
    overthrow of the Baghdad regime… similar to the 1982 attempt
    at Dujail which you wrote about today. Saddam’s army did put
    down the insurrection, but once again reports that 150,000 had
    been killed and dumped into mass graves were part of the story
    used prior to President Bush’s decision to go to war. Since
    the occupation that began two years ago, the area where these
    150,000 bodies were supposed to be buried has yielded only a
    report of a mass grave containing 2,200, and there have been
    no forensic experts able to confirm that this much smaller number
    of Shiites killed during a CIA-fomented uprising against the
    central government were actually killed at that time for that
    reason. [Chairman Pat Roberts of the Senate Intelligence Committee
    told the press last year that he stood at that site where 18,000
    bodies had been exhumed and that as many as 500,000 were there
    in all. I wrote
    to him at the time
    and got no response. But at least he
    stopped using these numbers.]

  4. I don’t
    know anything definitive about allegations that after Saddam
    “seized power” in 1979, he had 200 members of the Baath Party
    executed. That’s a long time ago and I suppose if in the power
    struggle at the time, Saddam had been defeated by the other
    faction of the Baath Party, he might have gone up in smoke.
    But I have no other thoughts on that point.

You can see, John, why I would take the trouble to straighten you
out on these matters. The Times has already had to apologize to
its readers once for the war in Iraq, in that it did not exercise
due diligence in putting the assertions of the Bush administration
to the test. You also know I think you did a poor job in the run-up
to the war as the Times chief correspondent in Baghdad. You know
I urged Times executive editor Bill Keller to send you to Baghdad
in early 2002 because I’ve admired your work for decades as the
chief foreign correspondent of the world’s most important newspaper.
Alas, you became a cheerleader for war, based on interviews you
had with Iraqi dissidents who told you how much they wanted Saddam
deposed. I’d thought you would know by now that you could go into
any troubled country in the world and find an endless supply of
dissidents who would love the United States to send 200,000 troops
to oust their present leader. Instead, you let your feelings get
the best of you, and I think you are still tilting in that direction
as the Iraqi interim government prepares to put Saddam in the docket
and then execute him.

Good luck in any event. I’d hate to see anything happen to you.

5, 2005

Wanniski [send him mail]
runs the financial/political advisory service Wanniski.com.

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