The Iraqi Body Counts

Memo To: Sen. Pat Roberts [R KS] From: Jude Wanniski Re: More Bad Intelligence

As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Roberts, you have done the country a great service by issuing the committee's report on the errors made by the Intelligence Community [IC] that led to the President's decision to war against Iraq. You have also been good enough to acknowledge that if what is now known to be true — that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and no connection with 9-11 — there would not have been the votes in the Senate in November 2002 to authorize the use of force against Iraq should diplomacy fail. What seems to be the consensus view of the Intelligence Committee, especially its vice chairman Jay Rockefeller [D-WV], is that the IC came to believe the administration was bent on regime change in Iraq and the u201Cgroup thinku201D produced the erroneous intelligence. That is, the u201Cprocessu201D was flawed, directing information up the ladder to the Oval Office in ways that would support a war decision and suppress counter arguments that would prevent that flawed information flow.

It is human nature, Senator, that when you know the Boss wants information to justify an action he really wants to take, that's the way the process will work. Even when u201COmbudsmenu201D are put in place as a check on this human tendency, as already exist in the IC, the u201Ctruthu201D can always be subverted at the last minute at the very top of the information ladder — as it was when CIA Director George Tenet told President Bush it would be a u201Cslam dunku201D to prove Iraq had WMD, when Tenet knew full well that the IC could only speculate on that point.

The reason I write you today, Senator, is that a similar problem has come up with you. I'm afraid you are still relying on faulty intelligence in saying, as you did on the weekend talk shows, that the war could be justified because of Saddam's cruelty to his own people. Here is how you put it on u201CMeet the Press,u201D in response to a question from Tim Russert:

SEN. ROBERTS: Well, that was then. This is now. I know I stood on a gravesite at Hillah in Iraq and looked at 18,000 bodies being unearthed, you know, one at a time; 500,000 were dead. I think we’re probably in better shape. I know the people in Iraq are in better shape, if we can achieve the stability, which is a very tough challenge over there. But I don’t think anybody in terms of threat to regional stability, to Israel, the possibility of reconstituting – he did have the capability of the weapons of mass destruction. I think we’re better off without Saddam there.

I was a bit puzzled, Senator, because I have been following the u201Cgenocideu201D issue in Iraq for several years and wondered how you could get these numbers. If you were not chairman of the Intelligence Committee, I wouldn't bother you today, because most members of Congress have bought the genocide story that has become embedded in the national consciousness because it has been repeated too many times. As a result, I contacted your staff (your eyes and ears, so to speak), and asked: u201CCan you help me better understand where Senator Roberts gets the numbers of Iraqis killed by Saddam Hussein… particularly the number 500,000. He used it several times in the weekend talk shows. There have been reports of as many as 200,000 killed in the Anfal campaign of 1987–88, but so far no mass graves have been found in Kurdistan, none at all. The Senator also says he watched 18,000 bodies being unearthed at a gravesite at Hillah. The most recent number I’ve seen relating to that area is 2,200. The Senator’s inference is that these dead were victims of genocide, when all the accounts say the victims were Shiite rebels who were attempting to overthrow the government – and were of the belief the USA would come to protect them because they were incited to rebel by CIA agents.u201D

Your staff responded with an e-mail referring me to the now defunct website of the Coalition Provisional Authority, with the comment that my numbers were u201Cway too low.u201D

I went to the website and found a press release of the CPA that referred to a press conference given March 17 by US AID director Andrew Natsios: u201CIraqi and U.S. officials have prepared a long-range plan to excavate mass graves in Iraq and prepare forensic evidence of crimes against humanity…There are 300,000–400,000 bodies reported to lie in mass graves in Iraq.u201D The way Natsios put it: u201CHow many died in these mass murders? Some say 300,000. Some say 400,000. We are helping the Iraqis as they begin the terrible task of counting.u201D

See what I mean, you have already added another 100,000 to the mass murders, and as far as I know from following these accounts, not one body has been unearthed that can be identified as a victim of genocide. There are gravesites all over Iraq, but the u201Cforensic evidence of crimes against humanityu201D has yet to be presented. As I pointed out in my note to your staff, I had previously seen u201Creportsu201D of as many as 200,000 Iraqi Kurds killed by the Iraqi army at the end of the Iraq/Iran war, but if you would now ask your staff to check, they will have to tell you that so far no bodies at all have been found in connection with that u201CAnfalu201D campaign. The original charge of mass murder by gassing of the Kurds was made by then Secretary of State George Shultz on September 8, 1988, but when the Iraqi foreign minister asked Shultz for proof, Shultz said he could not do so as it would compromise his sources. Sadoun Mahmoudi, the foreign minister, then asked: u201CWhere are the victims?u201D

No kidding, Senator. It is now almost 16 years later and the victims have yet to be found. If you ask your top intelligence people on your committee to check, they will find articles in the contemporaneous press by journalists who traveled to Kurdistan during this uproar over genocide, and who could find no evidence of it. In fact, I think your committee staff will admit to you, if you asked, that the Intelligence Community has never been able to confirm these deaths. Indeed, if you read page 400 of your own committee's report, you will find under. “Information sources,u201D the following: u201CAccording to comments from IC analysts who spoke to Committee staff, a large part of the information available to the IC concerning human rights abuses was from refugees, defectors and opposition groups. The IC also depended on the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS). In all cases, verification of the reporting on human rights abuses was difficult… Unfortunately, the immigrant/refugee reporting usually could not be verified on the ground in Iraq.u201D

I hope you understand what's going on here, Senator. The IC is telling you the same people who supplied the erroneous intelligence about WMD and Al Qaeda connections to Iraq are the people who cooked up the genocide stories. Of course it is human nature for you to want to believe our government can be ultimately vindicated by a trial of Saddam that proves he was the mass murderer you believe him to be. The Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee should not have been snookered, but you were, and it has to be an embarrassment to suspect as much. But as I indicated to your staff, it will be an even greater embarrassment for you to discover how to this day you are relying on bad intelligence in your public statements. There were, for example, no 18,000 bodies at Hillah, a number suggested at the time when bodies in this battlefield area were unearthed. The latest number after 14 months of counting before the forensic experts left the area was 2,200. That's a lot of dead Iraqis, but they were encouraged to overthrow their government by our CIA, were they not? Kind of like the Bay of Pigs, yes? We can’t really accuse Fidel Castro of genocide when he put down the rebellion, or we would have to file charges against Abraham Lincoln.

In addition, Senator, there are fairly careful estimates that as many as 90,000 Iraqis — civilian and military — have died since we decided we had to save Iraq from Saddam and his genocidal impulses. That’s a lot of dead Iraqis.

You can go to Google as I did and run this down for yourself. It may not be a happy experience for you, but it should make you a better chairman.

July 14, 2004