The truth about Hussein's brutality
by Jim Babka
If Hussein's brutal dictatorship warranted war then we might also need to invade Zaire, Zimbabwe, Syria, Libya, China, and a host of other countries. You've probably heard this argument before. But you probably haven't heard that our own government has been complicit in much of Hussein's brutality.
Except where noted, the details for what follows can be found in the definitive works on this subject by the award-winning journalist Dilip Hiro, Iraq and The Iran-Iraq War.
- Our CIA placed Hussein's Ba'ath Party in power in 1963. Our politicians were complicit in the birth of this regime through an unconstitutional act of foreign aggression.
- In the late '70s President Carter encouraged Hussein to invade Iran, hoping the secular Hussein would remove the Islamic regime there.
One consequence of this invasion, aside from hundreds of thousands of deaths, was the brutal suppression of Iraq's non-Ba'athist political groups. Our politicians didn't protest these violations of human rights because Hussein was working for us.
- President Reagan continued Carter's pro-Hussein policy.
Hussein used chemical weapons against Iran. We didn't protest this brutal violation of international law. Instead, we worked to protect Iraq in the UN.
(Note: Bush, Jr. has repeatedly claimed that Hussein used chemical weapons against his own people during this time, but this claim has been disproved, as shown below.)
- Our complicity in Hussein's brutality continued under Bush, Sr.
Bush, Sr. called on the Iraqi people to overthrow Hussein. The Iraqi people responded. They expected U.S. support. They didn't receive it.
Hussein's army crushed the rebels while our jets flew overhead. We could have stopped Hussein, but Bush, Sr. ordered our military not to intervene. The Bush administration felt the wrong people were responding to our call for revolt. They wanted Hussein's officers to remove him instead, so the dictatorial regime would remain in place, only without Saddam.
Colin Powell and Dick Cheney were on the National Security Council at that time. They were involved in these decisions. Our government was once again complicit in Hussein's brutality. (For an insider's view of these events see The World Transformed by Bush, Sr.'s National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft—note the ironic title.)
- After Gulf War I our politicians added to the brutality in Iraq by imposing trade sanctions.
These sanctions didn't just cover weapons materials. They mostly affected food and medicine. It's hard to see why. Our politicians have already made it clear they don't want the Iraqi people to revolt, so their purpose isn't to cause a general uprising. But the sanctions aren't likely to cause Hussein's officers to revolt either—he makes sure his officers have the best of everything. So all the sanctions have done is kill innocent people, and cause the Iraqi people to hate America more than they hate Hussein.
As with Castro in Cuba, trade sanctions against Iraq have only served to strengthen Hussein's grip on his people.
- But the embargo has continued through the Clinton administration to the present day.
A minor exception has been made to allow Iraq to trade oil for small amounts of food and medicine. It isn't enough. The Iraqi people still starve and die.
Our politicians don't care. On May 12, 1996 Leslie Stahl interviewed Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on "60 Minutes." Stahl claimed that "More than 500,000 Iraqi children are already dead as a direct result of the UN sanctions." She then asked, "Do you think the price is worth paying?" Albright did not dispute the number of deaths, or that our policy caused them. Instead, she said, "It is a difficult question. But yes, we think the price is worth it."
That's easy for her to say. Her children aren't dying. And it's hard to see what, exactly, our politicians think is "worth it," since the sanctions can't cause either the Iraqi people, or Hussein's officers to revolt, and not even Hussein's full compliance with UN resolutions would lift the embargo.
Albright made this last point perfectly clear in another interview on "Meet the Press" on January 2, 2000. In that interview Albright admitted that the true purpose of the sanctions was regime change and not weapons control. She stated that the sanctions would not be lifted until Hussein was gone, even if he complied with all UN weapons controls. The current Bush administration has continued this policy.
Our embargo policy leads to a very serious moral question. Can we really expect Arabs to care about our thousands of victims from 9-11, when we are the heartless cause of hundreds of times as many Arab deaths? How would we feel if our children were starving and dying because of an Arab oil embargo? For that matter, how did we feel when the Arabs embargoed us in the 1970s? People who were alive then will remember that many Americans wanted us to invade them, conquer them, and even nuke them!
Can we really point to Hussein's brutality against his own people as justification for war, when our brutality against the Iraqi people has been so much worse?
- But even Hussein's brutality against his own people has been greatly exaggerated by our government, purely for propaganda purposes. Bush officials never tire of repeating the following stories as justification for their policy:
- Hussein gassed his own people.
- Hussein tried to assassinate George Bush, Sr.
- Hussein's soldiers took babies out of incubators during the invasion of Kuwait.
These stories make for great propaganda, but none of them are true, and the Bush administration knows it.
- Saddam Hussein did not gas his own people.
Supposedly Hussein gassed Iraqi Kurds at Halabja in March 1988 during the closing days of the Iran-Iraq war. But it isn't true. In 1990, the U.S. government found that the Kurds died by cyanide gas. It was the Iranians who used cyanide, while the Iraqis used mustard gas. This means it was the Iranians who accidentally killed the Kurds during battle. Hussein had nothing to do with it. (Source: Army War College, Stephen Pelletier & colleague)
In a related lie, Hussein is also said to have committed genocide in August 1988, killing 100,000 Iraqi Kurds with machine guns, then burying them in mass graves. U.S. intelligence services have uniformly dismissed this story. According to Stephen Pelletier of the U.S. Army War College, no such mass graves have ever been found because none exist. The incident never happened. Human Rights Watch, which originally reported the story, has since retracted it, but the lie lives on.
- Saddam Hussein did not try to assassinate George Bush, Sr.
Bush, Jr. loves to tell the story of how Hussein "tried to kill my dad." But it's not true. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh debunked the story in a December 5, 1993 article in The New Yorker titled "A Case Not Closed." The bomb was actually miles away from Bush, Sr. and was likely a set-up by Kuwait to keep Clinton from easing sanctions on Iraq.
- Saddam Hussein's soldiers did not remove babies from incubators in Kuwait.
A New York public relations firm hired by the Kuwaiti government created this story to win American public support for U.S. military action against Iraq. The fiction was based on the tearful testimony of a Kuwaiti woman before the U.S. Senate as it debated war in 1990. The woman claimed to have witnessed the incubator incident with her own eyes, but she was really the daughter of the Kuwaiti Information Minister, and hadn't even been in Kuwait on the day the alleged atrocity took place. (See csmonitor.com/2002/ 0906/p01s02-wosc.html.)
In conclusion, Bush's claim that we should go to war because Hussein (our former client) is a brutal dictator is blatant hypocrisy. Our politicians have been the great creators and patrons of dictatorships around the world. They have…
- Toppled the legitimate government of Iran for the benefit of U.S. oil companies, eventually leading to the Islamic revolution and its related problems,
- Installed dictatorships in Central America for the benefit of the United Fruit Company,
- Installed the current government of Iraq,
- Destabilized a working democracy in Lebanon, leading to decades of civil war,
- Assassinated the elected President of Chile,
- And on and on and on…
(See Endless Enemies by Jonathan Kwitny, The Fifties by David Halberstam, and The Price of Power by Seymour Hersh for details about the above list of CIA interventions.)
If our politicians really want to adopt an anti-dictatorship policy they can start by…
- Renouncing any future use of the CIA to topple or impose governments on other countries,
- Apologize to the people of the world for past such activities,
- Cease propping up existing dictatorships with foreign aid and/or pretending we're putting pressure on them with counterproductive trade sanctions.
- Stop fulminating war against Iraq.