Memo 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 “gassed his own people,” 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, “Town That Bled Under Hussein Hails His Trial.” 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:
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 dispatch:
"Other 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 an 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 “finds no evidence whatsoever that the Iraqis have ever employed blood gasses,” 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 that these 150,000 bodies were supposed to be buried have yield 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 he 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.