A War Crime or an Act
Memo on the Margin
In Defense of Saddam Hussein
To: Barbara Crossette, New York Times
We may have had this discussion before, Barbara, but perhaps not, so Iíll do it now. You report in your article ( "Iraq Is Forcing Kurds From Their Homes, the U.N. Reports", 12-11-00) that "[i]n 1987 and 1988, 50,000 to 100,000 Kurds were gassed to death with chemical agent by Mr. [Saddam] Husseinís government." You attribute the claim to "American officials" but provide no further details. Iím fairly certain the claim that Saddam Hussein used chemical warfare against Iraqi Kurds was part of the demonization campaign against Iraq in preparation for the war against that country by the U.S. and its allies. What a monster! If he would slaughter his own people, he must be some kind of bad guy.
Letís go back to 1988, when the patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party had united and had joined in Iranís war efforts against Iraq. Iraq was accused by Teheran of using mustard gas and cyanide against the Kurds in the Halabjeh region, but even the Iranians put the number of casualties at 3,000 to 5,000 -- never at the figures you cite. Although both Iran and Iraq had engaged in chemical warfare during their conflict, the deaths of civilians in Halabjeh provoked condemnation from throughout the world. Iraq denied the charges, but the campaign to attribute the atrocities to Iraq was already in full swing. Consequently, the disclosure by U.S. officials that Iran also had used chemical weapons at Halabjeh received little circulation in the media. This, despite the fact that the case against Iran, in fact, was very strong. For example, in reviewing classified information, U.S. analysts determined that the Kurds had been killed by cyanide, and that only the Iranians possessed cyanide gas at the time.
Not only was the evidence weak against Iraq and strong that Iran had carried out the chemical warfare attacks in Halabjeh, but subsequent charges that Iraq was carrying out further gas attacks on the Kurds were found to be without evidence. Turkish doctors treating ailing Kurds could not verify the use of poison gas on them, and the U.S. Army War College study in early 1990 also found it impossible to determine if gas had been used by the Iraqis in further attacks.
In the Spring of 1988, an anti-Iraq campaign was heating up, with various officials resurrecting the allegation that Saddam Hussein had gassed his own people. I am concerned such a campaign may be underway again, now that the U.S.-imposed sanctions on Iraq are beginning to break down. As a respected journalist, I think you have an obligation to provide the evidence to back up allegations such as the claim that 50,000 to 100,000 Kurds were gassed by Saddam Hussein. Check as much as you wish, but you will find no evidence for that charge. I enclose here memos I sent to National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms in which I pointed out how recklessly U.S. policy toward Baghdad was being manipulated by the circulation of such charges. Please do some digging, lest you become a mere instrument of those in pursuit of a new offensive against Iraq.
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November 18, 1998
Did Saddam Hussein Gas His Own People?
Memo To: Sandy Berger, National Security Advisor
On the Jim Lehrer News Hour Monday night, you repeated the assertion that Saddam Hussein "gassed his own people." As the Presidentís National Security Advisor, I had assumed you of all people would not make such assertions without having supporting evidence. Early this year, on the supposition that the Iraqi situation would blow up again, I made serious inquiries about this charge. On April 7, I sent the following memo to Chairman Jesse Helms of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If you have better information, Mr. Berger, I hope you can supply it, as this is the most serious of all charges made against Saddam Hussein. The Iraqis readily acknowledge using chemical weapons against Iran a few times late in the war, but using such weapons in wartime is not nearly as serious as "gassing his own people."
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To Senator Helms:
I continue to make inquiry into the situation in Iraq, as it is likely to brew up into another crisis one of these days when the United Nations has no choice but to conclude that Iraq is not hiding any weapons of mass destruction -- or if they are, they are so well hidden that nobody is going to find them. As you know, Iím sure, the warhawks in the United States will continue to insist that the embargo remain in place no matter what, and there will be assertions from around the world that we have not been acting in good faith. As you also know, I believe there are serious questions regarding our behavior toward Iraq that go back further. You would agree, I think, that at the very least our State Department gave a "green light" to Saddam Hussein to go into Kuwait in August 1990. The more I read of the events of the period, the more I believe history will record that the Gulf War was unnecessary, perhaps even that Saddam Hussein was willing to retreat back to his borders, but our government decided we preferred the war to the status quo ante.
In my previous correspondence with you on this matter, I had been in a quandary about the state of our relations with Baghdad during that critical period. In the months immediately preceding the "green light" given by our Ambassador, April Glaspie, a number of your Senate colleagues including Bob Dole had traveled to Baghdad, met with Saddam, and found him to be a head of state worthy of support. Even Sen. Howard Metzenbaum [D-OH], a Jewish liberal and staunch supporter of Israel, gave him a seal of approval. What disturbs me even now, Jesse, is that these meetings occurred after the Senate Foreign Relations committee had accused Iraq of using poison gas against its own people, i.e., the Kurds. Like all other Americans, in recent years I had assumed that what I read in the papers was true about Iraq gassing its own people. Once the war drums again began beating last November, I decided to read up on the history, and found Iraq denied having used gas against its own people. Furthermore, I heard that a Pentagon investigation at the time had also turned up no hard evidence of Saddam gassing his own people.
1.4 million Iraqi civilians have died as a result of sanctions
This is serious stuff, because the United Nations tells us that 1.4 million Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the sanctions, which is three thousand times more than the number of Kurds who supposedly died of gassing at the hands of Saddam. Many of my old Cold Warrior friends practically DEMAND that we not lift the sanctions because if Saddam would gas his own people, he would gas anyone. Now I have come across the 1990 Pentagon report, published just prior to the invasion of Kuwait. Its authors are Stephen C. Pelletiere, Douglas V. Johnson II, and Leif R. Rosenberger, of the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. War College at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The report is 93 pages, but I append here only the passages having to do with the aforementioned issue:
Iraqi Power and U.S. Security in the Middle East
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I wonder, Senator, had you ever read this material? The entire report is worth reading, as a matter of fact, because of its credibility on the threshold of the Iraqi invasion. The authors are quite emphatic, by the way, in stating that Iraq was struggling for its financial survival at this point -- because of its debts from the Iranian war, and the decline of the world oil price. That is, they did not believe Iraq would have expansionist designs in the Middle East for years to come, given how financially flattened they had been.
It does seem to me that if Congress did act more on the basis of emotionalism than factual information, it may have contributed substantially to the economic distress of our ally in the war with Iran. That is, by squeezing Saddam with sanctions that included a cutoff of IMF assistance, it thrust Saddam into the confrontation he had with the Emir of Kuwait over oil fields and better port access to the Gulf that the Iraqis claimed going back to World War I.
The more I pull on this piece of string, the more I believe you should commit resources of the Foreign Relations Committee to a review of this history. In this period, the Democrats did have control of Congress and another senator chaired Foreign Relations. It could be that a different viewpoint at a distance of time would enable even slight adjustments of policy. It is now a season where everyone is asking for apologies of events that occurred generations ago, even hundreds of years ago. We should deal today with those issues which could grow tomorrow into embarrassments for which our grandchildren will have to apologize. Meanwhile, Iíll continue to keep you informed as I collect this Iraqi ball of string.
FLASHBACK: Saddam Hussein Did Not Commit Genocide
...In 1997, I had come upon a 1991 report of the Army War College at Carlyle,
Pa., that had come to completely different conclusions. Its author, Dr. Stephen
Pelletiere, had headed a team that pulled together all the specialists of the US
intelligence agencies to study the Iran/Iraq war, to study how Iraq had defeated
a country three times its size. The report touched on the Halabja deaths, saying
that "hundreds" of civilians had died, with indicatio! ns they were
killed by a cyanide gas known to be used by the Iranian army, not possessed by
Iraq. It said nothing about the "disappearance" of 10,000 Iraqi Kurds.
Pelletiere had been the CIAís senior analyst in covering the eight-year
Iran/Iraq war. When I tracked him down a year ago, living in retirement near the
War College, he insisted nothing had happened in the dozen years since to change
his mind. There was no genocide, he told me, and said the story about the
100,000 deaths was a hoax, a non-event, propagated by Human Rights Watch. He
said he had discussed his differences with Joost Hilterman, arguing the
"victims" had never been found, nor had any mass graves been located.
I called Hiltermann at HRW for a discussion of his differences with Pelletiere,
which led to an exchange of e-mails over a period of weeks. Here is the last
contact I had with him, a long e-mail from me asking questions, and his lengthy
response. Iíve merged the two letters so they can be read sea! mlessly. There
are of course no follow-up questions in this ex! change, but I think the
exchange speaks for itself, and why I could easily conclude that Human Rights
Watch had made an enormous blunder in propagating the genocide story and now
will say anything to insist it was right all along...
FLASHBACK: Playing Devil`s Advocate
If Saddam Hussein ever comes to trial, the charge of genocide will almost
certainly be at the top of the list. If he has a decent lawyer, this is the one
charge he is most likely to beat. I say that because I have more or less played
"devilís advocate" for Saddam and his regime since 1997, when I
first met the late Nizar Hamdoon, then the Iraqi Ambassador to the United
Nations. Those of you who have frequented this website know I have written
extensively on the su! bject, having been persuaded by all the existing evidence
that whatever else Saddam inflicted on Iraq, genocide was not one of them. If I
believed he did, I could not have played "devilís advocate," which
was how I put it to Hamdoon...
Bush and Cheney are misinformed - no evidence
of Chemical Weapons used against Kurds