July 20, 2004

More on Saddam Hussein and the War with Iraq

On his website yesterday, my friend Bob addressed the main points of my last blog. Never one to beat around the bush, Bob accused me of creating straw man arguments and misquoting original sources. Bob’s a good man, passionate and sincere about his beliefs. And I feel that he made many good points in his essay. Nevertheless, I’m generally unconvinced by his arguments and would like to offer a rebuttal

In my blog, I listed the three main justifications our leaders have given us for invading Iraq. I then went on to argue that each justification has "proven to be unsubstantiated." In what follows, I will reiterate the three justifications I listed and under each listing, (1) summarize Bob’s response to my argument(s) and (2) offer a rebuttal of Bob’s response.

Justification #1: We need to invade Iraq because Saddam has WMDs and is a threat to his region and maybe even to America. In response to this, Bob writes that "BUSH NEVER SAID THAT in those words." But Bush did say that. In a speech in New Orleans on December 3, 2002, the President said:

It’s important for our fellow Americans to understand that, when we’re talking about Saddam Hussein, we’re talking about a man who said he has had no weapons of mass destruction, yet we believe has weapons of mass destruction—a man who has not only had weapons of mass destruction, but he’s used weapons of mass destruction. He used weapons of mass destruction on his neighbors and he used weapons of mass destruction on his own citizens. He’s a man who has professed hate to America, as well as our friends and allies. He’s a man who has got terrorist ties, a man who helps train terrorists. He’s a threat and he’s a danger." (White House, "Remarks by the President in Terrell for Senate and Louisiana Republican Party Luncheon," news release, December 3, 2002)

Bob goes on to argue that Saddam has aggressively tried to attain WMDs, including nuclear weapons. I agree with him completely and never denied this.

Justification #2: We need to invade Iraq because Saddam was possibly behind 9/11 and might aid terrorist groups in the future. In response to my argument here, Bob writes, "AGAIN, the BUSH administration NEVER SAID THAT in those words. The Bush administration NEVER, NEVER, NEVER said Saddam was behind 9.11." Regarding this point, I misspoke and Bob rightly pointed out my mistake. Bush never explicitly said that Saddam was behind 9/11. But he did, on several occasions, seem to imply it. For example, in October 2002, he said:

And we know that after September the 11th, Saddam Hussein’s regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America. Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints. (White House, "President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat," news release, October 7, 2002)

Bob goes on to argue that a connection did exist between Saddam and al-Qaeda. But I agree with the bi-partisan 9/11 commission that there is no credible evidence that a "collaborative relationship" existed between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Bob claims that Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi "(a Bin Laden confidant) was hiding there [in Iraq], Saddam knew it." Yes, Zarqawi was in Iraq, but how do we know Saddam knew about it? U.S. officials obtained a letter supposedly written by Zarqawi, but it doesn’t provide any evidence that he was working with Saddam. Bob also claims that "members of AlQaeda fled to Iraq during the Afghan invasion. Saddam allowed them to stay." But how do we know that Saddam was aware of their presence in his country? Isn’t it possible that (like President Bush) Saddam didn’t have perfect control over his borders? Isn’t it possible that (like in the U.S.), people crossed over Iraq's borders without the government’s knowledge or permission?

Justification #3: We need to invade Iraq because Saddam has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people. Bob thinks I’m mistaken in claiming that this justification is unsubstantiated and lists a number of sources that supposedly refute me. Let’s briefly examine three of them.

(1) National Public Radio, 05/14/03 article. In this article, NPR reports a mass grave discovered 60 miles south of Baghdad in which an estimated 3,000 bodies were found. These people, NPR reports, were believed to have died in the failed 1991 uprising against Saddam. This grave, it further notes, is the "largest mass grave found so far in Iraq." Three points should be made here. First, after over a year of counting, the number of bodies found at the site ended up totaling 2,200, not 3,000. Second, as Jude Wanniski notes, these Iraqis were "encouraged to overthrow their government by our CIA." He continues: "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." Third, if this is the "largest mass grave found so far in Iraq" (I’m not aware of a larger one being found since then), then the total number of bodies we've found is nowhere near the hundreds of thousands that supposedly exist.

(2) U.S. Agency for International Development, 01/04 report. There are a few major problems with this report. First, the report is filled with circular reasoning. It often backs up its claim that Saddam killed hundreds of thousands of people by citing sources, who, in turn, go on to cite other sources—but nowhere do any of these sources offer anything in the way of evidence. For example, USAID cites Human Rights Watch as a source for the claim that Saddam’s government could have killed around 290,000—but when we go onto HRW’s website, we find a senior HRW researcher making this speculation, but he never offers any evidence for it.

Second, in some instances, the USAID report makes assertions that contradict our best evidence. For instance, USAID claims that "180,000 ethnic Kurds were rounded up and killed in the Anfal campaign." But, as Wanniski points out, "so far no mass graves have been found in Kurdistan, none at all." This, despite the fact that several journalists have gone to Kurdistan specifically searching for them. Another example of the report making an assertion that contradicts our best evidence is found in its claim that Saddam’s government used nerve and mustard gas on the Kurds in Halabjeh in 1988. "Five thousand," the report claims, "were killed in a single day." As Wanniski notes, U.S. officials later learned that the Kurds in the said attack were killed by cyanide, a gas that only the Iranians possessed. And, although some claimed that Iraq gassed the Kurds in subsequent attacks, "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."

Third, the USAID admits that, although 270 "suspected" mass grave sites have been reported, only 53 have been confirmed. It admits that, in "some cases, mass grave reports have turned out to be either simply old cemeteries, or falsely reported to attract attention or to obtain funds."

(3) National Review article by Deroy Murdock, 03/19/04. Murdock summarizes USAID’s findings and quotes a couple other sources that claim that Saddam murdered hundreds of thousands. For example, he quotes Tony Blair as saying, "We’ve already discovered just so far the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves." But Murdock never tells us what evidence Blair bases his claim on.

Do you see a pattern here? All we have here are lofty assertions, but no real evidence to back them up.

Now I admit that it’s possible that hundreds of thousands were killed during Saddam’s reign. I never denied that, and I’m not denying that now. But until we have any evidence of this, what right do we have in making the claim?

Bob himself admits that we’ve only found a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of people supposedly murdered by Saddam’s regime, but he refuses to back down on his assertion. He asks, "Do you expect to reveal what has been buried in such a short time in a country larger than Texas with a mere 150,000 troops who already have their hands full?" I’d probably have to answer that question in the negative. But it doesn’t matter because the question is irrelevant, as it presupposes that the bodies are waiting to be found. But what right do we have to assume this? Our beliefs must be based on evidence—and the fact that Saddam has done certain evil things is not evidence that he killed three to four hundred thousand people.

So, in summary, I stand by my previous conclusions. (1) I fully agree that Saddam is a murderer and that the world is a better place without him in power. But (2) given that we don’t have any credible evidence that Saddam’s government killed hundreds of thousands of people, our leaders have no right to make this assertion—especially when they use it as a justification for invading Iraq. (3) If the American people knew where the actual evidence against Saddam led, then I believe a majority of them would conclude that the war was not justified and that Saddam is not the most brutal ruler since Hitler, but simply one of many unjust world rulers. And (4) given the evidence we have, it seems to be the case that the U.S. military has killed far more Iraqis than Saddam’s government ever did .

July 19, 2004

Some Thoughts About Iraq and Saddam Hussein

It troubles me that the main justifications our leaders have used for going to war with Iraq have proven to be unsubstantiated.

Justification #1: We need to invade Iraq because Saddam has WMDs and is a threat to his region and maybe even to America. We have not found any WMDs. Moreover, the fact that the U.S. military so quickly and easily overthrew Saddam’s government tells us that his military was quite weak and not a threat to the region, let alone the U.S.

Justification #2: We need to invade Iraq because Saddam was possibly behind 9/11 and might aid terrorist groups in the future.
There is absolutely no evidence that any connection ever existed between Saddam’s government and al-Qaeda. In fact, there is actually evidence that Saddam and al-Qaeda have been long-time enemies—e.g., Osama bin Laden has referred to Saddam as an "infidel" and a "bad Muslim" and even threatened to form a mujahedeen to fight Saddam when he invaded Kuwait in 1990.

(For more on these points, click here or here.)

Justification #3: We need to invade Iraq because Saddam has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people.

This last claim has been made by numerous government officials. For example, appearing on Meet the Press the other week, Senator Pat Roberts (Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee) stated: "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." Similarly, in a 12/11/00 article for the New York Times, Barbara Crossette cited certain American officials as stating that Saddam Hussein’s government gassed to death 50,000 to 100,000 Kurds from 1987 to 1988.

What I find disturbing about this last justification is that it isn’t supported by any credible evidence. Yes, we know that Saddam did many atrocious things and killed many people, but we have absolutely no proof that he killed hundreds of thousands, or even tens of thousands. And we have no proof that he ever gassed the Kurds.

Jude Wanniski (associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, 1972-78) has done an excellent job illustrating this:

* He writes that, although there have been reports that as many as 200,000 Iraqis were killed in the Anfal campaign of 1987–88, "so far no mass graves have been found in Kurdistan, none at all." This, despite the fact that several journalists have gone to Kurdistan specifically searching for them.

* Wanniski notes that 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."

* Regarding the claim reported by The New York Times, Wanniski notes that in 1988, although the Iranian government accused Saddam of using mustard gas and cyanide against the Kurds in Halabjeh, they only estimated that around 3,000 to 5,000 people were killed. But even this figure is exaggerated. As U.S. officials later learned, the Kurds had been killed by cyanide, a gas that only the Iranians possessed. Although some claimed that Iraq gassed the Kurds in subsequent attacks, "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."

* Regarding Senator Roberts’ claim that 18,000 people were killed at Hillah, Wanniski notes that the "latest number after 14 months of counting before the forensic experts left the area was 2,200." Wanniski further notes that these Iraqis were "encouraged to overthrow their government by our CIA." He continues: "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."

* Wanniski cites a recent 400-page report released by the Senate Intelligence Community that admits: "According 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." Of these comments, Wanniski writes the following in a letter to Senator Roberts [italics mine]: "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."

Now maybe Saddam killed hundreds of thousands of his own people. Maybe he gassed as many as 100,000 Kurds. (The world is filled with maybes.) But until such evidence is brought forward, what right does anyone have in making such assertions?

So why have our leaders used these wild, unsubstantiated claims to justify the war? The reason, I think, is that, when we consider the credible evidence we have against Saddam, we must admit that Saddam isn’t nearly as bad as we’ve been led to believe, that he’s just one of many unjust world leaders—worse than some, not near as bad as others. And, I think, if the American people knew this truth about Saddam (i.e., that he’s not the most evil ruler since Hitler), then most of them would conclude that this war was not justified.

One more disturbing fact. It seems to be the case that the U.S. military has killed far more Iraqis than Saddam’s government ever did. (For more on this, click here or here.)