The Trial of Saddam Hussein
Jude Wanniski
December 14, 2003


Memo To: Editors
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Mass Graves

As happy as I was to hear this morning that Saddam Hussein had finally been tracked down, I was happier still that he put up no resistance and our troops took him alive. That means he will be put on trial and the truth about his 28-years of despotic rule will be open for the whole world to see. Senator Joe Biden [D DL] told Wolf Blitzer on CNN Late Edition this afternoon that Saddam will have to answer for the “300,000” people that he killed over those years. Biden added that in order to make a trial as credible as possible to the world, including the Muslim world, he should be tried before an international court, perhaps the same War Crimes Tribunal that is now prosecuting Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague for crimes against humanity. Note that Biden already assumes Saddam killed 300,000 of his own people over the years, a number that has currency because it was suggested by Sandy Hodgkinson, the top human rights official at the Coalition’s Provisional Authority in Baghdad and also cited by a UN spokesperson. Rend Al-Rahim, Iraq’s new ambassador to the U.S., told Blitzer today it is imperative Saddam be tried inside Iraq under the new tribunal the Governing Authority approved just a few days ago. She upped the number of Iraqi dead to “400,000” as the total for which Saddam will have to answer.

According to a Radio Free Europe dispatch July 7:

Rights groups that have been cataloging the abuses of the regime estimate the toll of missing at close to 300,000. There are no confirmed numbers, but they are expected to be high, says Mona Rishmawi, senior adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Baghdad.

"Nobody has exact figures. People add up figures, and adding up the figures would come up to 200,000 or a bit more -- between 200,000 and, I would say, 200,000 to 300,000. The figure is not exaggerated," she says. Those figures could rise further after the regime's final years are studied.

Because no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq and no meaningful links discovered between Saddam and Al Qaeda, it does look like Saddam’s prosecutors will have to prove he indeed murdered his own people. Questions about his truthfulness as a witness are irrelevant, as we can assume in advance he will deny all charges. According to CNN, during the interrogation following his capture, he was asked about the killings and mass graves and “dismissed the question” by saying those who were executed were “thieves.” He may be referring to the first reports of “mass graves” reported by CNN after the coalition forces took control of Baghdad, which in fact turned out to be cemeteries of marked graves of Iraqi men convicted of a variety of civil crimes. What any Court will have to be shown is that his regime was responsible for genocidal, political killings. The July 7 Radio Free Europe report noted:

Iraq's missing fall into many categories, the largest numbers linked to crackdowns following two conflicts -- the 1980-1988 war with Iran and the 1991 Gulf War. Most appear to be from the northern Kurdish region, where Hussein carried out his "Anfal" campaign in the late 1980s to seek revenge for Kurdish guerrillas who sided against him in the Iran-Iraq war. In 1988 alone, Human Rights Watch estimates the regime executed about 100,000 Kurds. Kurdish officials say the overall number of victims in the "Anfal" operation is close to 182,000.

Proving this may not be as easy as it sounds, editors. You may know I have been reporting on this issue at this site for two years, having followed the assertions of Human Rights Watch that such genocide did occur. HRW said 100,000 Iraqi Kurds were rounded up at the tail end of the eight-year Iran/Iraq war, transported to some unidentified place south of Kurdistan, machine-gunned to death, and bulldozed into mass graves. Joost Hiltermann, who was chiefly responsible for this charge at Human Rights Watch, told me a year ago that the graves would be found if the US did invade Iraq and take control of the country. I’d e-mailed him twice since May 1 asking him about progress in this search. His last response on the lack of progress was sent me on August 6:

Jude, that's right. They haven't published anything on it yet, as those graves are yet to be exhumed and the evidence gathered. The task in Iraq is overwhelming. Too many mass graves. The ones that received most attention were those of some of the Shiites killed after the 1991 uprising, as they were located quite near, sometimes in the middle of, the Shiite towns from which the dead came. But the Kurds were buried far from their home areas (one of the reasons we had no access to them for so long) and now there is little pressure to exhume them. Several graves have been identified, though (from the clothing, and eyewitnesses), and over time, as the situation in Iraq stabilizes and more resources can be brought to bear (especially if, say, Saddam is arrested and put on trial -- unfortunately not a certainty), perhaps adequate sampling of these graves can be done to establish their age and volume and more graves can be located.

I wish (and the Kurds most of all wish) that things would move faster, but the US has dismally failed to stabilize the situation in Iraq so far, and so human rights work has taken second place to a host of other activities, such as establishing law and order, and fixing the infrastructure....

As recently as December 7, the Associated Press listed the major suspected mass grave sites” as being six in number, with an actual vote count by authoritative sources as being less than 4,000. Of this number, 3115 were unearthed at Mahaweel in Southern Iraq, identified as being killed in the Shiite uprising of 1991 against the Baghdad regime, an uprising promoted by the CIA. A war crime? In the north, at Hatra, a mass grave of women and children was discovered, 25 by actual count, but with no report of forensics on just when they died. The site is listed as “major” because “local people” say a complete investigation will turn up 5,000 dead. Stephen Pelletiere, the CIA’s chief analyst during the Iran/Iraq war, points out that there are such graves all over Iraq dating back to the late 1960s. Forensic experts would have to certify the corpses' time of death and such work is not now being done. Kurdish mass graves would be easily identifiable, he says, because of distinctive Kurdish clothing.

I hope you see what I mean, editors. Human Rights Watch has been complaining for months and months that no effort has been made to prove charges that the despotic Saddam regime did any more than put down armed rebellions against the duly-constituted government of Iraq and sanction capital punishment for common criminals. The Bush administration sent David Kay and his survey group of 1200 inspectors into Iraq to find WMD and when they found none, they were given new unspecified “intelligence” assignments. There still has been no effort to search for the mass graves and certify they were in fact filled with victims of Saddam’s genocidal cruelty. That’s why Joost Hiltermann (who e-mailed me today) and I are pleased with the capture of Saddam Hussein and the anticipation of his trial on these charges. Only then will we get to the bottom of this story. While I believe the charges may not stick, or the mass graves would have already been found, I think the exercise may produce an interesting and unwelcome result, especially if Saddam gets a fair trial, with judges not hand-picked by the occupying coalition.