Memo To: David Broder, Washington Post
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Those Mass Graves
Remember, David, back on Sept. 27 I posted a memo on the margin that I wrote to you, complimenting you on your column about how the news media had been “losing their way”? It had to do with your observation that the major news media was chasing sham stories while not asking serious questions about the most important topics of the day, including the war in Iraq – which both your newspaper and The New York Times acknowledged in price, apologizing for not being more aggressive in the months leading up to the President’s decision to go to war. In my note you, I suggested you look into the long-held conventional wisdom that Saddam Hussein committed genocide, a view largely propagated by Human Rights Watch. The organization estimated that as many as 290,000 Iraqis were killed by Saddam during his reign, with 100,000 Kurds slaughtered in 1988, in the last months of the Iran/Iraq war. Prime Minister Tony Blair at one point said as many as 400,000 Iraqis had been killed by Saddam’s regime.
Partly as a result of the HRW assertions, the Bush administration justified its use of force to replace the duly constituted government in Baghdad. The most recent estimates of the dead total 100,000 Iraqi civilians and 60,000 to 80,000 Iraqi military, plus the almost 1200 Americans who have died during the course of the war. We are currently bombing the 300,000 people of Falluja in hopes of pacifying the city and may wind up leveling it altogether. Is the sky the limit on what it will take to bring freedom and democracy to the people of Iraq? Don’t you wonder?
Meanwhile, this week Human Rights Watch issued its long-awaited conclusive report on Saddam’s genocidal record. As far as I know, the major news media has not picked up the report, which is available on the internet at HRW’s website, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2004/iraq1104/1.htm. I read about the report in the British press. It turns out that in 19 months HRW’s experts have not been able to find the missing 100,000 bodies it said were of Kurds who had been rounded up and trucked south of Kurdistan, machine-gunned to death and buried in mass graves. In fact, it now blames the U.S. coalition for not securing those mass graves containing smaller numbers of Iraqis or keeping looters from carrying off official Iraqi records of the genocide and the mass graves. You should read the report in its entirety, David, and maybe you will get your editors to take a look too. Here are two pertinent graphs from the summary:
In the case of both documents and mass graves, U.S.-led coalition forces failed to secure the relevant sites at the time of the overthrow of the former government. They subsequently failed to put in place the professional expertise and assistance necessary to ensure proper classification and exhumation procedures, with the result that key evidentiary materials have been lost or tainted. In the case of mass graves, these failures also have frustrated the goal of enabling families to know the fate of missing relatives. The findings of the report are all the more disturbing against the backdrop of a tribunal established to bring justice for serious past crimes, the Iraqi Special Tribunal. Human Rights Watch has serious concerns that the tribunal is fundamentally flawed and may be incapable of delivering justice.
The extent of the negligence with which key documentary and forensic evidence has been treated to date is surprising, given that the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi authorities alike knew that trials of Hussein and key Ba'th government officials would be important landmarks in Iraq’s political recovery, that successful trials require solid evidence, and that, as international experience has shown, preserving such trial-ready evidence is a difficult task. Some of the evidence has been destroyed, but it is not too late to assume custody of millions of additional pieces of evidence. Some of this material, if it is given the urgent attention it needs and deserves, may prove critical in the proceedings of the upcoming trials. It will also play an important role as Iraqis attempt to construct an accurate historical record of their traumatic experiences under Ba'th Party rule.
Do you see what I mean? Saddam Hussein will soon be put on trial for crimes against humanity, and the Iraqi prosecutors will not have the goods on him.
Now that the election is over, maybe you will have more time to devote to this exercise. You should at least give a call to Dr. Stephen Pelletiere, the retired CIA analyst who has never believed in the genocide stories, but has awaited the report of Human Rights Watch to see what it has found. After reading the report in its entirety, he told me they had, as he expected, come up empty:
This claim of HRW that they haven't got evidence that will stand up because the graves have been compromised, overlooks one key fact: they were claiming that the Ba'th killed hundreds of thousands. If these graves really contained all the bodies they're supposed to contain, the numbers of dead alone would convict the Ba'th. If you read the report, they say over and over again they "believe" such-and-such a grave actually contains thousands of bodies; but all they've been able to find is a few score (at best). I think that's what gives the scam away. They can't produce the hundreds of thousands, or even the tens of thousands they promised they would.
I’ve tried to get lots and lots of reporters interested in the story, David, but in every case they have a reason why they just can’t do it at this time. They’ve lost their way, as you noted. As the dean of the Washington press corps, you should please help them find it.