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William Rivers Pitt: Hussein the Rabbit

Hussein the Rabbit

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Columnist

Sunday 31 December 2006

It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

- William Shakespeare

My cell phone has been buzzing with regularity all day, alerting me to the arrival of text messages from my conservative friends. "Saddam is dead woohoo" reads the latest one, and that pretty much describes all the others. Somehow, a lot of people are finding meaning or gratification in the fact that Hussein met his fate at the end of a rope Saturday morning.

I just can't get there. A portion of my ambivalence derives from my basic objections to the death penalty itself. My opposition to state-sponsored executions is not grounded in softhearted ideals, sympathy for the condemned, or the tenets of Catholic morality I learned as a child, but in the simple fact that death is an easy out. Justice is better delivered to the fiends of the world not by taking their lives, but by extending and prolonging their lives in absolute confinement.

The more brutal the crime, I believe, the greater is the imperative to ensure long life. Let them stew in their wretched state; let them stare at gray walls for decades in contemplation of what they did; let them face the awful truth that tomorrow will be as grim as yesterday, and that the sun no longer shines for them. I wish Timothy McVeigh were alive today, wreathed in steel bars and drowning in an ocean of time. So it is with Hussein, damned murderer of thousands, who yesterday morning was gifted freedom he did not deserve.

Beyond that is the rank absurdity of this whole farce. The so-called trial of Hussein was an affront to the fundamental principles of jurisprudence - more of a reality show than an exercise in the law. Much of the testimony offered against him would have been thrown out of the meanest municipal court in this country as hearsay. Three of Hussein's attorneys were assassinated, and the appointed replacements had no experience at all in international law. Hovering over it all was the fact that the entire process took place while the country was in the grips of a foreign occupation, presided over by a government held together by spit, baling wire and sectarian motivations.

Saddam Hussein has been used by three consecutive American presidential administrations the same way that plastic rabbit is used at the dog track. Like those speeding dogs, we have raced after him for years, never quite noticing that we are running in circles and doomed to arrive back where we began.

Some important and uncomfortable truths died with Hussein Saturday morning. The refrain of "Saddam gassed the Kurds in Halabja" has been with us for years, standing unchallenged in any mainstream political conversation. Yet Stephen C. Pelletiere, in a January 2003 New York Times article titled "A War Crime or an Act of War," revealed some information that cuts against this grain.

Pelletiere was the CIA's senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and served as a professor at the Army War College from 1988 to 2000. He also headed a 1991 Army investigation into how the United States would fare in a war against Iraq, and the classified report created from this investigation contained voluminous details of the Halabja attack.

"Immediately after the battle," wrote Pelletiere, "the United States Defense Intelligence Agency investigated and produced a classified report, which it circulated within the intelligence community on a need-to-know basis. That study asserted that it was Iranian gas that killed the Kurds, not Iraqi gas. The agency did find that each side used gas against the other in the battle around Halabja. The condition of the dead Kurds' bodies, however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent - that is, a cyanide-based gas - which Iran was known to use. The Iraqis, who are thought to have used mustard gas in the battle, are not known to have possessed blood agents at the time."

No one can deny that Saddam Hussein had many murders to his name, and yet the facts revealed in this classified report give pause. We have here an example of political expediency in the American style, where facts are ignored because they ruffle the story line and derail the rationalizations that sustain us. When the slogan on the battle standard is a lie, those who rally to it become victims of a fraud.

And then, of course, there is the guiding hand of the United States behind the curtain of this passion play. Like God with Adam, our government molded Hussein out of clay and blew the breath of life into his lungs. But for us, he would never have been.

A New York Times report from August of 2002, titled "Reagan Aided Iraq in War Despite Use of Gas," read, "A covert American program during the Reagan administration provided Iraq with critical battle-planning assistance at a time when American intelligence agencies knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war, according to senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program.

"Though senior officials of the Reagan administration publicly condemned Iraq's employment of mustard gas, sarin, VX and other poisonous agents," continued the report, "the American military officers said President Reagan, Vice President George Bush and senior national security aides never withdrew their support for the highly classified program, in which more than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency were secretly providing detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for airstrikes, and bomb-damage assessments for Iraq.

"In early 1988," continued the report, "after the Iraqi Army, with American planning assistance, retook the Fao Peninsula in an attack that reopened Iraq's access to the Persian Gulf, a defense intelligence officer, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, now retired, was sent to tour the battlefield with Iraqi officers, the American military officers said. He reported that Iraq had used chemical weapons to cinch its victory, one former DIA official said. Colonel Francona saw zones marked off for chemical contamination, and containers for the drug atropine scattered around, indicating that Iraqi soldiers had taken injections to protect themselves from the effects of gas that might blow back over their positions. CIA officials supported the program to assist Iraq, though they were not involved. Separately, the CIA provided Iraq with satellite photography of the war front."

Officially, Hussein's death sentence was handed down as punishment for the murders of 148 people, all Shiites in the town of Dujail, in 1982. Hussein, according to the ruling, ordered these killings as a reprisal after a Shiite assassination attempt against him failed.

In the final analysis, however, the noose was placed around his neck not only by his own deeds, but also by years of sustained verbal and military attacks by the United States and a majority of the Western world. He was a petty dictator whose fearsome reputation was artificially and purposefully inflated, because those who run this nation well know that an America focused on a shared and frightening enemy is an America easily distracted and manipulated.

Hussein's fangs had been pulled years ago, and the simple truth of his demise is that he was a former ally of great value until he ceased to serve our regional purposes. His death served one last hoped-for purpose, as well. A floundering president, desperate to squeeze one last trip around the track out of the rabbit, has earned from this a few weekend hours of news stories about the bad man.

Somewhere along the line, perhaps, people may come to pause and question whether putting that noose on Hussein was worth the three thousand American soldiers killed; the 47,000 American soldiers wounded; the untold thousands of Iraqi civilians killed; the fertile recruiting ground for terrorists born of the resulting rage from these deaths, and the trillions of tax dollars poured into the sand.

Saddam Hussein was hanged on Saturday for all the acts beyond those described in the trial's final ruling, most of which were committed with the full knowledge and willing assistance of the American government - a government that propped up and sustained Hussein because he served as a useful idiot in our efforts against Iran. These facts will be buried with his body in an undisclosed location, and once again, the sand itself will swallow for eternity another glaring example of the awesome distance between words and deeds.

The rabbit, at last, has been removed from the track. We invaded his country, and things got worse. We captured him and threw him in prison, and things got worse. Now we have killed him, and things will get worse. We are still running in circles, arriving time and again at the place we just left. One wonders if we will ever get around to seeing the noose around our own necks in time, before the platform falls away beneath us and the darkness swallows us with the sound of a sickening snap.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence. His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation, will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.

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