March 19, 2003

We're Going to Hear a Lot of Stories Like This

As my brother pointed out to me, we're going to be hearing a lot of stories like this over the next several months as people go through Iraq:

Herald Sun: Witnesses tell of atrocities [14mar03]: Presenting evidence to MPs at the House of Commons, researchers from Indict ? the organisation gathering evidence to prosecute Saddam and his henchmen ? said many of the stories they were told were so horrific they were difficult to believe.

But there was a "remarkable consistency" in evidence from many different sources, which boosted its credibility. Witnesses had told them about prisoners of the regime having finger and toenails torn out, being given electric shocks to the genitals, tortured with boiling water and beaten...

Saddam's son Qusay... had administered mustard gas on prisoners, including a 12-year-old boy whose father heard his screams from a neighbouring cell, they were told. Saddam's special adviser Barzan al-Tikriti, Iraq's former representative on the UN Commission on Human Rights, had personally taken part in the torture of detainees before their execution.

One witness, who spent 15 years in jail after being accused of using a false surname, described a particularly horrific method of execution: "There was a machine designed for shredding plastic. Men were dropped into it and we were . . . made to watch. Sometimes they went in head first and died quickly. Sometimes they went in feet first and died screaming. It was horrible. I saw 30 people die like this. Their remains would be placed in plastic bags and we were told they would be used as fish food."

Most of them will be true.

It's certainly the case that the way this war has been launched has been a disaster for U.S. foreign relations and our interests. I have no confidence in the George W. Bush Administration's ability to win the peace in Iraq in any sustained and durable way. (I have immense confidence in the U.S. army, navy, and airforce.) But it will be as hard to argue afterwards that this war is not good for Iraqis as it is now to argue that the overthrow of the Taliban was not good for Afghanis.

Posted by DeLong at March 19, 2003 06:31 PM | TrackBack


Yes, expect to hear a lot more stories like this. Atrocity propaganda is traditional at the start of a war.

Posted by: derrida derider on March 19, 2003 09:26 PM

"I have no confidence in the George W. Bush Administration's ability to win the peace in Iraq in any sustained and durable way. (I have immense confidence in the U.S. army, navy, and airforce.)"

Me thinks that Brad DeLong is quickly realizing that victory will quick and easy---just as people like myself have been saying all along. Thus, he is subtly moving the markers so that he can immediately complain about the Bush administration's handling of the peace.

Posted by: David Thomson on March 19, 2003 11:07 PM


Posted by: Brad DeLong on March 20, 2003 05:59 AM

These stories are not "new" to anyone that has been more than minimally interested in the suffering of the Iraqi people. They can also in detail be heard from Iraqi refugees in your own "back yard".

No one is denying this, but many of us are protesting against the way the Iraqi people now are being "helped". The motive behind the war is not unimportant either. It will likely be a determinant for how effective the peace-keeping and "after work" will go on when the war is over. And not one sain person in this world would argue that this war is about helping the Iraqi civilian population.

Posted by: Mikael S on March 20, 2003 06:21 AM

And by the way, how is Afghanistan looking today? Is it a good place to live where the US has done a good job in rebuilding the nation? No, in most places it's marginally better then before, but a lot of the discrimination and violence are now performed by local "barons" instead.

Posted by: Mikael S on March 20, 2003 06:23 AM

I am more strongly against the war than Brad, and I've been saying for months that war opponents should *not* use the "quagmire" argument analogy with Vietnam. I expect the war to be won relatively quickly and, for the US, relatively painlessly. It's the aftermath I fear.

I disagree with Brad though about the war having helped the Afghans. Right now they are probably marginally better off, especially in Kabul, but they no longer have a central government (Karzai depends on US troops to guard him because he has no forces he trusts, and outside Kabul he has no influence at all. And he has complained about our lack of support). But once the civil wars start up again, the Afghans be worse off. Taliban's only accomplishment was to end them.

Heroin prices are going down though.

Posted by: zizka on March 20, 2003 09:11 AM

The return of millions of refugees to Afghanistan says something about the improvement in conditions there.

The over four million refugees who have fled Saddam's terror regime will soon have a chance to vote with their feet.

A barely concealed assumption of those who claim that no improvement will result from the US toppling Saddam's regime is that the Iraqis are idiots. I don't agree with that assumption.

Posted by: Joe Willingham on March 20, 2003 12:40 PM

No, Joe. The barely concealed assumption is that the Americans who will run Iraq after Saddam Hussein is gone are idiots. The almost continual support that this government gave to Saddam Hussein before 1991 is not an encouraging precedent.

Posted by: andres on March 20, 2003 01:28 PM

Well, it's true that Iraq was and still is a terrible country for its population. However, that doesn't justify breaking international law - especially not if the US was quite happy about working with Iraq when Iraq was at war with Iran. The violations of human rights date back to those days and organizations like Amnesty International have been pointing it out for thelongest time.

It's simply cynical to suddenly discover human rights when it's convenient. And it's even more cynical to ignore all those human rights violations in those countries who are now called "the coalition of the willing". Uzbekistan is an especially disgusting case. Just to give an example from AI's most recent report:

"Reports of ill-treatment and torture by law enforcement officials of alleged supporters of banned Islamist opposition parties and movements, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, continued unabated. Thousands of devout Muslims and dozens of members or supporters of the banned secular political opposition parties and movements Erk and Birlik were serving long prison sentences, convicted after unfair trials of membership of an illegal party, distribution of illegal religious literature and anti-state activities. Reports continued to be received that devout Muslim prisoners were singled out for particularly cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in places of detention, particularly prison camps. Several prisoners, among them a prominent human rights defender, died in custody, allegedly as a result of torture. There were at least 22 death sentences, reportedly imposed after unfair trials, and at least four executions were carried out."

Ehtiopia, another supporter of the war, doesn't sound much better:

"At least 31 people were killed and over 3,000 arrested during rioting in April. Armed conflict continued within Ethiopia between government forces and Oromo and Somali opponents; many human rights violations by government troops were reported. Suspected rebel supporters were detained, tortured and extrajudicially executed. Several thousand remained in detention; some had been held for years without charge or trial. Journalists, human rights activists, demonstrators and other critics of the government were arrested. Most were held without trial, although some received unfair trials. During local elections in March, April and December scores of opposition party supporters were subjected to intimidation, beatings and arbitrary arrest. The trials of officials of the former military government on charges including genocide and extrajudicial executions proceeded slowly. Several death sentences were imposed; no executions were reported."

Selective applications of human rights standards does *not* help your case for war in Iraq at all.

Posted by: Joerg on March 20, 2003 01:57 PM

Afghans that return to their country were those who fleed the war and had to remain in the States that border Afghanistan in very bad conditions. That doesn't means they are any better than under the taliban.

The Iraquis that had to go out Iraq are not in the same situation, and I reckon that a substantive fraction wil not return, and rather it will be their parents that had remained in Iraq that will get out, for exemple the members of the christian churches that are natives to Irak. What is more, since Iraquis had a quite better education that most of their neighbours, they had better possibilities to get a good work abroad, in other Middle Orient countries, in Europe, or in the USA.


Posted by: Antoni Jaume on March 20, 2003 02:14 PM

Joerg, so the U.S. cannot claim to be liberating Iraqis because that isn't our primary reason for intervening? That is a very interesting argument. What, pray tell, do you think was the primary U.S. interest in fighting the Axis powers during in WW II? Did saving people from the atrocities being committed against them not count in that instance as well? People will say just about anything to deny the legitimacy of this action.

Posted by: Stan on March 21, 2003 11:25 AM

If this war goes well, as it appears to be doing, the US will have plenty of friends when it's over. Already the French and the Germans are starting to make conciliatory noises, and offering to help with the reconstruction of Iraq.

Posted by: Joe Willingham on March 21, 2003 02:03 PM

Stan, the Axis declared war to the USA.While some US citizens were favorable to help the UK, among them FD Roosevelt, that was not the most common position. If I remember well (I read that a very long time ago), some guy from GM was
bemedalled by Hitler for his aid. That guy received another one from the USA posteriorly.


Posted by: Antoni Jaume on March 21, 2003 03:01 PM

“The (Gallup) poll shows that three-quarters of all Americans approve of the decision to go to war, including 60% who approve strongly. Only one in five Americans disapprove -- 15% who feel strongly and 5% not strongly”

Posted by: David Thomson on March 21, 2003 06:24 PM
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