The U.S. media and the farcical trial of Chemical Ali

Like a distant historical footnote to the bloody tragedy raging in Iraq, the trial of Saddam Hussein’s cousin, Chemical Ali, and 14 other former lieutenants of Saddam, began this week. The prosecutor accused them of perpetrating “ among the ugliest crimes ever committed against humanity in modern history.”

In a just world, George H.W. Bush and James Baker would also be in the dock.

Chemical Ali and his cohorts are being charged with the slaughter of tens of thousands of Shiites following the failed uprising of 1991. It is the third trial before the Iraqi Special Tribunal for crimes against humanity committed during Saddam’s reign.

But, from the beginning, the Tribunal has been a uniquely Kafkaesque affair: first because of the total disconnect between the drama being played out in the court room and the slaughter going on outside the heavily fortified Green Zone. Secondly, by the fact that the horrific history of the 1991 repression is being recounted as if it occurred in an international vacuum. No mention whatsoever of the complicity of the United States and President George H.W. Bush in those bloody events,

Though the British Press has made some mention of America’s role, as far as I can make out, the major American media –and that includes the New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times, CNN and the Associated Press— have not made even the faintest allusion to the U.S. involvement.

As they tell it, closely following the script being enacted in the court room, it was all the fault of the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein and his beastly lieutenants.

There is no mention in the U.S media of the fact that it was President George H.W. Bush who, in February 2001, as the Iraqi army was being driven from Kuwait, called on the people of Iraq to rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein.

That call was rebroadcast in Iraq by clandestine CIA radio stations and printed in millions of leaflets dropped by the U.S. Air Force across the country. Problem was, the Iraqis didn’t realize until it was too late that Bush and James Baker, his pragmatic secretary of state, didn’t really mean it.

When it looked as if the insurgents might actually succeed, the American president turned his back. The White House and its allies wanted Saddam replaced not by a popular revolt which they couldn’t control but by a military leader more amenable to U.S. interests. They were also fearful that Iranian influence might spread in the wake of a Shiite takeover. In fact, however, American officials refused to meet with rebel leaders desperate to explain their cause.

Though Washington explained later explained they had turned against the uprising because key Arab allies in the region, like the Saudis, were fearful of a Shiite victory in Iraq, in fact, the U.S. later turned down a Saudi proposal to continue aiding the Shiites.

So, as the United States permitted Saddam’s attack helicopters to devastate the rebels, American troops just a few kilometers away from the slaughter were ordered to give no aid to those under attack. Instead they destroyed huge stocks of captured weapons rather than let them fall into rebel hands. According to some of the former rebels in Iraq, American troops prevented them from marching on Baghdad.

Then, as Saddam’s forces began carrying out the horrific acts of repression so chillingly described in the Baghdad courtroom, American forces were ordered to withdraw from Iraq. And all the while George H.W. Bush answered calls for the U.S. to act with denials that the U.S. had any responsibility in fomenting the rebellion in the first place.

In the end he agreed to provide a no-fly zone to protect the Kurds in the North, but that was only because the plight of the Kurdish refugees was being dramatically broadcast around the globe by CNN. Bush had no choice. There was no such TV coverage of the slaughter of the Shiites in the South. So no need for Bush to react.

There was similarly no mention in the courtroom—or in the U.S. press—of Washington’s support of Saddam during his slaughter of the Kurds—the subject of the previous trial of the Special Tribunal.

It may be understandable that no word of this U.S. complicity has surfaced before the Tribunal. After all, the whole affair has been financed and guided by the U.S. government and American advisers. There is also a stipulation in the Tribunal’s regulations that only Iraqi citizens and residents can be tried before the Tribunal for crimes against humanity.

What continues to be remarkable—and shameful– is the way in which the American media continues to play along with this historical farce.

(The description of the U.S. role in the 1991 uprising is recounted at length in my book Web of Deceit-a History of Western Complicity in Iraq from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush—and in video form, from a segment of a documentary I did on the Trial of Saddam Hussein, which is posted on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1i7pJ0gn_BY

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About Barry Lando

Mr. Barry Lando is a Canadian native living in Paris, France. Lando spent 25 years an an award-winning investigative producer with 60 minutes and directed a documentary two years ago called, “The Trial of Saddam Hussein We’ll Never See.” It dealt with the hypocrisy of putting Saddam Hussein on trial without also dealing with the complicity of world leaders and businessmen in his crimes during his time in office in Iraq. Prior to that he was a correspondent for Time-Life in South America. He has also freelanced articles over the years for a large range of North American and European publications. He received a B.A. magna in history at Harvard University and an M.A. in political science from Columbia University. His new book is titled “Web of Deceit: The History of Foreign Complicity in Iraq from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush.” Web of Deceit draws on a wide range of journalism and scholarship to present a complete picture of what really happened in Iraq under Saddam, detailing – for the first time – the complicity of the West in its full and alarming extent. It is being published by Other Press in the U.S. and Doubleday in Canada. He maintains his own blog at http://www.barrylando.com.

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