Memo To: David Broder, Washington Post
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 were 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 to 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 1,200 Americans who have died during
the course of the war. We are currently bombing the 300,000 people of Fallujah
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 have not
picked up the report, which
is available on the Internet at HRW's Web site. 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'ath 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'ath Party
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.
"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'ath 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'ath. 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."
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:
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.