Friday, January 25, 2008

Will this Bush-Cheney lie ever be fully exposed?

So now we have a nifty new catalog of outright deceptions told by the Bush-Cheney regime in the run up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. That's great, it really is, but it only appears to be one for "complete" fabrications. It does not, apparently, devote as much time to half-truths (which are still lies, just not direct ones). If you factor in the lies based on only half the truth, the list grows far beyond the nine hundred thirty-five compiled for our benefit.

One of the deceptions based on half-"truth" was over Halabja.

You may or may not have heard of Stephen C. Pelletiere. He was the CIA's chief analyst on the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s. Following George W. Bush's 2003 state of the union address, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times arguing that evidence of Iraq involvement in the gassing of Kurds in March 1988 was spotty -- and that evidence instead pointed to Iranian-used chemicals as the culprit.

This much about the gassing at Halabja we undoubtedly know: it came about in the course of a battle between Iraqis and Iranians. Iraq used chemical weapons to try to kill Iranians who had seized the town, which is in northern Iraq not far from the Iranian border. The Kurdish civilians who died had the misfortune to be caught up in that exchange. But they were not Iraq's main target.

And the story gets murkier: immediately after the battle 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.

And more:

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.

In 1990 Pelletiere and colleague Douglas V. Johnson defended their analysis against challenges from those trying to pin the blame on Iraq.

The second alleged gas attack by the Iraqis against the Kurds occurred at Amadiyyah (in the far northern region of Iraq) after the war had ended. This one is extremely problematical since no gassing victims were ever produced. The only evidence that gas was used is the eye-witness testimony of the Kurds who fled to Turkey, collected by staffers of the U.S. Senate. We showed this testimony to experts in the military who told us it was worthless. The symptoms described by the Kurds do not conform to any known chemical or combination of chemicals.

Lacking any gassing victims, and given the fact that the testimony does not seem credible we were unwilling to say that in fact the attacks had occurred. At the same time, throughout the study we cited instances of Iraqi-instigated chemical attacks against Iranian military units. There is no doubt that these occurred; indeed the Iraqis have stated on occasion that they feel justified in using chemicals tactically under certain conditions. However, they deny using chemicals as a weapon of mass destruction, that is against civilians. What our study concludes is that those who claim they are doing so need to come up with some more convincing proof.

Here are a few more links, by the way, pertaining to the Iran-Iraq gas controversy.

Here's something worth reading.

The battle for Halabja began on March 15, 1988, when Kurdish rebels and Iranian Revolutionary Guards, equipped with chemical warfare suits, moved into the town, driving out Iraqi units in heavy fighting. Townspeople were then stopped from fleeing Halabja and forced by the invaders to return to their homes. This tactic was to cost thousands of lives.

The chemical attack began a day later at 6:20 p.m. and continued sporadically over three days. Wave after wave of bombers—seven to eight in each wing—attacked Halabja, a town of eighty thousand, and all roads leading to the surrounding mountains. They dropped a cocktail of poison gases: mustard gas, the nerve agents sarin, tabun, and, according to a well-informed Iraqi military source, VX, the most lethal of all, which Iraq had just begun to manufacture. Clouds of gas hung over the town and the surrounding hills, blotting out the sky and contaminating the fertile plains nearby.

The townspeople had no protection and the chemicals soaked into their clothes, skin, eyes, and lungs. At least five thousand, and probably many more, died within hours. Many were poisoned in the cellars where they had sought refuge—trapped by gases that were heavier than air. It was the largest chemical attack ever launched against a civilian population.

On the road out of the town, an estimated four thousand were killed near the village of Anab as they attempted to flee to Iran. Many flung themselves into a pond to wash off the chemicals but died within minutes. Their corpses lay undisturbed for months, deadly toxins from their bodies seeping into the earth and reportedly contaminating the water table.


Many people are skeptical of the Pentagon evidence, not least the people of Halabja. I talked to many Halabjans during my visit who were present during the 1988 attack, and all agreed that Iraq alone was responsible. The Kurdish guerrilla armies who were allied to Iran at the time and fought in and around Halabja also concur, and that includes the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Masoud Barzani, whose current relations with the Iranians can only be described as hostile. Why would Iranian commanders whose troops were in Halabja at the time use poison gas against their own men? they ask. Their logic seems inescapable.

Here we use the principle of Occam's Razor, which tells us that the simplest solution is to be preferred. Since no one has suggested that Iranian bombardment was a deliberate act against civilians, and that Iranian forces were fighting what they thought were Iraqi military units, it is reasonable to conclude that in a battle in which both sides used chemical weapons the Kurdish casualties took unintended fire from their Iranian allies. Since the writer acknowledges that Iranian forces and Kurdish rebels supporting Iranian forces were indeed present in Halabja, it undermines the argument that this was not a battle during a time of war but a deliberate and punitive act of genocide. That the writer uses the accounts of people with a reason to lie about Iran's culpability in inflicting casualties is indicative of an attempt at anti-Iraqi propaganda based less on the facts and more on a desire to muddy the proverbial waters in order to justify questionable accusations.

Now lest you think I'm making excuses for Saddam Hussein, bear in mind that I am not claiming that my own interpretation of the facts at hand is necessarily the correct one. I offer this only because there is another side to the allegations of genocide against Iraqi Kurds that has not received the rigorous debate it deserves. It is not been settled conclusively one way or another, and we must take all sides of the debate with a healthy amount of skepticism. But, going according to the facts we do have, and the contradictions in the stories of those who claim Iraq and Saddam Hussein were the primary culprits, we may conclude one thing, at least, is true: the dynamics of the debate are fundamentally altered by the inclusion of this alternative side of the argument. If the deaths of Kurds were the result of crossfire in a battle during which both sides used chemical weapons, it weakens the accusation that Saddam Hussein deliberately tried to commit genocide against Kurds in Iraq.

It is important to keep this in mind when considering the new database cataloging the lies that led to war in Iraq. Not just the flat out lies, but the distortions of actual events.

No comments: