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« All Gas and Gaiters | Main | Democrats and the Presidency »

January 02, 2004

Comments

Matty

It is indeed more than worrying how many on the anti-war side seem dismissive of the cause of human rights. What I also found disturbing is that how many people who believed themselves "left wing" simply recycled old rightwing ideas in many debates about the war simply because they could be deployed in opposition to war. In fact, in one memorable debate I was involved in, some of the "leftwing" arguments included the idea that human rights are not universal, that the invasion of Kuwait was justified by "history", that we have "no right" to concern ourselves with human rights abuses in the third world and even that religious-extremism can be acceptable. Of course, argue that intervention in the name of human rights is a good, noble, internationalist thing to do and you were a "tory" or "neocon" ("neocon" becoming a term some of the far-left band about in the same way some of the American right have banded about "communist"). Whilst I should stress that not all the anti-war movement subscribe to this type of thinking, I can't help being concerned that "Left" for many people has become a fashion-label rather than ideology and there is a deep ignorance of what informs basic Liberal thinking.

tom watson

In the mid-nineties, Ann Clwyd lost her shadow cabinet job for refusing to leave the Kurds in Iraq to return for a vote in the House of Commons. She displays great integrity and is highly respected by all in Parliament. I find it incredible (and possibly actionable) that this gentleman can make such crass claims without any evidence.

Paul Anderson (http://libsoc.blogspot.com/) links to what he describes as the definitive site on the left and Bosnia:

http://www.glypx.com/BalkanWitness/hoare.htm

Also, see his post "trots into capitalists" to see where some of the Living Marxism activists are now.

Tim Newman

If it's any consolation, the comments section beneath the article is anything but favourable to Mr Young as of yet.

Simon

Mr Young deserves all he gets for maligning a good woman's name. Although I opposed the war at the time, I find it incredible that people are willing to make such unsubstantiated slurs on people's integrity on such flimsy pretexes. One finds it all the time in far-left books/pamphlets about how bankers in the World Bank DELIBERATELY want poor people to starve, or Bush wants to eat babies. However, you also get it on the far-right: Blair "HATES Britian", "actively discriminates against whites". It is all pathetic and makes you wonder what drives the paranoia of these people.

Rob Hinkley

Tom Young writes quite a lot about evidence being fabricated. Mass graves in Najaf, mass graves of children, mass graves in Kosovo, the capture of Saddam, the death of Uday and Quasay: it's all been fabricated according to Tom Young.

Peter Bocking

Tom Young needs to answer the question,from whence came the expertise on human remains.I should imagine that the rest of us have do not the desire to know about such a macabre subject.

Barry Meislin

Macabre might indeed be the word to describe both Saddam's insatiable, psychopathic, rapacious and unrepentant murderousness and Tom Young denial and/or justification of it.

But it is insufficient; for macabre does not even approach describing the evil that Saddam has both committed and represented or the evil that Young--by supporting Saddam and his ilk, and by opposing those who do battle with Saddam, et al.--seeks to perpetuate.

Jurjen

In response to Peter Bocking's point, I do have a small amount of expertise in the area of mass graves, but then, I worked for the ICTY for a few years. My first task upon being assigned to the Evidence Unit in February 1999 was to stamp evidence reference numbers on pathology reports from the remains recovered from several sites near Srebrenica. Quite an eye-opener.

Mr. Young asserts that "the sacks are both too bulky, the wrong shape and to be filled to the brim, to contain anything but sand or earth or some particulate matter." Well, yes and no. Corpses decompose, their clothing disintegrates, and the whole lot falls apart. In the case of mass graves, where the corpses may be stacked several layers deep, you then get what pathologists call "commingling," as the remains of the bodies on the upper layers sink and become mixed ("commingled") with those on the lower layers. Once commingling occurs, it becomes impossible to recover individual corpses. So you lay out a grid, bag up everything recovered in a grid square along with the surrounding soil so as not to miss teeth, small bones, weeding rings, etc., label the bag with which grid square it came from, take the hwole lot ot the lab and try to piece together which bits belonged together.

To give you an idea of how difficult this is, the path reports I worked on came with diagrams of the human skeleton where the pathologist could mark missing bones, locations of remains of clothing, ligatures, etc. On more than one of these reports, over half the body had been crossed out; it had been impossible to match up all the parts. At the time these bodies were recovered, they had been in the ground for no more than three years. Saddam was in power for 24.

So if those bags look like they contain "particulate matter," that because they do. They also contain loose bones, scraps of clothing, (hopefully) identity documents, etc. I suppose you could call that particulate matter as well, if you were of a sufficiently callous nature.

Peter Bocking

Jurjen,Thank you for your response,your experience must have been harrowing.I was hoping that someone with expertise would comment,it is doubtful that Tom Young has that expertise,if he does not he is a charlatan as well as a scoundrel.

Dave F

It is no surprise that the so-called far left (who are actually a brand of neo-fascists) is now constructing a great revisionist fable about Saddam's Iraq, because the continual stream of revelations is lowering them deeper and deeper into a moral cesspit along with their line that it is America and Bush that are the fount of all evil and the war was, per se, an unjust one.

This tendency can no longer be regarded as part of any serious political discourse. They are engrossed in myth-making.

Michael Ubaldi

Whilst I should stress that not all the anti-war movement subscribe to this type of thinking, I can't help being concerned that "Left" for many people has become a fashion-label rather than ideology and there is a deep ignorance of what informs basic Liberal thinking.

The political divide in the war debate is not one of traditional "liberals" and "conservatives," but rather moral relativists and absolutists. In the states, we've seen a bizarre intersection of the far left and far right similar to what Simon describes; elite, intellectual nihilists and utopists are suddenly sharing the same rhetoric as bigoted isolationists like Pat Buchanan. The general policy position of that loose grouping is a reactionary one: stuck somewhere between moral equivalence of democracies and despotisms, and geopolitical interpretation predating the Second World War. Meanwhile, the "conservatives" who sought to reject detente and actively counter the Soviets in the Eighties are proposing and, through the Bush administration, implementing progressive policies that successfully acknowledge a post-Cold War reality.

These ideas have more in common with Wilsonian idealism than anything else. By now, we're pretty familiar with them: ultimately throttling statist aggression and cultural extremism through democratization, diplomatically when possible and militarily when unavoidable. For the previous five decades, it's something that never occurred to the American left (they saw us and the Soviets under the same grey light of misanthropy) and before the late 1980s was unthinkable in practical terms to the American right (imagine postwar Iraq with Soviet muscle behind the secular and fundamentalist terrorists).

Liberalism certainly can be principled; as can conservatism. But I'd consider those postures on a secondary, circumstantially political level and not the stuff of ideology. The real drivers are one's adherence or rejection of unambiguous values. Nothing seems to be less delineating than today's issues of life and death or freedom and bondage. With that in mind, it's a disservice to progessivity calling the backward-thinking delusion and denial of the "far left" and "far right" anything but reactionary.

Tom Robinson

Why do people like Tom Young concoct nasty conspiracy theories in the first place?

It's because most people prefer to stretch their interpretation of facts rather than criticise their moral theories. By this means they can temporarily reduce the cognitive dissonance they feel as history unfolds in a way that contradicts important things they've said and done in the past.

The more absurd their over-elaborate explanation of reality is, the greater the underlying moral error.

There's a useful set of posts about conspiracy theories over here:

http://www.settingtheworldtorights.com/node.php?id=202

Jurjen

You're welcome, Peter. As for my experience, well, I only dealt with the documentation produced by exhumations (reports, photos, etc.); I wasn't involved in the actual excavations, which is the really stomach-turning work.

Andrew Ian Dodge

Would that we are nearing the day when denying Saddam's atrocities is akin to being a Holocaust denier. It amazing that the far-left is using similar methods to David Irving and his ilk. For some reason, despite being equally despicable outlets like the BBC are willing to give these people airtime while they would never thing of doing the same for Irving.

Still the more people like Oliver and Harry are able to speak about these people the better. These cretins need to be exposed for what they are; apologists for genocide.

Thanks Jurjen, your comment was most interesting and informative.

Bob

What of the human rights of the Iraqis who were killed in a war that Perle, the Neocon, has admitted was illegal - or don't they matter?

"As many as 15,000 Iraqis were killed in the first days of America's invasion and occupation of Iraq, a study produced by an independent US thinktank said yesterday. Up to 4,300 of the dead were civilian noncombatants." - at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1073070,00.html

"The new report, which estimates Iraq's war dead at between 10,800 and 15,100, uses a far more rigorous definition of civilian than the other studies to arrive at a figure of between 3,200 and 4,300 civilian noncombatants. It breaks down the combat deaths of up to 10,800 Iraqis who fought the American invasion. The figures include regular Iraqi troops, as well as members of the Ba'ath party and other militias. The killing was concentrated - with heavy casualties at the southern entrances of Baghdad - but as many as 80% of the Iraqi army units survived the war relatively unscathed, in part because troops deserted. As many as 5,726 Iraqis were killed in the US assault on Baghdad, when the streets of the Iraqi capital were strewn with the bodies of people trying to flee the fighting. As many as 3,531 - more than half - of the dead in the assault on the capital were noncombatant civilians, according to the report. Overall in Iraq, the ratio of civilian to military deaths is almost twice as high as it was in the last Gulf war in 1991. The overall toll of the first war was far higher - with estimates of 20,000 Iraqi soldiers and 3,500 civilians killed." - from:
http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/1029-01.htm
Links at: http://www.comw.org/pda/fulltext/0310rm8.pdf
http://www.comw.org/pda/fulltext/0305iraqcasualtydata.pdf

Tom Robinson

Bob,

The responsibility for the collateral civilian deaths you refer to lies squarely with Saddam Hussein and the B'aath Party. The Americans took all reasonable measures to reduce civilian death during the invasion without jeopardising their own servicemen excessively. This contrasts with Hussein and Co. who took plenty of measures in their time to deliberately slaughter innocent civilians.

I suspect that there has been a net *saving* of human lives as a result of US intervention. A sensible calculation would take into account the effects of lifting economic sanctions on the death toll due to disease and starvation. One should then estimate the number dissidents who would have been murdered if the invasion hadn't gone ahead.

This analysis comes before one examines the Iraqi's *quality* of life and their outlook for the future.

Rob Hinkley

In trying to produce a total for the number killed by the war we have to count the people whose lives it has saved because of the toppling of Saddam's government as well as those killed by the war. If the figure of approx 100,000 Iraqis being killed every year by the combination of sanctions & Saddam's government given by such antiwar groups as CASI were even remotely true then it doesn't take long before a war which killed at most 15,000 (of which at most 4,300 civilians), disposed of that government and enabled the lifting of sanctions produces a vast net saving of life.

BTW, Tariq Ali used the report Bob quotes which concluded "at most 15,000 Iraqi dead, of which at most 4,300 civilians" as his source when he wrote in the Guardian that the war had "cost the Iraqis at least 15,000 lives". When asked about that he said that because casualty figures would never be precise it was okay to quote his source's maximum figure as a minimum. Well in that case why bother with sources at all?

Bob

"In trying to produce a total for the number killed by the war we have to count the people whose lives it has saved because of the toppling of Saddam's government as well as those killed by the war."

That is absurd reasoning. The war, started last March, couldn't resurrect the dead unless Bush has suddenly acquired supernatural powers as well.

The relevant question on 20 March 2003 was whether another war, with all the thousands more who would be killed and injured, would be justified by what might be accomplished. Saddam was hardly likely to revert to old murderous ways while Iraq was the focus of intense international attention.

I agree that America had and has coherent national-interest motives, in terms of real politicks, for conquering Iraq which were evident to many at the time: (a) America needed to get its military bases out of Saudi Arabia, as the regime there is unstable, but couldn't do so while Saddam remained in place; (b) American forces, positioned in Iraq, could pose substantive military threats against the "axis-of-evil" regimes in Syria and Iran; (c) Iraq has the second largest known oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia. We can understand all that but let's be honest about it and stuff all the obfuscating, lying rhetoric to justify the war.

By this report in the British press of December 2001, the Bush administration was already internally committed to the Iraq war then: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,610461,00.html

Rob Hinkley


"In trying to produce a total for the number killed by the war we have to count the people whose lives it has saved because of the toppling of Saddam's government as well as those killed by the war."

That is absurd reasoning. The war, started last March, couldn't resurrect the dead unless Bush has suddenly acquired supernatural powers as well.

Well duh, Bob, obviously the dead cannot be raised. I never claimed they could be. My point was that as well as counting the people killed in the war we must also count the people now alive because the toppling of Saddam has stopped them being killed by him. I don't see anything absurd about that.

If there plans to invade Iraq back in December 2001 I wouldn't be surprised, though the plans described in the Observer article sound a lot different to the full-scale invasion that actually happened.

Matty

"I agree that America had and has coherent national-interest motives, in terms of real politicks, for conquering Iraq which were evident to many at the time:"

It's not "conquered" Iraq, though. If hands over power to an Iraqi-elected administration then it has no soverignty. It has no more conquered Iraq than it did Germany in 1945.

(a) America needed to get its military bases out of Saudi Arabia, as the regime there is unstable, but couldn't do so while Saddam remained in place;

Wouldn't it be wiser (and far cheaper and far less divisive) to use the US presence in Saudi to defend and protect the Saudi regime (which, despite what you say, is not about to topple)?

"(b) American forces, positioned in Iraq, could pose substantive military threats against the "axis-of-evil" regimes in Syria and Iran"

Why? The US can attack Iran through Turkey or from the Persian Gulf. It could already attack Syria through Israel.

"(c) Iraq has the second largest known oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia."

To be more clear, it should be pointed out that Saudi has around *twice* the oil reserves of Iraq. I have no doubt that oil plays a considerable role in determining US policy in the middle east but if it were the real reason for war then surely it makes more sense to defend the Saudi regime than overthrown Saddam. Effectively, by your logic, they are halfing the amount of oil they have access to. How is that advantageous?

"We can understand all that but let's be honest about it and stuff all the obfuscating, lying rhetoric to justify the war."

So the mass graves and the tyranny of Ba'athism were "lying"? I can understand your cynicism about the WMDs (I don't believe it myself any more) but that was more about working around the UN (which has been ineffectual since the early 90s - look at Bosnia and Rwanda). There were a perfectly good, moral reasons for removing the Ba'athist regime and if you don't believe it then you might wonder why all those Iraqis celebrated on Saddam's capture. Unlike opponents of the war, they had to live with that government first-hand.


Bob

"There were a perfectly good, moral reasons for removing the Ba'athist regime"

Other than Ba'athists, there aren't many other folks defending their moral reputation, as best I can tell. Few are disputing that Saddam ran a secular, self-serving tyranny.

The questions are: (a) Just how many thousands of people was it worth killing and injuring to liberate the Iraqis? (b) By what ordinance or principle does America claim to assert the unilateral, pre-emptive right to make such decisions? (c) What if other countries later use that as a precedent to do their own liberating - such as China "liberating" Taiwan or Russia, given time, pre-emptively reabsorbing now autonomous states which used to be part of the Soviet Union? (d) Given that many now agree Saddam did not constitute a credible threat to America or Britain, could means other than war have effectively constrained the internal repression in Iraq?

By many reports and indications, a sizeable junk of Britain's electorate does believe that we were shamefully duped into going to war.

By the report in The Observer of December 2001, the Bush administration was already internally committed to the Iraq war then: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,610461,00.html

Blair decided to go along with that, making the necessary decisions by invoking the powers of the Royal prerogative and only getting authority from a vote in the Commons at the end of the debate in Parliament on 18 March 2003 when British troops were already stationed on Iraq's borders, poised for invasion before the summer heat began.

So much for democracy.

Scott

"(a) Just how many thousands of people was it worth killing and injuring to liberate the Iraqis?"
==>This question falsely presumes the Iraqi liberation was the primary goal of the war on Iraq and so it is rhetorical.

"(b) By what ordinance or principle does America claim to assert the unilateral, pre-emptive right to make such decisions?"
==>As laid out by Bush, Blair, etc.

"(c) What if other countries later use that as a precedent to do their own liberating - such as China "liberating" Taiwan..."
==>Stephen den Beste laid out a pretty good projection of China's chances of accomplishing this:
http://denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2003/12/InvasionofTaiwan.shtml

"...or Russia"
==>This would be a disaster for China not only militarily but politically as well. The former Soviet Union may have downsized but they are still quite capable of protecting their own borders.

"(d) Given that many now agree Saddam did not constitute a credible threat to America or Britain, could means other than war have effectively constrained the internal repression in Iraq?"
==> Call me a pessimist, but I would tend to say "no".

Matty

The questions are: (a) Just how many thousands of people was it worth killing and injuring to liberate the Iraqis?

As long as *more* people would die through "peace" than by fighting the war then it is justified for obvious reasons. That doesn't make it an easy decision, but by not taking it (or pretending you can "take neither choice") you have to deal with the fact that your inaction is allowing a larger number of people to die than your action would.

(b) By what ordinance or principle does America claim to assert the unilateral, pre-emptive right to make such decisions?

It could, in fact, argue that it was upholding the UN's orders since it had demanded certain things of Saddam (which no one claims he did not comply with) and had asked that action be taken against him if he did not comply.

(c) What if other countries later use that as a precedent to do their own liberating - such as China "liberating" Taiwan or Russia, given time, pre-emptively reabsorbing now autonomous states which used to be part of the Soviet Union?

This would be nothing new. States have made plenty of "pre-emptive" strikes since 1945 - Russia into Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Afghanistan, China into Vietnam, Vietnam into Cambodia, Numerous incursions between India and Pakistan, Indonesia's invasion of East Timor. The idea that there had never been any pre-emptive strikes since the formation of the UN and that the US has since opened the floodgates is utter nonsense. People should read history a little more and listen to rhetoric a little less. If China had plans to invade Taiwan they would have carried them out whether the US invaded Iraq or not.

(d) Given that many now agree Saddam did not constitute a credible threat to America or Britain, could means other than war have effectively constrained the internal repression in Iraq?

No. If it makes you happy, the US (or at least a previous Republican administration) is to blame for the mess that became Iraq. George Bush Sr, as we all know, promised the Iraqis support in 1991 if they rose against Saddam. They rose, were betrayed and butchered to the tune of approximately 100,000 by Saddam's Republican Guard. This treachery was down to White House jitters about pro-Iranian elements in Iraq's south. As a result, the West was left with an isolated embittered Saddam who they did not trust and sought to "contain" through wide-ranging sanctions (designed to stop him obtaining WMDs or rebuild his army and which killled approx 500,000 of his people) and a slow, sporadic war of occassional bombing (such as 1998's "Operation Desert Fox") with no real aims or end. Bill Clinton made it his policy to have Saddam removed from office and even contemplated having him assassinated (until he discovered that this had been made illegal under US law). There were rumours of a possible Republican Guard coup (the only people with the power to remove Saddam) but these never came to anything and fuelled the realisation that Saddam was orchestrating a genuine reign-of-terror to keep himself in power, dishing out extreme punishments for any disloyalty so that loyalty to the regime and it's lieutenants became a matter of survival for many in Iraqi politics. Outside intervention was the only solution.

Peter Bocking

"By what ordinance or principle does America claim to assert the unilateral, pre-emptive right to make such decisions?"
If the action is unilateral the rest of the question is irrelevant.

Tim Newman

"By this report in the British press of December 2001, the Bush administration was already internally committed to the Iraq war then: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,610461,00.html"

Only an idiot quotes a newspaper article as proof of something.

Dave F

For a fairly comprehensive and wrenching look at what Saddam hath wrought, check http://www.9neesan.com/massgraves/

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