Friday, January 31, 2003

It should come as no surprise that Bob Somerby feels, quite rightly, that today's press corps is spin-driven rather than fact-driven. How much is spin and how much is fact?

In today's incomparable edition, Somerby brings to our attention that the widely-accepted, "Saddam gassed his own people," is not established fact, and may be false. This was quite a surprise to me, since the liberal retort to that point is, "with the Reagan administration's help." The details are given by former CIA analyst Stephen Pelletiere in a NY Times op-ed piece. Basic details:

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.

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.

These facts have long been in the public domain but, extraordinarily, as often as the Halabja affair is cited, they are rarely mentioned.

Pelletiere's piece goes on to speculate as to the real reason the U.S. want to take out Saddam. Hint: it isn't just the oil, and it definitely ain't over human rights.

So if the line that Saddam gassed his own people is so much hot air, what's the justification now, other than Shrub's peepee will look small if he doesn't invade now?

UPDATE: Hesiod points out that there is evidence, in the form of mustard gas and nerve agent degradation products taken from soil and closthing samples years after the fact, that Iraq did do a gas attack on the Kurdish village of Birjinni. This was just a few months after the Halabja attack, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq war. I don't know any further details about Birjinni, such as what its importance was to Iran in that war. Can anyone with access to Lexis-Nexis determine which incident got more press?

Saddam is still a bastard for having used gas, period, but for me the jury is still out as to whether Iraq's use of gas was a prohibited war act or an act of genocide. And no, the two choices are not morally equivalent.

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