Monday, January 25, 2010

America's complicity with Chemical Ali

Today in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein’s cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known as Chemical Ali, was finally hanged, charged with crimes against humanity committed during Saddam’s reign. If not also joining Chemical Ali on the scaffold, some American leaders should have at least been charged along with him.

The fact is that the U.S. and several of its allies were themselves complicit in many of Chemical Ali’s (and Saddam’s) most savage acts--acts which set the stage for the bloody, trillion dollar quagmire that Iraq has become. (I wrote at length about that history in my book Web of Deceit.)

But good luck to anyone searching the Western mainstream media for details on that unholy alliance. Ever since the fall of Saddam, the whole sordid story has been consigned to the black hole of history.

But when Saddam and Chemical Ali and the rest of Saddam’s killers were doing their worst, the U.S. governments of Ronald Reagan and later George Bush Senior were their de facto allies, providing them with vital satellite intelligence, weapons and financing, while shielding them from U.N. investigations or efforts by the U.S. Congress to impose trade sanctions for their depredations.

But you have to hand it to the U.S. (and Iraqi) officials who set up and then manipulated the Special Iraqi Tribunal so that the complicity of the U.S. and other Western countries with Saddam and his crimes was never discussed.

For some reason I’ve never been able to fathom, virtually none of the American reporters covering the Tribunal and its aftermath have ever chosen to write about that shameful tale either.

So here’s a sampling. In the light of where we’re at in Iraq today, it’s worth combing through.

The most horrific crime that Chemical Ali was charged with was his role in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Shiites following the abortive uprising or Intifada of 1991. Too bad the Special Iraqi Tribunal couldn’t also subpoena, George H.W. Bush and some of his top officials.
It was H.W. who in February 1991, as American forces were driving Saddam's troops out of Kuwait, called for the people of Iraq to rise up and overthrow the dictator. That message was repeatedly broadcast across Iraq. It was also contained in millions of leaflets dropped by the U.S. Air Force. Eager to end decades of repression, the Shiites arose. Their revolt spread like wildfire; in the north, the Kurds also rose up. Key Iraqi army units joined in. It looked as if Saddam's days were over.

But then George H. W. Bush blew the whistle. Things had got out of hand. What Bush had wanted was not a messy popular uprising but a neat military coup -- another strongman more amenable to Western interests. The White House feared that turmoil would give the Iranians increased influence, upset the Turks, wreak havoc throughout the region.

But the Bush administration didn't just turn its back; it actually aided Saddam to suppress the Intifada.

The Uprising Smashed

When Saddam's brutal counter-attack against the rebellions began, the order was given to American troops already deep inside Iraq and armed to the teeth not to assist the rebellion in any way -- though everyone knew that they were condemning the Intifada to an awful defeat. Thanks to their high-flying reconnaissance planes, U.S. commanders would observe the brutal process as it occurred.

At the time, Rocky Gonzalez was a Special Forces warrant officer serving with U.S. troops in southern Iraq. Because he spoke Arabic, he was detached to serve with the Third Brigade of the 101st Infantry when the ground war began. There were about 140 men in his unit, which was stationed at Al Khadir on the Euphrates, just a few kilometers from Kerbala and Najaf.

Rocky was one of the few Americans who could actually communicate with the Iraqis. When the Intifada erupted, the Americans prompted the rebels to raid the local prison in Kerbala and free the Kuwaitis who were being held there. "We didn't think there was going to be a lot of bloodshed," said Gonzalez, "but they executed the guards in the prison." Prior to the uprising, the rebels had also been feeding intelligence to the Americans on what Saddam's local supporters were up to.

From their base, Rocky and his units watched as Saddam's forces launched their counterattack against the rebel-held city. Thousands of people fled toward the American lines, said Gonzalez. "All of a sudden, as far as the eye could see on Highway Five, there was just a long line of vehicles, dump trucks, tractors -- any vehicle they could get -- coming to us in streams."

"The rebels wanted aid, they wanted medical treatment, and some of the individuals wanted us to give them weapons and ammunition so they could go and fight. One of the refugees was waving a leaflet that had been dropped by U.S. planes over Iraq. Those leaflets told them to rise up against the regime and free themselves."

"They weren't asking us to fight. They felt they could do that themselves. Basically they were just saying 'we rose up like you asked us, now give us some weapons and arms to fight.'"

The American forces had huge stocks of weapons they had captured from the Iraqis. But they were ordered to blow them up rather than turn them over to the rebels. "It was gut-wrenching to me," said Gonzalez. "Here we were sitting on the Euphrates River and we were ordered to stop. As a human being, I wanted to help, but as a solider I had my orders."

Ironically, according to a former U.S. diplomat, some of the arms that were not destroyed by American forces were collected by the CIA and shipped to anti-Soviet rebels in Afghanistan, who at the time were being clandestinely backed by the U.S.

A Shiite survivor of the uprising later said he had seen other American forces at the river town of Nassiriya destroy a huge cache of weapons that the rebels desperately needed. "They blew up an enormous stock of arms," he said. "If we had been able to get hold of them, the course of history would have been changed in favor of the uprising, because Saddam had nothing left at that moment."

Indeed, Saddam's former intelligence chief, General Wafiq al-Samarrai, later recounted that the government forces had almost no ammunition left when they finally squelched the revolt. "By the last week of the intifada," he said, "the army was down to two hundred and seventy thousand Kalashnikov bullets." That would have lasted for just two more days of fighting.

In his autobiography, General Schwarzkopf, without giving details, alludes to the fact that the American-led coalition aided Saddam to crush the uprising. According to his curious reasoning, expressed in another interview, the Iraqi people were not innocent in the whole affair because "they supported the invasion of Kuwait and accepted Saddam Hussein."

Iraqi survivors of the Intifada also claimed that U.S. forces actually prevented them from marching on Baghdad. "American helicopters landed on the road to block our way and stopped us from continuing," they said. "One of the American soldiers threatened to kill us if we didn't turn back." Another Shiite leader, Dr. Hamid al-Bayatti, claimed that the U.S. even provided Saddam's Republican Guards with fuel. The Americans, he charged, disarmed some resistance units and allowed Republican Guard tanks to go through their checkpoints to crush the uprising. "We let one Iraqi division go through our lines to get to Basra because the United States did not want the regime to collapse," said Middle East expert Wiliam Quandt.

The U.S. officials declined even to meet with the Shiites to hear their case. As Peter Galbraith said, "These were desperate people, desperate for U.S. help. But the U.S. refused to talk to any of the Shiite leaders: the U.S. Embassy, Schwarzkopf, nobody would see them, nor even give them an explanation."

The stonewalling continued even when evidence that Saddam was using chemical weapons against the rebels emerged. "You could see there were helicopters crisscrossing the skies, going back and forth," Rocky Gonzalez said. "Within a few hours people started showing up at our perimeter with chemical burns. They were saying, 'We are fighting the Iraqi military and the Baath Party and they sprayed us with chemicals.' We were guessing mustard gas. They had blisters and burns on their face and on their hands, on places where the skin was exposed," he said. "As the hours passed, more and more people were coming. And I asked them, 'Why don't you go to the hospital in Kerbala,' and the response was that all the doctors and nurses had been executed by the Iraqi soldiers, 'so we come to you for aid.'"

One of the greatest concerns of coalition forces during Desert Storm had been that Saddam would unleash his WMD. U.S. officials repeatedly warned Iraq that America's response would be immediate and devastating. Facing such threats, Saddam kept his weapons holstered -- or so the Bush administration led the world to believe.

Rocky's suspicion that Saddam did resort to them in 1991 was later confirmed by the report of the U.S. Government's Iraq Survey Group, which investigated Saddam's WMD after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and concluded that Saddam no longer had any WMD. Almost universally ignored by the media, however, was the finding that Saddam had resorted to his WMD during the 1991 uprising. The "regime was shaking and wanted something 'very quick and effective' to put down the revolt." They considered then rejected using mustard gas, as it would be too perceptible with U.S. troops close by. Instead, on March 7th, 1991 the Iraqi military filled R-400 aerial bombs with sarin, a binary nerve agent. "Dozens of sorties were flown against Shiite rebels in Kerbala and the surrounding areas," the ISG report said. But apparently the R-400 bombs were not very effective, having been designed for high-speed delivery from planes, not slow-moving helicopters. So the Iraqi military switched to dropping CS, a very potent tear gas, in large aerial bombs.

Because of previous U.S. warnings against resorting to chemical weapons, Saddam and his generals knew they were taking a serious risk, but the Coalition never reacted. The lingering question is why. It's impossible to believe they didn't know about it at the time. There were repeated charges from Shiite survivors that the Iraqi dictator had used chemical weapons. Rocky Gonzalez said he heard from refugees that nerve gas was being used. He had also observed French-made Iraqi helicopters -- one of which was outfitted as a crop sprayer -- making repeated bomb runs over Najaf.Gonzalez maintained that, contrary to what the ISG report said, many of the refugees who fled to U.S. lines were indeed victims of mustard gas. "Their tongues were swollen," he said, "and they had severe burns on the mucous tissue on the inside of their mouths and nasal passages. Our chemical officer also said it looked like mustard gas." Gonzalez suggested that local Iraqi officials, desperate to put down the uprising, may have used mustard gas without permission from on high. "A lot of that was kept quiet," he said, "because we didn't want to panic the troops. We stepped up our training with gas masks, because we were naturally concerned."

Gonzalez's unit also passed their information on to their superiors. "There was no way that officers higher didn't know what was happening," Gonzalez said. "Whether those reports went above our division, I have no idea." Gonzalez's former commander turned down my request for an interview. At the time, few subjects were more sensitive than Saddam's potential use of WMD. It's difficult to believe that reports from Gonzalez's unit weren't flashed immediately up the chain of command in the Gulf and Washington.

There were other American witnesses to what happened. U.S. helicopters and planes flew overhead, patrolling as Saddam's helicopters decimated the rebels. Some of those aircraft provided real-time video of the occurrences below. A reliable U.S. intelligence source confirmed that such evidence does indeed exist.

On March 7th, Secretary of State James Baker warned Saddam not to resort to chemical weapons to repress the uprising. But why, when the U.S. was notified that the Iraqi dictator actually had resorted to chemical weapons, was there no forceful reaction from the administration of the elder Bush?One plausible explanation--denouncing Saddam for using chemical weapons would have greatly increased pressure on the U.S. President to come to the aid of the Shiites.

Instead, the American decision to turn their backs on the Intifada gave a green light to Saddam Hussein's ruthless counterattack. General Wafiq al-Samarrai learned of the decision after Iraqi units intercepted frantic conversations between two Islamic rebels near Nassariya. One told the other that he had gone to the Americans to ask for support, and twice was rebuffed. "They say, 'We are not going to support you because you are Shiites and are collaborating with Iran.'" After hearing that message, al-Samarrai recalled, "The position of the regime immediately became more confident. Now [Saddam] began to attack the Intifada."

The repression when it came was as horrendous as everyone knew it would be.

"Women were being raped. People were being shot in the streets and just left to rot there." Zainab al-Suwaij recounted. "The citizens were forbidden to bury the bodies. Many of them were eaten by the dogs. The government ordered people out of Kerbala to take the road to Najaf. They were slaughtered and executed along the roadway. Many of those killed were teenagers."

As an object lesson to his people, Saddam Hussein himself ordered Iraqi television to record and broadcast scenes of the repression: appalling scenes of captured Shiites, some with ropes around their necks, being kicked and beaten and insulted, threatened with pistols and machine guns, a few pleading for mercy. Most of them, eyes downcast, are eventually dragged away to execution.

The Bush administration attempted to disengage itself from any responsibility. They were helped by the fact that there were no graphic news reports in the West of the slaughter that was taking place. U.S. intelligence agencies had their own accounts and explicit images, but they weren't sharing them with the press or the public. Anonymous government figures, wise in the ways of Realpolitik, were making statements such as, "It is far easier to deal with a tame Saddam Hussein than with an unknown quantity."

Because of Saddam's savage repression of the uprising, the ensuing U.N. sanctions, and the carnage unleashed by the 2003 invasion, at least one million Iraqis have probably lost their lives since 1991.

Imagine if, instead of blocking the Intifada, George H.W. Bush had given a green light -- without even sending American troops to Baghdad -- just sent the needed signals: met with rebel leaders, ordered Saddam to stop flying his helicopter gunships.

Granted there would have been a period of tumult. The Kurds might have achieved an autonomous or semi autonomous state, which is probably what they will wind up with. The Iranians would have certainly increased their influence through their Shiite allies, but probably no more than they have today.

Indeed, some in the Bush I administration were recommending that he do just that: support the revolt he had called for. They were overruled.

Barry Lando is the author of "Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush (Other Press,N.Y. Doubleday, Toronto.)

You can also view segments of a documentary Lando produced with Michel Despratx at

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

22 month old Ethan and his Ipod Touch

Following along on my previous blog, here now is 22 month old Ethan at play with his Ipod Touch...

Ipod Touch and the under two market-pros and cons

I was going to blog further about Haiti today, but then got to thinking about something I did the other day and wanted to tell you all about it: I bought my grandson an Ipod Touch. What is so remarkable about that? The fact that my grandson, Ethan, is only one year and ten months old

Even the Apple sales woman was somewhat taken aback. But there he was yesterday afternoon happily playing away with several different Apps, his small fingers flicking across the screen manipulating one game after another: Elmo in one, a series of toy trains in another, instinctively interacting with his world of the future that is already here.

That fact is that for several weeks Ethan has already been playing with a couple of Apps on his father's Iphone.

But won't it corrupt his spirit? Digitize his soul before he has learns to explore the real world out there on his side of the Ipod screen? Of course, I had a serious conversation with my son and daughter-in-law before I made the move. And they are as concerned about their childrens' upbringing as any parents could be: No TV violence allowed.

And the Brave New Digital World can be frightening. This past New Years for instance, we were at dinner in our hotel, and at the table next to us was a family of five, two young children, probably three and five, and three adults. The three adults were all on their mobiles, probably exchanging New Years greetings with friends on the other side of the world. And the two children? They each had their own small DVD readers or laptops in front of them on the table, each one viewing a different Disney-like video. Again, they were all sitting around the same table--"together"--but they were also all off in their own little worlds.

Not good, we agree.

And I would hope that limits will be put on his Ipoding.

On the other hand, that is the world that my grandson already inhabits. And we are descending ever deeper into that digitized world at an astonishing rate, much faster than most of us realize. Think of the glut of notepads and tablets and e-book readers and smart phones that are now the hottest selling items in our stores, economic crisis or not. Think of bing and twitter and plaxo and Facebook. Ask yourself how many of those items you had even heard about a couple of years ago. Now ask yourself what will be on the market two years from now.

But if I can give my grandson the tools he needs to inhabit that new world, why not? Those Apps he is already playing with could, of course, turn him into some kind of digital vegetable --on the other hand, properly used, they can also teach him mathematics and spelling and geography and logic, and that's just the threshold. I also bought an Ipod for his seven year old sister which she has no problem mastering. She's had her own computer for years. His father, a film maker, is himself exploring the limits of digital video and editing and blogging his results. My other son, seventeen, is now coming home from school in Paris to log on to MIT's site and follow a (free) series of lectures on calculus. He is also in daily contact via Facebook with twenty or thirty other young people around the world who are going to be attending the same university beginning next September. But why wait til then to get to know each other and exchange ideas?

In other words, no one knows where this revolution is headed. Not even the people caught up in it. It's like a surfer trying to ride a tsunami. Of course, we have the choice not to join in this world. But I figure that my grandson is already there.

Which is why I bought him his Ipod Touch.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti and Al Qaeda Memo 2

Memo from the Director of the Save Haiti NGO
Haiti and Al Qaeda, developments

Eyes Only

Further to my memo of yesterday, I have further researched the plan presented and find that we may already have fertile fodder in-country, saving us the expense of importing talent. Indeed, Haiti already has 3250 Muslims. True, that's only 0.04 percent of the population, but, hey, surely one despairing type would be willing to don a pair of loaded briefs and hop a plane to New York. We may try contacting the Bilal Mosque and Islamic Centre in Cap Haitien, which has a mosque and an Islamic study center. There is also the spiritual centre Alahu al Akhbar in Port au Prince. Maybe we could offer scholarships in Salafist studies.

In fact, according to revisionist history, Douty Boukman, whose death supposedly kicked off Haiti's revolution, may well have been of Muslim origin. Some later Muslim immigrants were Palestinians. (Signal the Israelis) They even had a Muslim representative in their Chamber of Deputies.

I would only think it's a question of time before one of the horde of reporters in Haiti covering the current disaster checks all this out and files a piece.

So, I ask you, what more do we need?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Haiti and Al Qaeda-A Modest Proposal

Memo from the Director of the Save Haiti NGO
To: Top Staff
Al Qaeda in Haiti

In a few days, when the world tires of the horrific images from Haiti, when the bodies are buried, the wreckage bulldozed, the hordes of reporters and foreign military have pulled out, then what happens to Haiti? Does it slink back to its status as one of the poorest countries on the face of the globe? In other words, how do we keep the momentum going? How do we keep Haiti and its desperate plight on page one? How do we get the tens of billions of dollars of long term aid and effort that this country needs?

I think I've found the answer. We close down our regular programs, our school lunches, and seed development and well-drilling and free dental clinics---Instead we launch Al Qaeda in Haiti. Through cut-outs of course.

We get a couple of hundred of young Haitians, desperate for anyway out of their poverty, we import a couple of fire-breathing radical Muslims to give appropriate cover to the operation, we give our Haitians a few weeks of clandestine training, and then we're ready. We could start with a suicide bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy to announce that Al Qaeda in Haiti has arrived, follow that up with a flurry of roadside bombs, attacks against smaller police stations and city halls across the country.

There results are obvious: The U.S. media arrive once again en masse. The original skeptical reports give way to shock, alarm, and calls for the American president to act. We're no longer talking about the threat from radical Islam in far-off Afghanistan. It's here, at our door step!

Then we move to the big time: two of our trainees get picked up sailing a fishing boat towards Galveston, its hold filled with fertilizer-based explosive, another gets caught boarding a plane for New York from Port Au Prince, each of his voodoo beads filled with nerve gas.

By now thousands of American troops are back in Haiti. Now, instead of a few million dollars in U.S. aid, America is pouring billions into Haiti--training a brand new Haitian army, educating thousands of civil servants, rooting out corruption, building new roads and bridges, working with every local community organization they can find.

As far as continuing to supply new recruits to our operation, the U.S. will take care of that as well. They'll be there with their Predators and frightened, trigger-happy young soldiers who know nothing about our culture and people. In fact, once we have started the ball-rolling it will maintain a momentum of its own.

Indeed, if this model works as well as I think it will, we might try it out in some of our other locations around the globe. But let's start with Haiti.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haiti and the Times

Take a look at the front page of today's New York Times (and the rest of the world's media) and you would swear that chaos and violence are running rampant in Haiti, that everyone from journalists to relief workers must be risking their necks just to venture out into the streets. You would think! But then listen to the audio feed from the same New York Times reporters who wrote the article on all that violence, and, turns out, folks, there's just a few pockets and a small number of vandals at work. The overwhelming majority of Haitians are attempting to survive without trashing their stores and knifing each other over welfare supplies. Even more ironic, the Times audio report says that fears of such violence are playing a part in delaying the aid effort, with relief workers leary of possible danger. Unfortunately the Times itself, by playing the sensational photos for all they are worth, is itself putting out a badly distorted picture of what is actually going on.