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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Still some media working for Bush

CNN gives Bush a talking point for tonight's debate: Mass grave unearthed in Iraq.

Compared to some of the mass grave articles I've seen, this one actually provides details. It offers fairly detailed descriptions of who the victims were (Kurds) and when and how they were killed (1987 or 1988, gunshot wounds in the back of the head). It gives the approximate number killed (100 at each of two sites), and otherwise provides details which suggest that this is evidence that Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant. The article also offers a plausible number for the number of people killed by Saddam:
Human rights groups believe about 300,000 people were killed during Saddam's 24-year rule, which ended when U.S.-led forces toppled his regime in 2003.
I call that plausible, because the numbers frequently given by freepers of one to two million generally include anyone who died a violent death during Saddam's reign: All fatalties of the Iran-Iraq war on both sides, all fatalties of the Gulf War on all sides, and probably a couple of hundred thousand they just made up.

So, as I said, this seems to be a mass-grave story that is fair and balanced. The real question is, why is it a major CNN headline TODAY? The article states that the killings occurred in 1987 or '88 (when Saddam was our ally, BTW), that the site was discovered by US troops a year ago, and that excavation of the site began on September 1 of this year. But the headline "Mass grave unearthed in Iraq" would seem to suggest something which I'm sure Bush will say tonight--"We've just discovered two more huge mass graves of people Saddam killed." We've known these people were killed for 17 years, we've known where they were buried for a year, and we started learning the details six weeks ago. Evidence in Saddam's trial? Sure. News today? No.

I will add that I think it is important to discount any mass-grave story which doesn't provide some details about who the people were, how they died, and when. By themselves, mass graves are evidence of tragedy but not necessarily treachery. In times of natural disaster or epidemic, people die faster than can be given proper burials. I'm sure many victims of plague, earthquakes, and so forth were buried in mass graves, even in recent times. Furthermore, while Saddam certainly filled many mass graves with people killed on his orders, there are many mass graves in Iraq for which Saddam clearly wasn't to blame. I've been reading The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian, a history of the genocide of the Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire, most of which occurred in the years 1915 and 1916. While many Armenians were killed in their homes or nearby, hundreds of thousands were deported hundreds of miles, by rail, boat and foot, to far reaches of the Ottoman Empire. The end of the line for many was in what is now northern Iraq, near Mosul and Kirkuk. Thousands of Armenians died in concentration camps there.

And the Gulf War also resulted in many Iraqi soldiers being buried in mass graves. Many were killed in the brutal carpet bombing, others were killed during the 100-hour ground war itself, and still more were killed as they retreated from Kuwait.

And tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in the current war. The soccer stadium in Fallujah is reportedly a mass grave now. Those thirty or so Iraqi guards killed by US troops that Sy Hersh reported on probably were not given decent individual burials either.

So Iraq, like most countries, has lots of mass graves. Three men in particular have been responsible for filling those mass graves in the past 25 years. And these Butchers of Baghdad should all rot in hell.