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At Hussein’s Hearings, U.S. May Be on Trial

Posted on Nov 29, 2005
National Security Archives / CNN

By Juan Cole

The ongoing trial of Saddam Hussein could prove increasingly uncomfortable for the Bush administration. The first crime of which the deposed dictator is accused, the secret execution of 143 Shiites arrested in 1982, seems an odd choice for the prosecution, and politics may be behind it. Hussein is accused of using poison gas against Iranian troops, of genocide against the Kurds and of massacring tens of thousands to end the 1991 uprising after his defeat in the Gulf War. The problem for the Bush administration with these other, far graver charges, is that the Americans are implicated in them either through acts of commission or omission.

The saga of Dujail began, as the BBC explained recently, with Hussein’s visit to the mixed Shiite and Sunni town north of Baghdad in summer of 1982. Many of the young men in Dujail were conscripts fighting at the front against Khomeini’s Islamic Republic of Iran, which Hussein had invaded in 1980 Hussein appears to have gone there to drum up support for his war, which had quickly become a costly and dangerous quagmire. Worse, many Iraqi Shiites were members of the fundamentalist Dawa Party. They were willing to fight Iran to stop it from taking over Iraq, but they hated Hussein, who had made membership in their party a capital crime. As Hussein was leaving Dujail, Shiite assassins tried to kill him.

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Hussein responded in typical brutal and immediate fashion by rounding up dozens of Shiites in Dujail (in all likelihood especially those families that his secret police suspected of being Dawa). One hundred forty-three never came home and are probably in a mass grave of the sort that dots the Iraqi landscape. Given that the Shiite fundamentalist parties came to power in the Jan. 30, 2005, elections, and that the leader of the Dawa Party, Ibrahim Jaafari, became the prime minister, the conviction of Hussein first on these charges would gratify Jaafari’s party base and add to his faltering popularity.

The Dujail charges have the advantage for Washington of stemming from an incident that occurred a year before the U.S. rapprochement with the Iraqi Baath Party in 1983. In the 1970s, Iraq under Baath Party dictator Brigadier General Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr had grown close to the Soviet Union, with which it signed a treaty of friendship in 1972 and from which it began importing arms. In 1973, al-Bakr supported the Syrians in their war with Israel.

The ensuing poor relations with Washington were not repaired until 1983. Persistent allegations are made by some observers, including journalist Christopher Hitchens, that then-President Jimmy Carter put Hussein up to invading Iran in September of 1980. These allegations seem implausible on their face, and there is no documentary proof for them. A former National Security Council staffer for Gulf affairs, Gary Sick, has told this author that Hussein’s invasion of Iran came as a shock to the NSC in 1980. Sick’s impression of continued frost between Washington and Baghdad is borne out by documents published by the National Security Archive, housed at George Washington University.

The turning point came in 1983, as the Reagan administration reevaluated its policy toward the Middle East. Note that it does not appear to have been deterred by a small matter such as Hussein’s propensity to massacre townspeople like those at Dujail. The threat that Khomeinism posed to U.S. interests in the region had been underlined by the rise of Shiite radicalism in Lebanon. The U.S. suspected extremist Shiites of blowing up the U.S. embassy and killing 63 persons in Beirut on April 18, 1983. Hussein’s invasion of Iran had been stopped dead in its tracks by Iranian military and irregular forces, and by 1982 Iran was beginning an effective counterattack. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini desperately wanted Baghdad. Ronald Reagan’s special envoy to the Middle East, Donald Rumsfeld (then also CEO of G.D. Searle & Co.), began worrying about the implications if the Iranians succeeded in taking it, as did the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William Casey.

One possible impediment to better relations between the U.S. and Iraq was the latter’s use of chemical weapons.  The 1925 Geneva Protocol, which forbade the use of chemical weapons, specified that it “shall be universally accepted as a part of International Law, binding alike the conscience and the practice of nations.” The Reagan State Department was well aware that Hussein had begun using chemicals against Iranian troops at the front, and by Nov. 1 was actively considering [PDF] what punitive measures might be taken against Iraq.


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Nevertheless, Reagan sent Rumsfeld to Baghdad in December 1983. The National Security Archive has posted a brief video of his meeting with Hussein and the latter’s vice president and foreign minister, Tariq Aziz. Rumsfeld was to stress his close relationship with the U.S. president. The State Department summary [PDF] of Rumsfeld’s meeting with Tariq Aziz stated that “the two agreed the U.S. and Iraq shared many common interests: peace in the Gulf, keeping Syria and Iran off balance and less influential, and promoting Egypt’s reintegration into the Arab world.” Aziz asked Rumsfeld to intervene with Washington’s friends to get them to stop selling arms to Iran. Increasing Iraq’s oil exports and a possible pipeline through Saudi Arabia occupied a portion of their conversation.

The U.S. and Iraq were well on the way toward a restoration of diplomatic relations (broken off in 1967 by the colonels’ regime that preceded the Baath) and a military alliance against Iran. The State Department, however, issued a press statement on March 5, 1984, condemning Iraqi use of chemical weapons. This statement appears to have been Washington’s way of doing penance for its new alliance. 
Unaware of the depths of Reagan administration hypocrisy on the issue, Hussein took the March 5 State Department condemnation extremely seriously, and appears to have suspected that the United States was planning to stab him in the back. Secretary of State George Shultz notes in a briefing for Rumsfeld in spring of 1984 [PDF] that the Iraqis were extremely confused by concrete U.S. policies toward Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and combating Khomeini. “In each case,” Shultz observes, “Iraqi officials have professed to be at a loss to explain our actions as measured against our stated objectives. As with our CW statement, their temptation is to give up rational analysis and retreat to the line that US policies are basically anti-Arab and hostage to the desires of Israel.”

Rumsfeld had to be sent back to Baghdad for a second meeting, to smooth ruffled Baath feathers. The above-mentioned State Department briefing notes for this discussion remarked that the atmosphere in Baghdad (for Rumsfeld) had worsened for two reasons. First, Iraq had failed to completely repulse a major Iranian offensive and had lost the “strategically significant Majnun Island oil fields and accepting heavy casualties.” Second, the March 5 scolding of Iraq for its use of poison gas had “sharply set back” relations between the two countries.

The relationship was repaired, but on Hussein’s terms. He continued to use chemical weapons and, indeed, vastly expanded their use as Washington winked at Western pharmaceutical firms providing him materiel. The only conclusion one can draw from available evidence is that Rumsfeld was more or less dispatched to mollify Hussein and assure him that his use of chemical weapons was no bar to developing the relationship with the U.S., whatever the State Department spokesman was sent out to say. As former National Security Council staffer Howard Teicher affirmed, “Pursuant to the secret NSDD [National Security Directive], the United States actively supported the Iraqi war effort by supplying the Iraqis with billions of dollars of credits, by providing US military intelligence and advice to the Iraqis, and by closely monitoring third country arms sales to Iraq to make sure that Iraq had the military weaponry required.” The requisite weaponry included cluster bombs. Whether it also included, from Washington’s point of view, chemical weapons and biological precursors for anthrax, Teicher does not say.

Teicher adds that the CIA had knowledge of, and U.S. officials encouraged, the provisioning of Iraq with high-powered weaponry by U.S. allies. He adds: “For example, in 1984, the Israelis concluded that Iran was more dangerous than Iraq to Israel’s existence due to the growing Iranian influence and presence in Lebanon. The Israelis approached the United States in a meeting in Jerusalem that I attended with Donald Rumsfeld. Israeli Foreign Minister Ytizhak Shamir asked Rumsfeld if the United States would deliver a secret offer of Israeli assistance to Iraq. The United States agreed. I traveled with Rumsfeld to Baghdad and was present at the meeting in which Rumsfeld told Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz about Israel’s offer of assistance. Aziz refused even to accept the Israelis’ letter to Hussein.” It might have been hoped that a country that arose in part in response to Nazi uses of poison gas would have been more sensitive about attempting to ally with a regime then actively deploying such a weapon, even against its own people (some gassing of Kurds had already begun).

The new American alliance might have been a public relations debacle if Iran succeeded in its 1984 attempt to have Iraq directly condemned at the United Nations for use of chemical weapons. As far as possible, Shultz wanted to weasel out of joining such a U.N. condemnation of Iraq. He wrote in a cable that the U.S. delegation to the U.N. “should work to develop general Western position in support of a motion to take ‘no decision’ on Iranian draft resolution on use of chemical weapons by Iraq. If such a motion gets reasonable and broad support and sponsorship, USDEL should vote in favor. Failing Western support for ‘no decision,’ USDEL should abstain.” Shultz in the first instance wanted to protect Hussein from condemnation by a motion of “no decision,” and hoped to get U.S. allies aboard. If that ploy failed and Iraq were to be castigated, he ordered that the U.S. just abstain from the vote. Despite its treaty obligations in this regard, the U.S. was not even to so much as vote for a U.N. resolution on the subject! 

Shultz also wanted to throw up smokescreens to take the edge off the Iranian motion, arguing that the U.N. Human Rights Commission was “an inappropriate forum” for consideration of chemical weapons, and stressing that loss of life owing to Iraq’s use of chemicals was “only a part” of the carnage that ensued from a deplorable war. A more lukewarm approach to chemical weapons use by a rogue regime (which referred to the weapons as an “insecticide” for enemy “insects”) could not be imagined. In the end, the U.N. resolution condemned the use of chemical weapons but did not name Iraq directly as a perpetrator.

When the Dujail case is resolved and the tribunal trying Hussein goes on to other crimes, sooner or later the issue of chemical weapons use must arise. Iran is already furious that the tribunal seems unlikely to charge Hussein for his battlefield deployment of this weapon. When the issue arises, it will be difficult for Donald Rumsfeld to avoid sharing the docket, at least symbolically, with his old friend, Hussein. Rumsfeld helped to forge the U.S. alliance with Iraq that lasted from 1984 until Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August of 1991. He did so in full knowledge that the Baath regime was using mustard gas—which severely burns the lungs—against the Iranian children sent by Khomeini to launch “human wave” attacks. One Iranian survivor commented that with each flaming breath he takes, he wishes the gas had killed him. The pogrom against the Shiites of Dujail was a horrible crime. Far more horrible ones, in which the U.S. government was intimately complicit, were to follow.

Juan Cole is professor of Middle East and South Asian history at the University of Michigan and author of “Sacred Space and Holy War” (London: I.B. Tauris, 2002). He maintains the weblog Informed Comment.

Links and Web Bibliography

“Saddam Hussein.”  Wikipedia.

Joyner Library.  The War on Terror:  Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

Jonathan Randal, “The Iran-Iraq War.”  Crimes of War: The Book.

“Donald Rumsfeld.” Rightweb Profile.

Stephen R. Shalom, “The United States and the Iran-Iraq War,” Z Magazine, February, 1990.


Map of the Iran-Iraq war.

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By Tony Wicher, January 1, 2007 at 3:21 pm Link to this comment
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Iran was winning the Iraq war by 1982. Without outside interference, Khomeini would have taken Baghdad. Instead we propped up Saddam. Too bad. Well, now the U.S. has taken Baghdad, and we obviously have no business there. So what we ought to do is leave without any further argument and let Iran take over.

Moktada Sadr is obviously the new Saddam we have been looking for. Unlike Bush, Saddam did not just try to kill his father; Saddam actually did kill Moktada’s father. So it is as logical as a Greek tragedy that Moktada should succeed him. Let him run the place.

Saddam looked very dignified in his final moments. He met his death like a man. In life he was a murderous dictator, but in death may he rest in peace.

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By M Henri Day, November 6, 2006 at 2:13 am Link to this comment
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What Professor Cole neglected to comment upon, in writing his article a year ago, was how this farce of a so-called «trial», or rather the pre-ordained «verdict» of guilty and sentence of death by hanging, would be used in an attempt to bolster the flagging fortunes of King George’s party at the US mid-term elections of 2006. Mr Hussein and several others have been condemned for, we are told, ordering the deaths of 143 Iraqi citizens after an attempt to assassinate him took place in the town of Dujail in conjunction with his visit there in the summer of 1982. The war ordered by Messers Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et consortes on the people of Iraq has hitherto claimed the lives of approximately 5000 times as many Iraqis as were killed in or around Dujail. When will we be treated to the sight of the perpetrators of that war hanging ?...

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By Frank, November 5, 2006 at 6:15 pm Link to this comment
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To Charles Martel:

“Having is both ways” is precisely what it looks like the U.S. is doing: when it suits us we have historically propped up dictators. When it doesn’t, we overthrow them and and now sentence them to death in a sham court.

Who is responsible for more deaths of Iraqi innocents, Saddam or George W? And is not preemptive war also outlawed in international law as the use of chemical weapons is?

Juan Cole is not the one “having it both ways.”

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By Anna Taylor, August 30, 2006 at 7:29 am Link to this comment
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Was it 1983 when Rumsfeld gave Hussein the gold spurs?

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By Alice, August 29, 2006 at 3:11 am Link to this comment
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i think all the dictators should get a bullet

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By Brian, February 18, 2006 at 12:03 pm Link to this comment
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It is sad if the evidence from the professor are true.It is a dog eat dog world someone would say,but hey! you wait for the Judgement of God.There we will all give account of our misdeeds here on earth.Leave the Bush’s and group to their atrocities….they shall give a full account at an appointed time.

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By Stephen Kriz, December 23, 2005 at 3:33 pm Link to this comment
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Mr. Cole fails to mention the Bell helicopters that were sold to Iraq with crop-dusting equipment, which Hussein easily modified to spray death on the Kurds in Hallabja.  Or the massive amounts of conventional arms we sold him directly or through proxies.

Lets be honest with ourselves for once, Jason - Hussein is a monster of our own creation…

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By Tom S., December 8, 2005 at 12:49 pm Link to this comment
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Tony M. was courageous enough to note some positive things attributed to Sadaam Hussein.  William Shakespeare wrote:

“The evil that men do lives after them.  The good is oft interred with their bones.”

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By M Henri Day, December 7, 2005 at 1:37 pm Link to this comment
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Modern reform in Iraq did not begin with the Saddam Hussein in particular or the Ba’athists in general , but with the government of Abdul Karim Qassim. Unlike the «government» sponsored by the USA today, however, the Ba’athist regime which took over after Qassim and and the Arif brothers had been disposed of did not have as part of its programme returning the country to the medieval period. That’s one of the reasons it had to go….

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By Charles Martel, December 7, 2005 at 12:34 pm Link to this comment
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I agree with every sentence in the article itself.

And yet I am totally confused.

You cannot have it both ways, Mr Cole! You cannot simultaneously argue that the US is evil for having supported Saddam Hussein and for doing nothing while he was committing crimes against the Shiites AND that the US is evil for finally turning against Saddam Hussein and deposing him.

You can read more about my opinion about Juan Cole’s article here:

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By ATD, December 1, 2005 at 8:04 pm Link to this comment
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Part of this essay struck a familiar cord. Following WWI, Britain, the colonial power in the Middle East, made various promises to Israel, and other countries, via treaties e.g. Sykes-Picot. The promises made were for the purpose of drumming up support with many countries, and as a result many conflicts came from the various contradictions that surfaced later between various commitments Britian made.

The Reagan administration in the 1980’s took role to send Rumsfeld to Iraq for the sake of constructing an alliance against Iran. Following the first visit, you say that the State Department released a statement condemning the Iraqi use of chemical arms.

Now, is there a connection between the fact that in World War I Britain made false promises and didn’t live up to its word in the middle east for the sake of persuing its own interests, and the fact that in the 1980’s the Reagan administration was saying one thing in terms of an alliance and in practice making statements contradictory to its position?

It may seem like a stretch, but it appears to me that if you abstract, the U.S has taken Britain’s role as the “colonial power” following in the English footsteps of making false statements and promises for the sake of preserving its end. Both powers have acted the same at different times in history in terms of relations to middle eastern countries. I find it hard to understand why middle eastern policy is so fundamentally flawed as to let this sort of practice continue. Is there a relationship here in what I am saying or am I off base?

The Reagan administration in the 1980’s seems to have followed a similar line. Not just in Israel, but also

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By Eric, December 1, 2005 at 3:45 pm Link to this comment
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Civilian death in Iraq during the Clinton years was in fact slow genocide. Madeline Albright confirmed and approved this during a 60 Minutes interview in 1996. Writings and interviews by Joy Gordon, Dennis Halliday, and Hans Von Sponek will tell the story of the incredible mendacity with which the Clinton administration ran the 661 committee and Iraq policy in general. Also look up CASI and Glen Rangwala for voluminous documentation. Read Out of the Ashes by Andrew and Patrick Cockburn too. I haven’t even mentioned the missile attacks and bombings yet.

None of this suggests I approve of Republican policies supporting Saddam, raising up Islamist fighters in Afghanistan during the Reagan years, etc. And while the Clinton administration had few scruples about waging aggressive war and aerial bombardment in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, and Sudan, admittedly they did not top the Crime Against Peace committed by the current Bush. It’s just that Bush hasn’t killed quite as many people—yet.

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By SB_Gypsy, December 1, 2005 at 12:39 pm Link to this comment
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” Phyllis Bennis said of Saddam’s Iraq before 1991:  “For the majority of people in pre-sanctions Iraq, the “other” human rights - economic and social rights—were well respected. Unlike other Gulf oil producers, Iraq invested virtually all of its oil wealth inside the country, building the most advanced medical and educational systems in the region. Even during the decade-long Iran-Iraq War, the overwhelmingly middle-class Iraqis lived in a modern, near First World level society with one of the smallest wealth-poverty gaps of any country in the region. Food access, education, health care and general quality of life approached that of developed countries. The most common problem faced by Iraqi pediatricians was childhood obesity.” “

Looks like our foreign policy experts are some corrupt and nasty HooHaas

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By Tony N, November 30, 2005 at 10:45 pm Link to this comment
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This flash presentation on ‘who is Saddam Hussein’s and his relationship with the U.S.’ makes a nice companion piece to Juan Cole’s article.

What missing from “Thanks For The Memories” is Jimmy Carter’s greenlight for Saddam to invade Iran and Bill Clinton’s genocidal sanctions against Iraq.  Saddam should use his billions (his detractors claim he stole from Iraq) to advertise this information on American TV.  Or, if he doesn’t have the money, then borrow some from those non-Iraqi organizations that have been plundering billions from Iraq since 2003.

With respect to Saddam’s Dujail case, Grustnij (see comment #19) reveals that the U.S. has resorted to more dramatic retaliation.  In 1993, US launched 23 Tomahawk missiles against the Baghdad intelligence HQ, claiming Iraq was involved in an attempt to assassinate former President GHW Bush during his visit to Kuwait.  Three to seven of the Tomahawks missed their targets and hit nearby residential areas, destroying several houses and killing civilians (including a renown female artist). Clinton later said the American people could “feel good” about the attack.  Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh later said that the case against Iraq was more circumstantial than smoking gun.  In April 2004, the US launched its first massive attack on Fallujah, killing 600 to 1,000, after four US Blackwater security contractors were killed.

Saddam’s trial will sensationalize his regime’s atrocities.  Every pathetic TV commentator from Nancy Grace to Bill O’ Reilly loves to hate a bad guy. But I doubt if the U.S. will allow Iraqi courts to scrutinize U.S. complicity in many of these atrocities. 

However, I wonder if Saddam will get any points for a few positive things he actually did for Iraqis.  Through Juan Cole’s Wikipedia link above, we learn that “Saddam saw himself as a social revolutionary and a modernizer, following the model of Nasser. To the consternation of Islamic conservatives, his government gave women added freedoms and offered them high-level government and industry jobs. Saddam also created a Western-style legal system, making Iraq the only country in the Persian Gulf region not ruled according to traditional Islamic law (Sharia). Saddam abolished the Sharia law courts, except for personal injury claims.  Domestic conflict impeded Saddam’s modernizing projects.”

Phyllis Bennis said of Saddam’s Iraq before 1991:  “For the majority of people in pre-sanctions Iraq, the “other” human rights - economic and social rights—were well respected. Unlike other Gulf oil producers, Iraq invested virtually all of its oil wealth inside the country, building the most advanced medical and educational systems in the region. Even during the decade-long Iran-Iraq War, the overwhelmingly middle-class Iraqis lived in a modern, near First World level society with one of the smallest wealth-poverty gaps of any country in the region. Food access, education, health care and general quality of life approached that of developed countries. The most common problem faced by Iraqi pediatricians was childhood obesity.”

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By Yonk, November 30, 2005 at 10:14 pm Link to this comment
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Pardon me, when did Clinton institute the Sanctions policy and how you can compare sanctions to actually arming Saddam & Osama thereby helping to create the terrorists we now face is beyond belief.

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By loriglory, November 30, 2005 at 9:08 pm Link to this comment
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What we all fail to see is the same old jerks except the “moron cowboy”, keep getting recycled from administration to administration.

Who will come after “the moron cowboy”, Cheney’s puppet, can it get worse, probably?

Scary to contemplate, isn’t it?

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By mdhåtter, November 30, 2005 at 8:41 pm Link to this comment
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any way you slice it, Iraqi’s die. Clinton wasted expensive missiles, and Bush is wasting your irreplacable citizens.

you do the math and answer your own question.

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By mdhatter, November 30, 2005 at 8:38 pm Link to this comment
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Progressives are going to run this government for the next 50 years if this (war, corruption, & internet sleuthing) keeps up much longer.

Right on ya’ Juan! You do a great service to your nation!

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By Bob In Pacifica, November 30, 2005 at 5:45 pm Link to this comment
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Thanks, Bob Scheer, for this website. I’ve already put it on my favorites list.

It would be interesting to hear more about Jimmy Carter’s dealings with Iraq/Iran. No doubt, Carter was probably not feeling very pleased with Iran, holding American Embassy hostages at the time. In THE SECRET WAR AGAINST THE JEWS, the authors state that at the end of Ford’s term a CIA document was generated (read: by then CIA Director George H.W. Bush) which claimed that the Soviet Union would imminently begin to run out of oil. This, in turn, helped the sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia.

In any case, thanks also to Juan Cole for this nice little slice of history.

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By Rush Limbaugh's Rogue Pharmacist, November 30, 2005 at 5:20 pm Link to this comment
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Jason, we’re not playing 21 here.  Do you think Professor Cole is a great fiction writer?  In unfortunately typical conservative fashion, you offer no counter-arguments, but just trash the author’s arguments by completely negating them.  If you think something is BS, you owe it to people here to explain your understanding of the US’ insidious involvement in Iraqi affairs.

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By Grustnij, November 30, 2005 at 4:17 pm Link to this comment
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The president of country A (let’s call him Mr SH) is a target of a failed assassination attempt in his own country. His convoy is been shot at. In revenge, Mr H (allegedly) orders the alleged perpetrators to be shot.
Innocent civilians die along with the perpetrators.

The former president of country B (we’ll call him Mr GHWB) is allegedly a target of an assassination attempt, while visiting country C. Nothing happens, though. In revenge, the sitting president of country B, Mr WJC, orders launch of 23 Tomahawk missiles against the alleged commanders of the alleged perpetrators, situated in the capitol of country A.
Only innocent civilians die.

Do you honestly think the only president who deserves to be put on trial for his actions is Mr SH?

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By M Henri Day, November 30, 2005 at 2:21 pm Link to this comment
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Unless the documents on the consortiumnews website referred to by Pierce R Butler and Tony N above can convincingly be shown to be forgeries, it is obvious that Professor Cole is in error when he states that allegations that US President Carter gave Saddam Hussein the green light for attacking Iran «seem implausible on their face, and there is no documentary proof for them». Unfortunately, it would seem that Professor Cole’s judgement is at times distorted by a desire to believe in the essential benevolence of US foreign policy (thus Bush II’s policy is treated as an aberration, due to the pernicious influence of the neo-cons, while Bush I’s more pragmatic policy is praised) and the honour of the US military (as Professor Cole states on his website, he comes from a military family)....

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By Eric, November 30, 2005 at 2:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

``Democrat presidents were also to blame’‘

Absolutely. More Iraqi civilians died as a direct result of US sanctions policy during the Clinton years than during either of the Bush Administrations (so far). The current Bush’s stepped up air war may change that…

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By Yonk, November 30, 2005 at 2:05 pm Link to this comment
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How about adding the fact that Poppa Bush and Dick Cheney kept arming Saddam along with Osama thereby aiding and helping to create the terrorists we now face.
Also how about that super patriot Cheney doing business with the enemy , Iran while at Halliburton .
Political ineptness is one thing, selling out your country for the almight buck is another.

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By Tony N, November 30, 2005 at 12:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

First of all, let me congratulate Bob Scheer on co-founding this excellent website.

Juan Cole’s article: “At Hussein’s Hearings, US May Be on Trial” offers mostly intelligent analysis and accurate facts on the issue.  Jason, it appears, is the misinformed party.

However Juan Cole is incorrect to write: “Persistent allegations are made by some observers, including journalist Christopher Hitchens, that then-President Jimmy Carter put Hussein up to invading Iran in September of 1980. These allegations seem implausible on their face, and there is no documentary proof for them.”  It’s not implausible and it’s not true there is no documentary proof.  It’s plausible because Carter was being hit politically by the Iranian hostage crisis at the time and could have been looking for a way to put pressure on Iran to get the American hostages released.

As for documentary proof, Gen. Alexander Haig, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State in 1981, wrote:  “confirm that President Carter gave the Iraqis a green light to launch the war against Iran through Fahd.” This was in a two-page “Talking Points” document marked “top secret/sensitive” prepared by Gen. Haig for a briefing of President Reagan on Haig’s first trip to the Middle East in April 1981.  Cole should not assume that all documents end up in the National Security Archive.
For what it’s worth, according to Iran’s president at the time, Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, Zbigniew Brzezinski (President Carter’s National Security Advisor) met directly with Saddam Hussein in Jordan two months before the Iraqi attack on Iran. Bani-Sadr wrote, “Brzezinski had assured Saddam Hussein that the United States would not oppose the separation of Khuzestan (in southwest Iran) from Iran.”  Iranian students later revealed a secret memo from Brzezinski to then-Secretary of State Cyrus Vance recommending the “destabilization” of Iran’s Islamic Republic via its neighbors. 

Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes were not the only administrations to have created enduring problems in the Arab-Muslim world.  Democrat presidents were also to blame. It was during Jimmy Carter’s much maligned administration that Iraq was encouraged to invade Iran, Osama bin Laden and his Mujahedin were supported in their attacks in Afghanistan, a U.S. rapid deployment force in the Middle East was initiated, Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq and American hostages were held in Iran, among other milestones. If there is anything to question Juan Cole about is that he sometimes gives some Democrat politicians and the U.S. military the benefit of doubt, unless the facts are overwhelming.

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By Pierce R. Butler, November 30, 2005 at 11:33 am Link to this comment
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Cole: Persistent allegations are made by some observers, including journalist Christopher Hitchens, that then-President Jimmy Carter put Hussein up to invading Iran in September of 1980. These allegations seem implausible on their face, and there is no documentary proof for them.

Craig Unger, in House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship between the World’s Two Most Powerful Dynasties:

“According to classified documents uncovered by Robert Parry, a Washington, D.C. investigative reporter, after meeting with Prince Fahd, Alexander Haig briefed President Reagan in April 1981 that Fahd had explained that Iran was receiving spare parts for U.S. equipment from Israel. Haig’s notes had another astonishing assertion: ‘It was also interesting to confirm that President Carter gave the Iraqis a green light to launch the war against Iran through Fahd.’ In other words, Haig had been told by the future Saudi king that Jimmy Carter had given clearance for Saddam to invade Iran and begin the Iran-Iraq War. According to former Iranian president Bani-Sadr, even though the United States did not officially have relations with Iraq, the Carter administration used Saudi channels to send Iraq secret information that exaggerated Iran’s military weakness. By encouraging Iraq to attack, the United States hoped to set the stage for a solution to the Iranian hostage crisis with a possible arms-for-hostages deal.” - pg 65 (footnote).

More info on Unger’s claim can be found at Parry’s website:

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By BillB, November 30, 2005 at 10:38 am Link to this comment
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It is interesting to see the contrast between Rumsfeld’s former role as an agent of amoral realpolitik forpol in the 1980s, and his current position as an agent of the neocon “mission” to remake the Middle East entirely. That is, if you believe that the neocons are sincere in their professions to want to bring “democracy” to anyone. I don’t think they are sincere. Why would anyone believe that these people embrace or even understand the values of our Republic?

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By A Hermit, November 30, 2005 at 9:33 am Link to this comment
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Yeah, what would some professor who has made the study of the Middle East his life’s work know about it?

Rush Limbaugh told Jason personally over the radio that professors are always wrong. That settles it for me…[/snark]

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By Mary MacDougall, November 30, 2005 at 9:31 am Link to this comment
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So, in 2001 Rumsfeld knew there were WMD in Iraq because he was part of the team effort to ensure that Iraq had those weapons to fight Iran. We’ve heard comments about this throughout the last 4 years but we need exactly this type of historical documentation to fix the people and events along the timeline. Reaganomics and weaponomics - two ‘trickle down’ gifts that just keep on giving.

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By lies, November 30, 2005 at 7:20 am Link to this comment
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Reading to right-wingers seems to be like salt to slugs.

Why do these ditto heads refuse to even click links and check out what they are about to dismiss.

Their zombi mentality is scary.

I also think it’s hilarious how many neo-conmen try and take on Cole and fail. There must be hundreds at this point.

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By Speed King, November 30, 2005 at 6:40 am Link to this comment
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Jason reminds me of the kind of people in Gulf War I who were saying that Saddam was going to be landing on the shores of Florida if we didn’t stop him in Kuwait. They probably think Iraq is located right next to Panama or something.

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By Frank Brodhead, November 30, 2005 at 5:44 am Link to this comment
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Jason’s comment is a classic example of “flak,” as described in the media analysis of Herman and Chomsky, esp. Manufacturing Consent.  “Flak” is a ubiquitous right-wing ploy to disrupt an analysis of reality with which the right disagrees.  Exhibit A is the sequence of comments above, that focus on “Jason” rather than on Cole’s excellent analysis of the role of the US government in facilitating Saddam’s use of illegal weapons and then giving him diplomatic cover.—As hard as it is, we must bite the bullet, ignore the flak, and focus on the policies of our government, not the stray comments of petty David Horowitz wannabees.

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By agnostic, November 30, 2005 at 5:27 am Link to this comment
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Yet again Prof. Cole manages to succinctly explain just why our Muddle East policy is a mess. Proving that we have worked hand in hand with a man we tired of two years ago, truly shows how bereft of logic, rationality and ethical basis our current invasion is.

Having made my way through the PDFs cited, it is clear that there are several war criminals, one of which is clearly Saddam. Rumsfeld and many others should be sitting in the docket at his right.

We Americans do not rejoice in being willfully ignorant, despite Nascar and football. We are badly served by our media, our government and our schooling. But America is waking up, despite our handicaps. Given that 65% of Americans polled believe that our little Iraqi Invasion was based on lies and is causing harm, not saving the region, it shows that a large majority of Americans are engaged, informed and concerned about world affairs. And this exists despite PR spin from the White House and cable news’ concentrate coverage about missing besotted blond bimbos in tropical islands.

Allawi claims that torture and prison abuse is as great as under Saddam. We use White Phosphorus in Shake and Bake attacks on civilians. People dare not walk in the streets of any major city, despite two years of attacks, air superiority and armored humvees patrolling the streets. THIS IS SUCCESS? THIS IS WHY WE INVADED?

Prof. Cole proves one thing. Our policies in this region have been a mess for 25 years. Unfortunately, we have an idiot cowboy who hears voices in charge. If anything, things are getting worse because of him.

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By RP, November 29, 2005 at 11:59 pm Link to this comment
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I call B.S. on Jason’s calling B.S.  Sorry, Cole’s sources have plenty of documentation to support the argument he presents, and all you can do is make an ad hominem dismissal of a college professor.  Yeah, a real ironclad case on your part.

Do tell, since you imply you aren’t misinformed on Iraq and the Middle East—what’s the real story, Jason?

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By WildBill, November 29, 2005 at 10:59 pm Link to this comment
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It seems that you’re the ill informed shill Jason!
But as is usually the case with your ilk, you have no solid rebuttal.

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By CADsortaGUY, November 29, 2005 at 9:18 pm Link to this comment
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Hey Jason,

Are you delusional? Are you aware of what’s going on in Iraq and the Middle East due to Bush and his neocon morons?

If we aren’t to believe experts on the Middle East like Professor Cole, just who do you suggest we believe, BUSH? RUMSFELD? CHENEY??? FEITH? WOLFOWITZ?

Do you by chance work for The Rendon Group??? I hear the administration uses them to promote their propaganda on the web. Are you a Rendonite, Jason?

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By Reg, November 29, 2005 at 7:25 pm Link to this comment
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It’s so interesting that people who dismiss information from sources they claim are invalid, never come up with substantive information that counters what was posted.

This information is available from hundreds of sources that are both credible and historically accurate.  The reason so few people know anything about the era is that Americans know very little about anything involving their government’s foreign policies.

If it’s not football or nascar, it just isn’t of major importance.

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By ideogenetic, November 29, 2005 at 6:41 pm Link to this comment
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You didn’t click on the links to the documents did you?
They are U.S. State department cables archived at The George Washington University.

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By Jason B, November 29, 2005 at 3:27 pm Link to this comment
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I call BS.  We are used to drivel like this from college professors, especially Juan Cole.  The source material he has used is very telling, “Right Web” and “Z Mag”. 

It’s no wonder there are so many people who are so misinformed about whats going on in the middle east, let alone Iraq.

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