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Monday, July 19, 2004

Lies, Lies, Lies

Lather. Rinse. Repeat, ad infinitum. 'Man Bites Dog!' story will ultimately be some variation 'Bush Administration Found Truthful on Iraq!' or some such thing. January:

For Immediate Release
January 21, 2004

Iraq's Mass Graves
Iraq Fact of the Da

Identifying the remains of over one million missing Iraqis will bring comfort to their families, promote reconciliation, and help develop a new system of justice in Iraq. Some 50 mass graves containing hundreds of thousands of bodies have been identified. The Iraqi Human Rights Ministry is spearheading efforts to identify remains in the graves and collect evidence for future prosecutions. There is another effort to create a bureau of missing persons to centralize information on those killed under Saddam Hussein's regime.

Source: Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

Today, from across the pond (and by way of Atrios), an admission from our ardent ally:

Downing Street has admitted to The Observer that repeated claims by Tony Blair that '400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves' is untrue, and only about 5,000 corpses have so far been uncovered.

The claims by Blair in November and December of last year, were given widespread credence, quoted by MPs and widely published, including in the introduction to a US government pamphlet on Iraq's mass graves.

In that publication - Iraq's Legacy of Terror: Mass Graves produced by USAID, the US government aid distribution agency, Blair is quoted from 20 November last year: 'We've already discovered, just so far, the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves.'

The USAID pamphlet referenced can be found here, the intro to which read thusly:

Since the Saddam Hussein regime was overthrown in May, 270 mass graves have been reported. By mid-January, 2004, the number of confirmed sites climbed to fifty-three. Some graves hold a few dozen bodies—their arms lashed together and the bullet holes in the backs of skulls testimony to their execution. Other graves go on for hundreds of meters, densely packed with thousands of bodies.

"We've already discovered just so far the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair on November 20 in London. The United Nations, the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) all estimate that Saddam Hussein's regime murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people. "Human Rights Watch estimates that as many as 290,000 Iraqis have been 'disappeared' by the Iraqi government over the past two decades," said the group in a statement in May. "Many of these 'disappeared' are those whose remains are now being unearthed in mass graves all over Iraq."

And again, back to the Guardian article regarding Mr. Blair's owning up to a certain flexibility of truth:

it comes amid inflation from an estimate by Human Rights Watch in May 2003 of 290,000 'missing' to the latest claims by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, that one million are missing.

At the heart of the questions are the numbers so far identified in Iraq's graves. Of 270 suspected grave sites identified in the last year, 55 have now been examined, revealing, according to the best estimates that The Observer has been able to obtain, around 5,000 bodies. Forensic examination of grave sites has been hampered by lack of security in Iraq, amid widespread complaints by human rights organisations that until recently the graves have not been secured and protected.

So, it's not to say there couldn't be hundreds of thousands of bodies in mass graves; after all, Saddam was, to put it delicately, a piss poor excuse for a human being. I wouldn't be surprised if that were the truth. In fact, I'd venture a guess that hardly a soul on earth could really doubt the possibility.

That though, is a wholly different matter from coming out and saying those hundreds of thousands of bodies have already been discovered. I've been searching through the White House press archives, trying to see if our own President had made such grandiose claims. It was quite hard to do so.In fact, one could even come to the conclusion that he was making a concerted effort not to quantify the numbers. I won't speculate on why, but nearly every remark by the President regarding Iraq references a country rife with "torture rooms and mass graves." Over and over and over again. Never quantifies.

In fact, the few instances I actually found hard numbers detailing those mass graves was when Bush and Blair were speaking side by side to the press, and it was always Blair who did so (here and here, for example; note too that the number jumps from three to four hundred thousand). The President, however, never did. Well, almost never. There was this interview of Bush by Sir David Frost, for the BBC.

Q Tell me about -- in terms of Iraq, tell me about weapons of mass destruction. The fact that we didn't find them, and so on, has been much discussed. But do you think that you were the victim of a failure of intelligence in a way?

THE PRESIDENT: Not at all.

Q No?

THE PRESIDENT: No, not at all. I think our intelligence was sound; I know the British intelligence was sound. It's the same intelligence that caused the United Nations to pass resolution after resolution after resolution. It's the same intelligence that was used by my predecessor to bomb Iraq. I'm very confident we got good intelligence. And not only that; Mr. David Kay, who went over to kind of lead the effort to find the weapons or the intent of weapons, came back with a report that clearly stated that Mr. Saddam Hussein would -- had been in material breach of Resolution 1441. In other words, had the inspectors found what Kay found, they would have reported back to the United Nations that he was in breach, that he was in violation of exactly what the United Nations expected him not to do. We'll find the truth. But this guy for many years had been hiding weapons, deceiving weapons. He had dual-use programs that could have been sped up. Nobody could say that Saddam Hussein wasn't a danger. Not only was he a danger to the free world -- and that's what the world said. The world said it consistently -- he was a danger to his own people, as well. Remember we discovered mass graves with hundreds of thousands of men and women and children clutching their little toys, as a result of this person's brutality. Go ahead.

When your enemy of choice, in this case Saddam, is such an inhuman bastard, with documented brutality as part of his history, why must you lie to make him more so? Unless lying is instinctual, reflexive. Or unless you know your stated reasoning and rationale for going to war was, at its most basic, a cartload of horseshit.

[UPDATE 7.22.04] There's more on this story here and here.

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