Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Another doubter is swayed.

There's something singular about a man who has been severely tortured. Maybe it's the way he struggles against failing eyesight caused by repeated blows to the kidneys. Or his lop-sided posture, the result of multiple broken bones that have failed to mend properly. Sometimes there is a tremor in the hands or a twitch, a minuscule outer sign of the torment within.

The man who sat opposite me in a small, bare room at the Kurdish border post this week had all the symptoms of a man who had been systematically broken. I encouraged him to tell his story and, slowly, sometimes reluctantly, he relived the terror of the 21 months he spent in Saddam Hussein's torture chambers.

"They put me in a cell at the secret police headquarters, tied my hands together with wire and then suspended me from the ceiling," he said quietly. "Then they beat me with batons and cables and ran electric shocks through my fingers and genitals. It went on for months. They never told me what my crime was."

When I came to autonomous northern Iraq - which since 1991 has been protected from Saddam's reach by British and American warplanes - I was intensely sceptical of the wisdom of Washington's insistence on deposing Saddam. Its claims of links between al-Qa'eda and Baghdad seemed tenuous. As for the assertion that Saddam will soon have the bomb, well, the evidence was pretty flimsy.

Indeed, I could have reeled off a host of counter-arguments. At a time when the Western world is entering a long-drawn-out struggle against Islamist terrorism, it made little sense to fritter away resources to oust a man whose regime was weaker than ever. A war also risked alienating hundreds of millions of moderate Muslims whose support would be essential if the threat of Islamist extremism was to be neutered.

I agreed with the quiet-spoken Muslim men I met in Pakistan, Afghanistan and central Asia who said that a Middle East peace deal was a greater priority than ousting Saddam. As long as the Palestinians continued to die in the streets, they said, the fires of Islamist extremism would keep burning. I have not renounced these arguments entirely. But after little more than a week in northern Iraq, my eyes have been opened to the sheer scale of savagery that Saddam has unleashed on his people.

I have met grown-up men who say they pray each day for the death of the dictator. The evil is there for all to see in Halabja, a small town the Iraqis gassed in 1988. It is in the wheezing chests of the women seeing out the remainder of their miserable lives and the red eyes of the men who cannot forget the sight of blood dribbling from the mouths of the dying children. Halabja has rates of leukaemia, cancer and congenital conditions many times the Iraqi norm. One doctor who works in the town told me: "A woman came to see me two months ago. She had given birth to a little girl who had no feet." Who could argue with taking action against the regime responsible for such outrages?

Assos Hardi, the editor of the liberal newspaper Hawalati in Sulaimania, was more mathematical in his appraisal. He said: "How many people do you think will die if America attacks Saddam? It will probably be less than the number of people he kills in a single month."

As the drums of war beat ever louder, I am still unsure of the strategic wisdom of opening a second front in the war against terror. But of the moral rectitude of such a course, there can be no doubt.

In other words. Spare us the morality play about Iraqi innocents. They are slaughtered every day with no hope. At the very least, the end of Saddam will be a start for these poor people.

< email | 2/27/2003 08:18:00 PM | link

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