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Monday, March 01, 2004

The war for human rights by Saul Singer

"How did it hapen that those who claim to care most don't seem to have
a dog in the fight between the West and militant Islam?"
"The group was led to the front of the bus, where the headlights were directly on them. They were pushed to the ground and then were pulled up one at a time to be executed. He does not remember any words being spoken - except the plea of the three brothers, who begged that at least one be spared. They were executed one at a time. Next, the woman was shot in front of her five-year-old child. The child lunged at the legs of the executioner and was kicked away and shot in the face."
I apologize for sharing this with you, but this just-released report has received no discernible press attention. It describes the raw face of a genocide, and the evidence left behind. Not in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia, or Auschwitz, but in Iraq.

The report, written by the US Agency for International Development (www.usaid.gov) and titled "Iraq's Legacy of Terror: Mass Graves," says that since the fall of Saddam, 270 mass grave sites have been reported, 53 of which have so far been confirmed. According to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, an estimated 400,000 people were buried in these mass graves, many of them non-Iraqis. Human Rights Watch estimates that 290,000 Iraqis were "disappeared" by Saddam's regime. The report includes an important survey of how the US has been working with Iraqis to discover and investigate the mass grave sites. The chilling part, however, is the collection of survivors' stories, including that of "Ali" above. In the stories, like those of Holocaust survivors, each witness narrowly escaped execution while witnessing others being mowed down or burned alive.

It is remarkable enough that there is no news interest in this report, not even of the sneering political kind (such as "Administration spotlights evils of former regime"). What is even more striking is that there is no similar comprehensive report by a non-governmental agency, such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch.

One might think that human rights organizations would have regarded the removal of totalitarian regimes, in Afghanistan and Iraq, reason for common cause, or at least grounds for celebration once accomplished. Yet now, even with the extent of Saddam's human carnage emerging, there is not only a total lack of retroactive support but an active effort to deny the war any humanitarian label.

Last month, Human Rights Watch director Ken Roth even issued a long statement called, "War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention." Sounding much like those who defended right-wing dictators like the Shah, Marcos, or Pinochet to the howls of groups like his own, Roth writes, "One is tempted to say that anything is better than living under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, but unfortunately it is possible to imagine scenarios even worse. Vicious as his rule was, chaos or abusive civil war might well become even deadlier, and it is too early to say whether such violence might still emerge in Iraq."

PROPER MOTIVES are a critical factor for Roth. Though it was "reasonable to believe" that Iraqis would be better off without Saddam, "it was not designed or carried out with the needs of Iraqis foremost in mind."

The war not only failed to qualify as a humanitarian intervention, but "risks undermining an institution that [is a necessary] tool for rescuing people from slaughter."

To Roth, the war in Iraq is giving humanitarianism a bad name. But if removing Saddam does not advance human rights, what does? How did it happen that those who claim to care most don't seem to have a dog in the fight between the West and militant Islam?

Continue . . .

Saul Singer is editorial page editor at the Jerusalem Post and author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11.

Singer's brother Alex was killed in southern Lebanon on his 25th birthday. The terrorist who killed him (and two other members of his squad) was sentenced to serve a prison sentence until 2017, but he was among the hundreds of Arab prisoners released in January, in exchange for the return of one man and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers.