Why I Didn’t March This Time


Often, the executions have been carried out by the Fedayeen Saddam, a paramilitary group headed by Mr. Hussein’s oldest son, 38-year-old Uday. These men, masked and clad in black, make the women kneel in busy city squares, along crowded sidewalks, or in neighborhood plots, then behead them with swords. The families of some victims have claimed they were innocent of any crime save that of criticizing Mr. Hussein. —John F. Burns, “How Many People Has Hussein Killed?” The New York Times, January 26, 2003

I participated in many demonstrations against the Vietnam War, including some civil disobedience—though I was careful not to catch the eyes of the cops, sometimes a way of not getting arrested. But I could not participate in the demonstrations against the war on Iraq. As I told The New York Sun in its March 14-16 roundup of New Yorkers for and against the war:

“There was the disclosure . . . when the prisons were briefly opened of the gouging of eyes of prisoners and the raping of women in front of their husbands, from whom the torturers wanted to extract information. . . . So if people want to talk about containing [Saddam Hussein] and don’t want to go in forcefully and remove him, how do they propose doing something about the horrors he is inflicting on his people who live in such fear of him?”

I did not cite “weapons of mass destruction.” Nor do I believe Saddam Hussein is a direct threat to this country, any more than the creators of the mass graves in the Balkans were, or the Taliban. And as has been evident for a long time, I am no admirer of George W. Bush.

The United Nations? Did the inspectors go into the prisons and the torture chambers? Would they have, if given more time? Did they interview the Mukhabarat, Saddam’s dreaded secret police?

An Iraqi in Detroit wanted to send a message to the anti-war protesters: “If you want to protest that it’s not OK to send your kids to fight, that’s OK. But please don’t claim to speak for the Iraqis.”

In The Guardian, a British paper that can hardly be characterized as conservative, there was a dispatch from Safwan, Iraq, liberated in the first days of the war: “Ajami Saadoun Khilis, whose son and brother were executed under the Saddam regime, sobbed like a child on the shoulder of The Guardian‘s Egyptian translator. He mopped the tears but they kept coming. ‘You just arrived,’ he said. ‘You’re late. What took you so long?’ ”

The United Nations? In 1994, Kofi Annan, then head of the UN’s peacekeeping operations, blocked any use of UN troops in Rwanda even though he was told by his representative there that the genocide could be stopped before it started.

Bill Clinton refused to act as well, instructing the State Department not to use the word genocide because then the United States would be expected to do something. And President Clinton instructed Madeleine Albright, then our representative to the UN, to block any possible attempts to intervene despite Kofi Annan. Some 800,000 lives could have been saved.

The United Nations? Where Libya, Syria, and Sudan are on the Human Rights Commission? The UN is crucial for feeding people and trying to deal with such plagues as AIDS; but if you had been in a Hussein torture chamber, would you, even in a state of delirium, hope for rescue from the UN Security Council?

From Amnesty International, for whom human rights are not just a slogan, on Iraq: “Common methods of physical torture included electric shocks or cigarette burns to various parts of the body, pulling out fingernails, rape. . . . Two men, Zaher al-Zuhairi and Fares Kadhem Akia, reportedly had their tongues cut out for slandering the president by members of Feda’iyye Saddam, a militia created in 1994. The amputations took place in a public square in Diwaniya City, south of Baghdad.”

As John Burns of The New York Times wrote in January: “History may judge that the stronger case [for an American-led invasion] . . . was the one that needed no [forbidden arms] inspectors to confirm: that Saddam Hussein, in his 23 years in power, plunged this country into a bloodbath of medieval proportions, and exported some of that terror to his neighbors.”

When it appeared that Tony Blair’s political career was near extinction, he gave a speech in the House of the Commons, as quoted in the March 18 issue of The Guardian:

“We must face the consequences of the actions we advocate. For me, that means all the dangers of war. But for others, opposed to this course, it means—let us be clear—that the Iraqi people, whose only true hope of liberation lies in the removal of Saddam, for them, the darkness will close back over them again; and he will be free to take his revenge upon those he must know wish him gone.

“And if this house now demands that at this moment, faced with this threat from this regime, that British troops are pulled back, that we turn away at the point of reckoning, and that is what it means—what then?

“What will Saddam feel? Strengthened beyond measure. What will the other states who tyrannise their people, the terrorists who threaten our existence, what will they take from that?. . . Who will celebrate and who will weep?”

The letters section of The New York Times is sometimes more penetrating than the editorials. A March 23 letter from Lawrence Borok: “As someone who was very active in the [anti-Vietnam War] protests, I think that the antiwar activists are totally wrong on this one. Granted, President Bush’s insensitive policies in many areas dear to liberals (I am one) naturally make me suspicious of his motives. But even if he’s doing it for all the wrong reasons, have they all forgotten about the Iraqi people?”

And, in the March 23 New York Times Magazine, Michael Ignatieff, a longtime human rights investigator, wrote of “14,000 ‘writers, academics, and other intellectuals’—many of them my friends—[who] published a petition against the war . . . condemning the Iraqi regime for its human rights violations and supporting ‘efforts by the Iraqi opposition to create a democratic, multi-ethnic, and multireligious Iraq.’ ” But they say, he adds, that waging war at this time is “morally unacceptable.”

“I wonder,” Ignatieff wrote—as I also wonder—”what their support for the Iraqi opposition amounts to.”

Next week: The conclusion of my series on affirmative action

See Also:

Iraq’s Patriots Return to Fight” by Kareem Fahim

An Unauthorized Glossary of War” by Cynthia Cotts