1 December 2003 - A Stephen C. Pelletiere commentary appeared in the January 31, 2003 New York Times, yet no one seems to have noticed. Here is part of what he wrote about frequent statements that Saddam Hussein gassed 5000 Kurds at Halabja in 1991:
...as the Central Intelligence Agency's senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and as a professor at the Army War College from 1988 to 2000, I was privy to much of the classified material that flowed through Washington having to do with the Persian Gulf. In addition, I headed a 1991 Army investigation into how the Iraqis would fight a war against the United States; the classified version of the report went into great detail on the Halabja affair.
This much about the gassing at Halabja we undoubtedly know: it came about in the course of a battle between Iraqis and Iranians. Iraq used chemical weapons to try to kill Iranians who had seized the town, which is in northern Iraq not far from the Iranian border. The Kurdish civilians who died had the misfortune to be caught up in that exchange. But they were not Iraq's main target.
And the story gets murkier: immediately after the battle the United States Defense Intelligence Agency investigated and produced a classified report, which it circulated within the intelligence community on a need-to-know basis. That study asserted that it was Iranian gas that killed the Kurds, not Iraqi gas.
The agency did find that each side used gas against the other in the battle around Halabja. The condition of the dead Kurds' bodies, however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent -- that is, a cyanide-based gas -- which Iran was known to use. The Iraqis, who are thought to have used mustard gas in the battle, are not known to have possessed blood agents at the time.
These facts have long been in the public domain but, extraordinarily, as often as the Halabja affair is cited, they are rarely mentioned. A much-discussed article in The New Yorker last March did not make reference to the Defense Intelligence Agency report or consider that Iranian gas might have killed the Kurds. On the rare occasions the report is brought up, there is usually speculation, with no proof, that it was skewed out of American political favoritism toward Iraq in its war against Iran.
I am not trying to rehabilitate the character of Saddam Hussein. He has much to answer for in the area of human rights abuses. But accusing him of gassing his own people at Halabja as an act of genocide is not correct, because as far as the information we have goes, all of the cases where gas was used involved battles. These were tragedies of war.
The Baathist regime did kill thousands of Kurds during fighting to suppress occasional uprisings by what Americans call gangs or terror groups. Iran, Turkey and Syria have also killed thousands of Kurds, and of course the USA has killed thousands of innocent Iraqis to maintain order, albeit unintentionally. A better example of a government leader using chemicals to "gas his own people" occurred in 1993 near Waco, Texas.
Bush Administration defies the Geneva Conventions
In February 2003, the Geneva-based International Red Cross ruled that Muslims captured in Afghanistan were Prisoners of War (POWs) and entitled to the protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions. The Bush administration rejected this decision and shocked the world community by openly defying the Geneva Conventions and insisting the POWs were "detainees". America's corporate media ignored this story, implying that each head-of-state is allowed to interpret the Geneva Conventions however he pleases. The International Committee of the Red Cross is charged with interpreting the Geneva conventions and using diplomacy to encourage compliance. The world is outraged as the US military continues to violate the Geneva Conventions by interrogating POWs for long periods while boasting some will be executed.
The Bush administration claimed that the execution of six German saboteurs during World War II set a precedent. However, a formal state of war existed at that time after a declaration of war by the US Congress, and those Germans were captured in the USA with plans for specific attacks, unlike the current prisoners who were captured on a battlefield overseas. The Bush Administration ordered soldiers at the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (called Gitmo) to call their POWs "detainees." Gitmo was chosen because of its unique status of a parcel of territory occupied against the will of a host nation. Cuba objects to the continued occupation of Gitmo and its use as a prison. The base was established after the Spanish-American war and no longer serves any military purpose.
American military officers are taught the rules of the Geneva Conventions and told they must ignore illegal orders which violate these treaties, even if they come from "temporary occupants of the White House" as General Douglas MacArthur once described. This caused conflicts last year as a courageous General in charge of security at Gitmo, Brigadier General Rick Baccus, insisted on obeying the Geneva Conventions by referring to the prisoners as POWs. Baccus was removed after irritating Major General Michael Dunlavey, who is in charge of interrogating the prisoners, with his decision to allow the Red Cross to put up posters advising detainees they need only provide their name, rank and number during questioning.
Meanwhile, quiet resistance within the US military delayed plans for military tribunals, avoiding another violation of the Geneva Conventions. The British sent stern warnings that executing British citizens deemed POWs by the Red Cross would not be tolerated, so their six citizens have been excused from death threats. This past Summer, after months of private discussions about POW treatment at Gitmo, the Red Cross openly declared the US Government in violation of the Geneva Conventions based upon first hand reports from Cuba. Food quality and exercise rights were tied to cooperation during interrogations, reports of physical torture emerged, and it was revealed that three boys under age 16 were in custody. Since Gitmo was run as a high security facility with all activities considered secret, Gitmo commanders were enraged at the prospect of facing an international war crimes tribunal in the future.
Three people who worked among POWs at Gitmo were promptly arrested, and espionage was suggested as the reason. The most noteworthy "spy" was US Army Captain James Yee, who was found to have notes about POWs in a briefcase when he flew into Jacksonville, Florida, which is not uncommon for a chaplain. This West Point graduate was not imprisoned at the Army stockade at nearby Fort Stewart as is customary; he was transported to a maximum security Navy Brig at Charleston, South Carolina, where three other US citizens are held without charges or access to lawyers. Yee was not formally charged within 45 days as required and not allowed free pending charges as is customary for a simple accusation of "mishandling classified information." Yee was recently released after 76 days of confinement and charged with failing to use proper cover sheets for classified documents. Prosecutors also charged him with adultery and viewing pornographic material on a government computer. Since most US servicemen can be charged with such "crimes", a strong message has been sent to every soldier at Gitmo to keep his mouth shut.
According to an October 24, 2003 article in the Washington Post,
Military authorities launched an investigation of Army Capt. James Yee, a Muslim chaplain at the Guantanamo Bay prison, after a series of confrontations between him and officials over the treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees there, according to military officials and other informed sources.
Yee, who ministered to the inmates at the U.S. Navy prison in Cuba, protested what he believed were lives of unrelieved tension and boredom experienced by his fellow Muslims in captivity, the officials and other sources said.
Some interrogators at the prison complex objected after concluding that Yee's private, one-on-one meetings with inmates interfered with their attempts to fully control the prisoners' environment, numerous sources said. Some detainees appeared less cooperative in interrogations after visits from Yee, the sources said.
Apparently, the senior intelligence officer at Gitmo, US Army Colonel Jack Farr, crossed his superiors too. On November 29, 2003 he was charged with "wrongfully transporting classified material without the proper security container on or around Oct. 11, 2003" and lying to investigators. Criminal charges for such petty violations are extremely rare, and indicate retribution for reasons which remain secret.
Iraq Reconstruction Contract Awarded in 2001
Someone in the Pentagon noted the US Army posted this contract announcement on the Internet. No one in the media except Chuck Spinney's website took note. Here are three parts:
The U.S. had grounds to believe Saddam was planning to destroy Iraq's own oil infrastructure in the event of hostilities.
The planning effort was done by Brown & Root Services (BRS)* under a task order issued under the Army's Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) contract. The Commander, CENTCOM, identified a requirement for contingency planning for repairing and providing for continuity of operations of the Iraqi oil infrastructure. This included planning for extinguishing oil well fires and assessing damage to oil facilities in the immediate aftermath of hostilities.
*The government contracted with BRS to perform the planning effort because BRS is the Army's contractor for the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP). The LOGCAP contract is used to develop plans to address such requirements of Combatant Commanders. When a specific plan is needed, a task order is issued under the contract. The current LOGCAP contract was awarded to BRS on December 14, 2001, after a competitive source selection process.
Note the date, December 14, 2001, almost a year before the Bush administration began to alert Americans that urgent action was required to eliminate Saddam Hussein, which later included all "Baathists" in Iraq, and then the entire Iraqi Army. Brown & Root Services is part of the Halliburton Corporation which has won dozens of lucrative Iraqi reconstruction projects awarded without competitive bidding. Vice President Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton for five years before quitting to join President Bush's campaign in 2000. He left Halliburton nearly bankrupt after a disastrous oil deal in Brazil and a merger with dying Dresser Industries. Nevertheless, Cheney received $20 million in severance pay from Halliburton, and continues to receive deferred compensation of around $150,000 a year.