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A Time to Break Silence:
U.S. complicity in Saddam's crimes
against humanity

by Paul Rockwell
Oakland, California

Years ago, at the peak of the Vietnam War, Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam published a book, “In The Name Of America”, a shocking document on the systematic violations of the laws of war by U.S. forces abroad. The graphic information played a role in Dr. King's decision to "break silence," to speak out against U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam.

A time to break silence has come again, a time to raise our voice against U.S. complicity in crimes against humanity.

We now know who supplied Saddam Hussein with materials of mass destruction; where his military regime, notorious for atrocities against Iraqis, Iranians and Kurds, acquired helicopters, germs and lethal chemicals -- an arsenal of terror. Iraq acquired its weapons of mass destruction from the United States, from Germany, France and Britain as well -- the very countries leading a weapons inspection of Iraq.

Last month the Iraq Weapons Inventory included a long list of Western and U.S. companies (Union Carbide, Honeywell, Dupont, SpectraPhysics, Bechtel are some mentioned in The Nation, 1/13/2003) that supplied Saddam with deadly and dual-use material. Hoping to disguise its own culpability in Iraq's past war crimes, the U.S. suppressed the list, but the dossier was leaked to a German newspaper, “Die Tageszeitung”.

More information trickled onto the back pages of “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post”. The main facts are no longer in dispute. In violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925 (which outlaws chemical warfare), the Reagan-Bush administration authorized the sale of poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses, from anthrax to bubonic plague, throughout the '80s. In 1982, while Saddam Hussein constructed his machinery of war, Reagan and Bush removed Iraq from the State Department list of terrorist states.

According to newly declassified documents mentioned in “The Washington Post Weekly Edition” (1/6-12/2003), Iraq was already using chemical weapons on an "almost daily basis" when Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein in 1983, consolidating the U.S.-Iraq military alliance.

Subsequently, the Pentagon supplied logistical and military support; U.S. banks provided billions of dollars in credits; and the C.I.A., using a Chilean conduit, increased Saddam's supply of cluster bombs. U.S. companies also supplied steel tubes and chemical substances, the types of material for which the Security Council is now searching.

As late as 1989 and 1990, according to a report from U.S. representative Dennis Kucinich (Democrat, Ohio), U.S. companies, under permits from the first Bush administration, sent mustard gas materials, live cultures for bacteriological research, to Iraq. U.S. companies helped Iraq build a chemical weapons factory, and then shipped Hussein a West Nile virus, hydrogen cyanide precursors, and parts for a new nuclear plant.

The infamous massacre at Halabja -- the gassing of the Kurds -- took place in March 1988. On September 19, sixth months later, U.S. companies sent eleven strains of germs, four types of anthrax to Iraq, including a microbe strain, called 11966, developed for germ warfare at Fort Detrick in the '50s. (Judith Miller provides a partial account of the sordid traffic in U.S. chemicals and germs in her book, “Germs: Biological Weapons And America’s Secret War”.)

Dow Chemical (infamous for its napalm in the Vietnam War) sold large amounts of pesticides, toxins that cause death by asphyxiation. Twenty-four U.S. firms exported arms and materials to Baghdad. France also sent Hussein 200 AMX medium tanks, Mirage bombers, and Gazelle helicopter gunships. As Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage testified in 1987: "We cannot stand to see Iraq defeated."

The vast, lucrative arms trade in the Middle East laid the groundwork for Saddam's aggression against Kuwait. Without high-tech weapons from Europe and the U.S.--from the very countries now conducting an arms proliferation investigation -- Iraq's wars against Iran and Kuwait would never have taken place.

Media pundits and TV commentators treat the arms-trade story with indifference. Most representatives in Congress have avoided comment. To her credit, at a committee hearing January 29th (recorded by KPFA radio in Berkeley), Senator Barbara Boxer called attention to U.S. shipments of anthrax and bubonic plague to Iraq, expressing her shock and outrage at the immorality and folly of U.S. arms sales policy. Revelations of the U.S. role in Iraq's arms buildup spawn a host of questions: Why aren't U.S. and European scientists, who invented and produced lethal materials for Saddam, subject to interrogations, like their counterparts in Iraq? Are U.S. companies sending their deadly material to other dictators? Why are there no Congressional hearings on the companies that profit from war and suffering, the traffic in arms? And where are the headlines, the front-page stories in the mainstream media? Will U.S. weapons of mass destruction be turned on U.S. troops and American personnel? Is it not said that those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind?

Defending the Indefensible

U.S. officials take a dismissive attitude to revelations about complicity in Saddam's military reign of terror in the '80s. Officials tell us that American corporations did nothing wrong when they shipped chemicals, germs, nuclear materials to Iraq. After all, they say, Saddam was a U.S. ally in the '80s.

The entire U.S. arms trade is based on a heinous premise: that atrocities and war crimes in the Third World are acceptable so long as they fit within U.S. global strategy and aims. Saddam's crimes were invisible in the '80s. The same crimes became grist for front-page demonization of Saddam in the '90s, after -- and only after --Saddam threatened Western access to oil.

George Orwell's brilliant essay (“Notes on Nationalism”) on empire and nationalism applies directly to the mendacity of the Bush administration. "Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them. There is almost no kind of outrage -- torture, imprisonment without trial, assassination, the bombing of civilians -- which does not change its moral color when it is committed by 'our' side… . The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."

Now the world is faced with a tragic irony: The world's leading merchant of death is taking us to war to stop arms proliferation in the very region to which it shipped chemicals and arms for over ten years.

Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias Sanchez tells us: "The time has come to rein in the unchecked sale of death and misery on the international market." It is time to measure human rights by one yardstick -- to hold the suppliers, not just the purchasers of death, accountable for their handiwork.

Paul Rockwell, formerly assistant professor of philosophy at Midwestern University, Texas, is a writer and peace activist in the Bay Area.

Published in In Motion Magazine February 2, 2003.

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