Monday, June 6, 2005

Story Of "Shredded Iraqis" Was False

Is Ann Clwyd a warmongering liar?
Or is she simply incapable of telling the truth?

Does Paul Wolfowitz admire people who invent neat new tortures?
Is he mostly turned on by cool new ways of killing people?
Or does simply enjoy befriending warmongering liars?

[File under: successful propaganda revealed too late.]

To me, one of the most shocking events of the most recent pre-Iraq-war period was the moment when I head the "news story" about Saddam Hussein's "people shredders". I recall it clearly to this day; I remember where I was and what I was doing and I believe the "news reader" said:
The shredders were built for recycling plastic but they were used by Saddam Hussien to turn people into fish-food. Some fell in head-first and died quickly. Others fell in feet-first and died screaming.
The revulsion I felt at that moment was strangely and powerfully reminiscent of the emotional pull I felt in the previous pre-Iraq-war period when I heard the story of the Iraqi soldiers who had barged into the maternity wards of Kuwaiti hospitals, removed babies from their incubators and shipped the incubators back to Iraq. I wondered at the time if that could possibly be true, and it seemed to me much more likely that it was false; then later I read a story claiming it was all fiction. All that came flashing back to me when I heard "Others fell in feet-first and died screaming."

And all this came flashing back to me yesterday when I stumbled onto a link somebody had posted somewhere [thanks to whoever did that!]

I missed this story when it was first published. How about you? [The emphasis in the following quotes is mine.]

The missing people-shredder
The horror of one of Saddam's execution methods made a powerful pro-war rallying cry - but the evidence suggests it never existed.

Forget the no-show of Saddam Hussein's WMD. Ask instead what happened to Saddam's "people shredder", into which his son Qusay reportedly fed opponents of the Ba'athist regime.

Ann Clwyd, the Labour MP who chairs Indict, a group that has been campaigning since 1996 for an international criminal tribunal to try the Ba'athists, wrote of the shredder in the Times on March 18 last year - the day of the Iraq debate in the House of Commons and three days before the start of the war. Clwyd described an Iraqi's claims that male prisoners were dropped into a machine "designed for shredding plastic", before their minced remains were "placed in plastic bags" so they could later be used as "fish food".

Not surprisingly, the story made a huge impact. When the Australian prime minister John Howard addressed his nation to explain why he was sending troops to support the coalition, he talked of the "human-shredding machine". Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy defence secretary, expressed admiration for Clwyd's work in an email and invited her to meet him.
Color me surprised ... not!
Others, too, made good use of the story.
Of course they did. And not a single damned one of them checked it out one little bit, did they?
Andrew Sullivan, who writes from Washington for the Sunday Times, said Clwyd's report showed that "leading theologians and moralists and politicians" ought to back the war.
Well, it's always good to get "leading theologians and moralists" on board if you're planning some mass-murder for profit.
The Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips wrote of the shredder in which "bodies got chewed up from foot to head", and said: "This is the evil that the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican bishops refuse to fight." In his recent book, William Shawcross wrote of a regime that "fed people into huge shredders, feet first to prolong the agony". And earlier this month, Trevor Kavanagh, the Sun's political editor, claimed that "Public opinion swung behind Tony Blair as voters learned how Saddam fed dissidents feet first into industrial shredders".
Thus was the echo chamber seeded with lies that reverberate to this day.
Nobody doubts that Saddam was a cruel and ruthless tyrant who murdered many thousands of his own people and that most Iraqis are glad he's gone. But did his regime have a machine that made mincemeat of men? The evidence is far from compelling.

The shredding machine was first mentioned in public by James Mahon, then head of research at Indict, at a meeting in the House of Commons on March 12. Mahon had just returned from northern Iraq, where Indict researchers, along with Clwyd, interviewed Iraqis who had suffered under Saddam. One of them said Iraqis had been fed into a shredder. "Sometimes they were put in feet first and died screaming. It was horrible. I saw 30 die like this ..." In subsequent interviews and articles, Clwyd said this shredding machine was in Abu Ghraib prison, Saddam's most notorious jail. Indict refuses to tell me the names of the researchers who were in Iraq with Mahon and Clwyd; and, I am told, Mahon, who no longer works at Indict, "does not want to speak to journalists about his work with us". But Clwyd tells me: "We heard it from a victim; we heard it and we believed it."
Ahem... excuse me, sir, but did you say you "heard it from a victim"? 'Victims' of this 'people-shredder' would be dead, would they not? Or did the 'victim' tell a fish who told Clwyd? Aha! Is that how you knew they were using the shredded remains as fish food?? I think I'm starting to catch on!
This is all that Indict had to go on - uncorroborated and quite amazing claims made by a single person from northern Iraq. When I suggest that this does not constitute proof of the existence of a human shredder, Clwyd responds: "Who are you to say that chap is a liar?" Yet to call for witness statements to be corroborated before being turned into the subject of national newspaper articles is to follow good practice in the collection of evidence, particularly evidence with which Indict hopes to "seek indictments by national prosecutors" against former Ba'athists.
Correct me if I'm wrong but didn't the recent Newsweak debacle revolve around the notion that "to call for witness statements to be corroborated before being turned into the subject of national newspaper articles is to follow good practice in the collection of evidence"??
An Iraqi who worked as a doctor in the hospital attached to Abu Ghraib prison tells me there was no shredding machine in the prison. The Iraqi, who wishes to remain anonymous, describes the prison as "horrific". Part of his job was to attend to those who had been executed. Did he ever attend to, or hear of, prisoners who had been shredded? "No." Did any of the other doctors at Abu Ghraib speak of a shredding machine used to execute prisoners? "No, never. As far as I know [hanging] was the only form of execution used there."

Clwyd insists that corroboration of the shredder story came when she was shown a dossier by a reporter from Fox TV. On June 18, Clwyd wrote a second article for the Times, citing a "record book" from Abu Ghraib, which described one of the methods of execution as "mincing". Can she say who compiled this book? "No, I can't." Where is it now? "I don't know." What was the name of the Fox reporter who showed it to her? "I have no idea." Did Clwyd read the entire thing? "No, it was in Arabic! I only saw it briefly." Curiously, there is no mention of the book or of "mincing" as a method of execution on the Fox News website, nor does its foreign editor recall it.

Other groups have no recorded accounts of a human shredder. An Amnesty International spokesman tells me that his inquiries into the shredder "drew a blank". Widney Brown, the deputy programme director of Human Rights Watch, says: "We have not heard of that particular form of execution or torture."

It remains to be seen whether this uncorroborated story turns out to be nothing more than war propaganda - like the stories on the eve of the first Gulf war of Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait taking babies from incubators and leaving them to die on hospital floors.
What can be said, however, is that the alleged shredder provided those in favour of the war with a useful propaganda tool.
I would classify the word "useful" as a severe understatement
The headline on Clwyd's story of March 18 in the Times was: "See men shredded, then say you don't back war".
... Why not "Say you've seen men shredded and get e-mail from Paul Wolfowitz"??
· Brendan O'Neill is the assistant editor of spiked.
Thanks very much, Brendan.
A longer version of this article appears in this week's Spectator

Oh yeah!
They had a people-shredder.
They turned their opponents into fish food.
Because you'll believe anything.