July 09, 2004

The Lies We've Been Told

A friend recently pointed me back to a 2002 Newsweek article on how the U.S. helped create Saddam. It's grim, and includes the following disgraceful notes on the Iran-Iraq war (emphasis mine):

...But Saddam had to be rescued first. The war against Iran was going badly by 1982. Iran's "human wave attacks" threatened to overrun Saddam's armies. Washington decided to give Iraq a helping hand. After Rumsfeld's visit to Baghdad in 1983, U.S. intelligence began supplying the Iraqi dictator with satellite photos showing Iranian deployments.

Official documents suggest that America may also have secretly arranged for tanks and other military hardware to be shipped to Iraq in a swap deal-American tanks to Egypt, Egyptian tanks to Iraq. Over the protest of some Pentagon skeptics, the Reagan administration began allowing the Iraqis to buy a wide variety of "dual use" equipment and materials from American suppliers. According to confidential Commerce Department export-control documents obtained by NEWSWEEK, the shopping list included a computerized database for Saddam's Interior Ministry (presumably to help keep track of political opponents); helicopters to transport Iraqi officials; television cameras for "video surveillance applications"; chemical-analysis equipment for the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC), and, most unsettling, numerous shipments of "bacteria/fungi/protozoa" to the IAEC. According to former officials, the bacteria cultures could be used to make biological weapons, including anthrax. The State Department also approved the shipment of 1.5 million atropine injectors, for use against the effects of chemical weapons, but the Pentagon blocked the sale. The helicopters, some American officials later surmised, were used to spray poison gas on the Kurds.


The United States almost certainly knew from its own satellite imagery that Saddam was using chemical weapons against Iranian troops. When Saddam bombed Kurdish rebels and civilians with a lethal cocktail of mustard gas, sarin, tabun and VX in 1988, the Reagan administration first blamed Iran, before acknowledging, under pressure from congressional Democrats, that the culprits were Saddam's own forces. There was only token official protest at the time. Saddam's men were unfazed. An Iraqi audiotape, later captured by the Kurds, records Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid (known as Ali Chemical) talking to his fellow officers about gassing the Kurds. "Who is going to say anything?" he asks. "The international community? F-k them!"

The United States was much more concerned with protecting Iraqi oil from attacks by Iran as it was shipped through the Persian Gulf. In 1987, an Iraqi Exocet missile hit an American destroyer, the USS Stark, in the Persian Gulf, killing 37 crewmen. Incredibly, the United States excused Iraq for making an unintentional mistake and instead used the incident to accuse Iran of escalating the war in the gulf. The American tilt to Iraq became more pronounced. U.S. commandos began blowing up Iranian oil platforms and attacking Iranian patrol boats. In 1988, an American warship in the gulf accidentally shot down an Iranian Airbus, killing 290 civilians. Within a few weeks, Iran, exhausted and fearing American intervention, gave up its war with Iraq. ...

Many of the lies told at the time were handed down with perfectly straight faces. No apology has ever been extended to Iran for the killing of 290 civilians shot down on what was reportedly a cloudless day.

Posted by natasha at July 9, 2004 10:38 PM | Iraq | Technorati links |

Seen this?

Hidden in a review of Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival is this throw-away line:

Those facts include, for example, Bob Dole's visit and assurance to Saddam Hussein in April 1990 that "a commentator on Voice of America who had been critical of him had been removed"

Posted by: . at July 10, 2004 01:47 AM

Creepy. But thanks for sharing.

Posted by: natasha at July 10, 2004 02:28 AM

So the advocates of Kerry's 'realist' approach condemn Reagan's 'realist' approach?

Only a loon would think the USA shot down an airliner on purpose.

Iran carried out attacks on oil tankers of many nations, prompting the 'hidden war' with them. PBS did a pretty good show about it, apparently we used stealthy 'black helicopters' to take out their attack boats.

Iraq was armed by the Soviets; Iran (under the Shah) was armed by America. France asked Saddam to ethnic cleanse the Marsh Arabs and sold him a nuclear reactor; have you ever criticized France?

If Iran had overrun Iraq and subsequently attacked the gulf states and Israel, far more civilians would likely have been killed than were killed even by Saddam.

An extreme increase in oil prices might have starved millions of poor Asians too.

You left out the worst part: Jimmy Carter's decision to betray the Shah and let a psychopath sieze power. That 'let the bad guys win' approach killed millions of innocents during the 70s.

Posted by: John Doe at July 10, 2004 04:35 AM

I don't know if they shot it down on purpose or not. But it was the middle of the day, and the weather was apparently clear. It was a passenger airline flying in the appropriate traffic areas. The commander of the boat that shot it down received a medal on returning for no other obvious purpose.

As to the oil tankers, Iraq was shipping its oil out on tankers from countries like Kuwait. Who's to say who was being dodgier. Also, Iraq started the war, not Iran. There is no indication whatsoever that Iran had ambitions to overrun any other country, they were responding to an attack. Unlike some countries I could name, they haven't instigated any wars in recent memory.

Jimmy Carter's decision, while bad, was a bit outside the scope of this article and post. I don't recall claiming to have addressed every stupid thing done by the US in that region for the last 50 years. That would be an epic volume, and better written by someone else. But yes, it was bloody stupid. Almost as stupid and vicious as unseating Mossadeq in the 50's, but a much more costly mistake.

Have I ever criticized France? It's possible, and not outside the scope of what I consider acceptable, though I can't say that I've done so on this blog. So, yes they gave Hussein a reactor, they sunk a Greenpeace boat, and they suckered us into an ungodly mess in Vietnam (though it isn't their fault we were dumb enough to bite.) How far back do you want to go? Their current leader is only out of jail because he's in office, and he's only in office because the French couldn't stomach putting in a right wing racist loon instead. But here's the thing: I'm not a French citizen. I don't vote in their elections, and I don't support them with my taxes. I hope that if they need criticizing, their citizens will do so, but it isn't explicitly my responsibility to be concerned about the morality (or lack thereof) of the French government. Or any other government, for that matter.

As an American, it's my express responsibility to be concerned for the morality and ethics of the country that I do support. It's my responsibility to hold the politicians that answer to me to whatever account that I can. America represents me, not France, not Iraq or Iran, nor anywhere else. Because they represent me, I want them to act in a way that honors my sense of ethics, and speaks well of my fellow citizens and their sense of humanity. My duty as a citizen is to keep MY government honest and accountable, and I can only hope but not act when it comes to the behavior of other governments.

No government, of course, will ever be perfect. But there's really no excuse not to ask them to be better. And it's no better an excuse for their bad behavior to point fingers at other countries acting badly than it is for me to say I should get away with stealing because my neighbor did it too.

Posted by: natasha at July 10, 2004 07:15 AM

Thanks for posting this. Let me state that I haven't been following politics until the last 5 years or so, so a lot of this is news to me. Thank you for sharing.

In addition, your statements in response to John Doe were wonderful. that's exactly how I feel. Your "As an American" paragraph was one of the best representations of how I feel, that I've ever read.

I just thought I'd say thanks for the information, and perspective.

By the way, if you were wondering, I found your site through OrBlogs. I know some don't care, but others are always curious how people find them.
Take care.

Posted by: Anicee at July 10, 2004 08:56 AM

John Doe didn't read the post very well. Nothing was said to imply that the Iranian jet was shot down purposely. The Newsweek article said it was accidental. And as natasha said there was no apology for this horrible mistake.

I remember that incident very well and it was very clear that the airliner was shotdown by mistake by an over-eager naval officer who said he thought it was an attack. All the evidence showed that he made a terrible mistake, yet the Reagan government said it was the airliner's fault for doing something outside of the normal. The facts showed that the airliner was absolutely a normal flight and the commander of the naval ship made a horrible mistake. And lots of normal people died on that flight. The lack of even a genuine apology meant that others in the Middle East felt free to attack civilian Americans without caring either and was reportedly the reason for the Lockerbie terrorist attack.

1988 July 3, The US Navy shot down an Iranian Airbus A-300 in the Persian Gulf from the cruiser ship Vincennes. All 290 people aboard were killed. In 1996 the US paid $131.8 million in compensation. Iran filed suit in World Court in 1989 and settled out of court in Feb, 1996.
(SFC, 4/26/96, p.A-14)

Navy Missile Downs Iranian Jetliner
A U.S. warship fighting gunboats in the Persian Gulf yesterday mistook an Iranian civilian jetliner for an attacking Iranian F14 fighter plane and blew it out of the hazy sky with a heat-seeking missile, the Pentagon announced. Iran said 290 persons were aboard the European-made A300 Airbus and that all had perished.
President Reagan in a statement said he was "saddened to report" that the Vincennes "in a proper defensive action" had shot down the jetliner. "This is a terrible human tragedy. Our sympathy and condolences go out to the passengers, crew, and their families . . . . We deeply regret any loss of life."

Reagan, who was spending the Fourth of July holiday at Camp David, said the Iranian aircraft "was headed directly for the Vincennes" and had "failed to heed repeated warnings." The cruiser, he said, fired "to protect itself against possible attack."

Posted by: Mary at July 10, 2004 12:02 PM