They are the darkest, loneliest, most hopeless places on earth – hellholes that, during the past two decades, have swallowed up the lives of more than 200,000 souls. Wails of human misery still echo in their dank corridors, the unheard cries of men, women, and children destined to die in grief and anonymity – their whereabouts unknown to their loved ones who, in many cases, have not heard from them in years.
These are the secret prisons of Iraq, of which there are roughly six dozen according to Amnesty International estimates. Amnesty spokesman Neil Durkin states that tens of thousands of people – many of them academic and social figures deemed unfriendly to Saddam – remain held indefinitely in these jails, without charge or trial. Anyone suspected of disloyalty to the regime, even on the flimsiest of evidence, is likely to live out the last months or years of his life in such a place.
All over Iraq, legions of government informants are ever on alert for suspicious activities or conversations. Bugging is widespread. The regime rewards citizens who report anyone that has uttered even a single word critical of Saddam; children are publicly rewarded for reporting the "impure sentiments" of their own parents. Because no one knows for certain who might betray them to the government, no public or private conversation is truly safe. As veteran BBC correspondent John Sweeney says, "I have been to Baghdad a number of times. Being in Iraq is like creeping around inside someone else’s migraine. The fear is so omnipresent you could almost eat it. No one talks." Two years ago it was decreed that criticizing Saddam in any way – even saying that his clothes did not match – would be punished by cutting out the offender’s tongue. But such offenders actually consider themselves fortunate if they can somehow avoid being sentenced to a prison term of endless torture.
Once prisoners are incarcerated for disloyalty to the regime, their suffering is so great it can scarcely be described. Many are placed in solitary confinement on starvation diets. Confessions are forced from them by the most gruesome methods imaginable: They are struck with brass knuckles and wooden bludgeons; they receive electric shocks to their genitalia; scorching metal rods are forced into their body orifices; their toes are crushed and their toenails pulled out; they have their limbs literally burned off; they are slowly lowered into large vats of acid until they confess or die. Many are poisoned with thallium, which causes its victims enormous agony before they die. When these prisons periodically get overcrowded, they are "cleaned out" by means of summary executions.
Frequently, confessions are extracted by torturing not only the prisoner, but his family members as well. His wife and daughters are raped, and sometimes beheaded, as he watches. His children or grandchildren – in many cases mere toddlers – are burned with cigarette butts; their eyes are gouged out; all the bones in their feet are crushed; their ears and limbs are amputated, one at a time. If no confession is forthcoming, the youngsters are slaughtered. Moreover, some of these prisons actually house the children of suspected dissidents – children younger than twelve who are packed into cells and left to rot amid pools of their own excrement, blood, and tears.
All these barbarities occur under the watchful eye of the very dictator who publicly laments the deaths of so many Iraqi children allegedly attributable to the UN sanctions of the past decade. All these abominations are carried out under orders from the very tyrant who skillfully treats the Western press to images of hungry, diseased Iraqi youngsters purportedly suffering because of American malevolence, rather than his own lust for omnipotence.
In addition to the aforementioned prisoners, hundreds of thousands of others have been taken into temporary custody, where they were tortured and then released – rendered physically and emotionally mangled for the rest of their lives. Indeed torture is not a last resort in Saddam’s regime, but is often a first resort – to drive home the message that no dissent will be tolerated. Max Van der Stoel, former UN special reporter for human rights in Iraq, states plainly that the brutality of Saddam’s regime is "of an exceptionally grave character – so grave that it has few parallels in the years that have passed since the Second World War."
The American "peace movement," however, maintains that a US invasion of Iraq – as a pre-emptive strike against a regime that is illegally stockpiling weapons of mass death – would constitute an immoral interference with another nation’s right to "pick its own leaders." As activist Medea Benjamin says, the US has no right to "unilaterally [dictate] to other people – be they Palestinian, Iraqi or Venezuelan – who their leaders should be. This is for the people themselves to decide." Implicit is this statement is the laughable notion that Saddam’s recent electoral victory, in which he captured every ballot cast, was in some way legitimate. Or as Louis Farrakhan puts it, this type of solidarity proves that the Iraqi people "love their man."
The horrors of Saddam’s Iraq, of course, have not been limited to prison tortures and the quiet "disappearance" of political dissidents. In 1987-88, for instance, Air Force helicopters rained chemical weapons – including mustard gas, Sarin, and VX nerve gas – upon scores of Kurdish villages, causing tens of thousands of Kurds to die of suffocation and burning. Those inhabitants who managed to flee to makeshift refugee camps were summarily executed by Iraqi ground troops. Indeed the number of Kurds who were rounded up, gunned down and dumped into mass graves exceeded even the great number that were gassed to death. All told, between 50,000 and 100,000 Kurds lost their lives in this extermination campaign that destroyed almost every Kurdish village in Iraq – along with a centuries-old way of life – and displaced at least a million of the country’s Kurdish people. Of those who survived the Iraqi attacks, thousands were rendered blind, sterile, crippled, unable to breathe properly, or otherwise severely handicapped for the rest of their lives.
When a March 1991 uprising within Iraq challenged Saddam’s regime, government forces responded with their customary brutality, firing their weapons indiscriminately into residential areas, killing thousands of unarmed civilians. House-to-house searches resulted in thousands of additional deaths, as did the barbaric massacres of patients lying in hospital beds.
In 1992 Saddam initiated a project to exterminate the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq. Because the vast marshlands of that region had become a sanctuary for many army deserters and rebels, he ordered the construction of a massive canal system to divert the Euphrates River water that fed those marshes, and by late 1993 they were virtually dried up. Iraqi soldiers then burned the villages and poisoned whatever small quantities of water that remained – creating an ecological disaster and destroying a way of life for hundreds of thousands of Marsh Arabs who had lived there for a thousand years.
These horrors were orchestrated by the same man who now laments that any American-led attack on his regime would end up killing countless innocent civilians. If Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and all other Middle Eastern enemies of our country have anything in common with the anti-war Left, it is their readiness to blame America – and not Saddam – for the suffering of Iraq’s population. This is illustrated most vividly in their steadfast contention that the UN sanctions – and again, not Saddam – have already caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, many of them children.
When was the last time you heard any of these critics say a word about the wretched victims of Iraqi horrors discussed in this article? When did you last hear these victims eulogized by anti-American Islamists in the Mideast, or by the "anti-war peace activists" in our midst? When did you last hear America’s critics acknowledge that the UN sanctions have remained in place for one reason alone – Saddam’s utter refusal to abide by the pledges he made in the Gulf War peace settlement? And when did you last hear those critics condemn the fact that while the Iraqi people have seen their standard of living decline under the sanctions, Saddam’s personal wealth has soared to $6 billion? Have they ever complained that since the Gulf War’s end, this dictator has built himself no fewer than fifty new palaces – complete with artificial rivers, lakes, and waterfalls regulated by pumping equipment that could otherwise have been used to help rectify the country’s desperate water and sanitation problems?
Of course not. As always, where our enemies abroad and our "peace" advocates at home are concerned, everything is America’s fault.