Fool Me Once . . . 

by Harry Browne

March 31, 2005

I recently received this message from an acquaintance . . . 

I think it is simply perverse of you to claim that Iraqis are no freer than they were under Saddam. The mass graves are being exhumed, not added to; the prison rape rooms are shut down; Saddam and his thugs are going on trial; and instead of ripping themselves apart in a vicious civil war, Iraqi Shiites, Kurds, secularists, and even Sunnis are busily engaged in politics. No freer? Come on, Harry! Don't let your animus against Bush and the war blind you to the good American arms have accomplished.

I can well understand why the message-writer feels as he does. After all, rarely does a day go by when you aren’t reminded by politicians, TV announcers and commentators, or radio talk-show hosts of the terrible acts Saddam Hussein committed.

And the orgy of celebrations that occurred on American TV on Iraqi Election Day, January 31 — hammering home the idea that the war had been worth it after all — was "Mission Accomplished" all over again. It was enough to convince almost anyone that, whatever mistakes had been made, it turned out that George Bush was right to persevere and forcibly impose his way upon Iraq.

In what way was he right?

Well, he’s been proven right to think that he could forcibly remake Iraq into a peaceful democracy. And the elections were clear evidence that Iraq is better now than when it was ruled by an evil, brutal dictator who mistreated his downtrodden subjects.

Meanwhile, Back at Reality . . . 

Or so we’re being told.

In a moment we’ll look at the charges made against Saddam Hussein — charges made so frequently that we come to believe that no one could possibly doubt them.

But let’s begin by trying to gauge how free and democratic Iraq has become.

The Free Society

The list of restrictions imposed by the U.S. military on Iraqi citizens is quite lengthy.

The Iraqis must carry ID cards at all times, there’s barbed wire around many cities, people must be in their homes by curfew time, there are still roadblocks and checkpoints, American troops sometimes arrest families and hold them as hostages until suspected "terrorists" surrender, private property is frequently demolished, there are prohibitions on protests, and so on.

There’s more about this in my December 2003 article "How Do I Liberate Thee? Let Me Count the Ways." Very little has changed since I wrote it.

More than likely, a lot of Iraqis are ecstatic that Hussein is gone. It’s just as likely, however, that many Iraqis are doing what people in occupied countries have been doing since time immemorial — saying whatever the occupiers, in this case the U.S. military, like to hear. And there may be quite a few who find it hard to choose between an orderly police state and a chaotic, violent foreign occupation.

I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to try to guess how much better off Iraqis are today.

The Unfree

However, I am so presumptuous as to assert that there’s one group of Iraqis who are not better off or freer than they were under Hussein. And that group is the people killed by the U.S. military.

We don’t really know how many Iraqis have died in the war and the occupation. The U.S. government has made it a point to ignore the number of Iraqi fatalities. As General Tommy Franks said, "We don’t do body counts."

But several private agencies have attempted to estimate the fatalities.

The Project on Defense Alternatives estimated that about 13,000 Iraqis died just in the first seven months of the war. However, the British medical group Medact put the number between 21,700 and 55,000 for that same 7-month period.

The Iraq Body Count Project has counted about 18,000 deaths just among civilians — and counting only those deaths that have been reported in the media. But the Iraqi Freedom Party has surveyed the country and counted 37,157 deaths among civilians alone.

The British medical journal The Lancet, by extrapolating from the information it could get from hospitals and morgues, said the death toll could be as high as 100,000 — including both civilians and soldiers.

There probably never will be an authoritative body count. But we do know that it’s at least in the tens of thousands of Iraqis — including thousands and thousands of civilians.

Who are we to condemn those people to death — just to fulfill the fantasy of an American President who knows virtually nothing about Iraq, its people, its culture, or its history?

And when did it become the business of the U.S. government to decide which foreign countries should have their governments violently deposed? Just where in the Constitution is the President or Congress authorized to do that with our money — putting our lives at risk of retaliation in the process?

The Peaceful Politics

And it amazes me that anyone could place Iraq in the column of free, democratic, peaceful countries just because one election was held.

Elections were held in the old Iraq, in Nazi Germany, in the Soviet Union — and are held today in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and in virtually every one of the dictatorships around the world. Holding an election means virtually nothing.

Iraq should really be three different nations — Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish. Instead, the three should-be nations have been joined at the hip and are expected to operate a British-style parliament.

In the two months since the election, the parliament has met only twice — the second time erupting into shouting and screaming.

The unique characteristic of government is force. What happens when the three groups begin deciding how that force is going to be used? What happens when one of the three gains the power to forcibly impose its way upon the others?

I really don’t think you can label Iraq a peaceful, working democracy until it’s been operating efficiently for ten years or so. If then it resembles the Canadian parliament on C-SPAN, it might be fair to proclaim "Mission Accomplished."

Our Inside Source

The issues of whether Iraqis are really free and whether the country’s grand democratic experiment will succeed are important and interesting. But the issue that really fascinates me is the recitation of Saddam Hussein’s record.

We all know about the terrible things he did.

But how do we know about them?

We know about them because George Bush and his cohorts have told us so.

In fact, virtually all we know about Saddam Hussein and his dictatorship are what the Bush administration has told us.

And how do they know?

Well, they know because their pre-war sources inside Iraq told them so.

Those same sources — along with the CIA, the State Department, the Defense Department, and other Bush advisors — created the stories about mobile laboratories, aluminum tubes, unmanned aircraft that could carry WMDs to America's east coast, ballistic missiles that could threaten the whole Middle East, uranium purchases in Africa, Al-Qaeda training camps in Iraq, and much more.

And George Bush repeated to us verbatim all these unverified assertions. However, he didn’t mention that they were unverified. He didn’t say he had "reason to believe," or that he thought "there might be," or "it’s possible that." He delivered these assertions as simple, definite, undeniable facts — as certain as that Cincinnati is in the state of Ohio.

It turned out that not one of these undeniable facts was true. Whether George Bush knew they were false or was himself deceived, one thing is sure: George Bush is a very poor source of information about Saddam Hussein or Iraq.

So when trying to decide now whether to believe what Bush says about Saddam Hussein, remember the old adage: "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

And in fact George Bush has tried to fool us more than a dozen times — not only about Iraq, but about his claims to be for limited government, or his claims that judges and politicians should stick to the Constitution.

So we should set aside the Bush assertions and look at each piece of evidence through fresh, independent eyes.

Rape Rooms & Torture Chambers

What is it that everyone knows about Saddam Hussein?

The message-writer alludes to these things when he says, "The mass graves are being exhumed, not added to; the prison rape rooms are shut down." He didn’t bring up the gassing of the Kurds. He might also have mentioned the torture chambers — but for obvious reasons Saddam-haters have found it a bit embarrassing to mention those since we’ve become aware of the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other prisons operated by the American military.

As badly as George Bush has needed good news about Iraq and verification for his claims that it was worth going to war with Iraq, you’d think that we would constantly be seeing pictures of rape rooms and torture chambers on TV, on the Internet, and in newspapers and magazines — together with detailed 1-2-3 explanations of the way each sadistic apparatus operated. This is the way the media normally operates with such stories — showing scenes over and over and over again.

But I haven’t seen a single one.

Have you?

But George Bush says . . . [well, you’ve heard it all a dozen times].

Fool me twice, shame on me.

Gassing his Own People

But of course we all know that Hussein gassed his own people at Halabja.

After all, George Bush has told us so — and told us so and told us so.

However, the verdict on that is far from settled. Because the event occurred on the battle line during the Iraq-Iran war, it’s entirely possible that the gas came from the Iranians (both sides used gas), or — if from the Iraqis — that it was directed at the Iranian soldiers. And if the gassing was done by Iraqi soldiers, it was done with chemical weapons that came from the United States. If it was such a terrible act, why did the Reagan administration make it possible?

Lastly, if gassing your "own people" is such a heinous act, why did the U.S. government use gas against the Branch Davidians at Waco in 1993?

The Mass Graves

The "Mass Grave" atrocity has always puzzled me.

Why is it somehow more heinous to bury people in mass graves, rather than in individual graves?

Obviously, anyone wants his loved ones to be honored and buried in a respectable, individual grave. But it may be that the circumstances of someone’s death — in war or in an epidemic — preclude that possibility.

However, whenever George Bush utters the words "mass graves," we’re all supposed to react in horror that someone would be so sadistic as to have authorized mass graves.

But the relevant question is: why are there mass graves?

I may have dozed off once or twice, but I haven’t heard anyone answer that question. I guess we’re supposed to assume that Saddam Hussein executed so many opponents of his regime that they had to dump all the dead bodies in huge, mass graves.

So is that what happened?

Possibly, but I haven’t seen any proof of it. No pictures, no eye-witness accounts. Just uttering the words "mass graves" over and over like a mantra. From what we’ve seen, you’d be hard put to believe there even are any mass graves.

But in fact they do exist — some of them for certain, and several others possibly. Here are a few I’m aware of . . . 

1. In February 1991, just after the start of the brief Gulf War, there was a large fight at the "Neutral Zone" located at the Iraq-Saudi border. American troops slaughtered thousands of Iraqi soldiers, after which American earth-movers plowed the Iraqis into the ground and covered them up. Possibly thousands of Iraqis were buried in the mass graves the American military created.

2. Near the end of the 1991 Gulf War, U.S. troops slaughtered thousands of Iraqi soldiers who were retreating from Kuwait. Once again, the dead soldiers were plowed into the ground. I can only wonder what weeds will grow from those seeds.

3. One mass grave near a Baghdad palace is known to contain Iraqi soldiers who died when American soldiers stormed Baghdad.

4. When the U.S. Marines destroyed Fallujah, at least 600 Iraqis died — and most of them were buried in mass graves set up in soccer fields, called the "Graveyard of the Martyrs" by Fallujah residents.

Those four sets of mass graves have been documented. But (to the best of my knowledge) they haven’t been shown on TV — probably because it was the U.S. military that created them. There may be other mass graves as well. For example . . . 

5. In the 1980s, Iraq and Iran fought a terrible war in which, most likely, hundreds of thousands of people died. It’s certainly possible that many of them were buried in mass graves.

6. Lastly, perhaps the ghastliest possibility has to do with the end of the 1991 Gulf War. George Bush Sr. exhorted the Iraqi people to "take matters into your own hands and force Saddam to step aside." This provoked a tremendous uprising that won a few victories against the Iraqi army.

The Iraqi rebels naturally assumed that the U.S. military was going to help them "force Saddam to step aside." But George H.W. Bush suddenly reversed himself, and the U.S. military did everything possible to prevent the uprising from succeeding. As a result, the Iraqi Republican Army slaughtered thousands of Iraqis.

A mass grave near Al Hillah was unearthed in the summer of 2003, producing the bodies of 900 of the Shiites who were massacred as a consequence of George H.W. Bush’s false promises.

Fool me thrice, and a lot of Iraqis die.

In 2003 the U.S. State Department produced a webpage designed to make us repulsed by the horrible mass graves in Iraq. However, for some unexplained reason, it doesn’t mention that some of the graves were created by the U.S. military.

Fool me quadrupily, what’s the matter with me?

P.S. Do you remember all the talk about the mass graves in which Serbs supposedly buried up to 100,000 innocent Kosovo civilians during the NATO war of 1999? Well, it turned out that the investigative teams of the War Crimes Tribunal couldn’t find evidence of even one grave that might be called "mass."

Fool me quintupily, and I’d better see a therapist.

The Devil Incarnate

So what do we know for sure about Saddam Hussein?

If we set aside all the assertions of the Bush administration — and the parroting of those assertions by the media — we don’t actually know very much.

Non-Bush sources indicate that, under Hussein, Iraq was a secular nation — possibly the most advanced and best educated of the Muslim countries — but a brutal, one-party dictatorship, similar to those in Pakistan, Turkminestan, Uzbekistan, and some of the others that George Bush likes to call "our partners in the war on terror."

I’m sure I wouldn’t have liked living in Iraq pre-2003. And I’m sure I wouldn’t like living there now either.

I have little doubt that Saddam Hussein was a very bad man (as is virtually any human being who has such power at his disposal). But I refuse to accept all the propaganda about him — no matter how many times it’s repeated and no matter how many people repeat it. It still comes primarily from the man who brought us The Great Myth of WMDs and a dozen more related "facts" that proved to be whoppers.

Fool me sextupily, and I shouldn’t be allowed out of the house.

So I’m not convinced — and not likely to become convinced — that what is going on in Iraq now was worth the deaths of tens of thousands of human beings — human beings who, if they could talk, might not agree with George Bush that "freedom is always worth it."

But then, I value human life.

And I don’t value the assertions of people who have proven to have no respect for the truth.

Fool me once, shame on Bush.

Fool me two dozen times, I’d have to be nuts.