Magazine article The Spectator

Not a Shred of Hard Evidence

Magazine article The Spectator

Not a Shred of Hard Evidence

Article excerpt

Forget the no-show of Saddam Hussein's WMD. Even George Bush no longer believes that they are there. Ask instead what happened to Saddam's 'people shredder', into which his son Qusay reportedly fed opponents of the Baathist regime. Ann Clwyd, Labour MP for Cynon Valley and chair of Indict, a group that has been campaigning since 1996 for the creation of an international criminal tribunal to try the Baathists, wrote of the shredder in the Times on 18 March - 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'. Sometimes the victims were dropped in feet first, reported Clwyd, so they could briefly behold their own mutilation before death.

Not surprisingly the story made a huge impact. Two days after Clwyd's article was published, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard addressed his nation to explain why he was sending troops to support the coalition in Iraq; he talked of the Baathists' many crimes, including the 'human-shredding machine' that was used 'as a vehicle for putting to death critics of Saddam Hussein'. Clwyd received an email from the US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, who expressed admiration for her work and invited her to meet him at the Pentagon. Her Times article on the shredder is still on the US State Department's website, under the heading 'Issues of International Security'.

Others, too, made good use of the story. Andrew Sullivan, the British-born journalist who writes a weekly column from Washington for the Sunday Times, said Clwyd's report showed 'clearly, unforgettably, indelibly' that 'the Saddam regime is evil' and that 'leading theologians and moralists and politicians' ought to back the war. 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 the Telegraph, Mark Steyn used the spectre of the shredder to chastise the anti-war movement: 'If it's a choice between letting some carbonated-beverage crony of Dick Cheney get a piece of the Nasiriyah soft-drinks market or allowing Saddam to go on feeding his subjects feet-first into the industrial shredder for another decade or three, then the "peace" activists will take the lesser of two evils - i.e., crank up the shredder.'

In his book Allies: The United States, Britain, Europe and the War in Iraq, published in December 2003, William Shawcross wrote of a regime that 'fed people into huge shredders, feet first to prolong the agony'. Earlier this month, Trevor Kavanagh, political editor of the Sun, claimed that 'British resistance to war changed last year when we learned how sadist Saddam personally supervised the horrific torture of Iraqis. Public opinion swung behind Tony Blair as voters learned how Saddam fed dissidents feet first into industrial shredders.'

Nobody doubts that Saddam was a cruel and ruthless tyrant who murdered many thousands of his own people (at least 17,000 according to Amnesty; 290,000 according to Human Rights Watch) and that the vast majority of Iraqis are glad he's gone. But did his regime have a human-shredding 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 at the House of Commons on 12 March. Mahon had just returned from northern Iraq, where Indict researchers, along with Ann Clwyd, interviewed Iraqis who had suffered under Saddam's regime. 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. . . . On one occasion I saw Qusay Hussein personally supervising these murders. …

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