An investigative history of Western complicity in Saddam Hussein’s crimes reveals the story his trial never will.
In February 1991, the Shia of southern Iraq rose against Saddam Hussein.
Barry M. Lando, a former investigative producer for 60 Minutes, argues compellingly that this ill-fated uprising represents one instance among many of Western complicity in Saddam Hussein’s crimes against humanity. The Shia were responding to the call for rebellion from President George H.W. Bush that was broadcast repeatedly across Iraq by clandestine CIA stations. But, just as the revolution was on the brink of success, the United States and its allies turned their backs. In the end, tens of thousands were massacred.
Because of restrictions imposed by the Special Tribunal prosecuting Saddam Hussein, the extensive role of the U.S. and its allies in his crimes will never be explored at his trial. But as Web of Deceit demonstrates, the nations that now denounce Saddam most prominently secretly backed the dictator from his rise to power in the 1960s and ‘70s to his offensives in Iran and, despite warnings, took no action to stop his invasion of Kuwait. They also turned their backs when he used chemical weapons against the Iraqi people and persisted in international sanctions long after they had proved ineffective and, for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, lethal.
Web of Deceit draws on a wide range of journalism and scholarship to present a complete picture of what really happened in Iraq under Saddam, detailing – for the first time – the complicity of the West in its full and alarming extent.
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About the Author
Barry M. Lando spent over 25 years as an award-winning investigative producer with 60 Minutes. The author of numerous articles about Iraq, he produced a documentary about Saddam Hussein that has been shown around the world.
A Canadian citizen, Lando was born in Vancouver and now lives in Paris.
Read an Excerpt
Introduction : The Trial of Saddam
When United States troops pulled Saddam Hussein from the cramped “spider hole” where he had been hiding on December 13, 2003, I wrote an article in which I speculated that, although they exulted at having finally captured the former Iraqi tyrant alive, a lot of very important people around the world might well have preferred the disheveled fallen dictator to have been riddled by a hail of bullets, blown up by a grenade, or self-dispatched by a cyanide capsule when all seemed lost. That would have provided a nice, neat end to the tale. There would have been no need for a trial.
Hypothetically, the trial of the former dictator could have been a ghastly global media circus in which many of the world’s great leaders, past and present, would have found themselves pilloried as codefendants–charged with complicity in many of the crimes against humanity that occurred during Saddam’s bloody reign. It wouldn’t take unusual skill for Saddam’s defense team to make such a case. Those leaders would include, but certainly not be limited to, American presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George Bush pere and fils; other world lead-ers such as Margaret Thatcher, Jacques Chirac, Leonid Brezhnev, Mikhail Gorbachev, King Hussein of Jordan, and Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia; Israel’s Menachem Begin; and many of the men and women who guided their foreign policy, ran their military, and oversaw their intelligence agencies. Outside the political sphere, the accused might include hundreds of American and foreign businessmen, leaders of agrobusiness, oil tycoons, and arms merchants from across the globe who profited handsomely from doing business with Saddam Hussein while closing their eyes to what he was up to–or, in some cases, despite knowing full well.
It’s not that such foreign involvement in any way alleviates Saddam’s guilt; it’s just that these and other foreign notables, through Saddam and on their own, were also responsible for much of the suffering of the Iraqi people. And without their sophisticated arms and massive financing, their intelligence information and diplomatic support–their sins of omission and commission–Saddam would never have wreaked the horrors that he did.
In the months following Saddam’s capture, I wondered how the Americans and their Iraqi allies would deal with the judicial problem: How to put Saddam and his lieutenants on trial for the crimes against humanity committed during his rule, without implicating these others who were either directly complicit in his crimes or turned their back on them when they occurred? How to avoid transforming the trial of Saddam Hussein into an explosive chronicle of the foreign cynicism and greed that helped shape the history of modern Iraq, including the crimes of Saddam?
The Americans and their Iraqi allies handled the problem quietly. To avoid the jurisdiction of any international court or group of independent jurists, they established their own special Iraqi tribunal. According to the regulations of that tribunal, only Iraqi citizens could be charged or subpoenaed. This meant, for instance, that if Saddam’s attorneys sought to summon George H. W. Bush to ask why, in February 1991, he had first called for the Iraqi people to rise up against Saddam and then ordered American soldiers to refuse all aid to the rebels while enabling Saddam to crush them, that embarrassing line of questioning wouldn’t be admitted by the tribunal.
The same logic would apply to Saddam’s gassing of thousands of Kurds at Halabja in 1988. There is no way his attorneys could point out that Saddam’s chemical weapons were supplied primarily by French, Belgian, and German firms, or that the U.S. State Department refused even to meet with Kurdish leaders who had proof of the attacks, or that the U.S. and its allies had steadfastly blocked international moves to condemn Saddam for his use of mustard and nerve gasses.
The period considered by the tribunal is also strictly limited to the time when Saddam ran the country, from 1978 to 2003, so that his attorneys also could not refer to historical deeds that might have cast his foreign accusers as something more sinister than liberators of the Iraqi people. They could not point out the fact that the first to use aircraft, machine guns, and bombs to put down unruly Iraqis were the British, in 1920, when Winston Churchill was British Secretary of State for War. Or the fact that the 1963 coup that brought Saddam’s Baath party to power was supported by John F. Kennedy’s Central Intelligence Agency, which also provided lists of hundreds of supposed Iraqi Communists, who were duly arrested, tortured, and executed–Saddam at the time was not yet a prominent political figure, just one of the principal torturers. Nor could Saddam’s lawyers recount the ruthless fashion in which Iran, Israel, and the United States under Richard Nixon made use of the Kurds to undermine the central government in Iraq by encouraging, arming, and training them–and then left them to be massacred by Saddam in 1975 when they no longer served their sponsors’ purposes.
After all, as former secretary of state Henry Kissinger pointed out when a congressional committee later queried him about abandoning the Kurds, “One should not confuse undercover action with social work.” Kissinger should not be singled out; over the years, American officials became renowned for pithy quotes demonstrating their keen, hardheaded realpolitik.
In 1991, for instance, Ronald Reagan’s first secretary of state, Alexander Haig, chided an investigative journalist for appearing surprised that Israel’s Ariel Sharon had denied that Israel illegally transferred U.S. arms to the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War, though that was precisely what Israel had done. “Come on. Jesus! God!” Haig exploded, disgusted at the reporter’s naïveté. “You’d better get out and read Machiavelli or somebody else, because I think you’re living in a dream world! People do what their national interest tells them to do, and if it means lying to a friendly nation, they’re going to lie through their teeth.” Ten years later, I received a similar reply from Thomas Pickering, George H. W. Bush’s former ambassador to the United Nations. I asked him how he could justify President Bush’s first calling on the Iraqis to rise up in 1991, then leaving them to be slaughtered by the Iraqi dictator. “In war and love, all’s fair,” Pickering confided with a knowing smile.
That same flinty attitude – the world is a tough place, and you’ve got to get your hands dirty to survive – has been the proud hallmark of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. As he put it when questioned about the rampant looting after the U.S. takeover in Baghdad that was to presage the nightmarish years of violence and death that were to follow, “Stuff happens.” Iraq has the misfortune of being a case study of how “stuff happened” over almost a century as gimlet-eyed foreign leaders ignored considerations of morality and justice in the name of greater causes, like fighting Communism or Islamic terrorism – while ensuring access to the region’s vast petroleum resources.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Interesting survey of mistakes in Iraq. Not enough about Churchill and other leaders involved in Iraq. The emphasis on Bushs' mistakes makes it sound like a polemic against both Presidents. Not much here to bolster those of us who know "W" is the worst US president and Cheney is a war criminal.
“Web of Deceit” is book written by a highly respected journalist who knows how to collect facts and how to analyze them. Mr. Lando diligently refers to multiple sources of information and puts together data from various types of publications, reports and public speeches of political and military figures. The author’s conceptual filter allows him to convincingly demonstrate whether these sources wanted to deliver correct facts or, on the contrary, tried to mask the truth. The latter occurred very often because of the nature of the events covered in the book -- namely, the involvement of western countries and the Soviet Union in the turbulent history of Iraq. Mr. Lando begins the chronology of events form 1914, when the map of the Meddle East was being redrawn following WWI. That historical perspective illuminates the controversy of Iraq’s composition in 1921 with the explosive mixture of ethnic groups, tribes and religions. For a reader who counts on TV coverage of the US-Iraqi Wars and who thinks that he understands the situation, it would be an eye-opening experience to learn about the real political and economical motives behind the endless turmoil in the region. To me the most exciting discoveries came from the chapters devoted to the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran War. Mr. Lando showed that the support from western countries shifted many times from Iraq to Iran, with an aim to extend the conflict. It also clarifies the story of the Iran-Contra Affair. This is a much needed book for educating young people who are interested in real world politics and who are trying to look ahead and anticipate the future.
Barry Lando, an award-winning investigative producer with 60 Minutes, has written a most enlightening book. Most accounts of Iraq proceed as if there had never been any foreign intervention, and as if the tyrant Saddam just appeared from a cloudless blue sky. By contrast, Lando shows the dire effects of a century of foreign abuse. For example, during the British occupation and counter-insurgency war of 1919-24, Winston Churchill successfully urged using gas bombs to punish Iraqis `without inflicting grave injury upon them¿, as he knowingly lied. The RAF bombed and machine-gunned at will. The CIA and MI6 both aided the bloody 1963 and 1968 coups in Iraq. In 1980, the US government gave Saddam Hussein the green light to attack Iran. Alexander Haig, Reagan¿s first Secretary of State, wrote in a confidential memo, ¿It was interesting to confirm that President Carter gave the Iraqis a green light to launch the war against Iran through Fahd [Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia].¿ The USA, Britain and Israel all sold arms to both sides in the Iran-Iraq war, despite a UN Resolution banning sales to either. Before the 1990 Iraq war, US diplomats lured Hussein into attacking Kuwait, telling him that the USA would not intervene. In that war, USAF and RAF bombing of unparalleled intensity destroyed Iraq¿s civilian infrastructure. Thatcher and Bush, who had sold Saddam Hussein his chemical and biological weapons, then accused the war¿s opponents of supporting him! After the war, US-British sanctions throughout the 1990s killed a million Iraqi people, half of them children, making Iraq¿s child mortality the worst in the world. Bush, when asked if sanctions would cover food and medicine, replied, `everything, everything¿. It is a war crime to starve a civilian population. The current US-British occupation of Iraq is a disaster. A 2003 US National Intelligence Estimate stated that the insurgency was fuelled by local conditions and drew its strength from real grievances, including the presence of US troops and bases. A century of outside interference has not brought peace, democracy or prosperity to Iraq, just one catastrophe after another.