Memory, not forgetfulness, lies at the heart of justice. But it is on certain anniversaries, even more than on other days, that memory should be deeply honored. Failing to remember, entire nations and peoples, not merely individuals, can stumble blindly into the abyss. It should come as little surprise, therefore, that the absence of memory can lead directly to the next war.
The Gulf War ended when Iraq formally accepted all coalition terms for a permanent ceasefire on March 3, 1991. Although elimination of all Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities was an integral part of the ceasefire agreement, Saddam Hussein continued after the war to enlarge such facilities and to disguise this effort from U.N. inspectors. Now, on the seventh anniversary of this important agreement, the U.N. Security Council, following the ill-conceived advice of the Secretary-General, has entered into another agreement with Baghdad. Ignoring memory and justice, this agreement will assuredly create conditions for a catastrophic unconventional war in the Middle East, a war that will originate with Saddam Hussein.
Kofi Annan asks that U.N. members "respect the dignity of Iraq." THE DIGNITY OF IRAQ? Where was this "dignity" when Iraqi forces called upon their Kuwaiti neighbors in early August 1990? Here is an example of this "dignity," recorded by the U.S. 199th Judge Advocate Detachment in its official Report on Iraqi War Crimes (January 8, 1992): "The evidence establishes that there were at least two dozen torture sites in Kuwait City....The gruesome evidence confirms torture by amputation of or injury to various body parts, to include limbs, eyes, tongues, ears, noses, lips and genitalia. Electric shock was applied to sensitive parts of the body (nose, mouth, genitalia); electric drills were used to penetrate the chest, legs, or arms of victims. Victims were beaten until bones were broken, skulls were crushed, and faces disfigured. Some victims were killed in acid baths. Women taken hostage were raped repeatedly. Eyewitnesses described the murder of Kuwaitis by Iraqi military personnel who forced family members to watch. Eyewitnesses reported Iraqis torturing women by making them eat their own flesh as it was cut from their bodies. Other eyewitness accounts describe Iraqi execution of Kuwaiti civilians by dismemberment and beatings while victims were suspended from ceilings (with axes)....."
THE DIGNITY OF IRAQ? Where was this "dignity" while Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles directly into Israeli neighborhoods, not the collateral damage of permissible armed force, but deliberate crimes of war and crimes against humanity? Where was this "dignity" when Iraq fired missiles into Saudi Arabia, or when it gassed and burned its own Kurdish and Shiite civilian populations before, during and after the Gulf War?
The Secretary General has got it all wrong! Justice in this region requires memory, and memory reveals that heinous Iraqi crimes were not only left unpunished, but that such crimes have now been allowed to recur well into the future. Some of these crimes, such as the unprecedented and intentional dumping of millions of barrels of Kuwaiti and Saudi oil into the Gulf and the simultaneous torching of Kuwaiti oli wells, may ultimately impact us all, even in Europe and North America. It is not the dignity of Iraq that needs to be respected here, but the dignity of the victims of the murderous Iraqi regime, victims both past and future.
Where is the memory of Iraqi crimes against Israel and against Iraq's own defenseless Jewish populations? Iraq has launched aggression against Israel on several occasions. Baghdad sent significant expeditionary forces in the 1948 War of Independence, in the 1967 Six Day War and during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. During the 1948 War, Iraqi forces entered TransJordan and engaged Israeli troops in Western Samaria. After the 1967 War Iraqi forces, which had been deployed in Jordan, remained there for more than two years. During the 1973 War, Iraq committed about one-third of its then 95,000 man armed forces to aid Syria in its campaign of aggression on the Golan Heights.
Within Iraq today, perhaps a few dozen Jews remain of a community that had numbered about 135,000 in 1948. During World War II, following violent anti-Jewish harangues by the Mufti of Jerusalem, hundreds of Jews were slaughtered by frenzied mobs in June 1941. After the war, in August 1948, Zionism was officially declared a crime by the Government of Iraq ( a declaration entirely in violation of the international law of human rights) and hundreds more Jews were imprisoned and hanged on the streets. After the 1967 War, very large numbers of Jews were accused of spying for Israel, and publicly hanged before enormous and jubilant crowds. The largest of these celebration hangings took place on January 27, 1969.
THE DIGNITY OF IRAQ? The Secretary General has got it all wrong. What is needed, immediately, is justice for Iraq's many victims, and justice demands memory of their dignity. On the seventh anniversary of the end of the Gulf War, it is this memory that is indispensable and it is this memory that should now offer a warning of what could soon happen again.
LOUIS RENE BERES is Professor of International Law, Department of Political Science at Purdue University was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and international law.
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