[FoRK] Was Saddam's Purple Plastic People Shredder a Myth?
bill at whump.com
Sat Feb 28 21:42:01 PST 2004
Since several people referred to the shedder as a bloody rag to shove
in the face of Iraq War opponents, note that some research finds that
there's not a lot of corroborating evidence.
However, my friend Jack claims that there's a DVD for sale on the
streets of Baghdad with footage of someone going through the shredder.
But perhaps it's a mislabeled pirate copy of "Fargo".
The missing people-shredder
The horror of one of Saddam's execution methods made a powerful
pro-war rallying cry - but the evidence suggests it never existed
Wednesday February 25, 2004
Forget the no-show of Saddam Hussein's WMD. Ask instead what happened
to Saddam's "people shredder", into which his son Qusay reportedly fed
opponents of the Ba'athist regime.
Ann Clwyd, the Labour MP who chairs Indict, a group that has been
campaigning since 1996 for an international criminal tribunal to try
the Ba'athists, wrote of the shredder in the Times on March 18 last
year - 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".
Not surprisingly, the story made a huge impact. When the Australian
prime minister John Howard addressed his nation to explain why he was
sending troops to support the coalition, he talked of the
"human-shredding machine". Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy defence
secretary, expressed admiration for Clwyd's work in an email and
invited her to meet him.
Others, too, made good use of the story. Andrew Sullivan, who writes
from Washington for the Sunday Times, said Clwyd's report showed 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 his recent book, William Shawcross wrote
of a regime that "fed people into huge shredders, feet first to prolong
the agony". And earlier this month, Trevor Kavanagh, the Sun's
political editor, claimed that "Public opinion swung behind Tony Blair
as voters learned how Saddam fed dissidents feet first into industrial
Nobody doubts that Saddam was a cruel and ruthless tyrant who murdered
many thousands of his own people and that most Iraqis are glad he's
gone. But did his regime have a 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 in the House of Commons
on March 12. Mahon had just returned from northern Iraq, where Indict
researchers, along with Clwyd, interviewed Iraqis who had suffered
under Saddam. 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 ..." In subsequent interviews and
articles, Clwyd said this shredding machine was in Abu Ghraib prison,
Saddam's most notorious jail. Indict refuses to tell me the names of
the researchers who were in Iraq with Mahon and Clwyd; and, I am told,
Mahon, who no longer works at Indict, "does not want to speak to
journalists about his work with us". But Clwyd tells me: "We heard it
from a victim; we heard it and we believed it."
This is all that Indict had to go on - uncorroborated and quite
amazing claims made by a single person from northern Iraq. When I
suggest that this does not constitute proof of the existence of a human
shredder, Clwyd responds: "Who are you to say that chap is a liar?" Yet
to call for witness statements to be corroborated before being turned
into the subject of national newspaper articles is to follow good
practice in the collection of evidence, particularly evidence with
which Indict hopes to "seek indictments by national prosecutors"
against former Ba'athists.
An Iraqi who worked as a doctor in the hospital attached to Abu Ghraib
prison tells me there was no shredding machine in the prison. The
Iraqi, who wishes to remain anonymous, describes the prison as
"horrific". Part of his job was to attend to those who had been
executed. Did he ever attend to, or hear of, prisoners who had been
shredded? "No." Did any of the other doctors at Abu Ghraib speak of a
shredding machine used to execute prisoners? "No, never. As far as I
know [hanging] was the only form of execution used there."
Clwyd insists that corroboration of the shredder story came when she
was shown a dossier by a reporter from Fox TV. On June 18, Clwyd wrote
a second article for the Times, citing a "record book" from Abu Ghraib,
which described one of the methods of execution as "mincing". Can she
say who compiled this book? "No, I can't." Where is it now? "I don't
know." What was the name of the Fox reporter who showed it to her? "I
have no idea." Did Clwyd read the entire thing? "No, it was in Arabic!
I only saw it briefly." Curiously, there is no mention of the book or
of "mincing" as a method of execution on the Fox News website, nor does
its foreign editor recall it.
Other groups have no recorded accounts of a human shredder. An Amnesty
International spokesman tells me that his inquiries into the shredder
"drew a blank". Widney Brown, the deputy programme director of Human
Rights Watch, says: "We have not heard of that particular form of
execution or torture."
It remains to be seen whether this uncorroborated story turns out to
be nothing more than war propaganda - like the stories on the eve of
the first Gulf war of Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait taking babies from
incubators and leaving them to die on hospital floors. What can be
said, however, is that the alleged shredder provided those in favour of
the war with a useful propaganda tool. The headline on Clwyd's story of
March 18 in the Times was: "See men shredded, then say you don't back
- Brendan O'Neill is the assistant editor of spiked. A longer version
of this article appears in this week's Spectator
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