I don't think you know very much about war crimes, JTT.
How Many People Has Hussein Killed.
By JOHN F. BURNS
Published: January 26, 2003
IN the unlit blackness of an October night, it took a flashlight to pick them out: rust-colored butchers' hooks, 20 or more, each four or five feet long, aligned in rows along the ceiling of a large hangar-like building. In the grimmest fortress in Iraq's gulag, on the desert floor 20 miles west of Baghdad, this appeared to be the grimmest corner of all, the place of mass hangings that have been a documented part of life under Saddam Hussein.
At one end of the building at Abu Ghraib prison, a whipping wind gusted through open doors. At the far end, the flashlight picked out a windowed space that appeared to function as a control room. Baggy trousers of the kind worn by many Iraqi men were scattered at the edges of the concrete floor. Some were soiled, as if worn in the last, humiliating moments of a condemned man's life.
The United States is facing a new turning point in its plans to go to war to topple Mr. Hussein, with additional American troops heading for the Persian Gulf, while France and Germany lead the international opposition. But the pressure President Bush has applied already has created chances to peer into the darkest recesses of Iraqi life.
In the past two months, United Nations weapons inspections, mandated by American insistence that Mr. Hussein's pursuit of banned weapons be halted, have ranged widely across the country. But before this became the international community's only goal, Mr. Bush was also attacking Mr. Hussein as a murdering tyrant. It was this accusation that led the Iraqi leader to virtually empty his prisons on Oct. 20, giving Western reporters, admitted that day to Abu Ghraib, a first-hand glimpse of the slaughterhouse the country has become.
In the end, if an American-led invasion ousts Mr. Hussein, and especially if an attack is launched without convincing proof that Iraq is still harboring forbidden arms, history may judge that the stronger case was the one that needed no inspectors to confirm: that Saddam Hussein, in his 23 years in power, plunged this country into a bloodbath of medieval proportions, and exported some of that terror to his neighbors.
Reporters who were swept along with tens of thousands of near-hysterical Iraqis through Abu Ghraib's high steel gates were there because Mr. Hussein, stung by Mr. Bush's condemnation, had declared an amnesty for tens of thousands of prisoners, including many who had served long sentences for political crimes. Afterward, it emerged that little of long-term significance had changed that day. Within a month, Iraqis began to speak of wide-scale re-arrests, and officials were whispering that Abu Ghraib, which had held at least 20,000 prisoners, was filling up again.
Like other dictators who wrote bloody chapters in 20th-century history, Mr. Hussein was primed for violence by early childhood. Born into the murderous clan culture of a village that lived off piracy on the Tigris River, he was harshly beaten by a brutal stepfather. In 1959, at age 22, he made his start in politics as one of the gunmen who botched an attempt to assassinate Iraq's first military ruler, Abdel Karim Kassem.
Since then, Mr. Hussein's has been a tale of terror that scholars have compared to that of Stalin, whom the Iraqi leader is said to revere, even if his own brutalities have played out on a small scale. Stalin killed 20 million of his own people, historians have concluded. Even on a proportional basis, his crimes far surpass Mr. Hussein's, but figures of a million dead Iraqis, in war and through terror, may not be far from the mark, in a country of 22 million people.
Where the comparison seems closest is in the regime's mercilessly sadistic character. Iraq has its gulag of prisons, dungeons and torture chambers -- some of them acknowledged, like Abu Ghraib, and as many more disguised as hotels, sports centers and other innocent-sounding places. It has its overlapping secret-police agencies, and its culture of betrayal, with family members denouncing each other, and offices and factories becoming hives of perfidy.