Saturday, November 06, 2004

Squeamish about injustice to the filler of mass graves -- less so about that to the families of the those who fill them.

Amid all the election talk about Iraq, for some reason there wasn't much about this subject -- yet there's an oddity in this report....
Since the Saddam Hussein regime was overthrown in May, 270 mass graves have been reported. By mid-January, 2004, the number of confirmed sites climbed to fifty-three.

Some graves hold a few dozen bodies—their arms lashed together and the bullet holes in the backs of skulls testimony to their execution. Other graves go on for hundreds of meters, densely packed with thousands of bodies.

"We've already discovered just so far the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair on November 20 in London.

The United Nations, the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) all estimate that Saddam Hussein's regime murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people. "Human Rights Watch estimates that as many as 290,000 Iraqis have been 'disappeared' by the Iraqi government over the past two decades," said the group in a statement in May. "Many of these 'disappeared' are those whose remains are now being unearthed in mass graves all over Iraq."

If these numbers prove accurate, they represent a crime against humanity surpassed only by the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Pol Pot's Cambodian killing fields in the 1970s, and the Nazi Holocaust of World War II. (USAID)
But if 270 mass graves are suspected, containing victims on a scale comparable to Rwanda and Pol Pot, why in all this time have only 53 been confirmed?

When I first saw this report that seemed puzzling. I could understand that one doesn't excavate 270 mass graves quickly, but to merely identify and confirm them didn't seem so difficult -- and did seem rather important, both to the families of the victims and as documentation of the nature of Saddam's regime. But what do I know about such things? So, maybe not.

Then in today's news comes perhaps a bit of clarification...
Investigators have begun unearthing a mass grave near a northern Iraqi village, uncovering more than 100 bodies and seeking evidence to use in a future trial of Saddam Hussein.

The bodies, believed to be Kurds killed during Saddam's crackdown in 1987-88, are buried in nine trenches in Hatra, according to Greg Kehoe, an American who works with the Iraqi Special Tribunal, which is preparing the trial of Saddam and his henchmen...

European teams who worked on Bosnian mass graves are not helping because of their concerns that Saddam could face the death penalty...

Kehoe said the bodies were apparently bulldozed into the graves ...

He said excavators found the body of a mother still clutching her baby. The infant was shot in the back of the head and the mother in the face.

Kehoe said that most mass graves in Bosnia largely contain men of fighting age. Graves near Hatra included many women and children...(AP)
Ah, so the Europeans aren't helping because of their sensitivity about Saddam possibly receiving an unjust death sentence for such things.

Their new-found sensitivity -- one certainly doesn't recall them being so sensitive about the fates of Mussolini or Ceausescu, or those at Nuremberg.