Monday, October 18, 2004

The Invisible Man

A new mass grave of Saddam's Kurdish victims has been found, according to the BBC. (Hat tip Powerline) It is thought to contain hundreds of victims, including "unborn babies and toddlers clutching toys".

The victims are believed to be Kurds killed in 1987-88, their bodies bulldozed into the graves after being summarily shot dead. ... "It is my personal opinion that this is a killing field," Greg Kehoe, an American working with the IST, told reporters in Hatra, south of the city of Mosul.

"Tiny bones, femurs - thighbones the size of a matchstick."  Mr Kehoe investigated mass graves in the Balkans for five years but those burials mainly involved men of fighting age and the Iraqi finds were quite different, he said. "I've been doing grave sites for a long time, but I've never seen anything like this, women and children executed for no apparent reason," he said.

But although the bodies are there they really aren't. According to Kehoe:

Mr Kehoe said that work to uncover graves around Iraq, where about 300,000 people are thought to have been killed during Saddam Hussein's regime, was slow as experienced European investigators were not taking part.  The Europeans, he said, were staying away as the evidence might be used eventually to put Saddam Hussein to death. "We're trying to meet international standards that have been accepted by courts throughout the world," he added. "We're putting a package together on each body removed - pictures of bones, clothes, a forensic report."

The question is what principle is being preserved. Is it the ideal of opposing the death penalty? Or is it, as I argued in an earlier post, the power to regulate the recognition of a Third World citizen's death? It is no mean prerogative and all that separates the Cambodian Killing Fields from My Lai; Basilan from Beslan; and Darfur from Kosovo. It is a time honored practice to enlarge or nullify a outlander's death depending on its relevance to a political agenda. Walter Duranty exercised his redactive discretion to great effect. The big problem with September 11 is not that it happened but that it happened where it could not be ignored. The central challenge facing every propagandist of a certain type today is how to make it disappear; how to explain the datum away, either by misdirection or plain neglect, until the cherished facade can be resurrected in its full glory. Yet it will remain a facade; and the matchstick-sized bones and toddlers toys will remain unquiet; forgotten by us but if there is any justice, not unremembered.

"And he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab over against Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day."