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Friday, May 26, 2006


Dujail - searching for the facts

First posted 5/25/06, 8:41 p.m.[Important update - see below]

Following up on the post below, I've been doing a little more digging, and naturally finding more contradictions. Here's some of what I've found:

The only reference to "Dujail" in the New York Times prior to early 2005 is an article from March 29, 1991, written by Elaine Sciolino. I'm accessing it in PDF format via ProQuest, so I can't link to it, but here's what it says:

The Government also found other, more creative ways to punish Shiite dissent. In July 1982, for example, assassins tried to kill Mr. Hussein during a visit to the village of Dujail, a stronghold of Shiite militancy about 40 miles northeast of Baghdad. Mr. Hussein ordered the entire population deported and the village was razed.
Aside from the curious assertion that an assassination attempt constitutes "dissent," note that there is no mention of 250,000 acres or orchards at all.

Now let's move forward to July 3, 2005, and the last major article in the Times on the subject, written by John F. Burns. Here's a portion of the narrative that Burns spins:

In small groups at first, then in larger roundups, about 1,500 townspeople were arrested, as many as 30 from single families, and started on a journey into Mr. Hussein's gulags.
Earlier in the article, he has quoted a population figure of 75,000. So now we've gone from the more contemporaneous article in the Times claiming that "the entire population [was] deported and the village was razed" to arresting 1,500 people (2% of the town), and no mention of "razing the village" at all.

Burns also writes:

Within weeks, the razing of the palm groves and the orchards began, continuing until more than 250,000 acres had been bulldozed.
Unfortunately, he provides no source for this information. Note also that, while recent articles refer only to 250,000 acres, Burns was claiming more than 250,000 acres.

There's something else in that article--a map of Iraq showing Dujail. I've extracted it, and made one small addition. That pink square you see centered on the town of Dujail? That's a square 20 miles on a side - 250,000 acres, the area allegedly razed by Saddam. Note that that square extends all the way to the nearest large town, Balad. Seeing it graphically like this makes clear just how implausible this claim is.

Update: John Burns replies:

May 26th 2006

Mr. Stephens:

This is a claim made by the prosecution at the trial -- in hectares, converted by us into acres. I'll ask the Regime Crimes Liaison Office to throw some light on this when I next meet with them.

Best regards

John Burns

John Fisher Burns
Bureau Chief
Baghdad Bureau
The New York Times
As I noted in the previous post, this "fact" has been repeated hundreds of times (e.g., Wikipedia), never even including an "estimated," nevertheless an "alleged." Am I doubting that this happened at all? Of course not, it seems certain it did. I am pursuing this because it is, or may be, an object lesson in the way a "fact" can make it into the media and then be endlessly propagated, without anyone having checked the original source. In addition, it's an object lesson in how critical it is to question everything you read in the media, especially things that are said about "our enemies," because it is by unquestioningly believing such things that people are convinced that Iraq has WMD and ties to al Qaeda, Iran has plans for nuclear weapons, and in turn how wars are started and hundreds of thousands of people are killed.

It is also well worth noting Burns' response to me in connection with his article of July 3, 2005, which reads like a documentary, laying out detail by detail what happened in Dujail. There is nothing, nothing, to suggest that the information in it includes allegations by the prosection, and everything which suggests that the narrative it weaves is simple, unchallenged historical fact, backed by the full weight of the New York Times.

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