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Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Left I on the News vs. John F. Burns

A month ago I wrote to call into question the seemingly preposterous claim that Saddam Hussein's government had razed 250,000 acres of orchards in Dujail following the 1982 assassination attempt, the reaction to which is the subject of the current Hussein (& Co.) trial. New York Times bureau chief John F. Burns had the courtesy to write me back, saying, "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."

Burns hasn't written back to me, but in the latest article on the trial, we find this: "They are charged with crimes against humanity for offenses that included...the razing of a vast acreage of orchards and date palm groves around Dujail." So 250,000 acres has now become the more nebulous "vast acreage" (but is still apparently a "crime against humanity," at least according to Burns).

Why do I press this seemingly minor point? For one thing, I have a fetish about the truth. For another, there's the old legal maxim, "false in one, false in all." If the prosecutors, or the Times, would lie about this detail, what else are they lying about? Today, for example, for the very first time as far as I know, the prosecutors are claiming that the assassination attempt itself had been faked by Saddam as an excuse to crack down on the people of Dujail. It's possible, of course, but the sudden appearance of this claim, 25 years after the fact, is questionable to put it mildly. The prosecutor claims that the rationale was "to justify cracking down on Shiites at a time when Mr. Hussein had begun a war with Shiite-ruled Iran," but surely if Iraq had just begun a war against Iran, they would hardly want to antagonize a segment of their own population, which could only weaken their efforts in that war.

Be that as it may, it looks like the Times, if not the Iraqi prosecutors, have conceded the point that the razing of 250,000 acres was an exaggeration.

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