Peace advocates continue to shuttle in and out of Baghdad in an effort to save the children, prop up Saddam, and ensure the continued oppression of the Iraqi people.
by Stephen F. Hayes
KEITH WATENPAUGH is a peace activist. He is a professor of Middle East history at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York, where he is putting together a Peace and Global Studies program. His interest "in peace and the challenges of globalization" has led him to "become involved in the movement to end the decade-long sanctions regime on Iraq." In fact, he is so committed to peace he has joined something called the "Iraq Peace Team," sponsored by a group known as Voices in the Wilderness.
For those reasons, Keith Watenpaugh is currently in Baghdad. He is on a trip with other academics from the United States. His trip, if successful, will mean that Saddam Hussein, a despot responsible for the deaths of some 200,000 Iraqis and the torture of countless others, will remain in power. Keith Watenpaugh is a peace activist.
Bianca Jagger is also peace activist, or, as she prefers it, a human rights advocate. She is in Baghdad, too. She told CNN that she believes the Iraqi government will disarm because she cares about children. "All we can expect is that the Iraqi government will understand that they have to comply with the U.N. [sic] Council resolution, and that they will do it because I am concerned about those people who have been suffering for all of those years because of the embargo that has affected children and women and we can't deny that."
Her trip is the fourth high-profile delegation to Baghdad. Scott Ritter, former inspector turned Saddam apologist, earned extensive news coverage when he addressed the Iraqi parliament. Democrats David Bonior, Jim McDermott, and Mike Thompson toured hospitals and schools in September. And Sean Penn did the same thing last month.
Penn said some pretty harsh things about the Bush administration. "Somewhere along the line, the actions of this government are the actions of me," he argued. "And if there's going to be blood on my hands, I'm not willing to have it be invisible." Saddam's propagandists weren't content to simply rebroadcast those comments. So Saddam's Iraq Daily started making up quotes. The government newspaper claimed that Penn had "confirmed that Iraq is completely clear of weapons of mass destruction" and had insisted that "the United Nations must adopt a positive stance towards Iraq."
Penn said this weekend that such misrepresentation is "preposterous," adding: "They said that I said this, they said that I said that. I think it's meaningless horse [manure]--excuse me, you know, that is the way they behave."
That appears to be a price the Baghdad Democrats were willing to pay, too, when they took their trip last fall. McDermott, in a broadcast from Iraq, told Americans that their president "would mislead the American people," but that "you have to take the Iraqis on their face value." Again, this wasn't enough for Saddam's propagandists, who put these words in McDermott's mouth for broadcast on Iraqi Satellite Television. "We are three veterans of the Vietnam War who came over here because we don't want war. We assert from here that we do not want the United States to wage war on any peace loving countries."
Penn and McDermott didn't care that they are being used by Saddam Hussein's propaganda machine.
"That's a price I was willing to pay," said Penn.
"If being used means that we're highlighting the suffering of Iraqi children, or any children, then, yes, we don't mind being used," said McDermott.
Jagger is a bit more naive. "There is no way that they can manipulate me. I haven't even spoken to the Iraqi media. . . . It is important for us that we put a human face on the people of Iraq. It has nothing to do with Saddam Hussein. It has nothing to do with his government. It has to do for my concern as a human rights advocate for the consequences for the civilian population."
Trips like the one Jagger is on "have delighted Iraqi officials," according to an article in The Washington Post. So thrilled is the Iraqi government that officials "have given some of the visitors VIP treatment, including conversations with senior government officials, banquet meals, and trips to hospitals and schools." (Get that? Activists like Keith Watenpaugh and Bianca Jagger protest the U.N. sanctions. Those sanctions are the result of Saddam Hussein's unwillingness to disarm, and they have caused widespread malnourishment among the Iraqi people. The peace activists, though, get "banquet meals.")
That same Washington Post article gives us some insight into the thinking of peace activists like Watenpaugh. The LeMoyne College professor told the Post that he's "opposed to the arrogant American position," as expressed by the Bush administration, "that we know best what's for the Iraqi people."
So, like Sean Penn, he has traveled to Iraq on something of a fact-finding mission. There, he'll talk to Iraqis on the street, where dissent is stifled with a bullet to the head. And he'll meet with those senior government officials. They'll tell him that, of course, Saddam Hussein has gotten rid of his weapons of mass destruction. It's irrelevant, they'll assure him, that Saddam continued to build his arsenal during the seven years his country was crawling with U.N. inspectors in the 1990s. Armed with such information, Watenpaugh means to return to the United States with the Truth. "We're going to go back to our schools and our communities to tell them what's happening here," he told the Post.
It's amazing, though, what happens when reporters talk to Iraqis in the United States who are free to share their thoughts without worrying about being killed for doing so. "Families are anticipating seeing relatives for the first time in decades, and many professionals are envisioning how they will contribute their services in Iraq's reconstruction." So wrote Washington Post reporter Carlyle Murphy on Monday. "After a dozen years of false starts and deflated hopes, many of them believe that the United States is finally serious about ending Hussein's regime."
Murphy spoke to Dr. Jamal Fadul, who "knows the costs of war." In Iraq, "Fadul helped organize the 1991 uprising. When the Iraqi army attacked his hospital, Fadul saw scenes that still bring him nightmares. Inside, more than 70 patients were dragged from their beds and shot. Outside, hospital beds that had been wheeled into the street stood abandoned under fire. Each one held a patient, all now dead."
Another Post article detailed the repression of Shiites in southern Iraq. So strong is the sentiment against Saddam's rule that exiled Iraqis interviewed by reporter Daniel Williams in Syria were worried about revenge killings of the few pro-Hussein Iraqis who remain.
Iraqis are naturally concerned about war there, particularly the civilian casualties that could result from sustained bombing or the use of chemical and biological weapons. They are worried, too, about the commitment of the U.S. government to establishing a viable post-Saddam regime.
But overwhelmingly, these Iraqis, or at least those who can speak freely, say they want Saddam gone. However noble his intentions, Keith Watenpaugh, peace activist, is doing what he can to keep that from happening.
What was that he said about the "arrogant American position"?