PROVO, UTAH — President Ahmadinejad of Iran argues that the Holocaust never took place. Presumably, he thinks the concentration camps of Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald, which American soldiers found crammed with emaciated prisoners, were simply figments of their imaginations. The gas chambers stacked with the bones of massacred Jews must have been a delusion.
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower wisely summoned American and other Western war correspondents to see them and create a lasting record in words and pictures, "lest we forget."
There are museums that ensure that the brutality of the Nazis, or Pol Pot in Cambodia, or other tyrants, is recorded for posterity – not for jarring sensational reasons, but because future generations should be reminded how precious freedom is, and what sacrifices have been made for it.
I have suggested before in this space that such a museum should be built in Baghdad so that the evil and brutality of Saddam Hussein should not be lost in the mists of history. So far as I know, nothing has been done. Perhaps Iraqis could direct some of the new construction money President Bush is offering to finance such a project. If it matures, it should include some of the most chilling words you could imagine from Hussein that are coming from beyond the grave.
Tapes of what he said long ago were played in a Baghdad courtroom last week as the case continued against some of the six major defendants still on trial. Wrote John Burns, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times: "In the history of war crimes prosecutions against some of the last century's grimmest men, there can rarely have been a moment that so starkly caught a despot's unpitying nature."
As Mr. Burns reported, on one recording, Hussein is pressing the merits of chemical weapons on Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, his vice president. Mr. Douri asks whether chemical attacks will be effective against civilian populations. "Yes, they're very effective if people don't wear masks," Hussein replies. "You mean they will kill thousands?" Douri asks. "Yes, they will kill thousands," Hussein replies.
Such recordings capture in grim detail his emotionless brutality. He is heard telling one of his generals to summarily execute field commanders who failed to adequately prepare defenses against the Kurds. Elsewhere, he can be heard instructing subordinates to execute any internal security officials who failed to stop Iraqi soldiers defecting from the front line with fake passes. "If you arrest them, cut off their heads," he says. "Show no mercy."
One military officer is heard telling of plans to have a Soviet-built aircraft drop napalm bombs onto Kurdish towns. "Yes," replies Hussein, "that would be very useful."
The Times reporter chronicles one significant exchange that revealed the lengths Hussein went to cover up Iraq's efforts to attain weapons of mass destruction. To the general who dealt with United Nations weapons inspectors before the US-led invasion in 2003, he urged caution in the figures being divulged about raw materials for chemical weapons so as to disguise the use of unaccounted-for chemicals in the attacks upon Kurds.
Hussein himself played a key role in convincing the outside world and his own generals that he secretly possessed weapons of mass destruction and could use them if attacked. He did this even as he was working to assure UN inspectors that he did not possess such weapons, in order to preempt any punitive UN action. Thus not only US and British intelligence services deduced that he had them, but so did the Israeli, the Saudi, and the French intelligence services, as well as those of other countries.
Historians will accurately record that the weapons of mass destruction that Mr. Bush used to legitimize the US invasion of Iraq were in fact not found. History will also probably show that the postwar US occupation was poorly managed, and the number of troops necessary to build political and economic stability badly underestimated.
What nobody should cavil at, however, is that the United States rid the world of a tyrant whose inhumanity to mankind was almost beyond imagination in its scope and butchery. That is something that Iraqis who survived, and the rest of the world, should not be allowed to forget.
• John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is professor of communications at Brigham Young University.