Documents Give Evidence Of Atrocities Against Iraqi Kurds
Paper, audio, film records disclose torture sessions and executions
WASHINGTON — LIKE Adolf Hitler's Nazi henchmen, who meticulously documented their deeds, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's secret police have a penchant for recording their own grisly history.
The regime's systematized persecution of its Kurdish population has been notorious; now the international community has documents to prove it.
Peter Galbraith, a senior adviser to the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spearheaded the com- mittee's effort to ferry out of Iraq some 14 tons of paper, audio, and film records of interrogations, torture sessions, and executions.
Using the chaos of the Gulf war to stage their spring 1991 uprising, Kurdish rebels torched police stations and prisons in Kurdistan after seizing tapes and papers that recorded abuses against their friends and families.
Kurdish leaders agreed to allow the records to be transported to the US for safekeeping. A random selection was made available to the Monitor.
Documents that filled 847 boxes recently arrived here and are being sorted at the National Archives. After the sorting process is completed, Middle East Watch, part of Human Rights Watch, will examine them for evidence that demonstrates Saddam's efforts to exterminate his government's most formidable opposition group and largest minority - the Kurds.
Most of the documents date back to 1988 and 1989, "the worst years for Iraq's Kurds," says Mr. Galbraith.
"Four days ago," a typical entry begins, "24 men, 32 women, and 54 children gave themselves up to a military unit."
A list of names runs down one side of a page; execution, the cause of death, runs down the other.
The death certificates are monotonous, says Galbraith, as are the logs of homes and villages razed by Iraqi tanks, and some 20 hours of video tapes showing secret police emptying their automatic weapons into blindfolded men tied to posts.
Iraq's intelligence network enlisted Kurds abroad to spy on each other. One set of papers lists Iraqi Kurds who emigrated to Bismarck, N.D. Accompanying information about their families and occupations indicates their availability as US-based informers for the Iraqi regime.
IN other papers, an engineering student in Detroit, a taxi driver in Miami, an old emigre in Washington, D.C. - just a few of the thousands who fled from Saddam's iron-fisted rule in northern Iraq - are listed as "close to terrorist groups" or in a position to report back on their respective local Kurdish communities in the US.
The files also contain graphic photographs. One shows three Iraqi army men who are crouched on the ground, surrounding a man they have just executed. Sporting weapons and flashing victory signs, they are holding up the dead man by his hair.
"It's like three hunters gripping antlers and showing off their deer as their trophy kill," says Galbraith. "Except it's a man."
According to Kurdish claims, upwards of 300,000 Kurds have been killed by the Iraqis in recent years. Galbraith says he hopes to build a genocide case against the secret police and Saddam's Ba'th Party, which continue to work together to systematically destroy Kurdish villages and their inhabitants, he says.
Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Susan Osnos says her organization has monitored human rights violations in more than 60 countries for the past 12 years and takes the term "genocide" very seriously. She says "never before have we talked about a genocide case. But we're certainly headed in that direction."
In order to prove organized extermination, she says, documentation, testimonials, and physical evidence must be brought before the World Court.
Middle East Watch has accumulated testimony from Kurdish survivors of mass executions and chemical warfare.
In September 1991, Galbraith viewed mass graves, which are believed to be scattered around northern and southern Iraq. He describes a "huge trench, piled with rotting clothing, shoes, and human bones," remains of Kurds who suffered Iraqi chemical weapons attacks in 1988.
Human Rights Watch teams have found mass graves, says Ms. Osnos. "There's no question there are many more." Her organization suspects that many living Iraqi Kurds are languishing in concentration camps.
Galbraith, who has made seven trips to Kurdistan over the past decade, laments that while many of the abuses were known before, "there has been a lot of denial about the atrocities against Kurds. For strategic and economic reasons, it was ignored."
In 1988, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee introduced a bill calling for sanctions against Iraq for using chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians. The bill failed to overcome stiff opposition from American businessmen in the US-Iraq Business Forum and State Department officials who curried Iraq's favor.
"By establishing a case of genocide," says Galbraith, "it will become that much more difficult for the international community to walk away."
The coming months will tell whether there is sufficient evidence to bring charges against Iraq for crimes against humanity. At the very least, the documents are important reminders to US policymakers of a failed approach, Galbraith says.