Cheat-Seeking Missles

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Hussein Apologist Gets His Comeuppance

James Taranto does a lovely job of dissecting Stephen C. Pelletiere today. If you haven't heard of Pelletiere -- that's him on the right, and no, his name isn't French for "rabbit dropping" -- he's a former CIA analyst who gained very modest fame and quite certain infamy when he penned a 1998 NYT op/ed that blamed Iran, not Iraq, for gassing the Kurds:
I am not trying to rehabilitate the character of Saddam Hussein. He has much to answer for in the area of human rights abuses. But accusing him of gassing his own people at Halabja as an act of genocide is not correct, because as far as the information we have goes, all of the cases where gas was used involved battles. These were tragedies of war. There may be justifications for invading Iraq, but Halabja is not one of them.
Taranto then traces those words over the years, as Islamists and publications like the NYT, continued to refer to Pelletiere's statement to either polish up Hussein's reputation or argue against his execution. The NYT referred to Pelletier's statement as recently as today, which was particularly nice, since it was rebutted yesterday ... by Saddam himself.

Taranto shares to yesterday's testimony, when a recording of Hussein's own voice filled the courtroom where the remaining living Kurdistan villians are on trial. Included was this, said to his Vice President:
Yes, they will kill thousands. ... I don't know if you know this, Comrade Izzat, but chemical weapons are not used unless I personally give the orders.
This rebuttal of Pelletiere's theory got me thinking about the staying power of his op/ed, so I booted up my trusty side-kick, Nexis, and typed in a search for "Stephen" within two words of "Pelletiere." That yielded 17 hits over the past six months, including this, from an editorial in the Toronto Star on Jan. 3 of last year:
Additionally, the Halabja trial would also have shed light on the claim by Stephen C. Pelletiere, the CIA's senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War, that both Iran and Iraq "used gas against the other in the battle around Halabja."

Pelletiere made the astonishing claim in The New York Times ... that the "condition of the dead Kurds' bodies, however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent - that is, a cyanide-based gas - which Iran was known to use." With the death of Saddam, the secrets that could have emerged at the Halabja trial will probably never come to light.
Apparently the Toronto Star was not publishing during the Nixon years, when all other newspapers learned that people in power have their conversations recorded. Can we expect a correction tomorrow? I think not.

The second interesting hit was “How the Attorney General became Saddam’s Hussein’s Lawyer,” which appears in the current issue of Esquire:
[Ramsey Clark] jumps from the horrors of the Philippine campaign of 1898 to the charge that his client, the man he is on his way to meet, the man he always calls the President, used poison gas to slaughter thousands of helpless Kurds. You have to remember the context, he says. It was during the war between Iraq and Iran, when both sides were using gas. Although the evidence now seems very heavily against Hussein, with most human-rights groups pinning the blame on Iraq, Clark brings up an op-ed piece in The New York Times by one of the CIA's top Iraq specialists, Stephen Pelletiere, that supports his position. "Voltaire says history is fiction agreed upon," he says. "I find that unacceptable."
Would Clark find acceptable “History is fact agreed upon by those who carried it out?” Probably not.

So how's Pelletiere doing after all this exposure. Not too well, it appears. The “Horseheads” column in the last year's April 27th edition of the Elmira, New York Star-Gazette announced he was speaking that week … at Corning East High School.

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