Brendan O’Neill Brendan O’Neill

Not a shred of evidence

Did Saddam Hussein really use industrial shredders to kill his enemies? Brendan O’Neill is not persuaded that he did

Did Saddam Hussein really use industrial shredders to kill his enemies? Brendan O’Neill is not persuaded that he did

Forget the no-show of Saddam Hussein’s WMD. Even George Bush no longer believes that they are there. Ask instead what happened to Saddam’s ‘people shredder’, into which his son Qusay reportedly fed opponents of the Baathist regime. Ann Clwyd, Labour MP for Cynon Valley and chair of Indict, a group that has been campaigning since 1996 for the creation of an international criminal tribunal to try the Baathists, wrote of the shredder in the Times on 18 March — the day of the Iraq debate in the House of Commons and three days before the start of the war. Clwyd described an Iraqi’s claims that male prisoners were dropped into a machine ‘designed for shredding plastic’, before their minced remains were ‘placed in plastic bags’ so they could later be used as ‘fish food’. Sometimes the victims were dropped in feet first, reported Clwyd, so they could briefly behold their own mutilation before death.

Not surprisingly the story made a huge impact. Two days after Clwyd’s article was published, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard addressed his nation to explain why he was sending troops to support the coalition in Iraq; he talked of the Baathists’ many crimes, including the ‘human-shredding machine’ that was used ‘as a vehicle for putting to death critics of Saddam Hussein’. Clwyd received an email from the US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, who expressed admiration for her work and invited her to meet him at the Pentagon. Her Times article on the shredder is still on the US State Department’s website, under the heading ‘Issues of International Security’.

Others, too, made good use of the story. Andrew Sullivan, the British-born journalist who writes a weekly column from Washington for the Sunday Times, said Clwyd’s report showed ‘clearly, unforgettably, indelibly’ that ‘the Saddam regime is evil’ and that ‘leading theologians and moralists and politicians’ ought to back the war.

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