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Chemical Ali pictured on Iraqi televsion just before his execution in Baghdad.

Those who opposed the war in Iraq believe the moral questions about the war have been settled.

They haven’t.

Today’s announcement by the legitimate, democratically-elected government of Iraq that “Chemical Ali,” Ali Hassan al-Majid, was hanged for crimes against the Iraqi people, reminds us that the war that ended the despotism of Saddam Hussein and Ali was a just war that ultimately freed millions of people from Saddam’s cruelty and ruthlessness.

Ali himself played a pivotal role in Saddam’s suppression of the Iraqi people.  He masterminded the broad military campaign against the Kurds that was called Anfal, Arabic for the “spoils of war.” The offensive lasted from 1987 to 1988 and saw up to 182,000 people killed, villages razed and families herded into internment camps. It is reported that TWO THIRDS of those victims were women and children.

Saddam Hussein and Chemical Ali were responsible for gassing more than 5,000 Kurds including women and children.

Today’s execution was carried out after a final guilty verdict was rendered against Ali last week for the 1988 gassing of Kurds in the northern Iraqi town of Halabja, an attack that killed as many as 5,000 people killed and came to symbolize Saddam’s brutal methods.

It is also worth remembering the reports that came out about Saddam’s use of torture in a pre-9/11 study by Amnesty International: Iraq: Systematic torture of political prisoners

Torture is used both to extract information or confessions from detainees and as a punishment. Political detainees are tortured immediately following arrest and their torture generally takes place in the headquarters of the General Security Directorate in Baghdad or in its branches in Baghdad and in the governorates. Torture also takes place in the headquarters of the General Intelligence (al-Mukhabarat al-‘Amma) in al-Hakimiya in Baghdad, its branches elsewhere, as well as in police stations and detention centres such as al-Radhwaniya. Detainees in these places are held incommunicado for months or even years without access to any lawyers or family visits.

In the mid-1990s Iraq introduced judicial punishments such as amputation of hand and foot, branding of forehead and cutting off of the ears, and many people have been left with permanently mutilated bodies as a result of such punishments. Such punishments have been described as cruel, inhuman and degrading by international human rights bodies. The Iraqi Government justified the introduction of these punishments by the increase in the crime rate which it attributed to the impact of economic sanctions imposed on the country since 1990.

Chemical Ali’s execution also reminds me of a quote from the BBC that was reported in an article called Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein’s Shop of Horrors by Jeff Jacoby:

In June, the BBC interviewed “Kamal,” a former Iraqi torturer now confined in a Kurdish prison in the north. “If someone didn’t break, they’d bring in the family,” Kamal explained. “They’d bring the son in front of his parents, who were handcuffed or tied and they’d start with simple tortures such as cigarette burns and then if his father didn’t confess they’d start using more serious methods,” such as slicing off one of the child’s ears or amputating a limb. “They’d tell the father that they’d slaughter his son. They’d bring a bayonet out. And if he didn’t confess, they’d kill the child.”

I would ask about the Iraqi people the same question we Americans ask ourselves when judging how our circumstances have changed: “Are the Iraqi people better off today than they were in 1991, 0r 1996, or 2001?”

If you don’t think they are, you are either blind to the past or ignorant of the present.

by Frank Marafiote
Guest Contributor