We Caught The Wrong
by William Rivers Pitt*, December 15, 2003
Saddam Hussein, former employee of the American
federal government, was captured near a farmhouse in Tikrit in
a raid performed by other employees of the American federal government.
That sounds pretty deranged, right? Perhaps, but it is also accurate.
The unifying thread binding together everyone assembled at that
Tikrit farmhouse is the simple fact that all of them – the
soldiers as well as Hussein – have received pay from the
United States for services rendered.
It is no small irony that Hussein, the Butcher
of Baghdad, the monster under your bed for these last twelve years,
was paid probably ten thousand times more during his time as an
American employee than the soldiers who caught him on Saturday
night. The boys in the Reagan White House were generous with your
tax dollars, and Hussein was a recipient of their largesse for
the better part of a decade.
If this were a Tom Clancy movie, we would be watching
the dramatic capture of Hussein somewhere in the last ten minutes
of the tale. The bedraggled dictator would be put on public trial
for his crimes, sentenced to several thousand concurrent life
sentences, and dragged off to prison in chains. The anti-American
insurgents in Iraq, seeing the sudden futility of their fight
to place Hussein back into power, would lay down their arms and
melt back into the countryside. For dramatic effect, more than
a few would be cornered by SEAL teams in black facepaint and discreetly
shot in the back of the head. The President would speak with eloquence
as the martial score swelled around him. Fade to black, roll credits,
get off my plane.
The real-world version is certainly not lacking
in drama. The streets of Baghdad were thronged on Sunday with
mobs of Iraqi people celebrating the final removal of a despot
who had haunted their lives since 1979. Their joy was utterly
unfettered. Images on CNN of Hussein, looking for all the world
like a Muslim version of Charles Manson while getting checked
for head lice by an American medic, were as surreal as anything
one might ever see on a television.
Unfortunately, the real-world script has a lot
of pages left to be turned. Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott
Ritter, reached at his home on Sunday, said, “It’s
great that they caught him. The man was a brutal dictator who
committed terrible crimes against his people. But now we come
to rest of story. We didn’t go to war to capture Saddam
Hussein. We went to war to get rid of weapons of mass destruction.
Those weapons have not been found.” Ray McGovern, senior
analyst and 27-year veteran of the CIA, echoed Ritter’s
perspective on Sunday. “It’s wonderful that he was
captured, because now we’ll find out where the weapons of
mass destruction are,” said McGovern with tongue firmly
planted in cheek. “We killed his sons before they could
Indeed, reality intrudes. The push for war before
March was based upon Hussein’s possession of 26,000 liters
of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 1,000,000 pounds
of sarin gas, mustard gas, and VX nerve gas, along with 30,000
munitions to deliver these agents, uranium from Niger to be used
in nuclear bombs, and let us not forget the al Qaeda terrorists
closely associated with Hussein who would take this stuff and
use it against us on the main streets and back roads of the United
When they found Hussein hiding in that dirt hole
in the ground, none of this stuff was down there with him. The
full force of the American military has been likewise unable to
locate it anywhere else. There is no evidence of al al Qaeda agents
working with Hussein, and Bush was forced some weeks ago to publicly
acknowledge that Hussein had nothing to do with September 11.
The Niger uranium story was debunked last summer.
Conventional wisdom now holds that none of this
stuff was there to begin with, and all the clear statements from
virtually everyone in the Bush administration squatting on the
public record describing the existence of this stuff looks now
like what it was then: A lot of overblown rhetoric and outright
lies, designed to terrify the American people into supporting
an unnecessary go-it-alone war. Said war made a few Bush cronies
rich beyond the dreams of avarice while allowing some hawks in
the Defense Department to play at empire-building, something they
have been craving for more than ten years.
Of course, the rhetoric mutated as the weapons
stubbornly refused to be found. By the time Bush did his little
‘Mission Accomplished’ strut across the aircraft carrier,
the occupation was about the removal of Saddam Hussein and the
liberation of the Iraqi people. No longer were we informed on
a daily basis of the “sinister nexus between Hussein and
al Qaeda,” as described by Colin Powell before the United
Nations in February. No longer were we fed the insinuations that
Hussein was involved in the attacks of September 11. Certainly,
any and all mention of weapons of mass destruction ceased completely.
We were, instead, embarking on some noble democratic experiment.
The capture of Saddam Hussein, and the Iraqis
dancing in the streets of Baghdad, feeds nicely into these newly-minted
explanations. Mr. Bush and his people will use this as the propaganda
coup it is, and to great effect. But a poet once said something
about tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow.
“We are not fighting for Saddam,"
said an Iraqi named Kashid Ahmad Saleh in a New York Times report
from a week ago. "We are fighting for freedom and because
the Americans are Jews. The Governing Council is a bunch of looters
and criminals and mercenaries. We cannot expect that stability
in this country will ever come from them. The principle is based
on religion and tribal loyalties," continued Saleh. "The
religious principle is that we cannot accept to live with infidels.
The Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, said, `Hit the infidels
wherever you find them.' We are also a tribal people. We cannot
allow strangers to rule over us."
Welcome to the new Iraq. The theme that the 455
Americans killed there, and the thousands of others who have been
wounded, fell at the hands of pro-Hussein loyalists is now gone.
The Bush administration celebrations over this capture will appear
quite silly and premature when the dying continues. Whatever Hussein
bitter-enders there are will be joined by Iraqi nationalists who
will now see no good reason for American forces to remain. After
all, the new rhetoric highlighted the removal of Hussein as the
reason for this invasion, and that task has been completed. Yet
American forces are not leaving, and will not leave. The killing
of our troops will continue because of people like Kashid Ahmad
Saleh. All Hussein’s capture did for Saleh was remove from
the table the idea that he was fighting for the dictator. He is
free now, and the war will begin in earnest.
The dying will continue because America’s
presence in Iraq is a wonderful opportunity for a man named Osama
bin Laden, who was not captured on Saturday. Bin Laden, it has
been reported, is thrilled by what is happening in Iraq, and plans
to throw as much violence as he can muster at American forces
there. The Bush administration spent hundreds of billions of dollars
on this Iraq invasion, not one dime of which went towards the
capture or death of the fellow who brought down the Towers a couple
of years ago. For bin Laden and his devotees, Iraq is better than
For all the pomp and circumstance that has surrounded
the extraction of the former Iraqi dictator from a hole in the
ground, the reality is that the United States is not one bit safer
now that the man is in chains.
There will be no trial for Hussein, at least nothing
in public, because he might start shouting about the back pay
he is owed from his days as an employee of the American government.
Because another former employee of the American government named
Osama is still alive and free, our troops are still in mortal
danger in Iraq.
Hussein was never a threat to the United States.
His capture means nothing to the safety and security of the American
people. The money we spent to put the bag on him might have gone
towards capturing bin Laden, who is a threat, but that did not
happen. We can be happy for the people of Iraq, because their
Hussein problem is over. Here in America, our Hussein problem
is just beginning. The other problem, that Osama fellow we should
have been trying to capture this whole time, remains perched over
our door like the raven.
*William Rivers Pitt is the Managing Editor of truthout.org.