Saturday, June 21, 2008
A Forgotten Day Of Infamy
This year marks the 15th anniversary of Clinton's murder of Layla al-Attar
By Malcom Lagauche
June 21, 2008
Many countries have one or two days a year that indicate a national tragedy. In the U.S., December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, is labeled a "day of infamy." Almost 60 years later, September 11, 2001 surpassed December 7 as a rallying cry for U.S. solidarity.
Iraq, a country much smaller than the U.S., and never as large a player on the international scene, can claim several days of infamy: January 17, 1991 (the beginning of Desert Storm); February 14, 1991 (the destruction of the Amiryah Bomb Shelter); March 20, 2003 (the start of the U.S. illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq); and April 9, 2003, (U.S. forces enter Baghdad) among others. But, one date that gains little international attention is imbedded in the hearts and minds of most Iraqis: June 26, 1993.
On that date, the U.S. military, under the command of Bill Clinton, ordered 23 Tomahawk guided missiles to demolish the headquarters of the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi intelligence services, in central Baghdad. Twenty of the missiles hit the agency complex, while "only" three missed their targets.
A jubilant Clinton took to the airwaves and proclaimed victory. He was happy that only three missed their mark. One could think he was addressing the public about the score of a sporting event.
Of the three that missed, one destroyed the home of Layla al-Attar, killing her and her husband, and blinding her daughter.
Layla al-Attar was the director of the Iraqi National Art Museum and a leading Arab artist who was revered in Iraq much the same as Norman Rockwell was in the U.S. In addition, she was a spokesperson for international peace, for the inner peace of women, and for resistance against U.S. hegemony. Layla al-Attar symbolized Iraq.
When news of al-Attar’s death broke, Iraq mourned. A special person who transcended political ideology and represented all of humankind had been assassinated.
During the Gulf War, her home was almost totally destroyed by U.S. missiles. Two years later, shortly after the completion of the house’s reconstruction, an "errant" missile finished the job that its cousin had only partially performed in earlier years.
Although never proven, it is quite easy to give credence to the theory that Layla al-Attar was the target of a missile, not merely a casualty of "collateral damage" from a misguided projectile. Every Iraqi believes she was marked, but shortly after her execution, the rest of the world forgot.
Outside the Arab world, Layla al-Attar was on the verge of becoming a top international artist. European art galleries were beginning to highlight her work. In the U.S., however, she was little known. Little international outrage was heard when she was killed.
The reason behind the attack was as bogus as any given during the Bush I years. Clinton stated that information was in-hand that showed Iraqi operatives were behind an aborted assassination attempt on former President George Bush in April 1993 at a ceremony praising him in Kuwait. Clinton added that Saddam Hussein ordered the attempt on Bush’s life. At the last minute, those who were to carry out the attack were apprehended and Clinton had to teach the Iraqis a lesson.
The big lie still persisted. Those arrested were merely drug and alcohol smugglers. In the aftermath of the June 26 missile attack, one-by-one the mythical would-be assassins were released from Kuwaiti jails, but, the U.S. media did not consider this information newsworthy. It was not as exciting as assassination plots and missile attacks.
On November 1, 1993, the New Yorker published an article by Seymour Hersh titled "A Case Not Closed." In it, Hersh went into detail about the entire event and basically showed there was no validity to Clinton’s claim.
Why did Clinton order this attack? At the time, Republicans and pro-war Democrats criticized him for being "weak" on Iraq and other invisible threats against the U.S. Clinton had to earn respect. What better target than Iraq, a defenseless country that was isolated because of U.S. propaganda?
According to Hersh:
Three of the million-dollar missiles missed their targets and landed on nearby homes, killing eight civilians, including Layla al-Attar, one of Iraq’s most gifted artists. The death toll was considered acceptable by the White House. Clinton administration officials acknowledged that they had been "lucky," as one national security aide put it, in that only three of the computer-guided missiles went off course.
Thus, on a Saturday in June, the president and his advisors could not resist proving their toughness in the international arena. If they had truly had full confidence in what they were telling the press and the public about Saddam Hussein’s involvement in a plot to kill George bush, they would have almost certainly ordered a far fiercer response than they did. As it was, confronted with evidence too weak to be conclusive but, in their view, perhaps not weak enough to be dismissed, they chose to fire missiles at night at an intelligence center in the middle of a large populous city.
Over the years, many people have uttered, "Saddam tried to kill Bush’s father," in defense of Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. In March 2008, the story took another turn as an unlikely organization admitted the plot was a hoax: the Pentagon.
The March 23, 2008 issue of Newsweek ran an article called "Saddam’s Files," written by Michael Isikoff. It stated:
President Bush said lots of things about Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the Iraq War. But few of his charges grabbed more attention than an unscripted remark he made at a Texas political fund-raiser on Sept. 26, 2002. "After all, this is a guy who tried to kill my dad at one time," Bush said. The comment referred to a 1993 claim by the Kuwaiti government—accepted by the Clinton administration—that the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) had plotted to assassinate President George H. W. Bush during a trip to Kuwait that spring …
But curiously little has been heard about the allegedly foiled assassination plot in the five years since the U.S. military invaded Iraq. A just-released Pentagon study on the Iraqi regime's ties to terrorism only adds to the mystery. The review, conducted for the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command, combed through 600,000 pages of Iraqi intelligence documents seized after the fall of Baghdad, as well as thousands of hours of audio- and videotapes of Saddam's conversations with his ministers and top aides …
… But the Pentagon researchers found no documents that referred to a plan to kill Bush. The absence was conspicuous because researchers, aware of its potential significance, were looking for such evidence. "It was surprising," said one source familiar with the preparation of the report (who under Pentagon ground rules was not permitted to speak on the record). Given how much the Iraqis did document, "you would have thought there would have been some veiled reference to something about [the plot]."
Despite the Pentagon coming clean after 15 years of the public believing a myth about the nonexistent assassination attempt, not too much has changed in the perception and reporting of those times. In April 2008, weeks after the Pentagon announced the Kuwaiti hoax, the National Defense University, a quasi-government organization, published a report called Choosing War: The Decision to Invade Iraq and Its Aftermath," written by Colonel Joseph J. Collins, a retired U.S. Army officer.
Collins seemed to be writing about a fantasy scenario of Iraq. His assessments were not accurate and at times, differed greatly from the facts. One of them stated: "Since the Republicans had last been in power, Saddam had tried to assassinate the elder Bush." No one challenged Collins’ statement, despite the Pentagon’s earlier declaration. It appears that no matter how many people debunk this lie, it has a life of its own and will go down in history as fact.
Hersh was quite right in his assessment of picking on the weak. U.S. citizens take pride in the fact that their society scorns bullies who pick on defenseless adversaries. However, they contradict their own philosophy by cheering on the murdering of foreign civilians who are the weakest prey of all.
I know that a few days from now, most Iraqis will be mourning the assassination of Layla al-Attar that occurred 15 years ago. And, on that day, those resistance fighters who are at work will remember her as well. Her legacy is why they are fighting today. I wonder if Bill Clinton, as he leaves his church of choice this Sunday, Bible in hand and being photographed by the press, will remember Layla al-Attar.
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