Danger! Danger! Memory Hole Suffers Catastrophic Failure!

Saddam Hussein is now on trial for his genocidal Anfal campaign against Iraq’s Kurds during the eighties. The U.S. media has covered it intensely, while almost uniformly failing to mention that the Reagan and Bush I administrations knew what was happening, helped cover it up, and continued their support for Saddam:

Google News results for “saddam kurds” in U.S. publications within past seven days: 1430

Google News results for “reagan kurds” in U.S. publications within past seven days: 4

However, there’s one significant exception to this—Jim Hoagland at the Washington Post, who deserves credit for writing this column today:

Change is news, and the important news from the second trial of Saddam Hussein is this: The U.S. government is helping expose the ex-dictator’s genocidal assault on Kurdish tribesmen instead of helping hide it.

Welcome the change. But do not rush past the original malfeasance: U.S. officials were directly involved two decades ago in covering up and minimizing the horrifying details that were finally spread on the legal record in a Baghdad courtroom last week. In a long history of U.S. involvement in Iraq stained by official mistakes, betrayals and misunderstandings, the initial coverup of Hussein’s Anfal campaign is among its darkest moments.

I visited Baghdad in May 1987, a month after Iraqi troops began using poison gas and burning Kurdish villages in a systematic program of ethnic slaughter and cleansing. The U.S. Embassy quickly learned of the devastation through a trip to northern Iraq by an assistant military attache. But he denied to me what I had learned elsewhere: that he had reported to Washington the beginning of the operation code-named Anfal. His report was promptly stamped secret…

The Reagan-Bush administration remained silent as it helped the Iraqis fight the Iranians; Washington even made sure Iraq was invited to a prestigious international conference on chemical weapons in 1988.

The important national moral obligation to Iraqis that such American actions have created must not be shoved aside in the debates over strategy and politics that proliferate as U.S. midterm elections approach.