Donald & Saddam


addam Hussein has gone on
trial, but questions remain unasked by mainstream U.S. journalists
about Donald Rumsfeld’s 1983 meeting with Hussein in Baghdad
on behalf of the Reagan administration. The initial trial of Saddam
and co-defendants is focusing on grisly crimes that occurred the
year before Rumsfeld shook Saddam Hussein’s hand. “The
first witness, Ahmad Hassan Muhammad, riveted the courtroom with
scenes of torture he witnessed after his arrest in 1982, including
a meat grinder with human hair and blood under it,” the

York Times

reported on December 6. 

The victims were Shiites—143 men and adolescent boys, according
to the charges—tortured and killed in the Iraqi town of Dujail
after an assassination attempt against Hussein in early July 1982. 

On December 20, 1983 the

Washington Post

reported that Rumsfeld
“visited Iraq in what U.S. officials said was an attempt to
bolster the already improving U.S. relations with that country.”
A couple of days later, the

New York Times

cited a “senior
American official” who “said that the United States remained
ready to establish full diplomatic relations with Iraq and that
it was up to the Iraqis.” 

On March 29, 1984 the


reported: “American diplomats
pronounce themselves satisfied with relations between Iraq and the
United States and suggest that normal diplomatic ties have been
restored in all but name.” Washington had some goodies for
Hussein’s regime, the


account noted, including
“agricultural-commodity credits totaling $840 million.” 

A few months later, on July 17, 1984, a


article with
a Baghdad dateline reported that the U.S. “granted Iraq about
$2 billion in commodity credits to buy food over the last two years.”
The story recalled that “Donald Rumsfeld, the former Middle
East special envoy, held two private meetings with the Iraqi president
here,” and the dispatch mentioned in passing, “State Department
human rights reports have been uniformly critical of the Iraqi President,
contending that he ran a police state.” 

Full diplomatic relations between Washington and Baghdad were restored
11 months after Rumsfeld’s December 1983 visit with Saddam. 

As the most senior U.S. official to visit Iraq in six years, Rumsfeld
served as Reagan’s point man for warming relations with Hussein.
In 1984, the Administration engineered the sale to Baghdad of 45
ostensibly civilian-use Bell 214ST helicopters. Hussein’s military
found them useful for attacking Kurdish civilians with poison gas
in 1988, according to U.S. intelligence sources. “In response
to the gassing,” journalist Jeremy Scahill has pointed out,
“sweeping sanctions were unanimously passed by the U.S. Senate
that would have denied Iraq access to most U.S. technology. The
measure was killed by the White House.” 

U.S. big media institutions did little to illuminate how Washington
and business interests combined to strengthen and arm Saddam Hussein
during many of his worst crimes. “In the 1980s and afterward,
the United States underwrote 24 corporations so they could sell
to Saddam Hussein weapons of mass destruction, which he used against
Iran, at that time the prime Middle Eastern enemy of the United
States,” writes Ben Bagdikian, former assistant managing editor
of the

Washington Post

, in his book

The New Media Monopoly

“Hussein used U.S.-supplied poison gas” against Iranians
and Kurds “while the United States looked the other way.” 

Of course the crimes of the Saddam Hussein regime were not just
in the future when Rumsfeld came bearing gifts in 1983. Saddam’s
large-scale atrocities had been going on for a long time. 

A photo of Donald Rumsfeld shaking Hussein’s hand on December
 20, 1983, is easily available. But the picture has been absent
from the array of historic images that U.S. media outlets are providing
to viewers and readers in their coverage of the Saddam Hussein trial.
Journalistic mention of Rumsfeld’s key role in aiding the Iraqi
tyrant has been similarly absent. Apparently, in the world according
to U.S. mass media, some history matters profoundly and some doesn’t
matter at all.

Solomon is the author of

War Made Easy: How Presidents
and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.