By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Not long ago, Human Rights Watch estimated that, during his 24 years in power, Hussein’s regime executed 290,000 men, women and children. With the constant discovery of new graves, Bouckaert knows that number will, in the end, be much higher. Once, there was hope that many of those who had disappeared were being incarcerated somewhere. There were rumors of secret prisons. Perhaps the missing would emerge from them, alive and well, after the fall of Baghdad. But there are no secret prisons. Except for a tiny, impossibly lucky few, like Nasir, there were no survivors. The chasm left by that fact can only be filled by justice, says Bouckaert. At the gravesites, Iraqis speak to him about their desire for assistance. He says what they need is American experts and equipment to help them process and identify the bodies. And an International Tribunal — public, transparent — to work with their own justice system in the prosecution of those responsible. But Bouckaert has found that the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (the U.S. civil administration now in charge of Iraq) has little interest in getting involved in expensive, time-consuming justice.
I asked Bouckaert whether it would be possible to prosecute the men who had killed Nasir’s family and so many others. He said that the process of unearthing the mass graves must be slowed, and experts brought in. I told him of the captain at the gravesite who said that Iraqis really just want to re-bury the bodies on their own, and do it quickly. Bouckaert, who visits gravesites all over Iraq, said, “Then I am saying the Emperor has no clothes.”
Nasir made it back to Hilla. But people didn’t want to hear his story. They called it crazy or ignored him. There was so much fear. Up until the fall of Baghdad, Nasir felt paralyzed by the events of that night at Mahawil. His terror of being re-caught prevented him from working or doing much of anything. He never felt lucky to be alive, until now. His survival, and the truth about the events of 1991, have become very important.
When Nasir had finished his story, the room became silent. It was very hot. A man offered us all water from a pitcher. It felt hard, rude, to have to refuse the water. But the water would make us sick. We went outside, into a large crowd of people from the village. They all smiled and greeted us warmly. After so many years of remaining mute in regard to the disappearances, they are eager, driven, to speak. They believe that, now, the process of justice can begin. They have faith in the ability of the Americans to make this happen. A small mob of kids followed us to our cars. They gave us the thumbs-up sign and shouted, “Good! Good! Good!”
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