- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

At the Brookings Institution in Washington on Feb. 25, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton charged that, with Saddam Hussein gone, there have been “pullbacks” in the rights Iraqi women enjoyed under his rule. Not even such bellicose critics of the war as Sen. Ted Kennedy have claimed that the regimechangehascost women in Iraq the leading defender of their rights.

Mrs. Clinton did try to qualify her softening of the dictator’s horrific image by noting that these women’s rights were “on paper.” However, she went on to give substance to the rights on paper: “They went to school; they participated in the professions. They participated in government and in business; as long as they stayed out of his way, they had considerable freedom of movement.”

John Burns — who reported for the New York Times from Iraq before, during the war and since — wrote of a paramilitary group once led by Saddam’s oldest (since forcibly deceased) son, Uday: “Masked and clad in black, (the men) make the women kneel in busy city squares, along crowded sidewalks, or in neighborhood plots, then behead them with swords.” The women’s crime, said their families, was having criticized Uday’s benevolent father.

When the dictator’s prisons were briefly opened before the war, Mr. Burns reported on the “raping of women in front of their husbands, from whom the torturers wanted to extract information.”

This year, in the March 9 New York Sun, Tamara Chalabi — currently working on civil society projects in Iraq — noted that some of the Arab press had gleefully mentioned Mrs. Clinton’s roseate version of women’s rights under Saddam. And the BBC quoted a headline of the Baghdad edition of Al-Sharq al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned newspaper: “Hillary Clinton: ‘Iraqi women were better off under Saddam’s reign.’”

Responding to Mrs. Clinton’s exculpatory view of Saddam, Miss Chalabi — a writer on Middle East issues — described “the many raped women whose children are from three different soldiers; how is it for them to live every day raising these children that are an eternal reminder of their violent rape? What is being done for these women today?”

Mrs. Clinton, in being introduced for her speech at Brookings, was described as “one of the most powerful analysts, advocates and speakers on a broad range of issues that face our country.” But she does occasionallyneedafact-checker in her office.

As for Saddam’s record on women’s rights, Miss Chalabi points out that “Saddam did not believe in women’s rights. Women had no freedom, whether they stayed in or out of his way.

“He decreed that women could not travel alone without a malerelative… Women were barred from majoring in specific subjects such as engineering because they were not ‘womanly’ enough. Women were sexually degraded.”

From now until election day, the Democrats will continue to attack President Bush for — as Mr. Kennedy put it — “pure, unadulterated fear-mongering” that led us into the war that removed Saddam. Democrats will crow that the weapons of mass destruction have not been found and that we should have involved the United Nations more deeply and patiently so that peacemaker Kofi Annan could have avoided the war.

The Bush administration is at fault, to say the least, for not having — from the beginning — focused on Saddam’s wanton mass destruction of so many thousands of Iraqi human lives, as persistently documented by Amnesty International and other human-rights organizations. Mr. Bush failed to emphasize that America went into Bosnia, under a previous administration, to stop the filling of the mass graves there and other human-rights atrocities. And Saddam had been torturing and murdering his people for decades longer.

But would France and Germany — who opposed our toppling Saddam — have agreed to do anything about the torture chambers, the rapes and the disappearances? Miss Chalabi reminds us “of the many Iraqi mothers that still weep beside randomly dug-up skeletons of their sons’ remains.”

Would Mr. Annan have prevented more skeletons? As the much-berated British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in the House of Commons: Without the war, the “darkness” would have closed back over the Iraqi people again, and Saddam would have been “free to take his revenge upon those he (would) know wish him gone.”

How would Hillary Clinton have prevented the return of the darkness? Does she know that under the interim constitution, one of the fundamental rights is that “torture, in all its forms, physical or mental, shall be prohibited under all circumstances”?

That includes women.

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