Are Americans embarrassed by the Bush administration releasing those grisly photographs of Saddam Hussein's two murdered sons? I think so. Are they repulsed by their government displaying on playing cards the human faces of targets of its tax-paid hit-team? Do they approve of assassins being hired in their name to track down face-card fugitives as if the world's lone superpower is some tinhorned, nuclear-crazed vigilante state?
Has this administration lost its Wild West, bounty-hunting mind?
The two Hussein brothers, Uday and Qusay, with a $15-million bounty on each of their heads, were allegedly gunned down in a "fierce gun battle," we're told. If nothing else, the American public is learning not to believe a word that falls from the lips of Donald Rumsfeld and his cohorts. Working on an informant's tip that the duo were in a Musol villa, U.S. soldiers stormed the house shortly after 9 a.m.
"They resisted the efforts of the coalition forces to go in there and apprehend them," said Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who commands the U.S. land forces in Iraq. "They were killed in the ensuing gunfight and the attack that we conducted on the residence."
Such a one-sided "gunfight" has not been witnessed since the Chicago DA's office shot its way into the Black Panthers' headquarters and killed Fred Hampton and Mark Clark back in 1969. Sanchez alluded to a peppering of small-arms fire, the extent of which is yet to be verified. There is no dispute, however, about what the Hussein brothers were up against.
Some 200 soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division were backed up by battle-tested Special Operations forces with bad attitudes. These courageous troops don't travel light. At least 10 anti-tank rockets were fired. And Apache helicopters swarmed the villa like angry hornets with sizzling rockets. A squad of A-10 Warthogs belched overhead with raging fire aplenty. And, for good measure, U.S. jet fighters lasered in on the attack to lend the slaughter a more precise sense of dignity.
So intense was the American fire and heat that the walls of the palatial house behind the concrete villa were shredded like White House memos. All this to bag the infamous playboy sadist, Uday, and his more sedate brother, Qusay, who ran their father's Special Republican Guards. Oh, yes, two other bodies were found in the rubble, including that of a teenager son.
In the wake of this glorious superpower victory that some rank up there with VJ Day, the Bush administration decided to beat its hairy chest in public.
Pentagon photographs of both Uday and Qusay were released in the full-color bloom of blood and gore. Qusay, the quieter and stockier of the two brothers, appeared to have been slightly less dreadfully wrenched by the onslaught. Lying on a pile of bedsheets, he was matched with a Pentagon-released 2001 photo of happier times.
Administration officials had no final qualms about this public display of the grisly gloat. Two top face cards in their assassination deck had been upturned, and they felt triumphal. The harsh, almost cowardly imbalance in the alleged shootout fazed the Bush administration not at all.
On the day of the release, Vice President Dick Cheney, in defilade until now, stormed to the press barricade to defend the indefensible. The administration told Americans that troops were committed to Iraq because Saddam Hussein posed, or soon would pose, a nuclear threat to the United States. In his speech of mass deception, President Bush's infamous 16-word statement drew a solid nuclear link between Iraq and Niger that has since been discredited as whole cloth. No nuclear threat has been revealed, nor have other weapons of mass destruction been discovered.
Instead of presenting evidence, Cheney shifted the sand. "What would that country look like today if we had failed to act?" No one doubts that the United States has the power to change regimes of sovereign nations that the sitting vice president might not like. The question is should the U.S. administration lie to the American people in committing their sons and daughters to topple such targeted regimes?
Left alone, Saddam Hussein might well have continued to oppress and torture his people. The U.S. Constitution allows for a war when the national security is jeopardized. The Bush administration finessed and phonied up a clear and present Iraq threat. Astonishingly, Cheney argued Thursday that the grisly ends in Mosul should justify the deceptive means in the White House.
How would any responsible leader have acted differently? Cheney wanted to know. The perfect solution to the Saddam Hussein problem is not required to judge - as any responsible American must - that the Bush-Cheney solution was wrong. One need not be an electrician to know that President Bush's light is out.
Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.