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Jewish World Review March 22, 2004 / 29 Adar, 5764

Nat Hentoff

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Was Saddam Hussein a feminist? | In a February speech in Washington, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, often regarded as an eventual Oval Office candidate, voiced her concern about "some of the pullbacks in the rights" she said were given to Iraqi women under Saddam Hussein. Not even Sen. Ted Kennedy, who has attacked President Bush for engaging in a "senseless war in Iraq," has gone so far as to praise Hussein as a supporter of women's rights.

Hillary 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 now — wrote of a paramilitary group once led by Hussein'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, 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 Hussein. 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 Sen. Clinton's exculpatory view of Hussein, 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?"

Sen. Clinton, in being introduced for her speech at the public policy group Brookings Institute, was described as "one of the most powerful analysts, advocates and speakers on a broad range of issues that face our country."

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But she does occasionally need a fact-checker in her office.

As for Saddam's record on women's rights, 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 male relative. ... 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 Bush for — as Sen. Kennedy put it — "pure, unadulterated fear-mongering" that led us into the war that removed Hussein. 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 Hussein's wanton mass destruction of so many thousands of Iraqi human lives, as persistently documented by Amnesty International and other human-rights organizations. 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 Hussein had been torturing and murdering his people for decades longer.

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

Would Kofi Annan have prevented more skeletons? As the much-berated 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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Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of several books, including his current work, "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance". Comment by clicking here.

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