Friday, February 27, 2004

Back in March, Ann Clwyd, a Labour MP from Wales, wrote in The Times of London about reports that one of Saddam's sons regularly had prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison thrown into a machine intended for the shredding of plastic. Horrible -- and a rebuke to those of us who opposed war. Right? Well, yes -- except for the fact that it seems rather difficult to confirm that the shredder ever existed, as Brendan O'Neill now reports:

An Iraqi who worked as a doctor in the hospital attached to Abu Ghraib prison tells me there was no shredding machine in the prison. The Iraqi, who wishes to remain anonymous, describes the prison as "horrific". Part of his job was to attend to those who had been executed. Did he ever attend to, or hear of, prisoners who had been shredded? "No." Did any of the other doctors at Abu Ghraib speak of a shredding machine used to execute prisoners? "No, never. As far as I know [hanging] was the only form of execution used there."

Clwyd insists that corroboration of the shredder story came when she was shown a dossier by a reporter from Fox TV. On June 18, Clwyd wrote a second article for the Times, citing a "record book" from Abu Ghraib, which described one of the methods of execution as "mincing". Can she say who compiled this book? "No, I can't." Where is it now? "I don't know." What was the name of the Fox reporter who showed it to her? "I have no idea." Did Clwyd read the entire thing? "No, it was in Arabic! I only saw it briefly." Curiously, there is no mention of the book or of "mincing" as a method of execution on the Fox News website, nor does its foreign editor recall it.

Other groups have no recorded accounts of a human shredder. An Amnesty International spokesman tells me that his inquiries into the shredder "drew a blank". Widney Brown, the deputy programme director of Human Rights Watch, says: "We have not heard of that particular form of execution or torture."

The story was front-page, opinion-altering news in Britain; the alleged shredding was cited by Paul Wolfowitz and Australian prime minister John Howard. Yet the only evidence of the shredding, O'Neill notes, was one uncorroborated witness statement.

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