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We Caught the Wrong Guy

For all the pomp and circumstance that has surrounded the extraction of the former Iraqi dictator from a hole in the ground, the reality is that the United States is not safer now that the man is in chains.
 
 
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Saddam Hussein, former employee of the American federal government, was captured near a farmhouse in Tikrit in a raid performed by other employees of the American federal government. That sounds pretty deranged, right? Perhaps, but it is also accurate. The unifying thread binding together everyone assembled at that Tikrit farmhouse is the simple fact that all of them -- the soldiers as well as Hussein -- have received pay from the United States for services rendered.

It is no small irony that Hussein, the Butcher of Baghdad, the monster under your bed lo these last twelve years, was paid probably ten thousand times more during his time as an American employee than the soldiers who caught him on Saturday night. The boys in the Reagan White House were generous with your tax dollars, and Hussein was a recipient of their largesse for the better part of a decade.

If this were a Tom Clancy movie, we would be watching the dramatic capture of Hussein somewhere in the last ten minutes of the tale. The bedraggled dictator would be put on public trial for his crimes, sentenced to several thousand concurrent life sentences, and dragged off to prison in chains. The anti-American insurgents in Iraq, seeing the sudden futility of their fight to place Hussein back into power, would lay down their arms and melt back into the countryside. For dramatic effect, more than a few would be cornered by SEAL teams in black face paint and discreetly shot in the back of the head. The President would speak with eloquence as the martial score swelled around him. Fade to black, roll credits, get off my plane.

The real-world version is certainly not lacking in drama. The streets of Baghdad were thronged on Sunday with mobs of Iraqi people celebrating the final removal of a despot who had haunted their lives since 1979. Their joy was utterly unfettered. Images on CNN of Hussein, looking for all the world like a Muslim version of Charles Manson while getting checked for head lice by an American medic, were as surreal as anything one might ever see on a television.

Unfortunately, the real-world script has a lot of pages left to be turned. Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, reached at his home on Sunday, said, "It's great that they caught him. The man was a brutal dictator who committed terrible crimes against his people. But now we come to rest of story. We didn't go to war to capture Saddam Hussein. We went to war to get rid of weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons have not been found." Ray McGovern, senior analyst and 27-year veteran of the CIA, echoed Ritter's perspective on Sunday. "It's wonderful that he was captured, because now we'll find out where the weapons of mass destruction are," said McGovern with tongue firmly planted in cheek. "We killed his sons before they could tell us."

Indeed, reality intrudes. The push for war before March was based upon Hussein's possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 1,000,000 pounds of sarin gas, mustard gas, and VX nerve gas, along with 30,000 munitions to deliver these agents, uranium from Niger to be used in nuclear bombs, and let us not forget the al Qaeda terrorists closely associated with Hussein who would take this stuff and use it against us on the main streets and back roads of the United States.

When they found Hussein hiding in that dirt hole in the ground, none of this stuff was down there with him. The full force of the American military has been likewise unable to locate it anywhere else. There is no evidence of al Qaeda agents working with Hussein, and Bush was forced some weeks ago to publicly acknowledge that Hussein had nothing to do with September 11. The Niger uranium story was debunked last summer.

Conventional wisdom now holds that none of this stuff was there to begin with, and all the clear statements from virtually everyone in the Bush administration squatting on the public record describing the existence of this stuff looks now like what it was then: A lot of overblown rhetoric and outright lies, designed to terrify the American people into supporting an unnecessary go-it-alone war. Said war made a few Bush cronies rich beyond the dreams of avarice while allowing some hawks in the Defense Department to play at empire building, something they have been craving for more than ten years.

Of course, the rhetoric mutated as the weapons stubbornly refused to be found. By the time Bush did his little 'Mission Accomplished' strut across the aircraft carrier, the occupation was about the removal of Saddam Hussein and the liberation of the Iraqi people. No longer were we informed on a daily basis of the "sinister nexus between Hussein and al Qaeda," as described by Colin Powell before the United Nations in February. No longer were we fed the insinuations that Hussein was involved in the attacks of September 11. Certainly, any and all mention of weapons of mass destruction ceased completely. We were, instead, embarking on some noble democratic experiment.

The capture of Saddam Hussein, and the Iraqis dancing in the streets of Baghdad, feeds nicely into these newly minted explanations. Mr. Bush and his people will use this as the propaganda coup it is, and to great effect. But a poet once said something about tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow.

"We are not fighting for Saddam," said an Iraqi named Kashid Ahmad Saleh in a New York Times report from a week ago. "We are fighting for freedom and because the Americans are Jews. The Governing Council is a bunch of looters and criminals and mercenaries. We cannot expect that stability in this country will ever come from them. The principle is based on religion and tribal loyalties," continued Saleh. "The religious principle is that we cannot accept to live with infidels. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, said, `Hit the infidels wherever you find them.' We are also a tribal people. We cannot allow strangers to rule over us."

Welcome to the new Iraq. The theme that the 455 Americans killed there, and the thousands of others who have been wounded, fell at the hands of pro-Hussein loyalists is now gone. The Bush administration celebrations over this capture will appear quite silly and premature when the dying continues. Whatever Hussein bitter-enders there are will be joined by Iraqi nationalists who will now see no good reason for American forces to remain. After all, the new rhetoric highlighted the removal of Hussein as the reason for this invasion, and that task has been completed. Yet American forces are not leaving, and will not leave. The killing of our troops will continue because of people like Kashid Ahmad Saleh. All Hussein's capture did for Saleh was remove from the table the idea that he was fighting for the dictator. He is free now, and the war will begin in earnest.

The dying will continue because America's presence in Iraq is a wonderful opportunity for a man named Osama bin Laden, who was not captured on Saturday. Bin Laden, it has been reported, is thrilled by what is happening in Iraq, and plans to throw as much violence as he can muster at American forces there. The Bush administration spent hundreds of billions of dollars on this Iraq invasion, not one dime of which went towards the capture or death of the fellow who brought down the Towers a couple of years ago. For bin Laden and his devotees, Iraq is better than Disneyland.

For all the pomp and circumstance that has surrounded the extraction of the former Iraqi dictator from a hole in the ground, the reality is that the United States is not one bit safer now that the man is in chains.

There will be no trial for Hussein, at least nothing in public, because he might start shouting about the back pay he is owed from his days as an employee of the American government. Because another former employee of the American government named Osama is still alive and free, our troops are still in mortal danger in Iraq.

Hussein was never a threat to the United States. His capture means nothing to the safety and security of the American people. The money we spent to put the bag on him might have gone towards capturing bin Laden, who is a threat, but that did not happen. We can be happy for the people of Iraq, because their Hussein problem is over. Here in America, our Hussein problem is just beginning. The other problem -- that Osama fellow we should have been trying to capture this whole time -- remains perched over our door like the raven.

William Rivers Pitt is the managing editor of truthout.org.