Wednesday, Dec 04, 2002
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By Hasan Suroor
They called the 23-page document, released by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, on Monday, a pretext for military intervention in Baghdad. Most embarrassingly for the Government, a high-profile former Iraqi nuclear scientist who was presented by the Foreign Office as a victim of Saddam's `torture' turned on it saying some of the torture instruments were in fact "made in Britain''.
``When I was in jail I was held with British-made handcuffs. In the cells next door, I could hear the screams of people who were having holes drilled in their bones. Those drills were made in Britain,'' said Hussain al-Shahristani who spent 11 years in jail after he apparently refused to help with Saddam's nuclear programme.
Mr. Shahristani, who now heads the U.K.-based Iraqi Refugee Aid Council, criticised Britain and other European countries for their `silence' all these years. He also opposed a military attack on Iraq saying it would cause a "great loss of life and infrastructure''.
``The dossier about human rights abuses is correct... but I am critical for the silence of Britain and other European countries for over two decades about these abuses,'' he said as criticism of the dossier grew. The Government claimed it was the most comprehensive documentation of alleged atrocities committed by Mr. Hussein against his own people.
An Amnesty International spokesman called the document "opportunistic and selective'' while the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch questioned the timing of the dossier, barely a week before the U.N. deadline for Iraq to declare its alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction is to expire. It wanted to know why had Britain ignored Iraq's human rights record until now.
A senior Labour MP Tam Dalyell said the Government was "cranking up for war'' using the human rights issue as a pretext. Another Labour MP Ann Clwyd, who leads a pressure group on crimes against humanity, criticised the Government for not taking action all these years. There was also criticism from Liberal Democrats who said the dossier was not enough to justify an attack on Iraq.
The veracity of the dossier was also questioned with The Times pointing out that it lacked "first hand information''. It said the document was "drawn mainly from second-hand sources, published remarks by journalists and human rights activists...All the documents published in the report are more than a decade old and many appear to be the same well-circulated government papers that were captured in the aftermath of the Gulf War,'' it said.
Unfazed by criticism, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, met a group of Iraqi women `victims' of the Saddam regime in a throwback to his meeting with `victims' of the Taliban regime in the run-up to the attack on Afghanistan.
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