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Proof of Death

The demise of Uday and Qusay Hussein is good news--but now the administration should provide proof of their deaths to the Iraqi people.

12:00 AM, Jul 23, 2003 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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GET THEM ON TELEVISION. On Tuesday, CENTCOM confirmed the killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein in Mosul, Iraq. According to Lt. Gen. Rick Sanchez, "The bodies are in a condition where you could identify them." It may sound gruesome, but the Bush administration should work expeditiously to provide the world with evidence--photographic if it can be done tastefully--that Saddam's murderous sons are, in fact, dead.

In several briefings in Iraq over the past week, coalition military and civilian officials repeatedly expressed concern at the rumor culture that prevails to this day in the country. Most Iraqis are grateful that the coalition removed the regime, they say, with military officials working closely with Iraqis throughout the country estimating that between 80 percent and 90 percent of the population is supportive of U.S. efforts there.

But suspicion of American motives remains. This was apparent when deputy Defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz met with the city council in Najaf on Saturday. After Wolfowitz listened to several expressions of gratitude and a list of concerns from Iraqis serving on the newly formed council, he invited questions. One member of the city council spoke up, asking Wolfowitz "two questions that keep coming to me from people on the streets of Najaf:"

My first question. The elections in America are upon us very soon. Do you think that it is possible for the decision to withdraw troops from Iraq could be taken if a new president is elected? And second, is the question of apprehending or arresting the deposed Saddam Hussein would that remain to be like a trump card that is played by America?

"This is a sophisticated man," said Wolfowitz, while talking to reporters after the meeting, "but they've been beaten and battered for over 35 years and it takes a while to earn their trust."

At a lunch in Baghdad on Sunday, CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid spoke about the importance of finding Saddam. "It's very high up on the list of priorities. [Lt. Gen. Rick Sanchez] and I have talked about it, the deputy and the secretary and I have talked about it. It's important to get Saddam. It's important to know either he's alive or dead. And if he's alive it's important to figure out how to go capture or kill him."

The matter might seem simple and the answer obvious. But this has not always been the coalition line. As the regime in Baghdad was falling, military officials took a position similar to the one taken with Osama bin Laden: the effort to eliminate the threat is bigger than one man. On April 8, 2nd Brigade Commander Col. David Perkins said, "We hold the city and all major instruments of power. The regime is no longer in power. Wherever Saddam Hussein is right now doesn't matter. He's irrelevant."

Coming as it did in the euphoric days of military triumph, that comment is understandable. But Saddam will never be irrelevant. It took the coalition almost two months to offer a public bounty on the dictator (for $25 million) and his sons ($15 million each). In interviews in recent days, administration officials have admitted that their failure to emphasize the capture of Saddam and his sons was a mistake.

Publicly showing photographic evidence of Uday and Qusay Hussein's bodies may seem like an extreme step. And no one is suggesting a similar public display of other Iraqi soldiers, even members of Saddam's terrorist Fedayeen. But Uday and Qusay are different. They were murderous leaders of one of the most brutal regimes in recent memory.

During a tour of a Baghdad prison last week, reporters saw firsthand one of the thousands of examples of Uday's brutality. Ahmid K. Ibrahim, our Iraqi guide and the man likely to be appointed chief of the new Baghdad police department, pointed to a back road leading to the adjacent Iraqi Olympic complex run by Uday. Coalition bombs destroyed much of the Olympic complex and several prison structures. The ground at the prison is uneven, marked by occasional mounds of dirt, and littered with papers bearing the insignia of the regime. Former prisoners have told coalition authorities that the piles of dirt cover bodies of Iraqis murdered by the regime. Ibrahim, who was himself imprisoned and tortured for a year after his best friend told authorities of his opposition to the regime, says that Uday and his close associates used the road to travel to the prison to assault the female prisoners there. (For a gripping account of one woman's rape and torture at the prison, see Peter Finn's article in Monday's Washington Post.)

EARLY REPORTS of Iraqis celebrating the demise of Saddam's sons are encouraging. Still, the Bush administration should quickly provide additional evidence--visual evidence, if possible.

"With the capture of Uday and Qusay," Wolfowitz said in an interview yesterday, "we have begun to lift the blanket of fear hanging over the Iraqi people. That is the major thing keeping some of them from working with us more openly."

One final incentive. Important as it is convince the Iraqi people that the old regime is gone forever, it is equally critical to convince Baath party holdouts that they will not prevail. Doing so could mean fewer attacks on American soldiers.

Get them on television.

Stephen F. Hayes is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.