To Kill a Cat


The Unfortunate Incident at the Baghdad Zoo

When a man wants to murder a tiger, he calls it sport; when the tiger wants to murder him, he calls it ferocity.  The distinction between crime and justice is no greater.

- George Bernard Shaw

by Gary Leupp

Interesting Associated Press item buried deep in the Sunday Boston Globe:

Baghdad, Iraq - A US soldier shot and killed a tiger at the Baghdad zoo after it bit another soldier who had reached through the bars of its cage to feed it, a zoo security guard said Saturday.  The soldiers had been drinking beer when they entered the zoo Thursday night after it closed, said the guard, Zuhair Abdul-Majeed.

"He was drunk," Abdul-Majeed said of the bitten soldier.  After the man was bit, the other American shot the tiger three times in the head and killed it, Abdul-Majeed told the Associated Press.  It was impossible to reach the US military spokesman's office because the telephones have not worked for three days.

Subsequent reports have added details.  This wasn't just any tiger, but a Bengal tiger, and the most valuable animal in the zoo.  Agence France-Presse tells us that the tiger bit off the soldier's finger and mauled his arm.  AFP also informs us that Uday Hussein was a "lover of big cats," and that some of the cats in the zoo had been transferred from Saddam's palaces.  That could be important in the upcoming investigation (immediately requested by the World Society for the Protection of Animals); one could creatively spin this to establish a terrorist connection between the beast and the late son of the Iraqi leader.

The first question to pop into my mind was, what beer were these fine young men drinking?  Many people in this country incorrectly assume that alcohol is banned in all Arab countries because the Qur'an prohibits drinking.  But having a wide circle of Muslim friends and acquaintances (Moroccans, Bosniaks, Pakistanis) who love their beer, and having enjoyed the fine "Sakara" brew available anywhere in Cairo, I know this isn't the case.  Any student of beer history knows it was first brewed in ancient Sumeria (Iraq) and Egypt, and it takes more than a religion to quash so elegant and refined a cultural tradition.  I've read that Iraq under Saddam produced a lot of beer, which Christians if not Muslims were allowed to sell (only warm, for some reason) and which anyone could consume in their own home.  I see reports that Israel is now entering the Iraqi market with its own beers, which seems logical, somehow.  But I digress.

Back to the zoo.  I'm not inclined to be judgmental at all.  It's perfectly reasonable for stressed-out GIs, who shouldn't be in Iraq, who might for all I know be underage and inexperienced, to binge a bit during off-hours and head to the zoo.  Anyway you have this guy trying to feed a tiger through the bars of his cage.  A noble impulse, probably, although we don't know what he was feeding it.  US troops have often in past occupations offered chocolate to the local children; I suspect it encourages a positive self-image, especially if you've accidentally killed kids in the previous 24 hours.  Perhaps this tiger-feeding was a gesture of repentance that unfortunately went awry when the feline bit the hand feeding it.  Just like the Iraqi people, who are supposed to be grateful, keep biting at the occupation, causing similar confusion and violent reactions among the occupiers.

Why did the good soldier's buddy shoot the Bengal?  Sounds like the animal was still behind bars, so it wasn't a fair fight at all.  I know everything's changed since 9-11, because WE WERE ATTACKED, and so logic and compassion and morality are officially no longer relevant.  But I agree with WSPA that we need an accounting here.  Lots of Baghdadi kids, including aspiring zoologists among the well-educated Iraqi population, held the 14 year old cat in high regard and regret its assassination by drunken foreign aggressors.  The Bremer people are, I take it, offering to compensate the families of the eight collaborator cops the occupiers accidentally, collaterally killed last week.  Are there similar plans to compensate the zoo?  (A Bengal tiger will fetch a much higher price on e-Bay than the US military pays out per head in compensation for accidental killings.)  Hopefully some investigative journalist on site will stay on this story.

People drunk with power and ambition have placed their hands deep into the tiger cage which was Saddam's Iraq.  Predictably, they've been bitten badly.  Such is the view of a young North African friend of mine who, when I brought this story to his attention, brought mine to a well-known hadith (saying attributed to the Prophet Mohammad) that appears in several collections of such sayings.  (See Bukhari 1/495;  or or any hadith collection.)  These sayings, in Muslim belief, carry equal weight with the Holy Qur'an.  The gist of the passage is that a woman once held a cat in confinement and mistreating it, caused its death.  "She entered Hell-fire because of it."  Allah, the Merciful and Compassionate, just doesn't countenance cruelty to animals.

The American hero mentioned above, who shot the caged cat at the Baghdad Zoo, had already entered the Hell-fire of occupied Iraq, a hell created not by any deity, but by leaders who rival the fiercest beasts in their efforts to expand their empire.  It's the god-awfullest situation.  Might even drive a man to drink.  This isn't the drunk dudes' fault, and I sincerely hope that the injured soldier gets his finger re-attached so that, returning from hell to the bosom of his family, he can flip it in the face of the power structure that dispatched him to Iraq in the first place.

Getting bit?  The intelligent thing to do is withdraw your hand.  Sober up.  Drop the gun.  Get out of there.

Gary Leupp is an an associate professor in the Department of History at Tufts University and coordinator of the Asian Studies Program.  He can be reached at:

Source: 23 September 2003

Bush 9/11 Admission Gets Little Play

by Seth Porges

Story Doesn't Make Many Front Pages

New York - For months leading up this year's war on Iraq, the Bush administration implied that Saddam Hussein had a hand in the 11 September 2001 attacks.  The argument was well-received by Americans, and might have been the single leading factor behind public support for the US invasion of Iraq.  An oft-cited poll conducted by The Washington Post last month revealed that 69% of Americans continue to believe it likely that Hussein was personally involved in 9/11.

No real evidence to support this has emerged, however, leading some to declare that the media had failed in its duty to correct the public misperception.  So when President George Bush admitted on Wednesday, for the first time, that there was "no evidence that Hussein was involved with the September 11th" attacks, one would assume that would be big news and an opportunity for the press to make up for past failings.  And according to some newspapers, it was a big story.  The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune (both owned by the Tribune Company) ran front-page stories on the revelation Thursday.  But an analysis of most major American newspapers found the story either buried deep within the paper - or completely absent.  Of America's 12 highest-circulation daily papers, only the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, and Dallas Morning News ran anything about it on the front page.  In The New York Times, the story was relegated to page 22.  USA Today: page 16.  The Houston Chronicle: page 3.  The San Francisco Chronicle: page 14.  The Washington Post: page 18.  Newsday: page 41.  The New York Daily News: page 14.

The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal didn't mention it at all.

Large papers outside of the top 12 that ran the news on Page One include The Boston Globe, The Seattle Times, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The story was even more dramatic because Bush's remarks came on the heels of an assertion to the contrary made by Vice President Dick Cheney Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press.  When asked about the poll that shows Americans overwhelmingly believe Hussein was involved in 9/11, Cheney replied that he thinks "it's not surprising that people make that connection...  If we're successful in Iraq then we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."

Seth Porges is a reporter for Editor and Publisher.  E&P welcomes letters to the editor:

Source: Editor and Publisher Online 19 September 2003

By Accident or Design, Bush Hyped the Case for War

by James Bovard

President Bush, in his July 30 press conference, declared: "I take personal responsibility for everything I say, of course.  Absolutely."  Bush made this declaration in response to a question about wrong information regarding Iraq's attempt to purchase uranium in Niger.  He hoped it would end a controversy that is eating away like an acid drip on his administration's credibility.  But the "16 words" - as Bush defenders characterise his reference to the attempted uranium purchases in his State of the Union address - were not the most brazen example of trampling the truth on the road to war.

From January onward, Bush constantly portrayed the United States as an innocent victim of Saddam Hussein's imminent aggression.  His repeated claims that war was being "forced upon us" was the biggest, most consistent scam Bush used to convince the American people that their government had no alternative but to invade another nation.  Examples:

bulletJanuary 28, in his State of the Union address: "If war is forced upon us, we will fight in a just cause and by just means, sparing, in every way we can, the innocent.  And if war is forced upon us, we will fight with the full force and might of the United States military, and we will prevail."
bulletFebruary 10, in a speech to the National Religious Broadcasters in Nashville: "If war is forced upon us - and I say 'forced upon us' because use of the military is not my first choice - I hug the mothers and the widows of those who may have lost their life in the name of peace and freedom."
bulletFebruary 20, at a Kennesaw, Georgia, school: "If war is forced upon us, we will liberate the people of Iraq from a cruel and violent dictator."
bulletFebruary 26, at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington: "If war is forced upon us by Iraq's refusal to disarm, we will meet an enemy who is capable of any crime."

The longer Bush continues warring, the more vital it is for Americans to learn the lessons of the Iraq war.  Simply because Saddam was evil did not purify this war against Iraq.  Certainly, a military victory does not automatically absolve the Bush administration of the falsehoods it told prior to launching an unprovoked and unnecessary war.  If victory is justice's only measure, then the US government could lie about almost any other government and - after the US military assaulted the country into submission - it would be another triumph for "the American way."

Shortly after his inauguration, Bush joked to a crowd of Washington insiders: "You can fool some of the people all of the time and those are the ones you need to concentrate on."  It would be naive to assume that all of Bush's false statements are accidents or oversights.  White House senior policy adviser Karl Rove explained to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward how the war on terrorism would be judged by the American public: "Everything will be measured by results.  The victor is always right.  History ascribes to the victor qualities that may or may not actually have been there.  And similarly to the defeated."

Lies regarding the use of government power are almost never harmless errors.  The more lies officials are allowed to tell. the less chance citizens have of controlling the government.  And the more power a politician seeks, the more dangerous his lies become.  The fact that Bush went to war against Iraq based on false charges and a deceptive strategy is the key to knowing what to expect from the remainder of the Bush presidency.  There is no reason to presume that Bush was more deceptive and manipulative on the war on Iraq than he is on the war on terrorism or other subjects.  Whether Bush and his appointees will be held personally liable for their falsehoods is a grave test for American democracy.

James Bovard is the author of the forthcoming Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil

Source: USA Today Thursday 14 August 2003 photo credit Stephen Jaffee, AFP/Getty Images

See also:

bulletKeeping America Scared - a 10 meg video clip which requires Flash...

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