Saddam Hussein's alleged shredder
In the runup to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, press stories appeared in the United Kingdom and United States of a plastic shredder or wood chipper into which Saddam and Qusay Hussein fed opponents of their Baathist rule. These stories attracted worldwide attention and boosted support for military action, in stories with titles such as "See men shredded, then say you don't back war". A year later, it was determined there was no evidence to support the existence of such a machine.
Ann Clwyd wrote in The Times six days later, an article entitled "See men shredded, then say you don't back war," saying that an unnamed Iraqi had said the Husseins used a shredder to gruesomely kill male opponents, and used their shredded bodies as fish food. Later she would add that it was believed to be housed in Abu Ghraib prison, and spoke with an unidentified person who claimed the shredders were dismantled "just before the military got there". Two days later Australian Prime Minister John Howard made reference to the "human-shredding machine".
Melanie Phillips wrote in The Daily Mail, saying that the machine resulted in "bodies...chewed up from foot to head". In William Shawcross' 2003 book Allies: The United States, Britain, Europe and the War in Iraq, he claimed that Saddam Hussein "fed people into huge shredders, feet first to prolong the agony".
Rev. Kenneth Joseph
For Americans, a major domestic source for the shredder story was the testimony of Ken Joseph Jr. Joseph, a pastor with the Assyrian Church, and one of the anti-war human shields that had entered Iraq in 2003. He reportedly found that, far from trying to avoid conflict, Iraqis were in favour of an American invasion, and "would commit suicide if American bombing didn't start." He promptly reversed himself and exited the country after hearing this and first-hand accounts of Saddam's shredding machine: "Their tales of slow torture and killing made me ill, such as people put in a huge shredder for plastic products, feet first so they could hear their screams as bodies got chewed up from foot to head." Johann Hari, a British supporter of the Iraq war, quoted Joseph saying the trip "shocked me back to reality" in a column in The Independent published on 26 March 2003.
Brendan O'Neill was the first Western journalist to seriously challenge the existence of the shredder, in reports for The Spectator and The Guardian in February 2004. He asked Clwyd and Mahon to provide evidence or the names of the Iraqis who gave them the story. He spoke with the doctor who dealt with executed prisoners at Abu Ghraib during Saddam Hussein's rule, who said that all executions were performed by hanging, and denied claims that there was a shredder of any type.
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, no, never."
Clwyd responded to O'Neill's allegations in The Guardian later the same month, stating:
Brendan O'Neill was told by my office, but chose not to include in his article, the following information. In his statement, the witness who said that people were killed by the shredder was very specific: he named individuals who he said were killed in the shredder and the individuals who he said supervised the execution by shredder; he stated where the shredder was located and the month and year when the executions took place. The witness was closely questioned by Indict researchers and was described by them as being "unshakeable". He said he is also prepared to testify in court about the incident.
Brendan O’Neill wrote a letter in response to Clwyd’s, claiming that her office had actually refused to give him the information he asked for:
Over the phone, a member of Clwyd's staff read to me, at breakneck speed, a pre-prepared statement about the witness. She said I could not ask any questions about the statement, that it would not be faxed or emailed to me, and that none of the witness's specific information would be made available to me. When I phoned Clwyd to make further inquiries, she hung up.
No further evidence for the existence of the shredder has ever been published, though a witness at Saddam's trial in December 2005 claimed to have seen it. Saddam's half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, verbally attacked the witness, shouting he "should act in the cinema." O'Neill returned to the topic in February 2010, writing "Neither Amnesty International nor Human Rights Watch, in their numerous investigations into human rights abuses in Iraq, had ever heard anyone talk of a human-shredding machine."
An investigation into the Rev. Kenneth Joseph Jr. by CounterPunch revealed serious discrepancies in his story. Groups that organized the human shield action in Iraq say they have no record of him, and "no one, it seems, ever met him." Human shield activists speculated that if Joseph had gone to Iraq he was likely "motivated by his campaign for 'Assyrian Independence' rather than the welfare of the Iraqi people in the face of an invasion." Moreover, Bishop Mar Bawai Soro of the Assyrian Church announced that Joseph was not a pastor as he claimed, and had no connection to their organisation.
The incident is sometimes compared to the story of Iraqi soldiers "throwing babies from incubators" during the invasion of Kuwait in October 1990. This influential report was presented as the 'eye-witness testimony' of a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl, Nurse Nayirah; only years later did it emerge that she was the daughter of Saud bin Nasir Al-Sabah, Kuwait's ambassador to the United States, and that the story itself was entirely the creation of the Hill & Knowlton public relations firm employed by the Kuwaitis.
- Saddam Executed; An Era Comes to an End
- Prison Stands as Testament to Saddam's Evil
- Clwyd, Ann. See men shredded, then say you don't back war The Times. March 18, 2003.
- How a Labour rebel became friends with US hawks The Guardian. June 23, 2003.
- Lucky Break for Jordan UPI March 21, 2003
- Hari, Johann (26 March 2003). "Sometimes, the only way to spread peace is at the barrel of a gun". The Independent. Retrieved 15 July 2011.
- Not a shred of evidence The Spectator. February 21, 2004.
- O'Neill, Brendan. The Missing People-Shredder The Guardian. February 25, 2004.
- Letters: Indict's evidence The Guardian. February 27, 2004.
- Letters: No Evidence The Guardian. March 02, 2004.
- Saddam witness tells of meat grinder The Sydney Morning Herald December 6, 2005
- O'Neill, Brendan. The media's tall tales over Iraq The Guardian. February 4, 2010.
- The Kenneth Joseph Story CounterPunch April 12, 2003
- Human Shield Action to Iraq
- Update human shields, IndyMedia March 31, 2003