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 not enough evidence to support the existence of such a machine.
The first mention of the shredder came at a March 12, 2003, meeting when James Mahon addressed the British House of Commons after returning from research in northern Iraq.
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". The Sun's political editor Trevor Kavanagh wrote in February 2004 that "Public opinion swung behind Tony Blair as voters learned how Saddam fed dissidents feet first into industrial shredders."
No further evidence for the existence of the shredder has ever been published, though a witness named Ahmed Hassan Mohammed 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."
Rev. Kenneth Joseph
For Americans, a major domestic source for the shredder story was the testimony of Assyrian Christian Ken Joseph Jr. Joseph, a pastor who had entered Iraq in 2003 and whose family is originally from Mahoudi in Northern Iraq. He reportedly found that far from trying to avoid conflict, Iraqis were in favor 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. His piece "I Was Wrong" became a pivotal argument on the whole idea of liberating Iraq.
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.
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 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, then of the Assyrian Church of the East announced that Joseph was not a pastor as he claimed, and had no connection to their organisation.
- 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.
- Saddam witness tells of meat grinder The Sydney Morning Herald December 6, 2005
- 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.
- O'Neill, Brendan. The media's tall tales over Iraq The Guardian. February 4, 2010.
- Carol Lipton. The Kenneth Joseph Story, CounterPunch, April 12, 2003.
- Human Shield Action to Iraq Archived 2007-10-01 at the Wayback Machine
- Update human shields, IndyMedia March 31, 2003