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The Catch and Release of Comical Ali



According to a report in the London’s Daily Mirror, American military forces this captured, and arrested, iterrogated, and finally released Iraq’s famed information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf.

Saeed al-Sahaf, you may recall, provided a much-needed element of comic relief during the televised U.S. invasion of Iraq, repeatedly denying U.S. and British military advances, and even denying that U.S. forces had entered Baghdad when reporters were already seeing American military vehicles driving on local streets and when the sounds of battle could be heard from the hotel where press conferences were being held.

In the U.S. media, he had even earned the nickname “Comical Ali,” a take-off on the nickname of another Iraqi official in charge of Iraq’s purported (but never actually located) unconventional weapons program dubbed “Chemical Ali.”

The question puzzling me, however, is what exactly the U.S. occupying authority intended to charge poor Comical Ali with when they first picked him up. He was, after all, not torturing anybody– except with laughter.

The guy was a flak. His job wasn’t to tell the truth. It was to tell reporters whatever his bosses wanted him to tell them about the course of the invasion.

Sort of like his White House counterpart Ari Fleischer.

So was Viceroy Bremer planning on charging Saeed al-Sahaf with lying?

That would be a good one, given what we know about the lies we were all told leading up to this war by British P.M. Tony Blair, President George Bush, V.P. Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, et al.

There are two ways of approaching at this situation.

Maybe we should encourage the military to go ahead and prosecute Saeed al-Sahaf for public lying. Then we could bring that concept home to the U.S. and bring similar charges against the whole Bush administration, using the legal concept of reciprocity. That would get a jump on Comical Ali, who could be counted on otherwise to adopt the defense of lying raised last Sunday in Bush’s defense by the New York Times: “They all did it.”

And why stop there? We could go after the corporate flaks who routinely deny that their companies have engaged in malfeasance, corruption, pollution, labor law violations, safety violations, etc. Just going after the flaks for the tobacco, power and automotive industries alone for lying in public could keep an army of prosecutors busy for years.

Alternatively, maybe it would be just as well to let U.S. authorities hypocritically go after Saeed al-Sahaf alone. The spectacle of watching someone be prosecuted and jailed just for telling whoppers might conceivably jar some jaded Americans into contemplating the state of affairs we’ve arrived at here at home, where lying by White House officials has become so routine that it no longer merits any notice or comment in the media or any condemnation by the public

Sadly, it looks like Bremer and the Pentagon have realized that holding poor Saeed al-Sahaf was a no-win situation, and two days after picking him up, they’ve let him go, just another retired spinmeister.

Keep an eye on this guy, though. He had what it takes, and when Iraq’s quisling regime of compradores and U.S. lackeys is up and running, it will need someone who, with a straight face, can call a dictatorship a democracy, a colony an independent state and exploitation productive investment. If anyone can do that, it’s the guy who insisted Iraq was winning the war until American tanks were at his doorstep.

Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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