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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

July 29, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 79




Dennis Coday Words can cause damage -- Part II: The response

Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer

I thought readers might be interested to know that shortly after I posted yesterday's Today's Take about Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz's calling Uday and Qusay Hussein "miserable creatures," responses to my posting started to roll in.

The verdict? Readers were evenly split between those agreeing with me that Mr. Wolfowitz's comments were unseemly and uncalled for and those expressing the opinion that the sons of Saddem Hussien got what they deserved. (Two readers suggested that I was a weenie for not being able to stomach tough talk. I think they missed my point.)

One reader picked up on my question of the legality and morality of the assassinations of Uday and Qusay and sent two articles for me to look at. I pass them on.

  • Were Odai and Qusai Assassinated? The legalities of killing Saddam Hussein's sons. By Brendan I. Koerner, The Explainer,
    Explainer asked Robert F. Turner of the University of Virginia School of Law if the killings of Uday and Qusay count as assassinations. The answer: "Not even close." Why? Because 1)"During wartime, it is generally acceptable to attack figures who are involved in military operations." 2) Furthermore, "it is widely believed that Odai and Qusai were helping to coordinate resistance to the American occupation." 3)"The American soldiers were fired upon when they entered the house. The moment gunfire was exchanged, the operation became a combat engagement, and anyone involved in the hostilities was legally fair game."

    Calmly, coolly reasoned. However, neither the Explainer nor Turner addressed the issue of whether these three points are legitimate if the war itself is illegitimate, which was the point of the next article.

  • Noble act or political assassination? By Derrick Z. Jackson, July 25, 2003, page A23 of the Boston Globe.
    "All this forgets the ignoble fact that this unprecedented first-strike war [was] sold by Bush to Americans under the so-far phantom threat of Iraq's biological and nuclear weapons. ... This is too much to leave to the abstract. With the stated foundation for a just war lying in ruins, the killings of the sons looks more like a zealous political assassination than a noble act."

    "There is no doubt that many Iraqis are happy that Saddam's sons are gone. But how it came to be may lower the standard even more for lethal force."

Which argument do you find most compelling? You will have to decide for yourself. I will, however, agree with one point: arguments for this as a just war are looking a bit thin and threadbare. (For more on this issue, read the NCR editorial, "Did WMD threat tip moral evaluation on Iraq war?" It will be available tomorrow with the online edition of the Aug 1. NCR.)

Some one also sent me a copy of Mr. Wolfowitz's appearance on "Fox News on Sunday" where the deputy secretary of defense proved he can "stay on message." Highlights:

  • He does not believe the mounting death toll will erode Americans' support for restoring stability to Iraq.
  • "Iraq now is the central battle in the war on terrorism."
  • "The sacrifices that our troops are making are spectacular. ... But it is a sacrifice that is going to make our children and our grandchildren safer."
  • There is "a great deal of false information planted all over the place." (Well, he got that one right.)

But here's my favorite line: "This is a war that's going to be won not by smothering the country with individual guard posts (but) by better and better intelligence."

Is he joking? Is he trying to be ironic? Did Mr. Wolfowitz not get the memo that this administration is in trouble because of "intelligence" that got inserted into a state of the union address?

Maybe its just me, but if I were on the media circuit trying to drum up support of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz clique's war in Iraq, I think I would skip the index card prompting me to tout our "intelligence."

Fool me once ...

Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer and coordinates NCR's Web site. His email address is

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