Doubleday Canada, 267 pp, $34.95, hardcover.
After 25 years as a producer at CBS’s 60 Minutes, Vancouver-born Barry Lando knows a thing or two about good investigative reporting. Lando’s pedigree is only one reason for the welcome being given to his new and authoritative survey, Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq From Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush.
The other factor bringing Lando so much attention is that his book follows closely on the heels of the rushed execution of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi dictator is hardly alone as a villain in the book. Web of Deceit presents a convincing narrative wherein the great powers that have engineered the recent bloody and disastrous regime change in Baghdad were, in fact, accomplices to Hussein’s most heinous crimes.
Lando spells out his thesis in the book’s preface, written before the “execution seen round the world” (on YouTube): “Hypothetically, the trial of the former dictator could have been a ghastly global media circus in which many of the world’s great leaders, past and present, would have found themselves pilloried as codefendents”¦Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Bush pí¨re and fils”¦Margaret Thatcher, Jacques Chirac, Leonid Brezhnev”¦”
In the absence of such a trial, Lando prosecutes the co-accused anyway, tracing the tragic history of Iraq back to the creation of borders designed to suit the oil lust of the then-mighty British Empire. Over the decades, imperial arrogance and disregard for local input seem to have been constants. We learn, for instance, that when the power brokers met in 1921 in Cairo to redraw the Middle East’s map, Winston Churchill didn’t want any Arabs in the hotel or even in its gardens. Later that year, faced with a growing resistance to their occupation, Churchill urged the RAF to explore the use of chemical weapons to put down the unruly subjects.
Before his rushed hanging, Hussein was also to be tried for the gassing of the Kurds at Halabja in the late 1980s, which reportedly killed thousands. It, too, is a sordid tale of U.S. complicity, one of many stories that today’s occupiers clearly did not want revisited.
With the growth of sectarian violence in Iraq and Bush pursuing his unpopular “surge” in troop numbers, Lando’s timely work of documenting the real history and the real guilty parties is a much-needed contribution to our understanding of the current plundering of Mesopotamia.
Barry Lando speaks to Hal Wake at the Talk of the Town Friday (February 2). See ubc.ca/talkofthetown/ for details.