Roundtable: Saddam Hussein's Execution, Confederate Statues Farai Chideya is joined by Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist; and Ron Christie, vice president of the lobbying firm, DC Navigators. They discuss the execution of Saddam Hussein and the University of Texas' plans for Confederate statues on its campus.

Roundtable: Saddam Hussein's Execution, Confederate Statues

Roundtable: Saddam Hussein's Execution, Confederate Statues

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Farai Chideya is joined by Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist; and Ron Christie, vice president of the lobbying firm, DC Navigators. They discuss the execution of Saddam Hussein and the University of Texas' plans for Confederate statues on its campus.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

On today's Roundtable, U.S. deaths in Iraq crossed the 3,000 mark, but what about casualties? And a new year means new laws.

Joining us today is Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist in Chicago; and Ron Christie, vice president of the lobbying firm D.C. Navigators and former deputy assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Thank you all for being with us.

Mr. RON CHRISTIE (Vice President, D.C. Navigators): Same here.

CHIDEYA: So let's talk a little bit about this issue of the casualties. You know, the deaths of U.S. military personnel sadly crossed the 3,000 mark over the New Year. But NPR is also reporting that casualties, seriously wounded troops in the conflict, are at the 22,000 level. And military experts have said, you know, casualties are actually more important to count than deaths; because of people wearing body armor, people come back without the function of several limbs but they are able to survive.

So Ron, is it important for us to really take a look at a bigger picture? Because the deaths from Vietnam, for example, were many, many times what U.S. troop deaths have been so far, but the casualties are really up there much higher than we thought?

Mr. CHRISTIE: Well, it's a tragedy. There's no question about it. On September 11th, 2001, nearly 3,000 innocent Americans lost their lives as they went about their everyday activities.

As a result to that the United States went to war, and unfortunately our military men and women have lost their lives, nearly 3,000, and the casualty figures, you've pointed out, is over 20,000. Every casualty is a terrible tragedy, but these brave men and women who put on the uniform are trying to protect this country, trying to ensure that we don't have another terrorist attack and trying to preserve our way of life. And they understand the risks and they understand that they could be seriously injured or that they could ultimately pay the ultimate sacrifice with their own lives.

But we need to do everything that we can, Farai, once they return home, to do the proper rehabilitation and to really assimilate them back in society. And it's our incumbent responsibility to take care of these brave men and women who are taking care of us.

CHIDEYA: Laura, you know, I was struck when over the holidays I went to the beach, which is something you can do on Christmas Day with your family, which is what I did. We went to the beach in Santa Monica. We were on the pier, and we looked out over the pier and there was an exhibition of crosses. Each one individually named for a dead American troop member.

And it was really amazing to me that you could see that there has been some kind of psychological turning point where people across the country are at different times putting up these huge memorials to the troops who've died. And I wonder if the troops who have been seriously wounded feel as if they are counted as much in the equation of what we have gained and what we have lost.

Ms. LAURA WASHINGTON (Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times): Well, Farai, I think the reason that you see for the crosses is I think, among many military families -I think among many Americans there is much frustration about what many people feel is the lack of acknowledgement or full acknowledgement of the casualties and the impact the Bush administration has played down.

Obviously, Bush is always very consoling to families, but they have played down the actual casualties. They don't want you to see the bodies. They don't want you to see the coffins. So I think that this is a response to that. I think that the issue of casualties has some recent in technology because we have become much better at treating wounds; there's things like making sure that the troops have tourniquets when they are on the ground, when they are out in the field, to make sure that there are more sophisticated care techniques. And I - and also the fact that the bombs have become so much more sophisticated.

I think all of these things - in some ways, it's a double edged sword. In some ways, we've been able to save more lives. We've been able to get to catch more people before it gets to the wounds get too serious. But on the other hand, these devices, these IEDs, are very, very dangerous and they cause these irreparable injuries.

And I think, you know, when you talk about Agent Orange and what happened to the Vietnam class. The kind of impact we're going to be seeing in 5, 10, 20 years out in terms of these people coming home and needing to be cared for and not being able to be full members of society because of their sacrifice, I think it's going to haunt us for decades to come.

CHIDEYA: Michael, what about that? Are we prepared as a nation to really extend generosity to people who have made, if not the ultimate sacrifice, sacrificed a limb, sacrificed due to a brain injury? Are we prepared to really deal with a generation of people who may have a lot of limitations physically and sometimes mentally because of the war?

Mr. MICHAEL MEYERS (Executive Director, New York Civil Rights Coalition): Well, based on our recent history, there is no evidence of it. There's just no evidence of it. Vietnam War veterans will attest to that. And I don't know what Ron is talking about; there's no evidence of a connection between the 3,000 who are dead because of the attacks on America and the World Trade Center and in the air, that there was any connection with Iraq. Like there's no evidence of weapons of mass destruction that were held by Iraq. No evidence, Ron. This is a policy of war…

Mr. CHRISTIE: Well, I actually -

Mr. MEYERS: Excuse me. Excuse me. When you have a policy of war, we're in and on a death count. And when you have a policy of war, you're in and you're on a casualty count and you can't get away from that. For me, this issue is not 3,000, not 4,000, not 5,000 more deaths, not 22,000 casualties or 5,000 casualties; for me, the question is when do we get out of Iraq.

And the president is buying more time and talking about putting more troops in even after the elections which said to him, stop it, get out of there.

CHIDEYA: Ron, before I let you jump in, I want a transition to Saddam Hussein. I mean Michael is just arguing about the issue of weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein was not proven to have any, but he, at the same time, certainly was not someone who was a paragon of human rights. Executed Saturday in Iraq and let's go to some reaction from Dearborn, Michigan, where there's a large Iraqi community.

Unidentified Group: No more Saddam. No more Saddam. No more Saddam. No more Saddam. No more Saddam.

Unidentified Woman: Yeah. I couldn't wait to come here. I was really happy. I couldn't believe it. I wouldn't believe it when they were like they're going to kill him, I was like, no, it's not true. You guys always say that. But when I find (unintelligible), I'm so happy now. I would not have believed it if not for the pictures and the videos. So that's it and I'm really happy; it's awesome.

CHIDEYA: Ron, you have a situation where there are Iraqi-Americans and I'm sure lots of Iraqis who are happy that Saddam Hussein is out of power and at this point that he's been executed. Does that alone justify our intervention because there has not been proven any weapons of mass destruction connection to 9/11?

Mr. CHRISTIE: Actually, the intervention in Iraq was authorized in September of 2001, shortly after the September 11th, 2001 attacks, in which Congress gave the president of the United States the use of military force to ferret out those who had harmed us. Saddam Hussein, as everyone knows, was a terrorist to his own people. He used weapons of mass destructions against people in the northern part of Iraq, against the Kurds.

He was someone who brutalized thousands of people, mass rapes, mass shootings, mass graves. He posed a threat to the United States and to the Western world because he was proliferating weapons of mass destruction. President Clinton believed that to be true. President Bush believed that to be true. Many leaders around the world believed that to be true.

Now while it is in fact true…

Mr. MEYERS: Belief is not a fact.

Mr. CHRISTIE: While it is, in fact, excuse me, true that weapons of mass destructions were not found in Iraq after the United States interceded, it is still in the best interest of this country and still in the best interest of I believe the democratic world that this terrible dictator was removed from power.

CHIDEYA: Let me just reintroduce you folks for people who are just joining us. I'm Farai Chideya. This is NPR's NEWS & NOTES.

We were just hearing from Ron Christie, the vice president of the lobbying firm D.C. Navigators and former deputy assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney. We've also got Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, and Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist.

So Michael, you were about to say something.

Mr. MEYERS: Well, I don't want to, you know, I can't take up the time because we don't have the time to debate this with Ron because he's just so wrong on everything he says. Well, you know, there was no declaration of war against Iraq.

Mr. CHRISTIE: That's not what I said, Michael.

Mr. MEYERS: I know, Ron, but you said…

Mr. CHRISTIE: You know. I said there was a monitor…

CHIDEYA: Michael, Michael, Michael, that is not what Ron said.

Mr. MEYERS: I know what he said…

CHIDEYA: But, Michael…

Mr. MEYERS: …but that's what he implied.

Mr. CHRISTIE: No, it is not what I implied, Michael.

Mr. MEYERS: It is what you were implying.

CHIDEYA: All right, guys.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Listen to what I said. I said (unintelligible)…

CHIDEYA: - let's do a little wrap on this.

Mr. CHRISTIE: There was the authorization of military force of the United States…

Mr. MEYERS: Excuse me.

Mr. CHRISTIE: …Congress, which is a true fact. I suggest you go look it up on the Internet.

Mr. MEYERS: The authorization, which you consider to be - what you have implied was a declaration of war against Iraq…

CHIDEYA: Well, we're not going to - look, Michael, we not going to…

Mr. MEYERS: I'm going to finish my sentence.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. Please, go ahead, but let's keep it to Saddam.

Mr. MEYERS: That declaration of war, that authorization, was uninformed and misinformed. And the evidence on the…

Mr. CHRISTIE: And the United States Congress was uninformed…

Mr. MEYERS: Excuse me.

Mr. CHRISTIE: …and misinformed?

Mr. MEYERS: Excuse me, Ron. The evidence is there were no weapons of mass destruction. Now going to the question here at hand today with respect to Saddam Hussein, I think there's a sickness here. There's a sickness where people were happy to see a man's head beheaded. There's a sickness here when people who are jumping up and down and taunting a person who's going before the gallows. There's a sickness here.

And I think the death penalty itself is barbaric, and the evidence that we've seen of Hussein being beheaded like he was, in terms of hanging, was just a barbaric practice. And there's no wonder that the TV stations in the United States are not showing it.

But, you know, in this day and age of the Internet and cell-phone cameras - and cell-phone cameras where allowed to be present - the standard of your children are watching is now a standard that is obsolete. It's obsolete. People, you know…

CHIDEYA: Michael, let me go to Laura.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Michael, I think you raised a good point about this technology. And the media did show - they did show enough disturbing video. They showed everything but him dropping through the floor.

But I think that the media did not represent an accurate portrayal of what happened in the gallows that night. What we saw was the actual portrayal, what we saw by digital technology by cell phone, by someone who is in the room and who did record it. And you saw, as you point out, a much more brutalized situation.

And the situation I think in the video that I think in many ways has turned the tide of sympathy for Saddam, has armed people who believe that both the United States and the Iraqi government do not understand issues of fairness, issues of justice.

Ron referred to the alleged crimes of Saddam Hussein because they rushed this ban to execution, because they allowed this man to be executed by and taunted to his death. We will never know for sure exactly how many people he murdered; he won't be brought to justice for those people. And I think that that has created an environment or exacerbated this civil war that we're in in Iraq, and it was because of that video, because of that story that came out over…

CHIDEYA: Laura, you're talking about the video that showed Sunni Arab -

Ms. WASHINGTON: Cell phone.

CHIDEYA: Yeah, cell phone video.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Right.

CHIDEYA: Shiite officials taunting Saddam on the gallows and Sunni Arabs today are protesting it. Is this really going to drive us further - I mean us, the U.S. engaged in Iraq, and the Iraqis - further into a situation where different groups are at each other's throats because of how this execution was handled.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Certainly, because it - for all the Shia-led Iraqi government wants to say about how they want to be fair and how they want to lead the country into unity, they rushed this execution. They subverted their own laws to make sure this execution happened before the New Year and they allowed this kind of persecution of Saddam in the gallows, which sent a message to Sunnis, we're not about playing fair. We're not about including you in the government. We're about punishing you and we're about executing vengeance.

And I think it just - I think in many ways it's not a new story. I think it just shows how difficult it's going to be to reconcile this country. I don't think it's going to be possible.

CHIDEYA: Let me go to one last topic. New year, new laws. As of yesterday, New Year's Day, a few hundred new laws took effect across the country. Now, new laws include minimum-wage hikes, tighter protections on personal privacy, expanded healthcare rights for consumers. You've got minimum-wage hikes in North Carolina, in Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, many, many states.

But then you've got some other laws. In California it became illegal to ride in the trunk of a car. So, I'm not sure exactly - I mean this is actually based on a tragedy where some nine teens died. But it - on the surface, it sounds bizarre. What do we think of how people introduce laws in the new year? I guess I'll go to you, Ron.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Well, in my beloved home state of California you're never sure what you're going get. And we have a new statute on the books, as you pointed out, that deals with teens riding in the trunks of cars. There was a tragedy that involved a fatality there. But I think it's a good thing. I think it's good when the citizen legislatures around the United States come together and they look to the specific needs in their localities and their communities and they enact statutes to try to take care of some of their local constituents.

North Carolina is just one of them. The citizens of North Carolina decided that they needed to have a hike in the minimum wage. I think that's a good thing when people come together in those local legislatures and decide what's best for the new year for their new citizens, and for citizens, young and old alike.

CHIDEYA: Michael?

MR. MEYERS: Well, you know, it's tough to talk about laws in the generic sense; there are good laws and there are bad laws. And I think there are laws that are good that protect people's privacy - individual privacy, for example. I think laws that take away and invade those privacies are bad laws. I think it's good that we have in some states central registries for living wills. I think it's very good that some states are far ahead of the federal government in terms of increasing their federal minimum - state minimum wage, because the federal minimum wage is lagging in that regard. And therefore less people will be in poverty, those people at least who are employed will get a living wage. So I think that's good.

BUT I also think that there are too many laws. So I have to look at all these laws as of January 1 and see what - because ignorance of the law is no excuse - and see what I have to comply with.

CHIDEYA: Laura, what about this one? This one I think is probably one of the most controversial. In Louisiana, couples with children will have to wait a year after separating to file for divorce. Now it's supposed to encourage reconciliation but of course there are cases where people end up divorcing because of spousal abuse or other factors that are - that may not encourage any kind of a waiting period. What do you think about that law, specifically?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, I think it's a good thing. I mean divorce - a divorce is not going to prevent spousal abuse. The law does provide for a waiting period after separation, so hopefully, in difficult situations like that, that separation will be an antidote.

I think, you know, I think it's just like the law about people in trunks of cars. People do stupid things and they make stupid decisions. And if, I mean I'm not about abridging anybody's rights, but if we can get people to be reasonable, to think hard, long and hard about the decisions they make whether it's, you know, riding in a trunk of a car, endangering yourself, or it's not giving your children a chance by not being to reconcile, I think that that's - we need to do that for people. And if laws help us do that, so be it.

Mr. MEYERS: Well, that's an example of a law I think is bad, to use a word. I don't think laws are supposed to get into people's relationships and tell us…

Ms. WASHINGTON: But they do.

Mr. MEYERS: …you have to - I know they do, but they're bad. When you have to tell me…

Ms. WASHINGTON: Oh, yeah.

Mr. MEYERS: …tell me after wait a year to divorce somebody I'm no longer in love with and don't want to be with - that's ridiculous. People don't drop old grudges because there's a new year or because there's a new law.

CHIDEYA: All right, on that -

Mr. CHRISTIE: I think that was a good point.

CHIDEYA: We're going to have to let it go. Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition.

Mr. MEYERS: Yes.

CHIDEYA: Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist; Ron Christie, vice president of the lobbying firm D.C. Navigators and former deputy assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney. I hope you guys keep your resolutions. I'm going to try to keep mine.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Happy New Year.

CHIDEYA: Thanks guys. And as always, if you'd like to comment, you can call us at 202-408-3330, or just send us an e-mail. Log on to npr.org and click on Contact Us. And please be sure to tell us where you're writing from and how to pronounce your name.

Next on NEWS & NOTES, a new anthology, “Blowing the Fuse,” makes old R&B brand new. Plus, R&B DJ Dave “Daddy Cool” Booth picks his favorite tunes.

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