Early in WMD, Michael Moore tells conservative blogger and filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney that instead of whining about Hollywood’s leftist bias, conservatives should make their own films and compete head-to-head. California real-estate broker Brad Maaske took Moore’s advice and produced this documentary, which argues that Saddam Hussein’s rule was so bloody and brutal that America had the right – indeed, the duty – to remove him from power.
After a brief review of Saddam’s early life and rise to power in Iraq, much of WMD is made up of interviews and footage compiled by Kurdish filmmaker Jano Rosebiani, in which the Iraqis describe how they and their loved ones suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein and his “security” forces. Ba’athist torture is described, in stomach-churning detail.
Family members grieve for their loved ones, many of them mere children, murdered for real or alleged activity against Saddam’s regime – or simply to teach their compatriots a lesson. Mass graves containing dozens of bodies are uncovered, and one man recounts how he was lined up with several other men at the edge of a pit, who were shot dead and dumped in. (Sadly, he does not explain how he survived.)
And in some particularly chilling footage, apparently taken from old Iraqi government’s archives, we see Saddam’s forces carrying out some of their most notorious atrocities, including the 1988 “Anfal” campaign against the Kurds. Eyewitness testimony should always be viewed with a somewhat skeptical eye, but Saddam Hussein’s atrocities are well-documented, and this portion of WMD is emotionally devastating.
Indeed, it might have been a better film had Maaske and co-producer Earl Grizzell used the entire 90-minute running time to show what Saddam Hussein did. All but the most ardent opponents of the war would have to admit that the world could not tolerate this man remaining in power, any more than it can tolerate the continuing genocide in Darfur. (Actually, considering that the world seems perfectly content with the Darfur genocide continuing, maybe that’s not the best example.)
But the film loses its focus in the last 30 minutes or so, beginning with a lengthy segment showing the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath. I’m willing to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt as to whether they’re accusing Saddam of involvement in the attacks – their point seems to be that after 9/11, America could not stand by and wait until its declared enemies strike U.S. soil – but many viewers certainly won’t see it that way. (That said, seeing these horrible events once again is overwhelming, and reminds us, once again, what a disservice TV news outlets have done in showing this footage so sparingly.)
After that, WMD rushes toward its conclusion with almost blinding speed, lurching from a brief explanation of Saddam’s past support for terrorism, to footage of American tanks bearing down in Baghdad and running over Saddam’s omnipresent propaganda posters, to a segment on an American soldier killed in the line of duty, and ends with a crawl describing some of the work American forces have carried out in post-Saddam Iraq.
I’m certainly not saying this is unworthy of being shown – in particular, the segment on the deceased soldier, Daniel Unger, is heartbreaking – but it seems like Maaske and Grizzell are trying to squeeze way too much into their film.
Something doesn’t seem quite right when a documentary about Saddam’s atrocities ends with a stirring version of “America the Beautiful.”
Indeed, some parts of WMD will come across as jingoistic and simplistic, especially to non-American viewers. I’m unabashedly hawkish on most military matters, but even I cringed a little when the 9/11 terrorists were described as “hating our freedoms.” (I’m sure they did, but even I have to admit other factors, including American policies, may have had something to do with it. The thing is, I don’t accept that these policies are therefore automatically wrong.)
It is true, as the film suggests, that the UN did nothing to stop Saddam’s atrocities against the Kurds, but the filmmakers don’t say that the Americans opposed any such action at the time, when they were siding with Iraq against Iran. I don’t believe America’s once-friendly relations with Saddam disqualify them from subsequently opposing him (if anything, I think it gave the U.S. the responsibility to do so) but it is something the filmmakers should have acknowledged, even if Saddam bought even more weaponry from the Soviets, French and Chinese.
Still, despite its flaws, WMD is worth seeing for the powerful footage from Iraq, and the devastating testimony of Saddam’s many victims, all of which have received far too little media attention. Things have not gone well in Iraq since Saddam and the Ba’athists were deposed – but now that he’s out of power, there is finally some hope for a nation that spent decades under the worst kind of tyranny.
No matter what happens from here, it’s hard to imagine how things could ever get so bad. Saddam may not have had weapons of mass destruction, but few weapons caused as much destruction as he did.