How the CIA Let a Dictator Commit War Crimes

As the U.S. prepares to respond to Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, an exclusive report published by Foreign Policy has brought to light the fact that the CIA knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks by Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War.

For years, U.S. officials have defended themselves by saying that throughout the war, Iraq never announced it would use chemical weapons. Retired Air Force intelligence officer Rick Francona, who was military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 attacks, told Foreign Policy, "The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn't have to. We already knew."

Even worse is that while turning a blind eye to Saddam’s use of chemical weapons and supporting him in the war against Iran, the U.S. simultaneously sold arms to the opposing party i.e. Iran in what became known as the Iran-Contra Affair.

Such reports and revelations, however, will do little harm to the CIA, which has continued to work with impunity even after numerous revelations regarding its involvement in questionable and dubious acts throughout its history have been made public.

According to the declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials, the U.S. had firm evidence of Saddam's use of chemical weapons as early as 1983. At the time, Iran was trying to build a case at the UN that illegal chemical attacks had taken place against its forces. The case lacked evidence, which the CIA had and could easily have provided to stop the atrocious use of chemical weapons by Saddam.

"As Iraqi attacks continue and intensify the chances increase that Iranian forces will acquire a shell containing mustard agent with Iraqi markings," the CIA reported in a top-secret document in November 1983. "Tehran would take such evidence to the UN and charge U.S. complicity in violating international law."

Such revelations, however, cannot help hold the CIA accountable if one looks at its history. This is the same CIA responsible for toppling numerous governments throughout the Cold War. Mossadegh in Iran in 53’, Arbenz in Guatemala in 54’, Allende in Chile in 73’, and funding the anti-Sandinista groups in Nicaragua to carry out mass violence are cases in which the CIA’s involvement is fully documented and well known among academics within and outside the U.S.

The deaths that have resulted from the actions of CIA-appointed officials are numerous and unaccounted for. For example the Chilean massacre by Augusto Pinochet. The CIA has never been held accountable for gross violations of the sovereignty of countries, the integrity of their leaders, the ensuing bloodshed, or the denial to so many countries and leaders of their right to rule by their own will, policies, and preferences.

This recent revelation of the CIA's knowledge of and lack of response to the chemical weapons used during the Reagan administration will unfortunately become another tale in the CIA’s long history of horrific actions. Academics and historians will write about it and criticize the CIA and the U.S. government, but no repercussions will manifest for those involved in these acts. The CIA will continue to work with impunity as it has done for so many years.