A Tale of Two Hospitals: Kuwait 1991, Bahrain 2011
IN FOCUS, 2 May 2011
Scene: The Human Rights Caucus of the U.S. Congress hears the testimony of a 15-year-old girl, introduced by only her first name, Nayira, in order, the audience is told, to protect the safety of her family. The girl recounts how invading soldiers had stormed into the hospital where she says she had been working as a volunteer. Tearfully, she describes how rampaging soldiers had trashed the hospital, brutalized patients, gone “into rooms where fifteen babies were in incubators. They tore the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the floor to die.”
That story is flashed around the world by a horrified media. “I don’t believe that Adolf Hitler ever participated in anything of that nature,” declares the outraged American president.
If anything justified a U.S. war against Saddam Hussein in 1991 to a wavering Congress and American public, that performance was it.
The problem was that the story was not true. Kuwaiti medical authorities denied that the incubator incident ever occurred. It was only after the end of the Gulf War, however, that the deception was revealed. It was a total fabrication, right out of the fertile, high-priced imagination of Hill & Knowlton, the Kuwaiti ruling family’s Washington PR firm.
Nayira, the tearful 15-year-old who had so convincingly recounted the atrocity, turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States; she had never been in Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion. By the time that was discovered, however, the U.S.-led coalition had charged in and the Kuwaiti royal family was securely back on its throne, and the folks at Hill & Knowlton had earned their pay.
Scene two: Police swarm through the wards of another major Arab hospital. At least 32 doctors, including surgeons, pediatricians and obstetricians, are arrested and detained. Their crime: guaranteeing medical care to people wounded in a popular uprising against an aged, corrupt dictator.
According to emails received from a surgeon at the hospital and published by Britain’s The Independent, “One doctor, an intensive care specialist, was held after she was photographed weeping over a dead protester. Another was arrested in the theatre room while operating on a patient. Many of the doctors, aged from 33 to 65, have been ‘disappeared’—held incommunicado or at undisclosed locations. Their families do not know where they are. Nurses, paramedics, and ambulance staff have also been detained.”
The emails provide a glimpse of the terror and exhaustion suffered by the doctors and medical staff.
The article went on: “The author of the emails, a senior surgeon … , was taken in for questioning at the headquarters of the interior ministry. … He never re-emerged. No reason has been given for his arrest, nor has there been any news of his condition.”
A hospital in Libya? In battered Misrata, perhaps? Where President Barack Obama has ordered a couple of Predator drones to join in the flailing struggle against the barbarous Moammar Gadhafi, where Sen. John McCain jetted in for a quick look-see and instantly declared the rebels “my heroes.” Libya, to which France and England have dispatched an unknown number of military trainers to see if they can whip the hapless, squabbling rebels into shape?
No, that hospital is not in Libya but in Bahrain: It is the Salmaniya Medical Complex, the tiny state’s main civil hospital. And, of course, the more than 1,000 heavily armed invading troops who are backing the police terrorizing the hospital, “disappearing” doctors and brutally crushing the local uprising are Saudis. The same Saudis who gave the U.S. and NATO the green light to intervene to save the largely Sunni rebels in Libya—in exchange for which America discreetly turned its back as the Saudis invaded Bahrain to prevent a Shiite majority there from toppling a repressive Sunni monarch. God only knows what the experience will do to radicalize tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of Shiites.
But true to its promise, America’s back remains turned.
A footnote: Such smarmy diplomatic tradeoffs are not at all unique. In 1991, for instance, the U.S. and its coalition allies were also looking for Arab “cover” for their move into Kuwait. In exchange for agreeing to back the invasion, Syria was given—among other things—a free hand to take control of most of Lebanon. The European community also lifted economic sanctions it had imposed against Syria, while Britain restored diplomatic relations. In the end it was all symbolic: None of the 18,000 Syrian troops who joined the coalition forces in Saudi Arabia ever fought.
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