I recently told someone that as far as I was concerned, George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein aren’t really that different from one another. I realize that’s a pretty heavy statement to make but it was really designed to provoke an interesting after-dinner discussion. The response I got back, with rolling eyes, was that Saddam Hussein killed millions of people. My friend was implying that this made the two leaders entirely different.

Well, first of all let’s get something straight: Not many people in history can claim that they’ve killed millions of people and looking at the reports available to the public, it’s clear that Hussein can’t either. The Worst Genocides
The highest estimate I was able to find, based on actual studies, is 800,000 deaths caused by the Baath Regime over the course of 20 years, 500,000 of which was a result of a ten-year war between Iran and Iraq, which by the way was perpetuated by the Reagan Administration by providing weapons to both sides. Not that this makes a huge difference with regard to Hussein’s morals, but let’s at least base our arguments on actual estimates rather than baseless generalizations.

I can’t find any reason why we shouldn’t compare this high estimate of 800,000 over 20 years to the high estimate of 650,000 deaths caused by Bush’s war in Iraq in the last three years and doing so certainly puts Bush in the same genocidal neighborhood as Hussein. Of course these are high estimates and not everyone agrees with them. The 650,000 figure comes from studies conducted by the John Hopkins University and published by the Lancet medical journal. In contrast, Bush admits to a much smaller estimate of 30,000, which is ironic considering that this figure comes from a government that refuses to do body counts. (Even the recent Iraq Study Group has found that the Pentagon has drastically under reported the level of violence in Iraq.) Another estimate comes from a UK-based research group that puts the number at about 50,000. Obviously, there are significant differences in these estimates. There usually is when dealing with war-related death tolls and that goes for the estimates for Hussein too. For instance, the official death toll reported by Iran on the Iraq-Iran war is 300,000 not 500,000; and the 300,000 deaths resulting from causes outside the Iran-Iraq war also has alternate counts, the lowest being 17,000 reported by Amnesty International. So the low estimated total for Hussein is actually 317,000 over 20 years.

Taking the timeframes into consideration also reveals some interesting insights. The low estimates yeild an average of 15,850 deaths per year from actions initiated by Hussein while the number is 7,500 deaths per year from actions initiated by Bush. Taking the high estimates we have 40,000 deaths per year for Hussein and 216,666 deaths per year for Bush.

This isn’t an exact science but my point is that both leaders have caused an enormous number of deaths so to say that one killed millions while implying that the other hasn’t killed any at all is perposterous.

But converting human deaths into numbers for playing comparison games isn’t really my intention here. I’ll leave that up to research studies and advocates such as the World Tribunal on Iraq that holds that the illegal US invasion has killed more people than Saddam Hussein ever did.

The point I was trying to make with my after-dinner statement has more to do with the disregard for human life that characterize the personalities, the ethics and the intentions of both leaders.

Hussein has been a human rights violator right from the beginning. Over his 20 years as President, he has facilitated the torture and illegal killing of thousands of people. I tend to think that this is the result of two things. First is Hussein’s disregard for human life and second is the lack of limitation on what Hussein was allowed to do. Americans are lucky to have a constitution that limits what our President can do. However, it’s become clear that the Bush administration is making strong efforts to remove some of these limitations so that just like Hussein, Bush can imprison people indefinatley without charge or representation and torture them at will.

Whatever “reasons” one may have for treating people this way has no bearing on the simple fact that you can’t do it without a disregard for human life. Even if you do your best to dehumanize the prisoner by thinking of him as a monster or a terrorist or whatever illusion you might conjure you can’t escape the simple fact that they are human beings after all.

So what’s the difference between one president who violates human rights because he has no limits and another president who is working hard to reduce his limits so he can do the same thing? It seems to me that if there is any difference between George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein, it’s in the legal limitations around them, not the disregard for humanity that apparently comes from within both of them.

additional sources:

Is Bush Next? by Paul Craig Roberts
How Many People Has Saddam Hussein Killed? by John F. Burns
Iraq Body Count