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What about the incubators?

By Kathy Kelly (4-14-00)

by Jared Israel

In the following article, Kathy Kelly refers to the testimony before Congress some ten years ago given by a woman named Nayirah.

You probably heard about her testimony. She was the volunteer nurse who said she witnessed Iraqi soldiers pulling babies out of incubators and tossing them on the cold floor to die. She told of witnessing other horrors as well.

What you may not know is: Nayirah's entire testimony was fabricated. Not a word was true. Nayirah was actually the daughter of Kuwait's Ambassador in Washington and she had been in her family's palatial home in Washington during the period described below. She never left the U.S. There was no vacation in Kuwait, no sister with a newborn baby, no volunteer work in a hospital. There were no leaflets seized by Iraqi troops; there were no Iraqi troops. There were only stories, products of imagination - hers and the people who coached her.

Reading these lies is useful. It prepares us to treat with skepticism the atrocity stories we are fed on CNN et al, and which are used to justify wars of Imperial conquest. Notice as you are reading that even though you know Nayirah is lying, she effects you. Reading it you want to sympathize. You have to remind yourself: she never left Washington. It's all made up.

Nayirah testified before a special session of the "Congressional Human Rights Caucus Committee" on October 10, 1990. Her lies, especially the famous incubator nightmare, were used by Pres. Bush and the media to justify the savage attack on Iraq. That attack has continued to this day, war by constant bombing, war by covert action, and especially war by economic sanctions. Sanctions, have strangled Iraq; 'strangled' is not hyperbole: the sanctions have killed a million children, not to mention untold numbers of older people, destroyed countless lives, wrecked what was the richest secular Arab culture.

After you read Nayirah please read Kathy Kelly's spare description of a visit to an Iraqi hospital. It is the West, led by the U.S., which has left the babies to die on the cold floor.


First the lies...


  • "NAYIRAH: Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee, my name is Nayirah and I just came out of Kuwait. My mother and I were in Kuwait on August 2nd for a peaceful summer holiday. My older sister had a baby on July 29th and we wanted to spend some time in Kuwait with her.

    "I only pray that none of my 10th grade classmates had a summer vacation like I did. I may have wished sometimes that I can be an adult, that I could grow up quickly. What I saw happening to the children of Kuwait and to my country has changed my life forever, has changed the life of all Kuwaitis, young and old, mere childre or more.

    "My sister with my five-day old nephew traveled across the desert to safety. There is no milk available for the baby in Kuwait. They barely escaped when their car was stuck in the desert -- desert sand -- and help came from Saudi Arabia.

    "I stayed behind and wanted to do something for my country. The second week after invasion, I volunteered at the Al-Idar Hospital with 12 other women who wanted to help as well. I was the youngest volunteer. The other women were from 20 to 30 years old.

    "While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the children to die on the cold floor. It was horrifying. I could not help but think of my nephew who was born premature and might have died that day as well.

    "After I left the hospital, some of my friends and I distributed flyers condemning the Iraqi invasion until we were warned we might be killed if the Iraqis saw us -- if the Iraqis saw us.

    "The Iraqis have destroyed everything in Kuwait. They stripped the supermarkets of food, the pharmacies of medicine, the factories of medical supplies, ransacked their houses and tortured neighbors and friends.

    "I saw and talked to a friend of mine after his torture and release by the Iraqis. He is 22 but he looked as though he could have been an old man. The Iraqis dunked his head into a swimming pool until he almost drowned. They pulled out his fingernails and then played electric shocks to sensitive private parts of his body. He was lucky to survive." [End of false testimony]

The article by Kathy Kelly was submitted by Rick Rozoff and Peter Maher, both from Chicago. Prof. Maher has the following comments about Nayirah:

  • Not only was Nayirah the well-coached darling daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador in Washington, but it's worse. The Congressional meeting at which Nayireh performed, was not a regular event. It was stage-managed solely for propaganda by the Bush administration. Senator Diane Feinstein colluded.

    And the identity of Nayirah was certainly known to another US Senator attending this blood theatre. That Senator is the next-door neighbor of the Kuwaiti Ambassador: Edward Kennedy. -
    Peter Maher.

Here is Kathy Kelly, a founder of the group Voices in the Wilderness. No Congressional committee is calling her to broadcast what she has witnessed. JI

...then the truth

What about the incubators?
By Kathy Kelly

It feels oddly like being at a wake in a funeral home. Our four delegation members whisper together as we wait to tour the Al Mansour Children's wing at the Saddam City Medical Center. The Director is away, so someone has been sent to find a senior doctor to brief us.

As I flip open my diary, it dawns on me that at this time four years ago, March 1996, the first Voices in the Wilderness delegation visited Iraq. 30 delegations later not much has changed within this hospital. What must the doctors and nurses think as one delegation after another hears the litany of shortages and views the dying the children?

When a doctor finally enters the office, my grim mood lifts immediately; it's Dr. Qusay Al Rahim, of whom I've spoken so often, to so many groups in the U.S. My companions meeting him for the first time will probably feel the same warmth towards him as I, and hold him in the same esteem. He draws forth a sense that we're working, in concert, to solve intractable problems, that even little gains, in the face of ridiculous odds, are rewarding. I wonder how he maintains his quiet, indomitable strength.

Two years ago, when I first met him, he solicitously accompanied us up to his ward, apologizing for the elevator that didn't work, the hallways that were dark because they had no light bulbs. Suddenly he raced away in response to a furore down the hall. Hospital visitors were shouting for help at the bedside of Feryal, a 7-month-old baby, whose mother was sobbing frantically. Feryal had just suffered a cardiac arrest. Dr. Qusay swiftly bent over her and administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Feryal's heart gave out in a fight against malnourishment plus septicemia - full body infection. The hospital lacked both the nutrients and the antibiotics this little one desperately needed. I watched Dr. Qusay face the anguished mother to pronounce the verdict, "I am sorry, but your child cannot live. We have not the oxygen, we have not the tube." How many times, since then, has Dr. Qusay felt shattered, having to speak tragic words to disbelieving parents?

Now he is explaining to us that in a very real way he thinks we are all fathers and mothers to these children, that it's a challenge to invent new ways to help them. And when something works, "well, you see, this keeps you hopeful." He carefully details some of the greatest problems they presently face - they've run out of high protein biscuits formerly supplied by UNICEF and they lack immunizations for MMR (measles, mumps and rubella). Actually, sufficient batches of the vaccine arrive, but electrical outages interfere with proper storage, damaging the vaccines. So far, his tone has been that of a kindly teacher, one who wants us to understand.

But then he lowers his head and shakes it back and forth several times. "We had a terrible tragedy recently. Our incubators are old and broken down, but some we try to repair. We placed an infant inside a patched incubator, thinking it would work, but the sealant was faulty, and the baby grew very cold. In fact, we lost that baby."

I jot down in my notebook, "Incubators - mom!!" Shortly before the Gulf War began, I applied to join the Gulf Peace Team, a non-violent, non-aligned encampment that would position itself on the border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, between the warring parties. The organizers placed me on a waiting list. To my surprise, I learned that if I could be in Boston in two days, I could join a U.S. contingent leaving on a plane that would be the last to land in Baghdad before the bombing began. I had just enough time for a hurried visit to my parents. Of course, they tried their hardest to dissuade me from going. As I flew out their door, the last thing I heard was my mother calling out, in her thick Irish brogue, "What about the incubators?! Kathy, what about the incubators?!"

She was referring to testimony from Nayirah, a young Kuwaiti girl, who told the U.S. Congress that she had witnessed invading Iraqi soldiers barge into a Kuwaiti hospital and steal the equipment. With luminous eyes and a compelling presence, she told of her horror as she watched the menacing soldiers dump babies out of incubators. Months later, when the war was a distant memory, reporters learned that "Nayirah" was actually the daughter of a Kuwaiti emir, that doctors in Kuwait could not corroborate her testimony, that in fact the supposedly stolen incubators had been placed carefully in storage during the invasion, and that the Hill and Knowlton Public Relations firm had rehearsed with the young woman how to give apparently false testimony effectively.

The Desert Storm bombardment destroyed Iraq's electrical grid. Refrigeration units, sewage and sanitation facilities, and all sorts of valuable equipment were ruined. Life-saving devices found in a modern hospital were rendered useless. As the Allied bombing went on and on, my mother's question became more and more relevant, yet went largely unasked. "What about the incubators?"

Now, when our teams visit Iraq, following nine and a half years of the most comprehensive state of siege ever imposed in modern history, we see incubators, broken and irreparable, stacked up against the walls of hospital obstetrics wards. Sanctions have prevented Iraqis from importing new incubators and from getting needed spare parts to repair old ones. And this is only one vitally needed item that sanctions prohibit.

Dr. Qusay's heroism is commendable. Earnest as ever, he tells us of other methods he wants to pursue, in the wake of the tragedy incurred by an irreparable incubator. "I have heard about, maybe you know it, the kangaroo method and this they do in Australia. I tell the mothers of tiny infants to try it. They can place the baby between their breasts and wrap themselves in a garment and this may keep the baby warm enough. Or I tell them to try to find gauze and cellophane and with this they might recreate conditions like an incubator. You see, we must invent and try to cope."

I wonder what would happen if Dr. Qusay testified before Congress as Nayirah did 10 years ago. Would we respond with the same moral outrage now that such actions are American policy? Would we mobilize to end sanctions with the same fervor that drove us to destroy Iraq, and its incubators and its babies? Now, as then, any mother, Kuwaiti or Iraqi can tell you child sacrifice is wrong.

The writer is a the director of Voices in the Wilderness, a non-profit making group opposed to the sanctions on Iraq.


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