I am rarely astonished by anything that comes from the mouth of Congressman Ryan Zinke, but this exchange, captured by C-Span, was simply breathtaking. After offering the keen insight that he knew Saddam Hussein was a “bad, bad, bad, bad man,” Montana’s Congressman commended Saddam Hussein for his effective work at combating terrorists:
What made Saddam Hussein so effective at “hunting terrorists” is that he didn’t care if the people he killed and tortured really were involved in terrorism. He didn’t care if they were children. He didn’t care if they were proven guilty or had their fundamental human rights respected. He just killed and tortured people he defined as terrorists, even if that meant they were simply political opponents or obstacles to his quest for power.
Terrorism was, for Hussein, simply an effective rhetorical trick to justify indefensible actions, a concept Americans have become quite familiar with in the past two decades.
What, precisely, does Congressman Zinke admire about Hussein’s anti-terrorism efforts? His secret police? His use of torture? His sexual violence? His mass killings?
Here’s what the State Department said about Hussein in 2003:
Under Saddam’s regime many hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of his actions, the vast majority of them Muslims. According to a 2001 Amnesty International report, “victims of torture in Iraq are subjected to a wide range of forms of torture, including the gouging out of eyes, severe beatings, and electric shocks … some victims have died as a result and many have been left with permanent physical and psychological damage.”
Congressman Zinke, a man who has joked about torturing people himself in the past, is trying to have it both ways in the most horrific way. You can’t argue that Saddam Hussein was an effective anti-terrorist leader but “a bad man” when the very tools he used to go after “terrorists” are the things that made him such a despicable leader.
To argue that Saddam Hussein was a “bad man” but effective at combating terrorism is the literal and moral equivalent of arguing that Adolf Hitler was a bad man but effective at combatting the threat of communism. It’s abhorrent, and shows not only terrible judgment, but a profound lack of humanity.
When people write about their fear that Donald Trump could bring fascism to America, they’re often dismissed by those who say that concern is hyperbolic, but when Trump has members of Congress like Ryan Zinke defending horrific abuses of civil rights, torture, and even mass killings as effective tools for combatting the nebulous threat of terrorism, that fear is entirely justified.
Congressman Zinke will tonight, no doubt, claim that Secretary Clinton and President Obama are weak-willed and don’t believe in American values. That’s quite a stretch for someone willing to defend Saddam Hussein’s use of torture and murder simply to gain the admiration of Donald Trump.