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2004-11-17

Family of Aid Worker Margaret Hassan Believed Executed: "Our Hearts Are Broken"

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Aid worker Margaret Hassan is believed to have been executed in Iraq. She was kidnapped a month ago in Baghdad. We’ll speak to Denis Halliday, the former head of the UN Humanitarian Program in Iraq. [includes rush transcript]

Kidnapped British-Iraqi aid worker Margaret Hassan is believed to have been executed. The Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera said it received a videotape showing the slaying of a woman believed to be Margaret Hassan. Hassan’s family in London said they believed she was dead.

A statement from her four brothers and sisters was released by Britain’s Foreign Office. It reads: "Our hearts are broken. We have kept hoping for as long as we could, but we now have to accept that Margaret has probably gone and at last her suffering has ended." The statement went on to say "nobody can justify this. Margaret was against sanctions and the war. To commit such a crime against anyone is unforgivable. But we cannot believe how anybody could do this to our kind, compassionate sister. The gap she leaves will never be filled."

The 59 year-old Margaret Hassan was the head of the Baghdad operations of the British charity CARE International. She held British, Irish and Iraqi nationality, was married to an Iraqi man and had converted to Islam. She lived in Iraq for 30 years, dedicating her life to addressing the many humanitarian catastrophes in the country.

On October 19, she was kidnapped by armed men on her way to work in western Baghdad early in the morning. Videos of Hassan in captivity were released over the last few weeks, but no group had claimed responsibility for her abduction. In two of the videos, Hassan pleaded for her life and asked Tony Blair to withdraw British troops out of Iraq.

  • Margaret Hassan, pleading for her life in a video broadcast by Al-Jazeera, October 22, 2004.

Relatives also begged Blair and the British government to meet the kidnappers" demands. One of her sisters, Dierdre Fitzsimons, said, "We are Irish, and we have no influence on the British government."

Yesterday, Al-Jazeera announced it had received a tape showing a blindfolded woman being shot in the head believed to be Margaret Hassan. An Al-Jazeera spokesman said the station was holding off airing it until it was convinced the woman was Hassan. Yesterday, Margaret Hassan’s husband Tahseen appealed to the kidnappers to tell him the whereabouts of his wife’s body.

  • Tahsin Ali Hassan, Margaret Hassan’s Husband speaking in Baghdad, November 16, 2004.

Margaret Hassan’s husband Tahseen speaking yesterday. If her death is confirmed, she will be the first female foreign-national hostage to have been murdered in Iraq.

Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk of the London Independent who has met Hassan several times writes "If Margaret Hassan can be kidnapped and murdered, how much further can we fall into the Iraqi pit? There are no barriers, no frontiers of immorality left. What price is innocence now worth in the anarchy that we have brought to Iraq? The answer is simple: nothing."

  • Denis Halliday, the former head of the UN Humanitarian Program in Iraq and a former UN Assistant Secretary General. In 1998, he resigned his post in protest of the US-led sanctions against Iraq.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue to talk about Margaret Hassan, again videotapes over the last few weeks of Margaret Hassan were released, were aired on Al-Jazeera, as Margaret Hassan pleaded for her life, and pleaded with Tony Blair to withdraw the British troops from Iraq.

MARGARET HASSAN: Please, please help me. Please help me. This might be my last hours. Please help me. Please, the British people, ask Mr. Blair to take the troops out of Iraq and not to bring them here to Baghdad. That’s why people like Mr. Bigley and myself are being caught, and maybe we will die. I will die like Mr. Bigley. Please, please, please, the British people, please help me.

AMY GOODMAN: Margaret Hassan, pleading for her life on videotape. Relatives also pleaded with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the British government to meet the kidnappers’ demands. One of her sisters, Dierdre Fitzsimons said, "We are Irish, and we have no influence on the British government." Yesterday, Al-Jazeera announced that it received a tape showing a blindfolded woman being shot in the head, believed to be Margaret Hassan. An Al-Jazeera spokesperson said the station was holding off airing it until it was convinced that the woman was Margaret. Yesterday, Margaret Hassan’s husband, Tahsin, appealed to the kidnappers to tell him the whereabouts of his wife’s body.

TAHSIN ALI HASSAN: I am Tahsin Hassan, husband of Margaret Hassan. I have been told that there is a video of Margaret, which appears to show her murder. The video may be genuine, but I do not know. I beg those people who took Margaret to tell me what they have done with her. They can tell me. They can call the helpline. I need her. I need her back to rest in peace. Margaret lived with me in Iraq for 30 years. She dedicated her life to serving the Iraqi people. Please now, please return her to me.

AMY GOODMAN: Margaret Hassan’s husband, Tahsin. If her death is confirmed, she will be the first foreign female hostage to have been murdered in Iraq. Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk, of The London Independent who has met Hassan several times, writes, "If Margaret Hassan can be kidnapped and murdered, how much further can we fall into the Iraqi pit? There are no barriers, no frontiers of immorality left. What price is innocence now worth in the anarchy that we have brought to Iraq? The answer is simple: nothing." Denis Halliday joins us in our studio. He’s the former head of the U.N. humanitarian program in Iraq and a former U.N. Assistant Secretary General. In 1998, he resigned his post in protest of the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq. Welcome to Democracy Now!

DENIS HALLIDAY: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts. You, too, like Margaret Hassan, are an Irish citizen.

DENIS HALLIDAY: Well, sad to say, we Irish are now collaborators with the Bush aggression, the Bush invasion, the Bush regime. And we have is supported Bush and his warplanes going through Shannon Airport. We’re going to have to stand up and be counted amongst the weak who went along with the Bush act of aggression vis-a-vis Iraq. However, Margaret, you know, was an extraordinary person who was an Iraqi, in effect, dedicated her life. It’s an extraordinary, horrific phenomenon that she’s been killed. It just is incomprehensible.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you know Margaret?

DENIS HALLIDAY: I worked with her in 1997 and 1998 in Iraq in Baghdad. I lived there. That’s where she and her family lived. She ran a small C.A.I.R. International program, some $7 million worth per annum and she produced hands-on results, clinics, health facilities, water systems which the poor of Baghdad and other cities needed desperately. I was there overseeing as $4 billion program and prohibited from doing the same sort of hands-on work by Washington and the London and Washington regimes. So, I have nothing but respect for her work and for her commitment and her gentle nature, although underlined with steel. She’s a quality that she delivered. She made things happen.

AMY GOODMAN: What did it mean to work under the sanctions in Iraq? What exactly was she doing?

DENIS HALLIDAY: She was literally finding money from overseas to put into the reconstruction and rebuilding of health clinics for women and children, in particular, and she focused on water supplies. As you may know, the Pentagon decision to destroy water systems in Iraq deliberately, to kill Iraqi children, was indeed successful, and the great loss of life during the sanctions period after the Gulf War was directly due to the Pentagon decision to do that. Margaret was one of those working against that crime, that war crime, and restoring water systems, potable water systems to the city’s poor areas of most cities in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: The great deal of international tension that the Simonas, the two Italian women and their Iraqi colleagues, a woman and a man, got, many feel, help to free them. It may also well have been a good deal of money from the Italian government. What do you think happened with Margaret Hassan in terms of negotiations. Were contacts made? Irish government, British government?

DENIS HALLIDAY: Yes, it’s so easy with hindsight I suppose to be critical. I always felt it was a mistake for the Irish government to stand up and call for her release and even worse for Tony Blair, a man who is also guilty of war crimes and part of the act of aggression against Iraq, the supporter of Bush and the invasion. This is in one hand what they wanted to hear. But these are the wrong people. There’s no respect for Bush or Blair in Iraq and the people who are holding Margaret Hassan, who are not Iraqis I believe, but probably those from outside the country. You know, they have no desire to respond to the request of a man like Bush or Blair. So, this was a non-starter. I think [inaudible] once the Fallujah invasion began, I think the life of Margaret was lost.

AMY GOODMAN: You were recently in Ireland on the witness stand defending someone who was protesting the war. Can you talk about that?

DENIS HALLIDAY: Yes. We have a woman called Mary Kelly who climbed over the fence at Shannon Airport and took an axe and attacked a U.S. warplane en route to the Mediterranean, providing support to the war in Iraq. The government under, I think, pressure from the Washington regime of Mr. Bush has been prosecuting her. We have now had three trials. The first was — didn’t go through. The second we had to do again. The third one Ramsey Clark, Daniel Ellsberg and myself flew in from New York and ultimately were disallowed. Our witness in defense of Mary Kelly and her action, which in my view is in keeping with the Nuremburg principles of standing up and taking on a minor act of violence to prevent a much greater act of violence, such as the murder of what we now understand is well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians was not allowed within the Irish criminal court system. So, we were dismissed, and the jury has now found her guilty and she’s awaiting sentencing. I think there will be a retrial, there will be an appeal, another retrial. It’s an example of how the Irish, I think, have now become alienated to Washington, which is extraordinary, given the relations between Ireland and the United States. This sort of action is what we all should be about, standing up and taking action to prevent this, the war crime, the great war crime of aggression that Mr. Bush has undertaken.

AMY GOODMAN: What about what’s happening in Fallujah? Your response as the former U.N. Assistant Secretary General having spent a good deal of time in Iraq. Your response to what’s happening in Fallujah, and also to the U.S. election?

DENIS HALLIDAY: Well, I know Fallujah quite well. It’s the city that I used to pass through when I went to Habbaniya, the old R.A.F. station, to pick up supplies from the U.N. aircraft. I stopped there for my afternoon tea, a old tea house serving a wonderful lemon tea, which is unique perhaps to Iraq. It’s sad to see that it’s now been destroyed by the United States and that the people have suffered, and we’re now hearing, 800, maybe many more civilians have been murdered by American troops in Fallujah. I fail to understand the rationale for taking on this particular battle, along with all of the other battles against the Iraqi people. To think that — this is an insurgency. This is a national survival movement of the Iraqi people, and if the United States is talking about hearts and minds — I think we have heard that phrase from the Vietnam debacle — this is madness. And I think the result of Fallujah simply is that now another million Iraqis will stand up and fight for their country against the invasion and occupation by the United States. It’s a game plan that I fail to understand, and the only solution, I think, is the closing down of the occupation. Give this country back to the people who belong there, that is the Iraqi people.

AMY GOODMAN: As you watch the campaign in the United States, did you feel at the end that — or at any point — John Kerry had proposed an alternative to President Bush’s military occupation?

DENIS HALLIDAY: No. Sad to say, I think John Kerry pushed in helping for election was into preemptive strikes. He was into taking aggression against anybody who remotely threatened the United States. We know perfectly well that Saddam Hussein and Iraq never threatened the United States. That is absolute propaganda and nonsense. I was very disappointed in Kerry. I think he was going to bring almost nothing new. Of course, it couldn’t be worse than Bush, it might have been better, but I didn’t see anything really positive from the dialogue that I saw on television.

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