In light of the renewed controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton’s attempted use of women’s issues as a campaign tactic, it is instructive to recall past instances in which the politician purportedly utilized the issue as a political weapon of sorts.
Clinton in 2004 faced criticism for allegedly whitewashing Saddam Hussein’s mistreatment of women in a seeming bid to attack President Bush’s invasion of Iraq–a war she herself supported.
In a February 25, 2004 address to the Brookings Leadership Forum at the Brookings Institute, Clinton, then New York’s junior senator, charged that ousting Hussein resulted in a withdrawal of rights that women had enjoyed under the brutal dictator.
“We also have to do more on women’s rights and roles,” Clinton added, explaining she has been “deeply troubled by what I hear coming out of Iraq.”
Clinton seemingly defended Hussein’s treatment of women:
When I was there and met with women members of the governing councils and local–of the national governing councils and local governing councils in Baghdad and Kirkuk, they were starting to express concerns about some of the pullbacks in the rights that they were given under Saddam Hussein.
He was an equal opportunity oppressor, but on paper women had rights; they went to school; they participated in the professions; they participated in government; and business and, as long as they stayed out of his way, they had considerable freedom of movement.
Now, what we see happening in Iraq is the governing council attempting to shift large parts of civil law into religious jurisdiction. This would be a horrific mistake and especially for it to happen on our watch.
Clinton said she had spoken to the White House about the plight of women after Hussein’s ouster on several occasions.
She criticized Bush for not making a statement on the issue:
I appreciated Ambassador Bremer speaking out about the need to involve women. But we must go much further. I would like to see a statement from the President. I would like to see a much greater emphasis that we will not have become the vehicle by which women’s rights in Iraq are turned back.
Clinton’s information on Hussein’s treatment of Iraqi women was outdated.
Human Rights Watch documented that upon taking power, Hussein’s Ba’ath party pushed through Article 19 of the country’s constitution declaring “all citizens equal before the law regardless of sex, blood, language, social origin, or religion.”
Hussein’s government also passed labor and employment laws ensuing equal employment opportunities to women and in 1980 Iraqi women won the right to vote. In 1986, Iraq even ratified the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, becoming one of the first countries to do so.
However, following the First Gulf War in 1991, Hussein turned back women’s rights as he made a “decision to embrace Islamic and tribal traditions as a political tool in order to consolidate power,” Human Rights Watch wrote.
So-called honor killings were noted to be on the rise.
Documents Human Rights Watch:
Women and girls have also suffered from increasing restrictions on their freedom of mobility and protections under the law.26 In collusion with conservative religious groups and tribal leaders, the government issued numerous decrees and introduced legislation negatively impacting women’s legal status in the labor code, criminal justice system, and personal status laws.27 In 2001, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Violence against Women reported that since the passage of the reforms in 1991, an estimated 4,000 women and girls had been victims of “honor killings.
Furthermore, as the economy constricted, in an effort to ensure employment for men the government pushed women out of the labor force and into more traditional roles in the home. In 1998, the government reportedly dismissed all females working as secretaries in governmental agencies.30 In June 2000, it also reportedly enacted a law requiring all state ministries to put restrictions on women working outside the home.
Women’s freedom to travel abroad was also legally restricted and formerly co-educational high schools were required by law to provide single-sex education only, further reflecting the reversion to religious and tribal traditions.32 As a result of these combined forces, by the last years of Saddam Hussein’s government the majority of women and girls had been relegated to traditional roles within the home.
Writing in the Washington Times in March 2004, commentator Nat Hentoff slammed Clinton for “Re-writ[ing] history” with regard to Hussein’s treatment of women. “Not even such bellicose critics of the war as Sen. Ted Kennedy have claimed that the regime change has cost women in Iraq the leading defender of their rights,” Hentoff wrote.
Hentoff referenced a pre-invasion story in the New York Times by John Burns who reported on a paramilitary group at one time led by Hussein’s son, Uday: “Masked and clad in black, (the men) make the women kneel in busy city squares, along crowded sidewalks, or in neighborhood plots, then behead them with swords.” The women were accused of criticizing Hussein’s regime.
Burns also reported on the “raping of women in front of their husbands, from whom the torturers wanted to extract information,” when prisons were open for a short period of time before the start of the war.
Some Arab media outlets who used Clinton’s Brookings speech to praise Hussein’s treatment of women.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat, the Saudi-owned, London-based newspaper reportedly used the headline: “Hillary Clinton: ‘Iraqi women were better off under Saddam’s reign.’ ”
With research by Brenda J. Elliott.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.