What has always made the Holocaust unique in human history was Nazi Germany's plan to deliberately exterminate an entire race of people. "Never again" has been the moral warning ever since, and it was heeded, until 1988.
The terrible discovery made by Iraqi dissident and human rights activist Kanan Makiya in the aftermath of the Gulf War and the subsequent revolt by the Kurdish minority inside Iraq is that 20th-Century humanity has a new Holocaust on its collective conscience. "Saddam's Killing Fields," documented by British filmmaker Gwynne Roberts for the BBC and now being aired on "Frontline" (at 9 tonight on KCET Channel 28 and KPBS Channel 15; 8 p.m. on KVCR Channel 24), acts as a witness to Makiya's devastating investigation of Saddam Hussein's scheme to eliminate the Kurds.
Makiya is best known in the West as the author of "The Republic of Fear," one of the few investigations of Saddam's Baathist Party's security state. That state has Makiya high on its most-wanted list, making it all the more incredible that he dared cross the Iraqi border last year to confirm the rumors that Saddam's Holocaust didn't stop in 1988, but continued into 1991.
Roberts follows Makiya from town to town, the streets filled with men milling about, the air heavy with paranoia and suspicion. Makiya's own narration is like that of a man having left the living, entering the land of the dead: His voice is soaked in fear, whether he walks through a Baathist torture prison recently overtaken by Kurdish rebels, or thumbs through endless reams of security documents.
This paper trail of intelligence gathering on seemingly every Kurdish family--mountains of notebooks, files, binders closely guarded by Kurdish soldiers--is the evidence Makiya was looking for. But the video and human evidence turns "Saddam's Killing Fields" into nightmare-inducing television. Despite claims that video of executions was edited, what's on screen is grisly enough. The mass weeping and hysteria of women whose husbands have been herded away by Saddam's army becomes a terrifying, chilling cry of sadness.
Makiya courageously condemns the silence of his fellow Arabs toward Saddam's Holocaust, forcing American viewers to examine this country's responsibilities--how it could be that the Bush Administration continued funding Iraq throughout this Holocaust until the war, and that it could not destroy Saddam's regime during the war. Blood is on everyone's hands, all over the screen.