CBS’s Pelley: American Barbarians Have 'Driven Out' Iraqi Christians

On Sunday’s CBS "60 Minutes," anchor Scott Pelley, who referred to Iranian President Ahmadinejad as "friendly," "modest," and "incorruptible," compared American forces in Iraq to barbarian hordes of the past while examining the plight of Iraqi Christians since the war began in 2003: "The Iraqi Christian community, which had survived invasions by Mongols and Turks, was driven out under American occupation."

During the segment, Pelley interviewed an Anglican Reverend in Baghdad named Andrew White:

PELLEY: He was first sent to Baghdad by the Archbishop of Canterbury nine years ago, well before the Christian persecution. You were here during Saddam's reign, and now after. Which was better? Which was worse?

WHITE: Well, it's difficult to describe. The situation now is clearly worse now, but --

PELLEY: Worse than Saddam?

WHITE: Oh, far. There's no comparison between Iraq now and then. Things are the most difficult they have ever been for Christians. Probably ever in history. They've never known it like now.

PELLEY: Wait a minute. Christians have been here for 2,000 years.

WHITE: Yes. And it's now the worst it has ever been.

It would seem that Reverend White longs for the days of Saddam’s brutal regime based upon this interview. However, in February 2006, White expressed his complete thoughts in an interview with PBS:

We work very closely with the American government, and I think the American government is doing a good job. But the American government is no longer in control of Iraq. It's actually the Iraqi government that's in control of Iraq. I think that the evil regime of Saddam Hussein certainly needed removing, and there was no way that that could be done by the Iraqi people and fortunately, I would say, even in the difficulties we're now facing, the Americans came to the rescue of the Iraqi people. I must say, seeing the news in the U.S.A., it's very difficult to get a real assessment of what is actually going on, while at the same time we've got to realize that covering news in Iraq has become increasingly difficult. We've got a journalist at the moment who has been kidnapped, and this is the very real risk for those who've tried to get the real story across. I think we need to tell the story about how the restoration of Iraq is taking place despite the difficulties, and that it's not totally all chaos. Chaos and bloodshed are a very big part of what's going on, but it's not the total story.

Strangely, Pelley did not get that in-depth with White, cutting the Reverend off in mid-sentence.

Pelley went on to describe Saddam’s religious diversity:

...under Saddam, Christians were treated much the same as Muslims. Saddam's right-hand man, Tariq Aziz, was Christian. This is the last Christmas in Baghdad before the war. It's estimated there were about a million Christians in Iraq, a small minority, but free to worship, free to build churches...

But then, as Pelley describes, America came in and brought an end to such tolerance: "But after the invasion, Muslim militants launched a war on each other and the cross."

Near the end of the segment, Pelley spoke of the "exodus" from Iraq of Christians as well as other refugees:

Christian refugees are now swept up in an exodus of historic proportions. The U.N. estimates 4.5 million Iraqis of all faiths are running from the war. The United States has promised to help, but so far, only about 2,000 Iraqis have been allowed into the U.S.-- Less than one tenth of one percent of all the refugees.

However, there was no mention of the recent return of thousands of Iraqi refugees to Baghdad, as was detailed in a November Associated Press story: "In a dramatic turnaround, more than 3,000 Iraqi families driven out of their Baghdad neighborhoods have returned to their homes in the past three months as sectarian violence has dropped, the government said Saturday."

Despite the recent success of the troop surge, some in the mainstream media like Pelley, still look for bad news. In fact, earlier on Sunday, at the end of CBS’s "Face the Nation," host Bob Schieffer exclaimed, "we shouldn't be rolling out the "Mission Accomplished" banner again in Iraq, at least not just yet."

Here is the full transcript of the "60 Minutes"segment:

7:00PM TEASER:

SCOTT PELLEY: From the time of Jesus, there have been Christians in what is now Iraq. But today, this ancient community is suffering persecution on a biblical scale, hunted, murdered, and forced to worship in secret services like this. You were here during Saddam's reign and now after. Which was better? Which was worse?

ANDREW WHITE: There's no comparison between Iraq now and then. Things are the most difficult they have ever been for Christians.

PELLEY: Wait a minute! Christians have been here for 2,000 years.

WHITE: Yes, and it's now the worst it has ever been.

7:02PM SEGMENT:

SCOTT PELLEY: From the time of Jesus, there have been Christians in what is now Iraq. The Christian community took root there after the Apostle Thomas headed east in the year 35. But now, after nearly 2,000 years, Iraqi Christians are being hunted, murdered, and forced to flee, persecuted on a biblical scale in Iraq's religious civil war. You'd have to be mad to hold a Christian service in Iraq today, but if you must, then the Vicar of Baghdad is your man. He's the Reverend Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest who suffers from multiple sclerosis and from a fanatical determination to save the last Iraqi Christians from the purge.

ANDREW WHITE: ...The Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

PELLEY: This is an underground church service in Baghdad.

WHITE: Drink this, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant.

PELLEY: Andrew White's parishioners are risking their lives to celebrate their faith. The room is full of children, it's full of women, but I don't see the men. Where are they?

WHITE: They are mainly killed. Some were kidnapped. Some were killed. In the last six months, things have got particularly bad for the Christians. And here in this church, all of my leadership were originally taken and killed.

PELLEY: All dead.

WHITE: All dead. But we never got their bodies back. This is one of the problems. I regularly do funerals here, but it's not easy to get the bodies.

PELLEY: Their churches are destroyed or abandoned. The congregation is smuggled in and out of this secret sanctuary. Even letting us come here was a terrible risk. White is among the last Christian ministers here, a savior with crosses to bear. Larger than life, stricken with M.S., And by his own reckoning, driven a little bit mad. He was first sent to Baghdad by the Archbishop of Canterbury nine years ago, well before the Christian persecution. You were here during Saddam's reign, and now after. Which was better? Which was worse?

WHITE: Well, it's difficult to describe. The situation now is clearly worse now, but -- .

PELLEY: Worse than Saddam?

WHITE: Oh, far. There's no comparison between Iraq now and then. Things are the most difficult they have ever been for Christians. Probably ever in history. They've never known it like now.

PELLEY: Wait a minute. Christians have been here for 2,000 years.

WHITE: Yes. And it's now the worst it has ever been.

PELLEY: To understand the history of Iraqi Christianity, start with the last supper. One saint to the right of Jesus is the Apostle Thomas, who took the gospel and headed east after the death of Christ. In modern times, under Saddam, Christians were treated much the same as Muslims. Saddam's right-hand man, Tariq Aziz, was Christian. This is the last Christmas in Baghdad before the war. It's estimated there were about a million Christians in Iraq, a small minority, but free to worship, free to build churches, free to speak the ancient words you're hearing now...

( UNIDENTIFIED WORSHIPERS SPEAKING ARAMAIC )

PELLEY: Aramaic, the language of Jesus. But after the invasion, Muslim militants launched a war on each other and the cross. Sunday, August 1, 2004, five churches were bombed. The Iraqi Christian community, which had survived invasions by Mongols and Turks, was driven out under American occupation. No one can be sure, but Reverend White estimates most of Iraq's Christians have fled or been killed. Those still here are too old, too ill, or too poor to run. Why are you feeding them all?

WHITE: Because this is the only decent meal they'll have in the week, because they can't afford food. So we're just moving from every other week to every week because they've got nothing.

PELLEY: Nothing. For many, not even their families. We were confronted with one of many stories of depravity as the congregation left. Outside the church service, this gentleman put these pictures in my hand. I can't show you the pictures. They're just too much. But they're pictures of his children. His daughter, who was 15 years old, and his son, who was about four years old. They've both been shot in the head. His children were killed, the father said, because he ran a liquor store. Liquor stores are typically Christian businesses here-- legal, except under the Islamic street justice that rules since the invasion.

WHITE: So I hear stories of shootings, death, torturing, kidnapping, mutilation. I hear it all.

PELLEY: The people with those stories once lived in a neighborhood called Dora, where Christians, Sunnis, and Shiites had lived together. We wanted to see what happened there, so we took a ride with Army Colonel Rick Gibbs. His men picked us up under a rusting relic of Saddam's tyranny and we headed to ethnic cleansing's ground zero.

GIBBS: We have 13 churches, none of them are operational.

PELLEY: Is it the worst neighborhood in town?

GIBBS: It's the toughest neighborhood in town.

PELLEY: Gibbs commands the Fourth Brigade, First Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kansas. In Dora, he set up a combat outpost in an abandoned Catholic seminary. I was at a secret church service yesterday. A man came up to me and handed me some photographs of his children and they'd been shot to death. Somebody had come by their house and murdered his children because they were Christians.

GIBBS: Right.

PELLEY: What are you seeing?

GIBBS: I don't see a lot of that anymore. But when we first arrived, we saw lots of that. And we had 500 a month, that's what we were tracking. And it would not surprise my soldiers to walk down a street on a patrol and see three or four bodies laying in the street with a bullet behind their head.

PELLEY: U.S. Forces do not protect the churches. There's a hands-off policy for all religious sites. And Gibbs says there's another reason.

GIBBS: The Christians do not want us to guard the church openly.

PELLEY: Why wouldn't the Christians want you to protect the churches?

GIBBS: They feel that if we are overtly protecting the churches, that someone underground covertly will come in and murder the Christians because they're collaborating with the U.S. forces.

PELLEY: There seems to be less violence now, in part because of the surge, but also because the purge of Christians from Dora is largely complete. Gibbs says that Islamic militants are on the run now.

GIBBS: We hear that through our intelligence sources on-the- ground, people telling us they're running. That's how come we knew to come down here with our next big fight to keep getting after them. And that's what you hear over there is us in that fight trying to go get them.

PELLEY: We wanted to see one church that had been destroyed, but Gibbs couldn't take us there. Roadside bombs blocked the way. So he walked us over to a church next to his combat outpost. Because of the proximity, it hadn't been looted. It hadn't been touched by anyone for a very long time. This is one of the abandoned churches of Dora. It looks like it was left suddenly and completely. There's a fine coat of dust over everything in the church. It was all left just as it was. One of the reasons these churches have been abandoned is in this letter, a letter that went out to the neighborhoods of Dora about a year ago. It reads like this: To the Christian. We would like to inform you of the decision of the legal court of the Secret Islamic Army to notify you that this is the last and final threat. If you do not leave your home, your blood will be spilled. And in case there was any chance that anyone would not get the message, the letter ends like this: You and your family will be killed. Tell me what happened to your family.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, that's a long story.

PELLEY: This young man is a Baghdad Christian whose name we cannot use. He says that, after the invasion, posters appeared near his home.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They were, like, telling us that Christians were against Islam, they we're infidels, that women shouldn't drive, and a woman who doesn't wear a scarf will get her head cut off. And I thought that, like, what are we going back to the Middle Ages?

PELLEY: He told us that his family began going to mass in shifts. Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If the church gets bombed on, like, one of the masses so, like, half of the family will be there and half will be safe.

PELLEY: Ultimately, his church was bombed. Of all the people that you used to worship with in that church, what's become of them?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I simply don't know. A lot them are in Syria. Some of them -- I don't know any of them that stayed in Baghdad.

PELLEY: His family, unharmed, fled to neighboring Jordan. But most Christians ran north to Syria, where they have filled a ghetto called Jerimanah. Knock on any door and you'll find a story.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN ( Translated ): They threatened this young girl. They want her to become a Muslim. The boy is in danger of being kidnapped. My other boy is in danger of being kidnapped because we're Christians.

PELLEY: This woman was on a bus outside Baghdad when gunmen boarded and demanded to know her husband's faith.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN B ( Translated ): They told him, How come you have not embraced Islam yet? He said, to each his own religion.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY ( Translated ): He told them, I am a Christian. They told him to get off the bus.

PELLEY: And they never saw him again. Christian refugees are now swept up in an exodus of historic proportions. The U.N. estimates 4.5 million Iraqis of all faiths are running from the war. The United States has promised to help, but so far, only about 2,000 Iraqis have been allowed into the U.S.-- Less than one tenth of one percent of all the refugees. Those who remain, hiding in Iraq, are bound together by a particular kind of faith known only to those under siege. Why is this happening?

WHITE: It's happening because religion has gone wrong, and when religion goes wrong, it kills others.

PELLEY: The Muslim religion has gone wrong. Is what you're saying?

WHITE: It has. And in the past, Christianity has gone wrong. And what I say to people very clearly is that the history of Christianity is no better than the history of Islam.

PELLEY: Some of your parishioners must ask you, why is God allowing this to happen to us?

WHITE: To them I say, God is with you, and he is with me, and I'm with you, and I'm not going away.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC