Last week marked the ten-year anniversary of the death of Sergio Vieira de Mello, High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in Iraq.
At the request of George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, and Kofi Annan, De Mello—the “go-to guy” for overseeing some of the world’s most difficult peacekeeping missions in Cambodia, Bosnia, Congo, and East Timor—went to Iraq on June 2, 2003, with a team of other UN experts. The goal, it appears, was for them to come away with recommendations about how to end the US occupation of the country expeditiously.
On August 19, a suicide bomber ran a truck packed with explosives into a Baghdad hotel where the UN offices were housed. Twenty-two people were murdered, De Mello among them, and hundreds more were injured. To this day, little is known about the perpetrators of this heinous act.
Writes his colleague and partner, Carolina Larriera, currently a Harvard University fellow, “And now, ten years later, victims, survivors, family, friends and thousands of ‘in house’ officials still do not know the exact circumstances of the attack, the motives of the perpetrators and the criminal and moral responsibility of those who allowed and enabled the attack, a critical starting point in the healing process of the terrible wounds generated by this bombing. Instead of medals, we would have preferred the truth; we do not want the facts to be buried under the weight of institutional bureaucracy.”
At a time of growing outrage over secret government surveillance programs that capture the private data of ordinary Americans in the name of national security, it would seem that we have an opportunity to be honest about and to “shed light on the context and aftermath of the Baghdad bombing.”
We owe Sergio, Carolina, and all of the others affected by this tragedy that much.