By Mick Krever
The world may hardly have known of the chemical attack that occurred in Syria on August 21 were it not for the startling images that emerged in the immediate aftermath.
“The images from this massacre are sickening,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in his address on Syria this week. “Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas; others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath; a father clutching his dead children.”
But in 1988, when Saddam Hussein gassed the Iraqi Kurdish village of Halabja, the only way for news organizations to get images of the massacre was to send their own cameramen to the scene.
Rich Brooks, one of CNN’s longest-serving photojournalists, travelled to the scene, and told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday what it was like.
“We weren't sure what we were going to see exactly,” he said. “But what I remember vividly was entering the village and just how still and silent it was. Initially, we saw birds on the ground and then we saw cattle and sheep. And then we turned a corner into a street that was just full of bodies. And you've seen it before and the smell was overwhelming.”
It was, he told Amanpour, “most likely the worst thing I've seen in my career.”
Seeing the images that have emerged from Syria’s Damascus suburbs have brought all the memories right back.
“They're seared into my mind,” he said. “These were women, children, older people; they were not combatants and they were just dead where they fell.”
“There's that image of the woman clutching her child – trying to take shelter in her house, I can imagine. And recently there was an image I saw that just brought all those images back to me in such a way that I couldn't help but think of Halabja. The video of the animals piled high, and that's exactly what we saw in Halabja.”
Brooks told Amanpour he finds it hard to believe how history is repeating itself.
“People need to see this,” he said, “and we need to not sanitize it when it's aired on TV and let people know exactly what's going on.”