Posts Tagged 'Iraq'

Toxic legacy of US assault on Fallujah ‘worse than Hiroshima’

Independent UK, July 24, 2010

Toxic legacy of US assault on Fallujah ‘worse than Hiroshima’

By Patrick Cockburn

Birth defects in Fallujah

Children in Fallujah who suffer from birth defects which are thought to be linked to weapons used in attacks on the city by US Marines.

Dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which was bombarded by US Marines in 2004, exceed those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, according to a new study.

Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs. They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.

Their claims have been supported by a survey showing a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in under-14s. Infant mortality in the city is more than four times higher than in neighbouring Jordan and eight times higher than in Kuwait.

Dr Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster and one of the authors of the survey of 4,800 individuals in Fallujah, said it is difficult to pin down the exact cause of the cancers and birth defects. He added that “to produce an effect like this, some very major mutagenic exposure must have occurred in 2004 when the attacks happened”.

US Marines first besieged and bombarded Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, in April 2004 after four employees of the American security company Blackwater were killed and their bodies burned. After an eight-month stand-off, the Marines stormed the city in November using artillery and aerial bombing against rebel positions. US forces later admitted that they had employed white phosphorus as well as other munitions.

In the assault US commanders largely treated Fallujah as a free-fire zone to try to reduce casualties among their own troops. British officers were appalled by the lack of concern for civilian casualties. “During preparatory operations in the November 2004 Fallujah clearance operation, on one night over 40 155mm artillery rounds were fired into a small sector of the city,” recalled Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, a British commander serving with the American forces in Baghdad.

He added that the US commander who ordered this devastating use of firepower did not consider it significant enough to mention it in his daily report to the US general in command. Dr Busby says that while he cannot identify the type of armaments used by the Marines, the extent of genetic damage suffered by inhabitants suggests the use of uranium in some form. He said: “My guess is that they used a new weapon against buildings to break through walls and kill those inside.”

The survey was carried out by a team of 11 researchers in January and February this year who visited 711 houses in Fallujah. A questionnaire was filled in by householders giving details of cancers, birth outcomes and infant mortality. Hitherto the Iraqi government has been loath to respond to complaints from civilians about damage to their health during military operations.

Researchers were initially regarded with some suspicion by locals, particularly after a Baghdad television station broadcast a report saying a survey was being carried out by terrorists and anybody conducting it or answering questions would be arrested. Those organising the survey subsequently arranged to be accompanied by a person of standing in the community to allay suspicions.

The study, entitled “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009”, is by Dr Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi, and concludes that anecdotal evidence of a sharp rise in cancer and congenital birth defects is correct. Infant mortality was found to be 80 per 1,000 births compared to 19 in Egypt, 17 in Jordan and 9.7 in Kuwait. The report says that the types of cancer are “similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors who were exposed to ionising radiation from the bomb and uranium in the fallout”.

Researchers found a 38-fold increase in leukaemia, a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer and significant increases in lymphoma and brain tumours in adults. At Hiroshima survivors showed a 17-fold increase in leukaemia, but in Fallujah Dr Busby says what is striking is not only the greater prevalence of cancer but the speed with which it was affecting people.

Of particular significance was the finding that the sex ratio between newborn boys and girls had changed. In a normal population this is 1,050 boys born to 1,000 girls, but for those born from 2005 there was an 18 per cent drop in male births, so the ratio was 850 males to 1,000 females. The sex-ratio is an indicator of genetic damage that affects boys more than girls. A similar change in the sex-ratio was discovered after Hiroshima.

The US cut back on its use of firepower in Iraq from 2007 because of the anger it provoked among civilians. But at the same time there has been a decline in healthcare and sanitary conditions in Iraq since 2003. The impact of war on civilians was more severe in Fallujah than anywhere else in Iraq because the city continued to be blockaded and cut off from the rest of the country long after 2004. War damage was only slowly repaired and people from the city were frightened to go to hospitals in Baghdad because of military checkpoints on the road into the capital.

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Reduce Debt? Cut Oil Wars, not Social Security!

Social Security Works, June 1, 2010

Save Social Security

President Obama May Cut Social Security Benefits, Report Says

Helen Thomas, Hearst White House columnist

WASHINGTON — Say it isn’t so, Mr. President. You surely are not going to make a deal with Republicans to cut Social Security benefits, are you?

Here’s word from The Nation Magazine: “The President intends to offer Social Security as a sacrificial lamb to entice conservative deficit hawks into a grand bipartisan compromise in which Democrats agree to cut Social Security benefits while Republicans accede to significant tax increases to reduce government red ink.”

The grand compromise would form the crux of the recommendations by the new 18-member National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility that was set up to find ways to reduce the federal budget deficit. Commission co-chairs are former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff in the Clinton White House.

The panel’s recommendations are scheduled to be announced in December, safely after the November elections. A recommendation requires a minimum of 14 votes among the commissioners. If Obama agrees to ask Congress to cut Social Security benefits, it would amount to a sellout by a president of the same Democratic Party that embraced Franklin D. Roosevelt, the father of Social Security, back in 1935.

Social Security is not a charity. It is a trust fund created by contributions paid by workers and their employers, designed to assure a future livelihood, first for the elderly, then orphans, then the disabled. It’s a retirement savings plan — not a handout.

Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, headed a Social Security Commission in 1982 under the Reagan administration that recommended a modest increase in taxes which resolved worries that the New Deal program might go broke.

If Obama is worried about the federal budget deficit, he shouldn’t turn to Social Security. The solution to the deficit is staring him right in the face: Obama should cut our human and money losses by getting out of the impossible — and costly — wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Of course, we do have plans to leave Iraq this summer — if leaving 50,000 occupation troops there is really leaving. Why are we doing that? This was the war of choice — not of necessity — that former President George W. Bush got us into, based on wrong information. Our continuing occupation of Iraq merely compounds our tragic mistake of invading in the first place.

Somehow I doubt that the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission will have the courage to tell the president about a very cool way to cut federal spending: Get American troops out of wars where we have no business.

Get real, Mr. President, cutting Social Security would be a break of trust with the American people. Millions of Americans cannot live without their Social Security stipends. So don’t tamper with those monthly checks.

Social Security is so deeply rooted in our society that the American people protested loudly when Bush came up with a half-baked plan to privatize Social Security. Fortunately, American voters saw to it that his Wall Street boondoggle went nowhere.

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Iraq vet: Our real enemy is not the ones living in a distant land, they are right here in front of us. Racism is their weapon

Our real enemy is not the ones living in a distant land,
they are right here in front of us.  Racism is their weapon

Iraq vet talks on class, race, and exploitation

Iraq vet talks on class, race, and exploitation

“Our real enemy is not the ones living in a distant land whose names or policies we don’t understand; The real enemy is a system that wages war when it’s profitable, the CEOs who lay us off our jobs when it’s profitable, the Insurance Companies who deny us Health care when it’s profitable, the Banks who take away our homes when it’s profitable. Our enemies are not several hundred thousands away. They are right here in front of us.”

How do the the rulers get away with it?  This soldier is clear:

“Racism is a vital weapon employed by this government. It is a more important weapon than a rifle, a tank, a bomber or a battleship.” “They  need a public who’s willing to send soldiers into harm’s way, they need soldiers willing to kill and be killed without question. They can spend millions on a single bomb, but that bomb only becomes a weapon when the ranks in the military are willing to follow orders to use it.”

“And the ruling class, the billionaires who profit from human suffering, who care only about expanding their wealth and controlling the world economy, understand that their power lies only in their ability to convince us that war, oppression, and exploitation are in our interest. They understand that their wealth is dependent on their ability to convince the working class to die to control the market of another country. And convincing us to kill and die is based on their ability to make us think that we are somehow superior.

“Poor and working people in this country are sent to kill poor and working people in another country, to make the rich richer. Without racism, soldiers would realize they have more in common with the Iraqi people than they do with the billionaires that send us to war. .. Our enemies are right here at home, and if we organize and fight with our sisters and brothers we can stop this war, we can stop this government, and we can create a better world. “

Mike Prysner is from IVAW, Iraq Veterans Against the War. This speech was from Winter Soldier in March 22, 2008. You can view his entire testimony here, which spells out the role of racism, and how, under a veneer of anti-racsm, the army and and civilian society are now pushing an onslaught of racism which is both homicidal and suicidal.

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The First World War: The origin of real Terrorism and the beginning of ongoing Oil War

Kanan48, November 13, 2009

The First World War: The origin of real Terrorism and the beginning of ongoing Oil War

By Yamin Zakaria

Art by Naji Al AliVia: Media Monitors Network.

The cessation of hostilities was declared on the 11th hour, the 11th day of the 11th month on the Western Front, between the Allies of World War I (WWI) and Germany. Today, the nation commemorates the 2.5 Million dead with a two-minute silence, a war that took approximately 20 Million lives in total.

Despite the enormous loss, and after almost one hundred years, there is little reflection on the causes of this war, hardly any discussion on this point, and the lessons to be learnt from it. They say historians to date cannot agree on the causes. The history books in schools and colleges point to the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire by the Serb nationalists as the trigger for WWI.

Nations did not mobilise their forces and wage costly wars due to the assassination of one man. The war was not one of good versus evil, tyranny versus freedom, but simply a struggle for material resources. It was a war over territory, colony, inflamed by nationalism and historical feuds. The war was simply a global clash of empires.

Once the war was triggered, the central powers (German Empire, Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire) on one side faced the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia). This conflict was marked by the introduction of air raids and poison gas, a prelude to the birth of state-terrorism. In the early 1920s, the British used chemical weapons on the Kurds in Iraq, under the direction of Winston Churchill long before Saddam Hussein. During the next global war, these methods involving air raids, chemical weapons and explosives were developed and deployed on a larger scale on the civilian population. This is the origin of real terrorism.

The Germans tried to instigate a pan-Indian uprising against the British Raj by conspiring with the Ghadar Party and some Indian nationalists. This plan was thwarted when British intelligence infiltrated the movement. India was the Crown Jewel for the British Empire; it gave her so much wealth and the ability to raise an army. Many Indians did serve in the British forces, in fact a third of the British forces in France were from India.

Fighting also broke out between the British and the German in the various colonies in Africa (Togoland, Cameroon, South West Africa and East Africa).

Just prior to the war, Germany was strengthening political and economic ties with the Ottoman Empire. They advised and supported the building of the Berlin to Baghdad railway, which was planned to link with the Hejaz railway that was being built at the same time. The railway would operate from Istanbul to Damascus, then to Medina and Mecca. Both railways would make most of the provinces easily accessible to the Ottoman Caliphate. Part of the reason why this was constructed was to keep the British forces out of these Arab provinces.

The Hejaz railway links were never completed, the Ottomans joined in the war in 1914, Sultan Mehmed V declared the last Jihad by a Caliph. It had very little impact on the Muslims. The Arabs sided with the British, a major act of treachery against the Caliphate. The Muslims from India continued to serve the British Forces.

In response to the Ottomans declaring war, the first major military act by the British forces was to land troops in Abadan, near the southern tip of Iran. This was to protect the flow of oil to west. Substantial investment into the Iranian oil fields was already made by Britain and France. Two years earlier the British Royal Navy switched from coal to oil, and it was the fuel for its planes and tanks. Naturally, they felt the need to secure Iraq as a way of defending those supplies and the British forces marched along the Tigris and settled in Kut-al-Amra. This marked the beginning of the oil war, from this point on the entire region was subjected to western interventions in the successive years until present day.

Internally, the Ottomans faced rebellion in many areas, propelled by Slavic nationalism, the Russians, the Greeks and the Serbs supported the various Orthodox Christian communities within the Ottoman State to rise in revolt. The Ottomans State fragmented by the end of the war, Palestine was acquired by Britain as war booty. So began the sufferings of the Palestinians, as their land was already promised to the Zionist Jews, according to the Belfour Declaration of 1917. Lord Balfour agreed to the Zionist demand as they promised to use their influence into bring the US into war on the side of the Allies. Which proved to be a turning point in the war, and the late entry by the US meant it minimised self-injury, whilst maximised the war booty.

The Arabs betrayed the Ottoman Caliphate and now it was their turn to be betrayed. The British betrayed them first by giving Palestine to the Zionist-Jews, and a secret treaty drawn up with France (Sykes-Picot) to carve up the Middle East amongst themselves, discarding the earlier promises of independence made to the Arabs in return for their support in rising against the Ottomans.

Armistice Day should remind us all of the mess created in the Middle East, all stems from treachery and the greed of Capitalist nations.

The Return of the Resistance in Iraq

Truthout, Sunday 31 May 2009

The Return of the Resistance

by: Dahr Jamail, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

At least 20 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq in May, the most since last September, along with more than 50 wounded. Iraqi casualties are, as usual – and in both categories – at least ten times that number.

Attacks against US forces are once again on the rise in places like Baghdad and Fallujah, where the Iraqi resistance was fiercest before so many of them joined the Sahwa (Sons of Iraq, also referred to as Awakening Councils), and began taking payments from the US military in exchange for halting attacks against the occupiers and agreeing to join the fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq. In early April I wrote a column for this website that illustrated how ongoing Iraqi government and US military attacks against the Sahwa, coupled with broken promises of the Sahwa being incorporated into the government security apparatus or given civilian jobs, would likely lead to an exodus from the Sahwa and a return to the resistance.

Slowly, but surely, we are seeing that occur. While US liaison Col. Jeffrey Kulmayer has called this idea, along with the ongoing controversy from the Iraqi government – led by US-pawn Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – not paying most of the Sahwa members, while continuing government arrests of and attacks on Sahwa members “overblown,” this does not change reality. Let us recall the telling words of the reporter Caud Cockburn, father of journalist Patrick Cockburn, “Never believe anything until it’s officially denied.”

Not surprisingly, in direct contradiction to Kulmayer’s comment, the Sahwa have warned the Iraqi government not to disregard its commitments to the fighters as far as providing them jobs and payment. On May 28, the independent Saudi-owned United Kingdom-based newspaper, al-Hayat, reported:

“A number of the leaders of the awakening councils called on the Iraqi government to honor its commitments towards the members of the awakening councils by paying their salaries which are three months late. They warned that their fighters might rebel against the government if their demands for their financial rights continue to be disregarded which might have an adverse effect on the security situation. Sheikh Masari al-Dulaymi, one of the leaders of the council in Falahat al-Taji to the north of Baghdad, announced that the committee supervising the national reconciliation process warned the leaders of the councils in and around Baghdad that their salaries would be paid and that a form of cooperation will be agreed upon with the tribes to preserve the security in Baghdad.”

The paper added that al-Dulaymi also pointed out that many council fighters abandoned their duties in protecting their areas because of the delays in receiving their salaries, and “we don’t want the crisis to grow any worse because the council members already distrust government promises.” Al-Hayat also reported that Sheikh Khaled Yassine al-Janabi, a leader of the council in al-Latifiyah in southern Baghdad, warned that the “government’s disregard for the issue of the councils and their demands will have an adverse effect on the security situation.”

Simultaneously, the Iraqi Resistance, whose ranks are growing with disenfranchised Sahwa along with other Iraqis joining for the usual reasons: their countrymen and women being detained, tortured, and raped by occupation forces and their Iraqi collaborators, the destroyed infrastructure and the suffering that accompanies this, among a myriad of other reasons (like the fact that one in four Iraqis lives in poverty), are, at least verbally, preparing to resume full operations.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that a commander in the Iraqi Resistance, who is also a member of the currently besieged Sahwa, said, “If we hear from the Americans they are not capable of supporting us … within six hours we are going to establish our groups to fight against the corrupt government. There will be a war in Baghdad.”

Having relied on the US military to fulfill their promises of assisting the Sahwa into the Iraqi political system, as well as for protection from ongoing attacks from the Maliki government security apparatus, their patience has just about run out.

A former military intelligence general, a resistance commander who heads a group called the Iraqi Liberation Army, and who is also a member of the Sahwa, told The Los Angeles Times in the same article, “If the Americans leave Baghdad in 24 hours, the street belongs to the resistance and the people. The people are boiling.”

Violence has been escalating since January. April was the deadliest month for Iraqis in over a year. Daily we are watching Sahwa members leave their security posts. Rather than safeguarding the areas where they worked as security, many of them, in protest of government attacks and lack of payment, are rejoining the resistance. Simultaneously, they have effectively ceased targeting al-Qaeda operations in Iraq, which was also what the US had created the Sahwa for in the first place. Thus, when al-Janabi warns that the “government’s disregard for the issue of the councils and their demands will have an adverse effect on the security situation,” the “adverse effect” is two-fold. And this does not account for the future ramifications of having 100,000 fighters, who were allied with the occupation forces, turn completely against them again. Today, as aforementioned, we are getting a small, very small, taste of what that might look like.

Rivers of blood continue to flow in occupied Iraq. On May 25 a suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a US patrol in Mosul, killing eight people and wounding another 26. The same day, in Hilla, 60 miles south of Baghdad, a gunman killed a Sahwa fighter who was manning a checkpoint.

On May 21, suicide bombers struck in two cities, killing three American soldiers and nearly two dozen Iraqis in a spasm of violence that took at least 66 lives in two days. That same day saw more attacks against the Sahwa, who in addition to being attacked by Iraqi government forces, are being attacked by al-Qaeda. Seven Sahwa members were killed in Kirkuk on May 21 as they waited in line at a military base to receive their salaries.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is prepared to leave fighting forces in Iraq for as long as a decade, despite an “agreement” between the US and Iraq that would bring all US troops home by 2012. General George Casey, the Army chief of staff, recently stated that the Pentagon must plan for extended US combat and stability operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, saying, “Global trends are pushing in the wrong direction,” he said, “They fundamentally will change how the Army works.” It is important to note that at the moment, the US maintains 139,000 troops in Iraq, which is still a greater number than that which existed prior to the so-called “troop surge” of George W. Bush.

Many of these troops, along with nationalistic US citizens who blindly supported, and/or continue to support the criminal occupation of Iraq, believe it is a mandate from God that justifies the “might makes right” strategy of US Empire. Let us recall one of the better-known authors from the United States, Mark Twain. Better known for Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, Twain was quite anti-war. I certainly was never instructed to read Twain’s “The War Prayer,” part of which sardonically reads:

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! With them – in spirit – we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”

This is the slaughter and suffering that is being caused by the US occupation of Iraq. This is the death and suffering that is causing the Iraqi Resistance to once again form, gain strength, and prepare to resume full operations.

US underreports Iraqi civilian deaths

(Montpillier Vt) Times-Argus, Feb 24, 2008

U.S. underreports Iraqi civilian deaths

Wallace Roberts

The U.S. Air Force dropped six times as many bombs in Iraq last year as it did in 2006, 1,447 compared to 229, according to an announcement in mid-January by Air Force Col. Gary Crowder, commander of the 609th Combined Air Operations Center in Southwest Asia, as reported in The Washington Post.

The report on the increase in bombing comes just after the World Health Organization released the findings of a study which put the number of civilians killed in Iraq between the invasion in 2003 and 2006 at about 151,000. That figure was almost instantly accepted by some supporters of the war who have been eager to discredit reports of much higher civilian deaths.

It’s a controversial field. When Gen. David H. Petraeus testified before Congress in September that the escalation of the war in Iraq was going well, he used a graph indicating that the number of civilians killed since the invasion in 2003 until August 2007 was about 37,500. Two days after this testimony, a British opinion polling company released the results of its own study which put the number of civilian deaths between 1 and 1.2 million, 32 times the Pentagon figure.

Although Petraeus’s appearance before Congress was covered extensively in the major U.S. media, there was almost no mention of the British study except for a short article on the inside pages of the Los Angeles Times. The survey, by Opinion Research Business, which has done several opinion surveys in Iraq since 2005, was ignored by the major daily newspapers and network news programs. In fact, despite their failure to carry stories about the ORB findings, the Washington Post and the New York Times nevertheless a few days later devoted considerable space to the issue of civilian deaths in Iraq, but cited only U.S. military and Iraqi government sources, both of which have a vested interest in minimizing the numbers.

The ORB poll asked 1,461 Iraqi families last August, “How many members of your household, if any, have died as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003?” The survey showed that 16.1 percent of the country’s 4 million households said one family member had died in this manner, resulting in 653,496 deaths. Some 4.7 percent of the families said two members had died for another 383,457 deaths. Less than 2.5 percent of the families reported three or more deaths. ORB said the poll had a margin of error rate of 2.4 percent.

ORB is a respected British firm which has done work for clients like the BBC and the Conservative Party and has done other polls in Iraq. Its latest Iraq study comes 11 months after the respected British medical journal The Lancet published the findings of a study done by researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health showing that more than 601,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed by war-related violence through August 2006. This study, which used a standard epidemiological survey technique called “cluster sampling” to ensure that the researchers interviewed a random sample of the nation’s population, received somewhat wider coverage, but overall the report has been minimized or discounted.

The Johns Hopkins study was commissioned by the MIT Center for International Studies, whose director John Tirman, has recently launched a new project “Iraq: The Human Cost,” which has a wide range of resources describing the impact of the war. ORB itself paid for its study because, as Johnny Heald, a managing director, said, the company wanted to “raise (our) profile.”

Prof. Leslie Roberts (no relation) of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, a co-author his school’s report, said recently, “The (ORB report) is 14 months later with deaths escalating over time. That alone accounts for most of the difference (between our poll and the ORB poll)…Overall they seem very much to align.”

Roberts said that there were two major differences between the WHO and Johns Hopkins surveys which may account for most of the difference in the number of deaths each survey found. The Johns Hopkins interviewers were mostly staff members of a Baghdad university and they obtained copies of death certificates for 92 percent of the deaths they reported, whereas the WHO survey used government employees (to whom the civilians would probably not be truthful about this issue), and they did not collect death certificates.

Both the Lancet and ORB reports conclude that most violent deaths were from gunshot wounds and took place outside of Baghdad, in contrast to the official reports which say that three-quarters of deaths in the first four years of the war were in Baghdad. A total of 31 percent of the deaths in the Johns Hopkins survey were attributed directly to Coalition forces.

After the initial coverage of The Lancet article, there was a sharp drop in references to its findings in the major U.S. media, and even now nearly all articles mentioning civilian deaths in Iraq are based on the numbers published by the Pentagon or Iraqi government. Our major newspapers and TV news programs report almost daily on the poll results in the presidential primary races and seem to give them full credence even with wider margins of error than those of the ORB and Johns Hopkins studies. This faith in the value of election polling is not likely to change after the mistakes pollsters made in the New Hampshire primary.

At first glance, the failure of the U.S. media to report and reference the Johns Hopkins and ORB studies appears inexplicable, especially in light of an Associated Press poll in February 2007 which found that the average American believes that only 9,900 Iraqis have been killed since the end of major combat operations in 2003. The failure is compounded by the fact that the ORB and Johns Hopkins studies used standard scientific polling and sampling techniques whereas the Pentagon does not even disclose how it arrives at its figures.

There are two major reasons for the failure of the Lancet and ORB studies to earn greater credibility. The institutional reason can be inferred from a comment by Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, who said recently that his paper chose not to use the term “escalation” instead of the Pentagon’s word “surge” to describe the troop increase in Iraq because use of the former word could be seen as a “political” decision criticizing the administration. (During the Vietnam War, the White House “escalated,” its word, the war several times by sending in more troops; each escalation gave peace advocates new grounds for protests and marches).

The cultural reason is that the high number of deaths appears so incredible that reporters and editors are in denial and refuse to give these studies credence or to pursue their veracity. In fact, this denial by Americans of their country’s responsibility for civilian deaths in wartime is woven into the warp of the country’s history from the beginning.

For instance, few of us know that the consensus estimate of the number of native Americans killed by Europeans by war, massacre, war-induced famine, and the deliberate spread of contagious diseases is 95 percent of the 8 to 12 million people who inhabited what is now the United States and Canada before the arrival of Columbus, a slaughter that continued right up to the beginning of the last century.

In World War II, the atomic bombs dropped by the U.S. Army Air Force on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed between 105,000 to 140,000 Japanese civilians outright or within four months. Another 900,000 Japanese were killed by U.S. firebombings of 63 other cities. In Germany, the United States and Britain killed 1.8 million civilians in firebombings of cities like Dresden which, like most of those in Japan, had little or no military value.

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, who was a member of the Army Air Force team that planned the bombings of Japan, said in “The Fog of War,” the recent documentary about his career, that if the United States had lost the war, he and the other bombing planners, as well as their chief, Gen. Curtis Lamay, would probably have been tried as war criminals. For his part, Lamay long maintained that the bombings were justified to save the lives of American soldiers who would have been killed in the invasion of Japan that would have been necessary if the bombings had not brought the country to its knees. In fact, many scholars now believe it was not the nuclear attacks that motivated Japan’s surrender but the Soviet Union’s invasion of Japanese-held Manchuria the day after the Hiroshima attack that convinced the country’s emperor to give up.

In Vietnam, the consensus estimate of the number of civilians killed from 1965 to 1975 is 2 million civilians and 1 million soldiers on both sides. To that number should be added the 2 million Cambodians (out of a population of 7 million) killed by the Khmer Rouge, which would not have come to power without the chaos created by the war in Vietnam and the Nixon-Kissinger bombing of Cambodia. Just in the last 66 years then, the armed forces of the United States have killed or been responsible for the deaths of 8 million civilians, not including any of those in Iraq.

To refuse to be aware of the consequences of America’s wars is not just denial, it’s delusional. By failing to report scientific evidence of a million civilian deaths in Iraq, the press is just giving Americans what they want to hear. We are able to fabricate this collective delusion because we accept on faith the idea that America is an exception among the nations of the world and that our good intentions are proof of virtue.

Vijay Prashad, director of the International Studies Program at Trinity College in Hartford, maintains, “The claim of innocence of the U.S. state is a blanket denial of history… There is an automatic faith in the goodness of the system (so that Americans can) feel assured in the end that the goodness and innocence of America will shine through.”

James Carroll, the writer and former priest, recently put it this way: “Missionizing in the name of freedom is a basic American impulse.” He said that this belief in the special mission of America is held by conservatives, moderates and liberals alike. “The liberal argument against government policies since World War II is that our wars — Vietnam then, Iraq now — represent an egregious failure to live up to America’s true calling. We’re better than this. Even antiwar critics… do it by appealing to an exceptional American missionizing impulse. You don’t get the sense, even from most liberals, that — no, America is a nation like other nations and we’re going to screw things up the way other nations do.”

The collective delusion also distorts our perspective on the Iraq war. There is much debate about the torture and illegal detention of terrorist suspects and about the loss here at home of our privacy rights and civil liberties, but as bad as these things are, they do not compare with 1 million civilian deaths. Where is that debate?

Prolonged innocence is dangerous for both children and nations. Children, fortunately, outgrow it naturally by learning from experience that they are exceptional only in their mothers’ eyes. The child’s naive idea of pride in winning wars ought rationally to give way under the burden of the knowledge of the price that was paid for victory. Who were the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who died so that my father and hundreds of thousands of other U.S. soldiers would not have to face the prospect of an early death in the invasion of Japan? Who are the 1 million citizens of Iraq who have died so that Americans can be assured of gasoline for $3 a gallon?

Wallace Roberts is a community organizer and an award-winning journalist who lives in Williamstown.

Pioneering Blackwater Protesters Given Secret Trial

AlterNet,.January 29, 2008.

Pioneering Blackwater Protesters Given Secret Trial and Criminal Conviction

By Jeremy Scahill,

Protesters who re-enacted one of Blackwater’s worst civilian massacres in Iraq got jail time, while the real killers remain free.

Last week in Currituck County, N.C., Superior Court Judge Russell Duke presided over the final step in securing the first criminal conviction stemming from the deadly actions of Blackwater Worldwide, the Bush administration’s favorite mercenary company. Lest you think you missed some earth-shifting, breaking news, hold on a moment. The “criminals” in question were not the armed thugs who gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians and wounded more than 20 others in Baghdad’s Nisour Square last September. They were seven nonviolent activists who had the audacity to stage a demonstration at the gates of Blackwater’s 7,000-acre private military base in North Carolina to protest the actions of mercenaries acting with impunity — and apparent immunity — in their names and those of every American.

The arrest of the activists and the subsequent five days they spent locked up in jail is more punishment than any Blackwater mercenaries have received for their deadly actions against Iraqi civilians. “The courts pretend that adherence to the law is what makes for an orderly and peaceable world,” said Steve Baggarly, one of the protest organizers. “In fact, U.S. law and courts stand idly by while the U.S. military and private armies like Blackwater have killed, maimed, brutalized and destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.”

A month after the Nisour Square massacre, on Oct. 20, a group of about 50 activists gathered outside Blackwater’s gates in Moyock, N.C. There, they reenacted the Nisour Square shooting and staged a “die-in,” involving a vehicle painted with bullet marks and blood. The activists stained their clothing with fake blood and dramatized the deadly shooting spree. Some of the demonstrators marked Blackwater’s large welcome sign — with the company’s bear claw in a sniper scope logo — with red hand prints. The demonstrators believed these “would be a much more appropriate logo for Blackwater,” according to Baggarly. “We’re all responsible for what is happening in Iraq. We all have bloody hands.” It took only moments for the local police to respond to the protest, the first ever at Blackwater’s headquarters. In the end, seven were arrested.

The symbolism was stark: Re-enact a Blackwater massacre, go to jail. Commit a massacre, walk around freely and perhaps never go to jail. All seven were charged with criminal trespassing, six of them with an additional charge of resisting arrest and one with another charge of injury to real property. “We feel like Blackwater is trespassing in Iraq,” Baggarly later said. “And as for injuring property, they injure men, women and children every day.” The activists were jailed for five days and eventually released pending trial.

When their day in court arrived, on Dec. 5, the activists intended to put Blackwater on trial, something the Justice Department, the military and the courts have systematically failed to do. Their action at Blackwater, the activists said, was in response to war crimes, the killing of civilians and the fact that no legal system — civilian or military — was holding Blackwater responsible. The Nisour Square massacre, they said, “is the Iraq war in microcosm.”

But District Court Judge Edgar Barnes would have none of it. So outraged was he at Baggarly, the first of the defendants to appear before him that day, that the judge cleared the court following his conviction. No spectators, no family members, no journalists, no defense witnesses remained. The other six activists were tried in total secrecy — well, secret to everyone except the prosecutors, sheriffs, government witnesses and one Blackwater official. Judge Barnes swiftly tried the remaining six activists behind closed doors and convicted them all. It was as though Currituck, N.C., became Gitmo for a day.

It’s not unusual for a judge to clear a courtroom when there is a disruption by the public. Nor is it rare for judges to try to prevent activists from turning the tables and attempting to put the government — or in this case a mercenary company — on trial. But witnesses that day report that there was no disruption — and the defendants say they were immediately cut off when they strayed from the narrow scope of the trespass charge to discuss Blackwater’s actions or the war. So why clear the courtroom? That may be a question for Judge Barnes in the end, but it’s hard not to view his conduct through the same veil of secrecy that shrouds all of Blackwater’s actions — and the seemingly endless lengths to which the Bush administration will go to protect Blackwater.

That was certainly how the activists saw it. “He didn’t want people influenced by our message,” Baggarly said. “There have been hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq. If we’re going to speak about that, nobody is allowed to hear it.”

The North Carolina chapter of the ACLU quickly stepped in, saying it knew of no similar action in any previous criminal trials in the state. “It’s a clear violation of constitutional rights, not only of the defendants but the press and public,” said Katy Parker, the group’s legal director. “They have a right to a public trial, so any trial that goes on behind closed doors is a farce.” She added, “We are very concerned about this reported disrespect for the laws of our land by a member of the judiciary, especially in a controversial and politically laden case such as this.” The ACLU filed a complaint against Barnes with the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission, asking it to investigate him.

The activists appealed their convictions and were back in court last week, on Jan. 24, in front of Superior Court Judge Russell Duke. Unlike Judge Barnes, Duke allowed the defendants some freedom of speech and graciously decided to let the public witness the daylong trial. In his statement before the court, Baggarly recalled the story of one of the Nisour Square victims he and his fellow activists attempted to dramatize in their protest: “Mohammed Hafiz was driving four children when Blackwater mercenaries riddled the car with bullets. His ten-year-old son Ali was shot in the head. Mohammed had to gather up pieces of the child’s skull and brains for the burial. During one point in the massacre, Blackwater operatives concentrated fire on a passenger bus. A small boy fled the bus in terror and was shot down as was his mother who ran after him.”

The defendants said that they believed no court would hold Blackwater responsible for these killings and that, by committing civil disobedience on the company’s private military base that day, they were guided by higher principles, citing the U.S. Constitution and the Bible. “U.S. law has immunized Blackwater, both in Iraq and at home, allowing it unrestricted license to kill and a five-year reign of terror,” said Baggarly. The activists invoked the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and the conveners of the Boston Tea Party. “‘Made in the U.S.A.’ is written all over those bullets that are flying all over Baghdad,” one of the activists, Bill Streit, told the judge. “We’re sick at heart about that.”

Rather than ignore or dismiss their motivations, Judge Duke engaged the defendants in a theological discussion, challenging their Biblical interpretation and, at one point, admonishing the activists, many of whom are members of the Catholic Worker movement. “I’ve always thought that if you’re going to be a follower of Jesus or someone who appreciates the Constitution, you can’t select the portions that you like and disregard the rest,” he said. The fact that the hearing was held at the same moment that the country was remembering the legacy of MLK, who called on his supporters to break unjust laws that violated the rights of others, seemed to be lost on Judge Duke. Perhaps he should have read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which he wrote to other clergy accusing him of political extremism:

“[T]here are two types of laws: just and unjust … One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’ … We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ … Any law that degrades human personality is unjust … I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

It was in this tradition that those seven Americans found themselves engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at Blackwater’s gates last October and the very reason they were before Judge Duke last week.

Whether this mattered to him or not, Judge Duke’s words were interesting, given the religious fanaticism and avowed patriotism of Blackwater’s owner, Erik Prince. Like the “Blackwater 7,” Prince considers himself a dedicated Christian and professes his love of country. How would Prince answer the judge if faced with a trial for the actions of his Blackwater killers in Iraq? How would he reconcile the killing of innocents by his men with the teachings of Jesus? What would his moral defense sound like?

The sad reality in this country right now — as it was in Dr. King’s day — is that those who really belong before judges are not. Prosecutions are sought and secured for activists standing against killing and injustice and not for those meting it out. In the end, Judge Duke sentenced the activists to time served. It was the lightest sentence he could have issued — but a far greater one than any Blackwater mercenary has faced for killing an Iraqi.

For its part, Blackwater issued a statement that would be funny if it wasn’t so lethally ironic. “Many of the extraordinary professionals currently working for Blackwater are veterans who served their country in support of — among other things — the right to free speech and to peacefully protest in accordance with the law,” said Blackwater spokesperson Anne Tyrrell. “We respect every person’s right to speak out in support of his or her beliefs, but if laws are violated, it is the court system’s responsibility to hold them accountable.”

Tyrrell is right about one thing: The courts should hold the violators of laws accountable. But is that Blackwater’s true position on its own conduct? Is that the Bush administration’s position? No. Time and again, Blackwater and the White House have fought against having meaningful sanctions applied to mercenary forces. In fact, while the trial of the “Blackwater 7” was under way, last week the Bush administration was fighting once again to ensure continued immunity for Blackwater and other mercenary firms in Iraq. If we really were a nation of laws, there would be a lot of Blackwater mercenaries behind bars right now facing stiffer penalties than five days in jail. And these men would hardly be prisoners of conscience like the activists who protested Blackwater’s lethal actions in Iraq.

In the end, before Judge Duke sent the activists home, he told them, “We’re not here about what’s happening in Iraq.” Tragically for the U.S. Constitution and deadly for Iraqi civilians, when it comes to Blackwater and other merchants of death, this has been true of the American justice system for five years too long.

Jeremy Scahill, an independent journalist who reports frequently for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!, has spent extensive time reporting from Iraq and Yugoslavia. He is currently a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. Scahill is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.


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