Dahr Jamail: Eyewitness to U.S. War Crimes in Iraq
Revolution #035, February 19, 2006, posted at revcom.us
The Revolution Interview is a special feature to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music, literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own, and they are not responsible for the views expressed elsewhere in Revolution and on our website.
During the January session of the International Commission, Revolution conducted an interview with Dahr Jamail, who provided gripping testimony for the Commission on the charge of war crimes of the Bush Regime. Dahr Jamail is a highly respected independent journalist who went to Iraq in July 2003 and spent a total of eight months there. He was an eyewitness in Fallujah during an April 2004 siege of that city by the U.S. military. During the November 2004 siege by the U.S. he was unable to get into Fallujah but interviewed doctors and refugees who came out of the city describing the horror they saw. He writes for the Inter Press Service, Asia Times, The Nation, Islam Online, the Guardian, and the Independent, among others.
Revolution: What do you think are some of the most important things for our readers to understand about the situation of the Iraqi people today?
Dahr Jamail: What I talked about [in the testimony for the Commission] was, in sum, the total destruction of a sovereign country by the U.S. military under orders from their commander-in-chief, George Bush. It was a country that back in the late '70s, early '80s, had the best medical system in the Middle East. They had more PhDs per capita than any other country on the planet. They had a very solid infrastructure. In regards to women's rights in the Middle East, it was one of the more progressive places for a woman to be—not to say it was the bastion of women's rights, but comparatively in the Middle East, aside from probably Lebanon, it was the best place, as far as education and women's rights and respect, for a woman to be.
Flash forward to the invasion and occupation of Iraq and now, coming up on three years of occupation. The infrastructure is in total shambles. Women now, if they even leave their homes, better go out with an abaya – a face cover — and certainly a hijab. Unemployment's over 50 percent, the medical system's in total shambles. Ambulances and medical workers and hospitals themselves are being targeted by the U.S. military. It's their standard operating procedure now, in combat zones, to target the medical infrastructure. Collective punishment is now standard operating procedure. In Haditha, Fallujah, Al Qaim, Ramadi, Samarra, Saniya, just to name a few off the top of my head, the standard policy is: if the U.S. is getting attacked a lot in the area, cut the water and electricity to the city, prohibit medical supplies from going in or out of the city, and use snipers quite often to deliberately target anything that moves in the city at certain times, impose curfews – this is the standard procedure now. Now it's common. It first started in Fallujah where people started describing their city as a concentration camp or a "big jail" after the U.S. siege and the "security measures" then imposed on the city by the U.S. military. Well, that now is what we are hearing from people in Saniya, from people in Ramadi, from people in Samarra and Al Qaim and Haditha, in other areas around and even some areas of the capital city.
Iraq's destroyed. The occupation, there's no end in sight—there's permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. There is not going to be a total withdrawal ever, if this administration gets its way. They want to certainly reduce the number of troops in Iraq, but there is no plan for withdrawal, there's permanent bases. When I say permanent I mean swimming pools, movie theaters, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, AT&T phone home centers, concrete barracks – I mean permanent. They call them enduring bases.
Revolution: You compared what the U.S. occupation forces did in Fallujah with what happened in Spain during the Spanish Civil War in the case of the bombing of the city of Guernica.
Dahr Jamail: Exactly. I co-authored a piece for the Guardian with Jonathan Steele, and we called it "This Is Our Guernica," because really Fallujah—the same thing happened essentially: the whole city was collectively punished, it was bombed to the ground. Seventy percent of it was absolutely destroyed, but it's been a dismal failure, in that now attacks continue almost daily in Fallujah against Iraqi security forces and U.S. soldiers. People there absolutely hate the United States. Now they hate the military, they can't tolerate them in their city. Attacks will continue without a doubt, and they are. But it can't be understated, the harshness, the brutality, of the methods being used in Fallujah, and Fallujah is just a model. So when we talk about Fallujah, that's just the starting point. Again, the aforementioned cities are included in this now—not to the severity of Fallujah, but very similar tactics. Now in Fallujah, residents have to get retina scans and fingerprints and a bar code to go in and out of the city; curfews are in place; there's no reconstruction. And this policy for one degree or another is being imposed in other cities as well.
Revolution: How do you see the potential impact of this tribunal? What do you think it can contribute to what people need to understand in order to be more galvanized and compelled to act against many of these crimes against humanity and war crimes?
Dahr Jamail: I think it's a very important contribution that this tribunal will make, to bringing the issue of war crimes and that people like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice – all these people are war criminals—to put this into people's consciousness, to talk about reinvigorating the public debate, to talk about not just impeachment, but that these people need to be brought to justice. They need to be put on trial. And to reinvigorate the public debate with this language. And with the findings of this tribunal, I would love to see indictments filed as a result of this. But I think that more realistically for the general public this is a valuable contribution to put this language back into the debate: of war criminals, impeachment, trials, the Nuremberg Charter, the Geneva Convention, violations of international law. Along with what's happening here with people in the U.S, like we were just hearing with the CCR [Center for Constitutional Rights] folks, that people need to be keenly aware of this. Because we are living in a police state, and these people have essentially usurped the courts, they have thrown out parts of the Constitution that would block their furthering of their own agenda. And it's critical now, I mean we are at that point where this is sort of a last stand the people of this country might have in the next couple of years to try to pull things back under control. Otherwise, I feel like we're in Germany in the mid-'30s.