invasion of Iraq began on March 208, 2003...
Five years after Iraqi invasion
Articles on Iraq
for the Lives Lost in Iraq
DAVID GESPASS *
have been given the daunting task of eulogizing the victims of the
occupation of Iraq and discussing how to put a stop to it in the space
of 25 minutes, give or take. It is daunting because, on the one
hand, it is impossible to honor every individual victim, even the dead
from Alabama, about whom I will not talk very much, in so short a time.
On the other hand, it is rather too long to talk about them
collectively. Similarly, there is a simple, short answer to the
problem of ending the suffering, but hardly the time for a detailed
discussion of how to do so.
with the caveat that this will be incomplete and that you will have to
fill in a lot of blanks, I'll give it my best shot.
Birmingham News published an article about a local police officer who
just returned safely from his third tour of duty in Iraq. And we have
heard countless pieces on NPR and elsewhere about American men and women
who have died there. Those stories have far more impact than raw
statistics because they put a human face on the loss and the numbers are
too staggering to wrap our minds around. But each of those stories tells
of the dashed hopes, dreams and plans of a young man or woman whose life
was snuffed out. We get to meet their families, hear the anguish in
their voices about the loss; hear how their children will never know
their parent. We learn of their interests, the people they loved
and who loved them.
were going to go back to school after their service was over.
Others were going to make the military their career. They planned
to start families or raise them. Some planned to marry their high
school sweethearts. Others were married already. Some loved
sports. Most are described as fun-loving, always joking and with
radiant smiles. Every individual story has an emotional impact far
greater than any statistics. And there are, as of yesterday, 3,839
I don't want to focus on those stories. Rather, I want to talk
about the ones we don't hear, that the media in this country never
reports. For every American GI killed during the occupation of
Iraq, there have been 285 dead Iraqis. As of yesterday, the Iraqi
death toll was estimated to be 1,096,367 and every one of those
individuals had a story that didn't air on NPR. Every one had a
family. Every one had friends who loved them. Every one had
hopes, dreams and plans, though probably far more modest than those of
Americans, after ten years of sanctions and years more of occupation.
there are no stories about them. The Birmingham News has not told of
Loay's brother, a doctor, a healer, a man with a family, a man who
sought to help all those he met.
is difficult to measure the human cost of the occupation of Iraq and
more difficult still to comprehend it. My suggestion is this.
The next time you hear one of those stories, listen to it and think
about how it makes you feel! Does it tug at your heart? Does
it make you feel, even slightly, as if you have suffered a personal
loss? That, of course, is why those stories are told, so you have
a personal connection to the victim, so you at least empathize with the
pain of those he or she left behind.
don't stop by thinking about how it made you feel. Consider how
you would feel if you heard a similar story, every hour, 24 hours a day,
seven days a week for the next three months. How would you feel if
on the hour, while you were asleep, you were awakened to hear a story;
if when the clock struck the hour while you were at work, you had to
listen to another; if before every meal, you heard another; if before
you could watch a television show, you had to listen to another; if you
heard two stories during the course of a concert you attended, or a
movie you went to?
three months, you would have heard the stories of the Iraqis so far
killed as a result of the occupation. But you wouldn't be able to
stop listening then, because over those three months, more will die, not
just young men and women in uniform, but children whose lives are just
after hearing those stories for three months, every hour of every day,
you still would not have heard the stories of the half million who were
killed before the invasion, half of whom were children, when all that
was imposed on Iraq were so-called "sanctions" that kept food
and medicine from the most vulnerable of the country's population.
Those stories would keep you awake for another month and a half.
after hearing of all the deaths, you still would not have heard the
stories of the maimed, the disabled, those who have lost limbs, lost
their eyesight, suffered burns over their bodies, whose bodies were
ravaged and who will never know another day without pain, who will never
be able to earn a living, enjoy the pleasures of love, have children or
do the myriad other things that make life worth living. Those
stories would probably take another year to tell, 24 hours a day, seven
days a week. And at the end of that year, who knows how many more
such stories there will be so long as the occupation continues?
the number of dead and wounded is not the only cost of the occupation.
We are diminished in so many other ways. We have all heard stories
of GI's returning with post-traumatic stress disorder, unable to adjust
to normal life, unable to return to work or to get along with their
families. We are still feeling the effects of those who returned
from Vietnam who have spent their lives on the edges, often homeless,
never adjusted. We face the same thing with the Gl's who served in Iraq.
will return to the reasons for this in a bit, but again, I want to focus
on the Iraqi victims. If GI's, who return to a country where there
is care available, albeit not what it should be or what they deserve –
where they no longer face daily trauma, where they can live in relative
safety – suffer psychiatric disabilities, how much greater then is the
suffering of the Iraqis who, on a daily basis experience what was
experienced by the students at Virginia Tech University when 33 people
were "massacred." That event generated headlines for
weeks, brought media from across the country to Blacksburg and teams of
mental health workers to help the students deal with the experience.
In Iraq, something like that warrants a single paragraph on the inside
of the front section of the paper. And the mental health workers,
if there are any, are subject to the same trauma. Nowhere does the
admonition, "physician, heal thyself," have more immediate
impact and less chance of success. So, to your 24/7 exercise in
empathy with the Iraqi people, add a daily story of a rampage similar to
what happened at Virginia Tech, complete with interviews, witness
accounts, discussions with mental health professionals about the impact
and with authorities about what they will do to prevent a recurrence.
But add also, the helplessness of those authorities because they have no
control over their environment – unlike the administration at Virginia
Tech, which could institute changes in policy, including things like
warning systems, classes to teach students how to protect themselves and
greater security. But what can local – or even national –
authorities in Iraq do? The situation is well beyond their control and
has been for more than 25 years, since the first Gulf War and the
sanctions that followed. And, since the invasion in 2003, what
control they may have had over their own environment is now completely
me turn now to the United States. By focusing on the impact the
occupation has had on Iraqis, I did not want to minimize or trivialize
the suffering and sacrifices members of the US military experienced.
I only wanted to put it into perspective, a perspective never reported
on by American media.
that experience is oddly limited. It is not experienced by the
president, vice president and high level cabinet officers and members of
Congress who are responsible for the invasion and, with only a couple of
exceptions, have no family or friends at risk in Iraq or Afghanistan.
It is not experienced by the pundits who have been cheerleaders for U.S.
aggression. Indeed, it is not experienced by most people in this
country who do not have a close friend or relative in Iraq.
we have all been diminished in other ways. We have been numbed to the
horrors perpetrated in our name. Too much of the criticism of the
war has to do with the claim it was "bungled" by the Bush
administration, that its planning wasn't adequate.
even now, after thousands of American dead, hundreds of thousands of
Iraqi dead, tens of thousands of American casualties and uncounted Iraqi
casualties, the talk is of mistake, not horror, mishandling, not
dishonor and of ending the war without withdrawing troops.
I have been asked not to make this talk political and those of you who
know me know that is difficult for me generally. It is doubly
difficult because it is so hard to know, in Iraq, where politics ends
and law and humanity begin. But I am a lawyer and I will focus
here on the law, not on politics. Again, it is hard to discuss the
details of the legal questions I am raising in a few minutes, but I
promise there are statutes and treaties — and the United States
Constitution — that underlie everything I say.
remember once hearing a friend of mine who assists lawyers in selecting
juries talk about preparing for capital cases with mock juries and how
she watched ordinary people, during deliberations, become killers,
talking about whether or not to take a human life in cold and clinical
terms. The problem with capital punishment, from that perspective,
is not that it is ineffective as a deterrent, not that there should be
some religious or moral scruple against it, not that it costs too much.
Rather, the problem is what it does to the rest of us in the name of
for Americans, in many ways the most destructive thing about the
occupation of Iraq is not the horrors visited on the Iraqi people or
upon our soldiers and sailors. It is what it does to us as a
people. We now hear people talking about torture in the most clinical
terms. How is it defined? Is waterboarding torture?
What is the difference between torture and vigorous interrogation?
is illegal. We have signed a convention explicitly making it so,
as well as the Geneva conventions banning it. But it is not just
torture that is illegal, but any cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Whether waterboarding is torture or "merely" cruel, inhuman or
degrading is never part of the discussion. And, despite the fact
that similar techniques have been viewed as torture since the Spanish
Inquisition, our about-to-be-confirmed attorney general cannot say
whether it is or is not torture.
we have serious intellectual discussions and are debating whether
torture can ever be employed and serious intellectuals like Alan
Dershowitz suggesting it can. Not many years ago, such discussions
would have been unthinkable, but this is the consequence of a crusade.
Human experience, from chattel slavery to Nazi Germany to Iraq, has
always taught that the degree to which we can dehumanize the enemy is
the degree to which we can justify whatever we do, however inhuman.
And human experience also teaches us that, sooner or later, one way or
another, there is blowback when we behave thusly.
are also diminished when we willingly sacrifice our liberties for some
supposed protections. It is, indeed, a betrayal of those who
fought and died for our freedoms, to give them up on the say-so of
elected officials. Can and should the legacy of our dead and
wounded in Iraq be that we abandon, rather than expand, the Bill of
Rights? For the U.S. and its citizens, the lasting consequences of
the invasion of Iraq threatens to be an imperial presidency, not limited
to the current administration, in which national security and the
unitary executive trumps the rule of law and individual rights.
What, then, must the U.S. do to end this destruction?
The invasion and occupation of Iraq was illegal. That is not a political
statement; it is a statement of fact. It was not approved by the
Security Council and the U.S. was not under attack from Iraq or under
imminent threat of attack. Those are the only times, under the UN
Charter, that military force is permitted. And, by virtue of
Article VI of the Constitution, a violation of the UN Charter is a
violation of a treaty which is the Supreme Law of the Land. That
is, the invasion was not just illegal under international standards, but
violated US law as well.
what are the obligations of criminals engaged in a continuing criminal
enterprise or conspiracy? Other than suffering punishment for what
they have done in the past, they have two principal obligations.
The first is to remove themselves from the enterprise. The second
is to make restitution to their victims.
then, is how to end the nightmare of Iraq.
the United States must withdraw its troops and dismantle its bases.
Second, it must provide reparations for the devastation it has caused.
That doesn't mean just giving money, though it needs to do that.
It means making sure that the money is used to rebuild Iraq's
infrastructure so that the country has electricity, so that hospitals
can operate, so that children can go to school. It will not be
easy to figure out how that will be done, but it must be done.
Those two steps, withdrawal of US troops and an investment in making
reparations will not guarantee an end to all the violence in Iraq, but
they are the two essential preconditions to ending the violence, death
and destruction. Until those things happen, we will continue to
mourn, continue to grieve, too many for American losses only but for
most of the world, the grief at the Iraqi losses will continue to
predominate and the US will continue to be diminished.
above is the text of the speech delivered by David Gespass, in
at Birmingham Alabama. He was invited to address the opening if an
exhibit, " Eyes
Wide Open". The exhibit commemorated the lives lost in Iraq war. It
had pairs of boots for every Alabamian GI killed in Iraq and a
representative cluster of shoes for the Iraqi dead.
touches heart, opens eyes, appeals to the conscience and challenges the
mind," writes Mirza A Beg, one our regular columnists, who decided
to share it with our readers. - Editor
Articles on Iraq
debacle for US imperialism
years after Washington inaugurated its “shock and awe” campaign,
striking Baghdad with cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs, it has
become abundantly clear that the war of aggression against Iraq has
produced the greatest geo-political disaster in American history.
To Terms With The Iraq War
By Emily Spence & Robert
is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war
than we know about peace, more about killing that we know about
living." All considered, it is high time to learn again about the
ways to live
Iraq: A Tortured Story
By Captain Eric H. May
anonymous man wearing a US Special Forces T-shirt is a war criminal, if
his three-minute YouTube interview is to be believed. In it, he claims
to have taken part in routine torture of Iraqis — Hajji’s in soldier
slang — in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, and to have been part of a
scheme with other guards to prostitute a 15-year-old Iraqi girl who
later hung herself
Lights Have Gone Out, Who Cares
By Ahmed Ali & Dahr Jamail
of electricity in Baquba has shattered businesses, and the lives of
families. Months of power failures has darkened morale everywhere
New Force Called Sahwa Shows Its Muscle
By Ahmed Ali & Dahr Jamail
Awakening Councils in Diyala province are stepping up their protests
against the government in Baghdad. The Awakening Councils, or the Sahwa
as they are called, are a mostly Sunni Muslim force set up by the U.S.
to draw in resistance fighters into their ranks, and then to help U.S.
forces fight other anti-U.S. groups