An activist, clown, trainee lawyer and writer from England. I was in Iraq several times, most recently Nov 03 to May 04, still writing about Iraq and passing on my friends' stories from there.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

This is a reply from Naomi Klein to the US acting ambassador who wrote to the UK Guardian newspaper in response to one of Naomi's columns, in which she accused the US of eliminating witnesses in Falluja. I'm forwarding it because it's important and also accords with what we saw in Falluja in April. Two unembedded French journalists we met - the only unembedded foreign journalists who were there - were taken prisoner by the US troops and held, blindfolded and filmed with their own camera equipment to prevent them continuing to record what was happening in Falluja.

You asked for my evidence, Mr Ambassador. Here it is...
In Iraq, the US does eliminate those who dare to count the dead

by Naomi Klein
Saturday December 4, 2004
http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,5078311-103390,00.htmlThe Guardian

David T Johnson,
Acting ambassador,
US Embassy, London

Dear Mr Johnson,
On November 26, your press counsellor sent a letter to the Guardian taking
strong exception to a sentence in my column of the same day. The sentence
read: "In Iraq, US forces and their Iraqi surrogates are no longer bothering
to conceal attacks on civilian targets and are openly eliminating anyone -
doctors, clerics, journalists - who dares to count the bodies." Of
particular concern was the word "eliminating".

The letter suggested that my charge was "baseless" and asked the Guardian
either to withdraw it, or provide "evidence of this extremely grave
accusation". It is quite rare for US embassy officials to openly involve
themselves in the free press of a foreign country, so I took the letter
extremely seriously. But while I agree that the accusation is grave, I have
no intention of withdrawing it. Here, instead, is the evidence you

In April, US forces laid siege to Falluja in retaliation for the gruesome
killings of four Blackwater employees. The operation was a failure, with US
troops eventually handing the city back to resistance forces. The reason for
the withdrawal was that the siege had sparked uprisings across the country,
triggered by reports that hundreds of civilians had been killed. This
information came from three main sources: 1) Doctors. USA Today reported on
April 11 that "Statistics and names of the dead were gathered from four main
clinics around the city and from Falluja general hospital". 2) Arab TV
journalists. While doctors reported the numbers of dead, it was al-Jazeera
and al-Arabiya that put a human face on those statistics. With unembedded
camera crews in Falluja, both networks beamed footage of mutilated women and
children throughout Iraq and the Arab-speaking world. 3) Clerics. The
reports of high civilian casualties coming from journalists and doctors were
seized upon by prominent clerics in Iraq. Many delivered fiery sermons
condemning the attack, turning their congregants against US forces and
igniting the uprising that forced US troops to withdraw.

US authorities have denied that hundreds of civilians were killed during
last April's siege, and have lashed out at the sources of these reports. For
instance, an unnamed "senior American officer", speaking to the New York
Times last month, labelled Falluja general hospital "a centre of
propaganda". But the strongest words were reserved for Arab TV networks.
When asked about al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya's reports that hundreds of
civilians had been killed in Falluja, Donald Rumsfeld, the US secretary of
defence, replied that "what al-Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and
inexcusable ... " Last month, US troops once again laid siege to Falluja -
but this time the attack included a new tactic: eliminating the doctors,
journalists and clerics who focused public attention on civilian casualties
last time around.

Eliminating doctors
The first major operation by US marines and Iraqi soldiers was to storm
Falluja general hospital, arresting doctors and placing the facility under
military control. The New York Times reported that "the hospital was
selected as an early target because the American military believed that it
was the source of rumours about heavy casual ties", noting that "this time
around, the American military intends to fight its own information war,
countering or squelching what has been one of the insurgents' most potent
weapons". The Los Angeles Times quoted a doctor as saying that the soldiers
"stole the mobile phones" at the hospital - preventing doctors from
communicating with the outside world.

But this was not the worst of the attacks on health workers. Two days
earlier, a crucial emergency health clinic was bombed to rubble, as well as
a medical supplies dispensary next door. Dr Sami al-Jumaili, who was working
in the clinic, says the bombs took the lives of 15 medics, four nurses and
35 patients. The Los Angeles Times reported that the manager of Falluja
general hospital "had told a US general the location of the downtown
makeshift medical centre" before it was hit.

Whether the clinic was targeted or destroyed accidentally, the effect was
the same: to eliminate many of Falluja's doctors from the war zone. As Dr
Jumaili told the Independent on November 14: "There is not a single surgeon
in Falluja." When fighting moved to Mosul, a similar tactic was used: on
entering the city, US and Iraqi forces immediately seized control of the
al-Zaharawi hospital.

Eliminating journalists
The images from last month's siege on Falluja came almost exclusively from
reporters embedded with US troops. This is because Arab journalists who
had covered April's siege from the civilian perspective had effectively been
eliminated. Al-Jazeera had no cameras on the ground because it has been
banned from reporting in Iraq indefinitely. Al-Arabiya did have an
unembedded reporter, Abdel Kader Al-Saadi, in Falluja, but on November 11 US
forces arrested him and held him for the length of the siege. Al-Saadi's
detention has been condemned by Reporters Without Borders and the
International Federation of Journalists. "We cannot ignore the possibility
that he is being intimidated for just trying to do his job," the IFJ stated.

It's not the first time journalists in Iraq have faced this kind of
intimidation. When US forces invaded Baghdad in April 2003, US Central
Command urged all unembedded journalists to leave the city. Some insisted on
staying and at least three paid with their lives. On April 8, a US aircraft
bombed al-Jazeera's Baghdad offices, killing reporter Tareq Ayyoub.
Al-Jazeera has documentation proving it gave the coordinates of its location
to US forces.

On the same day, a US tank fired on the Palestine hotel, killing José Couso,
of the Spanish network Telecinco, and Taras Protsiuk, of Reuters. Three US
soldiers are facing a criminal lawsuit from Couso's family, which alleges
that US forces were well aware that journalists were in the Palestine hotel
and that they committed a war crime.

Eliminating clerics
Just as doctors and journalists have been targeted, so too have many of the
clerics who have spoken out forcefully against the killings in Falluja. On
November 11, Sheik Mahdi al-Sumaidaei, the head of the Supreme Association
for Guidance and Daawa, was arrested. According to Associated Press,
"Al-Sumaidaei has called on the country's Sunni minority to launch a civil
disobedience campaign if the Iraqi government does not halt the attack on
Falluja". On November 19, AP reported that US and Iraqi forces stormed a
prominent Sunni mosque, the Abu Hanifa, in Aadhamiya, killing three people
and arresting 40, including the chief cleric - another opponent of the
Falluja siege. On the same day, Fox News reported that "US troops also
raided a Sunni mosque in Qaim, near the Syrian border". The report described
the arrests as "retaliation for opposing the Falluja offensive". Two Shia
clerics associated with Moqtada al-Sadr have also been arrested in recent
weeks; according to AP, "both had spoken out against the Falluja attack".

"We don't do body counts," said General Tommy Franks of US Central Command.
The question is: what happens to the people who insist on counting the
bodies - the doctors who must pronounce their patients dead, the journalists
who document these losses, the clerics who denounce them? In Iraq, evidence
is mounting that these voices are being systematically silenced through a
variety of means, from mass arrests, to raids on hospitals, media bans, and
overt and unexplained physical attacks.

Mr Ambassador, I believe that your government and its Iraqi surrogates are
waging two wars in Iraq. One war is against the Iraqi people, and it has
claimed an estimated 100,000 lives. The other is a war on witnesses.

·Additional research by Aaron Maté


Please also sign Naomi and Avi's petition in support of the Zanon factory workers in Patagonia - they took over their factory when Argentina went bankrupt, refused to stop working and became a workers' co-operative, believing that the machinery belongs to the people because of the massive subsidies paid to the factory owner out of taxpayers' money. Now the federal forces are threatening to illegally evict the workers and sieze the machinery.

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