It’s a wonder that we still know how to breathe

A friend invited me to attend a presentation at the University of Washington last night (February 20) by an “unembedded American journaist in Iraq,” Dahr Jamail, who talked, showed photos and videos, and made his case that the on-going “seige” of Falluja is a war crime comparable to the bombing of Dresden. Some of this is probably not news to you, but I’ll summarize his perspective, and you can visit his website if you want more of his reporting.

Jamail reports that Falluja was never a Baathist stronghold, and that when Saddam fell, there were no objections there. When American troups entered the city in small numbers, there was no resistance to them, until cases of their abuse, wrecklessness, and misdeeds surfaced. That’s when 4 American “civilians” (who wore military dog tags… mercenaries? intelligence consultants?) were killed there, with international press coverage that played up parallels to similar incidents in Somalia.

The military response was “collective punishment” — to show Iraq that they were there to stay and that no community (Baathist or not) would be permitted to interfere.

Jamail’s photos certainly support an impression of vast devastation. More than 80% of the city appears to have been destroyed. This city housed more than 300,000 before the “seige” so it follows that this “action” has created almost that many refugees along with uncountable casualities.

Someone in the audience asked about the suicide bombers in Irag… Who are they? Why are they attacking “their own people”? Jamail believes these suicide attackers are foreigners, not Iraqis. There are multiple factions fighting against multiple factions, including many that might be characterized as “Iraqi resistance fighters,” and he has interviewed members of several of these groups. He reports they all claim that the suicides are not Iraqi and that such tactics are immoral and anti-Islamic.

One of the videos Jamail showed was shot by an American whose name I did not note… It was about 5-minutes long, edited from a total of 20-hours of video taken during a recent trip to Iraq. After this fellow’s return to the states, all his video gear and tapes were stolen, along with a friend’s purse (though laptops, still cameras, and other valuables were left untouched). A few days later, someone called claiming to have found the purse, and they arranged a rendezvous to retrieve it. The person with the purse portrayed himself as a homeless person, but made several remarks like “Boy, you sure did have the goods against the President with those videos!” and “You might not think that I was ever trained to be a sniper from the way I look today, would you?” and other comments which together appeared more than vaguely threatening.

The most horrific claim of the night, though, came at the very end of the questions and answers. Jamail mentioned, almost in passing, that Scott Ritter (see this BBC story if you don’t recall his name) has heard from what he (Ritter) considers “unimpeachable sources” that the Pentagon is actively planning for a massive bombing campaign against Iran, in June 2005. Considering their reputations for respecting the truth… When high-ranking administrators take the world stage every day to deny that the US is making such plans, what conclusion should we draw?

The audience at this event was quite a collection, packing a large Kane Hall lecture room to capacity… mostly people old enough to remember the 60s, I’d say. A couple of the more volatile ones simply could not sit quietly… They would jump up and yelp every now and then. One blue-grey-haired lady made two pleas for everyone to urge all soldiers to go AWOL. (Must be a Harpers’ subscriber.) I saw one fellow that I knew in 1986 from a trip to Central America. I pointed him out to to my friend… “Oh, you knew him in the 80s? I knew him in the 60s! He’s put on a little weight!”

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