Saturday, April 17, 2004

The Silence of the Press

Why are the press silent about what is going on in Fallujah?

An excerpt from The Guardian;

Let's accept for the moment that the commander is right and accept that the AC-130 gunships and F16 fighter-bombers unleashed against the people of Falluja are precise, that the 500lb bombs falling on the city come under the definition of judicious. Let's look at just a handful of the 5% of civilian casualties the Americans concede they have inflicted.

These include the mother of six-year-old Haider Abdel-Wahab, shot and killed while hanging out laundry; his father, shot in the head; Haider himself, and his brothers, crushed but dug out alive after a US missile struck their house. They include children who died of head wounds. They include an old woman with a bullet wound - still clutching a white flag when aid workers found her. They include an elderly man lying face down at the gate to his house - while inside terrified girls screamed "Baba! Baba!" They include ambulance crews fired on by US troops - and four-year-old Ali Nasser Fadil, wounded during an air strike. The New York Times reporter who found the infant in a Baghdad hospital described him lying in bed, "his eyes wide and fixed on a spot in the ceiling". His left leg had been crudely amputated. The same reporter found 10-year-old Waed Joda by the bedside of his gravely wounded father. "American snipers shot at us as we were trying to flee Falluja," said Waed.

Every one of these incidents has been documented by journalists, aid workers or medical staff. And there are plenty more. Even allowing for casualties caused by the Iraqi resistance, the dread catalogue of American-inflicted suffering and death is long and undeniable. At this point it's worth reminding ourselves that 5% of 600 is 30. But the evidence of the bodies alone gives the lie to the American account: at least 350 of the dead in Falluja have been women and children.
Why isn't this being talked about on CNN or BBC? Why were civilian casualties not mentioned at the recent press conference?

You can be sure it is the main topic in Iraq.

"What is striking is how much has changed in a week -- a week," said Wamid Nadhmi, a political science professor at Baghdad University. "No one can talk about the Sunni Triangle anymore. No one can seriously talk about Sunni-Shiite fragmentation or civil war. The occupation cannot talk about small bands of resistance. Now it is a popular rebellion and it has spread."
Wendell Steavenson, a former reporter for Time, has been writing a series for Slate entitled Dispatches from Iraq. Here's his assessment of the current situation;

The American spin suggests a cordoned-off Fallujah full of small arms fire. I've been talking to people who have been in and out of Fallujah over the past few days, mostly friends of mine trying to take medical supplies in or to get relatives out. The Americans don't control the main highway—their supply convoys are constantly getting hit—and they have not sealed the town effectively. They do not seem to control any tract of country between Baghdad and Ramadi, and every day attacks on the western edges of Baghdad creep closer into the center of the city. The streets in Baghdad are emptier and emptier, the unease is palpable. On Saturday I drove out to the western suburb of Ghaziliya (a town on the way to Fallujah) and saw a tank on fire under an underpass. There were two Bradley fighting vehicles a few hundred yards away craning the surrounding neighborhoods with their gun turrets. Two helicopters circled overhead, like poised dragonflies in the muddy afternoon blue sky haze.
Things are spinning out of control, and we are being spoon-fed propaganda by our media about civil war, small bands of insurgents, and outside agitators. We are being given the news the government and the media think we want to hear. What we are not being given is the truth.

Listen to Rahual Mahajan from his current update;

...I know that commentators are still using the phrase "civil war," as if to suggest that that's what's going on. It's as if there are all these violent people in Iraq causing disruptions and that's why we need the U.S. forces to "provide security" -- the latter phrase used in Bush's recent press conference.

The tiny little point that this violence was triggered by the United States, both in al-Anbar province (where Fallujah is) and with Moqtada al-Sadr, seems to be forgotten (see one of my earlier articles for this). The even more basic point that this violence is directed against the U.S. military is somehow out there in limbo as well.

At the same time as their existence in Iraq provokes violence and as their brutal methods provoke violence, U.S. forces do nothing to provide security. Kidnappings of Iraqis for ransom are rife -- nobody ever investigates. Leading academics are being killed -- ditto. People are afraid to walk the streets after 9 or 10 -- nobody does anything about this. Women are far more constricted in getting around than they used to be. The list goes on and on. The U.S. military does nothing, absolutely nothing, about these security problems.

Anyone who swallows any of this propaganda about "providing security" should spend one day talking to people in Iraq.

I'm against the occupation for what I consider to be deep-lying structural reasons that would be valid even if it were conducted more humanely (I've written on this before, but I do have to collect all my scattered thoughts here and write about it again). But I have to say, from all of my experience interviewing Iraqis, one conclusion stands out clearly: had this occupation been carried out by British, Dutch, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Spanish, everyone but the United States, the level of resentment would be far lower, as would the level of violence. It is the arrogance and brutality of the Americans here that is the primary grievance of Iraqis (and second is the negligence and the fact that nothing works).
The truth might be ugly, but we need to hear it just the same, if we, the people, the real government, are going to be able to make informed decisions.

What can we do? I'm hearing of the beginning of plans on various sites. I'll update when things get more concrete. Do you know of any planned actions? In the meantime, contact your representatives in Washington, and spread the word. These brutalities and cold-blooded murders are war crimes, and must be stopped, with those responsible being held accountable.


United for Peace and Justice; Emergency campaign to end the war.

Education for Peace in Iraq; Act Now: Demand an Immediate Ceasefire.

MoveOn; Democracy in Action.

Occupation Watch; Emergency Call for Solidarity with the Iraqi People.

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