Friday, December 03, 2004

War on Witnesses 

Excerpts from Naomi Klein's letter to 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 requested.

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 . . . .

"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.

| | Technorati Links | to Del.icio.us