Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Out with the Old, In with the Same Old 

Our stalwart colleagues at Cursor inform us that Elliott Weinberger has published a sequel to "What I Heard about Iraq," which has just been issued as a chapbook by Verso. The latest installment in what we can only hope will not be a long-running series is entitled "What I Heard about Iraq in 2005," and sweet baby Jesus is it chock full of pith:
I heard that Iraq was now ranked with Haiti and Senegal as one of the poorest nations on earth. I heard the United Nations Human Rights Commission report that acute malnutrition among Iraqi children had doubled since the war began. I heard that only 5 per cent of the money Congress had allocated for reconstruction had actually been spent. I heard that in Fallujah people were living in tents pitched on the ruins of their houses.

I heard that this year’s budget included $105 billion for the War on Terror, which would bring the total to $300 billion. I heard that Halliburton was estimating that its bill for providing services to US troops in Iraq would exceed $10 billion. I heard that the family of an American soldier killed in Iraq receives $12,000.

I heard that the White House had deleted the chapter on Iraq from the annual Economic Report of the President, on the grounds that it did not conform with an otherwise cheerful tone.

I heard that 50,000 US soldiers in Iraq did not have body armour, because the army’s equipment manager had placed it at the same priority level as socks. I heard that soldiers were buying their own flak jackets with steel ‘trauma’ plates, Camelbak water pouches, ballistic goggles, knee and elbow pads, drop pouches to hold ammunition magazines, and load-bearing vests. I heard they were rigging their vehicles with pieces of scrap metal as protection against roadside bombs, since the production of armoured Humvees had fallen more than a year behind schedule and the few available armoured vehicles were mainly reserved for officers and visiting dignitaries.

I heard that the private security firm Custer Battles had been paid $15 million to provide security for civilian flights at Baghdad airport at a time when no planes were flying. I heard that US forces were still unable to secure the two-mile highway from the airport to the Green Zone.

I heard that the President’s uncle, Bucky Bush, had made half a million dollars cashing in his stock options in Engineered Support Systems Inc, a defence contractor that had received $100 million for work in Iraq. Bucky Bush is on the board of directors. I heard Dan Kreher, vice-president of investor relations for ESSI, say: ‘The fact his nephew is in the White House has absolutely nothing to do with Mr Bush being on our board or with our stock having gone up 1000 per cent in the past five years.’

I heard that a Pentagon audit of only some of the Halliburton contracts had found $212 million in ‘questionable costs’. I heard that eight other government audits of Halliburton were marked ‘classified’ and not released to the public.

In 2005 I heard about 2002. I heard that on 23 July 2002, eight months before the invasion, Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, reported in a secret memo to Tony Blair that he was told in Washington that the US was going to ‘remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD’. However, because ‘the case was thin, Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran . . . the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy’ . . . .

I heard that the primary source of information about Saddam’s mobile biological weapons labs and germ warfare capability, used by Colin Powell in his presentation at the United Nations and in the President’s 2003 State of the Union address, was an Iraqi defector held by German intelligence. The Germans had repeatedly told the Americans that none of the information supplied by this defector, an advanced alcoholic, was reliable. He had been given the code-name Curveball.

I heard that the primary source of information about the tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons buried under Saddam’s private villas and under Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad and throughout Iraq was a Kurdish exile called Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri. He was sponsored by the Rendon Group, a Washington public relations firm that had been paid hundreds of millions of dollars by the Pentagon to promote the war. (Rendon, among other things, had organised a group of Iraqi exiles in London, called them the Iraqi National Congress, and installed Ahmad Chalabi as their leader.) I heard that after al-Haideri failed a lie-detector test, administered by the CIA in Thailand, his stories were nevertheless leaked to journalists, most prominently Judith Miller of the New York Times, which published them on the front page.

On the first anniversary of the ‘transfer of sovereignty’, I heard that there had been 484 car bombs in the last year, killing at least 2221 people and wounding at least 5574. I heard 890 US soldiers had been killed in the last year and that there was now an average of 70 insurgent attacks a day. That same day I heard the President say: ‘We fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand. So we’ll fight them there, we’ll fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won.’

I heard him say: ‘Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, in Washington and Pennsylvania.’

I heard him say: ‘Some may disagree with my decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, but all of us can agree that the world’s terrorists have now made Iraq a central front in the War on Terror.’

And I remembered that, three years before, to justify the invasion, he had said: ‘Imagine a terrorist network with Iraq as an arsenal and as a training ground.’

I heard that, in Fallujah and elsewhere, the US had employed white phosphorus munitions, an incendiary device, known among soldiers as ‘Willie Pete’ or ‘shake and bake’, which is banned as a weapon by the Convention on Conventional Weapons. Similar to napalm, it leaves the victim horribly burned, often right through to the bone. I heard a State Department spokesman say: ‘US forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters.’ Then I heard him say that ‘US forces used white phosphorus rounds to flush out enemy fighters so that they could then be killed with high explosive rounds.’ Then I heard a Pentagon spokesman say that the previous statements were based on ‘poor information’, and that ‘it was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants.’ Then I heard the Pentagon say that white phosphorus was not an illegal weapon, because the US had never signed that provision of the Convention on Conventional Weapons.

I heard that US troops had accidentally come across an Interior Ministry bunker in Baghdad with more than 170 Sunni prisoners who had been captured by Shia paramilitary groups and tortured, some with electric drills. I heard Hussein Kamal, the deputy interior minister, say: ‘One or two detainees were paralysed and some had their skin peeled off various parts of their bodies.’ I heard a State Department spokesman, Adam Ereli, say: ‘We don’t practise torture. And we don’t believe that others should practise torture.’

I heard that the Senate, after an hour of debate, voted to deny habeas corpus protection to prisoners in Guantanamo. The last time the US suspended the right to trial was during the Civil War.

I heard that a human rights organisation, Christian Peacemaker Teams, was distributing a questionnaire to inmates released from Iraqi prisons. Those surveyed were asked to check ‘yes’ or ‘no’ after each question:
  • Stripped of your clothing (nude)?
  • Beaten by hand (punches)?
  • Beaten by stick or rod?
  • Beaten by cables, wires or belts?
  • Held at gunpoint?
  • Hooded?
  • Had cold water poured on you?
  • Had a rope tied to your genitalia?
  • Called names, insults?
  • Threatened or touched by dogs?
  • Dragged by rope or belt?
  • Denied prayer or wudhu [ablution]?
  • Forced to perform sexual acts?
  • Were you raped or sodomised?
  • Did someone improperly touch your genitalia?
  • Did you witness any sexual acts while in detention?
  • Did you witness any rapes of men, women or children?
  • Urinated on or made to touch faeces, or had faeces thrown at you?
  • Denied sleep?
  • Denied food?
  • Witnessed any deaths?
  • Did you witness any torture or mistreatment to others?
  • Forced to wear woman’s clothes? [Question for men only]
  • Were you burned or exposed to extreme heat?
  • Exposed to severe cold?
  • Subjected to electric shock?
  • Forced to act like a dog?
  • Forced in uncomfortable positions for a lengthy period of time?
  • Forced to stand or sit in a painful manner for lengthy periods of time?
  • Lose consciousness?
  • Forced to hit others?
  • Hung by feet?
  • Hung by hands or arms?
  • Threatened to have family killed?
  • Family members detained?
  • Witnessed family members tortured?
  • Forced to sign anything?
  • Photographed?
I heard a man who had been in Abu Ghraib prison say: ‘The Americans brought electricity to my ass before they brought it to my house.’

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