October 22, 2005
Dahr Jamail chose his words carefully when trying to answer a young
boy's question about the U.S. bombing of Fallujah.
military has to follow orders from above," said Jamail, one of few
independent U.S. journalists covering the war in Iraq, who spoke to a
capacity crowd at the UCSC Music Recital Hall on Oct. 19. "Even when
their own commanders don't agree with the orders, the military has to
follow orders. They are being put in horrible circumstances, where
horrible things are happening to them, and they are doing horrible
A special correspondent for Flashpoints, the BBC, Democracy Now,
and other media outlets, Jamail doesn't often field questions from
8-year-olds. But he has spent eight months in occupied Iraq,
chronicling what he called the "failed policy" of the White House, and
his audience was spellbound throughout his 90-minute slide show
Fallujah is a "microcosm" of the war, he said.
the time of the invasion, Fallujah welcomed the Americans," said
Jamail. But three weeks later, when U.S. forces occupied an elementary
school, residents protested. Classes were scheduled to begin the next
day, and they wanted their children to be able to attend school, he
said. The protest was met by gunfire, and 17 people were killed,
according to Jamail.
That day marked the birth
of the resistance movement in Fallujah, but hostilities escalated
steadily as the military brought in U.S. contractors--"I prefer to call
them mercenaries, because that's what they are," added Jamail--because
they are not bound by military rules of engagement. "They conduct
covert operations and assassinations," he said. "They literally raped
The first U.S. siege of Fallujah
took place in April 2004 following the widely reported gruesome slaying
of four contractors, whose remains were hung from a bridge. Even then,
according to Jamail, U.S. military leaders didn't want to seize the
"They wanted to work on reconstruction
and try to earn the trust of the Iraqis," he said, noting that it was
the White House that issued a direct order for the siege. The failure
of that attack led to the November 2004 siege, during which 4,000
civilians were killed. It constituted the most intense urban fighting
of the war, said Jamail.
As part of his presentation, Jamail screened a new independent film, Caught in the Crossfire: The Untold Story of Falluja.
The film's footage of the suffering of displaced residents and the
decimation of the city, 60 percent of which was bombed to the ground by
U.S. forces last November, had prompted the young boy's query.
U.S. commanders in Iraq compare battling Iraqi resistance to stepping
on a half-filled water balloon, said Jamail, "You step on one part, and
it squeezes out the other side."
media is ignoring the story of civilian suffering in Iraq, said Jamail,
who blamed poor coverage on corporate ownership of the media, reporters
who try to cover the war from their hotels, and the Pentagon's efforts
to avoid a repeat of the Vietnam War, when horrific images on the
nightly news eroded public support for the war.
of the most "undertold" stories of the war is the widespread use of
depleted uranium in bullets, missiles, and bombs. Spent artillery is
leaving a legacy of radioactive dust across Iraq, said Jamail, noting
that more than 1,200 tons of uranium-enriched artillery have been used
in Iraq so far--three times the amount used in the 1991 Gulf War.
Depleted uranium has been identified as "a main component" of Gulf War
Syndrome, and leukemia rates in Iraq among children aged 1 to 5
increased 26 times between 1990 and 2003.
cited a U.S. Army survey that found 56 percent of units currently in
Iraq have low or very low morale, and a report by the Army's Surgeon
General said that 30 percent of U.S. military
personnel have reported mental health problems within three months of
returning from Iraq. "My intent is not to demonize soldiers," said
Jamail. "They are victims of failed policies as much as the Iraqi
civilians. Anyone, anywhere, any time, could attack them. Overall,
they've been put in the middle of a very bad situation."
Jamail also discussed his invited testimony
before the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI) in June, describing the rampant
torture of detainees, the catastrophic state of the health care system
in Iraq, and a summary of conditions "on the ground" after two and a
half years of the occupation. The WTI is a worldwide network of local
groups and individuals opposed to the war.
Among the highlights of his testimony:
Abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison are the "tip of the iceberg," with torture
common in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and third-country dungeons.
• U.S. medics, doctors, and nurses are complicit in torture of detainees.
Hospitals face critical shortages of medicine, supplies, and equipment,
and requests are being ignored. One hospital director said his facility
receives only 15 percent of the water needed for basic sterilization.
Hospital raids by U.S. military forces that prevent doctors from
providing care now appear to be "standard operating procedure."
• Iraqis regularly endure long lines to purchase gasoline, sometimes waiting for two days.
Electricity in much of the country is available for only three hours a
day, and even the "best areas" of Baghdad receive electricity for only
six to eight hours a day.
• Unemployment has reached 70 percent.
Clean water is scarce, raw sewage is common, and water-born diseases,
including diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, and hepatitis pose a growing
threat to public health.
Among the many
sponsors of Jamail's appearance were Cowell provosts Deanna Shemek and
Tyrus Miller, the Center for Cultural Studies, the Politics Department,
the Women's Center, and Colleges Nine and Ten.