David T Johnson,
The US Embassy, London
Dear Mr Johnson,
On November 26, your Press Counselor 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 from your office 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.
Jeremy Hinzman tells me that he’s thinking about going to Ottawa to join today’s protests against George W. Bush. But if he does, he won’t be giving any fiery speeches. “It’s not a good time for that,” he observes.
That’s wise. Next week, the 25-year-old will appear before Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board. He will argue that as a soldier with the 82nd Airborne Division who refused to fight in Iraq, he should be granted refugee status in Canada. Hinzman’s lawyer, Jeffry House, had planned to hinge the case on the argument that the war itself was illegal because it lacked UN approval. They had an army of experts lined up, but last week they got the bad news: the Canadian government had intervened and the board ruled that the legality of the war is “irrelevant” to the case.
Iconic images inspire love and hate, and so it is with the photograph of James Blake Miller, the 20 year old Marine from Appalachia who has been christened “the face of Fallujah” by pro-war pundits and the “The Marlboro Man” by pretty much everyone else. Reprinted in over a hundred newspapers, the Los Angeles Times photograph shows Miller “after more than 12 hours of nearly non-stop deadly combat” in Fallujah, his face coated in war paint, a bloody scratch on his nose, and a freshly lit cigarette hanging from his lips.
Gazing lovingly at Miller, Dan Rather informed his viewers that, “For me, this one’s personal…This is a warrior with his eyes on the far horizon, scanning for danger. See it. Study it. Absorb it. Think about it. Then take a deep breath of pride. And if your eyes don’t dampen, you’re a better man or woman than I.”
P. Diddy announced on the weekend that his “Vote or Die” campaign will live on. The hip-hop mogul's voter-registration drive during the U.S. presidential elections was, he said, merely “phase one, step one for us to get people engaged.”
Fantastic. I have a suggestion for phase two: P. Diddy, Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio and the rest of the self-described “Coalition of the Willing” should take their chartered jet and fly to Fallujah, where their efforts are desperately needed. But first they are going to need to flip the slogan from “Vote or Die!” to “Die, Then Vote!”
Because that is what is happening there. Escape routes have been sealed off,homes are being demolished, and an emergency health clinic has been razed—all in the name of preparing the city for January elections. In a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, U.S.-appointed Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi explained that the all-out attack was required “to safeguard lives, elections and democracy in Iraq.”
Less than twenty-four hours after The Nation disclosed that former Secretary of State James Baker and The Carlyle Group were involved in a secret deal to profit from Iraq's debt to Kuwait, NBC was reporting that the deal was “dead.” At The Nation, we started to get calls congratulating us on costing the Carlyle Group $1 billion, the sum the company would have received in an investment from the government of Kuwait in exchange for helping to extract $27 billion of unpaid debts from Iraq.
Next week, something will happen that will unmask the upside-down morality of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. On October 21, Iraq will pay $200-million in war reparations to some of the richest countries and corporations in the world.
If that seems backwards, it’s because it is. Iraqis have never been awarded reparations for any of the crimes they have suffered under Saddam, or the brutal sanctions regime that claimed the lives of at least half a million people, or the U.S.-led invasion, which United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Anan recently called “illegal.” Instead, Iraqis are still being forced to pay reparations for crimes committed by their former dictator.
When President Bush appointed former Secretary of State James Baker III as his envoy on Iraq's debt on December 5, 2003, he called Baker's job "a noble mission." At the time, there was widespread concern about whether Baker's extensive business dealings in the Middle East would compromise that mission, which is to meet with heads of state and persuade them to forgive the debts owed to them by Iraq. Of particular concern was his relationship with merchant bank and defense contractor the Carlyle Group, where Baker is senior counselor and an equity partner with an estimated $180 million stake.
Until now, there has been no concrete evidence that Baker's loyalties are split, or that his power as Special Presidential Envoy—an unpaid position—has been used to benefit any of his corporate clients or employers. But according to documents obtained by The Nation, that is precisely what has happened. Carlyle has sought to secure an extraordinary $1 billion investment from the Kuwaiti government, with Baker's influence as debt envoy being used as a crucial lever.
My first run-in with Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army came on March 31 in Baghdad. The US occupation chief Paul Bremer had just sent armed men to shut down the young cleric’s newspaper, Al Hawza, on the grounds that its articles comparing Bremer to Saddam Hussein incited violence against Americans. Sadr responded by calling for his supporters to protest outside the gates of the Green Zone, demanding al-Hawza’s reopening.
When I heard about the demo, I wanted to go, but there was a problem: I had been visiting state factories all day and I wasn’t dressed appropriately for a crowd of devout Shiites. Then again, I reasoned, this was a demonstration in defense of journalistic freedom—could they really object to a journalist in loose pants? I put on a headscarf and headed over.
When Simona Torretta returned to Baghdad in March 2003, in the midst of the "shock and awe" aerial bombardment, her Iraqi friends greeted her by telling her she was nuts. "They were just so surprised to see me. They said, 'Why are you coming here? Go back to Italy. Are you crazy?'"
But Torretta didn't go back. She stayed throughout the invasion, continuing the humanitarian work she began in 1996, when she first visited Iraq with her anti-sanctions NGO, A Bridge to Baghdad. When Baghdad fell, Torretta again opted to stay, this time to bring medicine and water to Iraqis suffering under occupation. Even after resistance fighters began targeting foreigners, and most foreign journalists and aid workers fled, Torretta again returned. "I cannot stay in Italy," the 29-year-old told a documentary film-maker.
Russian President Vladamir Putin is so fed up with being grilled over his handling of the Beslan catastrophe that he lashed out at foreign journalists on Monday. “Why don't you meet Osama bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or to the White House and engage in talks,” he demanded, adding that, “No one has a moral right to tell us to talk to child-killers.”
Mr. Putin is not a man who likes to be second guessed. Fortunately for him, there is still at least one place where he is shielded from all the critics: Israel. On Monday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warmly welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergie Lavrov for a meeting about strengthening ties in the fight against terror. “Terror has no justification, and it is time for the free, decent, humanistic world to unite and fight this terrible epidemic,” Mr. Sharon said.