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Confronting empire

June 22, 2007 | Pages 8 to 12

John Pilger | Martín Sanchez | Dahlia Wasfi | Camilo Mejía | Jeremy Scahill | Rob Will | Joel Geier

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Jeremy Scahill

Independent journalist who reported from Iraq before the invasion, and author of the best-selling book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

I THINK we have a real crisis in this country that seldom gets recognized. We have allowed the powerful, the rich, the Democratic and Republican Cheech-and-Chong machine--I stole that from Immortal Technique--to define the political context through which we view the world.

We need to remove 9/11 from our memories for a moment, and look at a perfect trajectory of mass slaughter in Iraq that extends back many decades, and extends to both the Democratic and Republican regimes that have ruled this country.

What else to read

Haymarket Books is distributing audio CDs of all of the nearly 100 meetings at Socialism 2007. For a full list of meeting topics, see the schedule at the Socialism 2007 Web site. To order CDs of any of the talks, or for more information, call Haymarket at 773-583-7884 or e-mail [email protected].

You can also watch several presentations from Socialism 2007 by:

John Pilger

Jeremy Scahill


The U.S. policy in Iraq has been consistent. It's been consistently anti-Iraqi--from the time when they supported the rise of the Baath Party, and the Central Intelligence Agency provided Baath Party assassins with lists of leftists in Iraq so they could be hunted down and killed, to the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein of the 1980s. When he was at his most brutal was when he was shaking Donald Rumsfeld's hand.

In the 1990s, George H.W. Bush's administration systematically bombed the civilian infrastructure of Iraq, causing the country to fall into a spiral of chaos and carnage. Then the Clinton administration picked up from where the Bush administration left off, and implemented the most brutal regime of economic sanctions in history. That was the weapon of mass destruction in Iraq of the 1990s.

I started going to Iraq in 1998, when Bill Clinton was in power. And I don't know how many Americans are aware of this, but it was Bill Clinton who initiated the longest sustained bombing campaign since Vietnam--under the guise of protecting the so-called no-fly zones.

They said they were going to protect the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south. Some strange protection--dropping bombs on Kurds and Shiites, and saying you're out there to defend their human rights.

We've seen a consistent bipartisan policy, and the fact of the matter is that there didn't need to be any 9/11 to rampage Iraq. Iraq was being rampaged before there was a 9/11.

And we know it's an outright lie that Iraq had any connection whatsoever to 9/11. In 2002, the Democrats were in control of the U.S. Senate at a time when this country was debating the Iraq policy of the Bush administration. Joe Biden was the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and I was sitting here in Chicago in the offices of Kathy Kelly and the Voices in the Wilderness campaign.

I was sitting with Hans von Sponeck, the former head of the United Nations who resigned in protest of the U.S. policy in Iraq--he followed suit after Denis Halliday resigned that same post. Hans von Sponeck was a 32-year veteran of the United Nations, a deputy secretary general of the UN, and he had just gotten back in August 2002 from the north of Iraq, where he met with the al-Qaeda presence in the area controlled by the U.S.-backed Kurdish political parties.

He met with the Ansar al-Islam guerrillas and talked with them about how they were fighting Saddam's forces. Saddam's forces were regularly engaged in battles against Ansar-al-Islam, which was operating from the safety of a U.S.-controlled part of Iraq.

So if there was a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, it was the United States government.

We sat there in that office that day, and called repeatedly to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee--when Biden was chairing hearings that had one pro-war person after another pro-war person. And the parameters of the debate were set at: Do we bomb the hell out of Iraq, or do we bomb the country?

We said that we have a former deputy secretary of the United Nations and former head of the UN program in Iraq, who just got back from meeting with the al-Qaeda presence in the north of Iraq, and we want to send him to testify. And they would not have Hans von Sponeck go there.

We see the Bush administration rampaging this country once again, but it's an error to simply end the sentence with the blame on the Bush administration's shoulders, because the fact of the matter is that Bush is less responsible right now for the continuing carnage and slaughter in Iraq than the Democrats in Congress.

Representative Jack Murtha, who's often portrayed as being antiwar, said a couple of weeks ago, "We need to bring accountability to an unaccountable war." No, Representative Murtha, we need to bring an end to an unaccountable war.

We have seen well over 700,000 Iraqis die who otherwise wouldn't have if there wasn't an occupation, since March of 2003. You add to that the 1 million-plus who were killed during the years of economic sanctions and the humanitarian bombings in the no-fly zones, and you have one of the greatest mass slaughters in history.

But the Democrats right now are hiding behind this false rhetoric about supporting the troops. Let's talk about that.

I met Eli Wright, from IVAW, out in Colorado the day that he started speaking out against the war publicly. Eli and I talked, and he was describing how he was in Ramadi, which at the time was one of the most volatile areas in Anbar province in Iraq.

He said that he hadn't been in an armored vehicle--he was taking his jeep and bolting steel to it, and they were using sandbags to try to protect themselves against improvised explosive devices. Those soldiers are running around with Vietnam-era flak jackets--some of their parents are back home, trying to raise money to get them real body armor.

And then the Blackwater mercenaries whiz by. They've got better armor, better equipment--they're the rock stars, the super-heroes of Iraq. What do they mean by supporting the troops when you have Blackwater mercenaries being paid more money than the Secretary of Defense to be in the same war zone as these kids?

Who's supporting the troops? What troops? The Blackwater troops? The Dyncorp troops? The 181 mercenary companies currently operating in Iraq? There's no coalition of willing nations in Iraq. There's a coalition of billing corporations.

What this coalition of the billing has enabled the Bush administration to do is keep a draft off the table in the United States. Instead, what they do is go into countries that the United States has systematically destabilized, targeted economically and militarily, with the terrorism of neoliberal economic policy and the iron fist of overt militarism and covert actions.

They go into those places like Chile, Colombia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nepal, the Philippines, and they recruit up their soldiers. You put ads in papers that say to former commandos from Pinochet's military: Come and join our force in Iraq.

So what you do is replace any semblance of diplomacy with your coalition of the billing--which goes in and hires the brutal thug forces from countries destabilized by the United States, and you send them over to kill the poor of Iraq.

And I don't want to hear a single person in this country complain about the resistance in Iraq. Because the fact of the matter is you don't choose the resistance to the occupation you should have stopped in the first place.

We hear the Bush administration demonizing Moktada al-Sadr. They say that we have to disarm his militia. No, you need to disarm the Blackwater militia, because Moktada al-Sadr's people are Iraqis. They're not working for a neo-Crusader named Erik Prince, who believes the Bible is the only infallible word of God, and has his heavily armed forces deployed in Iraq right now.

I love those bumper stickers I still continue to see: Don't blame me, I voted for Kerry. I blame you because you voted for Kerry.

What we've seen unfold in Iraq was entirely predictable. I went in and out of Iraq over the course of more than five years, and I met with Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, many times. Now, he's being forced to dig a hole in the ground as his bathroom--he's being held a prisoner, we believe at the Baghdad Airport.

The last time I met with him was in Baghdad in February 2003. Tariq Aziz had never acknowledged to me that the Baath Party could be removed--that Saddam Hussein could be overthrown. But this time, he said the United States was the most powerful empire in history, and it could take down the Iraqi government and destroy the Baath Party.

But he said, "If you do that, you will open a Pandora's box that you will never be able to close." What we've seen, he said, was the United States waging a systematic war against Arab nationalism. And by destroying Iraq, which was the most stable and secular country in that region, they set off a chain reaction that we're seeing the consequences from now.

And it's not U.S. soldiers who are paying the highest price. It's Iraqi civilians who are paying the highest price.

And the height of hubris is when we hear Americans say, "If we withdraw, there will be so much bloodshed." What we have to remember is that all the bloodshed--every bit of it, even if it's an Iraqi suicide bomber blowing up another Iraqi--is the responsibility of the United States government, which made a decision to invade and occupy that country.

I want to say what a tremendous honor it has been to meet the veterans who are at this conference. What a stark contrast exists between these courageous heroes and those pro-war veterans who ran on the Democratic ticket in the last election.

They say we need people with military experience to run for Congress. Yes, we do--and they're all sitting in the front row here tonight.

This conference has been one of the most uplifting experiences I've had since this invasion and occupation began. I've seen and talked with so many incredibly impressive young leaders. I think that we're seeing the rise of an incredibly vibrant antiwar movement in this country.

I take great hope from the fact that Dahr Jamail, the great unembedded reporter, who so often puts his life on the line, has been here and sharing his firsthand experiences with us. He remembers that in war, the most powerful weapon is the truth.

I also want to say--and this is a departure from the discussion on Iraq--that it's an honor to be in the presence of so many people who had the will to survive the prison-industrial complex in this country. Because you know what needs to happen? The United States needs to get all of its troops and mercenaries out of Iraq, and pay reparations--and they need to pay reparations to Yusef Salaam as well.

I think we all have to remember something that Dan Berrigan, the radical Catholic priest, said about Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement. He said she lived as though the truth were true.

So whenever we feel like we're a small group of people, we have to remember that the world is on our side. We keep ourselves human beings by being resisters--by engaging in the struggle.

Victory is relative when you listen to the powerful. But we have a victory in our midst, because the entire world is on our side. So I say that we call for an end to the death penalty in this country, and we call for an end to the collective death penalty being meted out on the rest of the world by this criminal government.


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