As one of the first and only "unembedded" American journalists to report from Iraq, Dahr Jamail’s work offers an unfiltered look at the lives of Iraqis affected by the occupation. A former mountain guide with no formal journalistic training, Jamail’s dispatches have been published in the Guardian (UK), the Nation, and Le Monde Diplomatique, to name just a few.
KERSHNER: As you discuss in your book The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse To Fight In Iraq and Afghanistan, more and more American GIs have been openly opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Could you talk about what military resisters are doing?
JAMAIL: I’ve found through interviewing dozens and dozens of soldiers that there have been many instances of overt resistance in Iraq. Soldiers have really low morale. They’ve become completely disgruntled by the situation and they’re doing things called search and avoid missions. They’ve realized that their patrols are not serving any purpose, so they go out on fake patrols. They’ll park in fields, radio in every hour at scheduled times telling their base that they’re searching for weapons caches, etc., and then go back to base after their shift is done. I’ve talked with soldiers who’ve participated in this and it’s been going on since the beginning of the occupation.
Other things that are happening—both in Iraq and back home—are instances of soldiers standing up against parts of the system that they don’t agree with. There are many women now who are speaking out about being sexually assaulted in the military. It’s really astounding.
While researching your book, was the Pentagon trying to clamp down on dissent? Or is it harder to see where the brass stands on the issue?
I think they take it on a case-by-case basis. Their overall objective, most of the time, is to sweep it under the carpet. In most instances, the U.S. military chooses to do things like they did with Ronn Cantu, a U.S. Army interrogator, who testified at the Winter Soldier hearings on Iraq and Afghanistan. They’re either going to promote him so maybe that’ll shut him up or ignore it and not do anything (probably the most common response). At the same time, there have been a few instances—like with Lt. Ehren Watada—where the military decides that it’s a high profile case, that the guy has the potential of being a leader in a GI resistance movement, so they’re going to throw the book at this guy.
However, I should point out that, currently, Watada is in legal limbo, pushing papers at a desk, still waiting for resolution. This is a situation where he is the highest-ranking person to refuse orders to go to Iraq. And, to this day, he hasn’t yet done a day in jail or had to go back to Iraq.
Do you see military resisters playing a constructive role in discussions of U.S. foreign policy?
Absolutely. The problem is that they don’t have a voice in the mainstream media or to elected officials. An exception to that would be the Winter Soldier hearings on the Hill that occurred last year. But that’s the exception to the rule. If, at some point, they could be tapped for their information, then I think we could really see some fundamental change.
Would you ally yourself more with the European model of journalism, whereby reporters and their papers quite openly place themselves somewhere specific on the political spectrum?
I think that I would. I’ve been accused of being a populist. As a journalist, that’s a compliment and that’s how I’d like to be perceived. I feel it’s my job to go where the silence is, to give people a voice who are outside the government or major media outlets. I think it’s our job as journalists to monitor the centers of power and take them to task; to make them prove what they’re saying and to make them give evidence. If we’re not doing that, then we’re not doing our jobs as journalists.