IT has quickly become clear that Iraq is not a liberated country, but an occupied country. We became familiar with that term during the second world war. We talked of German-occupied France, German-occupied Europe. And after the war we spoke of Soviet-occupied Hungary, Czechoslovakia, eastern Europe. It was the Nazis, the Soviets, who occupied countries. The United States liberated them from occupation.
Now we are the occupiers. True, we liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, but not from us. Just as in 1898 we liberated Cuba from Spain, but not from us. Spanish tyranny was overthrown, but the US established a military base in Cuba, as we are doing in Iraq. US corporations moved into Cuba, just as Bechtel and Halliburton and the oil corporations are moving into Iraq. The US framed and imposed, with support from local accomplices, the constitution that would govern Cuba, just as it has drawn up, with help from local political groups, a constitution for Iraq. Not a liberation. An occupation.
And it is an ugly occupation. On 7 August 2003 the New York Times reported that General Sanchez in Baghdad was worried about the Iraqi reaction to occupation. Pro-US Iraqi leaders were giving him a message, as he put it: â€œWhen you take a father in front of his family and put a bag over his head and put him on the ground you have had a significant adverse effect on his dignity and respect in the eyes of his family.â€ (Thatâ€™s very perceptive.)
On 19 July 2003, shortly before the discovery of authenticated cases of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, CBS News reported: â€œAmnesty International is looking into a number of cases of suspected torture in Iraq by American authorities. One such case involves Khraisan al-Aballi. Al-Aballiâ€™s house was razed by American soldiers, who came in shooting and arrested him and his 80-year-old father. They shot and wounded his brother . . . The three men were taken away . . . Khraisan says his interrogators stripped him naked and kept him awake for more than a week, either standing or on his knees, bound hand and foot, with a bag over his head. Khraisan said he told his captors, â€˜I donâ€™t know what you want. I donâ€™t know what you want. I have nothing.â€™ â€˜I asked them to kill meâ€™, says Khraisan. After eight days, they let him and his father go . . . US officials did not respond to repeated requests to discuss the case.â€
We know that fighting during the US offensive in November 2004 destroyed three- quarters of the town of Falluja (population 360,000), killing hundreds of its inhabitants. The objective of the operation was to cleanse the town of the terrorist bands acting as part of a â€œBaâ€™athist conspiracyâ€.
But we should recall that on 16 June 2003, barely six weeks after President George Bush had claimed victory in Iraq, two reporters for the Knight-Ridder newspaper group wrote this about the Falluja area: â€œIn dozens of interviews during the past five days, most residents across the area said there was no Baâ€™athist or Sunni conspiracy against US soldiers, there were only people ready to fight because their relatives had been hurt or killed, or they themselves had been humiliated by home searches and road stops . . . One woman said, after her husband was taken from their home because of empty wooden crates which they had bought for firewood, that the US is guilty of terrorism.â€
According to the reporters, â€œResidents in At Agilia, a village north of Baghdad, said two of their farmers and five others from another village were killed when US soldiers shot them while they were watering their fields of sunflowers, tomatoes and cucumbers.â€
Soldiers who are set down in a country where they were told they would be welcomed as liberators and find they are surrounded by a hostile population become fearful and trigger-happy. On 4 March nervous, frightened GIs manning a roadblock fired on the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, just released by kidnappers, and an intelligence service officer, Nicola Calipari, whom they killed.
We have all read reports of US soldiers angry at being kept in Iraq. An ABC News reporter in Iraq recently described how a sergeant had pulled him aside, saying: â€œIâ€™ve got my own Most Wanted List.â€ He was referring to the deck of cards the US government published featuring Saddam Hussein, his sons and other members of the former Iraqi regime. â€œThe aces in my deck,â€ he added, â€œare Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Paul Wolfowitz.â€
Such sentiments are becoming known to the US public, as are the feelings of many deserters who are refusing to return to Iraq after home leave. In May 2003 a Gallup poll reported that only 13% of the US public thought the war was going badly. In two years the situation has radically changed. According to a poll published by the New York Times and CBS News on 17 June, 51% now think the US should not have invaded Iraq or become involved in the war. Some 59% disapprove of Bushâ€™s handling of the situation in Iraq. It is also interesting to note that polls taken among African-Americans have consistently shown 60% opposition to the war.
But more ominous, perhaps, than the occupation of Iraq is the occupation of the US. I wake up in the morning, read the newspaper, and feel that we are an occupied country, that some alien group has taken over. Those Mexican workers trying to cross the border, dying in the attempt to evade immigration officials (trying to cross into land taken from Mexico by the US in 1848), are not alien to me. Those 20 million people who are not citizens and therefore, by the Patriot Act, are subject to being pulled out of their homes and held indefinitely by the FBI, with no constitutional rights, are not alien to me.
But this small group of men who have taken power in Washington (Bush, Richard Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of their clique), they are alien to me.
I wake up thinking: the US is in the grip of a president who was first elected in November 2000, under questionable circumstances and largely thanks to a Supreme Court decision. He remains, since his re-election last November, a president surrounded by thugs in suits who care nothing about human life abroad or here, who care nothing about freedom abroad or here, who care nothing about what happens to the earth, the water, the air, or what kind of world will be inherited by our children and grandchildren.
More Americans are beginning to feel, like the soldiers in Iraq, that something is terribly wrong, that this is not what we want our country to be. More and more every day the lies are being exposed. And then there is the largest lie, that everything the US does is to be pardoned because we are engaged in a â€œwar on terrorismâ€, ignoring the fact that war is itself terrorism, that barging into peopleâ€™s homes and taking away family members and subjecting them to torture is terrorism, that invading and bombing other countries does not give us more but less security.
You get some sense of what this government means by the war on terrorism when you examine what the secretary of defence, Rumsfeld (a face on the sergeantâ€™s most wanted list), said when he was addressing Nato ministers in Brussels on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. He was explaining the threats to the West (imagine – we still talk of â€œthe Westâ€ as some holy entity, as if the US, having alienated most western countries, including France and Germany, was not now wooing eastern countries, and trying to persuade them its sole aim was to liberate the Iraqis, just as it liberated them from Soviet control).
Rumsfeld, explaining the â€œthreatsâ€ and why they are invisible and unidentifiable said: â€œThere are things that we know. And then there are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know that we donâ€™t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we donâ€™t know . . . That is, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence . . . Simply because you do not have evidence that something exists does not mean that you have evidence that it doesnâ€™t exist.â€
We are fortunate to have Rumsfeld to clarify such points. That explains why the Bush administration, unable to capture the perpetrators of the 11 September attacks, went ahead and invaded Afghanistan in December 2001, killing thousands of people and driving hundreds of thousands from their homes. Yet it still does not know where the criminals are. It also explains why the government, not knowing what weapons Saddam Hussein was hiding, invaded and bombed Iraq in March 2003, disregarding the United Nations, killing thousands of civilians and soldiers and terrorising the population. That explains why the US government, not knowing who was and was not a terrorist, confined hundreds of people in GuantÃ¡namo under such conditions that 18 have tried to commit suicide.
The Amnesty International Report 2005, notes: â€œThe detention facility at GuantÃ¡namo Bay has become the gulag of our times . . . When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity.â€
The report highlights US attempts to play down the importance of torture: the US is trying to redefine torture to create loopholes in the current ban. But, the report stresses, â€œtorture gains ground when official condemnation of it is less than absoluteâ€. Despite the public indignation prompted by torture at Abu Ghraib, neither the US government nor Congress have called for an independent inquiry.
The â€œwar on terrorismâ€ is not only a war on innocent people in other countries, but is a war on the people of the US. A war on our liberties, a war on our standard of living. The wealth of the country is being stolen from the people and handed over to the super-rich. The lives of the young are being stolen.
The war in Iraq will undoubtedly claim many more victims, not only abroad but also on US territory. The Bush administration maintains that, unlike the Vietnam war, this conflict is not causing many casualties (1). True enough, less than 2,000 service men and women have lost their lives in the fighting. But when the war finally ends, the number of its indirect victims, through disease or mental disorders, will increase steadily. After the Vietnam war veterans reported congenital malformations in their children, caused by Agent Orange, a highly toxic herbicide sprayed indiscriminately over the country.
Officially there were only a few hundred losses in the Gulf war of 1991, but the US Gulf War Veterans Association recently reported 8,000 deaths among its numbers in the past 10 years. Some 200,000 veterans, out of 600,000 who took part, have registered a range of complaints due to the weapons and munitions used in combat. We have yet to see the long-term effects of depleted uranium on those currently stationed in Iraq.
What is our job? To point all this out. Our faith is that human beings only support violence and terror when they have been lied to. And when they learn the truth, as happened in the course of the Vietnam war, they will turn against the government. We have the support of the rest of the world. The US cannot indefinitely ignore the 10 million people who protested around the world on 15 February 2003.
The power of government, whatever weapons it possesses, whatever money it has at its disposal, is fragile. When it loses its legitimacy in the eyes of its people, its days are numbered. We need to engage in whatever actions appeal to us. There is no act too small, no act too bold. The history of social change is the history of millions of actions, small and large, coming together at points in history and creating a power that governments cannot suppress.