E-mail to BBC’s John Simpson on Fallujah

On 5 March 2010 I sent an e-mail to BBC’s John Simpson. He had reported from the Iraqi city Fallujah, where local doctors had seen a rise in birth defects. While focusing on the possible causes of these abnormalities I thought that Simpson’s journalism failed to answer some crucial questions. Below is the e-mail that I mailed to the BBC. 

Dear John Simpson,

my name is Florian Zollmann. I am a PhD-researcher at the Lincoln School of Journalism (University of Lincoln, UK). During the last two years, I have conducted research on the US-assaults on Fallujah. I was very glad to hear your report from Fallujah yesterday. I would like to ask you a few questions:

You say in your report that “the Americans are able to say, quite honestly, they are not aware of any official investigation which has shown that there is a problem there” (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8548707.stm).

I was told by a person from Fallujah that the US-military had prevented the UN from doing investigations in Fallujah (I have written about this in the German alternative press). Furthermore, since 2004, the US and the Iraqi military have virtually sealed off Fallujah controlling who enters and exits the city. Thus, I wonder about the reason why “no big international Western teams of doctors have been able to get there and check the whole thing out” as you reported. Is it, as you suggested, because “Fallujah is a difficult and dangerous place to get to” or is because the USA is preventing an inquiry?

In an interview with you which was screened on the BBC News Channel yesterday you mentioned that unless there is some kind of campaign, there might be no investigation in Fallujah. You also mentioned that Iraqi authorities are reluctant to do an investigation and that local doctors are very nervous to speak about the birth defects. Don’t you think that pressure by the US-military and the semi-independent Iraqi regime in Baghdad could be a problem here?

I am sure that you are aware that Fallujah was destroyed by US forces in 2004 – up to 6,000 people might have been killed (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/nov/10/usa.iraq). In his book "Fallujah: Eyewitness testimony from Iraq’s besieged city" the English writer Jonathan Holmes documented extensive evidence of violations of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, in particular the 4th Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians, as well as their relevant Additional Protocols from 1977. According to Holmes “the siege of Fallujah…contravened seventy individual articles of the Geneva Convention”. These concern, for example, the use of phosphor as an incendiary weapon, the use of cluster bombs, thermobaric weapons and other heavy explosive weaponry in residential areas, the direct targeting of civilians and wounded combatants, the raid of a hospital, the harassment of doctors, hospital staff and patients, the prevention of civilians to leave the city and the prevention of relief organisations to enter the city.

Louise Arbour, at that time the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, had vowed to investigate “violations of the rules of war designed to protect civilians and combatants” in Fallujah (see http://www.thenation.com/doc/20041213/schuman). But these issues have largely been ignored. As yet there has not been any investigation by the UN or an independent body.

I wonder why your reports focus on birth defects without investigating the wholesale destruction and killing which were reportedly conducted by the US-military in 2004. Shouldn’t the Western media and the BBC ask the following questions: Why hasn’t there been an independent investigation in Fallujah not only to look into the causes of birth defects but also to inquire what happened in Fallujah in 2004? How many people were killed? How many and what kind of war crimes were committed? How many people are still missing? And, how many so called “insurgents” from Fallujah are still detained in secret prisons?

Jonathan Steele and Dahr Jamail wrote in the Guardian: “In the 1930s the Spanish city of Guernica became a symbol of wanton murder and destruction. In the 1990s Grozny was cruelly flattened by the Russians; it still lies in ruins. This decade’s unforgettable monument to brutality and overkill is Falluja, a text-book case of how not to handle an insurgency, and a reminder that unpopular occupations will always degenerate into desperation and atrocity” (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/apr/27/iraq.iraq5).

Do you think then it is appropriate for the BBC to constantly frame the events in Fallujah as “heavy fighting” or “fierce fighting in 2004 as US forces carried out a major offensive against insurgents”? Wasn’t this event rather a massacre?

I would be very glad for any comment!

Kind regards,

Florian Zollmann

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