Naomi Klein: In Iraq, the US does eliminate those who dare to count the dead


Richard Moore

Date: Wed, 08 Dec 2004 01:03:41 +0100
Subject: Naomi Klein:In Iraq, the US does eliminate those who dare to
        count the dead
From: "Praxis-HennerRitter" <•••@••.•••>
To: Henner Ritter <•••@••.•••>

In Iraq, the US does eliminate those who dare to count the dead
by Naomi Klein

The Guardian, 4 December 2004   5 December 2004

The URL of this article is:

You asked for my evidence, Mr Ambassador. Here it is:
In Iraq, the US does eliminate those who dare to count the dead

Naomi Klein, Saturday December 4, 2004, The Guardian

David T Johnson, Acting ambassador,

US Embassy, London
Dear Mr Johnson,

On November 26, your press counsellor 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 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.

In April, US forces laid siege to Falluja in retaliation for
the gruesome killings of four Blackwater employees. The
operation was a failure, with US troops eventually handing the
city back to resistance forces. The reason for the withdrawal
was that the siege had sparked uprisings across the country,
triggered by reports that hundreds of civilians had been
killed. This information came from three main sources: 1)
Doctors. USA Today reported on April 11 that "Statistics and
names of the dead were gathered from four main clinics around
the city and from Falluja general hospital". 2) Arab TV
journalists. While doctors reported the numbers of dead, it
was al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya that put a human face on those
statistics. With unembedded camera crews in Falluja, both
networks beamed footage of mutilated women and children
throughout Iraq and the Arab-speaking world. 3) Clerics. The
reports of high civilian casualties coming from journalists
and doctors were seized upon by prominent clerics in Iraq.
Many delivered fiery sermons condemning the attack, turning
their congregants against US forces and igniting the uprising
that forced US troops to withdraw.

US authorities have denied that hundreds of civilians were
killed during last April's siege, and have lashed out at the
sources of these reports. For instance, an unnamed "senior
American officer", speaking to the New York Times last month,
labelled Falluja general hospital "a centre of propaganda".
But the strongest words were reserved for Arab TV networks.
When asked about al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya's reports that
hundreds of civilians had been killed in Falluja, Donald
Rumsfeld, the US secretary of defence, replied that "what
al-Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable ...
" Last month, US troops once again laid siege to Falluja - but
this time the attack included a new tactic: eliminating the
doctors, journalists and clerics who focused public attention
on civilian casualties last time around.

Eliminating doctors

The first major operation by US marines and Iraqi soldiers was
to storm Falluja general hospital, arresting doctors and
placing the facility under military control. The New York
Times reported that "the hospital was selected as an early
target because the American military believed that it was the
source of rumours about heavy casual ties", noting that "this
time around, the American military intends to fight its own
information war, countering or squelching what has been one of
the insurgents' most potent weapons". The Los Angeles Times
quoted a doctor as saying that the soldiers "stole the mobile
phones" at the hospital - preventing doctors from
communicating with the outside world.

But this was not the worst of the attacks on health workers.
Two days earlier, a crucial emergency health clinic was bombed
to rubble, as well as a medical supplies dispensary next door.
Dr Sami al-Jumaili, who was working in the clinic, says the
bombs took the lives of 15 medics, four nurses and 35
patients. The Los Angeles Times reported that the manager of
Falluja general hospital "had told a US general the location
of the downtown makeshift medical centre" before it was hit.

Whether the clinic was targeted or destroyed accidentally, the
effect was the same: to eliminate many of Falluja's doctors
from the war zone. As Dr Jumaili told the Independent on
November 14: "There is not a single surgeon in Falluja." When
fighting moved to Mosul, a similar tactic was used: on
entering the city, US and Iraqi forces immediately seized
control of the al-Zaharawi hospital.

Eliminating journalists

The images from last month's siege on Falluja came almost
exclusively from reporters embedded with US troops. This is
because Arab journalists who had covered April's siege from
the civilian perspective had effectively been eliminated.
Al-Jazeera had no cameras on the ground because it has been
banned from reporting in Iraq indefinitely. Al-Arabiya did
have an unembedded reporter, Abdel Kader Al-Saadi, in Falluja,
but on November 11 US forces arrested him and held him for the
length of the siege. Al-Saadi's detention has been condemned
by Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation
of Journalists. "We cannot ignore the possibility that he is
being intimidated for just trying to do his job," the IFJ

It's not the first time journalists in Iraq have faced this
kind of intimidation. When US forces invaded Baghdad in April
2003, US Central Command urged all unembedded journalists to
leave the city. Some insisted on staying and at least three
paid with their lives. On April 8, a US aircraft bombed
al-Jazeera's Baghdad offices, killing reporter Tareq Ayyoub.
Al-Jazeera has documentation proving it gave the coordinates
of its location to US forces.

On the same day, a US tank fired on the Palestine hotel,
killing José Couso, of the Spanish network Telecinco, and
Taras Protsiuk, of Reuters. Three US soldiers are facing a
criminal lawsuit from Couso's family, which alleges that US
forces were well aware that journalists were in the Palestine
hotel and that they committed a war crime.

Eliminating clerics

Just as doctors and journalists have been targeted, so too
have many of the clerics who have spoken out forcefully
against the killings in Falluja. On November 11, Sheik Mahdi
al-Sumaidaei, the head of the Supreme Association for Guidance
and Daawa, was arrested. According to Associated Press,
"Al-Sumaidaei has called on the country's Sunni minority to
launch a civil disobedience campaign if the Iraqi government
does not halt the attack on Falluja". On November 19, AP
reported that US and Iraqi forces stormed a prominent Sunni
mosque, the Abu Hanifa, in Aadhamiya, killing three people and
arresting 40, including the chief cleric - another opponent of
the Falluja siege. On the same day, Fox News reported that "US
troops also raided a Sunni mosque in Qaim, near the Syrian
border". The report described the arrests as "retaliation for
opposing the Falluja offensive". Two Shia clerics associated
with Moqtada al-Sadr have also been arrested in recent weeks;
according to AP, "both had spoken out against the Falluja

"We don't do body counts," said General Tommy Franks of US
Central Command. The question is: what happens to the people
who insist on counting the bodies - the doctors who must
pronounce their patients dead, the journalists who document
these losses, the clerics who denounce them? In Iraq, evidence
is mounting that these voices are being systematically
silenced through a variety of means, from mass arrests, to
raids on hospitals, media bans, and overt and unexplained
physical attacks.

Mr Ambassador, I believe that your government and its Iraqi
surrogates are waging two wars in Iraq. One war is against the
Iraqi people, and it has claimed an estimated 100,000 lives.
The other is a war on witnesses.


Additional research by Aaron Maté

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