World Tribunal on Iraq

I just returned from Istanbul, where I attended the last sitting of the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI) and heard three days of testimony from researchers, scientists, and witnesses from all over the world (including Iraq) on crimes against humanity and against this planet — for detailed information see: www.worldtribunal.org.

This was the culminating session of the WTI (modeled after the Bertrand Russell World Peace Foundation tribunal of the late 1960s on crimes committed in Vietnam), after having convened in cities in 20 different countries around the world since June 2003. WTI’s purpose was to challenge the silence around the aggression against Iraq and to seek the truth about the invasion and occupation of that country.

The session took place in Istanbul (at the Imperial Ottoman Mint, located beside a Byzantine church named Haigha Irini, in the gardens of the Topkapi Palace), at a time when, spurned by the European Union, Turkey is forging closer ties with the U.S. and is gradually being nudged towards a transformation from a laïc Republic into an Islamic one. This may seem absurd given the tremendous contempt for Islam expressed by the U.S. Administration and U.S. forces, but the U.S. wants a “model” Islamic state in the region — “model” meaning docile, cooperative and welcoming — to serve as a base and a bridge in its “Greater Middle Eastern” project.

So while hordes of tourists strolled in the lanes shaded by giant plane trees, 1,500 people from 24 different countries gathered to listen to 55 thorough and wrenching testimonies. A Jury of Conscience — led by writer and activist Arundhati Roy and made up of 16 people from Turkey, Malaysia, the U.S., South Africa, Belgium, Brazil, Mexico, Israel, Argentina, and Iraq — sat in judgment, as did the rest of us.

A quotation from John Berger, on the inside cover of the Tribunal’s program booklet, stressed the crucial task before us, restoring memory: “The records have to be kept and, by definition, the perpetrators, far from keeping records, try to destroy them. They are killers of the innocent and of memory. The records are required to inspire still further the mounting opposition to the new global tyranny. The new tyrants, incomparably over- armed, can win every war — both military and economic. Yet they are losing the war (this is how they call it) of communication. They are not winning the support of world public opinion. More and more people are saying no. Finally this will be the tyranny’s undoing. But after how many more tragedies, invasions and collateral disasters? After how much more of the new poverty the tyranny engenders? Hence the urgency of keeping records, of remembering, of assembling the evidence, so that the accusations become unforgettable, and proverbial on every continent. More and more people are going to say no, for this is the precondition today for saying yes to all we are determined to save and everything we love.”

This tribunal was not sitting in order to mete out punishment, but to bear witness, and to set the record straight. “The WTI aspires both to start the process of accountability and to register history, so that what happened in Iraq is not forgotten. This involves registering history against the rewriting of history by sovereigns; exposing the destruction incurred upon the people of Iraq and humanity, and discussing the alternatives. The scope of this tribunal also comprises the threats that nature, world resources and human security are confronted with as a direct result of the assault.”

Arundhati Roy, in her opening speech as spokesperson of the Jury of Conscience, reiterated this purpose: “The Jury of Conscience at this tribunal is not here to deliver a simple verdict of guilty or not guilty against the United States and its allies. We are here to examine a vast spectrum of evidence about the motivations and consequences of the U.S. invasion and occupation, evidence that has been deliberately marginalized or suppressed.”

Roy also countered the accusation (in some newspapers) that the Tribunal was a “kangaroo court”: “Now this view seems to suggest a touching concern that in this harsh world, the views of the U.S. government and the so-called Coalition of the Willing headed by President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have somehow gone unrepresented. That the World Tribunal on Iraq isn’t aware of the arguments in support of the war and is unwilling to consider the point of view of the invaders. If in the era of the multinational corporate media and embedded journalism anybody can seriously hold this view, then we truly do live in the Age of Irony, in an age when satire has become meaningless because real life itself is more satirical than satire can ever be. Let me say cate- gorically that this tribunal is the defense.” 

I will not attempt to summarize all of the grueling testimony (which made me weep more than once) that we heard. For that, I urge you to explore the website. I was deeply disturbed by the description of young former U.S. soldier Tim Goodrich — of house raids, systematic torture, and the culture of militarism that makes it all seem ordinary. Goodrich described how young U.S. recruits practiced shooting on targets with human forms, were taught to follow orders without questions, to consider all joslems infidels who should be killed, and how they de-humanized Iraqi people in a way that makes brutality seem acceptable. “Don’t be fooled by my youthful appearance,” he said, “the war has aged me.” He added, “Resistance in the military is increasing.”

Iraqi lawyer Amal Sawadi gave details of arbitrary detention and systematic torture of ordinary civilians, including women. “All Iraqi land has turned into a prison. Even a ten-year-old child can be arrested.” Iraqi journalist Fadhil al Bedrani described mass murders during the attack on Fallujah, including the incineration of 420 women and children with Bunker Busters, and the killing of 680 civilians before his eyes, 260 of them children.

Many of us were stunned nonetheless when U.S. scientist, Joel Kovel, stated the U.S. is waging a nuclear, biological, and chemical war in Iraq, setting loose “an eco- catastrophe.” Iraqi environmental engineer, Dr. Souad Naji Al-Azzawi, who with six other scientists had done a survey on the radiation in the air, land, and water in Iraq, described the devastating radioactive contamination whose effects will spill into the future long after the war ends. “The Admin- istration and the Pentagon decided to make the Iraqi people and Iraq’s environment a guinea pig laboratory for the testing of all types of depleted uranium, radioactive, thermaboric, chemical, robust earth penetrators, microwave, and other types of weapons,” she said, and added: “They’re killing scientists who dare to do research on the effects of depleted uranium — 55 scientists have been killed in Iraq and many are detained.”

The witnesses (or “advocates”) described how the U.S. deliberately provoked various factions in Iraqi society in order to divide and rule the country, and how it has devastated the heritage of thousands of years of history in Mesopotamia, wiping out the memory of Western civilization. An ancient, deeply rooted culture is being destroyed, brutalized, thrown into chaos.

Argentinian jury member Taty Almeida (wearing a white head-scarf with Madres de la Plaza de Mayo written on it) stood up to tell Iraqi witnesses that the Argentinian Madres were in unconditional solidarity with Iraqi women.

I felt both a crazy longing to remain with the people and a crazy shame that, while I would resume my modest life in Ankara, the Iraqi participants would re-enter their imperial hell. Yet the sense that solidarity is not a sentimental nicety, but a huge, transforming reality, has remained with me. 

The jury’s verdict was announced on Monday, June 27 by Arundhati Roy (see Preliminary Declaration, pages 5-7). The tribunal has judged and condemned the U.S. and its allies. It has defined this war as one of the jost unjust in history, and has established charges against the Security Council of the UN for failing to stop war crimes and crimes against humanity, among other failures. 

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Read the Preliminary Declaration of the Journal of Conscience at: 
http://www.zmag.org/ZMagSite/JulAug2005/reinart0705_2.html#author.

 

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