Iraq Tribunal: Is This What They Call Democracy?
Is This What They Call Democracy?
By Brendan Smith and Zeynep Toufe
t r u t h o u t | Report
Sunday 26 June 2005
Istanbul, Turkey - Today in Istanbul the jury was taken aback by witness testimony from Iraqi war victims and a US Air Force veteran.
"Snipers hunt people in the streets. People attempting to go to health centers are shot at," testified Eman Kmammas, an Iraqi translator. "There are many crippled children. There are thousands of widows and orphans. There are no police for security and there are no courts. Even hospitals are occupied and bombed and burned."
Former US Air Force combat veteran Tim Goodrich stunned the jury by revealing his role in the "softening up" of Iraq months before the US declaration of war. "We were dropping bombs then, and I saw bombing intensify," Goodrich explained to a hushed room. "All the documents coming out now, the Downing Street memo and others, confirm what I had witnessed in Iraq. The war had already begun while our leaders were telling us that they were going to try all diplomatic options first."
This gripping but unsettling revelation came on the second day of proceedings at the World Tribunal on Iraq, held in Istanbul, Turkey, which is collecting evidence of war crimes in Iraq.
Goodrich's testimony had just begun when a 75-foot banner prepared by the Iraqi delegation and composed of harrowing pictures of Iraqi child victims of the war was carried into the courtroom. In the presence of the father of one of the victims shown on the banner, Goodrich and others stood and a moment of silence spread through the room while the banner was carried through the hall. The teeming press contingent rushed to photograph the scene as some members of the audience cried.
While the first day of the trial had concentrated on moral and political issues, emotional testimony from Iraqi witnesses dominated the second day of proceedings. Fadil al Bedrani, an Iraqi journalist who survived the siege of Fallujah, told the audience that he watched as "20-25 persons were running barefoot when an American warplane bombed, killing and wounding them; only one elderly woman and 2 children stayed safe ... the doctors and the staff of the Fallujah hospital were detained; the warplanes bombed the alternative hospital in downtown ... and bombed the medicine warehouses in Nazzal area, killing 4 doctors, and 8 medical workers."
Dahr Jamail, an unembedded journalist who had been reporting from Iraq during the past year, narrated the story told to him by Ali Shalal Abbas from Baghdad. While detained at Abu Ghraib and tortured, Abbas was approached by two men, "one a foreigner and one a translator," who asked him who he was. "I said I'm a human being. They told me, 'We are going to cut your head off and send you to hell, we will take you to Guantánamo.'" Abbas questioned why only Saddam Hussein, who also had people tortured, was put on trial while the Americans were not.
The fate and the rights of the detainees remained a recurring theme at the Tribunal. Iraqi lawyer Amal Sawadi expressed her frustration at being stonewalled by occupation authorities who refused to tell her of the charges against her clients, if there was any evidence, and even if the person was under detention. "All of Iraq has become a vast prison," she sighed. "Is this what they call democracy?"
There was also ample discussion at the Tribunal - supported by nearly 200 non-governmental organizations ranging from Greenpeace to the Vietnam Veterans Against the War - of various forms of resistance. Goodrich, who refused to return to Iraq for an additional tour of duty, urged more soldiers to become conscientious objectors. And to those who questioned his anti-war activism, he responded, "Some people accuse us of being against the troops or unpatriotic, but we are the troops. How can I be unpatriotic by asking our soldiers to come back home alive?"
The Egyptian sociologist Samir Amin urged participants of the more than twenty tribunals held around the world over the last two years to begin a campaign under the slogan "US Come Home" in America and "US Go Home" in the rest of the world.
Eva Ensler, member of the WTI jury and American playwright most famous for her award-winning "Vagina Monologues," told reporters that both the UN and national governments had failed the Iraqi people and that "the people's movement across the world that rose up is an opportunity for the conscience of the world to be heard."
Iraqi and US military testimony was joined by former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations Denis Halliday, who argued that the Tribunal has an "obligation to demand full international prosecution of US/UK war leaders as war criminals involved in the destruction of Iraq, the lives of its people and their human rights and well being, through unlawful and unjustifiable armed invasion and military occupation."
For many Iraqis at the proceedings, the Tribunal offered an opportunity to seek justice. Hana Ibrahim, director of the Women's Cultural Center in Baghdad, maintained the WTI's "task in the world is to judge the war criminals, to warn the people of the world, and to leave a trace in history."
Hilal Kuey, spokesperson for the WTI in Istanbul and a lawyer, affirmed the legitimacy of the Tribunal: "We are a real court, if not an official one. Our witnesses are real, our evidence is real. International law has been blocked by guns, our aim is to help clear this blockade."
Brendan Smith is editor of the forthcoming book (with Jeremy Brecher and Jill Cutler) In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond (Metropolitan/Holt 2005) and co-author of Globalization from Below: The Power of Solidarity (South End Press, 2002). Zeynep Toufe publishes the blog "underthesamesun.org."