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Setting the Bar High in Iraq
[Interview] Dahr Jamail criticizes corporate journalists' coverage of Iraq War
Christopher Brown (christo)     Print Article 
Published 2006-06-21 17:52 (KST)   
With his soft gentle voice and disarming smile, one wouldn't categorize Dahr Jamail as a threat to national security. But that is precisely what he is. Why? For having never suggested that the U.S. interests in Iraq are not "altruistic," as the Bush administration would have one believe. And Dahr would know -- he spent eight months in Iraq covering the war from Fallujah to Baghdad, from Mosul to Ramadi.

As an unembedded journalist, Dahr saw the "other" Iraq that those of us in the West rarely see in the mainstream media. His dispatches from the frontlines gave us a glimpse into chaos that surrounds Iraqis every day at the hands of the coalition forces on one side and the insurgents on the other. I received the opportunity to speak with Dahr via phone about the current situation in Iraq, the woeful coverage by parachute mainstream journalists, and the courage of brave men and women who refuse to fight in this "immoral" occupation. Please check out his Web site

Dahr Jamail, you recently wrote in an article published on the Web site Truthout that the U.S. and coalition forces are planning a major offensive in the town of Ramadi that would rival that of Fallujah. It is rumored that the coalition forces are not even allowing "embedded" journalists on this assignment. Are we in the midst of seeing a total news blackout in regards to these offenses?

Dahr Jamail
©2006 Dahr Jamail
We are and I think this is a perfect example. I mean, when it gets to a point of not even allowing embedded reporters with the military -- that's a program that was set up by the Pentagon originally -- where they won't even allow those, then I don't know what else needs to happen when we are looking at a news blackout. Because if we look at corporate media -- not that I can say I've seen every single source of corporate media since this action against Ramadi has begun. But from what I have seen, I haven't seen any reporting of it whatsoever in the mainstream media back here in the U.S.

There are some Arabic journalists who are reporting it, but it seems pretty clear that if the U.S. military/Bush administration had their way in Iraq at this point they would have total control of all information coming out of there. And with regards to Ramadi, I think it's as close to a news blackout as we've seen to date.

You've mentioned Bush in all of this. As we know, Bush made a surprise visit to see his Manchurian counterpart, Nuri al-Maliki. No one knew of this visit with the exception of Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Should it not been seen as troubling that a Head of State who visits another not do so formally? With this visit, it is obvious that Iraq is no longer a sovereign nation and is therefore nothing more than a prop set up by the U.S. Why is there no outrage or no questioning by the media over this visit?

Well I think that's really the question of the day. And it's really why I went to Iraq and why I continue to report on it. Because the corporate media journalists and stenographers simply won't to their jobs. I think we have to really get into that question. I think we need to talk about what's causing this problem of not accurate information being given by journalists. Journalists basically are not doing their jobs, and I think there are a lot of reasons but primarily it's corporate control of the media where journalists are simply trying to follow this unattainable guideline that was set up once corporations began to buy up all the different media and they created this thing called "objective journalism," which I personally don't believe in. I believe in being balanced and being fair, but I don't believe in the myth of objectivity.

I think people try to adhere to this standard; basically giving equal weight in an argument which really doesn't deserve equal weight. For example, using this as a case in point: Bush's surprise visit to see al-Maliki that really -- I agree with everything you said -- it really underscored the fact that this individual is a puppet. The only reason he was inserted into the prime minister's position was because Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Jack Straw (Rice's British counterpart) made a prompt visit to Baghdad a ways back and pressured the acting prime minister at the time to step down and open up the way for al-Maliki to come into power.

It was clear from the beginning that he didn't have credibility amongst the Iraqi people and he was brought into power by the occupation forces and being maintained in power by them. So, obviously, it's clear that he is expected to bend to every whim that they have, including last-minute visits by Bush. I read that al-Maliki had five minutes warning in advance of this visit, and therefore was quite a bit disturbed and downtrodden, and not pleased even in front of the press during much of Bush's visit.

And why isn't this being reported this way? I don't know how you would be very balanced about this, other than to show the truth. Which is, this is a situation in which Iraq essentially is another U.S. colony now or a U.S. territory. And their prime minister is simply another puppet who, without backing of the U.S., wouldn't last longer than a few days inside Baghdad.

And I think we have to get down to the root of why are corporate journalists basically not reporting it, and I think it is this myth of objectivity that they have to give equal balance to both sides of this argument, as if there are only two sides. There's multifaceted sides to this argument. But really it's this lack of really getting down to the meat of what's actually happening in the story, or the truth of what's happening of which I just covered.

And we look at the fact that there is censorship going on in the corporate world of journalism -- both by the journalists themselves, as well as the editors. I have had experience with some people with this. For example, I know of people working for CNN who have had, from time to time, produced good quality stories about what's actually happening in Iraq, but those stories never make it past the desk of the editors. Those are a couple of the main reasons, and throw on top of that what we covered briefly before, which is the Bush administration pressuring various media outlets and doing things like issuing presidential orders making it illegal for various media outlets to show photographs of coffins of dead U.S. soldiers and even taking that to the point of trying to influence the media to not call them coffins of soldiers but rather call them "transfer tubes."

We have an administration that has launched their own private war against journalism and I think all of those factors together can begin to explain why we see journalism in the U.S. today in such a dismal state.

You wrote that Haditha is just one of many massacres, war crimes that are going on in Iraq today. There was Abu Ghraib, Samara, Hamandia, and the only reason why these events were made known to us was due to the fact that independent journalists and civilians went in and documented the facts.

TIME magazine only covered the Haditha killings after video footage was shown to them. Abu Gharib became public when a soldier sent in the photos anonymously. Why is the corporate media not taking a closer look at these accusations when they are first reported by Iraqis and independent journalists? Why are they not willing to look further on a consistent pattern of illegality that is being committed by the U.S. forces and their allies?

Well that's a really important question and I think the best answer I can give is all of the different pressures, whether they be self-imposed by corporate journalists themselves, or their editors, or the owners of various media outlets, or pressure from the government.

I agree and I think it would have become clear that to maintain their credibility that the wise thing to do now is to report on these things as they occur. And I think Ramadi is another case in point. As we speak we have atrocities being carried out by the U.S. military; I'm working on another story on that right now. From information I'm getting from people from within that city and aid organizations -- that certainly an independent journalist with not much money, using a telephone and the Internet over in the U.S. who can get this information -- if I can do it, I would think people in huge media agencies like CNN with millions of dollars behind them, all the latest high-tech gear you could possibly dream of as a journalist, they could certainly do the same thing from their bureau in Baghdad or pick another outlet and "insert their name here."

And I think really as it goes on, they simply lose more credibility by the day by not doing their jobs as journalists. I don't expect them ever to suddenly wake up and do their job unless forced to. I mean, the situation with TIME magazine covering Haditha, that only occurred because they essentially were spoon-fed videos and footage and photographs by Iraqi journalists, and decided under whatever political circumstances, it was okay to go ahead and do this.

It's kind of like poll-driven politics. We have politicians like John Kerry who now come out and are very opposed to the war, and are calling for a withdrawal of the troops. Well where was that attitude back when he was running for president? Well, now the polls are shifted so it's safe for him to do that. And I think the same thing can said for the journalists.

Now polls are drastically in favor of people who are opposed to the war, so now it's safer as a journalist; it's less of a risk to do this kind of story. But yet we still don't see en-masse this type of reporting being done. I think it's an important open-ended question is: Why not? I think the longer that this continues, the more it simply erases whatever credibility might be left of the corporate journalists.

You spent eight months in Iraq. You did not attend journalism school, rather you were fed up with the coverage of the war in Iraq and decided that you were tired of getting lied to by the mainstream press and made up your mind to go to Iraq to see for yourself what was really transpiring. As an unembedded journalist the risk of harm looms even greater for you not just by insurgents, but also coalition forces.

For instance, the Palestine Hotel where most un-embedded journalists stayed in Baghdad was shelled by the U.S. Additionally, the Al Jazeera News network not only had its Baghdad headquarters bombed but also lost one of its brightest journalists. Are you getting a sense that the stories that yourself and other unembedded journalists are uncovering have encouraged the coalition forces and in particular the U.S. military to target the independent media?

I think without a doubt that the Bush administration intentionally, from the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, have been waging a war against information coming out from independent journalists.

I think this is clear, even back in the bombing of Afghanistan a month after 9/11, where U.S. warplanes bombed both the BBC bureau there and the bureau for Al Jazeera in Kabul. And that is a policy that continues right on into the invasion of Iraq.

If we go back during the invasion we look at the fact that Al Jazeera, not wanting their bureau to be bombed there as it was in Afghanistan, intentionally gave their coordinates to the Pentagon so as not to be bombed. Of course they were bombed and one of their journalists was killed during that bombing. Since that time at least 15 journalists have been killed directly by occupation forces, by U.S. soldiers within Iraq.

It is the bloodiest place in the world. The most unsafe place in the world to work as a journalist; more journalists have been killed in Iraq during the invasion and occupation than all that were killed during the entire Vietnam war over eight years; and even during WWII or WWI.

It's rather astounding looking at it in that context of how bloody this has been for journalists and it's directly because the Bush administration is willing to do whatever is necessary, including killing journalists, from keeping that information from getting out. Without a doubt if you're an Arab or an independent journalist working in a place like Ramadi for example today, trying to take pictures of U.S. snipers shooting people and shooting ambulances -- which is their policy now when they conduct these large operations in cities -- you're very much in danger of loosing your life if they see you doing that.

There's been instances of U.S. tanks shelling the Palestine Hotel during the invasion of Baghdad as well, killing a couple of journalists there. We could really just go on down the line. But I think it's safe to say that this administration has no problem at all simply eliminating the sources that are willing to bring out the truth of what's going on there.

We are now heating up for mid-term elections that will be taking place in November. A number of people are using this as their platform to aspire to become the next Commander-in-Chief. Hillary Clinton has stated that she is disappointed with Bush's handling of the war. But yet she is still proud to support the war, proud that she voted for it, and she stated that she is also against a timeline for pulling out. Are we beginning to see the formation of a new South Korea being set up in Iraq?

Well, we already have it. We can bypass the word "beginning" because, as we speak, we have a U.S. so-called "boot city" being constructed. I say "so-called" because it is an embassy that's going to house 8,000 government employees. It's an embassy of 21 buildings with a school there. So what kind of embassy would be built for that many people with a first-run movie theater; the largest swimming pool in the country; a vehicle maintenance garage; and when it's complete, it's going to be two-thirds the size of the National Mall in Washington D.C.

That's just the embassy being constructed in Baghdad. Then we have a bare minimum of six of these permanent bases, on up to as many as 14 that are absolutely massive. They're larger than, some of them much larger than, camp Bondsteele, which is in Kosovo, which prior to Iraq was the largest U.S. military installation not on U.S. soil. And the bases in Baghdad are much larger than that.

You have a base like Camp Anaconda for example, in Ballad, just outside of Baghdad, a little bit to the northeast of Baghdad. And this one base by itself has 20,000 soldiers, fewer than 1,000 of whom never leave the base whatsoever. It has 250 of its own aircraft. It has its own first-run movie theaters, swimming pools, a Hertz Rental Car Agency, Popeye's Fried Chicken, a 24-hour Burger King, a Subway sandwich shop, a Starbuck's Coffee outlet. So, this is the type of base being built in Iraq. They are being constructed by Halliburton, Dick Cheney's old company, and this base in particular has so many Kellogg, Brown, and Root employees that they have they're own little apartment area there called "KBR Land."

So that's just one base to give you an idea that the situation is permanent. You are correct to say that rather than troops being withdrawn from Iraq we actually, less than two weeks ago, had 1,500 more troops sent into Iraq from Kuwait. So the troops are going in the wrong direction. I think they would like to see a drawdown in the number of troops down to something like we have in Afghanistan now, but that is a very big number if we talk about drawing down troops vs. a total withdrawal.

This administration -- and I think any Democrat of the ilk of Hillary Clinton or Joe Lieberman or someone like that -- they have absolutely no plans whatsoever of a total withdrawal from Iraq.

Finally Dahr, Ehren Watada is the first active on-duty officer to declare in public that he will not serve in an "immoral" war. In addition, he is willing to face jail time for his beliefs. Do you feel that the actions of this young man, the actions of the six retired generals who spoke out against Rumsfeld's handling of the war, soldiers who have not returned to their units to be redeployed to Iraq, and the alternative recruitment campaigns that are taking place around the country, do you see these as inspiring steps for others to protest the war in Iraq?

I really hope it does. Because I think if there is any hope of ending this illegal occupation of Iraq, it lies squarely on the shoulders of the U.S. soldiers who are going over there and making it all possible.

Secondly it lies squarely on the shoulders of the American public. Even people already convinced this war is illegal and they're opposed to it. Clearly not enough has been done to bring it to an end. And until we start to see massive consistency coming out into the streets and displays of opposition to this war at home -- and that means more than just writing letters and making phone calls or going to demonstrations -- until we see more of that on a level of what happened once the war against Vietnam was really rolling consistently -- that coupled with a large G.I. resistance movement, which we also saw in Vietnam -- until that really starts to happen I think any real talk of withdrawal is just a pipe dream.

I think the actions of the officer Watada and people like that are really setting the bar up there; setting the standard of what soldiers should do morally if they are really going to stand to that oath that they swore, which is to "Defend the Constitution from enemies both domestic and foreign."

Because right now it's people in the military, it's their obligation, by their oath to defend the Constitution from domestic enemies, and right now those domestic enemies are people like George Bush, people like Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney, ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, people like this who are either in or were in this administration making all of this possible; they are assaulting the Constitution and until more soldiers realize that and understand that they're enemy is not abroad, their enemy is actually right here at home.

And really the only moral thing to do is to refuse to go over there. Because the bottom line is, these people who are waging this war, people in the Bush administration, they can't wage a war without soldiers. I can't commend people like this, who are taking this stand, enough.

I've written a statement in support of this individual, and told them, and passed on a personal message and said I'd be happy to do anything I can to support you, whether it's getting information out, or anything else. Because people like him have already taken their stance, we need thousands, tens of thousands of these people to step up now and do the right thing. Otherwise, we are looking at an indefinite occupation of Iraq.
Christopher Brown is a radical grassroots journalist living in Arizona. He plans on going back to Palestine in 2007. Check out his blog.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Christopher Brown

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