We are not alone: WE are the majority! Exclusive interview with Dirk Adriaensens, coordinator SOS Iraq and member of the Executive committee of the BRussells Tribunal By Gabriele Zamparini
The list of people who are part of this international network is really impressive. Academics, activists, journalists, artists, human rights advocates and two former “UN Assistant Secretary General & United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq” who have told the world the truth. Even more important, many among these people are Iraqis.
I asked Dirk Adriaensens, coordinator SOS Iraq and member of the Executive committee of the BRussells Tribunal, to tell me more about this network.
QUESTION: Why the name, "BRussells Tribunal"? Tell me how did you start.
ANSWER:The BRussells Tribunal was originally a hearing committee composed of academics, intellectuals and artists in the tradition of the Russell Tribunal, set up in 1967 to investigate war crimes committed during the Vietnam War. The hearing took place on 14-17th April 2004 at The Beursschouwburg and Les Halles in Brussels, 2 prestigious venues in Belgium. It was presided by Professor François Houtart, who participated in the Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal on US Crimes in Vietnam in 1967, and who is one of the founding fathers of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. The hearing committee was directed against the war in Iraq and the imperial war policies of the Bush II administration. Its main focus was the ‘Project for the New American Century’, the think tank behind this war, in particular three of the co-signatories of the mission statement: Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz.
Just before the war started, a petition was launched by Philosophy Professor Lieven De Cauter. It was signed by some 500 artists, writers, intellectuals and academics, including Richard Plunz, Irving Wolfharth, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and François Houtart. It called for moral and, if possible, legal action against the ‘Project for the New American Century’ and those responsible for the war against Iraq. It was published on March 21 in two Belgian newspapers, De Standaard and De Morgen. It soon appeared that legal action was unlikely to succeed, hence the idea to set up a ‘Moral Court’ or ‘People's Court’ to condemn the US government’s policy as well as the think tanks behind it.
A broad platform composed of several Belgian cultural organizations was created to carry out the petition’s first proposal: to set up a BRussells Tribunal. At a networking conference set up by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation at the end of June 2003 in Brussels, it was decided that a series of hearings would be held in different places all over the world, culminating in a final session in Istanbul. The BRussells Tribunal was one of these commissions of inquiry, the opening session of the World Tribunal on Iraq. The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation accepted to support the initiative.
Our tribunal session itself had an impressive list of participants and witnesses: Denis Halliday, Hans von Sponeck, Jacques Derrida, Ramsey Clark, Nawal El Saadawi, Michael Parenti, Karen Parker, Jim Lobe, Tom Barry, Samir Amin, Immanuel Wallerstein and many others. A part of your documentary “XXI CENTURY” was showed as evidence against the PNAC, and was the opening testimony of the Tribunal.
The BT is a network, not a formally structured organisation, working on a zero budget. Every honest campaigner against this occupation, who agrees with the different platform texts and the Istanbul conclusions, is welcome. This is very important I think. It’s a very mature network, having only one goal: the end of the occupation of Iraq.
QUESTION: The BRussells Tribunal was a very successful initiative. Tell me about the future.
ANSWER:The BRussells Tribunal was very successful in terms of quality and attendance. The conclusions can be read on our website. And even in terms of national attention of the Press we could not complain, really. But on the other hand we have come to realize that neither the BRussells Tribunal nor the World Tribunal on Iraq, with its final session in Istanbul last June, are really known to the larger public. In that respect we failed to break through the glass ceiling of mainstream media. There is still work to do to let the world know. But we decided not only to focus on this spreading of the conclusions.
In Brussels we had our session more than a year ago, and we were facing the question what to do next, how to proceed according to our conclusions. We decided to ACT. The ongoing atrocities in Iraq need our monitoring and the Iraqis need our support. Apart from a Christmas vigil in several towns in Belgium and participation in all sorts of public debates, we set up a mass protest against the visit of Bush to Brussels on Sunday February 20th. It was a big success and this time we got into the mainstream media. Even the NYT and the International Herald Tribune. For us doing ‘positive press action’ has become crucial. We regularly receive very strong material from inside Iraq, and often we get these testimonies published, on progressive websites like www.uruknet.info or even in the local mainstream media. More important: these stories will never be “old news”. They can later be used in courts to judge the war crimes of the occupation forces, or they can be compiled in a book so that this black page in history will be remembered.
We made 10 proposals, you can read them on our website, for the future work, based on our experience and ideas. They were presented in the workshop on the WTI at the Conference of the European Network for Peace and Human Rights, 20/21 October 2005 at the European Parliament in Brussels. I admit that our 10-point plan is ambitious, but I think we should be ambitious and I tell you why.
An Iraqi told me - I think it was after the opening session - that the WTI as a network was the only real instance where the whole worldwide protest to this war and subsequent occupation could be kept alive, continue and come together. Let's not squander this trust and dismiss its appeal too quickly. The silence of the mainstream media on Iraq has become deafening. I checked it out with many people: nobody has even heard about Tal Afar. We have a tremendous responsibility. We have achieved a lot, and the session of the WTI in Istanbul was a culminating point in the work of the worldwide peace movement, but there are still huge potentialities. The occupation forces are already starting to think about withdrawal. So we should think about creative and effective ways to accelerate this withdrawal. The BRussells Tribunal and the WTI should therefore even multiply their efforts.
QUESTION: The list of names that are part of your network is really impressive. Tell me more about this. How do you work with them?
ANSWER: The BRussells Tribunal grew naturally. Problems were solved as they occurred. I’ll give an example. The Advisory committee was created after we met with Dahr Jamail, Nadia McCaffrey, Abdul Ilah Al Bayaty, and others who expressed their desire to keep on cooperating with us. We received a call from Iraq for advice on international humanitarian law. Other people wanted to stay in contact with us and asked us what plans we had for the future. We also asked other people, like you, to join us because they were already involved in some way or another with the Tribunal and were willing to combine activism with their work as artists, journalists, academics, etc.
I’ve been involved in the anti-sanctions movement since 1990. For 13 years it was a lonely fight, and I met a lot of good friends during that period. Some of them, who remained active after the invasion, are now members of our Advisory Committee. And the circle will be broadened as we continue. Our consistent and effective way of working has attracted some fine and influential people indeed. It’s an explosive mixture of academics, activists, lawyers, artists, journalists and intellectuals. They seem to believe in the format of this network. In a way it’s reassuring to belong to an active group and be able to discuss recent developments and actions. Otherwise the battle for peace and justice can get very lonely. Now all these people are connected with each other through the internet and can ask or give advice, bring ideas to the forum, spread important news etc. So we also act as a sort of hub. The way this committee works is a rather new concept, I don’t know about any similar initiative. And it’s very workable.
This Advisory committee does not only exist on paper, nor is it only a discussion forum. When we issued Dahr Jamail's report: Iraqi Hospitals ailing under occupation, the conclusions have been partly written and amended by the Committee.
The Iraqis suggested having an action against the joint US-UE conference on Iraq, held in Brussels on June 22 and the committee wrote the platform text for the action. The Spanish committee CEOSI - member of the BT’s committee - did a similar action in Madrid on the same day with the same platform text.
On August 9, 2005, Amnesty International launched a “Call for a human rights based constitution”. This action alert called on people to write to Iraq's prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, asking him to make sure that the constitution is one that respects human rights. After our Iraqi friends raised serious questions about the relevance of such a call, we drafted, in cooperation with them, an open letter to Amnesty International. We pleaded that it would be more suitable if Amnesty International keeps on concentrating its efforts on denouncing the grave violations of human rights inflicted upon the Iraqi people by the occupying forces in order to bring the responsible war criminals to justice, instead of starting a campaign that de facto gives some legitimisation to this inhumane occupation and its Quisling government, whose legality is highly questionable.
The latest statement on the action in solidarity with the Iraqi health workers was drafted and amended by our committee. And don’t forget that members of our committee were actively involved in correcting the falsifications by the mass media about the use of the White Phosphorous.
QUESTION: In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of your organization is that it works closely with many Iraqis and Iraqi organizations. In a situation where most of the media are cooperating with the occupation forces in preventing information to reach the world public opinion, your work is even more important. What can you tell us about this?
ANSWER: This may be indeed the most important aspect of the BRussells Tribunal, and unique altogether in the Western Peace Movement. The backbone of our committee is composed of patriotic Iraqis, both from inside Iraq and from the Diaspora. They belong to different currents. We have people from different Human Rights organisations inside Iraq. This choice wasn't made accidentally. They are better aware of the pitfalls. They know better than all of us the realities on the ground. They know better what has to be done in the current situation and can help on a different number of issues. They understand what’s going on in Iraq. It’s their country. If we want to spread correct information and viewpoints to the Western audiences, we need the Iraqis to advise us. The BRussells Tribunal is about THEIR country. So we want to be a bridge between the Iraqi and the Western peace movement. We publish regularly eyewitness accounts and Iraqi Human Rights reports that we receive.
There’s no chance to patronize the Iraqis: they decide the direction. As to our position towards the Iraqi resistance: It’s not our duty, nor our right to judge this resistance. And we should certainly avoid affiliation to one current or another resisting the occupation. We have to keep the same distance from all currents and at the same time support and show our solidarity with all the different currents of the real resistance, all this in accordance to the Istanbul conclusions, that stated clearly the support for the Iraqis’ right to resist this dreadful occupation. And we certainly make no distinction between “civil” and “armed” resistance. Resistance is resistance against a rapacious power “by all means possible”.
Among the peace movement in the West, there are a lot of false ideas and viewpoints about the Iraqi resistance. It's about time that these viewpoints are corrected. We want to contribute to that, by translating statements, etc.
The media have successfully mixed up the ‘Salvador Option’ with actions of the Iraqi resistance, and the views that the average person in the West has, are totally biased. Three billion dollars out of the 87 billion dollar Pentagon budget for 2004 was meant to create militias and for covert operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's our task to correct this distorted vision, I believe. Does anyone know that most of the barbarous acts against civilians are openly condemned by all fractions of the resistance? Only about 3% of the victims of this occupation are caused by acts like suicide bombs, etc. But these are the only ones reported by the mainstream media. Be reasonable: if the resistance would target civilians, they would never gain the massive support they currently have. The occupiers now use the same arguments as the British did back in the 20’s of the previous century: “if we leave, there will be civil war”. Most Iraqis and specialists on Iraq, like Denis Halliday or Robert Fisk, state clearly that there will be no civil war if the US troops leave. On the contrary: if they stay, there will be a civil war, because all the illegal laws that the occupiers have issued, including the recent constitution, are meant to divide the country along sectarian lines, in order to “divide et impera”.
QUESTION: Tell me about the ongoing BT's "Solidarity call with the plight of Iraqi health workers"
ANSWER: As was suggested (mainly by Iraqis) at the WTI-workshop at the European Network Conference on Peace and Human Rights, 20-21 October 2005, Dr. Bert De Belder, coordinator of Medical Aid For The Third World, also a member of our committee, has drafted a statement: "Stop violations of the right to health in Iraq", meant for large diffusion and signing by healthcare personnel and activists, in support of Iraqi colleagues.
The first paragraph reads: “As large-scale US-led military operations in Iraq continue unabated, the health situation on the ground is at breaking point. The Iraqi health infrastructure, medical doctors and hospital staff are unable to cope with the deepening medical and humanitarian crisis. As they themselves are often targets of harassment and attack, doctors and medical staff find it near impossible to perform their duties as health workers.”
Once fully signed, it will go immediately to the UN Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Mr. Paul Hunt (New Zealand) and he should be encouraged to investigate as part of his mandate. It will also be sent to the OAS as a kind of "amicus curiae" statement to support the court case of Karen Parker.
At the coming WSF in Bamako, Karachi and Caracas there will be activities and discussions on Bert’s statement, on the report by Dahr Jamail and on the testimonies and analyses about the use of WMD in Iraq.
QUESTION: Another thing the world knows little or nothing is the systematic assassination of Iraqi intellectuals.
ANSWER: The Iraqis are very worried about what happens with the "intellectual head" of Iraq. Academics, doctors and scientists are being killed on a daily basis. This ‘war on Learning’, as Robert Fisk of the Independent called it, is making Iraqi intellectual’s work impossible and further augments the view that a ‘normal life’ in Iraq is far too dangerous for them. According to an article in the Times Higher Education Supplement ‘there is a widespread feeling among the Iraqi academics that they are witnessing a deliberate attempt to destroy intellectual life in Iraq’. Furthermore, according to Dr Sinawi - a geologist formerly employed at Baghdad University - the academic dismissals and the assassination of intellectuals will bring a ‘disruption of higher education in Iraq for years to come. This will dramatically affect the standard of teaching and research for generations’. Many academics in Iraq have been imprisoned, have disappeared, or were forced into exile. We compiled a preliminary list already. The BRussells Tribunal will very shortly start a campaign "Academics For Peace", to create awareness on this disturbing evolution. Our Spanish friends from CEOSI will probably host an international conference in Madrid on this issue
QUESTION: Since your long experience as an activist working in these issues, what would you suggest to the many people around the world who share your feelings and your views but feel powerless and demoralized by the current situation?
ANSWER: Do we have a choice, as human beings who want a peaceful world? What will our children say about the world we leave to them? I believe we have a tremendous responsibility. No time to quit now. The Iraqis are successfully fighting the occupation. Let me remind you of what John Pilger said in an interview with Democracy Now on Dec. 31 2003: “I think the resistance in Iraq is incredibly important for all of us. I think that we depend on the resistance to win so that other countries might not be attacked, so that our world in a sense becomes more secure. Now, I don't like resistances that produce the kind of terrible civilian atrocities that this one has, but that is true of all of the resistances. This one is a resistance against a rapacious power, that if it is not stopped in Iraq will go on as we now know to North Korea where Mr. Cheney and others are just chomping at the bit to have a crack at that country. So, what the outcome of this resistance is terribly important for the rest of the world. I think if the United States' military machine and the Bush administration can suffer -- Well, the let's say, quote, defeat, unquote, because it was never a complete defeat in Vietnam, but if they suffer something like that in Iraq [they can be stopped]”
We have to help the Iraqi people when and where we can to put an end to this illegal occupation. I went to see Robert Fisk in Antwerp on Nov. 2. He said: “the US has already lost the war. Don’t let the mainstream media try to convince you of the opposite”. So why should we be demoralized or feel powerless?
We know that the current Western peace movement is quite weak. But is that a reason to be discouraged? One advice: switch off your TV and look at some decent news-outlets about Iraq, like www.uruknet.info And mind you: On Alexa.com they’re listed as the most read website on Iraq. They have more online readers than CNN, BBC, NYT, you name it. So why the pessimism?
I believe that if we globalize resistance against this US war OF terror, and even more important, work more closely TOGETHER with people and organisations that believe that another world is possible, the demoralising feeling vanishes. Our network is a very concrete example of that. We started this because we couldn’t remain silent. And look what we achieved already after just 2 years. So connect with us and with other organisations that you think you can trust. Try to explore new methods of action and convincing people of the horrors of this war. The moment you become active is the moment when you’re busy changing the world. We are not alone: WE are the majority!
(*) Gabriele Zamparini is an independent filmmaker, writer and journalist living in London. He's the producer and director of the documentaries XXI CENTURY and The Peace! DVD and author of American Voices of Dissent (Paradim Publishers). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org