First let me congratulate the Spanish people for the fierce opposition against the war and occupation of Iraq. And the Spanish government that has listened to its people and has decided to withdraw from Iraq because it became clear that this war was based on lies and was illegal under international law.
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 BRussells Tribunal 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.
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. The World Tribunal on Iraq evolved as a worldwide initiative and had Tribunal sessions and associated events in some 25 cities and countries worldwide. Many of the people present here were involved in the WTI and we are still cooperating, as this seminar shows. We work together on the basis of the platform text and the conclusions of the WTI.
After our Tribunal session, 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. A lot of our international friends, who organised similar events, share this viewpoint. That’s why we established a cooperation and bundled our efforts. And let it be very clear: not only do we monitor the occupation, we act against the war, against the illegal occupation of the sovereign state of Iraq, and we support all attempts of the Iraqi people to regain its sovereignty. We are a citizen’s initiative, meaning that we work independent from political parties.
This independent, consistent and effective way of working has attracted some fine and influential people like Harold Pinter, Josť Saramago, Eduardo Galeano, Samir Amin, Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, Margarita Papandreou, Naomi Klein etc. It’s an explosive mixture of academics, activists, lawyers, artists, journalists and intellectuals. They seem to believe in the format and the potential of this network. In a way it’s reassuring, also for them, to belong to an active group and be able to discuss recent developments and actions. This is necessary in order to better understand the situation in Iraq. All these people are connected with each other and can ask or give advice, bring ideas to the forum, spread important news, and so we attempt to help the peace movement solve some difficult questions as f.i. should we support the resistance, should the MNF-I leave Iraq etc. We also act as a sort of hub to connect people. The way this committee works is a rather new concept, I don’t know about any similar initiative. And it’s very workable.
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 the chairs from different Human Rights organisations, medical associations, academic associations 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. That has helped us a lot because the situation of Iraq is extremely complicated for outsiders like us. We cannot make a decent analysis without their help or support.
Now, I tell all this to give you some background and a context of who we are and why we think we can speak with some authority about Iraqi issues.
About the Academics campaign
The pattern of academics assassinated appears to substantiate claims that a campaign exists and is being conducted to erase a key section of the secular middle class in Iraq – a class that has largely resisted the US occupation of Iraq and refused to be co-opted by the so-called “political process” or Iraq’s US-installed puppet government. Academics are not the only ones being killed: 311 teachers killed the past 4 months, 182 pilots, 416 senior military officers killed in the first 3 months of 2006. 20.000 people kidnapped since the beginning of 2006.
It were the Iraqi intellectuals who asked us to start a campaign to create awareness for this problem.
When we started, it was clear we had to avoid some traps and pitfalls. I’ll sum up a few of the most important.
a) we had to avoid complicity in any way with the occupying forces and its puppet government. We don’t want to humanize this dreadful occupation. That’s why we appeal to international human rights organisations and the UNHCHR to investigate this matter, and not to the Iraqi puppet government and the occupying forces, who are the perpetrators of these crimes.
b) We had to make sure to work with many different Iraqi anti-occupation organisations and individuals, in order to be as inclusive as possible.
c) We had to avoid putting this issue in the context of a sectarian strife between Sunni’s and Shia. I will develop this point later.
d) We had to avoid to look at this issue as being a sort of revenge against academics of the previous government. The so-called Debaathification was the first step in the destruction of Iraq’s educational system. It was used by the US to divide and destroy Iraq. Most of these so-called “revenge killings” that took place after the war can be attributed to the occupying forces and collaborators.
e) We had to counter the claims of the Iraqi puppet government, the US occupiers, and the recently started campaign to safeguard the Iraqi academics, backed by both the government of Iraq and UNESCO, that criminal gangs are committing these assassinations.
f) Also, we had to mention the possible role of the Mossad in these assassinations, even though we have no hard evidence to substantiate the many assertions that Israel in involved.
g) We have to carry out this campaign in the most effective and prudent way, in order not to put the Iraqi academics even in a more dangerous situation. This requires close contacts on the ground and a lot of consultation. We distributed questionnaires from UNHCHR to the families of the victims. Not one has returned until now. The reason that is being given is that the families are too afraid to openly accuse the perpetrators. They are even too afraid to ask the police for details about the crime.
We drafted our petition very carefully, in cooperation with the Iraqis of the BRussells Tribunal network. The result is that besides over 8.000 academics worldwide, all the different patriotic currents and Iraqi anti-occupation movements have signed our petition. It was the first time something like this happened. So ours is a unifying rather than a divisive action.
Death Squads and the Salvador option
I would like to look into one major point of concern connected to this issue, and that is the so-called sectarian issue: some commentators claim that the assassination campaign of academics is part of a so-called civil war between Sunni and Shia. That’s it’s the ignorant Islamist Shia who receives direct orders from Iran to kill intellectual Sunni’s, and that it is unfortunately beyond the control of the US now. And thus the occupying forces should remain in Iraq to restore law and order. Mainstream media are raising this smokescreen to hide the truth from getting out.
Another smokescreen is the claim that most of the assassinations are carried out by criminal gangs, who first kidnap their victims, and then a ransom is paid. And after that either they are assassinated, and if not, they flee the country.
I want to put this campaign in the context where it ought to be.
What we are witnessing is the result of a carefully planned US campaign to liquidate every Iraqi who opposes the occupation of his country, the so-called “Salvador option”. In fact, since 1945 the U.S. developed counterinsurgency policies based on the model of Nazi suppression of partisan insurgents that emphasized placing the civilian population under strict control and using terror to make the population afraid to support or collaborate with insurgents.
On January 1 2004, Robert Dreyfuss stated that: “part of a secret $3 billion in new funds-tucked away in the $87 billion Iraq appropriation that Congress approved in early November 2003 – will go toward the creation of a paramilitary unit manned by militiamen associated with former Iraqi exile groups. Experts say it could lead to a wave of extrajudicial killings, not only of armed rebels but of nationalists, other opponents of the U.S. occupation and thousands of civilian Baathists-up to 120,000 of the estimated 2.5 million former Baath Party members in Iraq. “They’re clearly cooking up joint teams to do Phoenix-like things, like they did in Vietnam,” said Vincent Cannistraro, former CIA chief of counter terrorism. The bulk of the covert money will support U.S. efforts to create a lethal, and revenge-minded, Iraqi security force. “The big money would be for standing up an Iraqi secret police to liquidate the resistance,” said John Pike, an expert on classified military budgets at www.globalsecurity.org. “And it has to be politically loyal to the United States.” It’s also pouring money into the creation of an Iraqi secret police staffed mainly by gunmen associated with members of the puppet Iraqi Governing Council. Those militiamen are linked to Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (inc), the Kurdish peshmerga (”facing death”) forces and Shiite paramilitary units, especially those of the Iran-backed Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Technically illegal, these armed forces have been tolerated, even encouraged, by the Pentagon.” End of quote.
This was written on the 1st of January 2004. Soon after this blood-money was drained to Iraq, the consequences of this secret operation became clear. According to an article published in New York Times Magazine, in September 2004, Counsellor to the US Ambassador for Iraqi Security Forces James Steele was assigned to work with a new elite Iraqi counter-insurgency unit known as the Special Police Commandos, formed under the operational control of Iraq’s Interior Ministry.
Many of the same men in charge of training El Salvador’s right-wing counter-insurgency forces during its bloody civil war are revealed to be advisors to Iraqi security forces.
Max Fuller, a specialist in Latin-America, has investigated this matter thoroughly. He writes: “From 1984 to 1986 then Col. Steele had led the US Military Advisory Group in El Salvador, where he was responsible for developing special operating forces at brigade level during the height of the conflict. These forces, composed of the most brutal soldiers available, replicated the kind of small-unit operations with which Steele was familiar from his service in Vietnam. Rather than focusing on seizing terrain, their role was to attack ‘insurgent’ leadership, their supporters, sources of supply and base camps. In military circles it was the use of such tactics that made the difference in ultimately defeating the guerrillas; for others, such as the Catholic priest Daniel Santiago, the presence of people like Steele contributed to another sort of difference:
“People are not just killed by death squads in El Salvador – they are decapitated and then their heads are placed on pikes and used to dot the landscape. Men are not just disemboweled by the Salvadoran Treasury Police; their severed genitalia are stuffed into their mouths. Salvadoran women are not just raped by the National Guard; their wombs are cut from their bodies and used to cover their faces. It is not enough to kill children; they are dragged over barbed wire until the flesh falls from their bones, while parents are forced to watch. (Cited by Chomsky)”. The responsible person for these atrocities was John Negroponte, then Ambassador to Honduras from 1981-1985, appointed as US Ambassador in Baghdad.
Iraq’s interior minister Bayan Jabr, has admitted death squads and other unauthorised armed groups have been carrying out sectarian killings in the country. In a BBC interview on April 11 2006, he denied these groups were his responsibility. He added that there are non-governmental armed groups called the Facility Protection Service, set up in 2003 by the U.S. occupation, that number 150,000 effectives. These 150,000 hired guns are “out of order, not under our control,” along with another 30,000 private security guards, Jabr said.
But the prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, described the Badr organisation last summer as a “shield” defending Iraq, while the president, Jalal Talabani, claimed the Badr organisation and the peshmerga were patriots who “are important to fulfilling this sacred task, establishing a democratic, federal and independent Iraq”.
John Pace, the outgoing head of the UN human rights office in Iraq, told the March 2 British Guardian that many killings were carried out by Shia militias linked to the interior ministry run by Bayan Jabr, a leading figure in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)”. SCIRI is the main party in the coalition of Shiite religious parties that heads the US-backed Iraqi government. “The Badr brigade [SCIRI’s militia] are in the police and are mainly the ones doing the killing”, said Pace. “They’re the most notorious.”
However, I tend to believe Bayan Jabr. I think he knows very well what’s going on, but I believe him when he says these groups are not his responsibility, because I think that these militia’s, who were created, financed, armed and trained by the occupying forces, are under the direct control of the US.
Steven Casteel works as a senior vice-president of Vance, a security company. “Just prior to joining Vance, Mr. Casteel was selected by the White House to be Senior Advisor to Iraq’s Ministry of Interior under the Coalition Provisional Authority and later the Department of State. In that capacity he advised former Ambassadors Bremer and Negroponte on non-military security matters, set policy, and led the creation and operations of the Ministry’s critical services. Services included the new Iraqi Police, Border Police, Immigration, Customs Service, Civil Defense and Fire Programs. Responsibilities included recruitment, training, equipping, and deployment of services and personnel “ (www.vanceglobal.com/whoweare/leadership/casteel/). So he was involved in overseeing the training and creating of Iraqi police forces.
As a former top DEA man, he was involved in the hunt for Colombia’s notorious cocaine baron Pablo Escobar, during which the DEA collaborated with a paramilitary organization known as Los Pepes, which later transformed itself into the AUC, an umbrella organization covering all of Colombia’s paramilitary death squads.
Like Colombia’s death squads, Iraq’s Police Commandos deliberately cultivate a frightening paramilitary image. During raids they openly intimidate and brutalize suspects, even in the presence of foreign journalists. Significantly, many of the Commandos, including their leader, are Sunni Muslims.
Many of the highest-ranking officers in the Wolf brigade f.i. are Sunnis and, when asked about other minorities, Abul Waleed, a 41-year-old three-star general from the old regime, mentions Kurds and even a Yazidi, as members of these brigades. General Adnan Thabit, a Sunni and general under Saddam Hussein, is the leader of Iraq’s Special Police Commandos.
Of course some of the sections of these militia’s may follow an Iranian agenda, or a sectarian agenda, but if you look at the composition and actions of these death squads, they should certainly not be called “Shiite death squads”, but “anti-resistance death squads”.
Putting the primary blame for these killing on criminal gangs or on Iran, is serving the US interests in the region. Continuously linking “Shiite” to “death squads” also serves the US agenda by fuelling sectarian strife and so contributing to the deliberate disintegration of the country.
Many of the murdered academics are Shia, and what most of those killed academics have in common, is their opposition to the US occupation of Iraq.
Patrick Lang, former chief of Middle East analysis for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency says: “What those of us in El Salvador learned was that American policy might call for surgical action, but once the local troops are involved, they’re as likely to use a chain-saw as a scalpel. And that, too, can serve American ends. In almost any counter-insurgency, the basic message the government or the occupiers tries to get across to the population is brutally simple: “We can protect you from the guerrillas, but the guerrillas can’t protect you from us, and you’ve got to choose sides.” Sometimes you can win the population’s hearts and minds; sometimes you just have to make them more frightened of you than they are of the insurgents.” And for this aim they use the Wolf Brigade, the Scorpions Brigade, the Lions Brigade, the Peshmerga’s and the “security forces” of the Ministry of Interior.
We receive many eye-witness reports from inside Iraq. They are published on the BRussells Tribunal website.
One report describes a case where people are arrested by the Badr Brigade, with the help of US forces and brought to secret prisons under the control of the Badr brigades.
Another report describes how in the aftermath of the bombing of the Askariyah shrine in Samarra, the village of Al Fursan, south of Baghdad, is ethnically cleaned by black-clad militias and police commandos while American tanks are standing by, watch what happens and don’t interfere while people are being slaughtered, houses being burned.
The latest report dates from 17 of April. Men in police uniforms attacked the Al-Adhamiya neighbourhood in Baghdad. The Ministry of Interior claimed the uniformed men didn’t belong to the puppet forces, but local residents are quite sure they were special forces from the Ministry of Interior, probably Badr brigades. The neighbourhood was sealed off and electricity was cut off.
When the uniformed forces entered the neighbourhood, the National Guards that are usually patrolling the streets left. Young armed men from the neighbourhood fought side by side with mujahedin against the attacking forces to protect Al-Adhamiya. Several residents have been killed in the streets. US troops also entered the neighbourhood. At first, they only stood by and watched; later on they, too, fired at the locals, who tried to repel the attacks. These reports show that there is at least complicity of the US forces in the actions of the militia’s.
These examples show that there is at least complicity of the US forces in the actions of the militia’s.
To conclude I would like to denounce the total lack of interest in human lives by the occupying forces and the Western mainstream press. There is obviously a lot of racism involved in the way this occupation is handled by the MNF-I and covered by the media. Some of the academics assassinated were among the finest scientists not only in the Middle East, but worldwide. Nevertheless, none of these murders have been investigated, and very few commemorations appeared in the Western press when these famous academics were killed. And that is another crime.
Member BRussells Tribunal Executive Committee