Dahr Jamail’s Iraq Dispatches
September 18, 2005
Project Censored is a media research group that tracks the news published in independent journals and newsletters and annually compiles a list of 25 news stories of social significance that have been overlooked, under-reported or self-censored by the country’s major national news media. The list is published in an annual book.
This year’s book entitled “Censored 2006" features the work of Dahr Jamail as contributing to the #2 (Media Coverage Fails on Iraq: Fallujah and the Civilian Death Toll) and #7 (Journalists Face Unprecedented Dangers to Life and Livelihood) biggest stories the mainstream media ignored over the past year.
The annual Project Censored top ten list is published widely across the globe. For the contributing journalists, to be included in the top ten constitutes both a great honor and an enormous opportunity to reach a much broader audience.
To be included in two of the top ten stories is even a greater honor.
The 2006 book also includes a chapter of several web-logs from Dahr Jamail.
The #2 and #7 stories can be read below.
An excellent summary of all of the top ten stories, as well as background on Project Censored can be read at:
Dahr’s recent lecture sponsored and attended by Project Censored can be seen here:
#2 Media Coverage Fails on Iraq: Fallujah and the Civilian Death Toll
Part 1: Fallujah – War Crimes Go Unreported
Peacework, December 2004-January 2005 Title: “The Invasion of Fallujah: A Study in the Subversion of Truth” Authors: Mary Trotochaud and Rick McDowell World Socialist Web Site, November 17, 2004 Title: “US Media Applauds Destruction of Fallujah” Author: David Walsh
The NewStandard, December 3, 2004 Title: “Fallujah Refugees Tell of Life and Death in the Kill Zone” – www.dahrjamailiraq.com/hard_news/archives/hard_news/000145.php Author: Dahr Jamail
Faculty Evaluators: Bill Crowley, Ph.D., Sherril Jaffe, Ph.D. Student Researcher: Brian K. Lanphear
Over the past two years, the United States has conducted two major sieges against Fallujah, a city in Iraq. The first attempted siege of Fallujah (a city of 300,000 people) resulted in a defeat for Coalition forces. As a result, the United States gave the citizens of Fallujah two choices prior to the second siege: leave the city or risk dying as enemy insurgents. Faced with this ultimatum, approximately 250,000 citizens, or 83 percent of the population of Fallujah, fled the city. The people had nowhere to flee and ended up as refugees. Many families were forced to survive in fields, vacant lots, and abandoned buildings without access to shelter, water, electricity, food or medical care. The 50,000 citizens who either chose to remain in the city or who were unable to leave were trapped by Coalition forces and were cut off from food, water and medical supplies. The United States military claimed that there were a few thousand enemy insurgents remaining among those who stayed in the city and conducted the invasion as if all the people remaining were enemy combatants.
Burhan Fasa’a, an Iraqi journalist, said Americans grew easily frustrated with Iraqis who could not speak English. “Americans did not have interpreters with them, so they entered houses and killed people because they didn’t speak English. They entered the house where I was with 26 people, and shot people because [the people] didn’t obey [the soldiers’] orders, even just because the people couldn’t understand a word of English.” Abu Hammad, a resident of Fallujah, told the Inter Press Service that he saw people attempt to swim across the Euphrates to escape the siege. “The Americans shot them with rifles from the shore. Even if some of them were holding a white flag or white clothes over their head to show they are not fighters, they were all shot.” Furthermore, “even the wound[ed] people were killed. The Americans made announcements for people to come to one mosque if they wanted to leave Fallujah, and even the people who went there carrying white flags were killed.” Former residents of Fallujah recall other tragic methods of killing the wounded. “I watched them [US Forces] roll over wounded people in the street with tanks … This happened so many times.”
Preliminary estimates as of December of 2004 revealed that at least 6,000 Iraqi citizens in Fallujah had been killed, and one-third of the city had been destroyed.
Journalists Mary Trotochaud and Rick McDowell assert that the continuous slaughter in Fallujah is greatly contributing to escalating violence in other regions of the country such as Mosul, Baquba, Hilla, and Baghdad. The violence prompted by the US invasion has resulted in the assassinations of at least 338 Iraqi’s who were associated with Iraq’s “new” government.
The US invasion of Iraq, and more specifically Fallujah, is causing an incredible humanitarian disaster among those who have no specific involvement with the war. The International Committee for the Red Cross reported on December 23, 2004 that three of the city’s water purification plants had been destroyed and the fourth badly damaged. Civilians are running short on food and are unable to receive help from those who are willing to make a positive difference. Aid organizations have been repeatedly denied access to the city, hospitals, and refugee populations in the surrounding areas.
Abdel Hamid Salim, spokesman for the Iraqi Red Crescent in Baghdad, told Inter Press Service that none of their relief teams had been allowed into Fallujah three weeks after the invasion. Salim declared that “there is still heavy fighting in Fallujah. And the Americans won’t let us in so we can help people.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour voiced a deep concern for the civilians caught up in the fighting. Louise Arbour emphasized that all those guilty of violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws must be brought to justice. Arbour claimed that all violations of these laws should be investigated, including “the deliberate targeting of civilians, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, the killing of injured persons and the use of human shields.”
Marjorie Cohn, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists, has noted that the US invasion of Fallujah is a violation of international law that the US had specifically ratified: “They [US Forces] stormed and occupied the Fallujah General Hospital, and have not agreed to allow doctors and ambulances to go inside the main part of the city to help the wounded, in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.
According to David Walsh, the American media also seems to contribute to the subversion of truth in Fallujah. Although, in many cases, journalists are prevented from entering the city and are denied access to the wounded, corporate media showed little concern regarding their denied access. There has been little or no mention of the immorality or legality of the attacks the United States has waged against Iraq. With few independent journalists reporting on the carnage, the international humanitarian community in exile, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent prevented from entering the besieged city, the world is forced to rely on reporting from journalists embedded with US forces. In the US press, we see casualties reported for Fallujah as follows: number of US soldiers dead, number of Iraqi soldiers dead, number of “guerillas” or “insurgents” dead. Nowhere were the civilian casualties reported in the first weeks of the invasion. An accurate count of civilian casualties to date has yet to be published in the mainstream media.
Part 2: Civilian Death Toll Is Ignored
Sources: The Lancet, October 29, 2004 Title: “Mortality Before and After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq” Authors: Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal Khudhairi and Gilbert Burnham The Lancet, October 29, 2004 Title: “The War in Iraq: Civilian Casualties, Political Responsibilities” Author: Richard Horton
The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 4, 2005 Title: “Lost Count” Author: Lila Guterman FAIR, April 15, 2004 Title: “CNN to al-Jazeera: Why Report Civilian Deaths?” Author: Julie Hollar Faculty Evaluator: Sherril Jaffe, Ph.D. Student Researcher: Melissa Waybright
In late October, 2004, a peer reviewed study was published in The Lancet, a British medical journal, concluding that at least 100,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq since it was invaded by a United States-led coalition in March 2003. Previously, the number of Iraqis that had died, due to conflict or sanctions since the 1991 Gulf War, had been uncertain. Claims ranging from denial of increased mortality to millions of excess deaths have been made. In the absence of any surveys, however, they relied on Ministry of Health records.
Morgue-based surveillance data indicate the post-invasion homicide rate is many times higher than the pre-invasion rate.
In the present setting of insecurity and limited availability of health information, researchers, headed by Dr. Les Roberts of Johns Hopkins University, undertook a national survey to estimate mortality during the 14.6 months before the invasion (Jan 1, 2002, to March 18, 2003) and to compare it with the period from March 19, 2003, to the date of the interview, between Sept 8 and 20, 2004. Iraqi households were informed about the purpose of the survey, assured that their name would not be recorded, and told that there would be no benefits or penalties for refusing or agreeing to participate.
The survey indicates that the death toll associated with the invasion and occupation of Iraq is in reality about 100,000 people, and may be much higher. The major public health problem in Iraq has been identified as violence. However, despite widespread Iraqi casualties, household interview data do not show evidence of widespread wrongdoing on the part of individual soldiers on the ground.
Ninety-five percent of reported killings (all attributed to US forces by interviewees) were caused by helicopter gunships, rockets, or other forms of aerial weaponry.
The study was released on the eve of a contentious presidential election – fought in part over US policy on Iraq. Many American newspapers and television news programs ignored the study or buried reports about it far from the top headlines. “What went wrong this time? Perhaps the rush by researchers and The Lancet to put the study in front of American voters before the election accomplished precisely the opposite result, drowning out a valuable study in the clamor of the presidential campaign.” (Lila Guterman, Chronicle of Higher Education.)
The study’s results promptly flooded though the worldwide media – everywhere except the United States, where there was barely a whisper about the study, followed by stark silence. “The Lancet released the paper on October 29, the Friday before the election, when many reporters were busy with political stories. That day the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune each dedicated only about 400 words to the study and placed the stories inside their front section, on pages A4 and A11, respectively. (The news media in Europe gave the study much more play; many newspapers put articles about it on their front pages.)
In a short article about the study on page A8, the New York Times noted that the Iraqi Body Count, a project to tally civilian deaths reported in the news media, had put the maximum death count at around 17,000. The new study, the article said, “is certain to generate intense controversy.” But the Times has not published any further news articles about the paper. The Washington Post, perhaps most damagingly to the study’s reputation, quoted Marc E. Garlasco, a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, as saying, “These numbers seem to be inflated.” Mr. Garlasco says now that he hadn’t read the paper at the time and calls his quote in the Post “really unfortunate.” (Lila Guterman, Chronicle of Higher Education.)
Even so, nobody else in American corporate media bothered to pick up the story and inform our citizens how many Iraqi citizens are being killed at the hands of a coalition led by our government. The study was never mentioned on television news, and the truth remains unheard by those who may need to hear it most. The US government had no comment at the time and remains silent about Iraqi civilian deaths.
“The only thing we keep track of is casualties for US troops and civilians,” a Defense Department spokesman told The Chronicle.
When CNN anchor Daryn Kagan did have the opportunity to interview the Al Jazeera network editor-in-chief Ahmed al-Sheik – a rare opportunity to get independent information about events in Fallujah – she used the occasion to badger al-Sheik about whether the civilian deaths were really “the story” in Fallujah. CNN’s argument was that a bigger story than civilian deaths is “what the Iraqi insurgents are doing” to provoke a US “response” is startling. “When reports from the ground are describing hundreds of civilians being killed by US forces, CNN should be looking to Al Jazeera’s footage to see if it corroborates those accounts – not badgering Al Jazeera’s editor about why he doesn’t suppress that footage.” (MediaWatch, Asheville Global Report.)
Study researchers concluded that several limitations exist with this study, predominantly because the quality of data received is dependent on the accuracy of the interviews. However, interviewers believed that certain essential charcteristics of Iraqi culture make it unlikely that respondents would have fabricated their reports of the deaths. The Geneva Conventions have clear guidance about the responsibilities of occupying armies to the civilian population they control. “With the admitted benefit of hindsight and from a purely public health perspective, it is clear that whatever planning did take place was grievously in error. The invasion of Iraq, the displacement of a cruel dictator, and an attempt to impose a liberal democracy by force have, by themselves, been insufficient to bring peace and security to the civilian population.
The illegal, heavy handed tactics practiced by the US military in Iraq evident in these news stories have become what appears to be their standard operating procedure in occupied Iraq. Countless violations of international law and crimes against humanity occurred in Fallujah during the November massacre.
Evidenced by the mass slaughtering of Iraqis and the use of illegal weapons such as cluster bombs, napalm, uranium munitions and chemical weapons during the November siege of Fallujah when the entire city was declared a “free fire zone” by military leaders, the brutality of the US military has only increased throughout Iraq as the occupation drags on.
According to Iraqis inside the city, at least 60 percent of Fallujah went on to be totally destroyed in the siege, and eight months after the siege entire districts of the city remained without electricity or water. Israeli style checkpoints were set up in the city, prohibiting anyone from entering who did not live inside the city. Of course non-embedded media were not allowed in the city.
Update: Since these stories were published, countless other incidents of illegal weapons and tactics being used by the US military in Iraq have occurred.
During “Operation Spear” on June 17th, 2005, US-led forces attacked the small cities of al-Qa’im and Karabla near the Syrian border. US warplanes dropped 2,000 pound bombs in residential areas and claimed to have killed scores of “militants” while locals and doctors claimed that only civilians were killed.
As in Fallujah, residents were denied access to the city in order to obtain medical aid, while those left inside the city claimed Iraqi civilians were being regularly targeted by US snipers.
According to an IRIN news report, Firdos al-Abadi from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society stated that 7,000 people from Karabla were camped in the desert outside the city, suffering from lack of food and medical aid while 150 homes were totally destroyed by the US military.
An Iraqi doctor reported on the same day that he witnessed, “crimes in the west area of the country … the American troops destroyed one of our hospitals, they burned the whole store of medication, they killed the patient in the ward … they prevented us from helping the people in Qa’im.”
Also like Fallujah, a doctor at the General Hospital of al-Qa’im stated that entire families remained buried under the rubble of their homes, yet medical personnel were unable to reach them due to American snipers.
Iraqi civilians in Haditha had similar experiences during “Operation Open Market” when they claimed US snipers shot anyone in the streets for days on end, and US and Iraqi forces raided homes detaining any man inside.
Corporate media reported on the “liberation” of Fallujah, as well as quoting military sources on the number of “militants” killed. Any mention of civilian casualties, heavy-handed tactics or illegal munitions was either brief or non-existent, and continues to be as of June 2005.
For Additional Information: For those interested in following these stories, it is possible to obtain information by visiting the English al-Jazeera website at english.aljazeera.net/HomePage, my website at www.dahrjamailiraq.com, The World Tribunal on Iraq at www.worldtribunal.org, Peacework Magazine at www.afsc.org/pwork/0412/041204.htm and other alternative/independent news websites.
#7 Journalists Face Unprecedented Dangers to Life and Livelihood
www.truthout.org, Feb. 28, 2005 Title: “Dead Messengers: How the US Military Threatens Journalists” Author: Steve Weissman www.truthout.org/docs_2005/022405A.shtml
Title: “Media Repression in ‘Liberated’ Land” – www.dahrjamailiraq.com/hard_news/archives/hard_news/000124.php InterPress Service, November 18, 2004 Author: Dahr Jamail www.ipsnews.net/interna.asp?idnews=26333
Faculty Evaluator: Elizabeth Burch, Ph.D. Student Researcher: Michelle Jesolva
According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), 2004 was the deadliest year for reporters since 1980, when records began to be kept. Over a 12-month span, 129 media workers were killed and 49 of those deaths occurred in the Iraqi conflict. According to independent journalist Dahr Jamail, journalists are increasingly being detained and threatened by the US-installed interim government in Iraq. When the only safety for a reporter is being embedded with the US military, the reported stories tend to have a positive spin. Non-embedded reporters suffer the great risk of being identified as enemy targets by the military.
The most blatant attack on journalists occurred the morning of April 8, 2004, when the Third Infantry fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad killing cameramen Jose Couso and Taras Protsyuk and injuring three others. The hotel served as headquarters for some 100 reporters and other media workers. The Pentagon officials knew that the Palestine Hotel was full of journalists and had assured the Associated Press that the US would not target the building. According to Truthout, the Army had refused to release the records of its investigation. The Committee to Protect Journalists, created in 1981 in order to protect colleagues abroad from governments and others who have no use for free and independent media, filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act to force the Army to release its results. The sanitized copy of the releasable results showed nothing more than a Commander inquiry.
Unsatisfied with the US military’s investigation, Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that works to improve the legal and physical safety of journalists worldwide, conducted their own investigation. They gathered evidence from journalists in the Palestine Hotel at the time of the attacks. These were eye witness accounts that the military neglected to include in their report. The Reporters Without Borders report also provided information disclosed by others embedded within the US Army, including the US military soldiers and officers directly involved in the attack. The report stated that the US officials first lied about what had happened during the Palestine Hotel attack and then, in an official statement four months later, exonerated the US Army from any mistake of error in judgment. The investigation found that the soldiers in the field did not know that the hotel was full of journalists. Olga Rodriguez, a journalist present at the Palestine Hotel during the attack, stated on KPFA’s Democracy Now! that the soldiers and tanks were present at the hotel 36 hours before the firing and that they had even communicated with the soldiers.
There have been several other unusual journalist attacks, including: March 22, 2003: Terry Lloyd, a reporter for British TV station ITN, was killed when his convoy crossed into Iraq from Kuwait. French cameraman Frederic Nerac and Lebanese interpreter Hussein Osman, both in the convoy, disappeared at the same time.
June, 2003: According to Dahr Jamail, within days of the ‘handover’ of power to an interim Iraqi government in 2003, al-Jazeera had been accused of inaccurate reporting and was banned for one month from reporting out of Iraq. The ban was later extended to “indefinitely” and the interim government announced that any al-Jazeera journalist found reporting in Iraq would be detained. Corentin Fleury, a French freelance photographer, and his interpreter Bahktiyar Abdulla Hadad, were detained by the US military when they were leaving Fallujah before the siege of the city began. They were both held in a military detention facility outside of the city and were questioned about the photos that were taken of bomb-stricken Fallujah. Fleury was released after five days but his interpreter, Bahktiyar Abdulla Hadad, remained.
April 8, 2004: The same day of the attack on the Palestine Hotel, Truthout writes, the US bombed the Baghdad offices of Abu Dhabi TV and al-Jazeera while they were preparing to broadcast, killing al-Jazeera correspondent Tariq Ayyoub. August 17, 2004: Mazen Dana was killed while filming (with permission) a prison, guarded by the US military in a Baghdad suburb. According to Truthout’s Steve Weissman, the Pentagon issued a statement one month later claiming that the troops had acted within the rules of engagement.
March 4, 2005: Nicola Calipari, one of Italy’s highest ranking intelligence officials, was shot dead by US troops. He was driving with Italian journalist Guiliana Sgrena, who had just been released from captivity and was on her way to Baghdad’s airport. Sgrena survived the attack. She stated in an interview with Amy Goodman on KPFA’s Democracy Now! that the troops “shot at us without any advertising, any intention, any attempt to stop us before” and they appeared to have shot the back of the car.
In all cases, little investigation has been conducted, no findings have been released and all soldiers involved have been exonerated. At the World Economic Forum, on a panel titled: “Will Democracy Survive the Media?,” Eason Jordan, a CNN news chief, commented that the US commanders encourage hostility toward the media and fail to protect journalists, especially those who choose not to embed themselves under military control. According to Truthout, during a discussion about the number of journalists killed during the Iraq war, Jordan stated that he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by US troops, but had been targeted. Jordan also insisted that US soldiers had deliberately shot at journalists. After the forum, Jordan recanted the statements and was forced to resign his job of 23 years at CNN.
As a matter of military doctrine, the US military dominates, at all costs, every element of battle, including our perception of what they do. The need for control leads the Pentagon to urge journalists to embed themselves within the military, where they can go where they are told and film and tell stories only from a pro-American point of view. The Pentagon offers embedded journalists a great deal of protection. As the Pentagon sees it, non-embedded eyes and ears do not have any military significance, and unless Congress and the American people stop them, the military will continue to target independent journalists. Admirals and generals see the world one way, reporters another; the clash leads to the deaths of too many journalists.
Update by Steve Weissman: When Truthout boss Marc Ash asked me earlier this year to look into the Pentagon’s killing of journalists, many reporters believed that the military was purposely targeting them. But, as I quickly found, the crime was more systemic and in many ways worse. As far as anyone has yet proved, no commanding officer ever ordered a subordinate to fire on journalists as such. Not at Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel in April 2003. Not at the Baghdad checkpoint where soldiers wounded Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena and killed her Secret Service protector in March 2005. Andnot anywhere else in Iraq or Afghanistan.
How, then, did the US military end up killing journalists? It started with a simple decision – the Pentagon’s absolute refusal to take any responsibility for the lives of journalists who chose to work independently rather than embed themselves in a British or American military unit. Despite repeated requests from Reuters and other major news organizations, Pentagon officials still refuse to take the steps needed to reduce the threat to independent journalists:
1.The military must be forced to respect the work that independent journalists do, protect them where possible, and train soldiers to recognize the obvious differences between rocket launchers and TV cameras.
2.Commanders need to pass on information about the whereabouts of journalists with a direct order not to shoot at them.
3.When soldiers do kill journalists, the Pentagon needs to hold them responsible, something that no military investigation has yet done.
4.When the military tries to forcibly exclude journalists and otherwise prevent “hostile information” about its operations, such as its destruction of Falujah, Congress and the media need to step in and force the Pentagon to back off.
One other problem needs urgent attention. Military intelligence regularly monitors the uplink equipment that reporters use to transmit their stories and communicate by satellite phone. But, as the BBC’s Nik Gowing discovered, the electronic intelligence mavens make no effort to distinguish between journalistic communications and those of enemy forces. All the sensing devices do is look for electronic traffic between the monitored uplinks and known enemies.
In Gowing’s view, this led the Americans to order a rocket attack on the Kabul office of the Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera, whose journalists kept regular contact with the Taliban as part of their journalistic coverage.
To date, neither Congress nor the military have done what they need to do to protect unembedded journalists and the information they provide. More shamefully, the mass media continues to underplay the story.
But, for those who want it, reliable information is easily available, either from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters without Borders, or the International Federation of Journalists.
Notes: 1. www.ifj.org. 2. “Missing ITN Crew May Have Come Under ‘Friendly Fire,’” www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/ Story/0,2763,919832,00.html, March 23, 2003. 3. Democracy Now! March 23, 2005, “Wounded Spanish Journalist Olga Rodriguez Describes the US Attack on the Palestine Hotel that Killed Two of Her Colleagues.” 4. Democracy Now! April 27, 2005, “Giuliana Sgrena Blasts US Cover Up, Calls for US and Italy to Leave Iraq.”
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