The perfect storm
World Tribunal on Iraq convened in Istanbul was a nearly flawless
performance of a symphony of sorrow, outrage and condemnation of the
U.S.-led invasion and occupation of a sovereign country. |Arundhati Roy at the World Tribunal on Iraq in Istanbul.
was on the second day that I got the sense that things were coming
together in a way akin to several climatic disturbances fusing to
create what meteorologists call the "perfect storm".
was probably the combination of eyewitness accounts that made clear
beyond a shadow of doubt that the siege of Falluja in November 2004 was
a case of collective punishment. There was a damning expose of how the
so-called reconstruction of Iraq was actually meant to make the country
a free-market paradise for corporations and a chilling analysis of how
White House directives made it possible for United States agents to
snatch anyone anywhere in the world and transport him or her to the
Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba on mere suspicion of being an "enemy
The truth came out swinging
like a sledgehammer for three memorable days in Istanbul, surprising
even the toughest critics of Washington in the audience about how
viciously and systematically the George W. Bush administration had
ripped apart the fabric of international law, unilaterally rewritten
the laws of war, and made the systematic violation of basic human
rights the normal mode of governance in Iraq. There were hardly any
strident voices among those who testified from June 24 to 27 at the
World Tribunal on Iraq in Istanbul. It was, for the most part, fact
laid upon fact, often in the form of unforgettable images, projected
onscreen, not only of frightened civilians fleeing the massive
firepower that U.S. marines directed at their homes, but of hundreds of
hectares of valuable greenery on the outskirts of Baghdad buried under
tonnes of concrete to deprive insurgents of hiding places.
truth coming out in Istanbul was made even harsher by the ongoing final
collapse of the lies that the U.S. and British governments constructed
to justify the invasion and occupation. The release of the now infamous
"Downing Street Memos" revealed how early the Bush administration made
the decision to invade Iraq and how the U.S. and British authorities
manufactured the myth of Saddam Hussein's development of weapons of
mass destruction (WMDs) to justify the planned invasion.
seems to have become the order of the day, with U.S. Vice-President
Dick Cheney saying one day that the Iraqi resistance is on its last
legs, followed the next day by Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld
asserting that the insurgency will go on for years. Meanwhile, the
servile U.S. media decry the mess in Iraq, call upon the Bush
administration to recognise the bleak realities on the ground, yet
assert, like The New York Times' columnist Thomas Friedman,
that withdrawal is not an option and that the only solution is to pour
in more U.S. troops into the meat-grinder that Iraq has become.
was a collective portrait of a war drawn in compelling detail. This
conflict, we learned, is a war against civilians, since there is no way
for the U.S. troops to distinguish between civilians and insurgents,
nor do they seem to want to.
It is a
war against women and children, as shown by the fact that 250 of the
people killed in the second siege of Falluja were women and children.
Rape in post-invasion Iraq, Iraqi witnesses testified, is rampant, but
a culture of shame and the lack of any trust in the criminal
investigating and prosecuting abilities of the occupation regime have
prevented documentation of its scale.
is a war against culture, with witness after witness decrying the
absolute failure of the occupiers to protect 4,000-year-old artefacts
from looters, many of whom could have been organised by commercial
interests outside Iraq.
It is a war
with appalling consequences far into the future in the form of a rising
incidence of leukaemia and other cancers owing to the massive
quantities of depleted uranium spewed all over the country by U.S. and
WHILE U.S. government
actors, decisions and actions were the main focus of testimonies, other
actors too were not spared. The 50-nation "Coalition of the Willing"
was portrayed as a bunch of coerced, bribed, or opportunistic
governments that dutifully read the script of
"invasion-to-rid-Iraq-of-weapons-of-mass-destruction" written by the
U.S. in its attempt to provide legitimacy to the invasion.
Nations officials Hans von Sponeck and Dennis Robinson showed
convincingly why the U.N. became one of the most hated organisations in
Iraq owing to the sanctions regime it implemented before the war and
its collaboration with U.S. authorities after the invasion.
complicity, the "Jury of Conscience" learned, was extensive, involving
not only infrastructure builders such as Halliburton and Bechtel and
mercenary recruiters such as Blackwater and DynCorp, but Royal Dutch
Shell, ExxonMobil, British Petroleum and other members of the mafia of
The Western media's
participation in the manipulation of public opinion was one of the
highlights of the tribunal, as witnesses such as the writer Saul Landau
pointed to the complicity of not only right-wing press entities such as
Fox News but also the icons of the liberal press such as The New York Times,
whose reporter Judith Miller actively disseminated government
disinformation on Saddam Hussein's WMD capabilities and whose editorial
line continues to be to stabilise the situation in Iraq by sending in
many more U.S. troops. Not surprisingly, at the press conference after
the tribunal, jury chairperson Arundathi Roy said: "If there is one
thing that has come out clearly in the last few days, it is not that
the corporate media supports the global corporate project; it is the
global corporate project."
was, of course, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair's image as
George W. Bush's key collaborator is more than well-deserved, the jury
learned. For not only did he push his intelligence services to
manufacture evidence to support the myth that Saddam Hussein possessed
WMDs, but he was an enthusiastic champion of an externally imposed
regime change, though his own government lawyers told him bluntly that
there could be no justification found for such a course of action in
international law. This made him, like Bush, "a very dangerous man,
indeed", as one witness put it.
World Tribunal on Iraq was a striking display of how global civil
society is supplanting governments and the corporate media as the
source of truth, justice and direction as the latter institutions get
universally discredited, and how well it is performing that role. The
Istanbul session was the final act of a two-year process of about 20
hearings held in different parts of the world, including London,
Mumbai, Copenhagen, Brussels, New York, Japan, Stockholm, South Korea,
Rome, Frankfurt, Barcelona, Tunis and Geneva. It was a nearly flawless
performance of a symphony of sorrow, outrage and condemnation organised
by Turkish peace activists and performed by over a hundred people drawn
from all over the world and from all walks of life, with a "Jury of
Conscience" made up of citizens of 10 countries and a "Panel of
Advocates" with 54 members.
senior leaders of the trans-border people's movement, such as
international lawyer and university professor Richard Falk, the head of
the "Panel of Advocates", and human rights activist Chandra Muzzafar,
with activists of the 1990s such as the novelist Arundathi Roy, and
members of an even younger generation such as Herbert Docena, who
presented a universally applauded portrait of the economic colonisation
of Iraq, Dahr Jamail, who has become one of the most trusted sources of
information on the war, and the Iraqi activist Rana Mustafa, who risked
life and limb along with photo journalist Mark Miller to make sure the
world would have a film record of the destruction of Falluja.
conclusions and recommendations of the "Jury of Conscience" are likely
to have a powerful moral influence on the course of events, especially
its call on U.S. and coalition soldiers to exercise their right to
conscientious objection and on communities throughout the world to
provide haven for those who heed this call. On the last day of the
tribunal, Arundathi Roy observed that her thoughts and actions would
categorise her as an "enemy combatant" in the U.S. government's view.
As I joined the thunderous applause for the jury's decisions, I
thought, yes, why not, we are all enemy combatants now, and proud of
Walden Bello is executive
director of Focus on the Global South and Professor of Sociology at the
University of the Philippines. He is the author of the recently
published Dilemmas of Domination: The Unmaking of the American Empire (Henry Holt and Co., New York, 2005).