by Francis Shor
[ed note: This article deals with the previous Wikileaks release related to Iraq and Afghanistan, not to the latest release of over 250,000 US diplomatic cables.]
(Swans - November 29, 2010) The recent release by WikiLeaks of close to 400,000 reports, authored by those US and UK soldiers engaged in military operations in Iraq from 2004 to 2009, provide compelling testimony to the viciousness of the war and occupation. Certainly, such glimpses reinforce the sense that the massive killing of civilians was not incidental, but part and parcel of a campaign to sow death and destruction. Therefore, it is understandable why the Pentagon and the Obama administration wanted to suppress WikiLeaks and, in the words of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, "attempt to keep the public record sanitized."
It is indisputable that WikiLeaks has added essential elements to that public record. Among these are the greater involvement of the US military and its Iraqi allies in torture. For those US soldiers, like Josh Steiber, who witnessed such violations of human rights and helped, at some point, with the release of documents and videos, WikiLeaks and the US public owe them a debt of gratitude. Steiber, in particular, has been speaking around the country about the process of desensitizing that he underwent in his operational activities in Iraq. However, soldiers, like Steiber and Bradley Manning, under military arrest for his alleged leaking of material, demonstrate that they can transcend the murderous programming which the military and civilian authorities promulgating the policies of war promote.
On the other hand, as important and courageous as these ground and grunt level perspectives are, they still exist within the matrix of US imperialism. In other words, while they may record the victimization of the other, they tell us little about what Iraqis observe and feel about the war and occupation. In order, therefore, to get beyond the limited vision found even in the WikiLeaks documents, we should enhance those reports with an authentic Iraqi perspective from this same period. Fortunately, there exists two collections of such reports, entitled Baghdad Burning, written by a twenty-something educated Iraqi woman who blogged from 2004 to 2007 under the name of "Riverbend." The few entries below may help to break through the insularity found in the WikiLeaks documents and expand our own vision of what our imperial intervention has wrought.
One of the more remarkable findings by WikiLeaks is that of an unaccounted 15,000 civilian deaths. While trying to discern the actual numbers of people killed in the war is still in dispute, it seems that the earlier 2006 study in the respected medical journal The Lancet has been relegated to historical amnesia. However, one can cite the following October 18, 2006, entry by "Riverbend" on why the figure of 600,000 dead, projected as the maximum by The Lancet, was not unimaginable given the lethal environment of the war.
We literally do not know a single Iraqi family that has not seen the violent death of a first or second degree relative these last three years. Abductions, sectarian violence, revenge killings, assassinations, car-bombs, suicide bombs, American military strikes, Iraqi military raids, death squads, armed robberies, executions, detentions, secret prisons, torturing, mysterious weapons - with so many different ways to die is the number so far-fetched?
From the perspective of "Riverbend" the violence against Iraqi civilians, and, particularly, incidents of rape, were not just relegated to the sectarian war unleashed by the US invasion and occupation. Rape, as recounted in this July 11, 2006, entry, was endemic to the US prosecution of the war.
The poor girl Abeer was neither the first to be raped by American troops, nor will she be the last. The only reasons this rape was brought to light and publicized is that her whole immediate family was killed with her... We've been hearing whisperings about rapes in American controlled prisons and during sieges of towns like Haditha and Samarra for the last three years. The naiveté of Americans who can't believe their "heroes" are committing such atrocities is ridiculous. Who ever heard of an occupying army committing rape???
"Riverbend's" angry and ironic final question underscores the blinkered vision most US citizens still have about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even with the massive amount of documentary materials now available through WikiLeaks, the silence on issues like rape and the massacres in cities like Fallujah is deafening. The constant bombardment of militaristic propaganda purveyed by the Pentagon and embedded in the corporate media and mass-mediated culture tries to instill the kind of hyperpatriotic illusions of "clean" wars and "heroic" warriors. Instead of recognizing that war atrocities are part of daily operations, something that WikiLeaks does help to reinforce, US citizens, for the most part, remain blind to the horrors visited upon others in our name.
It is imperative, therefore, that we continue to heed the voices of people like "Riverbend" and keep them in our consciousness, even as we gain the additional essential information disseminated by WikiLeaks. For this reason alone, the final words to this essay must be those of "Riverbend" and her arguments against the Pentagon's insistence that all of its heinous weapons, from cluster bombs to phosphorous and depleted uranium, are merely conventional arms. As noted by "Riverbend" in her November 17, 2005 entry:
This war has redefined "conventional." It has taken atrocity to another level. Everything we learned before has become obsolete. "Conventional" has become synonymous with horrifying. Conventional weapons are those that eat away the skin in a white blaze; conventional interrogation methods are like those practiced in Abu Ghraib and other prisons...Quite simply...conventional terror.
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About the Author
Fran Shor, a Professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, teaches courses in the fields of historical and cultural studies. He is the author of three books, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, 1888-1918, Bush-League Spectacles: Empire, Politics, and Culture in Bushwhacked America, and the recently published Dying Empire: U.S. imperialism and global resistance (Routledge, 2010); and scores of articles in academic journals. He has also published extensively on Web sites such as Common Dreams, CounterPunch, and History News Network. A veteran activist in peace, justice, and international solidarity campaigns, he is a long-time board member of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights and Peace Action of Michigan. (back)