War in Iraq

DAYS Coverage of the Iraq War

DAYS JAPAN was launched one year to the day after the invasion of Iraq. In marking the magazine's seventh anniversary and the launching of DAYS INTERNATIONAL [webmagazine], we continue looking into the unreported realities behind this war.

Text by Brian Covert

‘We Don’t Do Body Counts’

Soon after the bombs began raining down on the people of Afghanistan in 2001, a number of Pentagon officials in Arlington, Virginia insisted they did not keep track of the numbers of dead enemy fighters or civilians. This insistence grew much stronger after the U.S. invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003.

“We don’t do body counts on other people,” Donald Rumsfeld, then-secretary of defense in the Bush administration,
said in an interview on the conservative American cable TV network Fox News on November 2, 2003, and again 10 months later.

Undaunted by such callousness of the U.S. government, a number of people in many countries were working fervently to get at the truth behind the lies in the Iraq war. Toward that end, a group of British and American citizens founded the “Iraq Body Count” website

The website contains a well-organized database of tens of thousands of Iraqis whose deaths were caused by violent means since the 2003 invasion. These are deaths that have been confirmed by at least two news media sources. To date, Iraq Body Count roughly estimates that between 99,000 and 109,000 Iraqis have died in the eight-year-long war.

The Iraq Body Count database shows, especially in the early days of the war, masses of people being killed at a time. For example, between 226 and 240 Iraqis are listed as being killed in the city of Nassiriya during U.S. air raids between March 20 and April 3, 2003. In the same area, between March 20 and April 6, the database shows, 633 people were killed at one time in U.S. ground attacks.

The painstaking work by Iraq Body Count in documenting such deaths since then has surely contributed much to the world’s knowledge of the truth behind the Iraq war.

Independent Media Exposes Government Lies

From his home in the U.S. state of Alaska, where he was working as a nature guide and rescue ranger,
Dahr Jamail watched the U.S. news media images of, first, the Afghanistan war and then the Iraq war. His anger grew with the increasing numbers of patriotic news stories of “heroic” American soldiers fighting in Iraq and of America’s state-of-the-art war machines.

Jamail, an Arab American, said he was “completely outraged” with the U.S. news media coverage of Iraq. He started feeling that he could do better reporting himself. So eventually he quit his job, and armed with only a digital camera and a laptop computer, he entered Iraq through Amman, Jordan in November 2003.

Before long, major overseas media like the BBC of Britain found his reports on the Internet and began carrying them.

During Jamail’s second trip to Iraq in April 2004, he was able to sneak into Fallujah, which the U.S. military had sealed off during its first major siege of the city. He reported that contrary to Pentagon claims of no civilian Iraqi deaths in Fallujah, he had witnessed hundreds of Iraqi people — including children, women and elderly persons — turning up dead as a result of U.S. cluster bombs being dropped on the city and U.S. military snipers targeting innocent people.

Jamail was back in Iraq seven months later when the U.S. began its second major siege of Fallujah in November 2004. He was able to interview many refugees who had fled the city. He reported on Iraqis with “horribly burned bodies” that appeared to be caused by the illegal use of white phosphorous bombs by the U.S. military.

He is said to be the first journalist in the world to report that news.

The Worldwide Iraq War Tribunals

Jamail was one of a number of journalists, academics, activists and others who testified to the atrocities being committed in Iraq during a series of 20 or so public tribunals and hearings held under the umbrella of the “
World Tribunal on Iraq” in various cities around the world between 2003 and 2005 {*2}. The most powerful testimony of all in these tribunals came from Iraqi citizens themselves, as they exposed the lie of America’s “commitment to a free Iraq,” in the words of then-president Bush.

At an
Iraq war crimes tribunal session held over two days in Kyoto, Japan on July 17-18, 2004 — one of several held throughout the Japanese mainland and Okinawa around that time — three Iraqi citizens testified that life for Iraqis under U.S. military control was far worse than it had been under the regime of military dictator Saddam Hussein.

Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi former political prisoner now living in England, told the mostly Japanese audience that during a recent visit to Iraq she had found a dramatic rise in violence against Iraqi women and children, kidnappings, abortions and prostitution — which she attributed to the widespread poverty that resulted from the U.S. invasion.

The tribunal also featured testimony from two Iraqi brothers, Sabah al-Mukhtar and Ghazwan al-Mukhtar. Sabah, a prominent Iraqi attorney living in exile in London, testified to the ongoing human rights violations by the U.S.-led military forces in Iraq. “There are today in Iraq at least 10,000 [Iraqi] people who are detained without a trial. They have not seen a lawyer, they have not been charged, they have not been put before a court.”

Ghazwan, a retired Iraqi engineer still living in Iraq, gave testimony on the collapsed social infrastructure in his country. He publicly testified again one month later in August 2004, at one of the tribunals held on American soil.

He told an audience of about 500 people at Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium in New York City that with Iraq’s police and security forces disbanded, crimes of all types were increasing. He said that a lack of electricity, food scarcity, skyrocketing unemployment, poor sanitation and water supplies, and a breakdown in the health care system in Iraq were all part of the daily struggle for most Iraqis.

Among the international speakers and witnesses at the World Tribunal on Iraq’s final three-day session in Istanbul, Turkey from June 24-26, 2005 were an Iraqi environmental engineer, Dr. Souad Naji Al-Azzawi, and a U.S. medical specialist, Dr. Thomas Fasy from New York. Both testified to the rising rates of cancer and birth defects since the U.S. military’s use of
depleted uranium (DU), first in the 1990-91 Gulf War and again in the 2003 invasion of Iraq — shining a light on an issue that the U.S. government had denied and the western mainstream press mostly ignored {*3}.

WikiLeaks Reveals Iraq War Atrocities

On July 12, 2007, two U.S. Army Apache helicopters, in three separate incidents in the “New Baghdad” district of Iraq’s capital city, fired on and killed several Iraqis that it said were “insurgents.” Nearly three years later in April 2010, the whistleblower website WikiLeaks — once again using “truth as a weapon” to reach a mass audience on the Internet — released a shocking 39-minute video segment of those attacks that it had confidentially obtained and edited, entitled “
Collateral Murder.”

The grainy, black-and-white video, as seen through the eyes of the helicopter crews, showed the U.S. helicopters firing on and killing a group of apparently unarmed Iraqi men. Among the group were two Iraqi cameramen working at the time for the Reuters news agency.

The video showed the helicopter pilots later firing on an unmarked civilian van that had stopped to help the wounded. U.S. troops arriving on the scene soon afterward pulled two severely injured Iraqi children, who had miraculously survived, out of the van’s charred wreckage and whisked them away for emergency medical treatment.

The leaked video had proven the U.S. military claims of “insurgent activity,” at least in this case, to be a lie. These were unarmed civilians posing no threat at all to U.S. forces.

Half a year later in October 2010, WikiLeaks released almost 400,000 internal military documents about the Iraq war that it had again obtained confidentially. Titled the “
Iraq War Logs,” the documents were the raw data of thousands of U.S. Army field reports from 2004 to 2009.

The secret military files documented more than 66,000 civilian deaths in Iraq out of more than 109,000 recorded deaths.

According to the group Iraq Body Count, the WikiLeaks files contain about 15,000 civilian deaths that the U.S. government had not admitted to before as being civilians. Iraq Body Count says it now expects its total of Iraqi deaths since 2003 to exceed 150,000. A full 80 percent of those deaths (more than 122,000 Iraqis), Iraq Body Count believes, were civilians.

About 680 Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. troops between 2004 and 2010 at checkpoints or near military convoys, according to an analysis of the raw military data in the files
by Al Jazeera, the Arabic news network. The victims included children, pregnant women and mentally disabled persons.

The real significance of the leaks, though, lies beyond all the numbers. What WikiLeaks had exposed was the lie behind the U.S. government’s insistence all along that “We don’t do body counts.” The U.S. military hierarchy, in fact, was keeping detailed records of Iraqi deaths, including those of civilians. And just as it did during the Vietnam war, the U.S. military was still falsely tallying up innocent civilian deaths in many cases as “insurgents killed in action.”

But the biggest danger is not that governments lie. The biggest danger is not even that governments succeed in getting much of the public to believes those lies. The biggest danger of all, the late American investigative journalist
I.F. Stone {*4} wrote in 1967 during the Vietnam war, is when governments believe their own lies.

The same could well be said of the first two wars to be waged in the 21st century by the United States: the Afghanistan war and Iraq war.

{*1} Iraq Body Count: www.iraqbodycount.org
{*2} WTI-affiliated hearings and trials were held in Barcelona, Mumbai, London, Copenhagen, Brussels, New York, Stockholm, Lisbon, Seoul, and various cities in Italy, Germany and Japan.
{*3} While most of the 20 tribunals in various cities around the world appear to have broken up after the WTI final judgment in Istanbul, the “Brussels Tribunal” in Belgium has continued to investigate and document the truth about the Iraq war up to the present day.
{*4} I.F. Stone (1907-1989), one of the leading investigative journalists in the U.S. in the 20th century.

Brian Covert
Journalist. Born in Los Angeles, California, USA in 1959. Reported for UPI news service, the Mainichi Newspapers and other news companies in Japan before becoming independent. Contributing writer and English-language editor for DAYS JAPAN magazine. Lecturer in the journalism department of Doshisha University in Kyoto. He resides in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.