World Tribunal in Istanbul

Iraqi Victims Expose U.S. War Crimes

by Larry Everest

Revolution #012, August 21, 2005, posted at

"The accounts I heard will live with me forever. You may think you know what happened in Falluja, but the truth is worse than anything you could possibly have imagined."

Iraqi Doctor Salem Ismael, who headed an aid convoy to Falluja in February 2005

The June 24-26 World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI) in Istanbul, Turkey, was the concluding session of a two-year effort which included previous sessions in London, Mumbai, Copenhagen, Brussels, New York, Japan, Stockholm, South Korea, Rome, Frankfurt, Geneva, Lisbon and Spain. Drawing on the tradition of Bertrand Russell's 1967 International War Crimes Tribunal on Vietnam, the WTI's mission was to document the truth about the 2003 war and occupation--against official lies, disinformation and silence. The participants saw the Tribunal as "an act of resistance"--as Indian novelist and activist Arundhati Roy put it, "a defense mounted against one of the most cowardly wars ever fought in history."

Around 1,000 people from some 24 different countries attended this Tribunal. Over three days, six panels--a politically diverse group of 54 scholars, journalists, legal experts, witnesses, former soldiers and officials from around the globe, and most of all Iraqis direct from the occupation--presented evidence to an international jury of conscience comprised of people from 10 countries. I was invited to testify on the history of U.S. and UK intervention in Iraq. I'm pretty well informed when it comes to Iraq, but the three days of testimony I heard in Istanbul--especially the words of Iraqis direct from the occupation--were still eye-opening and gut-wrenching.

The Horrors of the Occupation

Day two of the Tribunal, which focused on the U.S. occupation, was particularly intense and moving. Witness after witness presented horrific and enraging pictures of life under the U.S. imperial occupation. Iraqis described living under a reign of terror--of torture in the prisons, massacres in Falluja and other cities, rape of women, nighttime raids and home demolitions, and many other horrors. Some witnesses showed slides, photos or video--including footage of the twisted metal and broken concrete rubble and ruin left by the U.S. assault on Falluja. A banner, probably 50 feet long and five feet high covered with pictures of massacred Iraqis and their children, was brought before the Tribunal.

It's impossible to do justice in this article to all the testimonies and evidence presented at the Tribunal, which amounted to a damning, overwhelming, and compelling indictment of the Iraq war and the U.S.-UK occupation. (Many presentations can be read online at I've excerpted some of the witness statements from Iraq here.

Story of Hudda Fawzi Salam Issawa from Falluja:

Five of us, including a 55-year-old neighbor, were trapped together in our house in Falluja when the siege began. On November 9 [2004], American Marines came to our house. My father and the neighbor went to the door to meet them. We were not fighters. We thought we had nothing to fear. I ran into the kitchen to put on my veil, since men were going to enter our house. This saved my life. As my father and neighbor approached the door, the Americans opened fired on them. They died instantly. Me and my 13-year-old brother hid in the kitchen behind the fridge. The soldiers came into the house and caught my older sister. They beat her. Then they shot her.

Statement of a 46-year-old engineer describing what he saw in a U.S. prison:

I saw a young man of 14 years of age bleeding from his anus and lying on the floor. He was Kurdish and his name was Hama. I heard the soldiers talking to each other about this guy; they mentioned that the reason for this bleeding was inserting a metal object in his anus.

U.S. Journalist Dahr Jamail, describing his interview with an Iraqi man released from Abu Ghraib after being held for over three months without charges:

Ali Abbas lives in the Al-Amiriyah district of Baghdad and worked in civil administration. He was forced to strip naked shortly after arriving [at Abu Ghraib], and remained that way for most of his stay in the prison. "They made us lay on top of each other naked as if it was sex, and beat us with a broom," he said. In addition to being beaten on their genitals, detainees were also denied water and food for extended periods of time, then were forced to watch as their food was thrown in the trash. Treatment also included having a loaded gun held to his head to prevent him from crying out in pain as his hand-ties were tightened.

"My hands were enlarged because there was no blood because they cuffed them so tight," he told me. "My head was covered with the sack, and they fastened my right hand to a pole with handcuffs. They made me stand on my toes to clip me to it.".

Abbas said that at one point, "Two men came, one a foreigner and one a translator. He asked me who I was. I said I'm a human being. They told me, 'We are going to cut off your head and send you to hell. We will take you to Guantánamo.'. Abbas added, "They shit on us, used dogs against us, used electricity and starved us."

He told me, "Saddam Hussein used to have people like those who tortured us. Why do they put Saddam to trial, but they do not put the Americans to trial?". Abbas did not feel this was the work of a few individual soldiers. "This was organized, it wasn't just individuals. And every one of the troops in Abu Ghraib was responsible for it."

Statement of an agricultural engineer about his detention by the U.S. military:

They inserted some strange objects into my anus and asked me to take very humiliating positions while they messed with me. They were calling these positions some names, which I did not understand. They took many photos while I was in these positions, they were laughing and enjoying it. There was a male and female soldier who sat behind me; they were messing with each other. Their game was that the male soldier would aim at my injured and swollen leg with a piece of rock. As soon as he hit his target and I screamed of pain, she would reward him by letting him kiss her or fondle her. The stronger my pain was and the louder my scream was, the more he would get from her.

Journalist Fadhil Al Bedrani, who witnessed the U.S. assault on Falluja in November 1994:

On Nov. 15, in Goulan area, 20 to 25 persons were running barefoot when an American warplane bombed, killing and wounding them. Only one elderly woman and two children stayed safe when they hid under rubbles of a bombed house. The dead bodies were left in the street for 20 days.

On Nov. 25, 15 American soldiers entered a house at Bathara area, central Falluja. Three civilian men were there; one was handicapped, the second was 61 years old, and the third was 52 years old. The only one who stayed alive said, "When the Americans entered the house they saw that we were sitting unarmed; 14 left, and the last one threw us a grenade, saying bye. Two were seriously wounded. I with my slight wounds tried to help them, but after a while they were back; I pretended to be dead while other two were suffering. They put a bullet in every head and left."

Statement by Hana Ibrahim:

I would like to ask a question that most of you have already asked: why are detained women left naked? Why are they made to walk naked before other detained male prisoners? And why are naked men made to go into cages where naked women are kept under detention? We have documented all this. The Union of Physicians documented the Americans carrying out this torture through their own photos.

Testimony by Amal Sawadi about what happens when U.S. troops invade people's homes:

Sometimes Americans arrest all the family and other times they leave the women and children outside and only arrest the men. Sacks are placed on the heads of the people who are to be taken away while their hands remain tied. Then they put everybody in a vehicle, piling people up without any respect.

Then the investigation starts. Actually, what they are investigating is ambiguous. There are no lawyers allowed for the detainees, and no information is given about the reasons or the evidence surrounding the detentions. In the process, Iraqi women are being raped. One woman was bleeding for three months and the raping continued. There is no health service. The media does not mention these facts--or the fact that all of Iraq has become a prison.

The Findings of the Tribunal

After hearing the testimony, the WTI Jury concluded that the occupation "has led to the destruction and devastation of the Iraqi state and society. Law and order have broken down completely, resulting in a pervasive lack of human security; the physical infrastructure is in shambles; the health care delivery system is in poor condition; the education system has virtually ceased to function; there is massive environmental and ecological devastation; and the cultural and archeological heritage of the Iraqi people has been desecrated."

The Turkish press--both mainstream and oppositional--gave extensive daily coverage to the WTI, complete with color pictures and banner headlines. At the concluding press conference, some 300 to 350 people jammed into the room, including every major Turkish TV station and newspaper and some international press. Given the criminal complicity of the U.S. bourgeois media, it was not surprising the WTI has been, as far as I can tell, totally whited out of mainstream U.S. media coverage.

The Jury delivered a sweeping and unconditional indictment of the U.S.-UK war and occupation, calling it "illegal" and "one of the most unjust, immoral, and cowardly wars in history." Among its indictments of the U.S. and British governments:

 Planning, preparing, and waging the supreme crime of a war of aggression in contravention of the UN Charter and the Nuremburg Principles.

 Targeting the civilian population of Iraq and civilian infrastructure.

 Actively creating conditions under which the status of Iraqi women has seriously been degraded.

 Imposing punishments without charge or trial, including collective punishment.

The Jury also stated: "Much evidence supports the conclusion that a major motive for the war was to control and dominate the Middle East and its vast reserves of oil as a part of the U.S. drive for global hegemony."

It also called for all complicit parties--including the "coalition of the willing," other governments, the UN Security Council, corporations involved in the war, and the major media--to be held accountable.

The WTI demanded, among other things, "the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the Coalition forces from Iraq" and that "all laws, contracts, treaties, and institutions established under occupation, which the Iraqi people deem inimical to their interests, be considered null and void."

Very significantly, the Jury recognized and upheld the "the right of the Iraqi people to resist the illegal occupation of their country."

Spirit of Taking Responsibility

A heartening spirit of taking responsibility on behalf of the world's people--when governments and institutions are directly culpable, complicit, or silent in the face of war crimes and crimes against humanity--animated the proceedings. "We aren't just fighting for Iraq," Ayse Berktay, one of the lead organizers, told me, "but for the future of the planet."

This also came through in the outpouring of energy and commitment from the many volunteers who made the WTI possible, and in their harrowing (and inspiring) stories of how they pulled the event together by the skin of their teeth, as they pulled all-night sessions and wondered all the while if it could be done.

The WTI brought to life why the world truly cannot wait--why the people must drive out the Bush regime.

As Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi writer, painter, and humanist put it, "We will continue resisting in Iraq for you as well as for ourselves because America is not the fate of humanity. They are not the power to rule over the world in future and we can create another world."

Last month the Pentagon defied a federal court order to release dozens of additional photos and videos from Abu Ghraib, the infamous U.S. military prison in Iraq. The rumors are that these images reveal a whole new level of atrocities by the U.S. This is outrageous. The truth must be known. If you want to see what the Pentagon is trying so hard to the testimony from the World Tribunal on Iraq excerpted in this article.