Dahr Jamail: two dispatches from Iraq

2005-02-06

Richard Moore

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To: •••@••.•••
From: •••@••.•••
Subject: Iraq Dispatches: Interview with Conscientious Objector

** Dahr Jamail's Iraq Dispatches **
** http://dahrjamailiraq.com **

January 24, 2005

Bending it

Kevin Benderman is a mechanic who is trained to fix Bradley
armored vehicles. On December 20, 2004, he applied for
conscientious objector status. Yesterday he made time to talk
with us about his decision.

The following is the interview conducted by Omar Khan, editor
and 'forum' manager of www.dahrjamailiraq.com

Here is the link to the interview, followed by the full text:

http://www.dahrjamailiraq.com/covering_iraq/archives//000180.php#more

Omar Khan: Kindly tell us your name and a little about your
background-your age, where you live, where you born and
raised, where you went to school, things of that sort.

Kevin Benderman: My name is Kevin Mitchell Benderman.
Currently I'm living in Hinesville, Georgia, with my wife,
Monica, and my stepson Ryan. I was born in Alabama. I was
raised between there and Tennessee. I've gone to various
schools, and I'm currently studying Criminal Justice out of
Ashworth College for a Bachelor's Degree.

OK: A Thursday, January 13 CNN article whose subtitle tells of
your "claim" that others "just don't know how bad it is." But
that article gives none of your or any other observations of
how bad it is. Can you tell take a few moments to tell us
something about how bad it is?

KB: The things that I have seen in the war zone that I've been
to-and I am referring to this as all war, because my father
told me about things he saw during World War II, and I've
talked to Vietnam War veterans, I've talked to Korean War
veterans, and they've all told me similar things that they've
seen. And that is how peoples homes are destroyed. That's how
people are destroyed. And just how insane, really, the entire
thing is. War destroys everything in its path. It's the most
destructive force on the planet that mankind has come up with,
I can tell you that.

When we were moving from the southern part of that country to
the north, we saw numerous people that were having to get
drinking water from mud puddles on the side of the road. One
thing that really sticks out in my mind, is that young
girl-probably 8, 9, no older than 10 years old-standing there
with her arm burned, black-you know, charred all the way up to
her shoulder. And her mother was there and they were both
crying, both begging for help [whom the executive officer
refused to help because troops had limited medical supplies].
I saw mass grave sites full of old men, old women, children,
you know-I saw them all over that country.

OK: Article 3 of the 21 October 1950 Geneva Conventions reads:
"Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including
members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and
those placed hors de [outside of] combat by sickness, wounds,
detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be
treated humanely."

To the extent that your experience in Iraq sheds any light on
the matter, can you comment on the commitment with which this
principle has been held up by the armed forces of the United
States in Iraq?

KB: I don't want to discuss specific wars. But I'll tell you
that by the very virtue of war itself-what is humane
treatment? I mean, you answer that question, if any one can
answer that question: what is humane about war period? There's
nothing humane about it. The very virtue of what war is the
design to inflict casualties on other human beings.

OK: The Nuremberg Tribunal was adopted by the International
Law Commission of the United Nations in 1950. It lists under
the heading "war crimes" the "wanton destruction of cities,
towns, or villages" and other actions against persons that
constitute "devastation not justified by military necessity."
Please share any thoughts you have on this.

KB: I'm not a government, I'm just a man. And I feel that the
only true way to prevent any of those things that you're
describing is for men-and women-to reach across the table and
open themselves up for discussion so that this stuff won't
happen between people. If war is a tool to achieve peace, then
why do we still have war?

Monica Benderman: War is not a necessity. Necessity is defined
in alternatives to war.

OK: Lt. Col. Robert Whetstone, a Fort Stewart spokesman, was
quoted by MSNBC on January 20th. He said-referring to you,
Kevin-"We're still going to treat him with honor and respect.
He's a soldier, he's wearing the uniform and he's a veteran,"
Whetstone said. "But when regulations are broken and orders
are disobeyed, we've got to do what we've got to do."

Now, the same Nuremburg Tribunal says that "the fact that
internal law does not impose a penalty for an act which
constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve
the person who committed the act from responsibility under
international law." But it says more: "The fact that a person
acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior
does not relieve him from responsibility under international
law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him." Can
you tell us a little bit about that "moral choice" today?

KB: Well, I'll tell you where I've exercised that moral
choice. When that captain, who I was with over there, ordered
the people-including me-to shoot small children that were
throwing rocks at us, and I refused to obey that order, I
exercised that moral choice in that particular case, that
particular incident. When that order was given, we ignored it.
We all looked at each other like, that man has lost his mind.
So I would say that everyone who was with me at that time
exercised their moral choice not to follow that illegal order.

OK: Mark Stevens, a military defense lawyer and retired Marine
Corps judge advocate has been quoted repeatedly in our media,
with reference to you. He asked, "If he went to Iraq and then
comes back and says, 'I'm now opposed to war,' the issue is
are you opposed to all wars or just this one you don't want to
go back to?" said. "He wasn't opposed to war two years ago,
why is he opposed to it now?" Now, the same media that
energized the country for this war-telling nothing of its
gross illegality-is being used as a forum to say, "why didn't
you know earlier?"

KB: I can't tell you about international law violations or
anything of that nature, but that man who made that statement
about me: he doesn't know me. You don't know me either. You
don't know how long I've been thinking about a particular
subject before I decide to speak out about it. And I think
about a lot of things that no one knows what I think about.
But this one was important enough for me that I needed to
speak out about it to anyone that would listen.

---

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From: "Westaway" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Life Under American Bombs in Iraq
Date: Sat, 5 Feb 2005 21:43:08 -0800


Life Under American
Bombs In Iraq
By Dahr Jamail
2-4-5

One of the least reported aspects of the U.S. occupation of
Iraq is the oftentimes indiscriminate use of air power by the
American military. The Western mainstream media has generally
failed to attend to the F-16 warplanes dropping their payloads
of 500, 1,000, and 2,000-pound bombs on Iraqi cities -- or to
the results of these attacks. While some of the bombs and
missiles fall on resistance fighters, the majority of the
casualties are civilian -- mothers, children, the elderly, and
other unarmed civilians.

"Coalition troops and Iraqi security forces may be responsible
for up to 60% of conflict-related civilian deaths in Iraq --
far more than are killed by insurgents, confidential records
obtained by the BBC's Panorama programme reveal." As the BBC
reported recently, these numbers were compiled by Iraq's
Ministry of Health, in part because of the refusal of the Bush
and Blair administrations to do so. In the case of Fallujah,
where the U.S. military estimated 2,000 people were killed
during the recent assault on the city, at least 1,200 of the
dead are believed to have been non-combatant civilians.

"Some of my friends in Fallujah, their homes were attacked by
airplanes so they left, and nobody s found them since," said
Mehdi Abdulla in a refugee camp in Baghdad. His own home was
bombed to rubble by American warplanes during the assault on
Fallujah in November -- and in Iraq today, his experience is
far from unique.

All any reporter has to do is cock an ear or look up to catch
the planes roaring over Baghdad en route to bombing missions
over Mosul, Fallujah and other trouble spots on a weekly -
sometimes even a daily basis. It is simply impossible to
travel the streets of Baghdad without seeing several Apache or
Blackhawk helicopters buzzing the rooftops. Their rumbling
blades are so close to the ground and so powerful that they
leave wailing car alarms in their wake as they pass over any
neighborhood.

With its ground troops stretched thin and growing haggard --
30% of them, after all, are already on their second tour of
duty in the brutal occupation of Iraq - U.S. military
commanders appear to be relying more than ever on airpower to
give themselves an edge. The November assault on Fallujah did
not even begin until warplanes had, on a near-daily basis,
dropped 500-1000 pound bombs on suspected resistance targets
in the besieged city. During that period, fighter jets ripped
through the air over Baghdad for nights on end, heading out on
mission after mission to drop their payloads on Fallujah.

"Airpower remains the single greatest asymmetrical advantage
the United States has over its foes," writes Thomas Searle, a
military defense analyst with the Airpower Research Institute
at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. "To make airpower truly
effective against guerrillas in that war, we cannot wait for
the joint force commander or the ground component commander to
tell us what to do. Rather, we must aggressively develop and
employ airpower's counterguerrilla capabilities."

"Aggressively employ airpower's capabilities" -- indeed they
have.

"Even the Chickens and Sheep Are Frightened"

"The first day of Ramadan we went to the prayers and, just as
the Imam said Allahu Akbar ("God is great"), the jets began to
arrive." Abu Hammad was remembering the early stages of the
November Fallujah campaign. "They came continuously through
the night and bombed everywhere in Fallujah. It did not stop
even for a moment."

The 35 year-old merchant is now a refugee living in a tent on
the campus of the University of Baghdad along with over 900
other homeless Fallujans. "If the American forces did not find
a target to bomb," he said, "they used sound bombs just to
terrorize the people and children. The city stayed in fear; I
cannot give you a picture of how panicked everyone was." As he
spoke in a strained voice, his body began to tremble with the
memories, "In the morning, I found Fallujah empty, as if
nobody lived in it. It felt as though Fallujah had already
been bombed to the ground. As if nothing were left."

When Abu Hammad says "nothing," he means it. It is now
estimated that 75% of the homes and buildings in the city were
destroyed either by warplanes, helicopters, or artillery
barrages; most of the remaining 25% sustained at least some
damage as well.

"Even the telephone exchange in Fallujah has been flattened,"
he added between quickening breaths because, as he remembers,
as he makes the effort to explain, his rage grows. "Nothing
works in Fallujah now!"

Several men standing with us, all of whom are refugees like
Hammad, nod in agreement while staring off toward the setting
sun to the west, the direction where their city once stood.

Throughout much of urban Iraq, people tell stories of being
terrorized by American airpower, which is often loosed on
heavily populated neighborhoods that have, in effect, been
declared the bombing equivalents of free-fire zones.

"There is no limit to the American aggression," comments a
sheikh from Baquba, a city 30 miles northeast of the capital.
He agreed to discuss the subject of air power only on the
condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals from the U.S.
military.

"The fighter jets regularly fly so low over our city that you
can see the pilots sitting in the cockpit," he tells me, using
his hand to measure the skyline and indicate just how low he
means. "The helicopters fly even lower, so low, and aim their
guns at the people and this terrifies everyone. How can humans
live like this? Even our animals, the chickens and sheep are
frightened by this. We don't know why they do this to us."

"My Whole House Was Shaking"

The terror from the air began on the first day of the invasion
in March, 2003.. "On March 19th at two AM, we were sleeping,"
Abdulla Mohammed, father of four children,, says softly as we
sit in his modest home in Baghdad. "I woke up with a start to
the enormous blasts of the bombs. All I could do was watch the
television and see that everything was being bombed in
Baghdad."

Near his home, a pile of concrete blocks and twisted support
beams that once was a telephone exchange remains as an ugly
reminder of how the war started for Baghdadis. "I was so
terrified. My whole house was shaking," he continues, "and the
windows were breaking. I was frightened that the ceiling would
fall on us because of the bombs."

Nearly two years later, he still becomes visibly upset while
describing what it felt like to live through that first
horrific "shock and awe" onslaught from the air. "It was
unbelievable to see things in my house jump into the air when
the bombs landed. They were just so powerful." He pauses and
holds his hands up in a gesture of helplessness before he
says, "Nowhere felt safe and there was nothing we could do.
People were looking for bread and vegetables so they could
survive in their homes, but they didn't know where to go
because nowhere was safe."

He lives with his wife and sons in central Baghdad, but at a
location several miles from where the heaviest bombings in the
Bush administration's shock-and-awe campaign hit.
Nevertheless, even at that distance in the heavily populated
capital, it was a nightmare. "Everyone was so terrified. Even
the guards who were on the streets left for their homes
because everything was being destroyed," he says. "The roads
were closed because there were so many explosions."

"My family was shivering with fear," he adds, staring at the
floor. "Everyone was praying for God to keep the Americans
from bombing them. There was no water, no electricity, and all
we had were the extra supplies that we had bought before."

Like the sheikh from Baquba, he and his family continue to
live in fear of what American warplanes and helicopters might
at any moment unleash. "Now, there are always helicopters
hovering over my neighborhood. They are so loud and fly so
close. My sons are afraid of them. I hear the fighter jets so
often."

He suddenly raises his hushed voice and you can hear the note
of panic deep within it. "Even last night the fighter jets
were so low over my home. We never know if they will bomb."
After pausing, he concludes modestly, "We can only hope that
they won't."

"Even the Mosques Quit Announcing Evening Prayers"

There is no way to discuss American reliance on air power in a
war now largely being fought inside heavily populated cities
without coming back to Fallujah. While an estimated 200,000
refugees from that city continue to live in refugee tent camps
or crowded into houses (with up to 25 families crammed under a
single roof), horrendous tales of what it was like to live
under the bombs in the besieged city are only now beginning to
emerge.

Ahmed Abdulla, a gaunt 21 year-old Fallujan, accompanied most
of his family on their flight from the city, navigating the
perilous neighborhoods nearest the cordon the American
military had thrown around their besieged city. On November 8,
he made it to Baghdad with his mother, his three sisters (aged
26, 20, and 18), and two younger brothers (10 and 12). His
father, however, was not permitted to leave Fallujah by the
U.S. military because he was of "fighting age." Ahmed was only
allowed to exit the besieged city because his mother managed
to convince an American soldier that, without him, his sisters
and younger brothers would be at great risk traveling alone.
Fortunately, the soldier understood her plea and let him
through.

Ahmed's father told the family that he would instead stay to
watch over their house. "The house is all we have, nothing
else," commented Ahmed despondently. "We have no land, no
livestock, nothing."

Recounting an odyssey of flight typical of those of many
Fallujans, Ahmed told me his father had driven them in the
family car across winding, desert roads out the eastern side
of the city, considered the quietest area when it came to the
fighting. They stopped the car a kilometer before the American
checkpoints and walked the rest of the way, holding up white
"flags" so the soldiers wouldn't mistake them for insurgents.
"We walked with our hands up, expecting them to shoot at us
anytime," said Ahmed softly, "It was so bad for us at that
time and there were so many families trying to get out."

Those inhabitants still trapped in the city had only two hours
each day to emerge and try to find food. Most of the time
their electricity was cut and water ran in the faucets only
intermittently. "Every night we told each other goodbye
because we expected to die," he said. "Every night there was
extremely heavy bombing from the jets. My house shook when
bombs hit the city, and the women were crying all of the
time." In his mind he still couldn't shake the buzzing sound
of unmanned surveillance drone aircraft passing overhead, and
the constant explosions of the "concussion bombs" (or so he
called them) that he claimed the Americans fired just to keep
people awake.

"I saw a dead man near our home," he explained, "But I could
barely see his face because there were so many flies on him.
The flies were so thick and I couldn't bear the smell. All
around his body, his blood had turned the ground black. I
don't know how he died."

The sighting of such bodies, often shot by American snipers,
was a commonplace around the city. They lay unburied in part
because many families dared not venture out to one of the two
football stadiums that had been converted into "Martyr
Cemeteries." Instead, they buried their own dead in their
gardens and left the other bodies where they lay.

"So we stayed inside most of the time and prayed. The more the
bombs exploded the more we prayed and cried." So Ahmed
described life inside Fallujah as it was being destroyed. Each
night in the besieged city seemed, as he put it, to oscillate
between an eerie quiet and sudden bursts of heavy fighting.
"Even the mosques quit announcing evening prayers at times,"
he said. "And then it would be so quiet -- except for the
military drones buzzing overhead and the planes of the
Americans which dropped flares."

It was impossible, he claimed, to sleep at night because any
sound -- an approaching fighter jet or helicopter -- and
immediately everyone would be awake. "We would begin praying
together loudly and strongly. For God to protect us and to
take the fighting away from our city and our home."

Any semblance of normalcy had, of course, long since left the
environs of Fallujah; schools had been closed for weeks; there
were dire shortages of medicine and medical equipment; and
civilians still trapped in the city had a single job --
somehow to stay alive. When you emerged, however briefly,
nothing was recognizable. "You could see areas where all the
houses were flattened. There was just nothing left," he
explained. "We could get water at times, but there was no
electricity, ever."

His family used a small generator that they ran sparingly
because they could not get more fuel. "We ran out of food
after they Americans started to invade the city, so we ate
flour, and then all we had was dirty waterso eventually what
choice did we have but to try to get out?"

"Why do the Americans bomb all of us in our homes," asked
Ahmed as our interview was ending. And you could feel his
puzzlement. "Even those of us who do not fight, we are
suffering so much because of the U.S. bombs and tanks. Can't
they see this is turning so many people against them?"

"I Saw Cluster Bombs Everywhere"

Fifty-three year-old Mohammad Ali, who is living in a tent
city in Baghdad, was one of those willing to address the
suffering he experienced as a result of the November bombings.
Mohammad is a bear of a man, his kind face belying his deep
despair as he leans on a worn, wooden cane. He summed up his
experience this way: "We did not feel that there was an Eid
[the traditional feasting time which follows Ramadan] after
Ramadan this year because our situation was so bad. All we had
was more fasting. I asked God to save us but our house was
bombed and I lost everything."

Refugees aren't the only people ready to describe what
occurred in Fallujah as a result of the loosing of jets,
bombers, and helicopters on the city. Burhan Fasa'a, a gaunt
33 year-old journalist is a cameraman for the Lebanese
Broadcasting Company. He was inside the city during the first
eight days of the November assault. "I saw at least 200
families whose homes had collapsed on them, thanks to American
bombs," he said. "I saw a huge number of people killed in the
northern part of the city and most of them were civilians."

Like so many others I've talked with who made it out of
Fallujah, he described scenes of widespread death and
desolation in what had not so long before been a modest-sized
city. Most of these resulted from bombings that - despite
official announcements emphasizing how "targeted" and
"precise" they were - seemed to those on the receiving end
unbearably indiscriminate.

"There were so many people wounded, and with no medical
supplies, people died from their wounds," he said. He also
spoke of cluster bombs, which, he -- and many other Fallujan
witnesses -- claim, were used by the military in November as
well as during the earlier failed Marine siege of the city in
April. The dropping of cluster bombs in areas where civilians
live is a direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions.

"I saw cluster bombs everywhere," he said calmly, "and so many
bodies that were burned -- dead with no bullets in them."

A doctor, who fled Fallujah after the attacks began and is now
working in a hospital in a small village outside the city,
spoke in a similar vein (though she requested that her name
not be used): "They shot all the sheep. Any animals people
owned were shot," she said. "Helicopters shot all the animals
and anything that moved in the villages surrounding Fallujah."

"I saw one dead body I remember all too well. My first where
there were bubbles on the skin, and abnormal coloring, and
burn holes in his clothing." She also described treating
patients who, she felt certain, had been struck by chemical
and white-phosphorous-type weapons. "And I saw so many bodies
with these strange signs, and none of them with bullet holes
or obvious injuries, just dead with discoloring and that
bubbled skin, dark blue skin with bubbles on it, and burned
clothing. I saw this with my own eyes. These bodies were in
the center of Fallujah, in old Fallujah."

Like Burhan, while in the city she too witnessed many civilian
buildings bombed to the ground. "I saw two schools bombed, and
all the houses around them too."

"Why Was Our Family Bombed?"

I was offered another glimpse of what it's like to live in a
city under attack from the air by two sisters, Muna and Selma
Salim, also refugees from Fallujah and the only survivors of a
family of ten, the rest of whom were killed when two rockets
fired from a U.S. fighter jet hit their home. Their mother,
Hadima, 65 years old, died in the attack along with her son
Khalid, an Iraqi police captain, his sister Ka'ahla and her 22
year-old son, their pregnant 45 year-old sister Adhra'a, her
husband Samr, who had a doctorate in religious studies, and
their four year-old son Amorad.

Muna, still exhausted from her ordeal, wept almost constantly
while telling her story. Even her abaya, which fully covers
her, could not hide her shaking body as waves of grief rolled
through her tiredness. She was speaking of her dead sister
Artica. "I can't get the image out of my mind of her fetus
being blown out of her body," said Muna. Artica was seven
months pregnant when, on November 10, the rockets struck. "My
sister Selma and I survived only because we were staying at
our neighbor's house that night," she said, sobbing, still
unable to reconcile her survival with the death of most of the
rest of her family in the fierce pre-assault bombing of the
city.

"There were no fighters in our area, so I don't know why they
bombed our home," cried Muna. "When this happened there were
ongoing full-scale assaults from the air and tanks were
attacking our city, so we slipped out of the eastern side of
Fallujah and came to Baghdad."

Selma, Muna's 41 year-old sister, recounted scenes of
destruction in the city -- houses that had been razed by
countless air strikes and the stench of decaying bodies that
swirled through the air borne on the area's dry, dusty winds.

"The rubble from the bombed houses covered up the bodies, and
nobody could get to them because people were too afraid even
to drive a bulldozer!" She held out her hands as she spoke, as
if to ask her God how such things could happen. "Even walking
out of your house was just about impossible because of the
snipers."

Both sisters described their last months in Fallujah as a
nightmarish existence. It was a city where fighters controlled
the area, medicine and food were often in short supply, and
the thumping concussions of U.S. bombs had become a daily
reality. Rocket-armed attack helicopters rattled low over the
desert as they approached the city only adding to the
nightmarish landscape.

"Even when the bombs were far away, glasses would fall off our
shelves and break," exclaimed Muna. Going to market, as they
had to, in the middle of the day to buy food for their family,
both sisters felt constant fear of warplanes roaring over the
sprawling city. "The jets flew over so often," said Selma,
"but we never knew when they would drop their bombs."

They described a desolate city of closed shops and mostly
empty streets on which infrequent terrorized residents could
be spotted simply wandering around not knowing what to do.
"Fallujah was like a ghost town most of the time," was the way
Muna put it. "Most families stayed inside their houses all the
time, only going out for food when they had to." Like many
others, their family soon found that it needed to ration
increasingly scarce food and water, "Usually we were very
hungry because we didn't want to eat our food, or drink all of
the water." She paused, took a deep breath undoubtedly
thinking of her dead parents and siblings, and added, "We
never knew if we would be able to get more, so we tried to be
careful."

I met the two sisters in the Baghdad home of their uncle.
During the interview, both of them often stared at the ground
silently until another detail would come to mind to be added
to their story. Unlike Muna who was visibly emotional, Selma
generally spoke in a flat voice without affect that might
indeed have emerged from some dead zone. "Our situation then
was like that of so many from Fallujah," she told me. "None of
us could leave because we had nowhere to go and no money."

"Why was our family bombed?" pleaded Muna, tears streaming
down her cheeks, "There were never any fighters in our area!"

Today fighting continues on nearly a daily basis around
Fallujah, as well as in many other cities throughout Iraq; and
for reporters as well as residents of Baghdad, the air war is
an omnipresent reality. Helicopters buzz the tops of buildings
and hover over neighborhoods in the capital all the time,
while fighter jets often scorch the skies.

Below them, traumatized civilians await the next onslaught,
never knowing when it may occur.

Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who has been
reporting from Iraq since November, 2003. He writes for the
Sunday Herald in Scotland, Inter Press Service, The
NewStandard internet news site and the Ester Republic among
other publications. He is the special correspondent in Iraq
for Flashpoints Radio, as well as reporting for Democracy
Now!, the BBC, Irish Public Radio, Radio South Africa, Radio
Hong Kong, and many other stations throughout the world.

Copyright 2005 Dahr Jamail.
All Rights Reserved

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Informative links:
    http://www.indymedia.org/
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/
    http://www.MiddleEast.org
    http://www.rachel.org
    http://www.truthout.org
    http://www.williambowles.info/monthly_index/
    http://www.zmag.org
    http://www.co-intelligence.org
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