World Tribunal for Iraq, Culminating Session Testimony
25 June 2005
Thank you very much for inviting me to the Culminating Session of the
World Tribunal on Iraq. I first went to Iraq in November of 2003 as an
American citizen both frustrated and horrified by what my unelected
government was doing. I went to report on the situation because I was
deeply troubled by the “journalism” being provided by the corporate
media. At the time, as a frustrated mountain climber from Alaska working
as a journalist in Iraq, I never would have believed I would be
providing testimony to the World Tribunal on Iraq. I want to thank the
organizers for this opportunity. I am honored to be here in solidarity
with the Iraqi people.
In May of 2004 I interviewed a man who had just been released from Abu
Ghraib. Like so many I interviewed from various US military detention
facilities who’d been tortured horrifically, he still managed to
maintain his sense of humor.
He began laughing when telling me how CIA agents made him beat other
prisoners. He laughed, he said, because he had been beaten himself prior
to this, and was so tired that all he could do to beat other detained
Iraqis was lift his arm and let it drop on the other men.
Later, he laughed again as he told me what else had been done to him,
when he said, “The Americans brought electricity to my ass before they
brought it to my house.”
But this testimony is not about the indomitable spirit of the Iraqi
people. About the dignity and strength of Iraqis, we need no testimony.
This testimony is about ongoing violations of international law being
committed by the occupiers of Iraq on a daily basis in regards to
rampant torture, the neglect and obstruction of the health care sector
and the ongoing failure to allow Iraqis to reconstruct their infrastructure.
To discuss torture, there are many stories I could use here, but I’ll
use two examples indicative of scores of others I documented while in Iraq.
Ali Abbas lives in the Al-Amiriyah district of Baghdad and worked in
civil administration. So many of his neighbors were detained that
friends urged him to go to the nearby US base to try and get answers for
why so many innocent people were being detained. He went three times.
On the fourth he was detained himself. Within two days he was
transferred from the military base to Abu Ghraib, where he was held over
three months without charges before being released.
“The minute I got there, the suffering began,” said Abbas about his
interrogator, “I asked him for water, and he said after the
investigation I would get some. He accused me of so many things and
asked me so many questions. Among them he said I hated Christians.”
He was forced to strip naked shortly after arriving, 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 soldiers doused him in cold water while holding him under a
fan, and oftentimes, “They put on a loudspeaker, put the speakers on my
ears and said, “Shut Up, Fuck Fuck Fuck!” In this manner Abbas’s
interrogators routinely deprived him of sleep.
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 your head off and send you to hell. We will
take you to Guantanamo.’”
A female soldier told him, “Our aim is to put you in hell so you will
tell the truth. These are the orders we have from our superiors, to turn
your lives into hell.”
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 into trial, but they do not put the Americans
But unlike Saddam Hussein, the US interrogators also desecrated Islam as
part of their humiliation.
Abbas was made to fast during the first day of Eid, the breaking of the
fast of Ramadan, which is haram (forbidden).
Sometimes at night when he would read his Koran, Abbas had to hold it in
the hallway for light. “Soldiers would walk by and kick the Holy Koran,
and sometimes they would try to piss on it or wipe shit on it,” he said.
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.”
Accounts by human rights groups support this. According to an April 2005
Human Rights Watch report, “Abu Ghraib was only the tip of the iceberg,
it’s now clear that abuse of detainees has happened all over—from
Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay to a lot of third-country dungeons where
the United States has sent prisoners. And probably quite a few other
places we don’t even know about.”
The report adds, “Harsh and coercive interrogation techniques such as
subjecting detainees to painful stress positions and extended sleep
deprivation have been routinely used in detention centers throughout
Iraq. An ICRC report concluded that in military intelligence sections of
Abu Ghraib, ‘methods of physical and psychological coercion used by the
interrogators appeared to be part of the standard operating procedures
by military intelligence personnel to obtain confessions and extract
Amnesty International has also released similar findings.
Other human rights groups report that US military doctors, nurses, and
medics have been complicit in torture and other illegal procedures such
as those administered to Sadiq Zoman.
55 year-old Zoman, detained from his home in Kirkuk in a raid by US
soldiers that produced no weapons, was taken to a police office in
Kirkuk, to the Kirkuk Airport Detention Center, the Tikrit Airport
Detention Center and finally to the 28th Combat Support Hospital, where
he was treated by Dr. Michael Hodges, a Lt. Col.
Lt. Col. Hodges’ medical report listed Zoman’s primary condition as
hypoxic brain injury (brain damage caused by lack of oxygen) “with
persistent vegetative state,” myocardial infarction (heart attack), and
After one month in custody, Zoman was dropped off in a coma at the
General Hospital in Tikrit by US soldiers. Zoman’s last name was listed
as his first name on the report, despite the fact that all of his
identification papers were taken during the raid on his home. Because of
this, it took his desperate family weeks to locate him in the hospital.
Hodges’s medical report did not mention the fact that the back of
Zomans’ head was bashed in, nor that he had electrical burn marks on the
bottoms of his feet and genitals, or why he had lash marks across his
back and chest.
Today he lies in bed still in a coma, and there has been no compensation
provided to his now impoverished family for what was done to Sadiq Zoman.
Another aspect I shall discuss is the catastrophic situation of the
health system in Iraq. I’ve recently released a report on the condition
of Iraq’s hospitals under occupation.
Although the Iraq Ministry of Health has supposedly gained its
sovereignty and received promises of over $1 Billion of US funding,
hospitals in Iraq continue to face ongoing medicine, equipment, and
staffing shortages under the US-led occupation.
During the 1990’s, medical supplies and equipment were constantly in
short supply because of the sanctions against Iraq. The war and
occupation brought promises of relief from effects of the sanctions, yet
hospitals have had little chance to recover and re-supply: instead, the
occupation has closely resembled a low-grade war since its inception. In
addition, allocation of resources by occupation authorities has been
dismal. Thus, throughout Baghdad there are ongoing shortages of
functional equipment and medicines of even the most basic items such as
analgesics, antibiotics, anesthetics and insulin. Surgical items and
even basic supplies like rubber gloves, gauze and medical tape are
In April 2004, an ICRC report stated that hospitals in Iraq are
overwhelmed with new patients, short of medicine and supplies and lack
both adequate electricity and water, with ongoing bloodshed stretching
the hospitals’ already meager resources to the limit.
Ample testimony from medical practitioners confirms this crisis. A
general practitioner at the prosthetics workshop at Al-Kena Hospital in
Baghdad, Dr. Thamiz Aziz Abul Rahman, said, “Eleven months ago we
submitted an emergency order for prosthetic materials to the Ministry of
Health, and still we have nothing.” After a pause he added, “This is
worse than even during the sanctions.”
Dr. Qasim al-Nuwesri, the chief manager at Chuwader General Hospital,
one of the two hospitals in the sprawling slum area of Sadr City,
Baghdad and home to 3 million people, added that they, too, faced a
shortage of most supplies and, most critically, of ambulances. But for
his hospital, the lack of potable water was the major problem. “Of
course we have typhoid, cholera, kidney stones…but we now even have the
very rare Hepatitis Type-E…and it has become common in our area,” said
al-Nuwesri, adding that they never faced these problems prior to the
invasion of 2003.
Chuwader hospital needs at least 2000 liters of water per day to
function with basic sterilization practices. According to Dr.
al-Nuwesri, they received 15% of this amount. “The rest of the water is
contaminated and causing problems, as are the electricity cuts,” added
al-Nuwesri, “Without electricity our instruments in the operating room
cannot work and we have no pumps to bring us water.”
At Fallujah General Hospital, Dr. Ahmed, who asked that only his first
name be used because he feared US military reprisals said of the April
2004 siege that “the Americans shot out the lights in the front of our
hospital. They prevented doctors from reaching the emergency unit at the
hospital, and we quickly began to run out of supplies and much needed
medications.” He also said that Marines kept the physicians in the
residence building several times, intentionally prohibiting them from
entering the hospital in order to treat patients.
In November, shortly after leveling Nazzal Emergency Hospital, US forces
entered Fallujah General Hospital, the city’s only healthcare facility
for trauma victims, detaining employees and patients alike. According to
medics on the scene, water and electricity were “cut off,” ambulances
targeted or confiscated by the US military, and surgeons, without
exception, kept out of the besieged city.
Hospital raids by US military and US-backed Iraqi forces now appear to
be standard operating procedure. On the 18th of this month, doctors at
the main hospital in Baquba went on strike, saying they are fed up with
constant abuse at the hands of aggressive Iraqi police and soldiers.
Dr. Mohammed Hazim in Baquba, pleaded for his governor to protect he and
his colleagues from “organized terrorism of the police and army.”
When wounded Iraqi security forces showed up demanding treatment, Dr.
Hussein told one of them he would require an x-ray. The doctor was told
to go to hell by the policeman he was treating and was then beaten. The
same policeman then ordered another police officer to put a bag over the
doctor’s head and take him away.
“Our security guards tried to stop them, telling them I was a doctor,
but they didn't listen and beat the security guards too,” he said, “Then
one of them put a gun to my head and threatened me.”
Similar behavior has been reported during the recent US-Iraqi military
operations in Haditha and Al-Qa’im. Doctors also recently went on strike
at the large Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad in a very similar incident.
Many doctors in Iraq believe that the lack of assistance, if not
outright hostility, by the US military, coupled with the lack of
rebuilding and reconstruction by foreign contractors has compounded the
problems they are facing.
The former ambassador of Iraq Paul Bremer admitted that US led coalition
spending on the Iraqi Health system was inadequate when he said, “It’s
not nearly enough to cover the needs in the healthcare field.”
When asked if his hospital had received assistance from the US military
or reconstruction contractors, Dr. Sarmad Raheem, the administrator of
chief doctors at Al-Kerkh Hospital in Baghdad said, “Never ever. Some
soldiers came here five months ago and asked what we needed. We told
them and they never brought us one single needle…We heard that some
people from the CPA came here, but they never did anything for us.”
At Fallujah General Hospital, Dr. Mohammed said there has been virtually
no assistance from foreign contractors, and of the US military he
commented, “They send only bombs, not medicine.”
International aid has been stymied by the horrendous security situation
in Iraq. After the UN headquarters was bombed in Baghdad in August 2003,
killing 20 people, aid agencies and NGOs either reduced their staffing
or pulled out entirely.
With senior Iraqi doctors fleeing Iraq en masse for fear of being
kidnapped, interns and younger doctors are left to deal with the
catastrophic situation. The World Health Organization last year warned
of a health emergency in Baghdad, as well as throughout Iraq if current
conditions persist. But despite claims from the Ministry of Health of
more drugs, better equipment, and generalized improvement, doctors on
the ground still see “no such improvement.”
In conclusion, a quick summary of the overall situation on the ground in
Iraq is in order. Over two years into the illegal occupation, while Iraq
sits upon a sea of oil, ongoing gasoline shortages plague Iraqis who
sometimes wait 2 days to fill their cars. In a country where a long gas
line once meant a one-car wait, Iraqis who are lucky enough to afford it
now purchase black market petrol and hope that it is not watered down.
Electricity remains in short supply. Most of Iraq, including the
northern region, receives on average 3 hours of electricity per day
amidst the nearly non-existent reconstruction efforts. Even the better
areas of Baghdad receive only 6-8 hours per day, forcing those who can
afford them to use small generators to run fans and refrigerators in
their homes. Of course, this is only for those who’ve been able to
obtain the now rarefied gasoline.
The security situation is, needless to say, horrendous. With over
100,000 Iraqis killed thus far and the number of US soldiers killed
approaching 2,000, the violence only continues to escalate.
Since the new Iraqi so-called government was sworn in two months ago,
well over 1,000 Iraqis and over 165 US soldiers have died in the
violence. These numbers will only continue to escalate as the failed
occupation grinds on. As the heavy handed tactics of the US military
persist, the Iraqi resistance continues to grow in its number and lethality.
As I mentioned before, potable water remains in short supply. Cholera,
typhoid and other water-borne diseases are rampant even in parts of the
capital city as lack of reconstruction continues to plague Iraq’s
infrastructure. Raw sewage is common across not just Baghdad, but other
cities throughout Iraq.
With 70% unemployment, a growing resistance and an infrastructure in
shambles, the future for Iraq remains bleak as long as the failed
occupation persists. While the Bush Administration continues to
disregard calls for a timetable for withdrawal, Iraqis continue to
suffer and die with little hope for their future. With each passing day,
the catastrophe in Iraq resembles the US debacle in Vietnam more and more.
Dr. Wamid Omar Nadhmi, a senior political scientist at Baghdad
University who was invited to this tribunal, told me last winter, “It
will take Iraqis something like a quarter of a century to rebuild their
country, to heal their wounds, to reform their society, to bring about
some sort of national reconciliation, democracy and tolerance of each
other. But that process will not begin until the US occupation of Iraq
And it is now exceedingly clear that the only way the Bush
Administration will withdraw the US military from Iraq in order for
Iraqis to have true sovereignty is if they are forced to do so.
** Dahr Jamail's Iraq Dispatches **