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From a corner on the Arab street

by Corinne Kumar

Let us take a few stars from the night sky and light a fire
to warm ourselves;
because everything around us is so cold, so deathly cold:
gathering around the fire are
weavers, gardeners, thinkers, dreamers, dreamcatchers
storytellers; storywriters, storyweavers
old people, young people, women and men
people from little corners of the Arab street.

the Arab street in privileged and civilized parlance
is a street of violence, of extremism peopled by killers, by terrorists, by savages, by barbarians
the barbarian of course, is the evil one, the uncivilized:
and its civilized range is full spectrum dominance
from communist to terrorist
the word barbarian and the crackling fire invites us to remember a story:

Once upon a long time ago, in another place, another time
women and men turned away from the Empire
they withdrew from the civic life of their times and gathered their strengths
to withstand the coming hordes of barbarians
a story much like today:
with one very important difference.
this time we are not warned that the barbarians are coming,
that they are waiting at the borders, knocking at the gate
because they have already been there for sometime
in Washington,
inside the White House,
inside our lives.
destroying our heritage, re-writing our history
killing our collective memory: overtaking our dreams
On May 24, Bush announced that the Abu Ghraib prison would be destroyed:
It was a symbol of Saddam's brutality
under the old regime prisons like Abu Ghraib were symbols of death and torture, he said
Abu Ghraib was an Iraqi Torture Centre and had to be demolished
We listened carefully:
Nothing of the US torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib:
nothing of the stacking of naked prisoners, the sexual assault and rape of women prisoners, the police dogs attacking the prisoners; of being hooded, tortured, raped, killed; of the smiling, smirking US police guards photographed over abused prisoners, dead prisoners.

Silence:

It is even being said that American torture is not as bad as Saddam's:
that there is a difference between torture in a dictatorship and torture in a democracy!
after all, it was only a few rogue military police guards
a few brutal misled military marines
and they will be charged and tried in open military tribunals
so that all the world can see how transparent and fair, even just, is US democracy:
For all their crimes and the dishonor that they brought to America.
(never mind the Iraqis): they will spend a year in jail and get a bad character certificate!
Abu Ghraib became a symbol of disgraceful conduct of a few American troops who dishonored their country and disregarded their values.
Bush speaking from one side of his mouth:

From the other side of his mouth he recently assured Pope John Paul II that he will continue to work for human dignity and human liberty.
in order to spread peace and compassion.
his mouth never tires of doublespeak:

A woman from Rusafa prison refused to speak.
she spends her days fasting and praying
she cries and in a few words says that if her family knew
what has happened to her, they would slaughter her.
She is in her sixties.
The woman said I just want to disappear, I just want to die.
A mother of four, arrested in December
killed herself after being raped by US guards
in front of her husband at Abu Ghraib :
The women who have been raped and sexually abused
believe that nothing can return their dignity.

We must gather and keep alive our collective memories
so that they will live; so that they will not die again.

A key witness Sergeant Provance in the military investigation into prisoner abuse told ABC News that there was a great coverup by the military.
And after he said that he was stripped of his security clearance and told that he may face prosecution because his comments were not in the national interest
he spoke to ABC News despite orders from his commanders not to
he spoke of the silence of all who know.

a great and enveloping silence so that
America can still be the Dream
the land of the Brave, the Brightest, the Best
the land of the Free
God bless America!

Abu Ghraib will be demolished
Brigadier General Kimmit, the chief military spokesman for the US led Coalition forces in Iraq assures the world that the Iraqis will forgive the Americans.
As all the other peoples of the world have forgotten
their counter-insurgency wars, their coups, their assassination, their schools of torture,
their wars of terror copy righted by the CIA, patended by the USA
And the multilayers of abuse, torture and killings that point to a systematic and systemic humiliation and degradation of the Iraqis will be forgotten.
But these are crimes against the Iraqi people;
these are brutal crimes of war:

As we gather closer around the fire, there are more story weavers
one speaks of more Abu Ghraibs, this time in America:
where the abuse and torture of prisoners is grotesque
men and women brutalized by the System
and who will almost never be compensated for the abuse
because of a 1996 law passed by the US Congress
America has the largest prison population of any nation on earth
It has deathrows of more than 2, 600 persons waiting to be executed.

The message in the US regarding the treatment of prisoners is clear:
Treat them anyway you would like: they are just animals

Abu Ghraib in Baghdad then was no aberration:
other prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay
are all part of the American System:
Copper Green, the Special Access Program's chain of command ran straight from the Pentagon to Abu Ghraib;

the American who directed the re-opening of Abu Ghraib last year and trained the guards was Director of the Utah Department of Correction (USA) and resigned under pressure in 1997 after a prisoner died strapped to a restraining chair for sixteen hours.
tThe prisoner who suffered from schizophrenia was kept naked all the time.
the same Utah official Lane Mc Cotter later become an executive of a private prison company: one of whose jails was under investigation by the Justice Department when he was sent to Iraq:
He was part of a team of prison officials, judges, prosecutors, police chiefs picked by John Ashcroft, the US Attorney General, to re-build Iraq's criminal justice system.
God help Iraq!

Seymour Hersh's article The Gray Zone reveals how the Bush Administration set up Torture Mills after September 11, 2001, violating every piece of international law and international humanitarian law.
The captives of this terror war have been described by the US as unlawful combatants, the military prisons they are held in, outside the jurisdiction of the Geneva Conventions.
the private contractors who interrogate and torture are outside the jurisdiction of the army;
no military law or Iraqi law can apply
we are now in an area of complete lawlessness
Welcome to the new American Imperium !

Other voices on the Arab street whisper
what of the complicity of the United Nations
It first sanctioned the illegal economic sanctions
then the illegal war
then it closed its eyes to all the war crimes
of the Invasion and the Occupation
now it is at work again legalizing a multinational US led force in Iraq.

The torture at Abu Ghraib are war crimes
the United Nations tried to investigate war crimes in Jenin. And failed.
Israel would not let them:
So, the UN does not even try in Iraq.
In another moment of time, the truth will be told
of how through silence, the UN helped to write war crimes into history
The images of busloads of Iraqi prisoners now leaving Abu Ghraib
having been imprisoned, in some cases, for over a year
with no charges, no sentences
tortured, traumatized
Broken.

each image worth more than a thousand words

Who will ask the questions that must be asked?
will the US troops ever be prosecuted for war crimes?
will they ever be brought before the International Criminal Court?
or is it one more time when justice will only be for the victors?
will the UN continue to extend and grant immunity to the US for its war crimes around the world?
In another moment in time, will the world hold the UN complicit in these war crimes?
or will more speak form both sides of their mouths?

Because it is not knowledge that is lacking:
People know what outrages are being committed
in the name of Justice and Human Rights. And Freedom. Enduring Freedom.
Everywhere in the world where knowledge is being suppressed
knowledge that if it were made known, would shatter our image of the world
there the heart of darkness is being enacted.

And the heart of darkness is not only Abu Ghraib:
but the many war crimes committed by the US and its Coalition
that caused the systematic ruination of a country, its civilization and its people
from the genocidal economic sanctions, the continuous bombing of Iraq from 1991
the violation of all international law and laws of armed conflict
to the use of smart bombs, super bombs, a variety of sophisticated US weapons
the use of depleted uranium: that will kill for generations.

And we must count the over one hundred thousand gulf war veterans
that suffer from mysterious medical problems and radiation illnesses
simply called the Gulf War Syndrome.

The horror stories of Iraq are just beginning to be told:
what must be told too are the war crimes against the civilian population:
the bombing, the carpet bombing of Iraq's infrastructure and support systems,
the damages to homes, to hospitals, to markets,
to people's lives, livelihoods, lifeworlds.

Bush calls the murder of innocent women and children
despicable acts of terrorists that need the worst punishment
And he is correct:
Will he stand trial for all the innocent women and children
killed in his war of aggression and occupation in Iraq?
which are indeed despicable acts of terrorism:
more than 12,000 civilians killed Mr. Bush
And we are still counting :
Is terrorism acceptable when terror wears the mask of the state?

Perhaps, it is time for another story:

a story of ordinary people, of ordinary everyday things
of families, of celebrations, of weddings
the wedding in Mugrldeeb
listen to the many voices speaking
listen to the many more, unspoken.

The hospital Director of Al Qaim speaks to Eman, who tells us the story to us around the fire:

Early in the morning of May 19, we received large numbers of injured people from Mugrldeeb village, the majority of them were children and women. Those who brought them were terrified and hysterical; they were so confused that they were asking us what happened, as if an earthquake had hit the village. Forty two victims were already dead:
we sent the bodies to Ramadi Forensic Centre.
Fourteen were children smaller than twelve years.
There were eleven women of different ages among the dead. Many of the dead were shot by bullets in the head, chest and abdomen.
We managed to save an eight month old baby.
There is a boy of ten in the hospital now; he suffers from severe injuries in his chest and abdomen; you can see him but you have to be careful when you talk with him.
He does not know that all his family is dead

Do you know these people?

Yes they are from Albo Fahad tribe; the Rekaad Naif family.
It is a very sad story; whole families were killed.
One of the women was found holding her baby by her teeth after both her hands were injured.
They all went to attend a wedding in the desert;
there is nothing around, just sand, small rocks,
thousand of sheep, a few scattered houses.
And the wedding was celebrated here, because this is where they live.
All these houses, a guide tells Eman, are for people who breed, sell and buy sheep; they have their houses here because this is where they spend four or five months every year.

It was the wedding of Azhad Rikaad Naif. The party began in the afternoon as usual. The music and dancing continued until ten. We were having dinner when we heard the noise of the airplane. It went around for a long time. We did not feel comfortable.
The men decided to end the party after dinner.
At eleven all the guests left, only those who came from far away remained.
Rikaad said it was no longer safe to stay but it seems that the women were too tired to move with the sleeping children.
Eman continues to tell the story :
I (Hamid) was sleeping in my house when I heard the shooting. It was around 2:30 - 3.00 a.m.
Two helicopters were firing on Rikaad's houses, for over an hour.
Then around 5 a.m. we saw many soldiers, more than thirty, going around the houses, torchlights in their hands. We heard them shooting at the injured people who were lying on the ground with light weapons. One of the injured women Iqbal had bullets of a light American gun in her body.

the soldiers searched the houses.
They took all the money and gold from the dead women
They took the camera and the films. Rikaad's wife was killed.

The killings were brutal after a few minutes a black fighter came; it hit two houses with missiles and brought the houses to the ground. Around 6 a.m. two double fan (chinook) helicopters came and took all the soldiers.

Rikaad is a man in his mid-sixties; he looked tired and ill;
He put a white kofiya without the black Arabic igal, probably as a symbol of extreme sadness. He was receiving condolences, silently.
Rikaad says to Eman 'I am a poor old man. I put all my sons, daughters, grandchildren under the ground. They killed everyone in my family.
I am very sad.
But what makes me sadder, are all their lies
All I did was have a wedding party for my son

What the world saw of the wedding at Mugrlaleeb was the footage of flesh, hair and musical instruments filmed by a video crew that reached the location of what local people say was a wedding party attacked without warning by the Americans killing women and children. The instruments belonged to the band of Hussein Ali, one of Iraqi's most famous wedding singers whose relatives buried him in Baghdad last week.
Despite the evidence, the eye witness accounts, American commanders continue to insist that their strike on a remote village in the desert close the Syrian border, was against foreign fighters crossing into Iraq.
The US commanders call it a legitimate target.
They say the slaying was justified based on the information available.
More lies: More deception
More civilians killed;
Indiscriminately. Deliberately.
And from the US Generals, one Major General James Mattis said
I don't have to apologize for the conduct of my men
After all we are told, gods never apologize.
His words reminds us of Bush Sr. speaking as the then Vice President
on the shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane by an American ship killing 290 people:
I will never apologize for the United States of America
I don't care what the facts are
Hiroshima, Cuba, Vietnam, Sudan, Iraq.
the list is endless

The same General Mattis demanded 'How many people go to the middle of the desert ten miles from the Syrian border to hold a wedding?
The answer very simply is many, Major General. Many
If you come from a clan of livestock herders and that is where you have lived all your life.
The clan straddles the Syrian border; even distant relatives would be expected to turn up there, as well as from the far corners in Iraq
It's a wedding, remember

Do you still wonder why there is so much anger, even hatred?
As Bush asks why, especially when we are so good
especially when we are so democratic
perhaps its is our Wealth: perhaps it is our Freedom
echo the Washington Clique

Perhaps if they listened carefully to the Arab street
they would hear other stories; stories of why people burn the American flag,
stories that point to the US unilateral support to the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.
stories of its support to corrupt leaders, brutal regimes in the region,
in order to secure its own strategic interests
controlling oil reserves, preserving its own economic interests
It is a story of the last forty years of US foreign policy in the Arab region
its petro-military complex more vicious now with its ambitions of global hegemony
the new world order and the new American Century:
a world order that legitimizes the pre-emptive strike, collateral damage,
enemy combatants, embedded journalists, military tribunals,
all new words
words soaked in blood
words soaked in our blood

But there are other voices from the American street,
voices of conscience, voices of compassion:
here is the voice of a poet, that reaches across to our little corner on the Arab street
the poem was written in another moment of time:

tremors of your network
cause kings to disappear
your open mouth in anger
makes nations bow in fear
your bombs can change the season
obliterate the spring

what more do you long for?
why are you suffering?

you control human lives
in Rome and Timbuktu
lonely nomads wandering
owe Telstar to you
seas shift at your bidding
your mushrooms fill the sky
why are you unhappy?
why do your children cry?

they kneel alone in terror
with dread in every glance
their nights are threatened daily
by a grim inheritance
you dwell in whitened castles
with deep and poisoned moats
and cannot hear the curses
which fill your children's throats

we are still gathered around the dancing fire
listening to the poem from across seas
understanding the story of the barbarians across time
knowing the wisdoms written on our skins, in our memories.


Corinne Kumar of El Taller International, eltaller@gnet.tn and WiB India, sent this poem from the North African city of Tunis on June 6, 2004.

El Taller, www.eltaller.org , is an international non governmental organisation that challenges the structural causes of the dispossession of peoples, the destruction of cultures and the deepening of poverty.

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last updated: 13 of June 2005

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