The Bodies of War That Iraq War Architects Dare Not Acknowledge or Confront
Tomas Young, a veteran of the Iraq War whose story was presented in the 2007 documentary, Body of War, appeared on “Democracy Now!” on March 21. The dying soldier read his moving letter to President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and all the other war criminals that sent him and tens of thousands of other young men and women to Iraq to engage in violence in a country, which posed no threat to America whatsoever.
Shot in Sadr City in Iraq in 2004, he is paralyzed from the waist down. The injury was so severe that he could not regulate his body temperature like a normal human. He had a pulmonary embolism in his right arm four years later, which made it impossible for him to use it. He had his colon removed recently to heal pain he was experiencing. He now has a colostomy bag, but that did not take care of the pain. His ability to speak is deteriorating. The clear-spoken man that audiences who viewed Body of War met now slurs his words. Yet, for all that he has been through, his mind is still completely in tact and he has made a sober decision to end his life because the body he was born into this life with can no longer support him without causing immense suffering for him.
Sitting in a wheelchair with a head rest to support him, he looks exhausted. His beard and hair has grown out. If he was seen alone on the street and asked for help, nobody would take him seriously. They would likely mistake him for a drunk. They would convince themselves he was a junky. They would be afraid because they would not have the courage to face a man, whose body is in such a horrid condition. And, if he told them about the war and how he didn’t support it, they would probably pay him even less attention.
On air, he read from his letter: “I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.”
The Iraq War architects are war criminals, plunderers and murderers in the eyes of Young. He concludes, “I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.”
Unrepentant Sociopaths of the Bush Administration
It is abundantly clear days after the tenth anniversary that the architects of this war may never repent for what they did. Richard Perle, a neoconservative who served on the Pentagon’s Defense Board, when asked on NPR the View from Nowhere question of the week—Was it worth it?—sociopathically responded:
I’ve got to say…I think that is not a reasonable question. What we did at the time was done in the belief that it was necessary to protect this nation. You can’t a decade later go back and say, well, we shouldn’t have done that.
Which is to say that people like Tomas and the people of Iraq, whose lives are now in utter ruin, cannot question what was done because the architects “believed” they were “protecting” the country. It is to excuse the architects from any responsibility for their actions and implicitly condemn the victims of war, who harbor animosity toward them.
“If I had to do it over again, I’d do it again in a minute,” Cheney said in a recent documentary. Donald Rumsfeld, then-Secretary of Defense, tweeted, “10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation.”
Calling Saddam Hussein a “cancer in the Middle East,” Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser who spoke the infamous words, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” told an audience at the LBJ School of Public Affairs:
It is absolutely the case that the loss of lives will never be brought back and any of us who had a part in that decision will have to live with the lost and maimed lives…But, nothing of value ever comes without sacrifice and I believe that Iraq has a chance. It may not make it, but it has a chance to be a state that will not seek weapons of mass destruction, will not invade its neighbors, will be a friend of the United States and will have democratic institutions that may, over time, mature.
The unrepentant Rice did not acknowledge this “chance” may now be equal or even more unlikely than the “chance” Iraqis had under Saddam Hussein.
Tortured Bodies, Deformed Bodies
Journalist Dahr Jamail reported on the rampant torture and legacy of cancer in Iraq less than two years after President Barack Obama announced the final withdrawal of US troops. Iraqis are “being hung by their ankles for days at a time while their heads are in buckets of water on the ground.” They are “having their hands tied behind their backs and then hung from their hands for sometimes days at a time.” Electrical shocks are “being used on people’s limbs, on their genitals, on their tongues.” Iraqi men are “being raped by broom handles as well as bottles.” Women are being raped in prison, and officers in Iraq are threatening Iraqis with the horror of witnessing the rape of their family members if they do not provide information for the targeting, torture and assassination of other Iraqis.
The use of depleted uranium (DU) in Iraq has led to a sharp rise in “congenital birth defects, cancer cases, and other illnesses throughout much of Iraq.” According to Jamail, there is one doctor—a pediatrician named Dr. Samira Alani—who is bearing the burden of handling all these cases of babies being born with massive deformations. Jamail explained on “Democracy Now!”:
These types of birth defects, she said—there are types of congenital malformations that she said they don’t even have medical terms for, that some of the things they’re seeing, they’ve never seen before. They’re not in any of the books or any of the scientific literature that they have access to. She said it’s common now in Fallujah for newborns to come out with massive multiple systemic defects, immune problems, massive central nervous system problems, massive heart problems, skeletal disorders, baby’s being born with two heads, babies being born with half of their internal organs outside of their bodies, cyclops babies literally with one eye—really, really, really horrific nightmarish types of birth defects. And it is ongoing.
Torture and summary executions occurred regularly during the US war in Iraq so it comes as no surprise that a security culture of executions and torture continues under the regime of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The scars from beatings, the wounds from rape, the grotesque bodies of newborns are all bodies of war that those behind the Iraq War should face.
The franken-babies of which women are giving birth are like the franken-state of Iraq, which these architects created. It may be a franken-state of poverty, repression and violence for the next decade, but the creators hold on to the sick denial that it is on its way to being democratic, free and a land of opportunity because they cannot take responsibility for destroying a country.
The Denialism of Sociopaths
John Bolton, who served as undersecretary of state during the Bush administration, penned a rabid defense of the Iraq War systematically “deconstructing” all the “myths” surrounding the Iraq War: “Iraq is worse off now than under Saddam,” “wars to impose democracy invariably fail,” “Bush lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction,” “US military intervention was far more aggressive than was necessary,” “Iran is more powerful today than if Saddam had been left it in power.”
Proving just how much of a red-blooded imperialist he happens to be, Bolton essentially argued at one point that the war of aggression in Iraq had to happen in 2003 because, in the Gulf War in 1991, the United States did not finish the job. He crudely asserted it does not matter whether wars for democracy fail because fighting in Iraq for democracy was an afterthought in the war. And then, there is this gem of sociopathic denialism:
The fact is that Saddam Hussein, with or without actual WMD, was a strategic threat to peace and security in the Middle East and globally. Once free of UN economic sanctions and weapons inspectors, which 10 years ago he was very close to achieving, he would have immediately returned to ambitious WMD programs.
Stephen Hadley, who served as a national security adviser in the Bush administration, found the US achieved its “national security objectives.”
Today’s Iraqi government does not pursue weapons of mass destruction, support terrorists, invade its neighbors or brutally oppress its people. Hussein had done all these things, despite some 17 U.N. Security Council resolutions calling on him to stop. The United States went to war because of his failure to stop after 12 years of international diplomatic effort, economic sanctions, “no-fly” zones, various inspection regimes and limited military strikes ordered by President Bill Clinton.
After Hussein was deposed, we did not find the stockpiles of WMDs that all the world’s major intelligence services, the Clinton and Bush administrations and most members of Congress thought that he had. It was less an intelligence failure than a failure of imagination. Before the war, no one conceived what seems to have been the case: that Hussein had destroyed his WMD stocks but wanted to hide this from his enemy Iran. The U.S. team charged with searching for WMDs concluded that Hussein had the intention and the means to return to WMD production had he not been brought down.
It is not true that none of the intelligence agencies conceived of the possibility that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs. Both MI6 and the CIA were aware of evidence that he had none, but people like Hadley committed to war intentionally ignored it. And, again, like other architects, Hadley exhibits sociopathic denialism as he suggests the current Iraqi government does not “brutally oppress its people.”
Nothing, however, can surpass the twisted argument justifying the Iraq War that torture memo author John Yoo wrote in addressing whether the costs of going to war were worth it:
In law, we often come upon a situation after an event — a crime, an accident, etc. — and we must decide what to do based on the knowledge we have now. Courts award damages based on the harm to the victim and the harm to society. Suppose you thought that the Iraq war was a mistake. If so, isn’t the proper remedy to restore Saddam Hussein’s family and the Baath Party to power in Iraq? If you are unwilling to consider that remedy, aren’t you conceding that on balance, the benefits of the war outweigh the costs?
He adds the US allowed harm to occur to society because a greater good would be achieved:
We spent billions of dollars in Iraq as damages. We did so not because the war was wrong, but because it was right — and we shared the benefits of the war with the Iraqi people by transferring some of it in the form of reconstruction funds. [emphasis added]
Granted, this is the sadistic lawyer who suggested there might be a situation where it would be lawful for the President of the United States to crush a child’s testicles, but, still, “reconstruction funds” are not “benefits of war.” They are owed reparations, and it is a clear example of callousness that Yoo finds, as a proponent of wars of aggression, that so long as you give people these “benefits” the war will always be worth it to some extent.
Each of these rationalizations are in the abstract and uttered without any mention of the realities of war—the number killed in Iraq, the number of soldiers who died, the number of people tortured, raped and abused, the number summarily executed, the number wounded beyond repair mentally and physically who have died and will die. They are the arguments of rogue ideologues who live with the conviction that they will never be prosecuted and, under this reasonable presumption, there is nothing they can’t say to justify the war because, after all, nobody is being criminalized for it.
At the moment, the architects have been given a license to ignore the extent of destruction they caused and skirt justice. There was a bipartisan conspiracy of silence in Washington on the anniversary. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told the press, “I think we’re not going to do a big retrospective on Iraq. We will continue to talk about this in the coming days and years.” But not on the ten-year anniversary; not on the day when hundreds of thousands around the world, especially those whose lives were forever changed, reflected and looked back.
It’s easy for those in power to say because they are not in the position of the powerless, who were wounded severely, had loved ones killed, fought in the war, faced attacks in the war or live below poverty trying to pick up the pieces in the aftermath and find reflection to be part of the healing process.
Because Americans live in a country where there is no justice for victims of war crimes, with a media that lets war criminals off easy and in a society that supports the troops so long as it does not have to confront them when they are suffering, have truths to tell or something to share which has gone unseen, Tomas Young must put himself to death. He must make a statement and die for the sins of the US government so Americans can collectively begin to recognize that, in fact, there are sins that have been committed that still have not been properly addressed.
Tomas Young reading his “Last Letter” on Democracy Now!