U.S. Veterans and Iraqis Unite to Demand the Right to Heal
A new project, the Right to Heal Initiative, is demanding concrete action from the U.S. government to address the widespread toxicity, trauma and other serious health impacts- both mental and physical- caused by the Iraq War. On March 19, ten years to the day of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iraqi civilians, U.S. veterans and allies launched the project in front of the White House with a press conference and by reading powerful testimonials about the health and human rights impacts of the war. Much of the testimony sent from Iraq spoke of the sharp rise in birth defects and cancer rates that have been seen in various cities and towns throughout Iraq since the 2003 invasion. For example, this testimony was provided from Fallujah by the Federation for Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq:
“During the American military invasion at the end of 2004, the American army used radioactive weapons, and they admitted that they used white phosphorous in bombing the city. And after about a year and a half, birth defects began to appear in the city, especially in residential neighborhoods far from the city center…The Iraqi Ministry of Environment performed a survey of the city and they found a presence of radioactive, poisonous, and harmful materials which cause cancer and deformities.”
Veterans present spoke about the far-reaching impacts of the war, both back at home and for those remaining in Iraq. We heard about experiences with military sexual trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the lack of adequate care from the Veterans Administration. This is part of the testimony provided by Joyce Wagner of Iraq Veterans Against the War (for her full testimony please click here).
In 2010, after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder related to military sexual trauma, I filed a disability claim with the Department of Veteran Affairs. After sharing the most personal and painful details of my life, I heard nothing from the VA for over a year. It took over two years before I received a letter stating that my claim was denied because, amongst other things, I had invited my rapist into my tent. Unfortunately, my case is not uncommon… And while the Department of Defense and the VA have done an insufficient job at compensating and caring for US servicemembers victimized by their fellow servicemembers in acts of sexual violence, they have done absolutely nothing to make reparation to victims of sexual violence in Iraq. How can I ask for justice for myself without first demanding justice for the many women in Iraq who were raped and otherwise abused in an occupation in which I participated?
As we were observing this anniversary that never should have been in front of the White House, lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights were submitting a request for a thematic hearing to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). We hope to raise these issues and accompanying demands directly to U.S. government officials through an IACHR hearing this fall as a first step to our project. Please support this hearing request by signing on to a letter to the IACHR. And stay tuned for more ways to support the Right to Heal.
Laura Raymond is Advocacy Program Manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Twitter: @laurajraymond