Who's to pay for the lies that destroyed Iraq and destabilized the Mideast?
The first time we crossed the desert from Amman to Baghdad was 12 years ago last month. We had been holding a vigil outside the White House to say no to war on Iraq for five months. We decided we had to go for ourselves to bring back a glimpse of reality, as the White House was churning out lies the media and Congress were accepting without question. It felt like everyone had entered the fog before the war.
As we arrived at the border we were offered tea as they registered our electronics. The agent asked CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin if she was Jewish, and after she shook her head yes, he quickly left the room only to return with a book in Hebrew. "What does this say?" he inquired with intense curiosity. She replied that she didn't speak Hebrew, but was not sure why he was reading it. He said, "When we were at war with Iran, I learned Farsi so I could speak the language of my enemy; now that we are going to war with Israel, I want to learn how to speak their language."
There were many more encounters that revealed the Iraqis believed the U.S. wanted to bomb because of Israel. We held a vigil in the streets with a banner that read, "We have found the smoking gun," and in our hands we held gas nozzles. Another vigil at the oil refinery had us giving our blood to the Red Crescent in an act to declare No Blood for Oil.
The Israeli engagement in the mad drive to war 12 years ago could also be seen in who was voting for the war in Congress. There was a chasm between progressive Democrats and the AIPAC members, Democrats who had been against war in the past were for bombing Iraq.
Our week in Iraq showed us that Iraq had very little, the sanctions had taken an enormous toll on everyone. It was easy to conclude there were no weapons of mass destruction; we even traveled out of Baghdad to where they was alleged to be and found nothing. One evening we rang all the rooms of the weapons inspectors and interviewed a few about what they were finding, which was a unanimous nothing. There were 32 members of the European Parliament there at the same time, and they came to the same conclusion.
In the early 70s, I traveled to Iraq and the rich green parks and city I remembered were dirtier and dustier, but still intact. They lacked the elegance of 30 years before.
In meetings with human rights activists, attorneys and members of Parliament we learned of a very different Iraq than we were hearing about in the media. Yet, how very easy it had been to enter, travel anywhere and ask questions of anyone, all just a month before we invaded. I was shocked it was so easy, probably not as shocked as the Iraqis when they learned of Shock and Awe. The Iraqis who loved us, even though we were from the U.S., a country that was about to bomb them: "We are Iraqi you are Americans, we are not Saddam and you are not Bush.
The night Colin Powell addressed the UN on the weapons of mass destruction, we were at the Iraq Communications Center with another 350 international visitors and Iraqi ministers. When he finished everyone in the room knew he was lying. I went to sleep that night, sure this madness was over as that was a ridiculous delivery of a lie, and I felt it had undressed the White House sham.
The next morning, I woke to an Iraqi woman in our hotel room crying on my shoulder and then turning her head to the sky with arm raised, "How can I protect my children?" While we were sleeping, Bush had declared the game is over, we will proceed with Shock and Awe. To terrorize another country with the idea of Shock and Awe was horrific to watch after we had just experienced it on two buildings in one city in the U.S. Preparations began that day to tape windows, build generators and collect food, which was hard as everyone was on food rations from the UN Oil for Food program.
Five months later we crossed the desert from Amman to Iraq. This time, there were U.S. soldiers at the border wanting to use our phones to call home, no stamping of passports or questions. Anyone was welcome, huge trucks barreled through the checkpoints, they could be carrying anything. We imagined all that could be in them. It was July 4th, so I made my way to Saddam's palace where Bremer was holding court. Friends I had made from the first trip said, "We had one Saddam, now we have hundreds."
The flyer on his office door read, "lobster tails and shrimp, a visit from the original terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger," and across the flyer was printed "Hasta La Vista, Baby --beer and barbeque at Saddam's pool at 5 p.m."
It was surreal to see U.S. soldiers diving from the high dive into Saddam's gold-lined swimming pool and playing ping pong in the elegant hallways. Or the Iraqi in red, white and blue uniforms serving the barbeque. This was when Bremer decided to terminate the employment of and close down the Iraqi military and police. The idea of this was so frightening that just like throwing my life in front of the White House to say no to war, I threw myself in front of Bremer to say no, this will create madness, anarchy and violence. Where will these people go who have been the respected members of this society, who know how to kill and be at war? What will they do? He didn't want to hear and had me dragged away from his presence, both at the palace where he worked and at a press conference.
During my days hanging out at the palace, I met too many men who had never had this much power before, bragging about it and how much money they were getting paid, none of them having ever done a job like they held before. One such person announced himself as Bremer's intelligence advisor on Shiites. Before coming to Baghdad he taught religion and political philosophy at a private, conservative college in Southern California. I was shocked by his arrogance and banter as he told me he missed home and had sent for his roller blades. I confronted him on the firing of the military and police, "We're going to take a page from Saddam's book," he said with an insiders confidence. "Fear is the foundation of any government. If you make a dog hungry, he will follow you anywhere."
We returned to Iraq many times the next year, attempting to tell the stories of what was really happening on the ground. We listened to the alarm of the Iraqis at how they were being treated, the innocent people who were dying at the hands of our occupation and the destruction of everything beautiful that was the Iraq they knew.
Those who could, fled. Those who couldn't did what they had to for survival. We had to end our trips because it became too dangerous. The U.S. occupation made it too dangerous.
Ambassador Wilson told us in a New York Times op-ed that his wife had been outed as a CIA agent because he had exposed the White House lies about weapons of mass destruction and 10 to 30 million people marched in streets across the world to say no to war on Iraq. But the Bush administration and the 108th Congress invaded an innocent and depleted country.
Who has been held responsible for these lies that have destroyed a country, and destabilized the Middle East? Recently, President Obama admitted it was our invasion of Iraq that led to the creation of ISIL. Where is the accountability?
What are we doing now to ensure Israel and the Republican Congress don't drive us with lies to another war? Reach out to your member of Congress with an emphatic NO and hold them accountable. If we as citizens don't start to hold people accountable, who will? Stop the next war now!