Perhaps because the scale of the UK crisis is measurably lower than in the States, and thus more manageable, two UK-based drug policy organizations have been able to craft individual frameworks for reform and regulation that are garnering a lot of attention, and inspiring activists and reformers across the pond.
This is the second of a two-part series on Ibogaine. Go here if you missed part one.
The first time I heard former Yippie activist Dana Beal mention ibogaine I couldn’t have cared less what he was talking about. I had booked him to speak on political theater and creative resistance...you know, Yippie shit...as one of a dozen speakers featured at an all day Green Party rally we held in Washington Square Park during the 2004 Republican National Convention. Beal is a shady, self-promoting character. Instead of offering something useful to the crowd, he gave a rambling sermon on the miracles of this obscure drug that cured junkies of addiction. Holding up a collection of papers no doubt meant to imbue his message with gravitas he ranted through a byzantine cosmology of all the evil forces that were arrayed against this miracle substance becoming a mainstream treatment.
In last year's powerful independent documentary, What A Way To Go: Life at the End of Empire, producer Sally Erickson pulled from her 20 years working as a therapist in private practice to attempt to explain why so many people, perhaps even you, are so unhappy.
The film from writer-director TS Bennett is an epic exploration of a Middle American, middle-class white father of three coming to grips with climate change, resource crises, environmental meltdown and the demise of the American lifestyle. It is as compassionate a film as it is utterly terrifying.
Through a pastiche of revolutionary thinkers including Derrick Jensen, Daniel Quinn, Jerry Mander, Richard Manning and Chellis Glendinning, What A Way To Go concludes that industrial civilization -- and its end product, consumerism -- has disconnected us from nature, the cycle of life, our communities, our families and, ultimately, ourselves. This unnatural, inorganic, materialistic way of living, coupled with a marked decline in society's moral and ethical standards -- what the French call anomie -- has created a kind of pathology that produces pain and emptiness, for which addictive behavior becomes the primary symptom and consumption the preferred drug of choice.
"What most of us experience when it comes to addiction," says Erickson, "is a pattern of continually seeking more of what it is we don't really want and, therefore, never being fully satisfied. And as long as we are never satisfied, we continue to seek more, while our real needs are never being met."
"Addiction in one form or another characterizes every aspect of industrial society," wrote the social philosopher Morris Berman, and dependence on substances or corporeal pleasures is no different from dependence on "prestige, career achievement, world influence, wealth, the need to build more ingenious bombs or the need to exercise control over everything."
At the very least, this certainly raises questions about the dominant, socially accepted view of addiction, the disempowering, less-than-hospitable "disease model," which claims addiction is a chronic illness predetermined by genetics. The "disease-model" is characterized by a loss of control over substances or practices, along with denial of the severity and consequences of using or engaging in them.
"Current research shows that genetics are the most significant factor in addiction," argues Bruce Sewick, a Chicago area substance abuse clinician who works with the mentally ill. "A person is four times more likely to become dependent on alcohol or drugs when there is a genetic history of the same."
This may be true, but the pervasive pattern of addictive behavior that finds its way into our economics, our politics, and our interpersonal relationships cannot be just explained away using genetic predeterminism. Consumption without need is the hallmark of addiction, and "consumerism" is defined as "the equating of personal happiness with the purchasing of material possessions and consumption." The pattern of out-of-control consumption in the United States, which per capita consumes 70 times more than India, with three times the U.S. population, is not qualitatively different from the well-known patterns of behavior of substance abusers. In fact, it looks as if the United States just finished with the worst binge of its life and is now cresting the peak of a wicked crash.
"I think consumerism is probably a bit of an addiction," offers Richard Eckersley, an Australian public health researcher featured in a 2003 radio documentary, Consumerism, Money, and Happiness:
Addiction is really a hallmark of our era, and I think it reflects that we don't have culturally promoted kinds of other deeper forms of meaning and purpose in our lives. So we make up for it by consuming more. But the evidence is overwhelming that people who are characterized by materialistic attitudes and values actually experience lower well-being, lower happiness, more depression and anxiety and anger than people who aren't materialistic.While we generally accept that anything can be used addictively, we often tend to forget or overlook why it's being used in the first place. Most professionals will agree that the purpose or function of an addiction is to put a buffer between ourselves and the experience or awareness of our emotions. An addiction serves to numb us so that we are out of touch with what we know and what we feel. Eventually this numb buffer zone becomes a habituated coping mechanism.
"But addiction itself," explains Tom Goforth, a Christian minister and practicing clinical psychotherapist for more than 40 years, "is not innate to the human species. It's something we developed to cope with our predicament."
Over the years Goforth saw most of the addictions he treated develop as the result of some violation of the self, a deep wounding or trauma. This wounding can come from any number of causes: domestic violence and abuse, prejudice and racism, warfare, economic hardship, illness and death, even something as insidiously mundane as rejection, shame, insecurity or feelings of inadequacy.
Primitivist writer-activists like Derrick Jensen and Chellis Glendinning believe that consumer culture drives the "culture of empire," an inherently abusive system built on resource exploitation and the subjugation of peoples. Because of this, those living in it have undergone a collective wounding or trauma that has left society suffering from a mass form of PTSD.
Glendinning is the author of My Name Is Chellis and I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization, a book that examines the relationship between addiction and the ecological crisis. In an essay on what she calls "techno-addiction" Glendinning writes about our "primary" and "secondary" sources of satisfaction. "Primary" needs are those we were born to have satisfied: nourishment, love, meaning, purpose and spirit. When they are not met, we turn to the "secondary" sources, which include "drugs, violence, sex, material possessions and machines." Eventually we become obsessed with the secondary sources "as if our lives depended on them."
Designing and marketing secondary sources of satisfaction falls to the complimenting social, political and economic systems that reinforce addictive behavior in order to drive the consumer machine. Consumption becomes "naturalized" through corporate advertising and marketing, government tax breaks, and officially sanctioned religio-consumer holidays like Christmas, Hanukah and Valentine's Day. Let us never forget that after 9/11 George Bush told Americans it was their patriotic duty to "spend."
"Everything appalling has to be naturalized in order to be justified," says Derrick Jensen, author of the Endgame series and The Culture of Make Believe. "This is because an abusive system is designed to protect the abuser. The whole idea of naturalizing addictions is about maintaining the dependency and victimhood of the addict, the abused."
In a system based on consumption, the best patient a doctor, therapist or pharmacist can ask for is one who never gets better. Is it any coincidence then that in the dominant model an addict always remains an addict? Under this rubric, the addict is always "recovering" and never "recovered." Imagine the psychological impact of imposing a perpetual sense of powerlessness on someone. It must be profound. But it suddenly makes a whole lot more sense when you look at the few socially acceptable surrogates like AA, Prozac, work or Jesus. Aren't these, in a sense, meant to be chronic as well? This approach simply transfers the dependency while preserving the overall system of consumptive behavior.
By the same token, what better consumer can a corporation ask for than one who is never satisfied with what they buy, who always has to have the next, the biggest, the newest in order to feel like they are somebody. If real needs were being met, it's a good possibility that certain markets would contract or collapse. Knowing this, our identities have in a sense been re-engineered to accommodate forced obsolescence, so that every few years we're told we need an upgrade. Tellingly, we call it our "new look" or the "new you." Whole industries are based in this.
Naturalizing addictions through consumerism has its beginnings in early 20th century notions of psychology and social control. The story of how consumerism, and more importantly, the consumer self, came into being is the subject of Adam Curtis' BBC documentary The Century of the Self. It is, at its core, the story of Sigmund Freud.
In response to the barbarism of Nazi Germany during the Second World War, which Freud believed was unleashed by the dangerous and irrational fears and desires that lay deep within the unconscious, Western politicians and planners set about finding ways to control this "hidden enemy within the human mind."
One of the theories that emerged was the brainchild of Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, the sloganeering progenitor of public relations who helped Woodrow Wilson sell the First World War to the American public by inventing the tag line, "Making the World Safe for Democracy." "[PR] is really just propaganda," Bernays says in the film, "but we couldn't use the word because the Germans had."
Bernays showed American corporations how to make people buy material goods they didn't need by connecting those products to their unconscious desires and unmet needs. This made him incredibly powerful and in demand. He used this influence to propose that the same principles be used politically to control the masses.
This social-control-through-indulgence model was later excoriated in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, a critique of consumerism and the vapidity of a culture based in pleasure seeking. In Huxley's futuristic dystopia, freethinking and human attachment have either been outlawed or genetically modified out of most of humanity. In its place is a dumbed-down hierarchical society overrun by high-tech entertainment, sexual promiscuity and a powerful, all-purpose intoxicant/narcotic/dissociative drug called Soma, which is used to quell any unpleasant feelings. Perhaps this sounds familiar?
"We can see where consumer psychology has led us," Tom Goforth sighs heavily. "It's a disaster. It's the kind of thing that has caused the human organism and psyche to go so far out of balance. Marketing to our unconscious leads us down a dangerous path that promises satisfaction and wholeness and a sense of importance and worth without us having to do anything but spend. But none of these things come in any real sense unless we work hard at them."
The ego, Freud discovered, is the part of us that invests in the values of society that hold out fulfillment for us. We as individual human beings may be looking for fulfillment through our contribution to society and our own sense of meaning, integrity, love and connection. "But instead," Goforth says, "consumerism teaches the ego to let go of integrity and inflate itself with an aesthetic, material process that confuses, or associates, self-worth with net worth."
This is the gospel preached by activist-performance-artist Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, star of the upcoming What Would Jesus Buy?, an anti-consumer road film produced by Super Size Me's Morgan Spurlock. Rev. Billy preaches that consumerism has become our great national addiction.
"If we're ever going to move away from being consumers and back to being citizens, society will need to go into recovery," says the good reverend. "I recommend at least 60 to 90 days away from the shopping just to detox. If we don't repent," he warns, "then the Shopocalypse is coming!"
Asking society to go into a global recovery program is not nearly as Dr. Phil-crazy as it sounds. It's become the new mantra of the green movement, who are now calling for a spiritual solution to the planetary crisis. It was Freud's student and eventual rival Carl Jung who first dissented against Freud's "irrational desires" theory and put forth the idea that addictions address a spiritual loss or deficiency. Because the addictive experience is mimetic of the spiritual experience, you can have an imitation of bliss or oneness, but it doesn't last. Jung believed only a true spiritual awakening will end an addiction. Likewise, the eco-ilk believe only a global spiritual awakening will end the consumer addiction that is ravaging the planet.
In Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Gregory Bateson, the evolutionary philosopher husband of anthropologist Margaret Mead, observed that addictive behavior is consistent with the Western approach to life that pits mind against body. Because of this schism, Bateson gave our species a low probability of continued survival.
"In order to avoid this literal death," Derrick Jensen adds soberly, "society will have to go through a cultural death and spiritual rebirth."
Heady words for sure, but it may be our only way out of this mess. For this process to begin, consumer society must first "hit bottom." Let us hope this happens soon. As Sally Erickson reminds us, the patterns of behavior endemic to consumer society are so much more dangerous than substance abuse, because they are perpetuating a culture that is literally eating itself out of house and home. If addicts define insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results, this may be the clearest sign yet that consumerism is driving us all crazy.
But there is hope to leave you with. In his 40 years treating addicts, Tom Goforth will honestly tell you that, by and large, those who did truly conquer their addictions became less materialistic and more aligned with a sense of who they really were and what they felt their life purpose was.
Maybe it's time for that intervention.
Malcolm X once said, "Any person who claims to have deep feeling for other human beings should think a long, long time before he votes to have other men kept behind bars -- caged. I am not saying there shouldn't be prisons, but there shouldn't be bars. Behind bars, a man never reforms."
On Friday, September 9, I became one of the roughly 25,000 people released from an Illinois prison this year -- 600,000 nationally -- after completing only 10 weeks of a one-year sentence due to extreme overcrowding. My crime was victimless -- simple possession of a controlled substance, specifically, a small amount of marijuana and MDMA.
But as the rare upper-middle class, educated white American in prison, I found myself in a truly alien, self-perpetuating world of crushing poverty and ignorance, violent dehumanization, institutionalized racism, and an entire sub-culture of recidivists, some of whom had done nine and 10 stints, many dating back to the '70s.
Most used prison as a form of criminal networking knowing full well they would be left to fend for themselves when released. We were told on many occasions that an inmate was worth more inside prison than back in society. Considering it costs an average of $37,000 a year to incarcerate offenders, and the average income for black Americans is $24,000, and only $8,000-$12,000 for poor blacks, one can easily see their point.
But unlike the vast majority of ex-offenders, I was fortunate enough to return to an established life and work, and a support system of friends, family, and colleagues.
The Chicago Tribune reported this year that about two-thirds of the more than 600,000 ex-convicts released in 2005 will be re-arrested within three years, and about half will return to prison for a new crime or violation of parole. Despite having "paid their debt to society," once released, their punishment is not nearly over. These days there is little to no hope of any real reform, as within the various Departments of Corrections, "correction" is a painfully misleading euphemism for the warehousing of offenders.
There are few, if any, re-entry programs for ex-offenders and virtually no jobs or social services to help keep them afloat in an increasingly difficult and unforgiving society. Thus, most ex-offenders have no choice but to return to their old crime-infested neighborhoods, destitute and desperate to survive any way they can. A significant majority of the new crimes or parole violations are drug related, often nothing more than testing positive on a monthly drug screen.
This lack of any employment, training, or rehabilitative opportunities has created a permanent underclass of ex-offenders who remain trapped in poverty, unable to provide for themselves or their families without resorting to the few, generally illegal means available to them. Faced with their very survival, most have no compunction about engaging (or re-engaging, as the case may be) in drug dealing rather than starving.
What may be even worse is that for some, their ongoing "crimes" are only those of association, or in some cases, the consequences of being black and poor. Laws prohibiting ex-felons from associating with other ex-felons and gang members, such as the Illinois Street Gang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act, or those preventing ex-offenders from being in areas designated as "high crime" or where "controlled substances are illegally sold, used, distributed, or administered" means that many ex-offenders are in violation of their parole simply by going home, where the majority in their neighborhood, including family members, have criminal records, and drugs are sold on almost every corner.
I cannot begin to recount all the men I met, particularly those with prior records or those on parole, who were re-incarcerated for crimes they did not commit, simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. Not possible! Our system is just!
True, it is for those who can afford justice in the form of a bond and a private lawyer, or for those against whom the system is not already unduly prejudiced. But in a system with corrupt cops eager for arrests, zealous state attorneys eager for convictions, jaded and overwhelmed public defenders eager for quick pleas, and rigid bond judges eager to set bail far beyond what anyone in the defendant's socio-economic class could reasonably afford, there is little opportunity for a fair trial.
For so many, including myself, the conditions in the penitentiary were preferable to those in Cook County Jail -- where some 30,000 detainees languish awaiting the resolution of their cases -- so a quick plea is the lesser of all evils and the shortest route to freedom. Had I chosen to fight my case, there is little doubt I would still be there today. In the end, what does that say about our criminal justice system?
Instead of correction and rehabilitation, what we have is what criminal justice Professor Richard Shelden, of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, calls a "criminal justice industrial complex" where "the police, the courts and the prison system have become huge, self-serving and self-perpetuating bureaucracies, which along with corporations have a vested interest in keeping crime at a certain level. They need victims and they need criminals, even if they have to invent them, as they have throughout the 'war on drugs' and 'war on gangs.'"
Thirty years ago Gore Vidal noted that "roughly 80 percent of police work in the United States has to do with the regulation of our private moralsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦controlling what we drink, eat, smoke, put into our veins ... with whom and how we have sex or gamble."
Then there were roughly 250,000 prisoners in the nation. Today there are more than 2 million, with another million in county jails awaiting trial or sentencing, and another roughly 3 million under "correctional supervision" on probation or parole.
The total national cost of incarceration then was $4 billion annually; today it's $64 billion, with another $20 billion in federal money and $22-24 billion in money from state governments earmarked for waging the so-called "War on Drugs."
Nationally, around 60 percent or more of these prisoners are drug criminals. Yet, throughout all this time and expense there has not been the slightest decrease in either drug use or supply.
And amidst all the talk of race as a factor in the Katrina disaster let us not forget a bigger disaster: one in every 20 black men over the age of 18 is in prison compared to 1 in 180 white men. Despite African Americans comprising only 12% of the total population, in five states, including Illinois, the ratio of black to white prisoners is 13 to 1.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that blacks comprise 56.7% of all drug offenders admitted to state prisons while whites comprise only 23.3% (in my Illinois prison -- one of 28 in the State -- of the 1,076 inmates, 689 were black, 251 were white, and 123 were latino). Based upon these numbers, a full 30% of African-Americans will see time in prison during their life, compared with only 5% of white Americans, even though white drug users outnumber blacks by a five-to-one margin.
Anyone familiar with these facts was not surprised by the response to the largely poor and black victims of Katrina. It was simply a further affirmation of their invisible status within our society, further proof of the Third World existing within the First in America.
What may be the biggest shame in all of it is how New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin himself reinforced all the most miserable black stereotypes by characterizing the looters as "drug starved crazy addicts wreaking havoc" in an attempt to expedite federal assistance and justify a declaration of martial law. It spoke volumes to what resonates within the public consciousness, stirring up some of our deepest fears.
It's time to realize, once and for all, that this war is lost. It's akin to trying to empty flooded New Orleans streets one teaspoon at a time. But sadly, Americans have forgotten this war amongst the multitude of more fashionable, media-friendly wars that have arisen in the last five years.
No matter how much money the government pours into the "war on drugs," it doesn't appear to make a dent in drug use or drug-related crime. The body count still rises. Dead and corrupt cops, dead gang youth, dead traffickers and couriers, dead innocent bystanders. And then there is the urban "collateral damage" -- devastated families, addiction, disease, overdoses from unregulated, poor quality drugs, exploding prisons, crushing costs, corrupt officials, craven politicians, sensationalist media, and a limitless harvest of offenders. Where does the madness end?
We cannot address poverty and race in America nor can we talk about needless death and expense without addressing the drug war. If we don't stop the direction in which we are heading, by 2020 there will be over 6 million people in prison, and thousands more lives extinguished in the crossfire of a domestic war that we had no chance of winning in the first place.
How long have you been reporting on Iraq, and what brought you there?
DJ: I have spent 6 of the last 12 months in Iraq. As I mentioned, what brought me here was the nearly total failure of the US 'mainstream' media to show the truth of this illegal invasion and occupation. How it affected the Iraqis, as well as US soldiers. Overall, they just weren't doing their job, and this has grown even worse.
I had done all the usual actions of attempting to speak up and effect change at home-calling and writing Senators/Congresspeople, attending teach-ins, spreading information. After watching the worldwide demonstrations on February 15, 2003 be brushed aside as a "focus group," I knew then that the minds of the American public had been misled by the corporate media who mindlessly supported the objectives of the Bush regime, and reporting the true effects of the invasion/occupation on the Iraqi people and US soldiers was what I needed to do.
What is it like being one of the only "unembedded" journalists operating in the country? Do you fear for your safety, and what have you done to ensure your safety? Whom do you fear more, random kidnappers or the American Military? How do you manage to move through Iraqi society now when it appears that, in the wake of Margaret Hassan's murder, all Westerners are viable targets? And on that same note, what do the Iraqis think of the kidnappings, murders, and beheadings?
It's tough. Working in this environment of media repression and danger is always an uphill battle. Blinking electricity, car bombs, kidnappings are the playing field. I constantly monitor my safety factor and those who work with me. I grew a beard, dress like locals, and only travel around covertly with one interpreter in a beat up car. I minimize my time on the street, while at the same time spending enough there to get the Iraqis reactions to what unfolds here each day.
My greatest concern is the reaction of my own government. I'm reporting information that the Bush regime wants kept under wraps. I fear reprisal from both the government and military far, far more than being kidnapped or blown up by a car bomb.
Iraqis are of course shocked and outraged by the beheadings and kidnappings of people like Margaret Hassan. So many also believe it was a CIA/Mossad plot to keep aid organizations and journalists out of Iraq in order to give the military and corporations here a free hand to continue to dis-assemble and sell of the country.
On Nov 18 in one of your dispatches you wrote, "Journalists are increasingly being detained and threatened by the U.S.-installed interim government in Iraq. Media have been stopped particularly from covering recent horrific events in Fallujah." What are the predominant differences between your reporting and that of the corporate media and embedded reporters, or that of Iraqi and Muslim journalists? In other words, what does each group do with the same pieces of information? Do you feel you have a freer hand by being "unembedded"? Have you or anyone you know been intimidated or harassed in any way?
Myself and most Arab and western independent journalists here show the costs of war. Report the massacres, the slaughter, the dead and wounded kids, disaster that this occupation truly is for the Iraqi people. Report on the low morale of most soldiers here, report on how doctors now state openly that due to lack of funds and help from the US-backed Ministry of Health, they feel it is worse now than during the sanctions.
I do feel I have more freedom because I am "unembedded." I'm flying under the mainstream radar of censorship.
I have been attacked from some mainstream sources and pundits. Fox propaganda channel invited me on after I accurately reported the sniping of ambulances, medical workers and civilians in Fallujah last April...I declined the set up because I didn't have a desire to have my character assassinated.
My website has taken some attacks by hackers...but so far we've managed the onslaught. I receive some hate mail via my site, and have received one death threat...so far.
The US Corporate media consistently characterizes the Iraqi resistance as "foreign terrorists and former Ba'athist insurgents". In your experience, is this an accurate portrayal? If not, why?
This is propaganda of the worst kind. Most Iraqis refer to the Iraqi Resistance as "patriots." Which of course most of them are-they are, especially in Fallujah, primarily composed of people who simply are resisting the occupation of their country by a foreign power. They are people who have had family members killed, detained, tortured and humiliated by the illegal occupiers of their shattered country.
Calling them "foreign terrorists" and "Ba'athist insurgents" is simply a lie. While there are small elements of these, they are distinctly different from the Iraqi Resistance, who are now supported by, very conservatively at least 80% of the population here.
There are terrorist elements here, but that is because the borders of Iraq have been left wide open since the invasion. These did not exist in Iraq before.
The Bush regime like to refer to anyone who does not support their ideology and plans for global domination as a "terrorist."
Here, these fighters in the Iraqi Resistance are referred to as freedom fighters, holy warriors and patriots.
We rarely see any substantial imagery coming out of Iraq in the US corporate media. What does Iraq look like now? What aren't the people in the United States seeing, and what do you feel they should be seeing?
The devastation. The massive suffering and devastation of the people and their country. Baghdad remains in shambles 19 months into this illegal occupation. Bombed buildings sit as insulting reminders of unbroken promises of reconstruction.
Bullet ridden mosques with blood stained carpets inside where worshippers, unarmed, have been slaughtered by soldiers.
Entire families living on the street. 70% unemployment with no hope of this changing. Chaotic, clogged streets of Baghdad and 5 mile long petrol lines in this oil rich country.
Engineers and doctors, unemployed, driving their cars as a taxi to try to feed their families.
The seething anger in the eyes of people on the streets as US patrols rumble past.
Iraqis now cheering when another US patrol or base is attacked. Dancing on the burning US military hardware.
Dead and maimed US soldiers. The wounded screaming and writhing in agony. Their shattered families.
The mass graves of innocent Fallujans after the utter destruction of their city.
Children deformed by Depleted Uranium exposure lying in shattered hospitals, suffering from lack of treatment, or even pain medications.
Dead, rotting bodies in the streets of Fallujah of women and children being eaten by dogs and cats because the military did not allow relief teams into the city for nearly two weeks.
What are the sentiments of the Iraqis you have spoken with towards the Americans? Is there any good will left? Was there any to begin with? What do they think of Alawi, the pending "elections", the continued occupation, the American-trained Iraqi security forces? Do they have any hope or belief that the Americans will leave, or are they thinking this will be a generation-long occupation?
There was support by most Iraqis for the removal of Saddam Hussein. But that started to ebb quickly on in the occupation as people watched family members killed, detained, tortured and humiliated by the occupation forces.
Then there was Abu Ghraib. I cannot stress enough how devastating this was to US credibility in Iraq, and the entire Middle East.
Throw on top of that the April siege of Fallujah, nearly complete lack of reconstruction, importation of foreign workers to do jobs Iraqis are far more qualified for, the installation of an illegal interim government, and you have a complete PR disaster for the US here.
Any credibility for the occupiers, and I doubt there was much to speak of, after the destruction of Fallujah has been lost. Iraqis I speak with are infuriated at the US government. While they are well aware that what is most likely the majority of people in the US being in opposition to the Bush regime, they believe the US government and those who support it are guilty of war crimes of the worst kind. I see rage, grief, and the desire for revenge on a daily basis here.
They hate Allawi. They have no respect for him or any other of the puppets in the US-installed interim government, because they don't see how any self-respecting person would allow themselves to be a puppet of the US in this illegal, brutal endeavor.
They are well aware that he is an exile who has been linked with the CIA and British intel for a long, long time. He and the rest of the interim government are views as thieves, rapists and US pawns. They are utterly loathed, as everyone here knows these people do not have the interests of the Iraqi people in mind.
The elections are viewed as a joke. Most here now believe there is no way they can be held in an honest, transparent and truly democratic way. Most are also too afraid to vote. I've heard people say things like, "The Americans won't even allow a legitimate election in their own country, so why would they want to have one here!"
The Iraqi "security" forces, being the police and national guard, are viewed by most as surrogates of the US military. They are viewed as collaborators and traitors by most. While people understand many of these forces join out of desperation because there are no jobs, they remain loathed, along with the foreign occupation forces. It doesn't help when many of the police are actively involved in organized crime.
Lastly, the occupation is viewed as endless. Iraqis know there are already 4 permanent military bases here, and more soldiers coming. There is little hope amongst those I talk with about this topic that the occupation will end.
We've read substantive reports recently that over 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians have been killed since the war began. What is your take on this report, and what have you seen that either supports or contradicts it? Is the US military indiscriminately targeting civilians, or are they just hopelessly inept, or is it something in-between?
I think this report has understated the death toll. From what I've seen during my six months here, it is increasingly difficult to find a family here who has not had at least one member killed by either the military or criminal activity. Entire neighborhoods in Fallujah have been bombed into rubble. Houses with entire families have been incinerated and blown to pieces.
The random gunfire of soldiers nearly every time a patrol or convoy is attacked almost always results in civilian deaths. Keep in mind there are now over 100 attacks per day on US forces in occupied Iraq.
Then we have the infrastructure-people dying from lack of food, water borne diseases, inadequate health care...the list is longer than any of us know.
I think the military is killing so many civilians for several reasons. Primarily, because they have been put in an untenable situation by their Commander in Chief-that is, a no-win guerilla war against an enemy who now has the massive support of the populace. Thus, anyone, anytime could be an attacker. So they are shooting first and asking questions later because they are scared to death.
They are using a conventional military to fight a guerilla war-and just as in Vietnam, it is a disaster and utter failure.
Then there are the soldiers who have completely dehumanized Iraqis, and I've spoken with some who seem to actually enjoy killing them.
Of course it doesn't help that this is sanctioned and encouraged by the US government, and that blinding religious ideology appears to have filtered down into many of the soldiers here. "You are either with us, or you are against us." Iraq is now full of fields of death. There is carnage in the streets everyday in Baghdad, as well as other cities throughout much of the country.
There has been a lot of speculation about the role of oil in the occupation. Americans were told that Iraqi oil revenues would pay for the war and reconstruction, but there is no oil coming out of Iraq after more than 18 months. Certain journalists and activists ranging from Jim Marrs to Mike Ruppert to Peter Camejo have all stated, in some form or other, that this was never the intention, that the idea was to first remove Iraqi oil from the world market, thereby driving up oil prices (the profits mainly landing in the pockets of the Saudis), and eventually to co-opt the oil supply to sell to China and India as their energy demands skyrocket. What have you seen in regards to oil activity? Also, Iraq Coalition Casualty (http://icasualties.org/oif/default.aspx) was the only outlet to report on a series of coordinated attacks on the Iraqi oil infrastructure all this week. This has gone completely unreported in the US corporate media. Do you believe this lack of reporting is intentional and who do you think is sabotaging the infrastructure?
Iraq is still importing all of its gasoline. And from what I know, they are exporting all of the oil from here, as well as that which is refined in Iraq, which isn't much at all, if any.
I think the lack of reporting on the sabotaging is akin to the lack of reporting that there are nearly 100 attacks per day on US soldiers, or lack of reporting of lack of infrastructure, etc. I think it all falls under the umbrella of the mainstream media's successful efforts to whitewash the Iraq catastrophe for the Bush administration.
It looks as though it is the resistance who are doing the sabotaging. An open question though, regarding what you asked, is why is there not better protection of the oil infrastructure?
We have conflicting reports in the US about the Shia and Sunni putting aside their historical differences to team up against the Americans. Do you see this happening, and what do you believe the eventual outcome will be. US policy makers claim that an American withdrawal would only result in a widescale civil war between these two factions and the Kurds in the north. Do you believe this will be the case? Are the Iraqis in a situation now where they are dammed any way they turn?
I do see this happening. During the siege of Najaf, collections for aid at Sunni mosques were organized, as well as resistance fighters from Fallujah who provided guns and supplies to the Mehdi Army there. During the siege of Fallujah last April, Shia weighed heavily in donating aid, and participated in a non-violent action that pushed supplies into Fallujah through a US military cordon.
The Shia/Sunni rift is largely a CIA generated myth. There are countless tribes and marriages alike that are both Shia/Sunni. There are mosques here where they pray together.
There is the possibility of war if the Kurds go independent, but the more likely possibility of that war would be Turkey invading Kurdistan before any Shia/Sunni action would occur regarding this.
Remember the Arab proverb; "Me against my brother. Me and my brother against my cousin. Me, my brother and cousin against the stranger."
The Iraqis are in a situation where they are damned as long as the US continues to occupy and subvert their country, as they have been doing.
It is critically important that Americans begin to understand the psyche of the Iraqi resistance. What is really going on in Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul, and Baghdad? Is this a legitimate, coordinated uprising against the occupation, or is it a defensive response to the US escalation of the war? Or both? Considering that the US claims they have opened a front to "take the battle to Al Qaeda", do you see any evidence of an Al Qaeda presence, or the presence of "foreign fighters streaming in from the Syrian border" as is also reported here?
The resistance is complex because it has so many facets. Parts of it are simply Iraqis who don't want their country to be occupied. Iraqis who have had family members killed, tortured or humiliated by the military...so they are exacting revenge. Other parts are more organized, where individual cells are operating in coordinated attacks with other cells, but they remain largely decentralized. This is why the conventional US army will never defeat it. Because the resistance has no face, no leader, no fixed organization.
It is really both a defensive reaction to the occupiers, but also is going more on the offensive as the occupation continues. As one Iraqi man old me once, "The invasion was America's war on Iraq. Now we are seeing the Iraqi's war against the Americans."
I have yet to see any evidence or meet any Iraqi who has seen evidence of Al-Qaeda here. There are certainly other fighters entering Iraq from different countries, but they are a relatively small number. When we say "foreign fighters" here, we must recall that every Iraqi I've spoken with views the occupiers as the foreign fighters, and not any other Arab who is coming here to fight in the resistance. Most Iraqis I speak with view these Arab fighters as brothers, and the occupiers as the "foreign fighters."
Have you had much contact with American troops, and if so, what are they saying, and what is your impression of them? Do you support NBC reporter Kevin Sites' decision to film and report on the murder of an unarmed and wounded Iraqi prisoner this week? Do you believe this was a relatively "isolated" incident, or did these guys just get caught?
I've had a fair amount, but not so much this trip. I make it a point to avoid them now since they are such constant targets. They are being attacked at least 100 times a day as of late. But when I interacted with them my last two trips I found most of them to be quite scared, and morale depended on how long they'd been here. The newer folks were keeping a stiff upper lip and staying on message. The folks who'd been here 6, 9 or 12 months were angry, aiming their guns at everyone, and sometimes high on drugs. Not to generalize-not all were like this. But I saw many who were, and it reminded me of everything I've read about what happened to the psyche of US soldiers in Vietnam.
I do support Kevin Sites' decision to film what he did of the execution of the old, unarmed Iraqi man in the mosque. 100% I support this. People need to see that this is what is occurring here-and this is NOT an isolated incident. Nearly every refugee from Fallujah I've interviewed has spoken of mass executions, tanks rolling over the wounded in the streets, bodies being thrown in the Euphrates by the military, and other atrocities.
The footage of the execution in the mosque is akin to the photos that came out of Abu Ghraib. They are only the tip of the iceberg of atrocities that have been occurring here from the beginning. Atrocities that are occurring right now.
Indeed, those soldiers just got caught. This is not news, however-because we've even had military commanders come out in the media and admit that they gave orders to soldiers to shoot anything that moved in Fallujah. What we will see in Fallujah is that it has been a genocide.
Lastly, what do you see happening in both the immediate and distant future in Iraq? How long do you plan to stay? Do you believe you will sill safely be able to report the truth to us when so much of your reporting flies in the face of the so-called "official" reports and media blackout? Do you envision an even greater information clamp-down, or do you think Independent reporting is going to become a stronger force as the US digs itself into a deeper and deeper hole?
I see more bloodshed and chaos. Sending more troops will only speed up the spiral here; increase the fighting. I see a continuing degradation of the infrastructure and failing of the occupation. It has already failed. It had failed even before the April siege of Fallujah and the Abu Ghraib scandal (which is ongoing). The real question is, how many more Iraqis and soldiers die before the US admits to its colossal failure, makes reparations for the countless war crimes that have been committed and pulls out.
The long term-that depends on how long the US stays here. It is rare when I speak with an Iraqi who wants the US to stay-they say, "Civil war? It can't possibly be worse than this-so the US should leave. Then we'd at least have the chance to run our own country."
Another man pointed out that if there were a civil war, no Shia or Kurdish attack on Fallujah could ever possibly compare to the devastation the US military has caused there. I think he makes a good point.
I am concerned about my safety, of course. This is the most dangerous place in the world for a journalist to be, especially those of us who are reporting the reality of what is occurring here. I have concerns of reprisal from the military and my government-because they don't like to have the facts get out. I've consistently been a minority voice with my reporting in Iraq-which has led many to discount my reports and call me biased.
Yet I have consistently been shown to be accurate, as have the other independents here. An example would be that several of us were reporting on Abu Ghraib months before the mainstream decided to do their job and run the story. And at the end of the day, those of us who have been reporting that this occupation failed months ago, and the vast, vast majority of Iraqis oppose the occupation and support the resistance, will end up again being proven right. But I'm afraid with the media blackout in the mainstream of the US, in general, being as stunningly effective as it has been, I think this is going to be a long time before this comes to light. But it will.
I do envision a deepening of the clampdown we are now experiencing. We're watching this in the US media now, with NPR having even jumped on the propaganda bandwagon.
However, as with repression of any kind, the more the "powers that be" attempt to muzzle independent media and the truth, the more they create a growing, powerful, diverse entity that finds new and creative ways to work here.
For example, the closing of the Al-Jazeera office here has simply caused their journalists to go underground and decentralize, making it impossible for the government to control them. In this way, the repression naturally creates a smarter, more diverse and creative resistance in the form of increased independent reportage.
In the end, people know the truth when they see it. I taste this by mail I get from my readers-those who read many sources and thank me for reporting the truth, as well as those who support the occupation who send hate mail and try to tell me I'm reporting from Idaho and making everything up. Their ugly reactions indicate that they prefer not to know the truth-that their government has deceived a large percentage of the American people into supporting an illegal invasion that has cost at least 100,000 Iraqi lives, as well as those of over 1,200 US soldiers. Many people would rather lash out to protect their denial rather than accepting responsibility for supporting such atrocities.
In the end, the truth will come out, no matter how intense the repression becomes. And in the end, those in America who support this occupation will eventually see that virtually the majority of people in every other country on the planet oppose the American agenda in Iraq.
It is only a matter of time.
Dahr Jamail's Iraq Dispatches can be found at: http://dahrjamailiraq.com