Monday, November 22, 2004

NBC Photographer in Fallujah speaks up

Here’s a detailed report from the NBC reporter that captured the footage of the unarmed Iraqi being shot by a Marine: “This week I've even been shocked to see myself painted as some kind of anti-war activist. Anyone who has seen my reporting on television or has read the dispatches on this website is fully aware of the lengths I've gone to play it straight down the middle -- not to become a tool of propaganda for the left or the right…Immediately after going in, I see the same black plastic body bags spread around the mosque. The dead from the day before. But more surprising, I see the same five men that were wounded from Friday as well. It appears that one of them is now dead and three are bleeding to death from new gunshot wounds. The fifth is partially covered by a blanket and is in the same place and condition he was in on Friday, near a column. He has not been shot again. I look closely at both the dead and the wounded. There don't appear to be any weapons anywhere…In the particular circumstance I was reporting, it bothered me that the Marine didn't seem to consider the other insurgents a threat -- the one very obviously moving under the blanket, or even the two next to me that were still breathing. I can't know what was in the mind of that Marine. He is the only one who does…it appeared to me very plainly that something was not right. According to Lt. Col Bob Miller, the rules of engagement in Falluja required soldiers or Marines to determine hostile intent before using deadly force. I was not watching from a hundred feet away. I was in the same room. Aside from breathing, I did not observe any movement at all. Making sure you know the basis for my choices after the incident is as important to me as knowing how the incident went down. I did not in any way feel like I had captured some kind of "prize" video. In fact, I was heartsick…In war, as in life, there are plenty of opportunities to see the full spectrum of good and evil that people are capable of. As journalists, it is our job is to report both -- though neither may be fully representative of those people on whom we're reporting…

When NBC aired the story 48-hours later, we did so in a way that attempted to highlight every possible mitigating issue for that Marine's actions. We wanted viewers to have a very clear understanding of the circumstances surrounding the fighting on that frontline. Many of our colleagues were just as responsible. Other foreign networks made different decisions, and because of that, I have become the conflicted conduit who has brought this to the world. The Marines have built their proud reputation on fighting for freedoms like the one that allows me to do my job, a job that in some cases may appear to discredit them…I interviewed your Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Willy Buhl, before the battle for Falluja began. He said something very powerful at the time-something that now seems prophetic. It was this: "We're the good guys. We are Americans. We are fighting a gentleman's war here -- because we don't behead people, we don't come down to the same level of the people we're combating. That's a very difficult thing for a young 18-year-old Marine who's been trained to locate, close with and destroy the enemy with fire and close combat. That's a very difficult thing for a 42-year-old lieutenant colonel with 23 years experience in the service who was trained to do the same thing once upon a time, and who now has a thousand-plus men to lead, guide, coach, mentor -- and ensure we remain the good guys and keep the moral high ground." … So here, ultimately, is how it all plays out: when the Iraqi man in the mosque posed a threat, he was your enemy; when he was subdued he was your responsibility; when he was killed in front of my eyes and my camera -- the story of his death became my responsibility. The burdens of war, as you so well know, are unforgiving for all of us.”

From Chicago Tribune: “In a fence-mending gesture to the Jewish community, elders of Fourth Presbyterian Church launched a plan Sunday to channel church funds to companies that strengthen the infrastructure of Israel. The governing body of the affluent 5,300-member congregation unanimously agreed to adjust its financial portfolio following a national church decision to divest from companies that enable Israel's occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. "It's Fourth acting faithfully and forcefully as a peacemaker," said Rev. Bob Reynolds, head of the Chicago Presbytery. "They're doing that by investing in the products of peace at the same time the church is also divesting from the weapons of war." A Presbyterian Church (USA) committee this month began determining which companies in the denomination's $8 billion portfolio qualify for divestment. If the companies do not conform to the church's policy, the denomination could withdraw funds by 2006. Tension between Jewish groups and Presbyterians and among churches in the denomination has escalated since the divestment resolution was adopted by the national church's General Assembly in July. Some Jewish leaders called the policy an attack on Israel's economy and right to exist. Some Presbyterian congregations denounced the policy. Anger intensified last month when shortly after a visit to Chicago, a Presbyterian theologian accompanied a church delegation to Lebanon to meet with leaders of the militant group Hezbollah. Local Jews were offended by his comments that Islamic leaders were easier to talk to than Jews. Rev. John Buchanan, Fourth Presbyterian's senior pastor and a former moderator of the General Assembly, said the Chicago church's investment strategy is not a protest against divestment. "…divestment is not aimed at Israel's existence or Israel's economy but Israel's policies regarding the conduct of actions with Palestinian people," Buchanan said.”

On the Palestinian elections from The Daily Star, “Palestinians began registering candidates on Saturday for a presidential election to replace Yasser Arafat, while officials warned the vote may be delayed if Israel does not halt military activities. Palestinian election officials urged Israel to ensure a free and fair ballot by redeploying troops away from Palestinian population centers and curtailing military operations…Israel has promised to do "everything that is needed" for democratic Palestinian elections, including probably allowing Palestinians from East Jerusalem to participate in the ballot. Acting Palestinian President Rawhi Fattouh called on Israel to redeploy to positions held before a Palestinian revolt began in 2000. He hoped international monitors would oversee the vote. "We urge the international community to pressure Israel to allow Palestinians to practice their election rights," he said. The ruling Fatah faction was due to discuss on Sunday whether the new head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Mahmoud Abbas, would run as its sole candidate.”

More from the Christian Science Monitor: “…excluding from the vote those Palestinians living outside the homeland is a deeper and potentially more serious problem. The current plan is to hold the election under rules defined in the Oslo peace process in 1993. Back then, excluding diaspora Palestinians from the rolls might have been forgivable, because the election envisaged there (which was duly held in 1996) was for head of the Palestinian National Authority - a body that everyone agreed was only temporary. But the Oslo process has been defunct for a long time. Even President Bush has said that his goal now is not just an "interim" body, but the creation of a full-fledged Palestinian state… In nearly all other transition-related elections in the world in recent years - in South Africa, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq - provision has been made to include in the vote those made refugees by the preceding years of strife and conflict. Palestine's refugees, inside and outside the occupied territories, deserve no different. Enfranchisement would give the refugees a solid sense of political inclusion, and involve them constructively in the search for a workable solution. Excluding them - as happened throughout the Oslo process - would probably once again be a recipe for failure… But is there still time to include diaspora Palestinians in the Jan. 9 election? Yes, there is one easy way that a sizable portion of them - including those who are now the most vulnerable and needy - could participate. The UN relief agency - UNRWA – maintains up-to-date lists of all the "registered Palestinian refugees" in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, and has networks of schools and clinics in those three countries. UNRWA's name lists, identity cards, and physical facilities could be used to help run the election. Arranging that need not take more than four or five weeks. Indeed, persuading Israel to allow the freedoms needed for a fair election inside the occupied territories (including East Jerusalem) might take longer than making the arrangements for these diaspora Palestinians to vote.”

From Informed Comment: “World revulsion against the US attack on Fallujah reached a crescendo during the past five days, with significant street protests breaking out in the Middle East and Latin America. Turkey, Palestine and Libya in the region, and Chile in the New World saw thousands of angry protesters come out against the US. The brutal way the US conducted the assault, and the continual aerial bombardment of civilian neighborhoods in the weeks leading up to the attack, suggested to many observers that the operation was intended as a form of collective punishment against the people of Fallujah, and a warning to the residents of other Iraqi cities not to let the guerrillas operate freely in their urban areas. Collective punishment is forbidden by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 governing militarily occupied territories…[on Saturday] Iraqi security forces backed up by US troops raided the famed mosque of Abu Hanifa on Friday and arrested its prayer leader, Shaikh Muayyad Adhami. They set off stun grenades and appear to have killed two of the worshippers. Abu Hanifa founded the Hanafi school of Islamic law, one of 4 major Sunni schools, which is particularly popular in Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Central Asia.” Also from Informed Comment: “The interim government of Iyad Allawi set the elections for Jan. 30, on Sunday. Even as the announcement was made, major violence broke out in Ramadi and Latifiyah, strong Sunni Arab areas, leaving some 22 persons dead on Sunday. The next stage is the meeting of the neighboring states plus Egypt at Sharm al-Sheikh, where the Bush administration is finally seeking to internationalize the Iraq crisis instead of keeping it for Washington. The conference will be expanded on Tuesday. Iran says it will attend, but will insist on calling for a US withdrawal from Iraq. In contrast, Egypt is afraid that a sudden US withdrawal would leave Iraq in chaos. Alissa Rubin of the Los Angeles Times has a good summary of issues around Grand Ayatollah Sistani's formation of a Shiite super-party and his relations with the Sunnis.”

From Electronic Intifada: “On Sunday, November 21 at 7:15AM, bulldozers and armed security guards arrived at the home of Al-Helou family in Jerusalem to announce that their land will be confiscated for the expansion of the university dormitories. Al-Helou family is among seven families whose houses are trapped among the university dormitory buildings. They have lived in this area, called Ard Al-Samar, since 1948 when they were forced out of the Jerusalem village of Lifta. The dormitory buildings have been closing in on the families, who are now confined in small pockets of land surrounded by the fences. Shirabe Yamada witnessed the destruction.” I am a big suppoter of Arts & films as a means to educate people about politics.

Also from Electronic Intifada: “Winner at festivals in Marseille and Jerusalem, Simone Bitton's Franco-Israeli "Mur" (Wall), is about Israel's Apartheid Wall. EI's Arjan El Fassed saw this documentary during the seventeenth international documentary filmfestival in Amsterdam (Netherlands) which opened on 18 November. Mur ("Wall") is nominated for the Amnesty International-DOEN Award, one of the awards presented at the festival. After the screening the audience got to ask Bitton some questions. "The moment I heard about the barrier going up, June 2002, I had to make this film," she said.”

From Agence France Presse: “US Secretary of State Colin Powell, on his first visit to the region in 18 months for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, said Monday there was a "moment of opportunity" for Middle East peace. "This is a moment of opportunity as we look forward to the Palestinian election," said Powell, standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "We're going to do everything we can working together to see that these elections are held in a peaceful way," he added. On Sunday, UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen also urged Israel to pull back from West Bank towns "to facilitate free and fair elections". After meeting Sharon, Powell met Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and held joint news conference, before travelling on to the Palestinians in the West Bank town of Jericho. His contacts were also set to cover Israel's plan to evacuate the Gaza Strip by the end of 2005 and Palestinian political and security preparations to make sure that the so-called disengagement plan proceeds smoothly. Powell will also visit a registration office for the Palestinian vote, before flying to Egypt to brief the three other powers behind the roadmap peace plan -- the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- on the sidelines of a conference on Iraq. The peace blueprint set a 2005 target date for Palestinian statehood but has made virtually no progress since its launch last year and the United States is now aiming for a state several years in to the future.”