Mar 9, 2014
5 Million Iraqis Killed, Maimed, Tortured, Displaced—Think That Bothers War Boosters?
Posted on Jun 23, 2010
This article was originally published by AlterNet.
In 1970 a Lao villager who had survived five years of U.S. bombing wrote: "In reality, whatever happens, it is only the innocent who suffer. And as for the others, do they know all the unimaginable things happening in this war? Do they?"
Such questions are raised by Christopher Hitchens’ recently published best-selling memoir, Hitch-22, in which he proudly claims to have helped cause the invasion of Iraq as the most prominent of a group of war hawks ("by which political Washington was eventually persuaded that Iraq should be helped into a post-Saddam era, if necessary by force”), but entirely ignores the human cost that followed. No one spoke more eloquently of the Iraqi people’s suffering before the invasion. Thus his indifference to it since has been striking.
Citizens take on no more solemn role than when they convert a personal opinion into the political act of publicly promoting violence by their nation’s leaders. Debating health care, gay marriage or Wall Street reform is one thing; promoting policies that wind up killing innocent human beings quite another. Whether they acknowledge it or not, those advocating war assume a moral responsibility for its innocent victims. Or, more plainly, they have their blood upon their hands.
This blood can be easily justified in a hypothetical case of "humanitarian intervention," e.g. imagining that Bill Clinton had successfully used military force to stop the Rwandan genocide. It is also easy to justify war when only hated political leaders or groups are discussed: “Saddam Hussein,” “Ahmadinejad,” “the Taliban” – and the civilian population, always the main victims in war, are treated as nonpeople. But an honest evaluation of war in a case like Iraq requires a far more serious moral calculus.
The Immensity of Iraqi Civilian Suffering
Taking seriously one’s responsibility for promoting war in Iraq requires more than simply listing the war’s human benefits, such as removing the genuinely evil Saddam, increased power for the long-suppressed Kurds and Shiites, limited movement toward free elections, a parliamentary democracy and free press. Such benefits must be weighed against the suffering of millions of innocent Iraqis, including:
—Nearly 5 million refugees: “Counting both internal and external refugees, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that nearly 5 million of Iraq’s population of 24 million have been uprooted during the conflict,” the N.Y. Review of Books reported on May 13, 2010. This is the equivalent of 60 million Americans by percentage of population. Five-hundred thousand are homeless squatters within Iraq, whose "settlements all lack basic services, including water, sanitation and electricity and are built in precarious places—under bridges, alongside railroad tracks and amongst garbage dumps" according to Refugees International in March 2010. The emigration of 2-3 million Iraqis to refugee camps in Syria and other Mideast countries decimated Iraq’s educated middle class, with some daughters forced to become prostitutes and sons menial laborers just to keep their families alive.
—Hundreds of thousands dead and wounded: Estimates of dead civilians range from 100,000 documented cases by Iraq Body Count, which acknowledged in October 2004 that “our own total is certain to be an underestimate of the true position, because of gaps in reporting or recording” to over one million by a John Hopkins University group. A basic rule of thumb in war is that for every person killed, two have been wounded.
—Tens of thousands of innocents imprisoned, many tortured: In an article headlined "In Iraq, A Prison Full of Innocent Men," the Washington Post reported that "100,000 prisoners have passed through the American-run detention system in Iraq," that Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi says that "most of the people they detain are innocent,” but that prisoners are not permitted to prove their innocence. Conditions have been even worse in the secret torture chambers run for five years by General Stanley McChrystal, from which all outside observers including the Red Cross have been excluded. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald recently reported that "72% of Guantanamo detainees who finally were able to obtain just minimal due process—after years of being in a cage without charges—have been found by federal judges to be wrongfully detained." Countless innocent Iraqis have been regularly tortured.
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