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Counting the costs of war: Dahr Jamail takes questions at the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy.

photo:Chris Shields

The Rest of the War Story

Dahr Jamail brings the Capital Region an independent voice from Iraq

Nearly a hundred people looked on as an Iraqi man peeled the skin of his relatives from the wall of his home. The man held a clump of hair and dried blood and identified the room as a refuge for his family’s women and children. Some in the crowd groaned and shifted in their chairs as he pointed to pieces of brain painted on the dusty walls by cluster bombs; they gasped and shook their heads as hospital-room doors were pushed open to reveal Iraqi teens who had had their genitals shot off by American snipers. Despite the weight of the horror, the crowd seated in the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy on Monday (Jan. 23) stayed fixed, watching the documentary brought to them by someone who has been there.

In 2001, Dahr Jamail was a mountain climber and freelance writer for an independent paper in Alaska. For the past three days, Jamail has drawn the cameras of our mainstream TV news and packed rooms across the Capital Region with hundreds of people. What did he do between 2001 and 2006 that has made his talks so popular? Starting in 2003, Jamail began making trips to Iraq—not to fight, but to report.

While hundreds of other reporters, trained at journalism schools, backed by corporate paychecks and embedded with the military made the journey, Jamail did it with no real journalism background, no corporate sponsor and no protection or sanction from the American government.

At a time when President Bush’s approval ratings are at an all-time low and when polls show a majority of Americans do not support the occupation of Iraq, many people feel the media are not doing their job of properly analyzing the situation in Iraq. Jamail has given millions of readers and Web surfers an alternative to corporately sani -tized and government-directed news at dahrjamailiraq.com. His dispatches from Iraq have been run in several different newspapers, he has been a frequent guest on BBC radio, and at the peak of interest in the Iraq war, he said, his Web site saw a million hits a day. “The American people are hungry for the truth,” he said.

It may be difficult for many to understand why someone could choose to go to one of the most dangerous places in the world. However, Jamail said it wasn’t so much about a choice but about survival. After 9/11, he said, the paper he was writing for began looking at the political causes of that day’s events. Just as quickly, the editor of the paper was fired. “Once my outlet was taken away, it was either stay home and have an aneurysm, or find another outlet,” he explained. “I think of it as an act of desperation.”

Jamail said it was as simple as deciding to save a couple of thousand dollars, buy a laptop, get on independent media listservs and then contact other independent journalists.

As an independent journalist, Jamail has not been as sheltered during his time in Iraq as have other reporters. Most reporters in Iraq stay in military-protected hotels and travel only under tight guard.

Jamail noted that his translator had worked as a stringer for The New York Times. “My interpreter quit and I asked him why, because they were paying him as good as or better than anyone.” The translator said they were misrepresenting what he was bringing them and didn’t stop after being confronted about it. “And that’s the Times, so it doesn’t bode well for mainstream reporting in general,” said Jamail.

More often than not, Jamail said, he has found himself having to repair damage done to journalist-Iraqi relations to be able to get a story. In one case, he showed up in Samara to cover a Nov. 30 attack on a U.S. patrol. At first the U.S. military said they had killed 48, but overnight it went up to 54. “We interviewed people at the morgue, hospital, the league of sheiks. All of them said eight civilians were killed there. . . . The attackers got away and the soldiers went on a rampage around the city.”

“People saw we were Western journalists. They drove by and were shouting curses and asked, ‘Why should we even talk to you? You’re just gonna lie anyway,’ and it turned out that there were some mainstream journalists that had shot up there from Baghdad and interviewed these people and went back and showed nothing but the military’s side. . . . Thankfully, this is where I had a good interpreter, and he says, ‘Look, this is an independent journalist, not with Fox, not with CNN. They’re going to show your side of it.’ So everyone calmed down, talked to us and we did our job. [The mainstream media’s] bullshit reporting makes our job harder.”

Since the last time he spent in Iraq, in early 2005, the situation there has gotten bleaker. According to Jamail, there is very little hope left in that country and very little reconstruction going on. “It’s pretty grim. Without a doubt, people are just in survival mode. It’s basic infrastructure stuff: electricity, security, water, jobs. Most women are pretty loathe to leave the house unless they have to.”

In fact, security has degraded so far so fast that Jamail is not sure exactly when he will go back to Iraq. “I would like to go back in the summer. However, my interpreter said, ‘If you want to come back right now I’d tell you no, ’cause we wouldn’t be able to work. We would be locked in a hotel.’ ”

Jamail insisted that if there is to be any hope for the Iraqi people, not to mention the future of democracy in America, everyday citizens are no longer going to be able to rely on the mainstream media for all the facts they need to make decisions. During his recent speaking engagements, Jamail has implored his audiences to think about what they are willing to do to address the situation in Iraq. “Take that next step you haven’t been willing to before, whether it be going to your first protest or getting involved in a political action group. Get out there and try to make a difference while we still have the freedoms to do so.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


What a Week

The Sweet Taste of Independence

While energy independence seems like a idealist’s pipe dream in the United States, Brazil has announced it expects to achieve it this year. Thanks to three dogged decades of government support, Brazil is efficiently producing ethanol from sugar. Thanks to a new type of car that can take gasoline or ethanol depending on price fluctuations, Brazilian consumers have become willing to make the switch, and ethanol accounts for 20 percent of Brazil’s transportation fuel use. U.S. attempts to make ethanol from corn have so far been much more expensive and petroleum-dependent.

Do Unto Others. . .

Supreme Court Justice David Souter could soon be out of a home. In the recent case Kelo vs. City of New Loudon, Souter joined the majority in saying that eminent domain for economic development is legal. In response, a group of people who have had their homes seized by local governments have filed a petition in Souter’s hometown of Weare, N.H., to allow a vote on seizing Souter’s home for the building of the Lost Liberty Inn.

Dodge the Storm

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), not usually a White House critic, has charged the administation with trying to impede his committee’s investigation into the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. “I have been told by my staff that almost every question our staff has asked federal agency witnesses regarding conversations with or involvement of the White House has been met with a response that they could not answer on direction of the White House,” Lieberman said.

Searching the Searches

The U.S. Department of Justice has asked a judge to force Google to hand over records of millions of Internet searches. Google so far has been the only major search engine to deny the Justice Department’s demands. Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft have all turned over the records. The DOJ claims it needs the information to better enforce the Child Online Protection Act, but experts claim the DOJ is misusing the power of subpoena because Google’s data does not provide evidence in any particular legal case.




Overheard

Overheard:

“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.

 

Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting Alice Green, in response to a question about how Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate in a debate.



Loose Ends
State lawmakers extended the registration requirements for sex offenders last week, boosting the most dangerous offenders to lifetime registration on the sex-offender database. Low-level offenders, including 18-year-olds dating 16-year-olds, will now be listed for 20 years. Conservative lawmakers said they were disappointed that lowest-level offenders weren’t included on the lifetime registration list. While many lawmakers said the new requirements would boost community safety, there’s been no word on any increase in funding for the professionals charged with monitoring high-level offenders [“Beyond the Registry,” May 12, 2005]. Also absent from the lawmakers’ announcements: any mention of whether registration rules apply to legislative staff with a fondness for interns. . . . In what could be a policy-related change for the better, Albany police called off a high-speed chase due to safety concerns on Jan. 13, after pursuing a Cohoes driver around the city. The APD had previously been criticized for its handling of such pursuits [“One Year Later,” Newsfront, Jan. 13, 2005], but this time ended the chase once they were able to get the vehicle’s plate number. . . . A federal judge in Buffalo ruled last month that the government can detain, interrogate and otherwise hassle American citizens who attend conferences abroad if they suspect that the conferences might also be attended by people involved with terrorism. A lawsuit had been filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union last year after the Department of Homeland Security instructed border agents to treat citizens returning from the annual “Reviving the Islamic Spirit” conference in Toronto as potential terrorists [“Not a Conference!,” What a Week, Jan. 6, 2005]. The focus of last year’s conference, which featured prominent speakers from the Canadian government and law enforcement, was the strengthening of ties between Islam and the rest of the world. . . . Mayor Jennings has announced he will not pursue expanding the Albany landfill into 20 acres that the city had promised to dedicate to the Pine Bush Preserve [“Land Trust,” Newsfront, Nov. 24, 2005]. The decision came after Save the Pine Bush filed suit to ensure the land would be donated. Instead, Jennings said the city will take a different 10 acres that had already been dedicated to the preserve to expand the landfill, prompting renewed outcry from Save the Pine Bush.


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