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Iraq Crisis

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Four people were arrested at the White House last night, and 25 were arrested at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations yesterday afternoon. Democracy Now!’s Jeremy Scahill covered the U.N. protest. In related events, Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott fired the first official shot from Washington against U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for striking the peace deal with Saddam Hussein this week.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! The Exception to the Rulers. In Washington, D.C., yesterday, four people were arrested in front of the White House protesting U.S. sanctions against Iraq, while 32 were arrested at an Ash Wednesday demonstration at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York City. Democracy Now!'s Jeremy Scahill followed the march, which began at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.

PROTESTER 1: We stand here across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We say no, through our words and deeds, to a government that dares to risk the life of 150,000 people in order to show who rules the oil reserves of the Middle East.

PROTESTER 2: We are going to begin at the end of the crowd and distribute ashes for all who want to be marked with the mark of this day, the mark of 40 days of resistance and nonviolence that we will carry out from here henceforth.

PROTESTER 3: Today is Ash Wednesday. We begin Lent, the period of penance leading up to the feast of the Resurrection, Easter. It’s a time when we’re called to acknowledge our sins and to do penance, to repent. We do this as American citizens, knowing that we are committing a sin and a crime against the people of Iraq.

PROTESTERS: [singing] Children are dying, Lord
Come by here
Children are dying, Lord
Come by here
Children are dying, Lord
Come by here
Oh Lord, come by here

PROTESTER 4: When you look at your child, you realize how great that love is in your heart. And I think what I’ve thought about since Ann has been born is that I can lay her down at night and really have no fears, what Amy was talking about. And I think that there is an Iraqi woman halfway across the globe who does not have that piece of mind, who has that same love in her heart that transcends all politics, all geography, and it really is something that America does not recognize. Didn’t recognize it with Hiroshima. You know, didn’t recognize it with Central America. And certainly doesn’t recognize it with Iraq.

PROTESTER 5: I understand it’s about over 600,000 children who have died of malnutrition since the sanctions have begun. And I look at my son, who’s 19 months old, and, you know, he wouldn’t have been able to survive there. So, his presence here is a witness to, you know, the need to stand up for their life and to work as hard as we can to let everyone know that the sanctions are killing children.

PROTESTER 6: As a new father, I find it really particularly important to be here today, given the danger that the families in Iraq are facing with the bombing. And it’s just such a lie when we see the generals and even some of the press people on TV talking about the accuracy of the missiles and the justifications for the sanctions. And I just think of my own little daughter, who’s now only 4 weeks old, and, you know, think of her being the target of these bombs and the target of these sanctions and lack of medicine and food. And that’s very important to me.

JEREMY SCAHILL: What are you guys here for today?

PROTESTER 7: We’re trying to stop war!

*PROTESTER 8: * In Iraq.

JEREMY SCAHILL: What does your sign say?

PROTESTER 8: It says, “No more war.”

PROTESTER 7: It says, “No more war. Love one another.”

PROTESTER 9: Because we don’t want the world to think that because the bombing’s not going to happen, that the problems in Iraq are over. The sanctions are just as deadly, and they are a weapon of mass destruction.

PROTESTERS: No attack against Iraq! Lift the sanctions now! No attack against Iraq! Lift the sanctions now!

JEREMY SCAHILL: Now, you were in prison during the Vietnam War as a draft resister. That’s correct.

PROTESTER 10: That’s correct, most of ’71 and all of ’72.

JEREMY SCAHILL: And now you’re back in the streets again. Why are you in the streets today?

PROTESTER 10: Because despite more than a quarter of a century, things have gotten worse.

JEREMY SCAHILL: We’re here with Mark Colville. Mark, where were you one year ago today?

MARK COLVILLE: A year ago today, on Ash Wednesday, I was on an Aegis destroyer with five other resisters. And we did a Plowshares action on the ship. We hammered on the ship and poured our own blood on it to initiate the process of disarmament in this country.

JEREMY SCAHILL: What is an Aegis destroyer?

MARK COLVILLE: An Aegis destroyer is the most powerful surface ship ever built. It’s armed with dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles, which are nuclear capable and which are first-strike weapons designed to circumvent the treaties of nonproliferation that the U.S. has signed over the years. The Aegis destroyers were used against Iraq in previous bombings.

POLICE OFFICER: There are no demonstrations, no processions permitted along First Avenue. And I would issue you that warning at the present time.

PROTESTER 2: For those people who feel so called, we intend to go to the U.S. Mission to the U.N. We understand at this point that we will be civilly noncompliant, that this will be civil disobedience. We feel that we are well within our rights. We have no intention of blockading that building, but we do need to go to that place of the great lie. We do need to go to the scene of the crime, to that place that is now complicit in murder, and speak the truth to power.

JEREMY SCAHILL: At this point, the police are putting up barriers and have formed a line of 70 or so officers to prevent the demonstrators from marching to the United States Mission to the United Nations. There are about a hundred demonstrators here, and some of them are now beginning to climb over the barricades. Some are going under the barricades.

POLICE OFFICER: On the line. On the line. Hold the barrier. On the barrier. Hold the barriers.

POLICE OFFICER: Folks, this is not a U.S. mission, as you all know.

PROTESTER 11: Do we go under?

PROTESTER 2: The five Catholic bishops of Iraq have called upon the American people to tell their government — to tell their government to end these criminal sanctions.

POLICE OFFICER: Sir, we are not the U.S. Mission. Do you —

POLICE OFFICER: Next time I’ll arrest her for the shorter time, if you’re under arrest.

POLICE OFFICER: Yeah, he’s under arrest. Folks, keep the line, please. We’re all peaceful people there. Please, behave yourselves. Everybody’s safety — if you cross the barriers, you will be arrested. That’s all right. Let him cross. He’s under arrest.

PROTESTER 12: Please, sir. You’re bumping into me.

POLICE OFFICER: Thank you, folks.

PROTESTER 12: Yeah, be peaceful, please.

POLICE OFFICER: We’re trying to be peaceful. Nobody’s pushing our officers, you understand that?

PROTESTER 12: Look at that. That’s not peaceful.

POLICE OFFICER: This is my safety over here I’m concerned about.

POLICE OFFICER: Officer, this woman, 70-some-odd years old, wants to go —

PROTESTER 13: Seventy-eight.

POLICE OFFICER: Seventy-eight years old, wants to go to jail. So we’ll take her for you.

PROTESTER 13: I have to — well, this is the way to find out how the government works.

PROTESTERS: No attack against Iraq! End the sanctions now!

JEREMY SCAHILL: Tom, what is the — now, 25 people were just arrested at this demonstration. What is the symbolism, in your view, of people committing an act of civil disobedience today?

TOM: It’s a way of putting yourself into the machinery. It’s a way of obstructing. I mean, when we’re confronted by an evil like this, it’s necessary to do more than simply protest. It’s necessary to do something to actually jam the gears.

PROTESTER 14: When you think about the number of innocent people that have died, more than a million since this embargo began, and to realize that the main country that is pushing for the continuation of the embargo is the United States of America, many people find it impossible in good conscience to be an American on the outside of the bars.

AMY GOODMAN: This voice montage produced by Jeremy Scahill.


AMY GOODMAN: Phil Ochs singing “Power and Glory,” here on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. And we’re now joined by Columbia University professor Edward Said, author of numerous books, including Orientalism and Peace and Its Discontents.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Said.


AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t we start with your evaluation of the Gulf crisis right now and where the U.S. stands vis-à-vis Iraq and the Middle East?

EDWARD SAID: Well, I think with regard to the agreement that Kofi Annan made, it seems that they are going to go along with it and, you know, use the mechanisms of the Security Council and the secretary-general to enforce these sanctions and the inspections. My hunch is that it will, you know, last for a few months probably, and not more than three or four, at which point Saddam will — or somebody will gum it up, and there will be new problems. But in the meantime, I think they’ve secured some kind of working arrangement.

As for the rest of the Middle — and, in a sense, the background is as important as the agreement itself. The background is a year of extraordinary failure for the United States in the Middle East. I mean, they’ve gotten nowhere with Netanyahu and his land-grabbing, provocative behavior with regard to settlement and enforcing or implementing the Oslo — the meager provisions of the Oslo Accord. They were unable to get much support for their Doha conference, you know, which is this big economic conference in Qatar in November. No major Arab state came. And as Mrs. Albright lied and said that the Arabs were in support of a U.S. military strike, the fact is exactly the opposite. There was no enthusiasm anywhere except in Kuwait. And I think it isn’t even Kuwait. I think it’s just a group within the ruling family that was for a military strike. So, you know, they’re floundering. I think their days as a kind of superpower pushing people around and getting these lamentable Arab leaders, who are all heavily dependent on them, to follow along are nearly over, because the popular pressure is mounting all the time, and there is, you know, almost a state of chaos on the streets.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor Said, in terms of the exacerbation of class conflicts within a lot of the Middle Eastern countries, to what degree has this crisis sort of moved those conflicts, for instance, in countries like Egypt or other parts of the Middle East?

EDWARD SAID: Well, I think that’s a very good question, because I think that in many places, including the Palestinian territories, the demonstrations in support of Saddam, which were very heavily controlled by the Palestinian Authority — the Egyptians also, there were some street demonstrations; the Jordanians, there was a very major incident in Ma’an, the second or third city in Jordan, which involved Hussein going there and putting down the riot. All of these were ostensibly in support of the Iraqi people, but were — I think it’s quite unmistakable — they were really demonstrations against the failures and incompetence of the regimes, which are basically adopting, you know, kind of free-market tactics and free-market policies to suit the United States, and, in fact, the poverty has grown. You know, the rate of production everywhere in the Arab world is down by 10 or 15% over the last 10 years.

And so, the difference is in the composition of the population. I mean, there isn’t really a sizable middle class, but there is a yawning gulf now between various business elites, you know, managerial types who work with transnationals or try to make deals, on the one hand, and a growing and frustrated working class, you know, all of whom now, thanks to some of the reforms of the '60s, are educated and looking for jobs and ways of living better, and they're not able to find it. So, I think that plays — that’s part of the isolation of these regimes, you see, and makes them now unwilling to go along with the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: What does this mean, Professor Said, for the power of the United States?

EDWARD SAID: Well, I think it’s really — you know, the analogy — for me, the analogy is a literary one. It’s really like Gulliver in Lilliput. I mean, here’s this gigantic, enormously powerful country, which obviously dominates certainly the Middle East, and can put X number of aircraft carriers and missiles and all kinds of things in the Gulf and keep them there, you know, to the tune of $800, $900 — who knows? — million, but is really unable to influence and sort of make the world work according to the vision of Jesse Helms and Clinton and all these people who sit in Washington, never have experienced a war close up, and, you know, proclaim their morality, that the United States stands for X and Y and Z — all of them good things, I suppose — but, in practice, the United States has really — I mean, this is what’s terrible about the media. I mean, there’s never any reflection on the background of this, that the United States is so vigorous about enforcing — as it should — compliance of the Iraqis. But in the meantime, Israel has been flouting the United Nations and international law for 32 years — 31 years. On the contrary, they supply Netanyahu’s government with more and more almost unconditional support. I mean, when he was here in Washington in January, for example, they gave him a whole squadron of F-151s, I mean, you know, at the same time that he’s taking land, he’s demolishing houses. I just came back from the Middle East on Sunday. And I was in the territories, and I saw that the horrendous, minute, daily suffering of Palestinians at the hands of this government, with all of its extremists and mad settlers and so on, running amok. So, people say, “Well, the United States says nothing about that.” They are supporting or saying nothing about daily incursions by Turkey against the Kurds in Iraq, and so on and so forth. So there are all kinds of things that people live and see on a daily basis. And I think there’s been a gradual erosion, since the Bush administration or since Desert Storm, of America’s credibility and standing, despite the bluster and the brave talk that you hear from Cohen and Albright and Berger and Clinton.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Professor Said, ever since the Columbus, Ohio — 


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — town meeting, when it became quite evident to the administration that it had not done such a good job selling a possible military strike —


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — you’ve had now an orchestrated leaks almost every day on this whole danger of biological weapons that have been running in all the major publications.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Do you think that this is, more or less —

AMY GOODMAN: Including front page of The New York Times today.

EDWARD SAID: Exactly, yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right, which somehow never talks about the U.S. companies —

EDWARD SAID: Exactly. I was going to say that. Exactly.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — and the European companies that supply those weapons.

EDWARD SAID: I mean, there are all kinds of — there are all kinds of facts that we know. For example, a company called Pfaudler in Rochester sold Saddam the plans for chemical weapons that he built in Akashat for about $78 million about 15 years ago. He used, as you know, during the first Gulf War. In 1983, he killed 45,000 Iranian soldiers with chemical gas supplied by the United States. There were — for example, in 1989, a friend of mine who was working for ABC News uncovered details of a germ warfare program south of Baghdad, and it was a place called Salman Pak, which you hear about a lot. But, well, the State Department denied it completely. In the meantime, the Russians, the British have been supplying him with helicopters and electrical stuff. And there’s a German company, which is called Rotex Chemie, which has been trading with Iraq and has been giving them sodium cyanide and poison gas ingredients and so on and so forth. But all of that is sort of exaggerated and bloated by the media into these completely mythical things. Yeah, like they say that a little bit of this anthrax, one teaspoon full of anthrax, could kill 100 million people. Now, everybody knows that — who looks at it, is that anthrax — the range of anthrax is about 50 kilometers maximum. So, how could they cram 100 million people into 50 square kilometers to kill everybody? So, I mean, there’s that kind of exaggeration and lying. And, of course, a lot of what they’re saying — I mean, I’m not satisfied that they found all the things that they claim are there. You know, a lot of it is scare and sort of hysteria and demagoguery.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s end with the issue of what you think the U.S. ultimately wanted, since you don’t think they actually would have ever attacked Iraq.

EDWARD SAID: Yeah, because they didn’t really have a clear war aim. I mean, if you look at it, of course, the number one thing is to keep the sanctions forever. I mean, that’s just immoral, because, I mean, Saddam isn’t suffering, but his people — you know, 1.3 million people have already died in the last six or seven years due directly to the sanctions. So, their first goal was to topple him. Well, you know, the CIA and MI6 last year was revealed for the incompetent mess that they’ve been trying to make — that they’ve made over there. They’ve been totally unsuccessful at that.

Now, let’s say they’ll bomb. They have no idea where they’re going to bomb without, you know, what they call collateral damage. I mean, the prospect of all kinds of civilian casualties, given, of course, Saddam’s ruthlessness in using them for human shields and so on. And, you know, nobody much cares about the Iraqi people, neither the Americans nor Saddam. I mean, that’s the horrible irony of the whole thing. So, I mean, let’s assume they went and hit there. Well, what would they have done? I mean, they would destroy more of the infrastructure. But this business about Iraq being a threat to its neighbors is — I mean, it’s a kind of a joke. I mean, the man has — I mean, there’s no electrical system in the country. And the Army, it’s quite clear — there was a report on the BBC, I saw while I was abroad, that said that he was moving his Army away from any possible confrontation with the United States and digging his planes into the sand. I mean, he needs them for his own protection, not to fight a war against the U.S. or its neighbors.

So, I think, in all of that, there was a kind of sort of miasmic feeling that we have to do something, you know, because of this imperial — grotesque imperial desire to run the world, you know, because we’re right and we’re the chosen people and all the rest of it. But, in fact, there was really no war aim. I think now one of the — I mean, this is almost diabolical. One of the convenient things about the Annan or U.N. agreement is that it then gives them a platform to launch a hit against him, in a matter of months, I would say. But beyond that, there are no clear aims, because there’s no significant or credible opposition, despite the CIA’s effort to create one. They fight amongst themselves, and, you know, none of them are known. And the likelihood is the dismemberment of Iraq and the complications of that. I mean, I think that, in the end, is what deterred them, and still deters them. The complications of a military strike in the region are simply incalculable. I don’t think there’s any way of knowing what would happen. So, for the time being, they stop.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Professor Said, I want to thank you very much for joining us. Professor Edward Said, professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York City, author of many books, including Orientalism and Peace and Its Discontents. Thank you for being with us.

You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re going to take a look at a bill that Congress is taking up next week, and it could determine the future status of Puerto Rico. Stay with us.

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