The World Tribunal on Iraq wrapped its three-day session today in Istanbul, Turkey. The tribunal investigated various issues on Iraq including the legality of the war, the role of the United Nations, war crimes and the role of the media, as well as the destruction of the cultural sites and the environment. We play excerpts of addresses by human rights attorney Barbara Olshansky and Indian writer Arundhati Roy. [includes rush transcript]
The World Tribunal on Iraq wrapped its three day session today in Istanbul, Turkey. Torture and rendition was a main theme of the testimony heard there.
Among the speakers at the tribunal this weekend was human rights attorney Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constiutional Rights. She is author the book, “America’s Disappeared: Secret Imprisonment, Detainees, and the “War on Terror.”
- Barbara Olshansky, attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights addressing the World Tribunal on Iraq, June 26, 2005.
The gathering was modeled after the International War Crimes Tribunal that British philosopher Bertrand Russell formed in 1967 during the Vietnam War. Speakers included Indian writer Arundhati Roy, former UN Assistant Secretary General Dennis Halliday, independent journalist Dahr Jamail and others.
This year’s gathering was the culminating session of commissions of inquiry and hearings on the Iraq war held around the world over the past two years.
The Istanbul Tribunal consisted of three days of hearings investigating various issues related to the war on Iraq, such as the legality of the war, the role of the United Nations, war crimes and the role of the media, as well as the destruction of the cultural sites and the environment.
A 17-member Jury of Conscience at the Tribunal heard testimonies from a panel of advocates and witnesses who came from across the world, including from Iraq, the United States and the United Kingdom.
The jury delivered its verdict and recommendations at a news conference this morning. The preliminary verdict read in part, “Recognizing the right of the Iraqi people to resist the illegal occupation of their country and to develop independent institutions, and affirming that the right to resist the occupation is the right to wage a struggle for self-determination, freedom, and independence as derived from the Charter of the United Nations, we the Jury of Conscience declare our solidarity with the people of Iraq.”
We go now to jury chair Arundhati Roy’s remarks yesterday, following testimony from witnesses of the war and occupation.
- Arundhati Roy, Chair of Jury of Conscience, addressing the World Tribunal on Iraq, June 26, 2005.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue on this theme of rendition, which was taken up at the World Tribunal on Iraq this weekend in Istanbul, Turkey, which wrapped up a three-day session. It was the main theme of testimony of Barbara Olshansky. She is with the Center for Constitutional Rights and traveled to Istanbul for the Tribunal. Her book is called America’s Disappeared: Secret Imprisonment, Detainees and the War on Terror. This is an excerpt of what she had to say.
BARBARA OLSHANSKY: The United States government’s unlawful and covert practices started very early on. And I’m just going to say this to give people a picture of how quickly this administration seized on an opportunity to repress people. Within one day of the attacks on the United States, the government rounded up — started rounding up in excess of 1,500 people — that’s a guess; we’ll never know how many — immigrants and foreign visitors to the United States of Middle Eastern origin and/or of the Muslim faith and put them in jails and detention centers around the United States and ordered the guards at those jails to lie to the attorneys who came to the jails and to lie to the foreign consulates about who was imprisoned there. This was a deliberate order of our Attorney General then, John Ashcroft, to lie to everyone that came to the door about who was there.
And when we filed under our federal law seeking information about who had been arrested — because people had come to us, and said, “They took my husband, my brother, my son, my nephew, and I don’t know where they went.” And we had to go literally door to door to try and find people. When we asked under this law, this information law, about how many people were taken, what was the justification, whether they had attorneys, whether their families knew, whether their consulates were advised, whether they could make calls, we got an answer from our Department of Justice that we were not entitled to know.
A last piece I’ll say about it: With the creation of Guantanamo also comes an exponential growth in the C.I.A.'s extraordinary rendition program. Under this program, United States Special Forces charter private jets and fly around the world and pick up people. Now, these are not usually enemy combatants. For those, we, I think, use our regular Army and Air Force planes. These are people that are seized, hooded and shackled, brought out surreptitiously from the country where they're captured and sent to third countries for interrogation under torture at the United States’ request. I’m sure some people have read about this. It happened to two Egyptian men who were taken from Sweden. It happened to people that were transiting — traveling from one flight to another in J.F.K. airport and ended up in Syria for a year being tortured, and this, what the C.I.A. calls their 'snatch and grab' operations, has been confirmed by C.I.A. officials and now private citizens who have helped to set up to the operations for the charter companies.
These are the things started with Guantanamo. What they prove, and I guess why someone who was much wiser than me understood when they asked me here today, is that they prove that every statement made by the United States government about abuses in Abu Ghraib, abuses elsewhere in Iraq, being the work of a few rogue individuals is a monstrous lie. It could not be anything else other than a monstrous lie, because these policies started in Guantanamo, and we now know that they started at the request of those highest up in the administration and they have been going on from Guantanamo through to the present. They are certainly not the policies of single individuals.
What they also show is that while this has been going on, there has been a failure of leadership in the United States. Neither the judiciary nor Congress has been able to hold back this tide of militarism and brutality committed by the military and by the Bush administration. And that is why I think it’s important for me to be here today to see that there are so many people to work with to try and rein in a rogue country that has alienated itself and the rest of the world from the people of the United States. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights, speaking at the World Tribunal on Iraq in Istanbul this weekend. The gathering was modeled on the International War Crimes Tribunal that British philosopher Bertrand Russell formed in 1967 during the Vietnam War. Speakers included Indian writer Arundhati Roy, former U.N. Assistant Secretary General, Dennis Halliday, and independent journalist Dahr Jamail. This year’s gathering was the culmination of commissions of inquiry and hearings on the invasion of Iraq held around the world over the past two years. The Istanbul Tribunal consisted of three days of hearings investigating various issues related to Iraq, such as the legality of the war, the role of the U.N., war crimes and the role of the media, as well as the destruction of the cultural sites and the environment.
A seventeen-member Jury of Conscience at the Tribunal heard testimonies from a panel of advocates and witnesses who came from across the world, including from Iraq, the U.S., and Britain. The jury delivered its verdict and recommendations at a news conference today. The preliminary verdict read in part, (quote), “Recognizing the right of the Iraqi people to resist the illegal occupation of their country and to develop independent institutions and affirming that the right to resist the occupation is the right to wage a struggle for self-determination, freedom and independence as derived from the charter of the United Nations, we, the Jury of Conscience declare our solidarity with the people of Iraq.”
We go now to the jury chair, who read today’s verdict, Arundhati Roy. But these comments she gave yesterday after testimony from witnesses who had been to Iraq, of both the invasion and occupation.
ARUNDHATI ROY: When I was invited to be on the jury by the W.T.I. — yesterday, when they were making a film, they asked me, “Why did you agree? You must have had so many invitations; why did you choose this?” And I said, you know, “I feel so hurt that you are asking me this question. Because it’s ours. You know, where else would I be? What other invitations would matter to me when we have to attend to this, this huge, enormous bloody thing?” You know, since I’m not a lawyer, nor am I even much of an organizer, nor am I even somebody who has been particularly concerned about my legitimacy or, you know.
I don’t think in sort of legal and bureaucratic terms, so you know, I didn’t really go down the road of questioning who we are or who we represent, because to me it was a bit like somebody asking me whether I had the legitimacy to write a novel. I mean, we’re just a group of human beings, whether we are five or ten or fifteen or ten million. Surely, we have the right to express an opinion, and surely, if that opinion is irrelevant, surely, if that opinion is full of false facts, surely, if that opinion is absurd, it will be treated as such, and if that opinion is, in fact, representative of the opinion of millions of people, it will become very huge.
So we don’t need to really worry ourselves too much about defining ourselves. I think we need to worry about being very clear, being very honest, being very precise about what we think and express that fearlessly and in solidarity with the values that all of us have so clearly expressed in so many ways here today. I really think this last three days — I mean, as a — speaking as a writer, what I seek with complete greed, what I seek almost ruthlessly is understanding. You know, that is all that I ever ask for, an understanding of the debt of this world we live in. And that was a gift that one received, and I will always be grateful for it.
To ask us why we are doing this, you know, why is there a World Tribunal on Iraq, is like asking, you know, someone who stops at the site of an accident where people are dying on the road, why did you stop? Why didn’t you keep walking like everybody else?
While I listened to the testimonies yesterday, especially, I must say that I didn’t know — I mean, not that one has to choose, but still, you know, I didn’t know what was more chilling, you know, the testimonies of those who came from Iraq with the stories of the blood and the destruction and the brutality and the darkness of what was happening there or the stories of that cold, calculated world where the business contracts are being made, where the laws are be rewritten, where a country occupies another with no idea of how it’s going to provide protection to people, but with such a sophisticated idea of how it’s going to loot it of its resources. You know, the brutality or the contrast of those two things was so chilling.
There were times when I felt, I wish I wasn’t on the jury, because I want to say things. You know? I mean, I think that is the nature of this tribunal, that, in a way, one wants to be everything. You want to be on the jury, you want to be on the other side, you want to say things. And I particularly wanted to talk a lot about — which I won’t do now, so don’t worry, but I wanted to talk a lot about my own, you know, now several years of experience with issues of resistance, strategies of resistance, the fact that we actually tend to reach for easy justifications of violence and non-violence, easy and not really very accurate historical examples. These are things we should worry about.
But at the end of it, today we do seem to live in a world where the United States of America has defined an enemy combatant, someone whom they can kidnap from any country, from anyplace in the world and take for trial to America. An enemy combatant seems to be anybody who harbors thoughts of resistance. Well, if this is the definition, then I, for one, am an enemy combatant. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Arundhati Roy, speaking at the War Crimes Tribunal held now in Istanbul, Turkey. It has just wrapped up earlier today. Special thanks to Deep Dish TV for today’s footage.