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15 Years After Invasion of Iraq, Amnesia & Distortion Obscure U.S. Record of War Crimes & Torture

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Fifteen years ago this week, the U.S. launched its invasion of Iraq on the false pretense that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. The attack came despite worldwide protest and a lack of authorization from the United Nations Security Council. The ongoing war has devastated Iraq and destabilized the region. We speak with Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan and Medea Benjamin of CodePink

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to ask now both of you, Medea and Mehdi, about the 15th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In The New York Times earlier this week, marking the anniversary, Iraqi poet and writer Sinan Antoon wrote a piece headlined “Fifteen Years Ago, America Destroyed My Country.” Antoon writes, quote, “The invasion of Iraq is often spoken of in the United States as a 'blunder,' or even a 'colossal mistake.' It was a crime. Those who perpetrated it are still at large. … The pundits and 'experts' who sold us the war still go on doing what they do. I never thought that Iraq could ever be worse than it was during Saddam’s reign, but that is what America’s war achieved and bequeathed to Iraqis.” So, that’s Sinan Antoon, an Iraqi writer and poet here in New York City, the author of several books on Iraq. Mehdi Hasan, could you comment on what he said and the situation in Iraq now, what we know of the situation in Iraq now?

MEHDI HASAN: So, let me just take those two claims in reverse order. I think, clearly, the lives of Iraqis, across the board, have not improved since 2003, especially in turn of—economic terms. It’s a disaster in terms of human rights. I think many Iraqis would dispute his characterization that it’s worse now than under Saddam. I think people who were gassed under Saddam or imprisoned would obviously dispute that. But we can argue—the fact that we even have to argue whether it was better or worse suggests what a disaster Iraq was, that, you know, the bar of Saddam couldn’t even be exceeded very easily by the American occupation and this so-called, you know, freedom for Iraqis.

In terms of the actual description of the war, I think he’s spot-on. It’s something I’ve been saying for years. It annoys me when people say, “Oh, the Iraq War, it was a—it was a geostrategic error. It was a colossal blunder. It was a failure.” No, it was a crime. It was in defiance of international law, and it was defined over the last 15 years by war crimes, by widespread torture, by human rights abuses, by massacres—at Haditha, at Mahmudiyah, at Balad. Recently I interviewed a general, retired General Mark Kimmitt, who was a spokesman for the U.S. military coalition in Iraq, and he basically denied that there had ever been any massacres. He was kind of saying, “No, no, I don’t think American soldiers killed anyone intentionally,” when there have been—American soldiers have gone to prison for killing Iraqis intentionally. So, this is the kind of level of amnesia and distortion and spin when it comes to remembering Iraq, this idea that the Americans went in, and it was a mistake. That’s the consensus now. No, it was more than a mistake: It was a crime.

And the big scandal, Nermeen, is that no one’s been held accountable. George Bush is painting paintings and dancing with Ellen on her show. A lot of these people have been rehabilitated in the Trump era. A lot of people who were awful because of the Iraq War, because they criticize Trump, we now give them a pass. A lot of the pundits in the media—Bill Kristol is sitting smiling on CNN, even though he helped pave the war—way for war. Donald Trump wants to bring John Bolton back as national security adviser, a man who probably did more than anyone else in the Bush administration to push the case for the invasion of Iraq. So, there’s been no accountability for what was essentially a war crime.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Medea Benjamin, if you could quickly comment, before we go to Israel-Palestine to talk about Ahed Tamimi?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I think that there’s one sector that’s gotten rich off both the Iraq War and the war in Yemen right now, and that’s the weapons industry and the defense contractors. And I think we should recognize that war is profitable for a small sector of this country and that the jobs that are being created are jobs that have to be transformed into jobs that deal with clean, green energy and a new kind of economy that we need. And that’s why we’ve created this campaign that is called Divest from the War Machine. It’s 70 different organizations. You can look at DivestFromWarMachine.org and get involved with us and say, “Let’s get out of the business of making a killing on killing, and turn our economy into something that’s more life-affirming.”

AMY GOODMAN: Before we wrap up the show, I want to get to what happened in Israel, a military court reaching a plea deal Wednesday with Ahed Tamimi, the 17-year-old Palestinian girl who became a hero to Palestinians after viral video showed her slapping a soldier near her family’s home in the occupied West Bank, after Ahed Tamimi had just learned her 15-year-old cousin, Mohammed Tamimi, had been shot in the head at close range by an Israeli soldier using a rubber-coated steel bullet. Ahed Tamimi faced 12 charges, including assaulting a soldier, inciting to violence. Under the terms of the plea deal, she’ll be sentenced to eight months in jail and must pay something like $1,400. Can you respond? When she was in court, she shouted out, “There is no justice under the occupation.” Medea?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, there is certainly no justice under the occupation. She was in a military court. And the military court has a conviction rate of 99 percent, so she knew she was going to get years unless she did this plea bargain. We consider it a victory, because she was facing about 10 years in prison. She’ll be out now in five months, because she served three months already. And we’re trying to get her a visa to come to the United States to speak here. It will be very exciting, because she is now a hero for millions of people around the world. And we have to get her voice out. We need help with people to get her her visa and to get her out speaking here, to help change the minds of people in this country about our policies towards Israel-Palestine, in favor of the Palestinian rights.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink, author of the article “Don’t Believe the Media Hype About Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman.” We’ll link to that at Common Dreams. And thanks so much to Mehdi Hasan, award-winning British journalist and broadcaster at Al Jazeera English, host to Al Jazeera interview program UpFront, columnist for The Intercept, is just launching his own podcast.

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