In part two of our interview, Al Jazeera reporter Dahr Jamail discusses how the U.S. invasion of Iraq has left behind a legacy of cancer and birth defects suspected of being caused by the U.S. military’s extensive use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus. Noting the birth defects in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, Jamail says: “They’re extremely hard to bear witness to. But it’s something that we all need to pay attention to … What this has generated is, from 2004 up to this day, we are seeing a rate of congenital malformations in the city of Fallujah that has surpassed even that in the wake of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that nuclear bombs were dropped on at the end of World War II.” Jamail has also reported on the refugee crisis of more than one million displaced Iraqis still inside the country, who are struggling to survive without government aid, a majority of them living in Baghdad. Click here to watch part 1 of the interview. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Dahr Jamail, investigative journalist who has just returned from Iraq, one of a handful of unembedded journalists who extensively covered the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, has spent a year reporting from Iraq between 2003 and the 10th anniversary of the war. His most recent stories for Al Jazeera include “Maliki’s Iraq: Rape, Executions and Torture” and “Iraq: War’s Legacy of Cancer.” Nermeen?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dahr Jamail, one of the things that you mention in your recent reports is that the death penalty was reinstated in Iraq following the U.S. invasion. It was reinstated in 2005. And now Iraq has among the highest rates of death sentences in the world? Is that right?
DAHR JAMAIL: That’s right. The U.N. special rapporteur covering this topic has called—actually over a year ago, called for the Maliki administration to cease and desist all executions that are planned, because there is no fair—no due process happening in Iraq. There’s no trials happening, basically kangaroo courts for some of those that are going to be executed and on death row. And absolutely, since the death penalty was reinstated, it’s just been a flood of executions, and the current number of known people that the government admits to on death row is 3,000 people. Sometimes we’re seeing as many as 12 to 20 executions on any given day. Non-Iraqi citizens have been executed, including people from Syria and Saudi Arabia. Women are being executed, as well as people who are under the age of 18. So, it’s clearly out of control. Human rights groups like Human Rights Watch, who I spoke with about this, have all called for a cessation of the ongoing executions that are happening, because, really, the Maliki government is just, you know, carrying these things out with impunity, so to speak.
And so, you know, I contacted someone within Iraq’s Ministry of Justice, and the spokesperson who basically said, “Look, we—if something happens in the United States, we see that there’s so much outcry. You know, like the crimes of 9/11, for example, there’s so much outcry, and people want to see people punished.” And he said, “Why isn’t it the same for Iraq?” was his justification. And, in fact, he went on so far as to say, “We have a right to do this. And, in fact, I think that in order to bring more comfort to the families of the victims of crimes, we should have public hangings and public executions in Iraq.”
AMY GOODMAN: Dahr, I wanted to ask you about the issue of depleted uranium. In 2004, a special investigation by Democracy Now! co-host Juan González of the New York Daily News found four of nine soldiers of the 442nd Military Police Company of the New York Army National Guard returning from Iraq tested positive for depleted uranium contamination. They were the first confirmed cases of inhaled depleted uranium exposure from the Iraq conflict. One of the people affected was Sergeant Agustin Matos, who was deployed in Iraq with the 442nd Military Police. Speaking on Democracy Now!, he described his health problems.
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: I, myself, while I was out there, experienced a couple—a fever one night, unexplained. I was fine during the day, and then it just hit me. It just totally knocked me out. I was in bed. I couldn’t get out. I can’t remember exactly what the fevers were. But also I had—I was urinating blood while I was out there. It wasn’t good. It was just a place not to be when you were sick like that.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Sergeant Agustin Matos. What did you find as you returned to Iraq this last time, Dahr Jamail, about depleted uranium and its effect on Iraqis?
DAHR JAMAIL: Overall, the country has seen a massive increase in cancer rates from the 1991 Gulf War up to present, even according to official Iraqi government statistics. In 1991, for example, there were 40 registered cases of cancer out of 100,000 Iraqis. By 1995, four years after that war, that number had jumped to 800 out of 100,000 Iraqis. And then—by 2005, that number had doubled—
AMY GOODMAN: Dahr, I just want to say, as we show—
DAHR JAMAIL: —by 2005, that number had doubled—
AMY GOODMAN: Dahr, as we—as you speak, I just want to say we’re going to be showing images, and I want to warn our TV audience. For our radio listeners, if you want to go to the website, you’ll be able to see the kind of images that you captured, Dahr, when you were in Iraq. Go ahead. Keep saying what you were saying.
DAHR JAMAIL: The most recent statistic, I’ll end with, before I get into Fallujah. And what these images are showing is that in 2005 we saw 1,600 Iraqis with cancer out of 100,000, so a massive escalation that continues.
And going on to Fallujah, because I wrote about this a year ago, and then I returned to the city again this trip, we are seeing an absolute crisis of congenital malformations of newborn. There is one doctor, a pediatrician named Dr. Samira Alani, working on this crisis in the city. She’s the only person there registering cases. And she’s seeing horrific birth defects. I mean, these are extremely hard to look at. They’re extremely hard to bear witness to. But it’s something that we all need to pay attention to, because of the amount of depleted uranium used by the U.S. military during both of their brutal attacks on the city of 2004, as well as other toxic munitions like white phosphorus, among other things.
And so, what this has generated is, from 2004 up to this day, we are seeing a rate of congenital malformations in the city of Fallujah that has surpassed even that in the aftermath of—in the wake of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that were—that nuclear bombs were dropped on at the end of World War II. So, Dr. Samira Alani actually visited with doctors in Japan, comparing statistics, and found that the amount of congenital malformations in Fallujah is 14 times greater than the same rate measured in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in the aftermath of the nuclear bombings. These types of birth defects, she said—there are types of congenital malformations that she said they don’t even have medical terms for, that some of the things they’re seeing, they’ve never seen before. They’re not in any of the books or any of the scientific literature that they have access to. She said it’s common now in Fallujah for newborns to come out with massive multiple systemic defects, immune problems, massive central nervous system problems, massive heart problems, skeletal disorders, baby’s being born with two heads, babies being born with half of their internal organs outside of their bodies, cyclops babies literally with one eye—really, really, really horrific nightmarish types of birth defects. And it is ongoing.
And she—lastly, to really give you an idea of the scope of the problem, is that this is happening now at a massive rate. And she said her being the only person cataloging and registering cases, with no help from Baghdad, who is denying that there’s some sort of problem like this in Fallujah—she said that she could probably safely estimate that the number of cases, as high as the rate that she’s seeing, could probably be doubled, because so many people are having their babies at home and just taking care of it. You know, most of these babies are being born dead, and then they’re not reporting it whatsoever. So, this is an ongoing crisis. And the rate has not increased since last year, but it’s not decreased, either. It was still—when I talked to her last year, it was 14 times greater rate of malformations in newborns as compared to the aftermath areas of the nuclear bombings in Japan, and it’s the same when I spoke with her about this one week ago.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dahr Jamail, do you know, has any U.S. government official ever publicly acknowledged that the U.S. used depleted uranium in Iraq? And what does international law say about the use of depleted uranium in wartime?
DAHR JAMAIL: The Pentagon has admitted to using several hundred tons during the ’91 Gulf War. It’s hard to get official figures from them from this current—the most recent war, where certainly they’ve admitted that it was used, but we—you know, figures range anywhere from another couple of hundred tons upwards to 800 tons. There’s been no official statement, that I’ve seen anyway, from the Pentagon talking about the effects of these weapons either on the Iraqi civilian population or members of the U.S. military who use them, like the person in the clip that you played earlier.
International law is very clear about these types of weapons: Any weapon that is known to have a lasting negative impact on the civilian population in the general area where it is used is technically a banned or a highly restricted weapon. And in this case, these types of weapons should not be allowed to be used. As I reported back in 2004, when it came out that white phosphorus was indeed being used in Fallujah, that’s another restricted weapon where the Geneva Conventions state very clearly that if there are any—a possibility of any civilians in the area where it is going to be used, it is not allowed to be used. So there—the Geneva Conventions are very, very clear about these.
And this brings up a broader point about the war. As we heard in an earlier clip from Michael Moore talking about the illegality of the war, it’s good to hear this brought back into the discourse. Another individual, Robert Jensen, wrote an extremely poignant piece about the illegality of the war for Truthout just yesterday. And I think it’s important that we all remember on the anniversary that this was a war that violated the Geneva Convention. It is a crime against peace, according to the Nuremberg Principles. And all those responsible—Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz—all the architects of the war, if the U.S. was indeed a member of the International Criminal Court, should be handled accordingly. And I think it’s important that we remember the illegality of this and that this continues and that these crimes, started 10 years ago, that were perpetuated against the Iraqi people, that we see now most blatantly in these birth defects of these people in Fallujah, should never have even happened.
AMY GOODMAN: Dahr, finally, the issue of internally displaced people in Iraq. You have the Iraqi refugees. How many left the country? How many remain inside? And where are they inside Iraq?
DAHR JAMAIL: Well, at the height of the sectarian bloodletting in 2006, 2007, there were over four million refugees, roughly half of them in the country, half of them who had fled the country, largely to Syria and to Jordan. To this day, according to official Iraqi government statistics, there’s 1.1 million internally displaced persons in Iraq. The majority of those are in Baghdad. Most of them have fled from sectarian cleansings of the aforementioned years and from the mixed neighborhoods where they had used to live or the mixed villages, and into oftentimes primarily Sunni areas, seeking refuge.
So, they’re not getting really any help whatsoever from the government. They’re living in horrible situations. And it was really a poignant thing to witness, Amy, because despite these people living in really difficult conditions, oftentimes living amongst giant piles of garbage, you walk in, and as per Iraqi Arab custom, you’re offered a drink, although even in so many of these cases people only had literally a glass of water that they could—they could offer you, despite the fact that they’re living with no government assistance and help, and basically no hope for a future, of “Where are we going to go from here? How is the situation in any way going to improve for us?” when things look so bleak, with a government in gridlock, and it looking like we’re poised for another massive increase in sectarian violence.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Dahr, you were just in Iraq. Repeatedly on television, the corporate networks in the United States: “But the U.S. got rid of Saddam Hussein, who was a tyrant.” What is the feeling of people on the ground in Iraq?
DAHR JAMAIL: Stunningly, as bad as things were under Saddam—and we have to keep in mind this perspective of Saddam in the wake of a brutal eight-year war with Iran and then the genocidal sanctions for 13 years, from 1991 up until the beginning of this invasion in March 2003—as bad as it was under Saddam, with the repression and the detentions and the torture and the killings, the overall feeling of Iraqis today, in Baghdad and other places in Iraq where I went this trip, was that things are much worse now. There’s less—far less security. You don’t really know where you can go and what you can do and know that you’re going to have any kind of safety. “Any time that we send our kids out to school now,” is what I was told, “we don’t know for sure on any given day that they’re going to come back.” And so, the prevailing sentiment is that, yes, it was good initially to have Saddam removed, but people are still concerned with basic things like security, an economy stable enough to be able to have a job to work, to have food and provide something for your family. And these things just no longer exist today in Iraq. So the prevailing sentiment is that it’s far worse now even than it was under Saddam Hussein.
AMY GOODMAN: Dahr, we want to thank you very much for joining us from the headquarters of Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar. Dahr Jamail, an investigative journalist, unembedded reporter, extensively covered the war in Iraq. You can see his reports through the 10 years on our website, on our Iraq War timeline.