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October 2005
Editorial: Talk About the Weather
By Catherine Clyne

 

“It’s weather,” observes punk rocker Ian MacKaye about the current political climate. “You almost can’t avoid it. The machinery’s so huge… We’re in a storm, we’re in a flood, we’re in a drought. We’re in a destructive time. But, it’s gonna go away. It has to.” “Absolute power corrupts,” he says. “They always snuff themselves out. Always.”

I wish I had his confidence.

I recently saw March of the Penguins, the stunning documentary about the Empire Penguins who live in Antarctica. I feel like part of that group of male penguins, all working hard to huddle together to generate enough collective body heat to survive the brutal 80°-below freezing winter storm raging around them. As the blizzard blew through them, every now and then somebody would lean his head back and just bellow. I’m not sure what he was saying exactly, but I took it as, “Damn, it’s cold! When the heck is this going to end?”

I try to huddle with my community to weather this political storm and maintain a certain sense of sanity and groundedness. But I really wonder when—or if—it is going to pass.

Foul or Fore Play?
There’s a growing international movement to hold the Bush administration accountable for the war on Iraq. The World Tribunal on Iraq is a people’s response to power. Public hearings have been held in cities all over the world, including Kyoto, Mumbai, Barcelona, New York and Paris. Between June 24-26, the World Tribunal culminated in Istanbul, where authorities, eyewitnesses, and concerned citizens gathered to hear and weigh the evidence.

Modeled after the war crimes tribunal led by English philosopher Bertrand Russell for the U.S. war on Vietnam, and in the tradition of the Nuremburg trials, international definitions of war crimes and crimes against humanity were detailed, and evidence of the Bush administration’s clear violations of them were put forth. The spokesperson of the Tribunal’s jury of conscience, author Arundathi Roy, put it succinctly: “This tribunal is…a defense mounted against one of the most cowardly wars ever fought in history, a war in which international institutions were used to force a country to disarm and then stood by while it was attacked with a greater array of weapons than has ever been used in the history of war.”

The testimonies were extremely compelling, with accounts of the brutality of the occupation rarely heard in the U.S. that are difficult to process. Journalist Fadhil Al Bedrani, who witnessed the U.S. assault on Falluja, recounted the following from the survivor of a raid. Last November, 15 American soldiers entered a house:

Three civilian men were there; one was handicapped, the second was 61 years old, and the third was 52. The only one who [survived] said, “When the Americans entered the house they saw that we were sitting unarmed; 14 left, and the last one threw us a grenade, saying ‘bye.’ Two were seriously wounded. I…tried to help them, but after a while they were back. I pretended to be dead while [the] other two were suffering. They put a bullet in every head and left.”

Another testimonial came from Dahr Jamail, an unembedded American journalist who traveled to Iraq to try to report on what was actually happening. He met a man who had been concerned because so many of his neighbors had gone missing. When he approached American authorities to find out where they had gone, he was detained and transferred to Abu Ghraib for three months and held without charge. “Saddam Hussein used to have people like those who tortured us,” he said. “Why do they put Saddam [on] trial, but they do not put the Americans [on] trial?”

An agricultural engineer who had an injured leg made the following statement about his detention by the U.S. military:

There was a male and female soldier who sat behind me; they were messing with each other. Their game was that the male soldier would aim at my injured and swollen leg with a piece of rock. As soon as he hit his target and I screamed [in] pain, she would reward him by letting him kiss her or fondle her. The stronger my pain was and the louder my scream was, the more he would get from her.

This is what bringing freedom to Iraq entails?

Throwing Stones
“The leaders of the free world are just little boys throwing stones. And it’s easy to ignore til they’re knocking on the door of your homes.”
So goes the refrain to my new favorite song.

As I’ve written before, sometimes I turn to music and find that rare, perfect song that expresses my condition of ethical vertigo. Right now it’s the newly-released song “Leaders of the Free World,” by the band Elbow about the war on Iraq. Not many people know about them here yet, but they’ve long been compared to Coldplay in the UK—though some of their songs are more overtly political.

This is a hard-hitting anti-war anthem that sticks in my brain. Part of it is written from the point of view of a soldier: “Periscope up, I’ve been looking for a ladder, I need to see the commander in chief, and remind him what was passed onto me.” It reminds me of Cindy Sheehan parked outside of Bush’s vacation home patiently waiting to ask him to explain the noble cause her son died for. Elbow lays the blame where it belongs: “Passing the gun from father to feckless son, we’re climbing a landslide where only the good die young.” If it’s so noble, Sheehan rightly asks, why aren’t the Bush twins signed up and putting their bodies where his beliefs are?

Good question. We’re still waiting for your answer, Mr. Bush.

Weathering the Storm
A late June Zogby poll indicated that a growing number of voters are fed up and needing answers too. More than two in five voters—42 percent—felt that “if it is found that President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should hold him accountable through impeachment.” Then, with Cindy Sheehan on his doorstep, his ratings hit record lows.

With hurricane Katrina, Bush had a golden opportunity to bounce back and be the hero, as he did in Florida last year. Lucky for him, the storm wiped Sheehan and the growing anti-war effort off the front pages. Yet, Bush and his homies bungled it…again.

As the facts reveal the administration’s incompetence in the wake of Katrina, more and more Americans are questioning his ability to lead this country, and Bush’s popularity continues to plummet. In the face of tragedy and the administration’s inability to respond appropriately—whether it’s Katrina, Iraq or fill-in-the-blank—Americans are waking up, and that’s somewhat heartening.

Maybe MacKaye is right after all. Maybe it is the weather and Hurricane Bush is finally passing. One can only hope.

To learn more about the World Tribunal on Iraq and read transcripts of the Istanbul proceedings, visit www.worldtribunal.org. Read Dahr Jamail’s blog for a different perspective on Iraq: www.dahrjamailiraq.com. The interview of Ian MacKaye quoted above is from the Fall, 2005 issue of Clamor magazine (www.clamormagazine.org), celebrating their fifth year anniversary.

 

 


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