Dave Enders / Islam Online – 2005-03-19 09:55:29
An Online Q&A with a US Journalist Dave Enders, co-founder of Baghdad Bulletin
(March 14 ,2005. Makkah 21:00-23:00)
ISLAM ONLINE: The session has started. Join us with your questions.
Mrs. Shofiq – Bangladesh
There were so many journalists in Iraq. Why everybody failed to cover the abuse of prisoners by US force when they were doing these? Is the abuse still going on inside the prison ?
We did not get much news about alleged rape cases by the US led force. Why ? To protect the tortured women for futher humiliation or to protect US force from criticism ?
ENDERS: A lot of us were covering the abuse — I, and others I knew, were interviewing scores of Iraqis who told similar stories.
In January, almost four months before the pictures came out, my colleague Dahr Jamail found a man who had been released from US custody in a coma and bore the marks of what appeared to be a severe beating and electric shocks. The mainstream media did not pick up this story until there was photo evidence, though there were stories documenting other evidence.
I suspect abuse still takes place, but not necessarily at the prison itself (the cellblocks where the torture occurred have since been turned over to the Iraqi justice system and the US only maintains an open air prison at the Abu Ghraib complex.) There are, however, at any given time more than 1000 prisoners at various bases around the country.
Detainees are not generally logged in the US system unless they are at Abu Ghraib or Camp Bucca (near Basra); so those prisoners are essentially off the books. The Red Cross does not have access to those facilities, and I have been told by some detainees that abuses take place at bases.
It is very hard to report on rape cases because women are often unwilling to speak out about them. I have tried a few times to interview victims, but have been unsuccessful.
Maria – Malaysia – Banker
I admire your courage: being so young yet blatant about the absurdity on the Iraq invasion.
Do you ever feel that your life may be under heavy surveillance of the US forces? Have you ever had threats thrown in your direction since you came to Iraq? Do you think the US forces feel threatened by people like your goodself, who use media as a form of communication to the rest of the world?
Hope my questions make sense. As ridiculous at it may sound, what happens within the borders of Iraq can be quite alien to people on the outside! That’s how influential media can be – and we can barely trust the “mainstream” media.
ENDERS: I don’t think the US military is keeping very close track of what journalists are doing. I have been refused embeds with the military based upon what I write, but on the street, I am in the same danger as any civilian. There is animosity toward journalists from members of the US military (I’ve had guns pulled on me after being identified as a reporter, but I don’t think we are targeted for death, just intimidation at times. I don’t think this is a policy, except in the case of Jazeera and Arabiya.
Farah – United Kingdom – Student
I’m not sure if you’ve left Iraq for a period of time since you have been there but here in the UK the war is officially ‘over’, how far is this true? I’m hoping you can shed some light on what exactly Blair means by that. Also, (I think this ties in with my first question) is the reality of what goes on in Iraq and what we are told two different things? Or, if they don’t blatantly lie, is there a lot going on which just doesn’t get mentioned over here? Finally, what prompted you to establish your newspaper?
Thank you for your time.
ENDERS: The war is not over; it is getting worse. The ability of the guerillas to kill US troops does not appear to have decreased while at the same time inflicting an increasing toll upon the Iraqi police and army, as well as the new government.
Their tactics have changed as well — it appears unlikely there will ever be another real siege of a city as there was in Fallujah — another journalist who was recently embedded for the US military action along the Euphrates River said there was virtually no fighting and that the guerrillas mostly pulled out of towns before the US came in. This is going to be a years-long conflict.
The reality of what goes on in Iraq is actually fairly well-reported —most news media are not doing a bad job; it’s largely that the MSM (mainstream media) doesn’t start every story with “there were only 10 hours of electricity in Baghdad today, like everyday” because that’s not the mode they work in, but these things are reported on a regular basis.
You have to take these reports (sometimes you have to look about for them a bit) and compare them with the spin that comes out of places like Washington and London. I was prompted to start a newspaper (as were my colleagues) by what we saw as the realities of the occupation — that the MSM was not primed to do local-style reporting from Baghdad, and that no one would be doing local reporting from Baghdad in English.
We were hoping to close the information gap as well — there are a lot of misconceptions in the West about the Middle East and vice versa, and we saw Baghdad as a nexus point where that gap might begin to close. (Idealistic days, those were.)
M. – United States – Student
Thank you for your time and contribution to the website. Your work is appreciated. I have read and article of yours in Mother Jones, and it was great.
My question is, do you think that there is a lack of coverage in the actual happenings in Iraq, in relation to the treatment in general of the prisoners, the population in general, etc. Additionally, I am wondering about the morale of the troops, and if a majority of them really believe in what they’re there for. Thank You.
ENDERS: I haven’t had much contact with US troops since last summer, so I can’t really say how they feel, but I don’t think morale is particularly good — there are armor shortages, and many see this as a war with no end. Others, however, maintain that they are on the side of good — imagine admitting to yourself that you have been sent to the other side of the world to fight the wrong war. It’s a very tough thing to admit.
There is a sort of lack of coverage in a way of day-to-day life because that doesn’t constitute what is commonly considered “news,” but I think there is still coverage available. Treatment of prisoners is hard to cover, but it is out there. One thing to remember about US troops is that they have virtually no contact with Iraqis, so they do not get a proper picture of what life is like here.
Muhammad – Canada
I think if American journalists really wanted to portray the story of Iraq correctly, they would look into the past and inform the world why Saddam had the means to use chemical warfare in the first place. Also, they would reflect how the Americans used radical Muslims in 80’s to combat communism, only to ditch them after their needs were met. We don’t hear this story much and it is very relevant to the mind-set of Muslims – Americans using and weaponizing people for their own gain.
Today, I think American Journalism has changed so much over the last few years with the internet — open transparency of information. That one is better off getting an account of the story from various sources on the net itself than from a “CNN” or “FOX NEWS” source which is politically driven.
ENDERS: Muhammed — I can’t disagree with the points you make. You’re dead on. I have seen some good writing about the Saddam Hussein trial and the way it’s being conducted, which seems intended to minimalize the chance the sort of stuff you mention is discussed. There is coverage of this in the American left press — especially places like The Nation and Mother Jones. Unfortunately, the best we can do as consumers is to demand better and go elsewhere when we don’t get it.
Mostafa – Egypt
Do you think banning Alajazeera reportrs affect the neutrality of news deliverd?
Whom do you think is behind bombings targerting Muslims in Iraq? May it be American planing?
ENDERS: Banning Jazeera is a huge mistake. While the network has its own biases, it is invaluable to provide a counterpoint to other outlets and the kind of on-the-gound reporting about the realities of Iraq that is often lacking from Western media. No Jazeera (and fortunately, they’ve ignored the ban) takes away from the picture as a whole.
I think the people bombing mosques are Salafists and other extreme radicals. The existence of such movements in Iraq is well documented. Also, people are being killed not for religious affiliations, but because of their affiliations with a US-backed government.
Imran – Pakistan – Accountant
What are your feeling about the current siruation in Iraq?
Ayaat – Germany – Student
How do you perceive the general feelings among the iraqi population towards the american invasion and towards the resistance figthers? Do people talk openly about these issues, or are they still afraid to discuss matters of this nature, like under Saddam?
ENDERS: People are generally comfortable speaking out aginst the US occupation — and a large majority of them are vocally against it. The resistance is another matter — people are afraid of retribution for speaking against it. Perception of the resistance varies — most people make a disticntion between irhabeen and mukowama. I would say the majority of Iraqis have no problem with attacks on US troops but are less sure about attacks on the police and other Iraqis, and see this as a worthless endeavor that will simply cause more bloodshed and prevent the rebuilding of the country. Most Iraqis have taken a political opposition to the occupation, yanni, that’s why so many people voted — they expect people like Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim and Ibrahim Jaafari to throw the Americans out very soon- if they don’t there will be trouble.
Nabil – Translator
1) I wonder why the journalist don’t give a comprehensive image on the situation in Iraq, is it because of the american seizure of information? can you give examples?
2) why don’t we see on TV and in Newspapers images or films of the resistance operations, while it is available on the net, i.e. in Fellouja, Ramadi and
Baghdad? is it because journalists can’t get such pictures or because its publication is prohibited?
3) About the hostage journalists, what are the kidnapping forces, what is their purpose of such action, and why some of the hostages were targeted by the American Army (i.e. the two french hostages)?
4) Do you find/feel any Sionist, Iranian or Saudi presence in te Iraqui field?
5) as far as the civilians are concerned, can you give an approximative number of the victims? were they most targeted by the resistance or the americans?
6) on the basis of your experience in Iraq, what can you say in general?
I wish you give direct and not political answers, if possible.
ENDERS:1. It’s because of the difficulty of moving around and the threat of violence and kidnapping that largely leads to poor press coverage. The Americans control very little, including information. They can prevent access to prisons and military bases and places like Fallujah, but not much else. And it’s still possible to interview Iraqis coming and going from places like Fallujah.
2. It’s very tough to meet resistance fighters. They are very suspicious of journalists. US outlets would not show footage of resistance attacks anyway.
3. The motives for kidnapping seem to range from ideological to criminal. I don’t think the French hostages were targeted by the US military. The Italian journalist who was shot recently was shot in the same sort of situation that many Iraqis face everyday—a checkpoint full of frightened US soldiers.
4. People don’t usually identify themselves as agents of one country or another. Most of the Iranians I meet are pilgrims trying to travel to Najaf/Karbala; I have not met any Zionists or Saudis.
5. I would say the US military has probably killed more civilians than the resistance—they have bigger weapons and use them more often and more indiscriminately. (It also depends on your definition of civilian. Is someone signing up for the Iraqi police or standing guard outside a minstry a combatant or a civilian?)
I think the situation of the occupation, and the resutling lack of basic services has created the greatest number of casualties, and the blame for that falls on the lack of American planning for what is happening.
6. In general, my time in Iraq has been terrifying and at the same time heartening. You see both extremes of humanity—our capability for carrying out unspeakable acts of violence and at the same time, the resistance of the human spirit and the ability of an entire population to withstand one tragedy after another. The fact that I can still walk the streets in many places is a testement to the will and the good nature the majority of Iraqis.
Zeba – Canada
I cannot imagine what the Iraqis must be going through, mentally and physically. Their needs must be countless. What can I do for them from Canada? What can I ask my government to do?
ENDERS: I was talking to an Iraqi doctor the other day, and he scoffed at the idea of “post-traumatic stress syndrome.” “It’s not post-traumatic,” he said. “It’s still going on.”
There are charities that are providing aid to Iraqis that you can donate to (I will try and post some links at the end of this conversation), but it is also helpful to be informed and to inform others. Prevail on your government to vote against UN resolutions like the one that was used to justify the invasion and to protect its citizens that are brave enough to travel to Iraq. Canada aslo recently changed it’s asylum laws to comply with many US statutes, which will definitely have an effect upon Iraqis seeking asylum there.
Salam, Do you think mass rallies and non violent agitation instead of violence will be successful in Iraq to end the occupation.
ENDERS: Like the occupation in Palestine, there is a non-violent and violent component to resistance in Iraq. Outside Iraq, the non-violent opposition (i.e., voting out Aznar in Spain) is the most effective. Inside Iraq, the armed resistance has definitely been effective in forcing things like voting (especially Al-Sadr and the threat of Sistani putting people in the streets). I think the line you have to draw is who is the target of the armed opposition — Al-Sadr didn’t generally kill police officers and was generally regarded as much more legitimate in his resistance than other groups.
Is Iraq really on fire? And my second question is why is so much attention giving to iraq? where has Afghanistan gone???
ENDERS:Iraq is definitely on fire in many ways. As I said, things appear to be getting worse, not better.
Afghanistan has been dropped by the US media I presume because people don’t care to read about it anymore. Basically, unless there is widespread violence (and especially US troops being killed), you don’t get good a lot of press coverage.
Naima – Pakistan – Student
Is the news coverage of your magazine intervened by US forces? Are there Iraqis who actually read an English newspaper?
ENDERS: The Baghdad Bulletin, the magazine I was running, is no longer in print. The US forces did not interfere with our coverage while we were operating. There were many Iraqis who did read the magazine (there are a lot who speak English) and we were making a concerted effort to provide Arabic coverage as well.
Nazmul – United States – IT
What would be the big differences if either Shia or Sunni or Kurdi will take the power of Iraq?
ENDERS: The big issue regarding the Kurds is the issue of Kirkuk. The issue with any group taking full power (and this cannot happen under the system the US has set up) is that other groups will be oppressed as they were in the past. However, this is still happening to some extent. When you put one group in control of a specific ministry, you often find it is being staffed by their associates, family members, etc.
The real concern at the moment is that the Shia and Kurds, having the majority of power, will further marginalize the Sunnis while dividing things up between themselves. This is a real fear, and I don’t see it being addressed by either of these parties, and if it continues, will only continue to fuel the resistance.