[Editor's Note: These are excerpts from the remarkable journal of
Wade Hudson, an American who chose to go to Baghdad in March, 2003,
just before the war started, as part of an international peace team.
Day Two (March 15)
I take a look at a copy of the statement that was read in five languages and distributed at yesterday's press conference in front of the Amiriyah bomb shelter and find it very moving. It reads:
Late morning, March 15, though I'm unable to observe as I had wanted, about 100 human shields reportedly rally at the Palestine Hotel and march to a location where they lead the official parade organized by the Iraqi government in association with the day of global protest. Apparently, the government is not placing the Shields at military sites or other locations that are most likely to be bombed, but rather at hospitals, water treatment plants, and other such places that are less likely targets.
In the early afternoon, a dozen or so IPT people, including myself, go to a water treatment plant located in a residential neighborhood that includes a hospital, an electricity generation plant, and some other sites that could be hit by U.S. bombs, though the U.S. has issued assurances that it will not do so. The visit is one of many trips taken to that area in order to "accompany," or be with, the workers and nearby residents.
At six, we have an official meeting, which is visited by Voices' key contacts in the government, Wadah Al Qassimi and his assistant. I take notes and later type up draft minutes for the meeting. Thus far, only Kathy Kelly has reviewed them, so some corrections may still be made. But I present them to give a flavor of the scene here.
DRAFT MINUTES: MARCH 15 MEETING
Day Three (March 17)
With the drumbeats of war pounding loudly in the distance, our Andalus [the hotel where Wade is staying] affinity group meets over breakfast to continue our preparation for being in the middle of the most intense bombing campaign in history. I learn that the bombing of the Presidential Palace a short distance away across the Tigris River is expected to blow out the windows of the El Fanar, which is two buildings down from the Andalus in the direction of the Palace. I'm still curious about whether the small building between the Andalus and the El Fanar, which continues to be guarded by military personnel, will be a target. But the presence of so many media across the street at the Palestine Hotel still provides me with some comfort. An Algerian family staying in the Andalus for a vacation seems even less concerned. They plan to stay for a few more days regardless.
After our meeting, I go to the Internet Center and am pleased to discover that I have finally received some email, two days after it was sent. I glance quickly at some news stories on Google News and see little encouragement. I resign myself to the reality that the gates of hell are about to open all around me.
Following lunch, several of us go to the official press center for a press conference called by the Asian Peace Mission, a seven-person delegation of legislators and civil society representatives from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Pakistan, moderated by author Walden Bello. All of the speakers present cogent arguments against the war and the Philippine representatives express concern that their country will be the next target of massive U.S. military action.
Bello states, "We felt compelled to seize whatever sliver of peace remains. We are amazed at the resilience of the Iraq people. They say they are worried, yet life goes on, with joy. Empires are transient but resistance is permanent. The global moral force will prevail eventually. We can only hope that this massive moral force will get through to Bush with some rationality."
Bello also commented, "We call attention to all the peace groups around Iraq. We are with you and we hope it makes a difference."
Congresswoman Loretta Rosales concluded the press conference with a rousing declaration. "It's not just Iraq," she said. "It's all of us and the United Nations that stand at risk. Bush is acting like an outlaw. We shouldn't allow it. There are sixty countries with weapons of mass destruction. Next in line should be the United States."
Unfortunately, afterwards, I'm unable to squeeze in time to go an Exhibition and Performance presented by the Iraq Peace Team of Korea at Freedom Square, but rather rush back for a briefing by a representative of IPT's War Preparedness Committee. We review our progress with matters like purchasing and organizing our survival kits that will include items to help us manage for a week if we lose the support offered by our residential hotels. We consider some of the worst-case scenarios that the War Preparedness Committee has prepared for everyone to reflect on. And we discuss how we want to make decisions as a group in an emergency situation.
All in all, I remain incredibly impressed with the IPT members who've been here for a while, as well as my affinity group of newcomers. They strike me as remarkably talented, kind, committed, and caring people, who are pretty much as well prepared as they could be under the circumstances. It seems to me that the operation could be a bit better organized, but with so many people coming and going all the time, the relatively mild degree of disarray is understandable. I find great comfort in the overall sense of calm that generally prevails.
The evening includes a party at the Andar, which is about a mile away along the river. The IPT people staying there present some skits and performances that provide welcome comic relief. Highlights include a satire of a CNN interview with "Ronald Dumsfeld," followed by a hilarious song-and-dance performance by Kathy Kelly of Randy Newman's "Let's Drop the Big One Now." My roommate Shane injects an unexpected element when he demonstrates some of his circus skills, walking on his hands, juggling and doing a back flip.
Cliff then changes the mood with some dramatic storytelling based on his peace-making activities at gunpoint in the Gaza Strip in 1993. Jerry, a Franciscan priest, lightens the mood again with some humorous "Tips on Being in Jail," based on his many stints being locked up for civil disobedience and the party quickly breaks up.
Another full day. Once again, I have no trouble going to sleep. Getting here disrupted my sleep more than being here does. I sleep deeply, for seven hours.
Day Six (March 20)
Cynthia Banas, 72, from Vernon, N.Y. Graduate of SUNY Cortland; Syracuse University MS in Library Science. Long-time UNICEF volunteer. Former director of UNICEF sales of the Upper Mohawk Valley Chapter of the U.N. Association of the U.S. She believes war is no longer a viable method of settling disputes among nations. Banas has done peace accompaniment work in Haiti and Guatemala.
Michael Birmingham, 30, from Dublin, Ireland. Co-coordinates an anti-sanctions campaign in Ireland, Birmingham has worked closely with the Iraq Peace Team. A human rights advocate, he has helped coordinate housing for the homeless in Dublin.
Cathy Breen, 54, from New York City. Lives and works in a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality. Has lived in Germany and more recently Bolivia where her work focused largely on documenting and publicizing the negative effects of the U.S. "War on Drugs." Studied Geriatric nursing in Germany and later got her RN in the U.S.
Shane Allen Claiborne, 27, a community organizer and educator from Philadelphia, serves on the Board of Directors of the Christian Community Development Association, an organization of grassroots activists committed to justice and reconciliation.
Martin Edwards, 59, a peace and environmental activist, grandfather, active in the Santa Rosa, CA Quaker community, and working to promote the Global Non-violent Peace Force (www.NonViolentPeaceForce.org).
Peggy Gish, 60, from Athens, Ohio. Organic farmer, community mediator and peacemaker, she has worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams in the West Bank and in Nicaragua with Witness for Peace. Former social worker, she is also a trainer for conflict resolution in schools. Mother of 3 and grandmother of 3, she is a member of New Covenant Fellowship Christian community.
Sang Jin Han, 38, Seoul, South Korea. Coordinates the Asia Peace Alliance and efforts to ban landmines in South Korea.
Zehira Houfani, 50, an Algerian writer and peace activist from Montreal, Canada, recently published her fourth book, Letter from a Muslim Woman to the Women of North America. She is a wife, mother of three, and grandmother of three.
Wade Hudson, 58, comes with a long experience of working as a mental health counsellor, community organizer, anti-poverty worker and peace activist. He is currently writing a book, while working as a part-time cab driver in San Francisco.
April Marie Hurley, MD, 47, a family physician from Santa Rosa, California, specializes in urgent medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and has experience in rural emergency work, women's prisons, and migrant farm worker clinics.
Douglas Johnson, 43, from Louisville, Kentucky. Has worked with anti-war efforts in Louisville, Kentucky. A U.S. Postal Service worker for 13 years, Johnson is active with the Louisville Committee to Stop the War Against Iraq.
Scott Kerr, 27, from Downers Grove, Illinois. For the past three years he has served full-time with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Chiapas, Mexico and in Columbia.
Kathleen Kelly, 50, from Chicago, Illinois. Co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness in 1996, she has visited Iraq many times beginning in 1990 with the gulf Peace Camp.
Edward Fuller Kinane, 58, from Syracuse, N.Y. A former high school teacher in Kenya and college anthropology teacher in the U.S., Kinane is an editor and long-time human rights activist. He has worked with Peace Brigades International in Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador and Sri Lanka and is a persistent critic of the U.S, Army's School of the Americas.
Cliff Kindy, 53, from North Manchester, Indiana. An organic market gardener who works full-time with Christian Peacemaker Teams. As part of CPT he has worked in the Palestinian occupied territories, Mexico, Columbia, Vieques and in projects with First Nation groups in Canada and the U.S.
Ramzi Kysia, Washington, DC. Arab-American activist and writer. Has spent six months in Iraq with VITW [Voices in the Wilderness] over the past two years.
Charlie Liteky, 72 from San Francisco, California. Served as a Chaplain in the U.S. military in Vietnam, receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor. He returned his medal after a public fast at the White House in protest of U.S. military policies. A longtime member of Veterans for Peace, Liteky is now involved in organizing against U.S. policy in the Middle East. He has been active in the movement to close the U.S. Army's School of the Americas (now called WHISC-Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.)
Lisa Martens, 25 from Winnipeg, Canada. She has worked on issues of water and justice in Canada and has served with CPT in Chiapas, Mexico, Columbia and in First Nation communities in the U.S. and Canada.
Lisa Ndejuru, 32 from Montreal, Canada. Born in Butare, Rwanda, her parents were able to leave the country when she was an infant. Ndejuru grew up in Cologne, Germany. In 1982 she and her family immigrated to Quebec, Canada.. Lisa has traveled to her country of origin twice, once before and once after the war and genocide that was perpetrated there in 1994. Today she is preparing for a master's degree in religious studies at Universite de Quebec a Montreal. She is an active member of the Quebec section of Voices for Women for Peace and a member of the steering committee for the Quebec section of the Canadian Peace Alliance.
Bettejo Marie Passalaqua, 42, Omak, Washington. She has worked for peace and justice for the past eight years. Passalaqua has been working with Native Americans since 1997. For the last six years she has been mentor to Jesuit Volunteers who work for peace and justice with the local Native American community.
Betty Scholten, 69, from Mt. Rainer, Maryland. Has traveled to El Salvador and Chiapas, Mexico and has participated in CPT's November 2002 delegation to the Middle East. She has engaged in nonviolent actions at the School of the Americas and in Washington, DC. During the past year she volunteered through the Church of the Savior discipleship program, working at a hospice for homeless men in Washington, DC. She is currently training as a CPT reservist.
Robert Turcotte, 53, trained in non-violence and peacekeeping, comes with twenty-five years' experience of peace activism, including accompanying Guatemalan refugees upon their return in 1993. He returned to Guatemala for the exhumation of mass graves and for two separate war crimes trials.
Stewart R. Vriesinga, 46, from from Ontario, Canada. A full-time peacemaker, he has traveled in Latin America and Europe living among the First Nations People in Canada. Vriesinga served in El Salvador as part of Peace Brigades International and has been involved with One World Global Education.
Neville Watson, 73, from Australia. An ordained Methodist minister, barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Western Australia. He traveled to Iraq with Kathy Kelly in October of 2002 and then returned to Australia in December to engage in further outreach and education before rejoining the Iraq Peace Team. Neville is an extremely respected advocate for peace whose presence in Iraq will be extremely valuable for outreach, education and guidance.
Jerome Zawada, 65, from Cedar Lake, Indiana. A Franciscan and priest who has worked closely with Kathy Kelly and others in Chicago since 1983, Zawada has helped to offer hospitality for homeless people and to meet concerns of new Central American refugees. He has also worked to resist non-violently US weapon development and develop outreach and education regarding economic sanctions and US warfare against Iraq.
Day Seven (March 20)
A bit before 2 AM, Jeremy Scahill, from Democracy Now, unable to get through to the El Fanar, calls the Andalus. The operator rings Room 202, where Robert, Martin, Shane, and I are housed in a two-bedroom suite. I wake up first and answer the phone. Jeremy asks me to summon Charlie Liteky, who moved to the Andalus yesterday. While Charlie is dressing, I ask Jeremy for a news update. He tells me that he just arrived in New York and has been watching CNN at the airport. The bombers are said to have left the United States a few hours ago. CNN suggests that the bombs will start falling shortly after 4 AM Baghdad time, which is the deadline that Bush set for Saddam Hussein to leave the country.
Charlie quickly loses the phone connection and I pass on the news. We decide to wake up all of our people in the Andalus so that each person can decide whether to go to the basement. Robert goes back to sleep. As suggested by Charlie and Martin, Shane and I prop open the doors at the front, middle, and back of our suite to lessen percussion damage from nearby bomb explosions. We agree that at least one person in each suite should stay awake at all times, on three-hour watches. Charlie recommends that everyone have at hand their flashlight, candles, and matches in case the electricity goes out suddenly. Shane says that he has heard that one should not keep batteries in the flashlight until one needs to use them because the "e-bomb" could damage them. Shane goes to the El Fanar to make sure that the folks there are alert. Both Kathys, in adjacent rooms, are awake and reconfirm the report as I heard it from Jeremy.
I start typing this journal. The hotel buzzes with conversations that are carried through the large light well that rises from the floor to the roof. All of us seem calm, feeling reasonably well prepared for the coming onslaught.
I'm still inclined to wait it out based in my room, rather than going to the basement, primarily because I do not believe that our hotel will be a target, though it may be hit by accident. And it seems that the uniformed personnel in front of the building next door were police protecting us, not Army protecting a military site. Another factor is that I'll be able to have a better sense for what is happening outside if I'm not in the basement. And my primary mission here is to observe, listen, and report back on what I learn.
I ask Shane if he will stay awake and I take a nap. I dream that I'm on the back row of a theater watching a movie. A man and woman climb the stairs and sit down in the seats next to me. They lean toward me. I don't know if they are friend or foe. The woman places her hand on my back. Suddenly I realize she's a friend and is waking me up. I wake up.
I ask Shane what time it is. He says, 4:30. I say, they're late. He says, Maybe they changed their mind. I say, Maybe there's been a coup and Howard Dean is President.
The phone at the front desk rings rather frequently. Voices in soft conversation waft up the light well. Out the back door, I hear the morning prayers being broadcast on a speaker. I prepare to turn off my computer and unplug the power supply, hoping to protect it from the e-bomb, not having a metal case to place it in, as recommended.
I go downstairs and notice several men sleeping in the lobby. A large camera lies next to one of them. I see that the final section of iron grate that will protect the hotel and its inhabitants from vandals has not yet been locked into place, so I step outside. The night air is filled with a chill. I see Charlie standing at the corner talking with two men and go join the conversation. The other two men are Iraqi. One wears a uniform and carries a pistol. The other wears civilian clothes and speaks English fluently.
Charlie tells him, I've been here two weeks and I've been incredibly impressed with the spirit of the Iraqi people. He responds, You have great courage. This is our country. But you don't have to be here. Charlie says, "I want to be with the Iraqi people at this time. I just spoke with NBC and I told them that I am ashamed."
The civilian tells me that he is here at this street corner because his neighbor is the owner of the El Fanar and most of his neighbors at home have left so he did not want to be alone, so he brought his nine-year-old daughter here. She feels that she is on a vacation. He also wants to help give courage to the soldier who is stationed at this corner. Charlie tells him about the report from Jeremy, and he says that bombers leave from the U.S. all the time. The key thing is when they leave from Great Britain and they have not left from there yet. As I head back to the Andalus, I say hi to some IPT people on the balcony of the El Fanar. Ramzi says that if the bombs don't start falling by sunrise, it probably won't begin until nightfall. I go back to my room, hear dogs barking and cocks crowing, and hope that I'll be able to send this message out via email this morning.
5:33 AM air raid sirens go off for thirty seconds. Then what seems to be the sounds of some anti-aircraft fire and many bombs exploding in the distance. Robert talks with a French reporter on the phone. The bombing gets closer and is a steady, frequent barrage.
Martin enters and reports that he could see the planes fly overhead. He's puzzled by the fact that they planes flew over with their lights on. Over the course of the next hour, briefer waves of planes pass over every fifteen minutes or so. From 6:45AM until now, 8:15 AM, there's no bombing, though air raid sirens go off twice.
After breakfast, I go to the Internet Service Center at the Palestine Hotel, but it fails to open at 10 AM as advertized. I anticipate that it will not open again until the military conflict is resolved, but I sit down and wait, just in case. While I'm waiting, several people drop by, trying to get in. One of them, an Iraqi man about 35-years-old who is sharply dressed, engages me in conversation. He tells me that he works for the Washington Post and when I tell him that I'm with the Iraq Peace Team, he comments, "There will be no change in the government here, believe me." Later, I learn that he is a government minder who escorted a Post reporter around town, before the reporter left town two days ago. He gives me his name and number and tells me to call him if I need anything.
I head back home, reflecting on how I'm reassured by the fact that at least several journalists have moved into the Andalus. None of them are American, of course. I have yet to see an American journalist. The only sign an American is one car marked "CNN" in front of the Palestine Hotel, whose parking area is filled with cars of media from around the world.
I touch base with folks at the El Fanar and learn that two men in military uniforms have forcefully taken away the manager of my hotel in handcuffs. No one is sure why, but some suspect that it's because journalists were on the roof filming and shooting photographs when the U.S. planes flew over. One military man remains in the lobby.
I connect with some of my people in the lobby, learn that the peace camp still has not obtained permission for a tent at the hospital complex, and go to my room to rest, when April and Zehira come tell me that the Internet Center is open. I rush over, get a terminal right away, and send and receive email for my affinity group and myself. I'm a bit embarrassed to see what the Santa Cruz Sentinel had to say about me in a recent story. The story begins, "You might think antiwar demonstrators have been relentless, but activists say you've seen nothing yet. Expect area peace activists to go into overdrive, taking "emergency action" if the United States attacks Iraq." Then, after detailing some of the expected demonstrations, the article continues, "But it would be hard for any local activist to trump the efforts of Boulder Creek resident Wade Hudson, who is protesting an attack on Iraq in Baghdad. Hudson arrived Thursday as part of a "peace team" and is releasing regular journal entries that can be read at www.inlet.org/wade. The group, a project of the organization "Voices in the Wilderness," does not consider itself a 'human shield' though it does intend to stay in the city even if an attack occurs, a spokesman for the group said."
I also surf the Web a bit, and am pleased to see that the Chicago office has decided to highlight one of my recent journal entries on the homepage of their website. I also learn that last night's bombing was only a taste of what is to come, since it was a limited attempt to kill Hussein based on another not-so-reliable report from the U.S. intelligence community. I see that Turkey, the most democratic country in a region in which the U.S. claims to want to spread democracy while trying to undermine Turkey's fledgling democracy, is continuing to refuse U.S. planes to fly through its air space. And I notice that Bush is warning the American people that the war may not be quick and easy. I take these statements to be an attempt to cover his ass in case the campaign proves to be rocky.
I return to the El Fanar, no longer having to worry about wild Iraqi drivers for there is very little traffic, and speak a bit with Michael Birmingham, who tells me that he just had a conversation with Robert Fisk, who voiced a similar analysis to mine concerning Bush's warning that the campaign may be difficult. Then I sit down to drink a soda while hanging out with some folks eating lunch. Ramzi comments that he's trying to find a minder to escort him to his destination, so I give him the phone number of the man I just met at the Internet Center.
I ask if anyone remembers the exact wording of a statement about the sanctions that Kathy K. made during our meeting yesterday. Jooneed, the journalist from Montreal who introduced me to hookah smoking the other night, pulls out his notes and tells us that the quote is in a story that he has already filed. It reads, "In 1991, we told the Iraqis we have to starve you so we don't have to bomb you. But now, twelve and a half years later, we're saying we have to bomb you so we don't have to starve you."
The folks at lunch tell me that the campers at the hospital complex have obtained permission for a tent, but shortly thereafter, back home, Robert tells me that only four patients remain in the hospital and that the staff say that they have no plan to treat patients during the war because the rooms have such large glass windows, flying shreds of glass would be too risky. So one reason for the peace camp, to connect with patients at the hospital, seems in jeopardy.
I see the manager of our hotel at the front desk and welcome him back. He says he's fine and that the problem was two Turkish journalists on the top floor who placed a satellite dish out the window.
I take a long nap, since I don't expect to get a full night's sleep tonight if the "Shock and Awe" assault begins. I shower, find time to do my stretching, and start writing this entry, while the phone rings off the hook with several calls from Canada for Robert. It seems that the demonstrators at the March 15th rally in Montreal held a minute of silence for Robert during their rally, which has increased media interest in his presence in Baghdad.
As I finish this entry at 6 PM Baghdad time, I hope to send it out and find out how the anti-war demonstrations in Europe are going before darkness heightens the risk of bombing. I listen to Robert talk with a reporter in French, and marvel at the beauty of the French language. When he gets off the phone, he tells me that the interviewer told him that they are getting many phone calls from the population inquiring about how he's doing. He also comments about how they always ask him if he is afraid. I ask him how he answers that question, and he says, "I always tell them the same thing. I tell them that I will give them the same answer that the Iraqi people give me. When I ask them if they are afraid, they say, Look around. Do you see anyone who is afraid? And the answer is No. The Iraqi people do not transmit fear to me, so I am not afraid."
Day Eight (March 21)
Late morning, four of us go visit the Peace Camp at the hospital and water treatment complex. We learn that seven people spent last night in two tents and one building. Those seven people were Cliff, Shane, Martin, Betty, Eun, Peggy, and Charlie. The Iraq Peace Team banner and several large photos of Iraqis are strung on a rope between the two tents.
Earlier in the day, the campers met with staff at the pediatrics hospital. The staff told them that the hospital was mostly empty because families were afraid concerning the glass windows, not because the staff had discharged the patients. They will treat any children that are brought in at any time, including children injured during the war.
The campers report that lots of neighbors visited them yesterday. Moreover, they now have official permission to move about the complex. These developments please them immensely, for their hope from the beginning was to deepen ties with folks in the neighborhood.
They plan to take three walks a day to various locations in the area, at 10:30 AM, 1:30 PM and 4:30 PM. IPT members are welcome to join them on their walks. Also, IPT people can call them on the phone at the water treatment plant, which will help reduce what otherwise could be substantial isolation from the rest of IPT.
They ask me to relay to the others that a good time for the press to visit is 12 Noon. As we are about to leave, an Iraq Daily news crew -- including a reporter, a photographer, and a military escort -- come to do a story. Following the interviews, the crew said that they would inquire and assist concerning getting permission to treat injured civilians and to document war crimes by talking with victims and family members at hospitals. The crew indicated that they knew that we aren't Human Shields.
After lunch, I spend an hour at the Internet Center and then run into Jo, a human rights law student who wants to work with our Monitoring Team. We connect with Zehira, go over our forms and procedures, and agree that Jo will proceed with trying to get an Arabic translation of our basic questionnaire.
Following an early dinner, I take a two-hour nap. I want to get as much sleep as I can when I can, in case the bombing resumes tonight. Sure enough shortly after 8:00 PM, the explosions begin and continue off and on rather frequently for two hours or so. Tonight is much more intense than last night. On occasion, I hear what sounds like jets flying over head, though for all I know they could be missiles. Over the course of these two hours, in addition to the audio, we feel the physical effects of maybe forty or fifty powerful explosions that either rock the building or send blasts of air through the building. It's similar to being in one major San Francisco earthquake after another, except that we know that for many people elsewhere in Baghdad, it is worse than that. We keep all our doors open to minimize the percussive effects of the explosions. From the fourth floor, we can see three fires burning in a row across the Tigris River, each maybe a few hundred yards one from the other.
After the bombing subsides, Robert and I explore a bit. We notice that several tiles have fallen off one wall next to the elevator, go downstairs, walk out front, and look around. One of the hotel staff joins me and angrily comments, "Why is the United States doing this?" I can only respond, "I don't know," which is the truth. There are many factors involved, all of which have been extensively discussed. But I don't know what the decisive factor was in the mind of George Bush. His religiosity. His delusions of grandeur. His desire to get re-elected. His desire to get Republicans elected. Old-fashioned imperialism. Who knows how to rate these and other factors? I certainly cannot read Bush's mind. I don't even know if he can.
I ask the hotel staff on duty if I can take their photograph and they respond quickly, with enthusiasm. After I take the photograph, most of them thank me profusely, repeatedly. I then engage in conversation with the director of a Turkish film crew who is sitting in the lobby and then around 10 PM, I touch base by walkie-talkie with Doug at the El Fanar. For some reason, the Aldar does not join in. Doug says that one window in front of the El Fanar has been blown out, but spirits are strong.
I go to bed around 10:30 pm and sleep well, except for when I'm awakened by phone calls from media looking for interviews. Robert continues to get many calls from Montreal, and I get calls from Vienna, the NBC affiliate in San Jose, Ontario, Toronto, and the San Jose Mercury News. One of the journalists offers to call Steven Shults, my contact person, and another offers to call my sister, Mary Hudson, to tell them that I'm ok. The reporter from the Mercury News tells me that a good number of their readers have been in touch with them inquiring about my safety, which I find comforting. Fortunately, following each call, I'm able to go back to sleep rather quickly, partly because I closed the door to my bedroom when Robert was on the phone. I sleep until 9:30 AM or so, and feel rested, as if I got my eight hours, even with all the interruptions.
Day Nine (March 22)
During breakfast, Shane drops in. He says that all is going very well at the Peace Camp. The workers at the plant seem extremely happy about our presence there and everyone sang songs together all night. The IPT people plan to stay.
After breakfast, I bump into Stewart, who's interested in trying to get permission to visit some of the bombing sites. We kick the idea around, get a copy of the letter to Mr. Wadaa signed by Kathy Kelly, and then notice that Moussa and Mohammed are sitting in the El Fanar lobby. We discuss matters with them and get in Mohammed's car, believing that we are on the way to the Media Center to seek permission, when we discover that they are taking us directly to some bombing sites. When we return, Stewart goes to a previously arranged meeting, and I type up our report, based on my notes that I discussed with Stewart before he left. I then bump into Ramzi, who gives me several email addresses for people to whom he recommends that I send my report, including Woody Harrelson, who apparently is on top of this case vigorously.
I end up having two other people review my report, and then go to the Internet Center to send it out. The scene at that center is more chaotic and more tense. It turns out that Americans are not the only turistas who can be Ugly. First a male French journalist and then a female Human Shield rudely demand that the only, overworked staff person behind the desk modify his procedures according to their preference. I intervene to tell both of them that they should back off and be more polite to this staff person who's being so kind and patient. The French journalist gets in a huff and tells me that he doesn't need anyone to tell him how to be polite. And the Human Shield pauses for several seconds, thinks about what I said, and proceeds to push her argument. The staff person ignores their recommendations. Peter Arnett, previously and perhaps still with CNN, comes in, surveys the scene, determines how long he would need to wait, and starts to leave, all the while being perfectly polite. I stop him, tell him that I'm next in line, and offer to give him some of my time. He thanks me graciously but says he only wants to surf the Web some, and leaves...
While I'm waiting, Peter Arnett returns to the center. He answers some questions posed by others and myself, and relates that he's heard that there 's been 250 civilian casualties, with seven dead. As he speaks, we hear bombs exploding, the first daytime bombing. He says all four quatrants of the city have been hit. He estimates that since the U.S. troops must cross the Euphrates River, it will probably be at least a few days before they get to Baghdad. As they approach, he anticipates, the bombing will closer in, more concentrated, and more intense. He also expects extensive urban warfare. "You haven't seen anything yet," he says.
Arnett believes that they have not taken out the electricity because they want to keep the civilian infrastructure as intact as possible to expedite a smooth transition to U.S. military rule. He doesn't believe that they will do so later intentionally, either, though street-to-street fighting could result in damage to the transmission of electricity. He asks me about what news I've heard from the States and I give him a summary of what I know about the anti-war movement. He comments that it won't cause Bush to withdraw, and I comment on the possibility of a global general strike that could. He asks me when it is set for, and I say hopefully it is building. He suggests that it might be too late even if it happens.
I return to the El Fanar for a late lunch or early dinner, report on my email, and ask if future such reports should totally exclude any such second hand information. At first there is some disagreement, but all of us soon agree with Kathy K.'s belief that we should present only information that we can confirm.
After dinner, I take a long nap. Upon waking, I visit some with folks, work on this journal, and rest some off and on. A few bombs have exploded in the distance. But all in all, the night is very quiet, in an eerie, surreal way. The barrage of media calls has also let up. I still have work to do. In particular, I need to solve a software problem so that I can send more photos tomorrow. My inclination, however, is to kick back, light a candle, and listen to my custom mix of Bob Dylan songs that deal with spiritual themes, beginning with "Every Grain of Sand" and "Death is Not the End."
I start to do so, and a large bomb that hits nearby knocks out our electricity. Within a few minutes, the hotel's backup generator has restored electricity.
At 2:00 AM, I conduct a five-minute live interview with a Clear Channel network of 150 stations. Shortly after the interview begins, a large bomb hits and I inject into my answer, "You may hear that large explosion in the background. It is rocking this building more violently than any others have so far" and pick up on my answer where I left off. The Clear Channel producer and interviewer are friendly until I start to squeeze some politics into my answers. When I say that this war will make America less secure, not more secure, because it will produce 10,000 times more terrorists who we cannot stop because they can attack us with box cutters, the interviewer becomes angry and confrontational. But I hold my ground and continue to get across much of the message that I had intended.
After the interview, it takes me about five minutes to chill out and go back to sleep.
Day Twelve (March 25)
The teams that make site visits report that there are many more soldiers and armed civilians standing at intersections throughout the city. Surprisingly, the Internet Center opens again in the afternoon, so I send some email and photos for posting on my website and read some news. From the reports that I read, I notice that not many Iraqi soldiers are surrendering and that the American forces met fairly strong resistance at the Euphrates River. So it seems that the military's greatest fear, heated urban warfare, may be on the horizon. The Battle of Baghdad may be no cakewalk after all.
The evening is strangely silent, with virtually no explosions within hearing range of my hotel. "That's not good news," Robert comments. It feels like the quiet before the storm. I haven't seen enough news to know for sure, but I suspect that "Shock and Awe" has not been unleashed yet. Regardless, as Peter Arnett said, "You haven't seen anything yet."
I reflect on an email from a friend that I only recently had a chance to read. He passed on an article about charges concerning horrible human rights abuses committed by the Iraqi government. The article suggested that the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam to overthrow of the genocidal Pol Pot regime indicates that military aggression can improve the lot of victimized people, and that the American invasion of Iraq is similar.
My quick, brief response to that line of argument, first of all, is that the best way for the United States to oppose brutality is to stop supporting brutality. The list of brutal regimes that have received and/or continue to receive major financial, military, and political support from the United States is as long as my arm, and I'm six foot two.
Secondly, the highly selective, hypocritical selection process by which Iraq has been targeted leads me to believe that the brutality of the current regime is not a primary reason for this invasion. Consequently, I have no faith in the post-invasion resolve of the United States to foster justice and democracy in Iraq following occupation. Since the real reasons for this invasion are not humanitarian, I can't trust Bush and company to be seriously concerned about humanitarian issues during any occupation.
Thirdly, the recent record of the United States, such as in Haiti and Afghanistan, suggests that it cannot be counted on to honor its rhetoric once its immediate political and military objectives have been met.
Fourth, there is the practical matter of what price must be paid to achieve U.S. objectives in Iraq. Even if all the charges against Iraq were true, and even if all the motives of the U.S. were noble, one must question whether this invasion is the best way to try to achieve any such noble goals. The best way to grow democracy is from the bottom up. The recent process of liberalization in Iran (until Bush short-circuited those gains with his violent rhetoric) is one example. Top-down militarism is seldom an effective way to promote democracy. If post-war Germany and Japan are an exception to that rule, they differed from Iraq in key respects. Unlike Germany, Iraq has no history of democracy. Unlike Japan, Iraq has no history of a cohesive culture. Imposing democracy on Iraq would be a monumental task, even if there were a genuine commitment to do so, and I see no evidence of any such commitment.
The United States should instead set a better example that could inspire other people more deeply by getting its own house in order. The U.S. should stop committing war crimes itself, establish a foreign policy based on mutual respect and cooperation, provide more support to nonviolent, international mechanisms for conflict resolution, and encourage cultural exchanges and the free flow of information. Nurturing democracy is a delicate process. The violence of war tends to stamp out the seeds of democracy.
Anyone who supports this sad, tragic, devastating, counter-productive military adventure because they believe that it is an effective way to promote human rights should take off their rose-colored glasses. The Emperor is naked. The only thing that this madness can accomplish is that it may help George Bush get himself re-elected.
In the early afternoon, while three of us wait for a prearranged phone call with NPR's Marketplace program (which never arrives), Dennis Bernstein, producer of KPFA's Flashpoints program, calls for an interview. The connection is poor, but we proceed with the interview for several minutes before we lose the connection. My colleagues tell me that they think I handled the interview well. If Dennis was able to use the recording, it may be posted on his website at flashpoints.net.
Shortly after 3:00 PM Baghdad Time, Channel Five in Washington, DC calls me for a 2-3 minute live interview. They ask me what is happening. I tell them that our hotel was rocked with an explosion just a few minutes ago and that the sky is filled with a strange, orange glow that appears to be a combination of a dust storm and the burning oil that the Iraqis are burning to interfere with the bombing. They ask me to comment on the military's report that their bombing is precise and I describe the bomb crater that I saw and the entire blocks of residential buildings that other members of our team have seen with all of their windows and frames blown out ñ none of which was anywhere near a military site or a governmental building. I comment that many of these bombs are either not so smart or they are sent to locations that are non-military, causing widespread death and injuries, as expected beforehand. The anchor says that some Americans believe that we are aiding and abetting the enemy and maybe even committing treason in a campaign to oust a brutal dictator. I respond that this war is no way to make America safer. It will make America less safe. And trying to impose democracy by force against people's will in violation of international law makes no sense. This war is sad, tragic, and counter-productive. The only thing that it might accomplish is help George Bush get re-elected.
At the conclusion of the interview, I wait on the line, in case the producer comes on to say goodbye and thank me. After about 30 seconds, I hang up. Shane, my roommate, tells me that he thinks I did a good job and that my 30-second silence led him to believe that they hung up on me after my comment about Bush.
Since we've established a new method for sending email, from now on, my entries will probably conclude in the late afternoon, and include reports from the previous evening.
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