On Monday we will celebrate Memorial Day, the one day of the year when President Bush actually has to acknowledge our otherwise officially-invisible war dead.
We memorialize the names and faces of our dead to remind us that every one of them was an individual just like us, who valued his or her life no less than we do, and whose death is a tragedy for those left behind no less than ours would be for our loved ones. Recognizing our shared humanity brings home to us the size of the tragedy in every single life lost, and – ideally – teaches us that in a real “culture of life” the decision to go to war is never taken lightly. As Israeli Knesset Member Yossi Sarid put it, on contemplating the deaths of Palestinians and Israelis alike in the current intifada:
We are still trying to count, and to remember them as individuals, but with so many dead, it’s hard to keep track. But we’re making an effort, because to lose count is to lose one’s humanity.
— Yossi Sarid MK, We Cannot Let Death Have Dominion
It is precisely because Memorial Day brings home to us the uniqueness and value of every life that one group of war dead will be conspicuous by their absence from all our commemorations: and that is the many thousands of Iraqis we have killed since March 2003. Because who really wants to be reminded that at least 20,000 and perhaps as many as 100,000 Iraqis – people just like us – are dead today because of a war we should never have started?
Their names will never be engraved on the Mall, and their faces will never warrant a spread in the Washington Post, but I will commemorate here 100 or so of those Iraqis who, thanks to us, made the “ultimate sacrifice” whether they wished it or not.
1. ZAIDOUN FADEL HASSOUN, 19
Zaidoun Hassoun, a twelfth-grader about to graduate high school, drowned after being thrown into the River Tigris by a U.S. Army patrol in Samarra, in January 2004.
FORT HOOD, Texas — An Iraqi civilian testified yesterday that he and his cousin were forced at gunpoint into the murky Tigris River and that US soldiers laughed while the two struggled against the current. Marwan Fadel Hassoun said he struggled to shore and tried to save his 19-year-old cousin by grabbing his hand, but the powerful waters swept Zaidoun Fadel Hassoun to his death. ”He was calling my name, said ‘Help me! Help me!’ ” Marwan Hassoun testified through an interpreter on the second day of the military trial for Army Sergeant First Class Tracy Perkins, 33. (Source)
Sergeant Perkins explained at his court martial that he had ordered the men thrown into the river because “I didn’t want them to think we were soft or weak.” He was sentenced to 6 months in prison.
Manslaughter charges against Army 1st Lt. Jack Saville, who authorized Sergeant Perkins’ order to throw the Hassoun cousins into the Tigris, were dropped in a plea bargain. He was sentenced instead to 45 days imprisonment for having a third Iraqi thrown into the Tigris, this time at Balad, in December 2003. Saville had reportedly made a bet with another platoon about who would do such a thing first. He assured his court martial that he had learned from his mistakes, and been “forgiven by God”.
2. FIFTEEN MEMBERS OF THE AL-KHAFAJI FAMILY
The al-Khafaji family was fleeing the fighting in Haidariya on 31 March 2003, when their pickup truck was destroyed by a missile from an Apache helicopter. Razek Al-Kazem Al-Khafaji lost his six children, his wife, his mother, his father, three brothers and three sisters-in-law.
Photo: Razek Al-Kazem Al-Khafaji grieves for three of his children. (By Karim Sahib for AFP; via The Jordan Times, 2 Apr 03)
3. HUSSEIN and KAMILA HASSAN, ages not known
Hussein Hassan, his wife Kamila, and six of their nine children were riding in their car when it came under fire from a U.S. Army patrol in Tal Afar on 18 January 2005. Hussein and Kamila were killed instantly. Their 12-year old son, Rakan, was hit in the stomach by a bullet that exited through his spine, damaging vertebrae and leaving him unable to walk.
Photo: An Iraqi girl screams after her parents were killed when American soldiers fired on their car when it failed to stop; Tal Afar, Iraq, 18 January 2005. (By Chris Hondros/Getty Images).
4. ABOUT 20 CIVILIANS IN AN APARTMENT BUILDING ON ABU TALEB STREET, BAGHDAD
At least 14, and probably more than 20, people were killed on 26 March 2003, when two missiles from a U.S. aircraft hit an apartment building and a row of shops on Abu Taleb Street in the poor Baghdad neighborhood of al-Shaab.
The dead included:
Ta’ar (last name unknown), 26, and Sermed Draoudi, 21
The [apartment] building’s manager, Hishem Danoon, ran to the doorway as soon as he heard the massive explosion. “I found Ta’ar in pieces over there,” he told me. His head was blown off. “That’s his hand.” A group of young men and a woman took me into the street and there, a scene from any horror film, was Ta’ar’s hand, cut off at the wrist, his four fingers and thumb grasping a piece of iron roofing. His young colleague, Sermed, died the same instant. His brains lay piled a few feet away, a pale red and gray mess behind a burnt car. (Source)
Malek Hammoud, 18, and Abu Hassan, 48
Abu Hassan and Malek Hammoud were preparing lunch for customers at the Nasser Restaurant on the north side of Abu Taleb Street. The missile that killed them landed next to the westbound carriageway, its blast tearing away the front of the cafe and cutting the two men – the first 48, the second only 18 – to pieces. One of their fellow workers led me through the rubble. “This is all that is left of them now,” he said, holding out before me an oven pan dripping with blood.
5. ASSAD ABDUL HUSSEIN, 20
Assad Hussein was an infantryman in the Iraqi Army. He was a Shia Muslim, whose family lived in a corrugated iron shack in the sprawling Baghdad slum of Sadr City. He was shy and quiet, and enjoyed reading and playing soccer.
Assad was conscripted into the Iraqi Army when he turned 18. As the U.S. invasion approached, he could not afford to pay the bribes that would have kept him out of the frontline. He was killed by a U.S. cluster bomb while serving in Kirkuk.
Photo: Shoes on the body of an Iraqi soldier killed as Army troops advanced north through Iraq tell a story about a poorly equipped army. Almost all of the Iraqi dead — more than eight in one location — were wearing worn-out civilian-style shoes. (By David Leeson for the Dallas Morning News)
6. MANADEL AL-JAMADI, age not known
SAN DIEGO – An Iraqi whose corpse was photographed with grinning U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib died under CIA interrogation while suspended by his wrists, which had been handcuffed behind his back, according to investigative reports reviewed by The Associated Press… One Army guard, Sgt. Jeffery Frost, said the prisoner’s arms were stretched behind him in a way he had never before seen. Frost told investigators he was surprised al-Jamadi’s arms “didn’t pop out of their sockets,” according to a summary of his interview. Frost and other guards had been summoned to reposition al-Jamadi, who an interrogator said was not cooperating. As the guards released the shackles and lowered al-Jamadi, blood gushed from his mouth “as if a faucet had been turned on,” according to the interview summary.
The military pathologist who ruled the case a homicide found several broken ribs and concluded al-Jamadi died from pressure to the chest and difficulty breathing. (Source)
7. THE MOTHER, FATHER, BROTHER AND SISTER OF ZAHRAA ALI, 4.
Photo: Zahraa Ali, 4, lies in the burn unit at Al Karrch hospital in central Baghdad. She and a three-month-old sister are the only members of her family who survived an aerial bombing which struck the family as they were driving. Her mother, father, 24-year-old brother and nine-year-old sister all died. The nine-year-old died at the hospital. Before she died she told doctors, “We were driving peacefully and then all I remember is fire.” (By David Leeson for the Dallas Morning News)
8. TEN MEMBERS OF THE SUBHI FAMILY
Ali Kadhim Subhi’s home was destroyed in a U.S. bombing raid on Nasiriyah on 23 March 2003. Ten members of his immediate family were killed, and fifteen others injured.
… Weeks later, he said he has not forgotten a moment that surrounded their deaths. It started with a man-made storm, he said, wind blowing across his neighborhood. Explosions thundered outside, and he turned to his mother, huddled with relatives in two rooms.
“Are you afraid of the bombing?” he joked.
Seconds later, his house was destroyed, cars in the garage hurled into its walls and debris flung for 300 yards. Cast into blackness, the smoke and debris so thick he could barely breathe, he crawled, managing to get out of the rubble. His father, mother, wife, son, two daughters, two sisters, brother and 5-year-old niece were still inside, all of them dead. His three other children were still in the hospital today, his 18-year-old daughter, Bidour, burned so badly, he said, that doctors might have to amputate her right leg. (Source)
9. MOHAMMED SALEEM, 18 months
Mohammed Saleem and four family members were killed in Baghdad when U.S. forces opened fire on their car, on the night of 5-6 June 2004.
Photo: Mohammed Saleem, 18 months, lies in a coffin at a Sadr City morgue. (Photo by Karim Kadim for AP).
10. ABOUT 60 SHOPPERS AT A BAGHDAD MARKET
As many as 64 civilians were killed on 29 March 2003, when a missile struck the crowded outdoor market in the poor Shi’a neighbourhood of Shuala, in northwest Baghdad. They included the three sons of Sumaya Abed: Ali Hamdani (20), Hussein Hamdani (18), and Mohamed Hamdani (9). Their mother said: “My three boys are dead. What is left for me to live for? My whole life has been destroyed. I nursed them all my life and they’re gone now.”
The U.S. and British governments suggested that the market had been struck by a malfunctioning Iraqi anti-aircraft missile. However, eyewitnesses reported seeing a plane circle above the market, and fire a rocket at it. Additionally, the serial number on missile wreckage recovered at the bomb site indicated that the missile that hit the market was either a HARM anti-radar missile or a Paveway laser-guided bomb, built by the Raytheon Corporation for the U.S. Navy. A U.S. Navy spokesman confirmed that one EA-6B (Prowler) jet, based on the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk, was in action over the Iraqi capital on 29 March, and had fired at least one HARM missile, although the crew had not seen where their missile had landed.
Photo: The father of a 10-year-old girl killed in the outdoor market explosion weeps over her body. By Kael Alford, for the SF Chronicle.
11. TEN MEMBERS OF THE HAMOODI FAMILY
A dozen members of the Hamoodi family used a storeroom behind their grandparents’ house in Basra as an air raid shelter during the British invasion of southern Iraq, thinking that its thick double walls would protect them. But the storeroom was buried under rubble at 5:30am on 5 April 2003, when the grandparents’ house was struck by two missiles and collapsed onto it. Abid Hamoodi managed to pull out his daughter, Dina, and two of his grandchildren, but was unable to rescue another ten members of his family, who probably suffocated. They were:
– Kariah Hamoodi, 70
Abid’s wife. Her life centred on her 10 children and many grandchildren. She loved to travel abroad, especially to the U.K (where three expatriate sons lived), but couldn’t stand Tony Blair.
– Wissam Hamoodi, 41
Abid’s son. A computer technician, engaged to be married to Maiada.
– Ihab Hamoodi, 32
Wissam’s younger sister. A consultant gynaecologist at Basra teaching hospital.
– Noor Al-Huda Saad, 4 months
Ihab’s only child.
-Zainab Hamoodi, 18
Abid’s granddaughter. A first-year pharmacy student at Basra University. Loved Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys.
– Zain Al-Abideen Hamoodi, 17
Zainab’s brother. Enjoyed reading, soccer and music (especially Beethoven). Wanted to be a doctor.
– Moustafa Akram Hamoodi, 13
Brother of Zainab and Zain. Attended Basra’s school for gifted children. Enjoyed soccer, and always played goalie. The only strict Muslim in a secular family.
– Zina Akram Hamoodi, 12
Sister of Zainab, Zain and Moustafa. Academically gifted, as well as “the beauty of the family”.
– Hassan Ayad Hamoodi, 9
Abid’s grandson. Liked to help his grandfather around the house. His favorite school subject was math.
– Amaar Al-Huda Saad, 3
Abid’s grandson. A noisy and energetic preschooler who loved to play jokes. Abid could hear Ammar under the rubble crying for his dad, but couldn’t reach him.
12. NAGEM SADOON HATAB, 52
A U.S. military investigator found that Sadoon Hatab, a detainee at a makeshift holding centre near Nasiriya, died in June 2004 after being repeatedly beaten and kicked by his U.S. Marine guards, and left lying naked in the baking sun for several hours. An autopsy found Hatab had six broken ribs, as well as several deep bruises, and apparently died from suffocation caused by a broken bone in his throat.
13. AMIR MADLUL, age not known
Amir Madlul, the manager of a Baghdad transport company, was burned to death when his home was destroyed in a U.S. bombing raid on 8 April 2003. Amir’s body was carbonized, but his brother, Abdel-Hadi Madlul, was able to recognize Amir by his car keys, which had been seared into his body by the heat of the blast.
Photo: The family of Amir Madlul weep as he is buried at the cemetery in Najaf. (Photo by Michael Robinson-Chavez for the Washington Post).
14. EIGHT MEMBERS OF THE AL-RIKAD FAMILY
Photo: Iraqi Mahdi Nawaf shows photographs of dead family members during a funeral ceremony in Ramadi, 68 miles, 110 kms west of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, May 20, 2004. Mahdi said they were were killed Wednesday, when a U.S. helicopter fired on a wedding party in the remote desert near the border with Syria killing more than 40 people. The photographs show: Iraqi father Mohammed Al-Rikad, right, his wife Morifa, left, and their children Saad, 10, Fasila, 7, Faisal, 5, Anoud, 6, Kholood, 4 and three year-old Inad. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
BBC television news described the deaths of more than 40 Iraqi wedding guests not as a disaster for the people killed, or a tragedy for their loved ones, but as “more bad news for George Bush” and “a public relations disaster for the Americans”. (BBC news, via KryssTal)
In a sense, these one hundred or so are some of the “lucky” ones, inasmuch as they at least have a name and a face and a narrative. Many others don’t: we know them only as anonymous bodies that show up in news photographs of the carnage. Like the 600 people we killed in the first assault on Fallujah in April 2004, whose images were largely invisible in the U.S. media, but were aired extensively in the Arab world;
or the 13 unarmed men and boys who were killed on 12 September 2004, when a U.S. helicopter fired missiles (video) to destroy a Bradley armored vehicle that had been disabled and abandoned during an insurgent attack earlier in the day in Haifa Street, Baghdad ;
and the unknown boy, maybe seven or eight years old, left dead in a Ramadi street just last month.
Photo: A boy lies dead in a street in Ramadi, Iraq on Thursday, April 21, 2005. His body was found in a street near three smoldering cars after gunfire erupted in downtown Ramadi 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad. The U.S. military had no immediate information on the incident. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
And the vast majority of Iraq’s dead haven’t even left a photographic record. Their names, faces and circumstance of death remain entirely unknown to us, because “we don’t do body counts” for people like them, whose deaths we write off carelessly as “kind of a shame”:
“In Ramadi, the capital of central Anbar province, where 17 suicide-bombs struck American forces during the month-long Muslim fast of Ramadan in the autumn, the marines are jumpy. Sometimes, they say, they fire on vehicles encroaching with 30 metres, sometimes they fire at 20 metres: ‘If anyone gets too close to us we fucking waste them,’ says a bullish lieutenant. ‘It’s kind of a shame, because it means we’ve killed a lot of innocent people.'”
Kind of a shame, killing the people you’re trying to democratize, but after awhile, says the same lieutenant, “It gets to the point where you can’t wait to see guys with guns, so you start shooting everybody…”
– The Economist, via James Wolcott: Kind of a Shame
Can you imagine the spittle-flecked outrage from our government and mass media if some foreigner dared to dismiss our 1600 war dead, or the 3,000 deaths on 9/11, as “kind of a shame”? Yet we shrug off our killing of tens of thousands of Arabs – every one of whom mattered just as much as the American dead we memorialize – with a resounding “whatever“. We take for granted that other people don’t matter like American people matter. This is the same cavalier refusal to recognize the needs, rights and views of others that leaves us genuinely perplexed that so many people in the world can’t seem to stand us anymore, and forces us to fall back on platitudes like “they hate us for our freedom”. No-one hates us for our freedom. They hate us – to steal a line from Bill Maher – “because we don’t even know why they hate us”.
What’s really “kind of a shame” is that these 100 human beings, and tens of thousands of their compatriots, are dead because of a war built on falsehoods, and shifting falsehoods at that. They are dead for no better reason than our desire to establish at any price U.S. hegemony in a resource-rich Middle East, and to safeguard the regional friends who help make that possible – even though our regional friends are autocrats and war criminals. Above all, they are dead because our powerful nation, whose incurious leader and self-absorbed inhabitants can barely find Iraq on a map, simply wanted in the aftermath of 9/11 to kick some generic Arab ass:
“There’s a picture of the World Trade Centre hanging up by my bed and I keep one in my flak jacket. Every time I feel sorry for these people I look at that. I think, ‘They hit us at home and, now, it’s our turn.’ I don’t want to say payback but, you know, it’s pretty much payback.”
– Spec. Michael Richardson, on duty with U.S. forces in Iraq (source)
Mission accomplished, 100,000 times. Now on to Iran.