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    Erasing Iraq in Daily Kos and Lanka Gazette

    As the 8th anniversary of the 2003 US invasion looms, outspoken and prolific activist, David Swanson, author of War Is A Lie and Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, discusses Erasing Iraq in Daily Kos. He writes:

    I can’t recommend highly enough a new book called “Erasing Iraq: The Human Costs of Carnage,” by Michael Otterman and Richard Hill with Paul Wilson, with a foreword by Dahr Jamail. This comprehensive survey of the damage puts the past eight years into the context of other aggressive acts of imperialism and finds Operation Iraqi Liberation (to stick to its original name) a stand-out, in large part because of the Bush-Cheney regime’s attempt to create a neocon corporate economy from scratch in Baghdad, a project that required erasing everything that had been there before. The book’s greatest contribution lies in humanizing the suffering and providing us with the viewpoints — a wide spectrum of viewpoints — of Iraqis, including Iraqi refugees living outside Iraq, the vast majority of whom have not yet returned and many of whom have decided they never will. These are people, 100% of whom — judging by a 2007 UNHCR survey of 754 Iraqis in Syria — had experienced bombings, shootings, interrogations, harassment by militias, and/or torture.

    The authors of “Erasing Iraq” interviewed Iraqis as far afield as Sweden and Australia: “Every Iraqi we spoke with reported similar events: houses bombed, possessions lost, children kidnapped, lives destroyed. ‘Americans — when they hear one shot — even if it’s like 10 kilometers away — they’ll just open fire on everything,’ said Laith as he lit a cigarette with the small red heating coils warming his cramped two-room house in East Amman, Jordan.” […]

    “Erasing Iraq” quotes Iraqi bloggers and interviewed Iraqis, giving personalities to people who have indeed been effectively erased. How many Americans even know that millions of Iraqis have had to flee the hell of their “liberation”? The U.S. media has self-censored almost all reporting on Iraqi suffering that has not been censored by the military, and polls of Americans have found approval for such censorship. Americans, along with Donald Rumsfeld, want to not know, and to not know what they do not know.



    Swanson’s review of Erasing Iraq was referenced days later in the Lanka Gazette.

    Best (Overlooked!) Book of 2010

    Just got word that Erasing Iraq ranked among the best overlooked books of 2010 by Inside Story. It was selected by Sara Dowse, who chaired a memorable Sydney Writers Fest event on Erasing Iraq last year. In Inside Story, Dowse wrote:

    Iraq isn’t in the news much now – we’ve been there, done that. And though it’s generally agreed that the invasion was a grievous mistake, there isn’t much interest in the extent of the damage. By 2009-10, according to Michael Otterman, Richard Hil and Paul Wilson’s Erasing Iraq: The Human Costs of Carnage, over a million Iraqi citizens had been killed, over three million injured, over a million women widowed and five million children orphaned. The destruction of the country’s civil society, its economy and cultural heritage has been incalculable, though it’s been estimated that rebuilding its infrastructure alone could run into the trillions of dollars. Compulsory reading of Erasing Iraq, a thorough investigation of all aspects of its suffering, published by Pluto Press with the help of Australia’s Plumbing Trades Employee Union, just might give governments and their media claqueurs pause before we bloody our hands again. But that’s the optimist in me speaking – Wikileaks has already exposed the military’s doubts about winning the war in Afghanistan. Not to mention the “collateral damage” from our efforts in that country too.

    Otterman on The World Today

    Last night I was interviewed by Eleanor Hall of the ABC’s The World Today program regarding the UK government’s compensation of former Guantanamo detainees. Below is an excerpt of our wide-ranging chat:

    ELEANOR HALL: This case of course sets no legal precedent in the United States or indeed in Australia but do you think it could have an influence on cases being brought in the US?

    MICHAEL OTTERMAN: Well it’s possible, actually as I speak right now in New York there’s a jury deliberating on the fate of one former Guantanamo detainee. You know, the jury no doubt might hear about this recent decision and that may indeed sway them.

    So it could have real impacts, you know, in things that are happening right now involving former Guantanamo detainees and it may also I think impact the case of Mamdouh Habib.

    ELEANOR HALL: Well he’s in fact suing the Australian Government on the exact same grounds as the British Guantanamo detainees, so what influence do you think the British settlement could have on his case?

    MICHAEL OTTERMAN: Well I mean Habib, just as the UK former detainees – they don’t have specific evidence of say of a UK officer torturing but they’re suing on collusion. The documents have already proven that, what’s already been released, that the Australian Government was very much so aware where Habib was.

    ELEANOR HALL: Of course the UK Government made the point that it would have difficulty arguing its case because of the security and secrecy issues that would arise from it trying to mount a defence.

    MICHAEL OTTERMAN: That’s true, I mean when you do sue intelligence officials, there are very strict secrecy precautions and people have to testify behind walls and there’s elaborate things. That’s not to say they don’t work though and governments, certainly in the US, hide behind these secrecy laws.

    And so, while there are, you know, real concerns, you know, you don’t want to give away agents you know secret agents’ names but I think there’s a real abuse of this excuse.

    ELEANOR HALL: Well the UK justice secretary said there was a danger that the public’s confidence in the Government’s adherence to human rights was being eroded. Does this settlement restore it?

    MICHAEL OTTERMAN: Well it’s kind of a mixed bag. These former Guantanamo inmates who have suffered – there’s no doubt in my mind that these individuals were tortured – so it is good to hear that they will be compensated in some way.

    But it’s also a win for the governments because it keeps these torture papers under wraps.

    Ubud Writers Fest 2010

    I just got back from an amazing two weeks at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. It was filled with great conversations and stellar scenery in both Bali and Java. Here is an account of one of the talks I took part in called, The State of the Union. Fellow panelist Robin Hemley wrote:

    The panel was slightly unfocused until the late arrival of a fellow panelist, a young American journalist [Ioannis Gatsiounis] whom I had not previously met. The panel was galvanized when he told the audience that “the Muslim world needs to accept responsibility for 9/11.”

    Mike, who was seated next to me, tensed and leaned back in his chair in the manner of a patient who sees the dentist’s drill approaching. An older woman in the front row lifted her umbrella in front of her like a Kendo warrior, ready to strike. Rabih answered gently, reminding his co-panelist that there is no such thing as “the Muslim world,” that it is not a monolithic entity, just as the Christian world is not monolithic, and that there are many Americas as well . . .

    But our fellow panelist suggested that “the Muslim world” was not doing enough to project a positive image of itself, that it was suffering from a “crisis of extremism.” This led to a discussion of the controversial mosque at ground zero. Of all the issues facing the U.S., this manufactured issue depresses me the most, because it’s such a distraction from the real, serious issues facing America and the world. Mike mentioned that the mosque at ground zero was an issue manufactured by Fox news, that it had not been an issue until Fox made it one. I mentioned that the site was on the Sacred site of the Burlington Coat Factory. Rabih mentioned that it was near the Hallowed Ground of a strip club. Our friend said that while he was ultimately in favor of the mosque being built, he understood why it was distasteful and not simply a response motivated by fear and misunderstanding.

    In order to speak, we needed to press a button on our microphones, and only three could be on at once. Mike reached for the button several times in response to the sweeping generalizations and condemnations by our fellow panelist, but Rabih gently placed his hand on Mike’s and gave him a “take a deep breath” look. Later, Mike, who lives in Manhattan, told me that the closer a person is to ground zero, the more likely he is to support the mosque. The people of lower Manhattan largely support it as do others in the city, but the further west you travel, the more you run into opposition to the “victory mosque.” This seems to me emblematic of most of human nature. The less you know of what you speak, the less familiar you are with another people or religion, the more likely you are to speak with certainty about it. The old saw goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Perhaps. But proximity leads to understanding.

    A YouTube video referencing the heated exchange is here.

    Erasing Iraq in and Washington Report

    Check out this review of Erasing Iraq by HELO’s Daniel J. Gerstle in and this in-depth feature in Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, written by Jeremy R. Hammond.

    Gerstle writes:

    What I really respected most about Otterman’s approach was that unlike sooooo many other journalists and researchers, he goes directly to the local witnesses. It may not always be possible to get into Baghdad during a bombardment and interview people while it’s happening, but any shrewd research should reduce the time committed to White House press briefings and Think Tank brown bags in order to increase time committed to reading through the many growing local witness blogs. With the Iraq debate we did last year, Otterman was the only non-Iraqi to bring in very specific local witness descriptions of events. And so this new book is much more.

    And Hammond recounts:

    “U.S. war in Iraq did not start in 2003—it started in 1991,” Otterman explained in an interview with the Washington Report. Asked how Iraq today compares with the past, he pointed out that, prior to the first Gulf war, Iraq was a highly modernized society that “boasted the region’s best healthcare and education system. Literacy rates were high and there was a 100 percent gross enrollment rate on the primary school level. The state’s free and universal healthcare was the envy of its neighbors. Women’s rights flourished—in 1989, for example, more than 10 percent of the seats in Iraq’s national assembly were held by women.

    “But the first Gulf war changed everything,” he said. “It shattered the Iraqi state—and it has never recovered.”

    Erasing Iraq — The Official Excerpt

    Last week, HELO magazine ran an official excerpt of Erasing Iraq. Editors selected a passage written by Nuha al-Radi, an Iraqi artist who suffered through the first Gulf War and crippling UN sanctions. HELO framed her words with the following introduction:

    From artist Nuha al-Radi reflecting on the Gulf War in 1991 – “Nights and days full of noise, no sleep possible. For forty days and nights, a Biblical figure, we have stood with our mouths open swallowing bombs…” – to blogger Sunshine venting about Mosul in 2009 – “Imagine losing 41 people in one day, family members, relatives, friends, kids, women, old and young…It is unfair…Why? What was their guilt?…” the stories are full of colorful, if painful detail.

    You can support HELO by purchasing Erasing Iraq–or an array of other important titles– through their online kiosk.