U.S. war crimes in Iraq are coming home

Dahlia Wasfi speaks at<br>Martin Luther King event.
Dahlia Wasfi speaks at
Martin Luther King event.
FISTphoto: LeiLani Dowell

Dahlia Wasfi is a well-known speaker and activist on social justice focusing on Iraq. Her father was born in Basra, Iraq, and her mother is an Ashkenazi Jew from New York. Wasfi is educated as a medical doctor but has devoted herself as a full-time activist in the struggle to end the war. She has been to Iraq twice, as much of her father’s family still resides there. Wasfi calls for the immediate and total withdrawal of U.S. troops from her father’s homeland. The following are excerpts from her talk at the Martin Luther King Community Forum in Denver on Jan. 7.

Many members of our law enforcement are war veterans who are psychologically destroyed from their experiences overseas. They are traumatized and they are used to treating communities of color as subhuman.

In Iraq daily house raids are taking place at every hour of the day. Some units have a soft knock policy, which is basically where they knock on the door and then they will give a few seconds for someone to answer. But many of us are more familiar with the hard knock policy, which is where they kick the door in. Veterans who are willing to share their experiences talk about the terror that they induce when they perform these daily house raids.

This is not a war on terror, this is a war OF terror, that is happening from our inner city streets all the way to Afghanistan and Iraq. For those individuals who have been trained to give less respect for human life overseas, they will then come home and get jobs in law enforcement. They also have become traumatized and won’t get the help that they need from the Veterans Administration and therefore they will self-medicate, abusing drugs and/or alcohol.

This leads to domestic violence, crime in the streets and homelessness. There are already veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who are homeless on our city’s streets. In this country, which is seen by many people of the world as a land of great opportunity—and certainly we are standing here with electricity and potable water so we are doing much better than most of the rest of the world—but the reality of the American dream is that it is real for a very few … and built on the nightmare of everybody else.

Of the homeless on the streets, 38 percent are veterans. When they talk about supporting the troops, please by all means bring them home; get them out of harm’s way so we can take care of them when they get here.

But they will come back and not get treated and vent their angers and frustrations on their families. Or, if they are in law enforcement, on their victims, whether they are working the streets or they are working the prisons, and of course the prison system in this country has a long history of humiliation and degradation. You don’t have to go to Abu Ghraib to see the horror of that.

These are the problems we are seeing only a trickle of right now. I devote most of my efforts to convincing people to bring the troops home. We now have just a handful of soldiers who have come home. They are here only temporarily before they are sent back on their second, third or fourth tour of duty.

When this occupation does end, which will hopefully be soon, we will start reaping what we have sown, because then we will have close to 200,000 who have served overseas, who are psychologically traumatized, who are supposed to come back here and resume a normal life, and we are going to pay for it one way or another.

Now, I’m not excusing the treatment of anyone who has been abused and victimized in their homes by Denver police or any other city’s police, but it’s all connected and it’s all part of a cycle. At some point I am willing to bet those police officers were victimized, whether it was as children and the state wasn’t available to protect them, or as soldiers, but at some point this all comes around. This does not excuse it, but it does make it understandable.

We are all in this together. It’s interesting and a sad irony to have a Martin Luther King Day parade where they have said, “No anti-war messages.” Dr. King gave a landmark speech with an anti-war statement at Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967. That’s when he starting criticizing the Vietnam War and that’s when he needed to be silenced. And he was killed one year later.

He said he could no longer condemn the violence in the ghettos without criticizing “the greatest purveyor of violence, my own government,” and unfortunately that stands today. But we still stand here and every one of us as an individual is making a difference.

I know we may feel anonymous but right here is a room of revolution and we celebrate being here. Even this is a small but big step. Every day individuals and groups like this make it easier and easier to support the Iraqi resistance. I spoke with a war photographer who was in Iraq and he said he wished he had an audio recorder because of the number of soldiers who are saying, “If I lived here I’d be an insurgent.”

Not that it’s that hard to figure out, as you might be labeled an insurgent based on where you live and the color of your skin. We are all making a difference, however small. Even though there is never a winner in the situation, with the destruction Iraqis are experiencing and the pain that American troops are suffering as well, no matter how they feel about the politics, every single ounce of resistance in Iraq matters. And although the Iraqis are hungry and disarmed, they are defeating the most powerful military nation in the world.

Although we’re celebrating Martin Luther King, I’m a personal fan of Malcolm X, so I will close with a quote by him: “Time is on the side of the oppressed today, it’s against the oppressor. Truth is on the side of the oppressed today, it’s against the oppressor. You don’t need anything else.” Thank you and I will see you all on the 21st.

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