The day after Iraq's constitutional referendum - its latest "democratic milestone"- was proclaimed a success, distraught families at a Ramadi hospital fought over the body parts of loved ones severed in a U.S. air strike.
It's a lot harder to play pretend democracy in Iraq than it is to applaud it here in the United States. The backdrop is too grim. It's called occupation - the endlessly brutal, humiliating reality Iraqis live with 24/7 - and so far it has proven, you might say, freedom-resistant. No matter how much "sovereignty" the shattered country attains, it's never enough to shake itself loose from the death grip of the U.S. presence. Have you noticed that this presence is not up for discussion?
"Whether the proposed constitution is approved or rejected . . . it is a process and a text largely crafted and imposed by U.S. occupation authorities and their Iraqi dependents, and thus lacking in legal or political legitimacy," writes Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, a D.C. think tank.
"The most important reality is that the draft does not even mention the U.S. occupation," she continues, "and neither ratification nor rejection of it will result in moving towards an end to occupation. None of the broad human rights asserted in the draft include any call to abrogate the existing laws first imposed by Paul Bremer, the U.S. proconsul, and still in effect."
Don't journalists for the major news outlets notice things like this? Their emasculated reportage creates such a narrow context for "democracy," you could call any system of government that asks, occasionally, for a show of hands on minor matters a democracy, even this ham -handed Bush administration fantasy.
"From the beginning of the occupation, the U.S. has consistently portrayed each new milestone toward Iraqi 'sovereignty' as being vital for undercutting the insurgency and terrorism," Salim Lone, the U.N.'s former communications direction, writes for Global Viewpoint. "In practice, the opposite has always occurred, as each attempt to provide Iraqi legitimacy for occupation institutions enrages more Iraqis and the level of violence exceeds all previous levels."
So now we have an increasingly desperate President Bush, even as he peddles the progress of his mission to a skeptical and dismayed American public, preparing us for war over the long haul against a stateless yet unbelievably powerful enemy that wants to establish "a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia."
Guess what, Mr. President? We're creating this enemy with every arrogant blunder we make. And we never learn.
Thus on Oct. 16, the day after the referendum, U.S. warplanes and helicopters bombed two villages near Ramadi, killing some 70 people, at least 39 of whom, according to witnesses, were civilians. In the strike on one of the villages, Albu Fahad, 18 children died. The kids had been tossing rocks at a burned-out Humvee when an F-15 unloaded on them. Are these the insurgents we're taking out?
At the hospital in Ramadi, "distraught families fought over body parts severed by the air strikes, as grieving households laid rival claims to what they believed to be pieces of their loved ones," the Washington Post reported.
Oh yeah, the paper also noted that the military, in a prepared statement, "said it knew of no civilian deaths." And, what a surprise, "Residents and the U.S. military gave sharply different accounts of the air raid."
But we're bringing them democracy.
If you want to see the U.S. occupation through an uncensored lens, go to Chris Wilson's Web site. Wilson, a Florida-based pornography entrepreneur whose site is reportedly popular with U.S. servicemen, said that he has been giving soldiers free access to the porn in exchange for pictures of life in Iraq, which he posts. Wilson was arrested Friday on obscenity charges reportedly unrelated to the Iraq photos.
Many of the pictures they allegedly send Wilson are of dead Iraqis, often far more graphic than the infamous Abu Ghraib photos. And like those shots, they appear to include gloating GIs, now hovering over mutilated corpses. They contain captions such as: "Cooked Iraqi," "Die haji die," "What every Iraqi should look like" and "Name this body part."
"This is a moral catastrophe," writes Chris Thompson on uruknet.info.
Imagine these photos of corpses - often headless, naked, spilling viscera - slowly scrolling down your TV screen as a baritone voice lovingly intones "God Bless America" and you'll get an idea of the scale and depth of this moral catastrophe. We are debasing ourselves as a nation and laying the groundwork for the next world war as we turn "democracy" into a word that must be spat out.
Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at [email protected] or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com