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At midterm elections, time to stand up for human rights

Published: Monday, October 23, 2006

Updated: Sunday, August 17, 2008 13:08

I have a comic strip taped to my office door. It is "Opus," by Berkeley Breathed from a few weeks ago.

It shows two of the characters lying down, contemplating the sky while the man considers whether he should buy a plasma or LCD flat-screen TV. "Not sure. Not sure." A few frames later he asks Opus, the penguin-creature, what Opus thinks about the war. "We're at war?" Opus stands and asks what war, considering several possibilities. "Iraq, you idiot!" "Oh, that." Pause. Then Opus, lying down again, says after a few frames, "I say, don't cut and run." The man replies, "Exactly, stay the course. I'm going plasma."

This comic strip comes to mind often, but especially in the days after a new study of Iraqi civilian deaths was reported. A British medical journal, The Lancet, published an article by a team of researchers that concludes that 655,000 Iraqis have died because of the war that the US is waging on that country.

The reaction from our media was somewhat ho-hum. The Bush administration dismissed the numbers as unknowable, because the United States does not make such estimates. A few skeptics were heard on NPR, the network that I tune into, who said that these figures are unreliable. One such "expert" said the number was probably 10 times too big. Hmm. That means only 65,500 deaths?

Within two days, any discussion of this report disappeared from the major media. The Lancet, two summers ago, published a study that concluded that about 100,000 people had died up to that time. That had a similar media dismissal. If any prominent public figures had anything to say about these numbers, we did not hear or see them.

Whether the number of civilian deaths due to the U.S. war in Iraq is 65,500 or 655,000 should not be at issue. Either figure is an unconscionable violation of human rights brought on by the deliberate actions of the United States. The U.S. government pays lip service for action to end the disastrous slaughter of innocents in Darfur (while doing little about it). But it ignores, covers up or perpetrates human slaughter in Iraq. Human rights groups say that this constitutes a crime against humanity. The numbers are in a class that would lead to charges of genocide, ethnic cleansing or collective punishment in other wars and conflicts. The question could be asked, "How could U.S. citizens know this was happening and do nothing about it?"

Yet, life goes on here at home with little or no attention paid to it. Life in Iraq is far worse for the average civilian than it was before the unprovoked U.S. invasion and its subsequent "regime change." Not only is the death rate much higher, but also water and sewage, electricity, medical care, and education are all significantly worse than before the war. Neighbors have turned against neighbors; religious conflict is endemic. Militias have replaced self-government. The one unifying opinion is that the United States should end its occupation.

The platitudinous Bush reaction to all of this horrendous news is that we have to "stay the course" until "the job is done" and "victory" is achieved. The Republican Congress is in full support, whatever the occasional misgivings of a small number of middle-of-the-roaders. With U.S. military deaths approaching 3,000 and public disapproval of the war nearing 60 percent, it is time that Congress put a stop to this war crime. Obviously, a Republican Congress will not do this.

In my opinion, if the coming elections leave both Houses in Republican control, the United States will neither leave Iraq, nor refrain from unilateral attacks on other countries that are on the wrong side of Cheney and Rumsfeld's new world order. We will be living thereafter in a state of war: war crimes, government-approved torture, indefinite imprisonment for thousands, and the total draining of citizens' tax money from public services to the military.

I am not alone in this anxiety. Most of the Tufts faculty and staff are old enough to have seen this downward slide into authoritarianism and militarism. Many of you, our students, have grown to political awareness during this Bush government. Perhaps you accept as normal the situation that we rail against. You should realize that warrantless wiretapping, a single note media, an embargo on news, a rhetoric of fear and the legitimizing of fundamentalist irrationality are not the norm. If the people fail to take back the Congress from the rubber-stamp Republicans, these wounds on democracy will only worsen.

On Thursday, the Peace and Justice Studies Program and the Tufts Democrats are holding a Forum on Iraq. There will be presentations about Iraq as seen by the soldiers, their families, and Iraqis, in order to reveal the fuller dimensions of the war. Congressman Ed Markey and representatives of several politically active groups will follow this.

If you have read this far, you are aware that we are carrying on a horribly destructive, long-term war on the people of Iraq. If you want to do something to begin to end this blight on human rights, several short-term possible actions will be discussed in the second part of the Forum.

Tufts prides itself on being a university focused on citizenship and public service. At a time like this, the most meaningful public service which any citizen can contribute is to help end this war.

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