At the beginning of their recent attack on Fallujah, U.S. Marines and Iraqi National Guard troops stormed Fallujah General Hospital, closing it to the city's wounded and confiscating cell phones from the doctors. A senior officer told The New York Times the hospital was "a center of propaganda."
Interviews with hospital personnel (which had revealed the extent of civilian casualties in an aborted April invasion) would not be a problem this time.
As the invasion proceeded, air strikes reduced a smaller hospital to rubble and smashed a clinic, trapping patients and staff under the collapsed structure. With the main hospital empty and other facilities destroyed, only one small Iraqi military clinic remained to serve the city.
U.S. forces cut off Fallujah's water and electricity. About 200,000 residents were forced to flee, creating a refugee population the size of Tacoma. Those who remained faced a grim existence; they were afraid to leave their homes for fear of snipers and they had little to eat and only contaminated water to drink.
Public buildings, mosques and residences were subjected to assault by air and ground forces. The city now lies in ruins, largely depopulated, but still occupied by U.S. forces. Convoys sent by the Iraqi Red Crescent to aid the remaining population have been turned back. Diseases brought on by bad water are spreading in Fallujah and the surrounding refugee camps.
The means of attack employed against Fallujah are illegal and cannot be justified by any conceivable ends. In particular, the targeting of medical facilities and denial of clean water are serious breaches of the Geneva Conventions. Continuation of these practices will soon confirm what many already suspect: that the United States of America believes it is above the law.
Imagine a world where such ferocious attacks become common. Imagine the Puget Sound region's hospitals and clinics as targets, our water supply fouled. Imagine our outrage. Let's not walk any farther down that path.
Instead, we can reaffirm our commitment to a community of nations and to the laws that govern their relations. We can demonstrate respect for the diverse peoples of the world, while holding no life of lesser value than our own. Unfortunately, as a result of illegal U.S. actions, the former residents of Fallujah have lost respect for us. Without that respect, there is little our military can contribute.
To prevent more harm, we should support: 1) a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Fallujah, allowing unrestricted access for independent relief agencies such as the Red Crescent; 2) an independent investigation into violations of international law in Fallujah, as called for by Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Nov. 16; and 3) a campaign to deny any further supplemental budget requests that may, in fact, fund war crimes.
Join us in working to make respect for individual and collective rights, as expressed in international law and the U.S. Constitution, a central theme of our community's relations with the rest of the world.
Jim McDermott, M.D., represents the 7th District in Congress. Richard Rapport, M.D., is in the neurological surgery department at Group Health. Other authors are 17 area doctors and medical professionals.
© 2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer