Dahr Jamail is the embodiment of the citizen journalist. Though raised in the Republican enclave of Houston, the self-made reporter "unplugged from that matrix" at a young age to think for himself. When the Iraq War began in March, 2003, he was working as a mountain guide and social worker in Alaska. Something seemed profoundly wrong about the war from the outset. Though he had little journalism experience, he decided to go to Iraq to see for himself.
"The impetus to go was mainly outrage at the press coverage available," says Jamail, who's in Connecticut this week for a speaking tour. "If people don't get correct information, it's impossible for a democracy to function."
Sure enough, when he arrived in Iraq in July, 2003, what he saw bore little resemblance to the images broadcast back home. The initial wave of euphoria depicted in the mainstream media was, he said, "for show." "What we experienced on the ground was total chaos," he says. "The people on the front lines all knew this was a farce."
Not only did Jamail begin taking copious notes—resulting in two books, Beyond the Green Zone (2008) and Will to Resist (2009)—he was one of the few unembedded U.S. journalists broadcasting on the radio from outside the protective Green Zone.
One of his regular interviewers was Dori Smith, at Talk Nation, a news program produced in Storrs, Conn. and syndicated by the Pacifica network. Because of his connection with Smith, Jamail has scheduled appearances in the area at six venues, including UConn and Wesleyan, as well as at the Hope Out Loud Festival in Hartford's Bushnell Park, Sept. 20, 2:30 p.m. He will also be interviewed by Rob Tyrka on WWUH (91.3) on Sept. 17 at noon. (Full listings at http://willtoresistwar.blogspot.com.)
"The first radio interview that I did from Iraq was with Dori, and I have been on her show consistently since," says Jamail, who mingled with embedded journalists out of curiosity, attending an occasional press conference in the Green Zone. "It was a circus, nothing but softball questions tossed at the military flacks. This was the mainstream press, covering a war without actually seeing a war. I met a journalist from CNN who covered the Iraq war for a year without once leaving the Green Zone."
The CNN reporter wasn't ashamed, says Jamail. "They don't leave their hotels in Baghdad. They thought we were crazy for going out of the Green Zone. They asked us to come to their rooms so they could interview us about the war." Though the situation was terrifying, Jamail found ways to adapt to the situation, partly by accepting a bitter truth: "What we experienced was what the average Iraqi experiences every day of their lives."
He rattles off statistics like 44 U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan last month, 5,000 killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003, 1.4 million Iraqis killed, $1 trillion spent. Because of the quagmire suggested by these statistics, Jamail is now working with and writing about war resisters within the military.
"G.I. resistance is so important. Policy won't change until troops are lying across railroad tracks, like in the Vietnam War," he says. "As a soldier you take an oath to defend the U.S. constitution, not to defend corporate profits."
Jamail's disgust for Obama is only a little less intense than for Bush: "The same policy, different brand name, same U.S. empire project, same Secretary of Defense, same crew in the Pentagon, same corporate interests." Nonetheless, he admits that Obama is limited as to what he can realistically do because the policies themselves were set back in the days of "Manifest Destiny." "Withdrawing troops would be a start... it's the U.S. occupation that's causing the fighting," he says.