I looked at the young woman sitting across from me, munching determinedly on a blueberry scone. If anyone would have an opinion on our country's shenanigans in the Middle East, it would be her, Robin Fasano. In February of this year, Fasano traveled to Iraq as part of a fact-finding delegation, sponsored by Global Exchange (a human-rights group) and Code Pink (an organization of women for peace). (See "Inside Iraq," TQ&A, Feb. 26.) The group of travelers, made up entirely of women, spent two weeks in Iraq. Their goal was to see how women and children were faring under the American occupation. When I asked Fasano the obvious question, "So, how are they doing?" a frustrated look crossed her face. She began by explaining the social position of Iraqi women.
"Sixty percent of Iraq's population is female," she said, "and there are three women on the governing council, out of 25. Women are grossly underrepresented. Women and children need to be a higher priority, and they should be invested in."
Power and control issues are not women and children's most pressing problem, says Fasano, now that technology and practices have maximized the killing potential of war.
"When wars are fought today, 90 percent of the casualties are civilians," she explained. "The number of (Iraqi) civilians who have been killed are in the thousands. Many of these are women and children. And that statistic holds worldwide."
The American occupation has actually made things worse for the wounded and ill, she says. Despite the astronomical sums requested for the rebuilding of Iraq, "things are in total disrepair. There is no reliable electricity or water, and hospitals are horrible. There is a 95 percent post-death rate for children who leave the hospital."
Fasano remembers vividly the day she traveled with the delegation to visit the children's hospital in Baghdad. The facility has no water, no reliable electricity and no cooking facilities, along with a frightening lack of medicine and medical equipment. Fasano asked the doctor if she could send some medications to help the hospital, but the doctor shook his head and told her that there is no postal service, either--it would never reach them.
While the group was touring one of the lower floors of the hospital, a distinct gushing sound prompted Fasano to inquire about its source. A hospital employee explained that because there is no city sewage maintenance, and the hospital is built on a low point in the city, the water backs up and seeps onto the floors.
Raw sewage flooding the floors of a children's hospital and an astronomical death rate among sick kids: What did the Bush administration deem a more important use for the 80-odd billion dollars sent to "rebuild Iraq?"
Fasano's description of the Iraqi "green zone" provides an ironic contrast from the deplorable hospitals and public services outside its borders.
Fasano encountered many American journalists and others of this ilk. One of them, a New York businessman, was exploring ways to invest and make money in the country. When he heard that she was there with a fact-finding delegation to assess the situation of Iraq's women and children under the occupation, he seized the moment to pitch an idea to her.
"So, what do you think of a women's radio station that would run women's programs during the day, and at night, we satellite in Yankees games?" he asked excitedly.
"I thought he was kidding, but he was dead serious," recounted Fasano. "I said, 'I think it's a terrible idea. Why don't you talk to the Iraqi people and ask them what they want, and find out what their needs are?' A lot of the journalists here don't even leave the green zone."
Fasano will speak about her experiences as part of a panel discussion on Sunday, May 16. The discussion will follow a 11:30 a.m. screening of Robert Greenwald's Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War. The controversial and arresting film features CIA, Pentagon and foreign-service experts speaking about the lies, misstatements and exaggerations that the U.S. government used to justify a pre-emptive, unnecessary war. Information about the film is available at truthuncovered.com.