Seven years ago, angered over the mainstream media's flawed portrayal of the Iraq War, independent journalist Dahr Jamail took it upon himself to report from the front lines of the conflict. As one of the very few unembedded journalists dispatching from Iraq, Jamail cruised the streets of cities and villages with a local interpreter, a beat-up car and a penchant for depicting the conflict for what it really was: an illegal and brutal occupation, vanguarded by the US Empire and its corporate collaborators.
Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Dahr Jamail pulled a degree in Speech Communications from Texas A&M University. Before his stretch in Iraq, Jamail's post-college travels brought him around the world, from Chile to Pakistan, Mexico to Nepal, to climbing Denali in 1996 where he decided to be a mountain guide shortly thereafter.
Right away, Jamail's worldly excursions gave him insight into the adverse effects of US foreign policy, and how the luxuries enjoyed by those in the US come at the misfortunes and expense of others elsewhere. Writing as a freelance journalist out of Anchorage, Alaska, covering the presidential election in 2000 and the 9/11 attacks in September of 2001, he became fed-up with the deficit of honest reporting that was becoming a hallmark of US corporate media. After the Iraq War was set in motion in 2003, Jamail said he "took it personally" and, as a US citizen wanting to act responsibly, to do something to better the situation, he packed his bags, took whatever money he had saved, and left for Iraq to report on the stories that "weren't getting the coverage they deserved in the mainstream media."
Frank Joseph Smecker: You began reporting from the front lines of Iraq in November of 2003, what brought you there?
Dahr Jamail: Basically frustration and outrage with the "mainstream" media and their almost complete failure to report honestly about the illegal and brutal invasion and occupation. I mean, we clearly had all the facts from the UN on the table from the beginning, it was a no-brainer: It was a sell-job by the Bush administration at the time to get into Iraq. And for some reason I took it personally, and I really wanted to be responsible, as a person living in the US, for what all this meant. I've described in the past of my going over there that it was almost for my own mental health, I wanted to see it, write about it, share it with folks it was something I could do to help the situation.
DJ: Wow well it was my first experience in a war zone. It was really amazing to be on the ground over there watching, writing, and still reading the media via the Internet and being able to see how the war was portrayed back in the US versus how I was seeing it first hand. The mainstream media was really misleading the American public, spewing out propaganda, cutting and pasting info for articles, like for example Judith Miller of the New York Times and her ilk who had a penchant for putting out unverified facts if not blatant lies about what was happening.
FJS: For a while, journalists in Iraq were being detained, harassed, threatened by the US-installed interim government" Can you talk about this? and what sort of daily routine did you maintain to stay safe?
DJ: You know, I didn't encounter much of that myself, thank goodness didn't really experience any repression while I was over there. Safety was a huge concern, and I was pretty lucky. I was pretty removed from where US troops were stationed and steered clear of other official sites that made for usual targets. I had minimized my time spent on the streets, stayed in cheap motels. I worked with one interpreter, who had a beat-up car he was my driver, my interpreter and fixer all in one. He was great, excellent. He would pick me up every morning and we'd head out to interview folks; half the time I'd head out the door with a particular story in mind, but, oftentimes, entirely different stories would come about. That's just the way it was. Aside from that I had no security, just "fitting in' with the locals was my security, and it worked.
FJS: You had written once that the Iraqi resistance refers to themselves as "patriots." Explain. Are we seeing this same phenomenon transpire in Afghanistan?
DJ: OK, with Iraq first: In the initial couple years the general local perception was that people involved in the resistance to the occupation were patriots. Simply put, these are people who are simply resisting the occupation of their country by a foreign power. They have had family members brutally killed, detained, tortured, and humiliated by the illegal occupying forces.
As for Afghanistan, I haven't reported there, but I do have friends there who are reporting, and there are indeed parallels. In some areas of Afghanistan the people actually prefer the Taliban to the occupation forces, they're just less brutal" But Afghanistan is a lot more complex than Iraq, I mean, Iraq is complex too, but because I haven't reported there, and the fact that the country is as complex as it is, it's harder to make generalizations about Afghanistan.
FJS: Iraq has now, for the most part, disappeared from the mainstream news; why is this?