Creating people's geographies
Democracy Now Tuesday, July 25th, 2006
In November, a documentary from Italy’s RAI Television accusing the United States of illegally white phosphorus during its attack on Fallujah. A new documentary says the United States is now using experimental laser weapons against Iraqi civilians. We play an excerpt. [includes rush transcript]
From illegal weapons in Lebanon we turn to Iraq. In November, Democracy Now aired a documentary from accusing the United States of illegally white phosphorus during its attack on Fallujah. The Pentagon was forced to admit to the charge after more than a week of denials. The same Italian team has produced a new documentary. It says the United States is now using experimental laser weapons against Iraqi civilians. Today, in another U.S. broadcast exclusive, we bring you an excerpt. It’s called “Star Wars in Iraq”, produced by Maurizio Torrealta and Sigfrido Ranucci for RAI Television.
MAJID AL GHEZALI: Yes. Yes, I think. Yeah, they shoot the bus. We saw the bus like a cloth, like a wet cloth. It seems like a Volkswagen, a big bus like a Volkswagen.
NARRATOR: This testimony was reported to American filmmaker Patrick Dillon a few weeks after the battle for the airport. The person interviewed, Majid al Ghezali, is a well-known and respected man in Baghdad, who is the first violinist in the city orchestra. In addition to describing the battle, Majid al Ghezali wanted to show Patrick Dillon the site near the airport where the mysterious weapon was used, along with the traces of fused metal still visible, and the irregularly sized ditches where the bodies were buried before they were exhumed. We sought out Majid al Ghezali to hear more details of his story. We met up with him in Amman, and he pointed out some inexplicable peculiarities on the bodies of the victims of the battle for the airport.
MAJID AL GHEZALI: Just the head was burnt, and the other parts of the bodies wasn’t anything happened on it.
NARRATOR: Al Ghezali reported that he had seen three passengers in a car, all dead, with their faces and teeth burnt, the body intact, and no sign of projectiles.
MAJID AL GHEZALI: There wasn’t any bullet. I saw the teeth, just the teeth and no eyes, all of them. With the body, nothing for the bodies. Just the teeth, and all the — I mean, the heads were burnt.
NARRATOR: There were other inexplicable aspects. The terrain where the battle took place was dug up by the American military and replaced with other fresh earth. The bodies that were not hit by projectiles had shrunk to just slightly more than one meter in height.
MAJID AL GHEZALI: Except the bodies killed by the bullets, most of them became very small. I mean, it’s like that. Something like that.
NARRATOR: We asked Majid what weapon he imagined had been used.
MAJID AL GHEZALI: One year later, we heard that this is updated technology they used, a unique one. It’s like lasers.
NARRATOR: We found another disturbing document on the use of mysterious weapons in Iraq, which referred to episodes taking place almost at the same time as those described by Majid al Ghezali.
SAAD AL FALLUJI: Twenty-six in the bus. About twenty of them, some of them have no head. They had been cut. Some of them, the arms, the legs. The only one who didn’t injure was the driver, and really I don’t know how he reached our hospital, because one hand, one arm was in his lap, one head beside him. It was a very, very strange, horrible thing. In the roof of the car there was parts of the bodies: omentum, intestines, brains, all parts of the body. It was miserable. Very, very, very, very miserable.
GEERT VAN MOORTER: Do you have idea with what kind of weapons they attacked that bus?
SAAD AL FALLUJI: This bus, we didn’t know what kind of weapon hit. Really what we saw cut arms, cut legs, cut head, abdomen, open abdomen, viscera outside.
DOCTOR NO. 2: It seems to be a new weapon.
SAAD AL FALLUJI: Yes, a new weapon.
DOCTOR NO. 2: They are trying to do experiments on our civilians. Nobody can identify what the type of this weapon.
NARRATOR: We went to Belgium to find the filmmaker of this sequence, Geert Van Moorter, a doctor working as a volunteer in Iraq.
GEERT VAN MOORTER: Here in this footage is taken in the hospital, the General Teaching Hospital in Hilla, which is about 100 kilometers from Baghdad and close to the historical site of Babylon. Here, we had a talk with the colleague doctor Saad al Falluji, which is the chief surgeon in that hospital. Doctor al Falluji said me that from the survivors that he operated, that they said they did not hear any noise. So there was no explosion to hear, no metal fragments or shrapnels or bullets in the bodies, so they themselves were thinking of some strange kinds of weapon, which they did not know.
NARRATOR: Let’s hear Dr. Saad al Falluji’s story about this more in detail.
SAAD AL FALLUJI: This bus was very crowded. They went from Hilla to Kifil to see their families, but before they reached the checkpoint of American checkpoint, they returned back. They said to them, “Please return.” The villagers, they said to them, “Return back. Return back.” When he tried to return back, they shoot him from the checkpoint.
GEERT VAN MOORTER: No gunshot wounds?
SAAD AL FALLUJI: No, no, I don’t know what it was. We are here, ten surgeons. We couldn’t decide what was the weapon which hit this car.
GEERT VAN MOORTER: But inside the bodies, you did not discover ordinary bullets?
SAAD AL FALLUJI: All of them being — we didn’t find bullets. We didn’t find bullets. But most of the passenger people been dead, so they took them immediately to the refrigerator. We couldn’t dissect and see. But those who were alive, we couldn’t find any kind of shells. We didn’t find shells inside their bodies.
DOCTOR NO. 2: Something cutting organs, cutting limbs, attacking the neck, attacking the abdomen, it goes out.
NARRATOR: Dr. Falluji also ended up speaking about a laser weapon.
SAAD AL FALLUJI: But I don’t think the bombing and the cluster bombs and the laser weapons could bring democracy to our country.
NARRATOR: As in any war, the war in Iraq left us a dreadful gallery of horror, images of mutilations that not even doctors can explain. The witnesses referred to laser weapons, arms with mysterious effects. We do not know what kind of weapons could produce such terrible effects. We tried to learn more about it by asking for interviews to members of companies manufacturing laser and microwave weapons, yet the U.S. Defense Department prevented any information from being released to us. They also did not answer, up to the time the film was edited, the questions we had sent them in order to know whether or not experimental weapons had been tested in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We tracked down the Pentagon press conferences from before the beginning of the second Gulf war to see if they spoke about any new weapons being tested. The words of the Secretary of Defense and General Myers indicate a willingness to try weapons that had never been used before. And the questions from the press about direct energy and microwave weapons made them visibly uncomfortable.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Secretary, can I ask you a question about some of the technology that you’re developing to fight the war on terrorists, specifically directed energy and high-powered microwave technology? Do you — when do you envision that you can weaponize that type of technology?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Goodness, it is in — for the most part, the kinds of things you’re talking about are in varying early stages. Do you want to — do you have anything you would add?
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: I don’t think I would add much. I think they are in early stages and probably not ready for employment at this point.
DONALD RUMSFELD: In the normal order of things, when you invest in research and development and begin a developmental project, you don’t have any intention or expectations that one would use it. On the other hand, the real world intervenes from time to time, and you reach in there and take something out that is still in a developmental stage, and you might use it. So the — your question’s not answerable. It is — it depends on what happens in the future and how well things move along the track and whether or not someone feels it’s appropriate to reach into a development stage and see if something might be useful, as was the case with the unmanned aerial vehicles.
JOURNALIST: But you sound like you’re willing to experiment with it.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Yeah, I think that’s the point. And I think — and it’s — we have, I think, from the beginning of this conflict — I think General Franks has been very open to looking at new things, if there are new things available, and has been willing to put them into the fight, even before they’ve been fully wrung out. And I think that’s — not referring to these particular cases of directed energy or high-powered microwave, but sure. And we will continue to do that.
NARRATOR: But what is meant by direct-energy microwave weapons? We went to ask ex-colonel John Alexander, former program director in one of the most important military research laboratories in the U.S., Los Alamos National Laboratory.
COL. JOHN B. ALEXANDER: The research and certainly the concepts for direct-energy weapons go back many decades. What is happening is that the technology has now advanced sufficiently that we’re starting to see the weapons come into fruition. In other words, they’re becoming real.
There are several types of directed-energy weapons, and basically what they do is they’re known as “speed of light,” because they shoot electrons very fast over very long distances. Lasers, of course, are in the light range. Then there’s microwave weapons that are operating at other frequencies, but basically they’re beam weapons, in which nothing physical goes out. The electrons move, but the kinetic weapons we talk about, you’re shooting big bullets to go out and physically hit and destroy something. These work because the energy is deposed on the target and causes some effect.
NARRATOR: These images document one of the THEL tests. THEL stands for Tactical High Energy Laser. In the sequence, you can see the laser beam hit and destroy missiles and mortar rounds as they are about to hit the objective.
In this other test, we see the laser beam identify and destroy two missiles at the same time.
GEERT VAN MOORTER: They don’t make any noise, and they are invisible?
COL. JOHN B. ALEXANDER: Some are visible, some are just outside. You have, you know, in the infrared range, what’s emerging now are laser weapons where the effect is that that of the laser. And they can be hole-burners, what we call very high energy lasers, because with the concentrated energy you can literally drill holes, you know, in a target.
NARRATOR: Former Pentagon analyst William Arkin, who presently works as a journalist for the Washington Post, also confirms this revolutionary change from kinetic weapons to energy weapons.
WILLIAM ARKIN: For thousands of years, the way in which you’ve killed someone is you have hit them with a sword, a sphere, an arrow, a bullet, a bomb. It’s kinetic. You’re killing them by hitting them. And now, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you have a completely new physical principle being applied in killing people, in which they don’t know that they’re being killed because their skin and body is being heated by high power microwaves or they are being shot at by a laser which would have an instantaneous effect.
NARRATOR: There are other types of weapons made with lasers, such as the device we can see in this sequence. The target is not hit by a projectile, but rather by an impulse of energy that manages to bore through the armor of a tank.
Apart from acoustic weapons, so far the only sign of the use of energy weapons in a war scenario is a laser device known as Zeus. According to official Pentagon sources, military vehicles equipped with this laser device have been used in Afghanistan to explode mines or IEDs. According to two reliable military information sites, Defense Tech and Defense Daily, at least three such vehicles are being used in Iraq, as well, and some people report having seen them.
GEERT VAN MOORTER: When you showed me the pictures of what you described that is a laser weapon, it reminds me that I was with some American soldiers talking in August 2003, and there was some kind of box on their tank with a blue light like this. I recall it very well, not because of the soldiers told me what it was used for, but because I was teasing a translator, which was a female Iraqi translator, by telling, “Look, this is some kind of thing where they can look through and see somebody without clothes.” That’s why I remind it, but this kind of thing I have seen for sure on that tank.
NARRATOR: William Arkin is one of the American experts who follows the Pentagon activity most closely. So what does Arkin think about the possibility of the use of direct-energy weapons in battle in Iraq?
WILLIAM ARKIN: I can imagine that there could be some, what we call, “black use” of these weapons, but not in any significant way and certainly not in such a way that one would conclude that they’ve had any impact.
NARRATOR: But let’s look at the Pentagon budget figures to see how important the outlay is for direct-energy weapons.
WILLIAM ARKIN: So, right now you have about $50 million a year being spent on non-lethal weapons. You have about another $200 million or so being spent on high power microwaves, active denial-type systems. You’ve got probably another $100 to 200 million being spent on secret black laser programs. And then you’ve got the big lasers, the high energy laser of the Air Force and the other tactical lasers. So probably, when you add all of that up, you know, the United States is probably spending a half of a billion dollars a year right now on directed-energy weapons, you know, probably somewhere in the order of 300-400 million euros. So this is a significant amount of money. This is the size of the defense budgets of some countries in Europe.
AMY GOODMAN: That was William Arkin in the documentary, Star Wars in Iraq, produced by RAI Italian television. It was produced by Maurizio Torrealta and Sigfrido Ranucci.
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