People for Peace, Justice, and Healing

Why Is the U.S. State Department Preventing Dr. Riyadh Lafta from Speaking at the University of Washington?

People for Peace, Justice, and Healing

April 14, 2007

The American writer Donald Barthelme (1931-1989) once published a short-story collection entitled Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts. The title came to mind in connection with a story published Wednesday by a Canadian national newspaper based in Toronto, The Globe and Mail.

On Wednesday, April 11, 2007, The Globe and Mail reported that Dr. Riyadh Lafta is unable to accept an invitation to lecture at the University of Washington because for six months the U.S. has been ignoring his request for a visa (Jonathan Woodward, "Canada Offers Forum for Lecturer Barred from U.S.," The Globe and Mail, April 11, 2007).

As of today, three days later, a Google News search indicates that no American media outlet has mentioned the story.

Dr. Lafta is one of the co-authors of "Mortality after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: A Cross Sectional Cluster Sample Survey" (The Lancet, Oct. 12, 2006). This study, conducted in association with doctors at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, concluded that the Iraq war has resulted in "excess mortality" of about 655,000 Iraqis, including more than 600,000 violent deaths. He was also a co-author of an earlier study entitled "Mortality before and after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: Cluster Sample Survey" (The Lancet, Oct. 30, 2004). Dr. Lafta, a 46-year-old physician who has trained at Baghdad University College, teaches at Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad.

"Dr. Lafta had tried for six months to get a visa into Seattle to speak in Washington, and was ignored a half-dozen times," Jonathan Woodward reported. So it's Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, and not the University of Washington in Seattle, that will host his talk on Friday, April 20, at 7:00 p.m. (There will be a video link on the University of Washington Seattle campus in Kane Hall 210.)

Why couldn't Dr. Lafta come to Seattle? "The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services couldn't be reached for comment," said The Globe and Mail. "But a spokesman for Seattle Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott said he couldn't understand the decision. 'Jim's certainly more than a little unhappy about it. We don't know whether this was a snafu or more than that,' Mike DeCesare said. 'Certainly with the doctor not able to be on the campus, and engage directly with people, you've got to believe that's a net loss for everybody.'"

Jim McDermott's spokesman is only being polite. As a doctor who has visited Iraq, Jim McDermott knows a lot about the public health disaster the U.S. has created in Iraq (Bert De Belder, "Pity the Sick of Iraq," Al-Ahram Weekly, Apr. 5-11, 2007). And he also knows a lot about the depleted uranium (DU) issue — how the U.S. military has built its offensive military capacity around DU munitions that are resulting in catastrophic rates of illness both among service personnel exposed to their residue and to the Iraqi population. The Globe and Mail reports that "Dr. Lafta will present estimates that paint a damning portrait of the war's ravages on children: that birth defects are on the rise since the war began, and that the number of children dying from cancers such as leukemia has risen tenfold."

No wonder the winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, British playwright Harold Pinter, had this to say in his Nobel Prize speech: "What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days — conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead?"

The case of Iraq is not alone. Pinter mentioned Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Chile as well. "Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to U.S. foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

"It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis."

People for Peace, Justice, and Healing was formed in Tacoma, WA, in September 2001 and has met weekly since. The group maintains an active listserv as a group on People for Peace, Justice, and Healing meets every Saturday at 10:00 a.m. at Associated Ministries, 1224 South "I" St., Tacoma, WA.

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Last updated: April 14, 2007