Tag Archives: Afghanistan

REFLECTION: Let it shine

by Kathy Kelly, Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Photo credit:  Maya Evans

Photo credit:  Maya Evans

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna’ let it shine! Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

Imagine children lustily singing the above lines which eventually became a civil rights anthem. Their innocence and happy resolve enlightens us. Yes! In the face of wars, refugee crises, weapon proliferation and unaddressed climate change impacts, let us echo the common sense of children. Let goodness shine. Or, as our young friends in Afghanistan have put it, #Enough! They write the word, in Dari, on the palms of their hands and show it to cameras, wanting to shout out their desire to abolish all wars.

This past summer, collaborating with Wisconsin activists, we decided to feature this refrain on signs and announcements for a 90-mile walk campaigning to end targeted drone assassinations abroad, and the similarly racist impunity granted to an increasingly militarized police force when they kill brown and black people within the U.S.

Walking through small cities and towns in Wisconsin, participants distributed leaflets and held teach-ins encouraging people to demand accountability from local police, and an end to the “Shadow Drone” program operated by the U.S. Air National Guard out of Wisconsin’s own Volk Field. Our friend Maya Evans traveled the furthest to join the walk: she coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence in the UK. Alice Gerard, from Grand Isle, NY, is our most consistent long-distance traveler, on her sixth antiwar walk with VCNV.

Brian Terrell noted what mothers speaking to Code Pink, as part of the Mothers Against Police Brutality campaign, had also noted: that surprisingly many of the officers charged with killing their children were veterans of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He recalled past national events, such as the NATO summit in Chicago, in 2012, whose organizers tried to recruit temporary security officers from amongst U.S. veterans. Former soldiers, already traumatized by war, need support, healthcare and vocational training but instead are offered temp jobs to aim weapons at other people in predictably tense settings.

The walk was instructive. Salek Khalid, a friend of Voices, shared “Creating a Hell on Earth: U.S. Drone Strikes Abroad,” his own in-depth presentation about the development of drone warfare. Tyler Sheafer, joining us from the Progressive Alliance near Independence, MO, stressed the independence of living simply, off the grid and consuming crops grown only within a 150 mile radius of one’s home, while hosts in Mauston, WI welcomed Joe Kruse to talk about fracking and our collective need to change patterns of energy consumption. The ability to withhold our money and our labor is an important way to compel governments to restrain their violent domestic and international power.

We weren’t alone. We walked in solidarity with villagers in Gangjeong, South Korea, who’d welcomed many of us to join in their campaign to stop militarization of their beautiful Jeju Island. Seeking inter-island solidarity and recognizing how closely they share the plight of Afghans burdened by the U.S. “Asia Pivot,” our friends in Okinawa, Japan will host a walk from the north to the south of the island, protesting construction of a new U.S. military base in Henoko. Rather than provoke a new cold war, we want to shine light on our common cares and concerns, finding security in extended hands of friendship.

On August 26th, some of the walkers will commit nonviolent civil resistance at Volk Field, carrying the messages about drone warfare and racial profiling into courts of law and public opinion.

Too often we imagine that a life swaddled in everyday comforts and routines is the only life possible, while half a world away, to provide those comforts to us, helpless others are made to shiver with inescapable cold or fear. It’s been instructive on these walks to uncoddle ourselves a little, and see how our light shines, unhidden, on the road through neighboring towns, singing words we’ve heard from children learning to be as adult as they can be; attempting to learn that same lesson. The lyric goes “I’m not going to make it shine: I’m just going to _let_ it shine. We hope that by releasing the truth that’s already in us we can encourage others to live theirs, shining a more humane light on the violent abuses, both at home and abroad, of dark systems that perpetuate violence. On walks like this we’ve been fortunate to imagine a better life, sharing moments of purpose and sanity with the many we’ve met along the road.

This article first appeared on ZMag.

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence  www.vcnv.orgKathy is a Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace.

REFLECTION: No warlords need apply – a call for credible peacemaking in Afghanistan

by Kathy Kelly, Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace
and Buddy Bell, Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Afghan woman with childA second round of peace talks between Afghan government officials and Taliban representatives, expected to begin before the end of July, 2015, suggests that some parties to the fighting want to declare a cease fire.  But even in the short time since the first round on July 7th, fighting has intensified.  The Taliban, the Afghan government forces, various militias and the U.S. have ramped up attacks, across Afghanistan.

Some analysts say the Taliban may be trying to gain territory and clout to give them leverage in ‘peace talks.’  Taliban forces, apparently beginning to splinter since the supposed death of Mullah Omar, are now competing with a new Islamic State presence in Afghanistan  as various armed groups try to recruit new fighters from among ultra-conservative sectors of the regional population. Spectacular and frightening suicide bombings, hostage taking and a demonstrated capacity to force Afghan government soldiers into retreat or surrender might bolster a group’s claim to be effectively ejecting foreigners from Afghanistan.

However, the U.S., with its history of waging aerial attacks, using helicopters and weaponized drones, and engaging in constant aerial surveillance, along with its continued night raids and detention of civilians, effectively carries itself as the most formidable warlord in the region.

Throughout June, according to the New York Times, “American drones and warplanes fired against militants in Afghanistan more than twice as much as they had in any previous month this year, according to military statistics.”  On July 19th, 2015, U.S. helicopters even fired on an Afghan army facility in the Logar province, killing seven troops and wounding five others.  The Afghan Ministry of Defense told CBS News that “coalition helicopters were flying through the area early Monday morning when they came under fire from insurgents. After the insurgents’ attack on the helicopters, the helicopters bombed the area, and as a result an Afghan army outpost was destroyed.”

Meanwhile, top U.S. military officials have met with president Ashraf Ghani to talk about extending the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, beyond 2016, in light of a possible threat from Islamic State fighters.  On July 19th, the Los Angeles Times reported that Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.  Following the meeting, General  Dempsey said he agreed that the U.S. needed to have a transnational strategy against  the Islamic State. He said he would raise Ghani’s idea that Afghanistan “could serve as a hub from which the U.S., its allies and Afghanistan itself could work to prevent Islamic State from gaining followers in South Asia the way it has in the Middle East.”

U.S. military officials diminish the credibility of any proposed cease fire when they  suggest that the U.S. will, after all, consider maintaining bases and troops in Afghanistan far beyond the supposed 2016 evacuation of U.S. bases.  Confidence in a cease fire is further undermined when parties to negotiations know that the U.S. could assassinate them if they appear on a list of U.S. targets.  Consider a recent statement by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.   He was answering a question about whether or not the U.S. would “take out” the purported leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, if the opportunity presented itself.  Carter said, “we would certainly take it.” Note, he didn’t say, “if there are no children in the way, we would certainly take it.” Not “if he wasn’t in a dense urban area, we would certainly take it.” Essentially, Ashton Carter assured people that the U.S. will kill civilians if this is a condition of being able to kill leaders of groups the U.S. designates as enemies.

Recanting such threats and removing drones from the skies of Afghanistan during peace talks would inspire respect for the idea of peace processes.  Rural populations — the “constituency” of the Taliban in Afghanistan– fear the drones and look for protection, making them vulnerable to recruitment by armed militias vowing to eject the foreign militaries.

The U.S. could  indicate that it doesn’t wish to keep military personnel in Afghanistan or maintain ongoing bases there

Yet, even were the U.S. to take these steps, a declared ceasefire between warlords who have, in the past, neglected the needs of Afghanistan’s poorest communities, whose war making has exacerbated suffering and poverty, may not be very meaningful to ordinary people living in rural areas.   Whose interests would the warlords aim to secure?

It seems that the most crucially needed ceasefire agreement, in Afghanistan, would be one that occurred among ordinary communities, agreeing to no longer cooperate with warring parties, to no longer allow warlords to use them as pawns. This kind of ceasefire might fill the need and longing for peace so often expressed by people who are weary of living through wave after wave of destruction.  But ordinary Afghans living in rural areas need to feed their children, plant crops, restore irrigation systems, replenish their flocks and rehabilitate their agricultural infrastructure in order to survive.  If they could have some realistic assurance of sustained  resolve to help them reach these goals, they’d have good reason to link up and rise up in opposition to continued war.

What source of funding and skill could possibly offer the assistance required for this kind of rebuilding?

The U.S. military doesn’t hesitate to demand sums for continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan which could instead be dedicated to rebuilding the country.  The U.S. should state that it wishes to pay reparations for suffering caused in the past.  This could be done in the form of setting up an escrow account to be administered by an NGO or agency that has not been accused of succumbing to corruption in Afghanistan.

By doing so, the U.S. could credibly begin to withdraw from warlord status in Afghanistan, and apply itself to being part of reconstruction, setting a model desperately needed throughout the world.

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) and Buddy Bell co-coordinate Voices for Creative Nonviolence  www.vcnv.orgKathy is a Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace.

REFLECTION: Before the dawn

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Each year, throughout the Muslim world, believers participate in the month-long Ramadan fast. Here in Kabul, where I’m a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, our household awakens at 2:15 a.m. to prepare a simple meal before the fast begins at about 3:00 a.m.  I like the easy companionship we feel, seated on the floor, sharing our food.  Friday, the day off, is household clean-up day, and it seemed a bit odd, to be sweeping and washing floors in the pre-dawn hours, but we tended to various tasks and then caught a nap before heading over to meet the early bird students at the Street Kids School, a project my hosts are running for child laborers who otherwise couldn’t go to school.

I didn’t nap – I was fitful and couldn’t, my mind filled with images from a memoir, Guantanamo Diary, which I’ve been reading since arriving here.  Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s  story of being imprisoned in Guantanamo since 2002 rightly disturbs me. In all his years of captivity, he has never been charged with a crime. He has suffered grotesque torture, humiliation and mistreatment, and yet his memoir includes many humane, tender accounts, including remembrances of past Ramadan fasts spent with his family.

freeslahi

Describing his early time in a Jordanian prison, he writes:

“It was Ramadan, and so we got two meals served, one at sunset and the second before the first light. The cook woke me up and served me my early meal. Suhoor is what we call this meal; it marks the beginning of our fasting, which lasts until sunset. At home, it’s more than just a meal. The atmosphere matters. My older sister wakes everybody and we sit together eating and sipping the warm tea and enjoying each other’s company.”

I’ve never heard Muslims complain about being hungry and thirsty as they await the fast-breaking meal.   Nor have I heard people brag about contributions they’ve made to alleviate the sufferings of others, although I know Islam urges such sharing during Ramadan and aims to build empathy for those afflicted by ongoing hunger and thirst.   Mohamedou relied on empathy to help him through some of his most intense anguish and fear.

“I was thinking about all my innocent brothers who were and still are being rendered to strange places and countries,” he writes, describing a rendition trip from Senegal to Mauritania, “and I felt solaced and not alone anymore.   I felt the spirits of unjustly mistreated people with me. I had heard so many stories about brothers being passed back and forth like a soccer ball just because they have once been in Afghanistan, or Bosnia, or Chechnya.   That’s screwed up! Thousands of miles away, I felt the warm breath of these other unjustly treated individuals comforting me.”

A judge ordered Mohamedou’s immediate release in 2010. But the Obama administration appealed the decision, leaving him in a legal limbo.

From 1988 to 1991, Mohamedou had studied electrical engineering in Germany. In early 1991, he spent seven weeks, in Afghanistan, learning how to use mortars and light weapons, training which would allow him to join the U.S.-backed insurgency against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. He was one of Ronald Reagan’s celebrated “freedom fighters.”  In early 1992, when the communist supported Afghan government was near collapse, he again went to Afghanistan and, for three weeks, fought with insurgents to overtake the city of Gardez.   Kabul fell shortly thereafter. Mohamedou soon saw that the Mujahedeen insurgents were fighting amongst themselves over power grabs. He didn’t want to be part of this fight and so he went back to Germany, then Canada and, eventually, home to Mauritania, where he was arrested and “rendered” to Jordan for questioning, at last arriving in Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base on his way to Guantanamo.

I wonder how he is feeling as he observes Ramadan without his family for the 13th consecutive year. I wish he could know that growing numbers of people in the U.S. believe he should be released and want to help atone for the suffering he has endured. Martha Hennessy, who arrived in Kabul with me, several weeks ago, hurried back to the U.S. to face charges for protesting against U.S. legitimation of torture only to learn that both of the Witness Against Torture campaign cases scheduled for trial that week were dismissed.   Perhaps public opinion now requires that the U.S. Department of Justice recognize that activists’  right and duty to protest the cruel abuses of U.S. torture policies.

I wish Mohamedou could visit Afghanistan again, not as part of a training camp for insurgents, not as a terrified, shackled prisoner, but as a guest of the community here.   A former U.S. military person dropped by the Street Kids School on Friday morning. The U.S. Air Force trained her to operate weaponized drones over Afghanistan. Now, she comes to Afghanistan annually to plant trees all over the country.   She feels deep remorse for the time in her life when she helped attack Afghans.

I don’t believe in training anyone to use weapons, but as I read Mohamedou’s words about his brothers who went to foreign countries as fighters, I thought of the Pentagon’s recent practice runs, over the New Mexico desert, training people to fire the terrifying Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), a bunker buster bomb which is 20 feet long, weighs 15 tons and carries about 5,300 pounds of explosives. People in the U.S. should consider how their horror at the violence of U.S. enemies encourages and exonerates the far more crushing violence of their own government, engaged at this moment in conflicts throughout the developing world and armed with weapons capable of extinguishing all human life within minutes.

On this fast day, I remember that many U.S. people worry, like anyone anywhere, about the hardships a new day may bring, in a dangerous and uncertain time that seems to be dawning on every nation and the species as a whole.  In the U.S., we carry the added knowledge that most of the world lives much more poorly – in a material sense, at least – than we do, and that were the sun to truly rise upon the U.S., with familiar words of equality and justice truly realized, we would have to share much of our wealth with a suffering world.

We would learn to “live simply so that others might simply live.”  We would find deep satisfaction in beholding faces like those of my friends gathered for a friendly morning meal before a day of voluntary fasting.  Or, like Mohamedou,  find warmth in the imagined breath of others sharing involuntary hardships. “Another world  is not only possible,” writes author and activist Arundhoti Roy,  “she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”  U.S. people must know that life in the daylight might also be the start of an unaccustomed fast.

When will day break? I haven’t a clock nearby to tell me when, but I can’t go back to sleep. When I see the children adapt so readily to the schooling denied them, when I watch my young friends struggle eagerly to take the small steps allowed them, sowing seeds of mutual understanding or planting trees in Kabul, and when I read such grace and dignity in the words of Mohamedou Ould Slahi after years of torture, I have to believe that a dawn will come. For now, it remains a blessing to work alongside people awake together, even in darkness, working to face burdens with kindness, ready to join with kindred spirits near and far, faces aglow with precious glimmers of a coming day.

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org). While in Kabul, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (www.ourjourneytosmile.com). Kathy is a Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace.

REFLECTION: In Baghdad, organized destruction

by Cathy Breen
Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Two days ago an email came from an Iraqi doctor in Baghdad in response to a brief greeting I sent for the month of Ramadan.

“Thanks so much for remembering us…In fact we are the same if not worse.  Our hearts are broken at the organized ruining of our country.  We are targeted by those criminals and gangs coming from everywhere, even from the west who are all witnessing this drama and, if not supporting it, are keeping silent.  We wonder what sin we committed to face this gloomy black fate.  In fact, what is going on is beyond words. “

This courageous woman doctor never left the side of gravely ill children despite the great exodus of doctors due to kidnappings, assassinations and threats to their lives and families.  Sadly she reports that another of her siblings has cancer, and she needs to leave the medical students for some days.  This happens she says regretfully in “the critical time of final exams.”   She herself is a cancer survivor and both her mother and sister had cancer.   They have no choice, she says, but to go on and try to survive.

Another long-time friend is working in southern Iraq in a job that will soon end.  He is away from his family in Baghdad, and it is dangerous for him in the south, but he has no choice with a wife and seven children to support.  There was already an assassination attempt on his life in Baghdad and houses near their own have been bombed.  There are nightly explosions and gunfire, assassinations and kidnappings.   Approximately 200 people across Iraq have been killed each day in this month alone.

We have been frantically trying to find a safe place for him and his family to escape to.  If they could go to Kurdistan they would join the ranks of the already three million IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) within Iraq.  If they could get to Turkey, they might eventually get refugee status.  But it is expensive there, they don’t speak the language, are not allowed to work and resettlement could take years.

Our friend emailed that his wife decided to send their second oldest son, 16 years, to her mother’s house due to kidnapping cases. “Two kids were kidnapped two days ago.”   Ali, I will call the son, has exams and his grandmother’s house is closer to the school.  When I stayed with this family for two weeks in 2013, one of Ali’s twelve year old friends was kidnapped and was never found.

The grandmother takes her grandson each day to school and sits against a wall under its shadow until Ali finishes his exam.   She is “old and weak,” Ali’s father writes, “and honestly it is meaningless to think she could protect Ali as she can’t really protect herself.  But I do appreciate her efforts.”    Ali told his dad that his grandmother was causing him “too much embarrassment as she doesn’t understand the rules of the exams.”  She always tries to enter the exam class to give Ali cold water because it is very hot.  The first day the director of the exam allowed her to do this, but another day during the exam she tried again.  This time it was not to give him water.  She had cooked a rooster and told the staff that he had to eat well to do good on the exam!  Ali was a little bit angry but his love for her “let him forget the embarrassing feeling!”  He is “crazy in love” with his grandmother as she is the only grandparent left.

Ali was complaining to his father about the insufferable heat and lack of air cooling system, as well as the terrible mosquitoes.  He uses a kerosene lamp for studying at night.    The father was trying to encourage him by phone to overcome the difficulties saying: No pain, no gain.  Ali responded “Dad, since we opened our eyes in this life, we have only known pain.”

Just yesterday two civilians were killed as Ali and his grandmother approached the school.  This happened right in front of their eyes.   His father emailed: “Ali couldn’t answer exam well as he saw the accident.  Let us pray for his safety.”

Our friend and his wife worry excessively about their oldest boy, 18 years, as militia come to the houses seeking young men to fight ISIS, and they “will take young guys by force to do battle.”  Although this son is needed to guard the house at night and help his mother, the mother felt compelled to send this son away too.

My friend concluded:  “Cathy, It’s hard to sleep. Don’t worry. The family is still fine.”

Cathy Breen has represented Voices for Creative Nonviolence in many visits to Iraq. She lived in Baghdad throughout the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing and the initial weeks of the U.S. invasion.  She lives and works at Maryhouse Catholic Worker in NYC.

REFLECTION: The Front Page Rule

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

After a week here in FMC Lexington Satellite camp, a federal prison in Kentucky, I started catching up on national and international news via back issues of USA Today available in the prison library, and an “In Brief” item, on p. 2A of the Jan. 30 weekend edition, caught my eye. It briefly described a protest in Washington, D.C., in which members of the antiwar group “Code Pink” interrupted a U.S. Senate Armed Services budget hearing chaired by Senator John McCain. The protesters approached a witness table where Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright and George Schulz were seated. One of their signs called Henry Kissinger a war criminal. “McCain,” the article continued, “blurted out, ‘Get out of here, you low-life scum.'”

At mail call, a week ago, I received Richard Clarke’s novel, The Sting of the Drone, (May 2014, St. Martin’s Press), about characters involved in developing and launching drone attacks. I’m in prison for protesting drone warfare, so a kind friend ordered it for me. The author, a former “National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism,” worked for 30 years inside the U.S. government but seems to have greater respect than some within government for concerned people outside of it. He seems also to feel some respect for people outside our borders.

Photo credit: C-Span

Photo credit: C-Span

He develops, I think, a fair-minded approach toward evaluating drone warfare given his acceptance that wars and assassinations are sometimes necessary. (I don’t share that premise). Several characters in the novel, including members of a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, criticize drone warfare, noting that in spite of high level, expensive reconnaissance, drone attacks still kill civilians, alienating people the U.S. ostensibly wants to turn away from terrorism.

Elsewhere in the plot, U.S. citizens face acute questions after they themselves witness remote control attacks on colleagues. Standing outside a Las Vegas home engulfed in flames, and frustrated by his inability to protect or save a colleague and his family, one main character ruefully identifies with people experiencing the same rage and grief, in faraway lands like Afghanistan and Pakistan, when they are struck by Predator drones that he operates every day. U.S. characters courageously grapple with more nuanced answers to questions such as, “Who are the terrorists?” and “Who are the murderers?” As the plot accelerates toward a potential terrorist attack against railway systems in U.S. cities, with growing suspicion that the attacks are planned for Christmas Day, Clarke builds awareness that those who launch cyber-attacks and drone attacks, no matter which side claims their loyalty, passionately believe their attacks will protect people on their own side.

When U.S. media and U.S. government officials ask, “who are the murderers,” the default answer is enemy soldiers. I’m reminded of Senator McCain’s own response to a 2012 prisoner exchange of five Afghan militants, where he was alleged to have exclaimed, “They’re the five biggest murderers in world history! They killed Americans!”

It brings home a core fact about drones: that you can’t surrender to a drone. Enemy soldiers, and people merely suspected of being, or intending to become, enemy soldiers, are killed at home gardening, or eating dinner with their families. At the military base where I was arrested, soldiers drive home every evening from piloting drones in lethal sorties over Afghanistan, Iraq, and presumably a sizable list of other countries less well known to the U.S. public. With no overwhelming zeal to kill civilians, they assist the U.S. in killing many more civilians each year than Al Quaeda and ISIS can collectively dream of doing, in the course of advancing U.S. interests over a whole world region U.S. drones render into one large battlefield. No thinking person would wish that same logic to be visited on these soldiers returning home from daily battle, although Clarke’s novel chillingly imagines the U.S.’ own technology and rules of engagement turned against it. It’s a warning we’re too prone to ignore.

In Clarke’s novel, the U.S. drone operators and intelligence officials are smart, efficient, generally honest, caring and often funny. Romance and occasional flings color their lives. The two masterminds of the enemy plot in contrast, are more mysterious. Readers learn almost nothing about their personal lives, although it’s clear that they don’t expect to live much longer. They, too show remarkable expertise exploring high-tech ways to achieve goals. They, too, are clever and terrifyingly competent; personal loss and deeply felt grievances motivate them; like their counterparts, they’ve moved into high positions with increasing wealth and perks. But, unlike the U.S. characters, they express no remorse or second thoughts about killing their targets and strategizing for a major attack.

The fact remains that if we didn’t see enemy soldiers as “murdering terrorists” lacking the human emotions and rights of our own troops, and enemy civilians as “collateral damage” whose deaths are automatically the fault of all who resist us, then there couldn’t be a drone program. There wouldn’t be a technology for eliminating human threats and human obstacles conveniently, cheaply, and instantly from the skies. We would no longer be killing militants and suspected militants unquestioned, too often at the first hint that they might pose a risk to us.

The “means-ends” question intensifies as both sides demonstrate increasingly high-tech ways to thwart and attack each other. One intelligence officer asks how his superior manages to draw the line between what is acceptable and what would be out of bounds when he issues orders that will “take out” presumed enemies.

“It used to be the ‘Front Page Rule,'” the higher official responds. “Assume it will be on the front page of the Post someday and only do it if you could stand that level of exposure. But it’s amazing what has been on the front page without any real consequences: torture, illegal wiretaps, black sites. No one goes to jail. No one gets fired. So I don’t know anymore.”

When Clarke invokes the “Front Page Rule, it seems to be his acknowledgement that peace protesters like those of Code Pink play a valuable role informing public opinion. Believing that the means you use determines the end you get, they hold out for alternatives to war and killing. Far from being low-life scum, they have distinguished themselves in fields of diplomacy, research, journalism, law and education. More than this, they are distinguishing themselves in service to the victims of war.

I hope that someday Senator McCain will gain the insight to repent of insulting them, just as one of the witnesses that day, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, may now regret having exalted the “indispensable” U.S. nation’s right to lead in using force, having sinceadmitted, “We have been talking about our exceptionalism during the recent eight years. Now, an average American wants to stay at home – they do not need any overseas adventures. We do not need new enemies.”

Militarists trust in weapon strength. Still, though perennially disregarded, another option is readily available, offering much greater safety and letting us insist without self-deception on the respect for life that we invoke in defense of our nation’s drone strategy and its war on terror. It’s the option of treating other people fairly and justly, of trying to share resources equitably, even that precious resource of safety; of trying to see the humanity of our so-called enemies and of seeing ourselves as we’re seen by them.

Clarke’s story moves toward a suspenseful conclusion at the height of the Christmas season, ironically moving toward a day traditionally set aside to herald a newborn as the Prince of Peace.

As drone warfare proliferates, as the stings of the drone become more lethal and terrifying, the peace activists hold a newsworthy message. I’m glad Code Pink members continually interrupt high level hearings. I hope their essential questioning will plant seeds that germinate, take root and gather underground strength.

This article first appeared on Telesur.  

Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (info@vcnv.org), is in federal prison for participation in an anti-drone protest. She can receive mail at: KATHY KELLY 04971-045; FMC LEXINGTON; FEDERAL MEDICAL CENTER; SATELLITE CAMP; P.O. BOX 14525; LEXINGTON, KY 40512.

REFLECTION: Drones and discrimination – kick the habit

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

On December 10, International Human Rights Day, federal Magistrate Matt Whitworth sentenced me to three months in prison for having crossed the line at a military base that wages drone warfare. The punishment for our attempt to speak on behalf of trapped and desperate people, abroad, will be an opportunity to speak with people trapped by prisons and impoverishment here in the U.S.

Our trial was based on a trespass charge incurred on June 1, 2014.  Georgia Walker and I were immediately arrested when we stepped onto Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force where pilots fly weaponized drones over Afghanistan and other countries.  We carried a loaf of bread and a letter for Brig Gen. Glen D. Van Herck.  In court, we testified that we hadn’t acted with criminal intent but had, rather, exercised our First Amendment right (and responsibility) to assemble peaceably for redress of grievance.

US-MILITARY-DRONE-PROTEST

A group of Afghan friends had entrusted me with a simple message, their grievance, which they couldn’t personally deliver:  please stop killing us.

I knew that people I’ve lived with, striving to end wars even as their communities were bombed by drone aircraft, would understand the symbolism of asking to break bread with the base commander.   Judge Whitworth said he understood that we oppose war, but he could recommend over 100 better ways to make our point that wouldn’t be breaking the law.

The prosecution recommended the maximum six month sentence.  “Ms. Kelly needs to be rehabilitated,” said an earnest young military lawyer. The judge paged through a four page summary of past convictions and agreed that I hadn’t yet learned not to break the law.

What I’ve learned from past experiences in prison is that the criminal justice system uses prison as a weapon against defendants who often have next to no resources to defend themselves.  A prosecutor can threaten a defendant with an onerously long prison sentence along with heavy fines if the defendant doesn’t agree to plea bargain.

In his article “Why Innocent People Plead Guilty,” Jed S. Rakoff draws attention to the institution of plea bargaining which now ensures that less than 3% of federal cases go to trial at all.  “Of the 2.2 million U.S. people now in prison,” Rakoff writes, “well over 2 million are there as a result of plea bargains dictated by the government’s prosecutors, who effectively dictate the sentence as well.”

“In 2012, the average sentence for federal narcotics defendants who entered into any kind of plea bargain was five years and four months,” Rakoff writes, “while the average sentence for defendants who went to trial was sixteen years.”

It’s one thing to read about the shameful racism and discrimination of the U.S.  criminal justice system. It’s quite another to sit next to a woman who is facing ten or more years in prison, isolated from children she has not held in years, and to learn from her about the circumstances that led to her imprisonment.

Many women prisoners, unable to find decent jobs in the regular economy, turn to the underground economy. Distant relatives of mine knew plenty about such an economy several generations ago. They couldn’t get work, as Irish immigrants, and so they got into the bootlegging business when alcohol was prohibited. But no one sent them to prison for 10 years if they were caught.

Women prisoners may feel waves of guilt, remorse, defiance, and despair. In spite of facing extremely harsh punishment, harsh emotions, and traumatic isolation, most of the women I’ve met in prison have shown extraordinary strength of character.

When I was in Pekin Prison, we would routinely see young men, shackled and handcuffed, shuffling off of the bus to spend their first day in their medium-high security prison next door.  The median sentence there was 27 years. We knew they’d be old men, many of them grandfathers, by the time they walked out again.

The U.S. is the undisputed world leader in incarceration, as it is the world leader in military dominance.  Only one in 28 of drone victims are the intended, guilty or innocent, targets.  One third of women in prison worldwide, are, at this moment, in U.S. prisons.  The crimes that most threaten the safety and livelihood of people in the U.S. of course remain the crimes of the powerful, of the corporations that taint our skies with carbon and acid rainfall, peddle weapons  around an already suffering globe,  shut down factories and whole economies in pursuit of quick wealth, and send our young people to war.

Chief Executive Officers of major corporations that produce products inimical to human survival will most likely never be charged much less convicted of any crime.  I don’t want to see them jailed.  I do want to see them rehabilitated.

Each time I’ve left a U.S. prison, I’ve felt as though I was leaving the scene of a crime. When I return to the U.S. from sites of our war making, abroad, I feel the same way. Emerging back into the regular world seems tantamount to accepting a contract, pledging to forget the punishments we visit on impoverished people.  I’m invited to forget about the people still trapped inside nightmare worlds we have made for them.

On January 23, 2015, when I report to whichever prison the Bureau of Prisons selects, I’ll have a short time to reconnect with the reality endured by incarcerated people.  It’s not the rehabilitation the prosecutor and judge had in mind, but it will help me be a more empathic and mindful abolitionist, intent on ending all wars.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)

AFGHANISTAN: Not again, on ‘a more expansive mission’ in Afghanistan

Dr_Hakimby Dr. Hakim

President Obama has authorized ‘a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned’.

Imagine that, like the late U.S. war veteran Jacob George, you’re sent on this ‘more expansive mission’. Your military helicopter is landing on farmland amidst mud-house villages, like a futuristic war machine inserted into an agricultural community in the Middle Ages.

There are no women to be seen.

They are in their kitchens or rooms, pleading for you, as well as the Taliban, not to come.

“The things that I participated in over there surely brought the farmers terror when we landed in their fields, crashing their crop. I remember running off a helicopter and looking into a man’s eyes, and terror was what was looking back at me. It was as if a ‘devil’ had just stumbled into his life. Actually, most of us are poor farmers killing poor farmers while people in our nations starve,” Jacob had shared.

Like most people, my Afghan and American friends also wish for the Afghan conflict to be resolved, but not in this way:

Not through a ‘more expansive mission’ to kill.

In 2011, Jacob George flew into Kabul, this time on Safi Airways.

“Please forgive me for my participation in the war,” Jacob had asked of Ali and Abdulhai, two of the Afghan Peace Volunteers Jacob had met. He had pledged to ride his bicycle across the States, singing with his banjo, reaching out to people to end the war. It was going to be “A Ride to the End”, with his songs put together in an album called “Soldier’s Heart.”

Jacob George with Ali and Abdulhai in Kabul, 2011

Three years later, on 19th of September 2014, Jacob George committed suicide.

Not again, only one option

An American official was quoted as saying that “the military pretty much got what it wanted”, the ‘more expansive mission’.

Obama is repeating the same mistake he made in 2009, when he ordered a troop surge for Afghanistan. Since the troop surge, the United Nations and the people of Afghanistan have experienced worsening security in Afghanistan. The number of civilian casualties, mainly children, has increased.

In Bob Woodward’s book, “Obama’s Wars”, Obama had asked his war cabinet in 2009, “So what’s my option?… You have essentially given me one option…. It’s unacceptable.”

For 13 years in Afghanistan, literally only one option, an unacceptable option, has been exercised.

Imagine that you have heavy equipment strapped on your body and your adrenaline mixed with tender thoughts of loved ones back home.

You dare not ask whether there are any other options to the longest U.S. war in history.

You approach the impoverished homes of the ‘enemies’.

Not again, ignoring public opinion

In 2009, 60 percent of Americans in an ABC News-Washington Post poll said that the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting. Hillary Clinton had explained the troop surge then, “I’m well aware of the popular concern, and I understand it. But I don’t think leaders — and certainly this president will not — make decisions that are matters of life and death and the future security of our nation based on polling.”

In a CNN poll in December 2013, 82% of Americans opposed the Afghan War , making it even less popular than the disastrous Vietnam War!

Imagine soldiers in your own squadron gun down  several Afghan ‘Fighting Age Males’, and you briefly see little children dashing bare-footed across their  paths, looking as if they have just seen ghosts.

You’re aware that your own people no longer support the mission you’re engaged in. You think, for just a moment: What is the Afghan public opinion about my military mission?

You don’t know. No one has ever asked Afghans.

Not again, continuing the failed ‘war against terrorism’

Despite spending more than US$4,000,000,000 in the ‘war against terror’, a Global Terrorism Database maintained by the U.S. government and the University of Maryland showed that the number of terror attacks in Afghanistan had been increasing over recent  years.

The war against terror has failed!

In the book ‘Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars’, Lieutenant-General Daniel Bolger said, “I am a United States Army general, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism. It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous; step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers. And thanks to our problem, now all of America has a problem, to wit: two lost campaigns and a war gone awry.”

You crouch low against a crumbling wall of a village house compound. You let your bullets fly, as bullets also fly at you.

You steel your nerves amidst bated breath and the unintelligible screams of Afghan women, wondering in another lucid moment if your actions will make Afghans less ‘terrorist-like’, less angry?

Not again, failing to see the suffering of Afghans, and American soldiers

You don’t have time to digest the dire statistics.

Why is it that after 13 years of Operation Enduring Freedom, more than 4000 Afghans have set themselves on fire in 2014, and another 4000 have tried to poison themselves?

You recall some principles drilled into your training, that if necessary, you ought to ‘shoot everything that moves’.

You get irritated because a few boisterous-looking teenage boys appear too defiant, standing in front of women in burqas and girls who are crying quietly.

You hear some shuffles in the next room, and you instinctively pull the trigger.

Back in the military camp, you’re aware of the crisis of up to 22 U.S. veterans committing suicide every day.

Your heart, like the “Soldier’s Heart” Jacob George describes in his music album, begins to suffer.

At a memorial service for Jacob in Arkansas, last October, a friend delivered this message from the Afghan Peace Volunteers:

“When Jacob came to visit us in Kabul, he sang his heart out for us, just like he did across the States for you. We may not remember the song, but his voice and spirit is what each of us wants, a spirit seizing peace within and without.

Jacob, thank you! Jacob, thank you for your kindness in asking forgiveness from the people of Afghanistan.  Jacob, thank you for throwing your war medals back to NATO because you understood that those medals opposed the meaning of life! To Jacob’s family, thank you for raising your child as a man who would not pretend that our world is okay.

Our world is not okay. That’s why we in Afghanistan will try our best to continue Jacob’s tune and ride so that our next generation can see an end not only to war in Afghanistan, but to war as a human method in the world.”

In 2011, Jacob gave this video message to Ali, Abdulhai , Afghans and Americans, “To be perfectly honest, I feel that the U.S. government might not have the best interest s of the people of Afghanistan in mind, although the soldiers are human, and there are charitable acts that come from being human. The ultimate goal does not look like peace. It resembles perpetual war.”

Dr. Hakim, (Dr. Teck Young, Wee) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 9 years, including being a friend and mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.