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Eyewitness to the horrors of the US 'forever wars' speaks out.

Editor's note: Kathy Kelly, a co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness, renamed Voices for Creative Nonviolence, is a peace activist who, from the start of the first Gulf War in 1991, has traveled to U.S. war zones. From Baghdad and Basra in Iraq to Kabul in Afghanistan, she sought to bridge the language of enemies and counter the violence with personal witness, often writing accounts that countered the misleading appraisals of U.S. officials. In light of the recent release of the Afghanistan Papers, NCR asked if she would reflect on her experience of America's 'forever wars."

The 2003 "shock and awe" bombing of Iraq had finally stopped. From the balcony of my room in Baghdad's Al Fanar Hotel, I watched U.S. Marines moving between their jeeps, armored personnel carriers, and Humvees. They had occupied the street immediately in front of the small, family-owned hotel where our Iraq Peace Team had been living for the past six months. When she first saw the Marines' faces, Cynthia Banas commented on how young and tired they seemed. Wearing her "War Is Not the Answer" T-shirt, she headed down the stairs to offer them bottled water.

From my balcony, I saw Cathy Breen, also a member of the Iraq Peace Team, kneeling on a large canvas artwork entrusted to us by friends from South Korea. It depicts people suffering from war. We unrolled it the day the Marines arrived and began to "occupy" this space. Below, Cathy read from a small booklet of daily Scripture passages. A U.S. Marine approached her, knelt down, and apparently asked to pray with her. He placed his hands in hers.

April Hurley, of our team, is a doctor. She was greatly needed in the emergency room of a nearby hospital during the bombing. Drivers would only take her there if she was accompanied by someone they had known for a long time, and so I generally accompanied her. I'd often sit on a bench outside the emergency room while traumatized civilians rushed in with wounded and maimed survivors of the terrifying U.S. aerial bombings.

The ER scenes were gruesome and tragic. Yet no less unbearable and incomprehensible were the eerily quiet wards we had visited during trips to Iraq from 1996 to 2003, when Voices in the Wilderness had organized 70 delegations to defy the economic sanctions by bringing medicines and medical relief supplies to hospitals in Iraq.

In pediatrics wards, we saw infants and toddlers whose bodies were wasted from gastrointestinal diseases, cancers, respiratory infections and starvation. Limp, miserable, sometimes gasping for breath, they lay in the arms of their sorrowful mothers, and seemingly no one could stop the U.S. from punishing them to death. Sanctions forbade Iraq to sell its oil. Without oil revenues, how could they purchase desperately needed goods? Iraq's infrastructure continued to crumble; hospitals became surreal symbols of cruelty where doctors and nurses, bereft of medicines and supplies, couldn't heal their patients or ease their agonies.

In 1995, UN officials estimated that economic sanctions had directly contributed to the deaths of at least a half-million Iraqi children, under age 5.

The economic war continued for nearly 13 harsh and horrible years.

Cathy, who is a nurse, April, and Ramzi Kysia, also a member of our group, arranged a meeting with the civil and military operations center, located in the Palestine Hotel, across the street from us. An official there dismissed them as people who didn't belong there. Before telling them to leave, he did accept a list of our concerns, written on Voices in the Wilderness stationery.

The logo for our stationery reappeared a few hours later, at the entrance to the Palestine Hotel. It was taped to the flap of a cardboard box. Surrounding the logo were seven silver bullets. Written in ball-point pen on the cardboard was a message: "Keep Out."

In response, Ramzi wrote a press release headlined: "Heavy-handed & Hopeless, The U.S. Military Doesn't Know What It's Doing In Iraq."

In 2008, our group, renamed Voices for Creative Nonviolence, was beginning a walk from Chicago to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. We asked Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid to speak at a "send-off" event. He encouraged and blessed our "Witness Against War" walk but then surprised us by saying he had never heard us mention the war in Afghanistan, even though people there suffered terribly from aerial bombings, drone attacks, targeted assassinations, night raids and imprisonments. Returning from our walk, we began researching drone warfare, and then created an "Afghan Atrocities List," on our website, carefully updating it each week with verifiable reports of U.S. attacks against Afghan civilians.

The following year, Joshua Brollier and I headed to Pakistan and then Afghanistan. In Kabul, Afghanistan, we were guests of a deeply respected nongovernmental organization Emergency, which has a Surgical Centre for War Victims there.

Filippo, a sturdy young nurse from Italy who was close to completing three terms of service with Emergency, welcomed us. As he filled a huge backpack with medicines and supplies, he described how the hospital personnel managed to reach people in remote villages who have no access to clinics or hospitals. The trip was relatively safe since no one had ever attacked a vehicle marked with the Emergency logo. A driver would take him to one of Emergency's 41 remote first aid clinics. From there, he would hike further up a mountainside and meet villagers awaiting him and the medicines he carried.

How different his report was from those compiled in our Afghan Atrocities List. The latter tells about U.S. special operations forces traveling to remote areas, bursting into homes in the middle of the night, and proceeding to lock the women in one room, handcuff or sometimes hogtie the men, rip apart closets, mattresses and furniture, and then take the men to prisons for interrogation. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch filed chilling reports about torture of Afghan prisoners held by the U.S.

In 2010, two U.S. Veterans for Peace, Ann Wright and Mike Ferner, joined me in Kabul. We visited one of the city's largest refugee camps. People faced appalling conditions. Over a dozen, including infants, had frozen to death, their families unable to purchase fuel or adequate blankets. When the rain, sleet and snow came, the tents and huts become mired in mud.

Most of the funds earmarked by the U.S. for reconstruction in Afghanistan have been used to train and equip Afghan Defense and Security forces. My young friends in the Afghan Peace Volunteers were weary of war and didn't want military training. Each of them had lost friends and family members because of the war.

Admittedly, it's difficult to uproot entrenched systems, like the military-industrial-congressional-media-Washington, D.C., complex, which involves corporate profits and government jobs. Mainstream media seldom help us recognize ourselves as a menacing, warrior nation. Yet we must look in the mirror held up by historical circumstances if we're ever to accomplish credible change.

The recently released 'Afghanistan Papers" criticize US. military and elected officials for misleading the US. public by covering up disgraceful military failures in Afghanistan. Pentagon officials were quick to dismiss the critiques, assuring an easily distracted U.S. public that the documents won't impact US. military and foreign policy. Days later, UNICEF reported that over 600 Afghan children had died in 2019, because of direct attacks in the war. From 2009 through 2018, almost 6,500 children lost their lives in this war.

What are the lessons learned from the rampage of U.S. wars? I believe the most important lessons are summed up in the quote on Cynthia's T-shirt as she delivered water to Marines in Baghdad, in April 2003: "War Is Not the Answer"; and in an updated version of the headline Ramzi wrote: "Heavy-handed & Hopeless, The US. Military Doesn't Know What It's Doing"--in Iraq, Afghanistan or any of its "forever wars."

By KATHY KELLY

[Kathy Kelly co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence. While in Kabul, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers.]

Abdulhai Darya

Caption: Kathy Kelly and Maya Evans with children at Chamin-E-Babrak refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, January 2014.

Abdulhai Darya

Caption: Kathy Kelly and Shoba at Chamin-E-Babrak refugee camp in Kabul, January 2014. Shoba had been saved from a fire just days earlier.

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Title Annotation:PERSPECTIVE
Author:Kelly, Kathy
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:9AFGH
Date:Jan 24, 2020
Words:1399
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