Reversal

August 6, 2020

With survival at stake, can weapon makers change course?

Today, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the atomic attack on Hiroshima, should be a day for quiet introspection. I recall a summer morning following the U.S. 2003 “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq when the segment of the Chicago River flowing past the headquarters of the world’s second largest defense contractor, Boeing, turned the rich, red color of blood.At the water’s edge, Chicago activists, long accustomed to the read more

Yemen: A Torrent of Suffering in a Time of Siege – Kathy Kelly

July 28, 2020

“When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out “stop!”
When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable, the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.”

—  Bertolt Brecht

In war-torn Yemen, the crimes pile up. Children who bear no responsibility for governance or warfare endure the punishment. In 2018, UNICEF said the war made Yemen a living read more

Our Disaster

by Kathy Kelly
June 1, 2020

An entire generation of Yemeni children has suffered the traumas of war, many of them orphaned, maimed, malnourished, or displaced. The United Nations reports a death toll of 100,000 people in that nation’s ongoing war, with an additional  read more

Beating Swords to Plowshares

by Kathy Kelly
May 30, 2020

Inscribed on a wall across from the United Nations in New York City are ancient words of incalculable yearning:

“They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.” – Isaiah 2:4

I’ve stood with activists in front of that same wall singing Down by the Riverside, a song promising we’ll lay down read more

“He’s Got Eight Numbers, Just Like Everybody Else”

by Kathy Kelly

April 3, 2020

On April 4, 2020, my friend Steve Kelly will begin a third year of imprisonment in Georgia’s Glynn County jail. He turned 70 while in prison, and while he has served multiple prison sentences for protesting nuclear weapons, spending two years in a county jail is unusual even for him. Yet he adamantly urges supporters to focus attention on the nuclear weapons arsenals which he and his companions aim to disarm. “The nukes are not going to go away by themselves,” read more

Vigil for Peace in Yemen – a New Norm

March 27, 2020

For the past three years, several dozen New Yorkers have gathered each Saturday at Union Square, at 11:00 a.m. to vigil for peace in Yemen.

Now, however, due to the coronavirus, the vigil for peace is radically altered. Last week, in recognition of the city’s coming shelter in place program, participants were asked to hold individual vigils at their respective homes on the subsequent Saturday mornings. Normally, during the public vigils, one or more participants would provide updates on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the ongoing war, and U.S. complicity. As COVID-19 threatens to engulf war-torn Yemen, it is even more critical to raise awareness of how the war debilitates the country.

If the vigil for peace were to gather in Union Square this Saturday, activists most certainly would draw attention to how Turkish officials  indicted 20 Saudi nationals for the murder of the dissident writer, Jamal Khashoggi. Turkey’s investigation of the murder and dismemberment of Mr. Khashoggi indicts 18 people for committing the murder and names two officials for incitement to murder. One of them, General Ahmad Al-Asiri, a close associate of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was deputy chief of intelligence when Mr. Khashoggi was murdered.

Numerous news reports over the past five years establish a pattern of Mr. Al-Asiri responding to inquiries about Saudi-led coalition military attacks against Yemen civilians with misleading statements, outright denials and attempted cover-ups.

For example, On August 30th, 2015, according to Human Rights Watch, a Saudi coalition led airstrike attacked the Al-Sham Water Bottling Factory in the outskirts of Abs, in northern Yemen. The strike destroyed the factory and killed 14 workers, including three boys, and wounded 11 more.

Later on August 30, after the airstrike, Gen. Al-Asiri told Reuters that the plant was not a bottling factory, but rather a place where Houthis made explosive devices. However, all of the individuals Human Rights Watch interviewed concurred:

…that plant was being used to bottle water and was not used for any military purposes… A group of international journalists traveled to the site of the blast two days after it was hit and reported that they could not find evidence of any military targets in the area. They said that they carefully examined the site, and took photos and videos of piles of scorched plastic bottles melted together from the heat of the explosion. They could not find any evidence that the factory was being used for military purposes.

Meanwhile, Yemenis were desperately trying to contend with rising cases of cholera caused by shortages of clean water.

In October, 2015, when eyewitnesses declared a hospital in northern Yemen run by Doctors Without Borders was destroyed by Saudi-led coalition warplanes, Gen. Al-Asiri told Reuters coalition jets had been in action over Saada governorate but had not hit the hospital.

On August 15, 2016,  a Saudi-led bombing campaign again targeted a hospital in northern Yemen supported by Doctors Without Borders. 19 people were killed.

The Abs hospital was bombed two days after Saudi airstrikes attacked a school in northern Yemen, killing ten students and wounding dozens more.

Yet Saudi officials continued to insist they struck military targets only. Commenting on the August 13 school attack, Gen. Al-Asiri said the dead children were evidence the Houthis were recruiting children as guards and fighters.

“We would have hoped,” General Al-Asiri said, that Doctors Without Borders “would take measures to stop the recruitment of children to fight in wars instead of crying over them in the media.”

In one of the deadliest attacks of the war, on October 8, 2016, the Saudi-led military coalition’s fighter jets repeatedly bombed a hall filled with mourners during a funeral for an official in the capital city of Sana. At least 140 people were killed and 550 more were wounded.

General Al-Asiri, still a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, suggested there were other causes for the blast and later reported the coalition had not carried out any strikes near the hall. But outraged U.N. officials, backed up by videos on social media, insisted that airstrikes had massacred the mourners.

The U.S. has steadily sided with Saudi Arabia, including supplying it with weapons, training its armed forces and covering for it in the United Nations Security Council. But “Defense One,” a U.S. news agency intending to provide news and analysis for national security leaders and stakeholders, recently issued a stinging rebuke to the Kingdom’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. They denounced the “humanitarian abomination ushered by Riyadh’s war in Yemen,” and called his leadership “as destabilizing to the Middle East as its Iranian rival.” Defense One urged Washington to discontinue enabling “Riyadh’s most reckless behavior.”

Turkey’s indictment of 20 Saudi nationals for murder and their insistence that Mr. Al-Asiri bears responsibility may help move the court of public opinion to resist all support for the Kingdom’s ongoing war in Yemen.

Particularly now, with intense focus on U.S. health care, it’s timely to recognize that in the past five years U.S. supported Gulf Coalition airstrikes bombed Yemen’s health care facilities 83 times. As parents here care for children during school closures, they should be reminded that since December 13, 2018, eight Yemeni children have been killed or injured every single day. Most of the children killed were playing outdoors with their friends or were on their way to or from school. According to the Yemen Data Project, more than 18,400 civilians have been killed or injured by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies since the initial  bombing campaign in 2015.

U.S. national security leaders and stakeholders in war, as they shelter in place, have an extraordinary opportunity to set a new norm and link with the vigil for Peace in Yemen, virtually. And, some may even join Yale students on April 9, from sunrise to sunset, in their National Fast for Peace in Yemen. They invite us to pledge support for Doctors Without Borders and other relief groups in Yemen.

Photo (Bill Ofenloch): Activists practice “physical distancing” at a Saturday morning vigil for Peace in Yemen, Union Square, NYC

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

Camp Bucca, Abu Ghraib and the Rise of Extremism in Iraq

October 28, 2019

Yesterday morning, President Trump announced the death of Abu Bakr Al- Baghdadi and three of his children.

President Trump said Al-Baghdadi, the founder of ISIS, was fleeing U.S. military forces, in a tunnel, and then killed himself by detonating a suicide vest he wore.

In 2004, Al-Baghdadi had been captured by U.S. forces and, for ten months, imprisoned in both Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca.

I visited Camp Bucca in January, 2004 when, still under construction, the Camp was a network read more

Trident is the Crime – Kathy Kelly

October 25, 2019

On October 24, following a three-day trial in Brunswick, GA, seven Catholic Workers who acted to disarm a nuclear submarine base were convicted on three felony counts and one misdemeanor. The defendants face 20 years in prison, yet they emerged from their trial seeming quite ready for next steps in their ongoing witness. Steve Kelly, a Jesuit priest who has already spent ten years in prison for protesting nuclear weapons, returned, in shackles, to the local jail. Because of an outstanding warrant, Steve has been locked up for over eighteen months, since the day of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 action.

On that day, April 4, 2018, the group had entered a U.S. Navy Submarine base which is a home port for the Trident nuclear missile fleet. Just one of those nuclear missiles, if launched, would cause 1,825 times more damage than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The Plowshares activists aimed to expose illegal and immoral weapons that threaten all life on earth.

They had spent two years in prayerful preparation for their action. Two of them, Mark Colville and Liz McAlister, spent most of the months before their trial began in the Glynn County jail. Three others, Martha Hennessy, Carmen Trotta and Clare Grady wore “ankle monitors” and were subject to strict curfews for many months while they engaged in outreach and prepared for trial. Because federal law requires 60 – 90 days before sentencing, to allow for background checks, the seven probably won’t be sentenced before late December.

My colleague Brian Terrell, who attended all of the trial, described the chief prosecutor as a bully. In a series of accusations, this prosecutor claimed that Clare Grady and her co-defendants believed themselves to be “a law unto themselves.” Clare calmly pointed out that “the egregious use of weapons is bullying, not the painted peace messages.”

Emerging from the courthouse, the defendants and their lawyers earnestly thanked  the numerous supporters who had filled the courtroom, the overflow court room and the sidewalks outside the court. Bill Quigley, the main lawyer for the defense, thanked the defendants for their efforts to save “all of our lives,” noting the jury was not allowed to hear about weapons with enough power to destroy life on earth as we know it. Liz Mc Alister, who with Phil Berrigan had helped found the Plowshares movement, turned 79 years old while in jail. She thanked supporters but also urged people to be active in opposing nuclear weapons and the abuses of the U.S. prison system.

When I learned of the jury’s verdict, I had just signed a post card to Steve Kelly. The Glynn County jail only allows correspondence crammed into one side of a pre-stamped 3 x 5 post card. In tiny cursive, I told him about events in Kashmir where the Muslim majority has engaged in 80 days of civil resistance to the Indian government’s abrogation of  two articles of the Indian constitution which allowed Kashmiris a measure of autonomy. India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed states, have twice gone to war over control of Kashmir. It’s a deeply disconcerting flashpoint representing the possibility of nuclear armed states triggering an exchange of bombs which could cause a nuclear winter, mass starvation and widespread, long-lasting environmental destruction.

Some years ago, Steve and I had participated in a delegation to visit human rights advocates in Pakistan, and I recall marveling at Steve’s grasp of the nuclear threat manifested in conflict between India and Pakistan. Yet he and his companions have clearly asserted that U.S. possession of nuclear weapons already robs the poorest people on the planet of resources needed for food, shelter and housing.

After learning the verdict I wrote a second card, telling Steve that we who love him long for his release, but know we must also be guided by his choice to remain silent in the court. Steve believes the U.S. nuclear weapon arsenal should be tried in the court of public opinion. He says the U.S. legal system protects those who maintain and build the criminal, deadly arsenal of nuclear weapons. Inside the court, people didn’t hear Steve’s strong, clear voice. His friends can’t help but imagine the sound of shackles hitting the floor of the Glynn County jail, followed by heavy doors clanging as Steve and other prisoners are ordered into their cells

In 1897, from England’s Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde wrote a letter, entitled “De Profundis.” He was serving the final four months of a two-year sentence to hard labor. One of his main jailers was certain he would never survive the harsh conditions. Wilde found himself transformed during the prison time, and he developed a profound understanding of human suffering. “Where there is sorrow,” Wilde wrote, “there is holy ground.”

The U.S. nuclear weapon arsenal creates anguish, fear and futility worldwide. Yet “holy ground” exists as activists work toward abolition of nuclear weapons.

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

Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition – Kathy Kelly

October 20, 2019

My friend Marianne Goldscheider, who is 87, suffered a broken hip in July, 2018 and then, in June 2019, it happened again. When she broke her hip the first time, she was running, with her son, on a football field. After the second break, when she fell in her kitchen, she recalls her only desire as she was placed on a stretcher. “I just wanted ‘the right pill,’” she says. She wished she could end her life. Marianne says her Catholic friends, who live nearby in the New York Catholic Worker community, persuaded her not to give up. They’ve long admired her tenacity, and over the years many have learned from her history as a survivor of the Nazi regime who was forced to flee Germany. Recalling her entry to the United States, Marianne jokes she may have been one of the only displaced persons who arrived in the United States carrying her skis. Yet she also carried deep anxieties, the “angst,” she says, of her generation. She still wonders about German people in the military and the aristocracy who knew Hitler was mad and, yet, didn’t try to stop him. “When and how,” she wonders, “do human beings get beyond all reasoning?”

Marianne is deeply disturbed by the madness of maintaining nuclear weapons arsenals and believes such weapons threaten planetary survival. She worries that, similar to the 1930s, citizens of countries possessing nuclear weapons sleepwalk toward utter disaster.

On April 4, 2018, several of Marianne’s close friends from the New York Catholic Worker community became part of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 by entering the U.S. Navy Nuclear Submarine base in King’s Bay, GA and performing a traditional Plowshares action. Guided by lines from Scripture urging people to “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks,” they prayed, reflected and then symbolically disarmed the Trident nuclear submarine site. The Kings Bay is home port to six nuclear armed Trident ballistic missile submarines with the combined explosive power of over 1825 Hiroshima bombs. One of the banners  they hung read “The Ultimate Logic of Trident is Omnicide.”

Referring to this sign, Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, said the banner “is exactly right.” In an October 18 endorsement, he called their actions “necessary to avert a much greater evil.”

In late September, the Catholic Bishops of Canada, alarmed over the increasing danger nuclear weapons pose, urged the Government of Canada to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted at the UN in 2017. The Canadian bishops issued their statement on September 26, the United Nations International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. In it, they note the  Vatican has already signed and ratified the Treaty. “The ashes of World War I and the centenary of its armistice,” wrote Pope Francis, “should teach us that future acts of aggression are not deterred by the law of fear, but rather by the power of calm reason that encourages dialogue and mutual understanding as a means of resolving differences.”

The seven defendants, in everyday life, practice nonviolence while serving people who are often the least cared for in our society. Like Marianne, I have known each defendant for close to four decades. They have risked their lives, safety and health in numerous actions of civil disobedience. When imprisoned, they write and speak of the cruel abuse of human beings and the racist, primitive nature of the United States prison-industrial complex. They’ve also chosen to visit or live in war zones, providing witness on behalf of people trapped under bombardment. They live simply, share resources and strive to help build a better world.

Nevertheless, beginning Monday, they will face serious criminal charges and potentially harsh sentences for their action at Kings Bay.

Marianne anxiously awaits their trial. “Why,” she asks, “isn’t there more coverage?”

One of the defendants, Rev. Steve Kelly, SJ, a Jesuit priest, referred to himself in a recent letter as “a tenuous voice in the wilderness.” He further explained that he is among the wilderness of the incarcerated, “two and a quarter million folks comprising the human warehouses in the empire.” Steve has been imprisoned in the Glynn County jail since April 4, 2018.

His letter continues:

And your presence today clearly demonstrates that while you can jail the resisters you cannot destroy the resistance. In this advent of our trial, we have a blue-ribbon legal team to whom I’m sure you’ll show your

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