March 8, 2019
Impoverished people living in numerous countries today would stand a far better chance of survival, and risk far less trauma, if weapon manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon stopped manufacturing and selling death-dealing products.
About three decades ago, I taught writing at one of Chicago’s alternative high schools. It’s easy to recall some of their stories—fast-paced, dramatic, sometimes tender. I would beg my students to three-hole-punch each essay or poem and leave it in a binder on our classroom shelf, anxious not to lose the documentation of their talents and ideas.
Some of the youngsters I taught told me they were members of gangs. Looking down from the window of my second-floor classroom, I sometimes wondered if I was watching them selling drugs in broad daylight as they embraced one another on the street below.
Tragically, in the two years that I taught at Prologue High School, three students were killed. Colleagues told me that they generally buried three students per year. They died, primarily, from gunshot wounds. I think they could have survived their teenage years if weapons and ammunition hadn’t been available.
Similarly, I believe impoverished populations of numerous countries at war today would stand a far better chance of survival, and risk far less trauma, if weapon manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon, stopped manufacturing and selling death-dealing products. It would also help if the people living in countries that export deadly weapons were well-informed about the consequences these businesses bring.
Consider this: The 2018 U.S. Census Report tallies U.S. exports of bullets to other countries. Topping the list is $123 million-worth of bullets to Afghanistan—an eight-fold rise over the number of bullets sold in 2017 and far more than the number of bullets sold to any other country.
During a recent visit to Afghanistan, I heard many people voice intense fear of what would happen if civil war breaks out. It seems to me that those who manufacture bullets are doing all they can to hasten the likelihood and deadly outcome of an armed struggle.
But rather than help people here in the United States understand conditions in countries where the U.S. conducts airstrikes, President Donald Trump is hiding the facts.
On March 6, 2019, Trump revoked portions of a 2016 executive order imposed by President Barack Obama requiring annual reports on the number of strikes taken and an assessment of combatant and civilian deaths. Trump has removed the section of the mandate specifically covering civilian casualties caused by CIA airstrikes, and whether they were caused by drones or “manned” warplanes.
A U.S. State Department email message said the reporting requirements are “superfluous” because the Department of Defense already must file a full report of all civilian casualties caused by military strikes. However, the report required from the Pentagon doesn’t cover airstrikes conducted by the CIA.
And last year, the White House simply ignored the reporting requirement.
Democracy is based on information. You can’t have democracy if people have no information about crucial issues. Uninformed about military practices and foreign policy, U.S. citizens become disinterested.
I lived alongside civilians in Iraq during the 2003 “Shock and Awe” bombing of Baghdad. In the hospital emergency rooms I heard survivors asking, through screams and tears, why they were being attacked. Since that time, in multiple visits to Kabul, I have heard the same agonized question.
The majority of Afghanistan’s population consists of women and children. When civilians in that country die because of U.S. attacks—whether within or beyond “areas of active hostilities”; whether conducted by the CIA or the Department of Defense; whether using manned or unmanned warplanes—the attack is almost certain to cause overwhelming grief. Often the survivors feel rage and may want revenge. But many feel despair and find their only option is to flee.
Imagine a home in your neighborhood suddenly demolished by a secret attack; you have no idea why this family was targeted, or why women and children in this family were killed. If another such attack happened, wouldn’t you consider moving?
Reporting for The New York Times, Mujib Mashal recently interviewed a farmer from Afghanistan’s Helmand province displaced by fighting and now unable to feed his family. “About 13.5 million people are surviving on one meal or less a day,” Mashal writes, “and 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of a $1 a day.”
Last week, an international crisis sharply escalated in a “dogfight” between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed states. The crisis has been somewhat defused. Media reports quickly focused on the relative military strength of both countries—observing, for example, that the dilapidated state of India’s jet fighters could be a “win” for U.S. weapons manufacturers.
“It is hard to sell a front-line fighter to a country that isn’t threatened,” said an analyst with the Lexington Institute. “Boeing and Lockheed Martin both have a better chance of selling now because suddenly India feels threatened.”
A few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited heads of state in Pakistan and India. Photos showed warm embraces and respectful receptions.
The CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson, also embraces the Saudi government. She serves on the boards of trustees of two Saudi technological universities, and presides over a company that has been awarded “a nine-figure down payment on a $15 billion missile-defense system for Saudi Arabia.” The Saudis will acquire new state-of-the-art weapons even as they continue bludgeoning civilians in Yemen during a war orchestrated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And the Saudis will build military alliances with nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.
With both India and Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons, every effort should be made to stop the flow of weapons into the region. But major weapon making companies bluntly assert that the bottom line in the decision is their profit.
Attending funerals for young people in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, at the time one of the poorest in Chicago, I felt deep dismay over the profits that motivated gun runners who sold weapons to students, some of whom would be soon fatally wounded. In the ensuing decades, larger, more ambitious weapon peddlers have engendered and prolonged fighting between warlords, within and beyond the United States.
How different our world could be if efforts were instead directed toward education, health care, and community welfare.
Photo captions: Children in Street Kids School, March 2019 – Maya Evans; Family Visit, Kabul – Dr. Hakim
This article first appeared on the website of The Progressive.
Kathy Kelly (email@example.com) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) When in Kabul, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com)
Photo: Houthi-allied tribesmen demonstrating in Yemen for peace talks – Hani Mohammed/AP
December 19, 2018
Twenty years ago, a small delegation organized by Voices in the Wilderness lived in Baghdad while U.S. cruise missiles attacked more than 100 targets in Iraq. Following four days of bombing, known as “Operation Desert Fox,” our group visited various Iraqis who had survived direct hits. One young girl handed me a large missile fragment, saying “Merry Christmas.”
An engineer, Gasim Risun, cradled his two-week old baby as he sat in his hospital bed. Gasim had suffered multiple wounds, but he was the only one in his family well enough to care for the infant, after an unexploded missile destroyed his house. In Baghdad, a bomb demolished a former military defense headquarters, and the shock waves shattered the windows in the hospital next door. Doctors said the explosions terrified women in the maternity ward, causing some to spontaneously abort their babies while others went into premature labor.
In December 1998, U.S. news media steadily focused on only one person living in Iraq: Saddam Hussein. With the notable exception of Stephen Kinzer of The New York Times, no mainstream media focused on U.N. reports about the consequences of U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Iraq. One of Kinzer’s articles was headlined: “Iraq a Pediatrician’s Hell: No Way to Stop the Dying.”
The hellish conditions continued, even as U.N. officials sounded the alarm and explained how economic sanctions directly contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children under age five.
Now a horror story of similar proportions is playing out in Yemen.
In November 2018, The Guardian reported that up to 85,000 Yemeni children under age five have died from starvation and disease during the last three years. Mainstream media and even governments of large and wealthy countries are finally beginning to acknowledge the anguish suffered by Yemeni children and their families.
Stark and compelling photos show listless, skeletal children who are minutes or days away from death. Reports also show how war plans have deliberately targeted Yemen’s infrastructure, leading to horrifying disease and starvation. Journalists who have met with people targeted as Houthi fighters, many of them farmers and fishermen, describe how people can’t escape the sophisticated U.S. manufactured weapons fired at them from massive warplanes.
One recent Associated Press photo, on page one of The New York Times for December 14, shows a line of tribespeople loyal to the Houthis. The youngest child is the only one not balancing a rifle upright on the ground in front of him. The tribespeople bear arms, but they are poorly equipped, especially compared to the U.S.-armed Saudis.
Since 2010, according to The New York Times, the United States has sold the Saudis thirty F-15 multirole jet fighters, eighty-four combat helicopters, 110 air-to-surface cruise missiles, and 20,000 precision guided bombs. Last year, the United States also sold the Saudis ten maritime helicopters in a $1.9 billion deal. An American defense contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, “earned tens of millions of dollars training the Saudi Navy during the past decade.”
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—along with his counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed—seemed untouchable. He was feted and regaled by former Presidents, Oprah, Hollywood show biz magnates, and constant media hype.
Now, the U.S. Senate has passed a resolution holding him accountable for the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Several U.S. Senators have said they no longer want to be responsible for bloodshed he has caused in Yemen. U.N. negotiators have managed to broker a fragile ceasefire, now in effect, which will hopefully stop the fighting that has raged in the vital port city of Hodeidah. One message which may have prompted the Saudis to negotiate came in the form of a Senate vote threatening to curtail the support of U.S. armed forces for the Saudi-led Coalition’s war on Yemen.
I doubt these actions will bring solace or comfort to parents who cradle their listless and dying children. People on the brink of famine cannot wait days, weeks, or months while powerful groups slowly move through negotiations.
And yet, a shift in public perception regarding war on Yemen could liberate others from the terrible spectre of early death.
Writing during another war, while he was exiled from Vietnam, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh imagined the birth of a “Peace Child.” He ends his poem by calling on people to give both their hands for the chance to “protect the seeds of life bursting on the cradle’s rim.”
I think of Iraqi mothers who lost their babies as bombs exploded just outside their maternity ward. The shift in public perception is painfully too late for innumerable people traumatized and bereaved by war. Nevertheless, the chance to press with all our might for a continuing and growing shift, repudiating war, could point us in a new direction.
The war in Yemen is horrific and ought to be ended immediately. It makes eminent good sense to give both our hands and all the energies we can possibly summon, to end the war in Yemen and vow the abolition of all war.
A version of this article first appeared on the website of The Progressive magazine.
Kathy Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) which is organizing a two week “Voices Rising – Fast for Yemen” beginning in NYC December 29, 2018 for the first week. During the second week, Jan. 6 – 12, participants will join the Witness Against Torture fast in Washington, D.C.
Several days ago, I joined an unusual Skype call originated by young South Korean founders of “The Hope School.” Located on Jeju Island, the school aims to build a supportive community between island residents and newly arrived Yemenis who seek asylum in South Korea.
Jeju, a visa-free port, has been an entry point for close to 500 Yemenis who have traveled nearly 5000 miles in search of safety. Traumatized by consistent bombing, threats of imprisonment and torture, and the horrors of starvation, recent migrants to South Korea, including children, yearn for refuge.
Like many thousands of others who’ve fled Yemen, they miss their families, their neighborhoods, and the future they once might have imagined. But returning to Yemen now would be awfully dangerous for them.
Whether to welcome or reject Yemenis seeking asylum in South Korea has been a very difficult question for many who live on Jeju Island. Based in Gangjeong, a city long renowned for brave and tenacious peace activism, the founders of “The Hope School” want to show newly arrived Yemenis a respectful welcome by creating settings in which young people from both countries can get to know one another and better understand each other’s history, culture and language.
They regularly gather for exchanges and lessons. Their curriculum suggests solving problems without relying on weapons, threats, and force. In the “Seeing Yemen from Jeju” seminar, I was asked to speak about grass roots efforts in the U.S. to stop the war in Yemen. I mentioned Voices has helped arrange demonstrations against war on Yemen in many U.S. cities and that, relative to other antiwar campaigns we’ve participated in, we’ve seen some willingness within the mainstream media to cover the suffering and starvation caused by the war on Yemen.
One Yemeni participant, himself a journalist, voiced exasperated frustration. Did I understand how trapped he and his companions are? In Yemen, Houthi fighters could persecute him. He could be bombed by Saudi and UAE warplanes; mercenary fighters, funded and organized by the Saudis or the UAE might attack him; he would be equally vulnerable to Special Operations forces organized by western countries, such as the U.S. or Australia. What’s more, his homeland is subject to exploitation by major powers greedily seeking to control its resources. “We are caught in a big game,” he said.
Another young man from Yemen said he envisions an army of Yemenis that would defend all people living there from all the groups now at war in Yemen.
Hearing this, I remembered how adamantly our young South Korean friends have opposed armed struggle and the militarization of their island. Through demonstrations, fasts, civil disobedience, imprisonments, walks, and intensive campaigns designed to build solidarity, they’ve struggled, for years, to resist the onslaughts of South Korean and U.S. militarism. They understand well how war and ensuing chaos divides people, leaving them ever more vulnerable to exploitation and plunder. And yet, they clearly want everyone in the school to have a voice, to be heard, and to experience respectful dialogue.
How do we, in the U.S., develop grass roots communities dedicated to both understand the complex realities Yemenis face and work to end U.S. participation in the war on Yemen? Actions taken by our young friends who organized “The Hope School” set a valuable example. Even so, we must urgently call on all the warring parties to enact immediate cease-fires, open all ports and roads so desperately needed distribution of food, medicine and fuel can take place, and help restore Yemen’s devastated infrastructure and economy.
In numerous U.S. locations, activists have displayed 40 backpacks to remember the forty children killed by a 500-pound Lockheed Martin missile that targeted their school bus on August 9, 2018.
In the days before August 9th, each child had received a UNICEF-issued blue backpack filled with vaccines and other valuable resources to help their families survive. When classes resumed some weeks ago, children who had survived the terrible bombing returned to school carrying bookbags still stained by spattered blood. Those children desperately need reparations in the form of practical care and generous “no-strings attached” investments to help them find a better future. They need “The Hope School” too.
Killing people, through war or starvation, never solves problems. I strongly believe this. And I believe heavily armed elites, intending to increase their personal wealth, have regularly and deliberately sown seeds of division in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Gaza and other lands wherein they desire to control precious resources. A divided Yemen would allow Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, their coalition partners, and the U.S. to exploit Yemen’s rich resources for their own benefit.
As wars rage on, every voice crying out in affliction should be heard. Following “The Hope School” seminar, I imagine we could all agree that an excruciatingly crucial voice wasn’t present in the room: that of a child, in Yemen, too hungry to cry.
Photo: Villagers scour rubble for belongings scattered during the bombing of Hajar Aukaish, Yemen, in April 2015. Photo credit: Almigdad Mojalli/VOA
Above: 11 month old Wadah Askri Mesheel in a Yemen clinic, 8 hours before his death from malnutrition.
Photo credit: Tyler Hicks/NYT
November 29, 2018
On November 28, sixty-three U.S. Senators voted in favor of holding a floor debate on a resolution calling for an end to direct U.S. Armed Forces involvement in the Saudi-UAE coalition-led war on Yemen. Describing the vote as a rebuke to Saudi Arabia and the Trump Administration, AP reported on Senate dissatisfaction over the administration’s response to Saudi Arabia’s brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi last month. Just before the Senate vote, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called current objections to U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia “Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on.”
The “caterwaul” on Capitol Hill reflects years of determined effort by grassroots groups to end U.S. involvement in war on Yemen, fed by mounting international outrage at the last three years of war that have caused the deaths of an estimated 85,000 Yemeni children under age five.
When children waste away to literally nothing while fourteen million people endure conflict-driven famine, a hue and cry—yes, a caterwaul —most certainly should be raised, worldwide.
How might we understand what it would mean in the United States for fourteen million people in our country to starve? You would have to combine the populations of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and imagine these cities empty of all but the painfully and slowly dying, to get a glimpse into the suffering in Yemen, where one of every two persons faces starvation.
Antiwar activists have persistently challenged elected representatives to acknowledge and end the horrible consequences of modern warfare in Yemen where entire neighborhoods have been bombed, displacing millions of people; daily aerial attacks have directly targeted Yemen’s infrastructure, preventing delivery of food, safe water, fuel, and funds. The war crushes people through aerial bombing and on-the-ground fighting as well as an insidious economic war.
Yemenis are strangled by import restrictions and blockades, causing non-payment of government salaries, inflation, job losses, and declining or disappearing incomes. Even when food is available, ordinary Yemenis cannot afford it.
Starvation is being used as a weapon of war—by Saudi Arabia, by the United Arab Emirates, and by the superpower patrons including the United States that arm and manipulate both countries.
During the thirteen years of economic sanctions against Iraq— those years between the Gulf War and the devastating U.S.-led “Shock and Awe” war that followed—I joined U.S. and U.K. activists traveling to Iraq in public defiance of the economic sanctions.
We aimed to resist U.S.- and U.K.-driven policies that weakened the Iraqi regime’s opposition more than they weakened Saddam Hussein. Ostensibly democratic leaders were ready to achieve their aims by brutally sacrificing children under age five. The children died first by the hundreds, then by the thousands and eventually by the hundreds of thousands. Sitting in a Baghdad pediatric ward, I heard a delegation member, a young nurse from the U.K., begin to absorb the cruelty inflicted on mothers and children.
“I think I understand,” murmured Martin Thomas, “It’s a death row for infants.” Children gasped their last breaths while their parents suffered a pile-up of anguish, wave after wave. We should remain haunted by those children’s short lives.
Iraq’s children died amid an eerie and menacing silence on the part of mainstream media and most elected U.S. officials. No caterwauling was heard on Capitol Hill.
But, worldwide, people began to know that children were paying the price of abysmally failed policies, and millions of people opposed the 2003 Shock and Awe war.
Still the abusive and greedy policies continue. The U.S. and its allies built up permanent warfare states to secure consistent exploitation of resources outside their own territories.
During and after the Arab Spring, numerous Yemenis resisted dangerously unfair austerity measures that the Gulf Cooperation Council and the U.S. insisted they must accept. Professor Isa Blumi, who notes that generations of Yemeni fighters have refused to acquiesce to foreign invasion and intervention, presents evidence that Saudi Arabia and the UAE now orchestrate war on Yemen to advance their own financial interests.
In the case of Saudi Arabia, Blumi states that although Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman wants to author an IPO (Initial Public Offering), for the Saudi state oil company, Aramco, no major investors would likely participate. Investment firms know the Saudis pay cash for their imports, including billions of dollars’ worth of weaponry, because they are depleting resources within their own territory. This, in part, explains the desperate efforts to take over Yemen’s offshore oil reserves and other strategic assets.
Recent polls indicate that most Americans don’t favor U.S. war on Yemen. Surely, our security is not enhanced if the U.S. continues to structure its foreign policy on fear, prejudice, greed, and overwhelming military force. The movements that pressured the U.S. Senate to reject current U.S. foreign policy regarding Saudi Arabia and its war on Yemen will continue raising voices. Collectively, we’ll work toward raising the lament, pressuring the media and civil society to insist that slaughtering children will never solve problems.
This article first appeared on the website of The Progressive magazine.
Kathy Kelly co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence www.vcnv.org
by Kathy Kelly
May 21, 2018
On May 10, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia informed the UN Security Council and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that Saudi Air Defenses intercepted two Houthi ballistic missiles launched from inside Yemeni territory targeting densely populated civilian areas in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. No one was killed, but an earlier attack, on March 26, 2018, killed one Egyptian worker in Riyadh and an April 28 attack killed a Saudi man.
Unlike the unnumbered victims of the Saudis’ own ongoing bombardment of Yemen, these two precious, irreplaceable lives are easy to document and count. Death tolls have become notoriously difficult to count accurately in Yemen. Three years of U.S.-supported blockades and bombardments have plunged the country into immiseration and chaos.
In their May 10th request, the Saudis asked the UN to implement “all relevant Security Council resolutions in order to prevent the smuggling of additional weapons to the Houthis, and to hold violators of the arms embargo accountable.” The letter accuses Iran of furnishing the Houthi militias with stockpiles of ballistic missiles, UAVs and sea mines. The Saudis’ letter omits mention of massive U.S. weapons exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The Security Council resolutions invoked by the Saudis name the Houthis as a warring party in Yemen and call for an embargo, so the Houthis can’t acquire more weapons. But these Resolutions don’t name the Saudis as a warring party in Yemen, even though Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has, since March 2015, orchestrated Saudi involvement in the war, using billions of dollars of weapons sold to the Saudis and the UAE by the U.S. and the UK.
The Saudis have an undeniable right to call on the UN to work toward preventing the Houthis from acquiring ballistic weapons that could be fired into Saudi Arabia, but the air, sea and water blockade now imposed on Yemen brutally and lethally punishes children who have no capacity whatsoever to affect Houthi policies. What’s more, the U.S. military, through midair refueling of Saudi and Emirati warplanes, is directly involved in devastating barrages of airstrikes while the UN Security Council essentially pays no heed.
As Yemeni civilians’ lives become increasingly desperate, they become increasingly isolated, their suffering made invisible by a near-total lack of Western media interest or attention. No commercial flights are allowed into the Sana’a airport, so media teams and human rights documentarians can’t enter the areas of Yemen most afflicted by airstrikes. The World Food Program (WFP) organizes a weekly flight into Sana’a, but the WFP must vet passengers with the Saudi government. Nevertheless, groups working in Yemen, including Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Save the Children, Oxfam, and various UN agencies do their best to report about consequences of the Saudi-Emirati led coalition’s blockade and airstrikes.
On May 18th, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a report about airstrikes against the Saada governorate which notes that “in the past three years, the coalition has carried out 16,749 air raids in Yemen, i.e. an average of 15 a day. Almost a third of the raids have hit non-military sites.”
Earlier in May, MSF responded to a series of Saudi-Emirati coalition led airstrikes on May 7th which struck a busy street in the heart of Sana’a, killing six people and injuring at least 72.
“Civilians, including children, were killed and maimed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said João Martins, MSF head of mission in Yemen. “No-one should live in fear of being bombed while going about their daily life; yet again we are seeing civilian victims of airstrikes fighting for their lives in hospitals.”
Lacking access to food, clean water, medicine and fuel, over 400,000 Yemeni children are, according to Save the Children, at imminent risk of starvation. “Most of them will never see a health clinic or receive treatment,” says Kevin Watkins, the organization’s UK Director. “Many of those who survive will be affected by stunting and poor health for the rest of their lives.” Watkins says the Saudi-UAE led coalition is using economic strangulation as a weapon of war, “targeting jobs, infrastructure, food markets and the provision of basic services.”
On March 22, 2018, Amnesty International called for an end to the flow of arms to the Saudi-led coalition attacking Yemen. “There is extensive evidence that irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition have resulted in enormous harm to Yemeni civilians,” their statement says. “But this has not deterred the USA, the UK and other states, including France, Spain and Italy, from continuing transfers of billions of dollars’ worth of such arms.”
The UN Charter begins with a commitment to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. The UN Security Council has miserably failed the Yemeni people by allowing the scourge of war to worsen, year by year. By approving biased resolutions that neglect to even name the most well-funded and sophisticated warring parties in Yemen — Saudi Arabia; the United Arab Emirates; the United States — the Security Council promotes the intensification of brutal, apocalyptic war and enables western war profiteers to benefit from billions of dollars in weapon sales. Weapon manufacturers such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing then pressure governments to continue selling weapons to two of their top customers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Earnest, honest and practical steps to stop the war are urgently needed. The U.N. must abandon its biased role in the Yemen conflict, so it can broker a peace in which the Houthi minority can retain some dignity and representation in majority-Sunni Yemen, which even before the Houthi uprising lacked any legitimate elected leader. The Houthis must be given an option to lay down arms without landing in any of the clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen, reported to be little more than torture camps. Even more urgent, the violence and economic strangulation by foreign invaders must cease.
At the very least, citizens in countries supplying weapons to the Saudi-Emirati coalition must demand their legislators forbid all future sales. The time for determined action is running out in the U.S. as the State Department is already taking preliminary steps toward a massive, multibillion-dollar sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The package is said to include tens of thousands of precision-guided munitions from Raytheon.
Yemeni civilians, especially children, pose no threat whatsoever to the U.S. Yet, U.S. support for airstrikes, blockades and the chaos inevitably caused by prolonged war threatens Yemeni civilians, especially vulnerable children. They have committed no crime but are being punished with death.
cartoon: S. Reynolds (CC-BY-SA 4.0)
Photo: Witness Against Torture protestors march to the White House (Justin Norman)
by Kathy Kelly – January 13, 2018
January 11, 2018 marked the 16th year that Guantanamo prison has exclusively imprisoned Muslim men, subjecting many of them to torture and arbitrary detention.
About thirty people gathered in Washington D.C., convened by Witness Against Torture, (WAT), for a weeklong fast intended to close Guantanamo and abolish torture forever. Six days ago, Matt Daloisio arrived from New York City in a van carefully packed with twelve years’ worth of posters and banners, plus sleeping bags, winter clothing and other essentials for the week.
Matt spent an hour organizing the equipment in the large church hall housing us. “He curates it,” said one WAT organizer.
Later, Matt reflected that many of the prisoners whose visages and names appear on our banners have been released. In 2007, there were 430 prisoners in Guantanamo. Today, 41 men are imprisoned there. Shaker Aamer has been reunited with the son whom he had never met while imprisoned in Guantanamo. Mohammed Ould Slahi, author of Guantanamo Diary, has finally been released. These encouraging realities don’t in the slightest diminish the urgency we feel in seeking the release of the 41 men still imprisoned in Guantanamo.
Not even one of the 41 prisoners now in Guantanamo was captured by the U.S. military on a battlefield. Afghan militias and the Pakistani military were paid cash bounties for selling 86 percent of these prisoners into US custody. Imagine the “green light” given for other countries to practice buying and selling of human beings.
Aisha Manar, working with the London Campaign to Close Guantanamo, points out that “the rights violating practices surrounding Guantanamo are now a model for the detention and incarceration polices of the US and other states.”
This chilling reality is reflected in Associated Press reports revealing that the United Arab Emirates operates a network of secret prisons in Southern Yemen, where prisoners are subjected to extreme torture. This has included being trussed to a rotating machine called “the grill” and exposed to a roasting fire.
“Nearly 2,000 men have disappeared into the clandestine prisons,” the AP reports, “a number so high that it has triggered near-weekly protests among families seeking information about missing sons, brothers and fathers.”
One of the main detention complexes is at Riyan Airport in Yemen’s southern city of Mukalla. Former detainees, speaking on condition of anonymity told of “being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, trussed up on the ‘grill,’ and sexually assaulted.”
A member of the Yemeni security force set up by the United Arab Emirates told AP that American forces were at times only yards away.
“It would be a stretch to believe the US did not know or could not have known that there was a real risk of torture,” said Amnesty International’s director of research in the Middle East, Lynn Maalouf.
On January 9, 2018, WAT members tried to deliver a letter to UAE Ambassador Yusuf Al Otaiba, seeking his response to these reports. Security guards took our pictures but said they were unable to accept our letter.
Two days later, joining numerous other groups for a large rally, we donned orange jumpsuits and black hoods, carried placards bearing the number “41” and displayed two main banners. One said: “It would take a genius to close Guantanamo.” And the other: “We are still here because you are still there.
Forty-one hearts still beat in Guantanamo prison cells. That’s forty-one too many.
A version of this article was first published on The Progressive website.
December 31, 2017
People living now in Yemen’s third largest city, Ta’iz, have endured unimaginable circumstances for the past three years. Civilians fear to go outside lest they be shot by a sniper or step on a land mine. Both sides of a worsening civil war use Howitzers, Kaytushas, mortars and other missiles to shell the city. Residents say no neighborhood is safer than another, and human rights groups report appalling violations, including torture of captives. Two days ago, a Saudi-led coalition bomber killed 54 people in a crowded market place.
Before the civil war developed, the city was regarded as the official cultural capital of Yemen, a place where authors and academics, artists and poets chose to live. Ta’iz was home to a vibrant, creative youth movement during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Young men and women organized massive demonstrations to protest the enrichment of entrenched elites as ordinary people struggled to survive.
The young people were exposing the roots of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today.
They were sounding an alarm about the receding water tables which made wells ever harder to dig and were crippling the agricultural economy. They were similarly distressed over unemployment. When starving farmers and shepherds moved to cities, the young people could see how the increased population would overstress already inadequate systems for sewage, sanitation and health care delivery. They protested their government’s cancellation of fuel subsidies and the skyrocketing prices which resulted. They clamored for a refocus on policy away from wealthy elites and toward creation of jobs for high school and university graduates.
Despite their misery, they steadfastly opted for unarmed, nonviolent struggle.
Dr. Sheila Carapico, an historian who has closely followed Yemen’s modern history, noted the slogans adopted by demonstrators in Ta’iz and in Sana’a, in 2011: “Remaining Peaceful Is Our Choice,” and “Peaceful, Peaceful, No to Civil War.”
Carapico adds that some called Ta’iz the epicenter of the popular uprising. “The city’s relatively educated cosmopolitan student body entertained demonstration participants with music, skits, caricatures, graffiti, banners and other artistic embellishments. Throngs were photographed: men and women together; men and women separately, all unarmed.”
In December of 2011, 150,000 people walked nearly 200 kilometers from Ta’iz to Sana’a, promoting their call for peaceful change. Among them were tribal people who worked on ranches and farms. They seldom left home without their rifles, but had chosen to set aside their weapons and join the peaceful march.
Yet, those who ruled Yemen for over thirty years, in collusion with Saudi Arabia’s neighboring monarchy which fiercely opposed democratic movements anywhere near its borders, negotiated a political arrangement meant to co-opt dissent while resolutely excluding a vast majority of Yemenis from influence on policy. They ignored demands for changes that might be felt by ordinary Yemenis and facilitated instead a leadership swap, replacing the dictatorial President Ali Abdullah Saleh with Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, his vice-president, as an unelected president of Yemen.
The U.S. and neighboring petro-monarchies backed the powerful elites. At a time when Yemenis desperately needed funding to meet the needs of starving millions, they ignored the pleas of peaceful youths calling for demilitarized change, and poured funding into “security spending” – a misleading notion which referred to further military buildup, including the arming of client dictators against their own populations.
And then the nonviolent options were over, and civil war began.
Now the nightmare of famine and disease those peaceful youths had anticipated has become a horrid reality, and their city of Ta’iz is transformed into a battlefield.
What could we wish for Ta’iz? Surely, we wouldn’t wish the terror plague of aerial bombardment to cause death, mutilation, destruction and multiple traumas. We wouldn’t wish for shifting battle lines to stretch across the city and the rubble in its blood-marked streets. I think most people in the U.S. wouldn’t wish such horror on any community and wouldn’t want people in Ta’iz to be singled out for further suffering. We could instead build massive campaigns demanding a U.S. call for a permanent cease fire and an end of all weapon sales to any of the warring parties. But, if the U.S. continues to equip the Saudi-led coalition, selling bombs to Saudi Arabia and the UAE and refueling Saudi bombers in midair so they can continue their deadly sorties, people in Taiz and throughout Yemen will continue to suffer.
The beleaguered people in Ta’iz will anticipate, every day, the sickening thud, ear-splitting blast or thunderous explosion that could tear apart the body of a loved one, or a neighbor, or a neighbors’ child; or turn their homes to masses of rubble, and alter their lives forever or end their lives before the day is through.
Photo Credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Let Yemenis Live
by Kathy Kelly
December 23, 2017
On May 2, 2017, before becoming Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, as Minister of Defense, spoke about the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen, a war he orchestrated since March of 2015. “A long war is in our interest,” he said, explaining that the Houthi rebels would eventually run out of cash, lack external supplies and break apart. Conversely, the Saudis could count on a steady flow of cash and weapons. “Time is on our side,” he concluded.
Powerful people in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Sudan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, Senegal and Jordan have colluded with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince to prolong the war against Yemen. The Saudis have employed Sudanese fighters from the terrifying Janjaweed militias to fight in small cities along Yemen’s coast line. The seeming objective is to gain ground control leading to the vital Port of Hodeidah. UAE military are reported to operate a network of secret prisons where Yemenis disappear and are tortured, deterring people from speaking up about human rights violations lest they land in one of these dreaded prisons.
Among the most powerful warlords participating in the war are the U.S. and the UK.
Despite the recent publicity for stern words from Donald Trump and Theresa May, urging Saudi Arabia to lift its blockade of Yemen, both countries continue to pocket billions of dollars selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. President Trump swiftly condemned the Houthi fighters for firing several rockets at Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But the Houthis could claim to be using these weapons in self-defense after Saudi and UAE jets have dropped tons of bombs, purchased from the U.S. and the UK, on Yemeni cities and civilians. Observers say if the U.S. stopped its midair refueling of Saudi bomber planes, the war would end shortly thereafter. Yet, the U.S continues these military operations. The UK still supplies the Saudis with surveillance, and both countries work to maintain a comfortable relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Just over 1,000 days of Saudi-led coalition war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen has been deadly and devastating for Yemeni civilians.
Mark Lowcock, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, says that 7 – 8 million Yemenis are one step away from starvation. The BBC reports that more than 80% of Yemenis lack food, fuel, water and access to health care.
The number of suspected cholera cases in Yemen has reached one million, according to the International Commission of the Red Cross.
1.8 million children in Yemen are acutely malnourished, including 400,000 under the age of five who suffer from severe acute malnutrition. Malnourished children are also at increased risk of dying from infectious diseases.
Like the children of Iraq who perished by the hundreds of thousands during U.S. led economic war against Iraq, these little ones in Yemen mean harm to no one. They’ve done nothing to deserve punishment. Yet, they will pay the price for abysmally failed policies. The food and clean water they hunger and thirst for could reach them, but not if powerful elites decide it’s acceptable to blockade Yemen’s ports, bomb roadways, destroy sewage and sanitation systems, attack fishermen and farmers, and even kill participants at a wedding celebration.
After dancing in Saudi Arabia with Mohammed bin Salman and other Saudi princes, President Trump set in motion a $110 billion-dollar weapons deal.
Boeing, Raytheon, and other military contractors already benefiting from this deal will likely agree with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: a long war is in their best interests.
But, ordinary people who prefer not to be represented by vicious warlords and who face no risk of torture, disappearance or other frightening punishments (people like me for instance) have a responsibility to speak up visibly and clearly. .
Time is running out for the children of Yemen. The Crown Prince is mistaken. Any war, long or short, may seem to favor the perpetrators, but in the long run wars sow seeds of revenge, retaliation, hatred and death. Real courage requires control over our fears and mutual agreements to protect the most vulnerable among us. Especially the children.
Kathy Kelly (email@example.com) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)
by Kathy Kelly
November 21, 2017
During the spring of 1999, as part of Voices in the Wilderness’s campaign to end indiscriminately lethal U.S./U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq, the Fellowship of Reconciliation arranged for two Nobel Peace laureates, Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire, to visit the country. Before their travel, Voices activists helped organize meetings for them with a range of ordinary Iraqis affected by an economic warfare targeting the most vulnerable: the elderly, the sick, and most tragically of all, the children. Perez Esquivel studied the itinerary. His voice and face showed clear disappointment. “Yes,” he said, shaking his head, “but when do we meet with the teenagers?” He advised to always learn from a region’s young people, and seek clear, inquisitive views not yet hardened by propaganda. We quickly arranged for Maguire and Perez Esquivel to meet with young women at Baghdad’s Dijla Secondary School for Girls.
It was the spring of 1999. After eight years of deadly economic sanctions, the 2003 U.S. invasion was still the haziest of looming future threats. I was there with them at the school, and I remember Layla standing up and raising her voice. “You come and you say, you will do, you will do. But nothing changes. Me, I am sixteen. Can you tell me, what is the difference between me, I am sixteen, and someone who is sixteen in your country? I’ll tell you. Our emotions are frozen. We cannot feel.” But then she sat down and cried.
Other Iraqi students wondered what their country had done to deserve this treatment. What would happen to them if the UN said Iraq’s foreign policy directly contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children, in another country, under age five? “Who are the criminals?” they asked.
In 1999, young Layla’s voice was both pleading and accusing when she said, “Nothing changes.” A change did occur in 2003. The 13-year economic war turned into a fierce bombing and invasion called “Shock and Awe.” U.S.-led foreign troops battered the nation. With its cities and reservoirs wrecked, its power lines downed, and its police and economy abolished, chaos broke out. Occupying troops watched the country convulse into escalating violence, replicable anywhere. The long smother of the sanctions was lifted from the crushed windpipe of a nation struggling even harder to breathe, its desperate flailing summoning ever more violent responses. The young people’s question, then, should persist: “Who are the criminals?”
As they do each month, my young friends in Kabul, Afghanistan, hosted a three-hour international internet call on November 21st, 2017, focused on ways to survive the psychological traumas inflicted on people living in a war zone. They spoke about how war causes mistrust, fear and a constant anxiety because there is no safe space. They said what they most need are relationships. Trauma destroys connections, makes people feel alone and isolated. Healing involves connection.
Through self-education, they’ve learned to connect and care deeply about people in Yemen where seven million people, according to CBS’s Sixty Minutes, face famine. Meanwhile, a Saudi-led coalition, backed and joined by the U.S., continues blockading and bombing civilians. Despite their own destitution, the Afghan Peace Volunteers collected what they could for relief efforts in Yemen, raising about $48.00.
“The quality of mercy is strained in the Middle East,” reads a New York Times op-ed from mid-November, 2017, turning to literature to point out the unspeakably brutal throttling of Yemen where, according to the NYT op-ed, “Saudi Arabia closed off the highways, sea routes and airports in war-torn Yemen, forbidding humanitarian groups from even shipping chlorine tablets for the Yemenis suffering from a cholera epidemic…The International Red Cross expects about a million people to be infected by cholera in Yemen by December.” The op-ed clearly links the epidemic to U.S. policy and emphasizes the Saudi-led campaign’s dependence on military assistance from the U.S.
Mark Weisbrot, an analyst with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, urges ordinary U.S. people to speak up about Yemen, “because this is the world’s best chance of ending what UN aid chief Mark Lowcock called “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims.” Last week, 120,000 people watched a brief video of Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin risking arrest to protest U.S. participation in Saudi war crimes. Now, as local groups in the U.S. and other countries plan vigils, legislative action, civil disobedience and education campaigns, we have a chance to end the nightmare fears of Yemenis facing starvation, disease, and war.
As I watched in 1999, Layla stood before her class to ask two renowned peacemakers what difference there was between her and a sixteen-year-old living in a more secure part of the world. The answer, in terms of her basic human rights and her irreplaceable human value, should be manifestly clear: there is no difference whatsoever. And yet, while U.S. warlords and military contractors collude with their counterparts in other lands, they earn former president Dwight Eisenhower’s blistering evaluation. This world in arms “is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists and the hopes of its children.” Among the most vulnerable children sacrificed are those forced into poverty by military blockade and military occupation, who steel themselves as the bombs tear through their towns and their neighborhoods and their neighbors, through their traumatized memories, and through their prospective futures when they dare to hope for one.
The comfortable nations often authorize the worst atrocities overseas through fear for their own safety, imagining themselves the victims to be protected from crime at all costs. Such attitudes entitle people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen to look in our direction when they ask, “Who are the criminals?” They will be looking at us when they ask that, until we at last exert our historically unprecedented economic and political ability to turn our imperial nations away from ruinous war, and earn our talk of mercy.