All posts by Kathy Kelly

The Long, Brutal U.S. War on Children in the Middle East

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.

U.S. Is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen

On August 9, a U.S.-supported Saudi airstrike bombed a bus carrying schoolchildren in Sa’ada, a city in northern Yemen. The New York Times reported that the students were on a recreational trip. According to the Sa’ada health department, the attack killed at least forty-three people.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, at least twenty-nine of those killed were children under the age of fifteen, and forty-eight people were wounded, including thirty children.

CNN aired horrifying, heartbreaking footage of children who survived the attack being treated in an emergency room. One of the children, carrying his UNICEF issued blue backpack, is covered with blood and badly burned.

Commenting on the tragedy, CNN’s senior correspondent Nima Elbagir emphasized that she had seen unaired video which was even worse than what the CNN segment showed. She then noted that conditions could worsen because Yemen’s vital port of Hodeidah, the only port currently functioning in Yemen, has been under attack for weeks of protracted Saudi coalition-led airstrikes. Ms. Elbagir described the port of Hodeidah as “the only lifeline to bring in supplies to Yemen.”

“This conflict is backed by the U.S. and the U.K.,” Elbagir said, concluding her report with, “They are in full support of the Saudi-led activities in Yemen today.”

U.S. companies such as Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin have sold billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition which is attacking Yemen.

The U.S. military refuels Saudi and Emirati warplanes through midair exercises. And, the United States helps the Saudi coalition warmakers choose their targets.

Isa Blumi, an associate professor at Stockholm University and author of the book Destroying Yemen, has said the United States is “front and center responsible” for the Saudi coalition attacks.

Looking for a helpful way to describe U.S. support for the Saudi-Emirati operation in Yemen, journalist Samuel Oakford recently offered this comparison: “If an airstrike was a drive-by and killed someone, the U.S. provided the car, the wheels, the servicing and repair, the gun, the bullets, help with maintenance of those—and the gas.”

The August 9 attack against children and other civilians follows a tragic and sordid list of Saudi-Emirati attacks causing carnage and extreme affliction in Yemen. On June 12, Doctors Without Borders reported an airstrike which destroyed its newly constructed facility for treatment of cholera, in the town of Abs, built in anticipation of a third epidemic outbreak of cholera in Yemen.

Scores of people were killed and wounded in an August 3 attack near the entrance to the port of Hodeidah’s Al Thawra hospital. Analysts examining the munitions used in the attack believe the killing and destruction was caused when United Arab Emirates forces situated near the Hodeidah airport fired mortars into the area.

Why have the Saudis and Emiratis led a coalition attacking Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab peninsula, since March of 2015?

Professor Isa Blumi believes the goal is to bludgeon Yemenis into complete submission and exert control over  “a gold mine” of resources, including oil reserves, natural gas, minerals, and a strategic location. Blumi notes that the war against Yemen costs the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 200 million dollars per day, yet Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who commented that a prolonged war is in the interests of Saudi Arabia, seems to believe the cost is worth it, considering potential future gains.

Business profits seem to also motivate U.S. weapon companies that continue benefiting from weapon sales to the Saudi-Emirati led coalition.

The United States is deeply implicated in the appalling carnage in Yemen. It is our responsibility as citizens to do what we can to demand an end to this complicity.

• This article first appeared on the website of The Progressive magazine

God Only Knows

If they would just confirm to us that my brother is alive, if they would just let us see him, that’s all we want. But we can’t get anyone to give us any confirmation. My mother dies a hundred times every day. They don’t know what that is like.

In July of 2018, an Amnesty International report entitled “God Knows If He’s Alive,” documented the plight of dozens of families in southern Yemen whose loved ones have been tortured, killed, or forcibly disappeared by Yemeni security forces reporting to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that, with vital US support, has been bombarding and blockading famine and disease-ravaged Yemen for three brutal years. The disappearances, and torture, can sadly be laid at the doorstep of the United States.

One testimonial after another echoes the sentiments of a woman whose husband has been held incommunicado for more than two years. “Shouldn’t they be given a trial?” she asked. “Why else are there courts? They shouldn’t be disappeared this way – not only are we unable to visit them, we don’t even know if they are dead or alive.”

The report describes bureaucratic farces in which families beg for information about their loved ones’ whereabouts from Yemeni prosecutors and prison officials, but the families’ pleas for information are routinely met with silence or intimidation.

The families are appealing to an unelected Yemeni exile government whose president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, (when “elected” president in 2012, he was the only candidate) generally resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The UAE has, so far, supported Hadi’s claim to govern Yemen. However, the Prosecutor General of Hadi’s government, as well as other officials, told Amnesty International the government of Yemen has no control over operations “spearheaded by the UAE and implemented by the Yemeni forces it backs.”
When months and years pass and families of people who are missing still have no news about their loved ones, some try to communicate unofficially with prison guards or with former detainees who have been released from various detention sites. They repeatedly hear stories about torture of detainees and rumors about prisoners who died in custody.

The Amnesty report implicates UAE-backed local forces in Yemen, as well as the UAE military, in the crimes of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. Of seven former or current detainees interviewed by Amnesty, five said they were subjected to these abuses. “All seven witnessed other detainees being tortured,” the report adds, “including one who said he saw a detainee held in a cell next to him being carried away in a body bag after he had been repeatedly tortured.”

In June 2017, Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press exposed a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen. Their reports described ghastly torture inflicted on prisoners and noted that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Yet, a year later, there has been no investigation of these allegations by the Yemeni government, by the UAE, or by the UAE’s most powerful ally in the Yemen war, the United States.

“It is shocking, to say the least,” the Amnesty report states, “that one year after a network of secret prisons operated by the UAE and the Yemeni forces it backs was exposed, these facilities continue to operate and that there has not been a serious investigation undertaken into credibly documented violations, including systemic torture in custody.” The Amnesty report calls on the US to “facilitate independent oversight, including by the US Congress, over US military or intelligence cooperation with Yemeni and UAE forces involved in detention activities in Yemen.” It further calls for investigating any involvement of US military or intelligence personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen.

To date, the US continues selling weapons to the UAE and to its coalition partner, Saudi Arabia, despite several Congressional debates and a few increasingly close votes demanding a full or partial end to US weapons sales considering the terrible practices being carried out as part of the Yemen war.

Since March of 2015, a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and relying on crucial U.S. logistical aid, has bombarded Yemen while blockading its major port, despite Yemen’s status as one of the poorest countries in the world. Targeting transportation, electrical plants, sewage and sanitation facilities, schools, mosques, weddings and funerals, the vicious bombing has led to starvation, displacement, and the spread of disease including cholera.

On the same day that the Amnesty report was released, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pardoned “all military men, who have taken part in the Operation Restoring Hope of their respective military and disciplinary penalties, in regard of some rules and disciplines.” It seems likely that the Amnesty report precipitated this royal decree.

Along with three countries in North Africa’s “Sahel” desert region, Yemen has been cited as part of the worst famine crisis in the 70-year history of the UN. In the past three years of aerial and naval attacks, Yemen’s key port of Hodeidah has remained partially or fully closed despite the country’s vital need for relief supplies. And, while Yemenis suffer the chaos and despair characteristic of war, the Saudis and UAE refer to the war as “Operation Restoring Hope.”

Many thousands of Yemenis, subjected to consistent bombing and threats of starvation and famine, have fled their homes. Many seek refuge out of Yemen. For instance, close to 500 Yemenis have traveled nearly 500 miles to reach a visa-free port on South Korea’s Jeju Island. On July 21, during an international phone call hosted by young friends in Afghanistan, listeners heard Kaia, a resident of Jeju Island, describe the “Hope School.” She explained how she and several other young people are trying to help welcome Yemenis now living in their village of Gangjeong. The young people are already committed to peacefully resisting U.S. and South Korean military destruction of their shoreline and ecosystem. Now, they have started an informal school so Yemeni and South Korean residents can learn from one another. Small groups gather for conversational exchanges translated from Arabic to English to Korean. Many South Koreans can recall, in their own familial history, that seven million Koreans fled Japanese occupation of their land. Their Korean forebears relied on hospitality from people in other lands. The Catholic Bishop of the Jeju diocese, Monsignor Kang Woo-il, called on Koreans to embrace Yemeni refugees, labeling it a crime against human morality to shut the door on refugees and migrants.

Kaia’s account of the newly launched school describes an effort that truthfully involves restoring hope. The cynical designation of Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen as “Operation Restoring Hope” creates an ugly smokescreen that distracts from the crucial need to investigate war crimes committed in Yemen today.

US citizens bear responsibility for the US government’s support of these crimes.

The Yemenis mean us no harm and have committed no crime against us. Congressional votes have come quite close, with bipartisan support, to ending US participation in, and support for, the Saudi and Emirati led Coalition war against Yemen. Ending arms sales to the UAE and Saudi monarchies, supported by both sides of the aisle, will signal to the UAE and Saudi Arabia the US will no longer assist their efforts to prolong war and siege in Yemen. On cue from the initiative and energy shown by young South Koreans, people in the US can and should organize campaigns to educate their communities, educational institutions, and media outlets about the plight of people in Yemen. Conscious of the nightmare faced by Yemenis whose husbands, brothers, fathers and sons have been disappeared or detained by shadowy military enforcers, US people can work toward implementing each recommendation in Amnesty’s devastating report.

Witness Against Torture activists protest at the Embassy of the United Arab (Photo by Witness Against Torture)

God Only Knows

If they would just confirm to us that my brother is alive, if they would just let us see him, that’s all we want. But we can’t get anyone to give us any confirmation. My mother dies a hundred times every day. They don’t know what that is like.

In July of 2018, an Amnesty International report entitled “God Knows If He’s Alive,” documented the plight of dozens of families in southern Yemen whose loved ones have been tortured, killed, or forcibly disappeared by Yemeni security forces reporting to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that, with vital US support, has been bombarding and blockading famine and disease-ravaged Yemen for three brutal years. The disappearances, and torture, can sadly be laid at the doorstep of the United States.

One testimonial after another echoes the sentiments of a woman whose husband has been held incommunicado for more than two years. “Shouldn’t they be given a trial?” she asked. “Why else are there courts? They shouldn’t be disappeared this way – not only are we unable to visit them, we don’t even know if they are dead or alive.”

The report describes bureaucratic farces in which families beg for information about their loved ones’ whereabouts from Yemeni prosecutors and prison officials, but the families’ pleas for information are routinely met with silence or intimidation.

The families are appealing to an unelected Yemeni exile government whose president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, (when “elected” president in 2012, he was the only candidate) generally resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The UAE has, so far, supported Hadi’s claim to govern Yemen. However, the Prosecutor General of Hadi’s government, as well as other officials, told Amnesty International the government of Yemen has no control over operations “spearheaded by the UAE and implemented by the Yemeni forces it backs.”
When months and years pass and families of people who are missing still have no news about their loved ones, some try to communicate unofficially with prison guards or with former detainees who have been released from various detention sites. They repeatedly hear stories about torture of detainees and rumors about prisoners who died in custody.

The Amnesty report implicates UAE-backed local forces in Yemen, as well as the UAE military, in the crimes of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. Of seven former or current detainees interviewed by Amnesty, five said they were subjected to these abuses. “All seven witnessed other detainees being tortured,” the report adds, “including one who said he saw a detainee held in a cell next to him being carried away in a body bag after he had been repeatedly tortured.”

In June 2017, Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press exposed a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen. Their reports described ghastly torture inflicted on prisoners and noted that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Yet, a year later, there has been no investigation of these allegations by the Yemeni government, by the UAE, or by the UAE’s most powerful ally in the Yemen war, the United States.

“It is shocking, to say the least,” the Amnesty report states, “that one year after a network of secret prisons operated by the UAE and the Yemeni forces it backs was exposed, these facilities continue to operate and that there has not been a serious investigation undertaken into credibly documented violations, including systemic torture in custody.” The Amnesty report calls on the US to “facilitate independent oversight, including by the US Congress, over US military or intelligence cooperation with Yemeni and UAE forces involved in detention activities in Yemen.” It further calls for investigating any involvement of US military or intelligence personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen.

To date, the US continues selling weapons to the UAE and to its coalition partner, Saudi Arabia, despite several Congressional debates and a few increasingly close votes demanding a full or partial end to US weapons sales considering the terrible practices being carried out as part of the Yemen war.

Since March of 2015, a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and relying on crucial U.S. logistical aid, has bombarded Yemen while blockading its major port, despite Yemen’s status as one of the poorest countries in the world. Targeting transportation, electrical plants, sewage and sanitation facilities, schools, mosques, weddings and funerals, the vicious bombing has led to starvation, displacement, and the spread of disease including cholera.

On the same day that the Amnesty report was released, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pardoned “all military men, who have taken part in the Operation Restoring Hope of their respective military and disciplinary penalties, in regard of some rules and disciplines.” It seems likely that the Amnesty report precipitated this royal decree.

Along with three countries in North Africa’s “Sahel” desert region, Yemen has been cited as part of the worst famine crisis in the 70-year history of the UN. In the past three years of aerial and naval attacks, Yemen’s key port of Hodeidah has remained partially or fully closed despite the country’s vital need for relief supplies. And, while Yemenis suffer the chaos and despair characteristic of war, the Saudis and UAE refer to the war as “Operation Restoring Hope.”

Many thousands of Yemenis, subjected to consistent bombing and threats of starvation and famine, have fled their homes. Many seek refuge out of Yemen. For instance, close to 500 Yemenis have traveled nearly 500 miles to reach a visa-free port on South Korea’s Jeju Island. On July 21, during an international phone call hosted by young friends in Afghanistan, listeners heard Kaia, a resident of Jeju Island, describe the “Hope School.” She explained how she and several other young people are trying to help welcome Yemenis now living in their village of Gangjeong. The young people are already committed to peacefully resisting U.S. and South Korean military destruction of their shoreline and ecosystem. Now, they have started an informal school so Yemeni and South Korean residents can learn from one another. Small groups gather for conversational exchanges translated from Arabic to English to Korean. Many South Koreans can recall, in their own familial history, that seven million Koreans fled Japanese occupation of their land. Their Korean forebears relied on hospitality from people in other lands. The Catholic Bishop of the Jeju diocese, Monsignor Kang Woo-il, called on Koreans to embrace Yemeni refugees, labeling it a crime against human morality to shut the door on refugees and migrants.

Kaia’s account of the newly launched school describes an effort that truthfully involves restoring hope. The cynical designation of Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen as “Operation Restoring Hope” creates an ugly smokescreen that distracts from the crucial need to investigate war crimes committed in Yemen today.

US citizens bear responsibility for the US government’s support of these crimes.

The Yemenis mean us no harm and have committed no crime against us. Congressional votes have come quite close, with bipartisan support, to ending US participation in, and support for, the Saudi and Emirati led Coalition war against Yemen. Ending arms sales to the UAE and Saudi monarchies, supported by both sides of the aisle, will signal to the UAE and Saudi Arabia the US will no longer assist their efforts to prolong war and siege in Yemen. On cue from the initiative and energy shown by young South Koreans, people in the US can and should organize campaigns to educate their communities, educational institutions, and media outlets about the plight of people in Yemen. Conscious of the nightmare faced by Yemenis whose husbands, brothers, fathers and sons have been disappeared or detained by shadowy military enforcers, US people can work toward implementing each recommendation in Amnesty’s devastating report.

Witness Against Torture activists protest at the Embassy of the United Arab (Photo by Witness Against Torture)

On Purpose, In Kabul

Writing this week for the Chicago Tribune, Steve Chapman called a U.S. Government report on the war in Afghanistan “a chronicle of futility.” “The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction” report says the U.S. spent large sums “in search of quick gains” in regional stabilization – but these instead “exacerbated conflicts, enabled corruption and bolstered support for insurgents.”

“In short,” says Chapman, the U.S. government “made things worse rather than better.”

Gains, meanwhile, have certainly been made by weapon manufacturers. On average, during Trump’s first year in office, the Pentagon dropped 121 bombs per day on Afghanistan. The total number of weapons – missiles, bombs – deployed in Afghanistan by manned and remotely piloted aircraft through May this year is estimated at 2,339.

War profiteers deliver hellish realities and futile prospects, but the Afghan Peace Volunteers have not given up on bettering their country. In recent visits to Kabul, we’ve listened as they consider the longer-term question of how peace can come to an economically devastated country where employment by various warlords, including the U.S. and Afghan militaries, is many families’ only way to put bread on the table. Hakim, who mentors the APVs, assures us that a lasting peace must involve the creation of jobs and incomes with a hope of sustaining community. Inspired by Mohandas Gandhi’s calls for self-sufficiency, and the example of his Pashtun ally, Badshah Khan, they resist war by fostering education and creating local cooperatives.

Miriam is a student in the APVs’ “Street Kids’ School,” which prepares child laborers to pursue schooling while helping their families stay afloat with monthly rations of rice and oil. Sitting with me in the garden of the APVs’ Borderfree Center, her widowed mother, Gul Bek told me of the hardships she faces as a single mother of five.

Each month, she struggles to pay for water, rent, food, and fuel. Some years ago, a company installed a water pipeline leading to her home, but every month a representative from the company comes to collect 700 – 800 Afghanis (about $10.00) in payment for the family’s water consumption. An impoverished household – even free of war’s ravages – can’t easily spare $10. She tries hard to conserve. “But we must have water!” says Gul Bek. “We need it to clean, to cook, to do laundry.” She knows how important hygiene is, but she doesn’t dare go over her budget for water. Gul Bek fears she might be evicted if she can’t manage rent. Would she then go to a refugee camp in Kabul? She shakes her head. I asked if the government helps at all. “They know nothing about how we live,” she said. “At the beginning of Ramadan, we couldn’t even have bread. We had no flour.” Her two eldest sons, age 19 and 14, are beginning to learn tailoring skills and they attend school part time. I asked if she ever considers allowing them to join the military or the police to earn something closer to a living wage. She was adamant. After working so hard to raise these sons, she doesn’t want to lose them. She won’t allow them to carry guns.

Visiting a refugee camp several days later, I could understand her horror of moving into a camp. The camps are overcrowded, muddy, and dangerously unsanitary. An elder from the camp, Haji Jool, was entrusted with the keys to a control room for a well that two NGOs recently installed. On that day, the valves weren’t functioning. 200 of the 700 families in the camp depend on that well for water. I looked at the worried faces of women who had been waiting, since early morning, to collect water. What would they do? Haji Jool told me that most of the families had come from rural areas. They fled their homes because of war or because they lacked water. Kabul’s battered infrastructure, in desperate need of U.S. reparations for fifteen years of war, simply can’t sustain people.

Our APV friends, recognizing the need to create jobs and incomes, have begun forging ahead with impressive work to establish cooperatives. In early June, they initiated a shoemaking cooperative, led by two young men, Hussein and Hosham, who’ve already been trained and have taught their skills to Noorullah. They named their store “Unique.” A carpentry co-op will soon be up and running.

The APV are grateful to the many internationals who, over the past six winters, have assisted their annual “Duvet Project” to bring much-needed blankets to Kabul residents lacking protection from harsh winter weather. The “Duvet Project” has donated winter blankets to some 9,000 destitute families in Kabul and has offered a winter income to as many as 360 seamstresses. Yet, the APV have grappled with a persistent plea from seamstresses who, while appreciative of the seasonal project, express their acute need for an income throughout the year.

This year, APV are forming a seamstresses’ cooperative which will manufacture clothing year-round for inexpensive local sale and will also distribute duvets.

The U.S. exerts massive power from the skies of Afghanistan, raining down hellfire in ever greater quantities. Its Security Zone and its military bases, within and near Kabul, help to drain the local water table faster than wells can be dug. It persistently causes hatred and harm. Meanwhile, it might sound like a cliché, but in imagining a better world our young friends are helping to build one. With sustainable projects to support the neediest, they embrace Gul Bek’s refusal to cooperate with war. Their simple, small actions do strengthen Kabul.  They give themselves over to compassion, to strengthening their neighbors. They plant the seeds that may or may not grow a forest there – they use, rather than wasting, what power they have. They aren’t rewarded with the titanic achievement of having shaped and ruined a country, but instead with purposeful intent to stop the vicious cycle of war and resist the cruel hierarchies attempting to prevail. We at Voices are grateful for the chance, with them, to reject despair. In supporting their projects, we can make reparations, however small, for the persistent futility of war.

Girls and mothers, waiting for their duvets, in Kabul (Photo by Dr. Hakim)

A Mile in Their Shoes

This past Friday in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, Hazara girls joined young Pashto boys to sing Afghanistan’s national anthem as a welcome to Pashto men walking 400 miles from Helmand to Kabul. The walkers are calling on warring parties in Afghanistan to end the war. Most of the men making the journey are wearing sandals. At rest stops, they must tend to their torn and blistered feet. But their mission grows stronger as they walk. In Ghazni, hundreds of residents, along with religious leaders, showed remarkable readiness to embrace the courage and vision of the Helmand-to-Kabul peace walk participants. It seems likely that ordinary Afghans, no matter their tribal lineages, share a profound desire to end forty years of war. The 17-year U.S. war in Afghanistan exceeds the lifetimes of the youngsters in Ghazni who greeted the peace walkers.

On June 7th, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, declared a week-long halt to attacks against the Taliban. Spokespersons representing an undetermined number of Taliban affiliates accepted the ceasefire on June 9th, with the U.S. also agreeing to suspend attacks against Taliban fighters.

Can the declared cease-fire lead to negotiations and an end to the war? Given the desperate circumstances I saw during a visit to Kabul in early June, it seems clear that a lasting peace will require finding ways to employ people and enable them to provide food and water for their families.

Destitution has caused numerous Afghan people to enlist in military forces, pro-government or insurgent. It’s extremely difficult to earn a living wage in Afghanistan, but military and paramilitary units, answerable to various warlords, including the U.S., pay wages which many Afghan families can’t afford to dismiss. My young friends in Kabul assure me their family members who joined military groups don’t want to cause bloodshed and they don’t want to be killed. They simply don’t have other viable options.

Almost 54 percent of Afghan citizens live below the poverty line, according to Afghanistan’s Tolo News coverage of a recent joint survey undertaken by the Central Statistics Organization and an international NGO.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV), who welcomed me as their guest last week, want to help build a more egalitarian economy that will provide basic human needs. This year, they’re forging ahead in establishing worker cooperatives. During my visit, they celebrated the opening of a shoe-making cooperative. They’ve also devised a one-year plan for seamstresses to form a tailoring cooperative and explored possibilities for a carpentry cooperative.

“Once up-and-running,” their blog explains, “these worker cooperatives will pledge part of their earnings to the long-term, self-reliant work of the Afghan Peace Volunteers.”

The APV find inspiration in the story of Badshah Khan, sometimes referred to as “the Muslim Gandhi.”

After meeting Gandhi in 1919, Badshah Khan educated and organized members of the Pashtun (or “Pathan”) tribe, in an area that is now a border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, steadily building a movement to rebel against British occupation.  The “khidmatgyars” – Servants of God – refused to cooperate with the British and instead practiced self-reliance. They created their own constructive projects and persisted even when British repression became increasingly brutal.

Describing the growth of the “Servants” movement, Michael Nagler writes: “After perpetrating a terrible massacre in 1930 in Peshawar, the British saw the ranks of the Servants swell from several hundred to 80,000.” They continued rejecting armed struggle, choosing instead to experiment with Gandhi’s methods of nonviolent resistance. To the astonishment of onlookers, they were a key element in the eventual liberation from British rule.

Badshah Kahn’s preferred method of transportation was walking. He trod along paths linking mountain villages and small towns, relying upon goodwill and the truth of his cause, not on weaponry, for his defense.

A likeness of Badshah Khan decorates the entrance to the APV center in Kabul. Stenciled underneath is his fundamental belief: “My religion is truth, love and service to God and humankind.”

I worry that in my country, the U.S., the dominant religion has become militarism. Rather than extending a hand of friendship to people in other lands and, in the case of Afghanistan, paying reparations for the terrible suffering we’ve caused, the U.S. continues to seek security through dominance and military might. It’s a futile effort. The Helmand to Kabul peace walkers display a better means of securing peace: the path of fellowship with our neighbors on this planet, of living simply so that others might simply live, and of willingness to share, even partially, in the human hardship and precarity others face.

I hope those walking for peace, working for equality, and imploring a different way forward can be heard and celebrated not only in Afghanistan, but in every country and amongst every group that has ever caused bloodshed and ruin in Afghanistan.

One of several murals being created by Kabul’s “ArtLords painters to welcome the Helmand to Kabul peace walkers.

Digging Deeper

Here in Kabul in early June, outside the home of several Afghan Peace Volunteers, a large drilling machine is parked on what was once a lovely garden. To this now muddy patch, workers will soon arrive for another noisy, dusty day of digging for water. The well dried up a week ago. As of today, the household has no water.

Well digging machine in APV’s garden (Photo by Dr. Hakim)

Ongoing battles between militants, government forces, and international allies have destroyed much of Kabul’s water infrastructure, forcing people to drill their own wells.

Across Kabul, numerous households face similar water shortages. With an average annual rainfall of just fourteen inches, Kabul’s water table has been falling each year. The current population, estimated around 4.5 million, is expected to reach 9 million by 2050. The estimated groundwater potential is enough to supply only 2 million inhabitants with water.

Alarming reports say that drought now afflicts twenty-one of Afghanistan’s thirty-four provinces.

Rural families in drought-stricken areas watch their crops fail and their livestock die of dehydration. In desperation, they flee to urban areas, including Kabul, where they often must live in squalid, sprawling refugee camps. In the city, an already inadequate sewage and sanitation system, battered by years of war, cannot support the soaring population rise.

Droughts in other countries have led to violent clashes and civil wars. It’s difficult to imagine that Afghanistan, already burdened by forty years of war, will escape eventual water wars.

The most sophisticated and heavily armed warring party in Afghanistan is the U.S. military. Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars on non-military aid to Afghanistan, the United States has done little to improve Afghanistan’s infrastructure or alleviate its alarming water crisis. President Donald Trump’s interest in what’s happening under the ground in Afghanistan is focused exclusively on the U.S. capacity to extract Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, estimated to be worth trillions of dollars.

Ordinary Afghans could be forgiven for feeling paralyzed and defeated by controlling elites who ignore their most basic human needs. Yet every day, Afghan communities reject continued war and call for peace.

On May 13, a single-file procession of Pashto men started off on a 400-mile trek along dusty roads from Helmand to Kabul, to call for the Afghan government and the warring parties to end the war.

The participants are asking the Afghan government and militants to stop fighting. They are walking during Ramadan, the month when observant Muslims fast from food and water between sunrise and sundown, becoming ever more mindful of people who lack water and food.

During the past three weeks, throngs of people in cities and towns along their route have shown solidarity with the walkers.

My young Afghan friends show steady resilience in the face of war and destitution. They are growing up with a keen sense of the importance of water for life and the essential need to share resources. They also know the importance of resisting those who menace people with military might.

In this unpredictable time, I can’t help but wonder at Afghan people, scarred by war, facing drought and impoverishment, digging deep into their rich cultural and historical resources to take a lead in efforts to abolish war and build a better world.

• A version of this article initially appeared in The Progressive.

Scourging Yemen

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

Teen Solidarity Against the Merchants of Death

Here in Kabul, as the rising sun begins to warm our chilly rooms, I hear excited laughter from downstairs. Rosemary Morrow, a renowned Australian permaculture expert, has begun teaching thirty-five young students in a month-long course on low-resource farming.

In war-torn Afghanistan, there’s a desperate need to rebuild agricultural infrastructure and help people grow their own food. People verging on despair feel encouraged by possibilities of replenishing and repairing their soil.

The night before, over dinner, one of the students discussed news from his home town in Afghanistan’s Wardak province about U.S. aerial attacks. “The blasts have become so frequent,” he said, “that people can’t find spaces to bury their dead.”

During breaks in the class, I tell some of the Afghan Peace Volunteer students about the school shootings in the United States, and the remarkable determination of teenagers from Florida to demand that lawmakers take action on gun control.

These Afghan students have also heard about Black Lives Matter activists who have been tear gassed and beaten when they’ve demonstrated against police brutality. The Afghan teens identify with the activists facing danger, but still standing up to insist on change.

I asked if they thought that the U.S. media and government would heed Afghan young people raising their voices asserting their anguish and fear regarding U.S. aerial attacks and drone assassinations.

“You’re dreaming,” said Hamid. He flashed me a warm smile and shook his head, saying, “no one will ever listen to us.”

The outrage now directed toward the National Rifle Association should also challenge all assaults made by the U.S. military.

Nasir, a third-year university student who majors in mapping technology, tells me he thinks teens in the United States have a chance to be heard. Like Habib, he doubts that the same is true for Afghan voices seeking to end the sixteen-year-old war.

But Zainab, a high schooler in the permaculture class, added that she thinks it would be great to record a vigil of teenagers in Kabul sending their support for U.S. teenagers who’ve survived school shootings in the U.S. and who’ve begun shaming the adult world into action on the issue of gun violence.

The outrage now directed toward the National Rifle Association should also challenge all assaults made by the U.S. military.

People often tell me they believe the U.S. military remains in Afghanistan because it wants to eventually control mineral wealth and other resources. But right now, weapon manufacturers like General Atomics and Boeing — which supply the U.S. base in Kandahar with drones, missiles and bombs — are profiting from the perpetuation of war. This profit gives them common cause with arms manufacturers like Sturm Ruger and Sig Sauer earning millions from equipping U.S. police forces as well as deranged killers in U.S. classrooms.

Yesterday, I read about U.S. aviation brigades training in Colorado’s Fort Carson for possible Afghan deployment: 2,000 troops, part of an exercise called “Eagle Strike,” are preparing for attacks with ground-pounding weapons. The Kandahar base in Afghanistan now has three squadron’s worth of MQ-9 Reaper drones. Costing $65 million each, these drones are outfitted to carry 560-pound GPS laser-guided bombs as well as Hellfire missiles.

Why fill the landscape of any country with craters and graves? What could we possibly hope to harvest?

Zainab tells me she thinks the teenage generation is changing and that more young people believe in training individuals and nations to avoid killing.

“Why can’t we devise sustainable ways to bring about peace?” she asks.

I consider the idea that international teen solidarity could challenge both the U.S. military and the National Rifle Association to end assaults on human life. “Our goal must be to demand that every person around the world agree to stop producing and using weapons,” says Nasir.

I sit with them, and reflect on these courageous, clear-eyed Afghan and U.S. youth working in both countries to sow seeds that bear needed fruit, hoping they can change the adults as well.

This article first appeared in The Progressive magazine.

Teen Solidarity Against the Merchants of Death

Here in Kabul, as the rising sun begins to warm our chilly rooms, I hear excited laughter from downstairs. Rosemary Morrow, a renowned Australian permaculture expert, has begun teaching thirty-five young students in a month-long course on low-resource farming.

In war-torn Afghanistan, there’s a desperate need to rebuild agricultural infrastructure and help people grow their own food. People verging on despair feel encouraged by possibilities of replenishing and repairing their soil.

The night before, over dinner, one of the students discussed news from his home town in Afghanistan’s Wardak province about U.S. aerial attacks. “The blasts have become so frequent,” he said, “that people can’t find spaces to bury their dead.”

During breaks in the class, I tell some of the Afghan Peace Volunteer students about the school shootings in the United States, and the remarkable determination of teenagers from Florida to demand that lawmakers take action on gun control.

These Afghan students have also heard about Black Lives Matter activists who have been tear gassed and beaten when they’ve demonstrated against police brutality. The Afghan teens identify with the activists facing danger, but still standing up to insist on change.

I asked if they thought that the U.S. media and government would heed Afghan young people raising their voices asserting their anguish and fear regarding U.S. aerial attacks and drone assassinations.

“You’re dreaming,” said Hamid. He flashed me a warm smile and shook his head, saying, “no one will ever listen to us.”

The outrage now directed toward the National Rifle Association should also challenge all assaults made by the U.S. military.

Nasir, a third-year university student who majors in mapping technology, tells me he thinks teens in the United States have a chance to be heard. Like Habib, he doubts that the same is true for Afghan voices seeking to end the sixteen-year-old war.

But Zainab, a high schooler in the permaculture class, added that she thinks it would be great to record a vigil of teenagers in Kabul sending their support for U.S. teenagers who’ve survived school shootings in the U.S. and who’ve begun shaming the adult world into action on the issue of gun violence.

People often tell me they believe the U.S. military remains in Afghanistan because it wants to eventually control mineral wealth and other resources. But right now, weapon manufacturers like General Atomics and Boeing — which supply the U.S. base in Kandahar with drones, missiles and bombs — are profiting from the perpetuation of war. This profit gives them common cause with arms manufacturers like Sturm Ruger and Sig Sauer earning millions from equipping U.S. police forces as well as deranged killers in U.S. classrooms.

Yesterday, I read about U.S. aviation brigades training in Colorado’s Fort Carson for possible Afghan deployment: 2,000 troops, part of an exercise called “Eagle Strike,” are preparing for attacks with ground-pounding weapons. The Kandahar base in Afghanistan now has three squadron’s worth of MQ-9 Reaper drones. Costing $65 million each, these drones are outfitted to carry 560-pound GPS laser-guided bombs as well as Hellfire missiles.

Why fill the landscape of any country with craters and graves? What could we possibly hope to harvest?

Zainab tells me she thinks the teenage generation is changing and that more young people believe in training individuals and nations to avoid killing.

“Why can’t we devise sustainable ways to bring about peace?” she asks.

I consider the idea that international teen solidarity could challenge both the U.S. military and the National Rifle Association to end assaults on human life. “Our goal must be to demand that every person around the world agree to stop producing and using weapons,” says Nasir.

I sit with them, and reflect on these courageous, clear-eyed Afghan and U.S. youth working in both countries to sow seeds that bear needed fruit, hoping they can change the adults as well.

AVPs and others celebrate International Day of Peace, September 2017

• This article first appeared in The Progressive magazine.