All posts by Kathy Kelly

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.

A Treacherous Crossing

On January 23rd an overcrowded smuggling boat capsized off the coast of Aden in Southern Yemen. Smugglers packed 152 passengers from Somalia and Ethiopia in the boat and then, while at sea, reportedly pulled guns on the migrants to extort additional money from them. The boat capsized, according to The Guardian, after the shooting prompted panic. The death toll, currently 30, is expected to rise. Dozens of children were on board.

The passengers had already risked the perilous journey from African shores to Yemen, a dangerous crossing that leaves people vulnerable to false promises, predatory captors, arbitrary detention and tortuous human rights violations. Sheer desperation for basic needs has driven hundreds of thousands of African migrants to Yemen. Many hope, upon arrival, they can eventually travel to prosperous Gulf countries further north where they might find work and some measure of security. But the desperation and fighting in southern Yemen were horrible enough to convince most migrants that boarded the smuggling boat on January 23rd to try and return to Africa.

Referring to those who drowned when the boat capsized, Amnesty International’s Lynn Maalouf said: “This heart-breaking tragedy underscores, yet again, just how devastating Yemen’s conflict continues to be for civilians. Amid ongoing hostilities and crushing restrictions imposed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, many people who came to Yemen to flee conflict and repression elsewhere are now being forced yet again to flee in search of safety. Some are dying in the process.”

In 2017, more than 55,000 African migrants arrived in Yemen, many of them teenagers from Somalia and Ethiopia where there are few jobs and severe drought is pushing people to the verge of famine. It’s difficult to arrange or afford transit beyond Yemen. Migrants become trapped in the poorest country in the Arab peninsula, which now, along with several drought-stricken North African countries, faces the worst humanitarian disaster since World War II. In Yemen, eight million people are on the brink of starvation as conflict-driven near-famine conditions leave millions without food and safe drinking water. More than one million people have suffered from cholera over the past year and more recent reports add a diphtheria outbreak to the horror. Civil war has exacerbated and prolonged the misery while, since March of 2015, a Saudi-led coalition, joined and supported by the U.S., has regularly bombed civilians and infrastructure in Yemen while also maintaining a blockade that prevented transport of desperately needed food, fuel and medicines.

Maalouf called on the international community to “halt arms transfers that could be used in the conflict.” To heed Maalouf’s call, the international community must finally thwart the greed of transnational military contractors that profit from selling billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and other countries in the Saudi-led coalition. For instance, a November, 2017 Reuters report said that Saudi Arabia has agreed to buy about $7 billion worth of precision guided munitions from U.S. defense contractors. The UAE also has purchased billions in American armaments.

Raytheon and Boeing are the companies that will primarily benefit from a deal that was part of a $110 billion weapons agreement coinciding with President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May.

Another dangerous crossing happened in the region last week. U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) arrived in Saudi Arabia, along with a congressional delegation, to meet with the monarchy’s King Salman and subsequently with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has orchestrated the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen. Following that visit, Ryan and the delegation met with royals from the UAE.

“So rest assured”, said Ryan, speaking to a gathering of young diplomats in the UAE, “we will not stop until ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates are defeated and no longer a threat to the United States and our allies.

“Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we are focused on the Iranian threat to regional stability.”

Beyond the simple well-recorded fact of lavish Saudi financial support for Islamist terrorism, Ryan’s remarks overlook the Saudi-led coalition military assaults and “special operations” in Yemen, which the U.S. supports and joins. The war there is arguably undermining effort to combat jihadist groups, which have flourished in the chaos of the war, particularly in the south which is nominally under the control of the government allied to Saudi Arabia.

The Iranian government Ryan denounced does have allies in Yemen and may be smuggling weapons into Iran, but no one has accused them of supplying the Houthi rebels with cluster bombs, laser-guided missiles and littoral (near-coastal) combat ships to blockade ports vital to famine relief. Iran does not provide in-air refueling for warplanes used in daily bombing runs over Yemen. The U.S. has sold all of these to countries in the Saudi-led coalition which have, in turn, used these weapons to destroy Yemen’s infrastructure as well as create chaos and exacerbate suffering among civilians in Yemen.

Ryan omitted any mention of the starvation, disease, and displacement afflicting people in Yemen. He neglected to mention documented human rights abuses in a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen’s south. Ryan and the delegation essentially created a smokescreen of concern for human life that conceals the very real terror into which U.S. policies have thrust the people of Yemen and the surrounding region.

Potential starvation of their children terrifies people who can’t acquire food for their families. Those who can’t obtain safe drinking water face nightmarish prospects of dehydration or disease. Persons fleeing bombers, snipers, and armed militias who might arbitrarily detain them shudder in fear as they try to devise escape routes.

Paul Ryan, and the congressional delegation traveling with him, had an extraordinary opportunity to support humanitarian appeals made by UN officials and human rights organizers.

Instead, Ryan implied the only security concerns worth mentioning are those that supposedly threaten people in the U.S. He pledged cooperation with brutally repressive dictators known for egregious human rights violations in their own countries, and in beleaguered Yemen. He blamed the government of Iran for meddling in the affairs of other countries and supplying militias with funds and weapons. U.S. foreign policy is foolishly reduced to “the good guys,” the U.S. and its allies, versus “the bad guy,” – Iran.

The “good guys” shaping and selling U.S. foreign policy and weapon sales exemplify the heartless indifference of the smugglers who gamble human life in exceedingly dangerous crossings.

A Treacherous Crossing

On January 23rd an overcrowded smuggling boat capsized off the coast of Aden in Southern Yemen. Smugglers packed 152 passengers from Somalia and Ethiopia in the boat and then, while at sea, reportedly pulled guns on the migrants to extort additional money from them. The boat capsized, according to The Guardian, after the shooting prompted panic. The death toll, currently 30, is expected to rise. Dozens of children were on board.

The passengers had already risked the perilous journey from African shores to Yemen, a dangerous crossing that leaves people vulnerable to false promises, predatory captors, arbitrary detention and tortuous human rights violations. Sheer desperation for basic needs has driven hundreds of thousands of African migrants to Yemen. Many hope, upon arrival, they can eventually travel to prosperous Gulf countries further north where they might find work and some measure of security. But the desperation and fighting in southern Yemen were horrible enough to convince most migrants that boarded the smuggling boat on January 23rd to try and return to Africa.

Referring to those who drowned when the boat capsized, Amnesty International’s Lynn Maalouf said:

This heart-breaking tragedy underscores, yet again, just how devastating Yemen’s conflict continues to be for civilians. Amid ongoing hostilities and crushing restrictions imposed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, many people who came to Yemen to flee conflict and repression elsewhere are now being forced yet again to flee in search of safety. Some are dying in the process.

In 2017, more than 55,000 African migrants arrived in Yemen, many of them teenagers from Somalia and Ethiopia where there are few jobs and severe drought is pushing people to the verge of famine. It’s difficult to arrange or afford transit beyond Yemen. Migrants become trapped in the poorest country in the Arab peninsula, which now, along with several drought-stricken North African countries, faces the worst humanitarian disaster since World War II. In Yemen, eight million people are on the brink of starvation as conflict-driven near-famine conditions leave millions without food and safe drinking water. Over one million people have suffered from cholera over the past year and more recent reports add a diphtheria outbreak to the horror. Civil war has exacerbated and prolonged the misery while, since March of 2015, a Saudi-led coalition, joined and supported by the U.S., has regularly bombed civilians and infrastructure in Yemen while also maintaining a blockade that prevented transport of desperately needed food, fuel and medicines.

Maalouf called on the international community to “halt arms transfers that could be used in the conflict.” To heed Maalouf’s call, the international community must finally thwart the greed of transnational military contractors that profit from selling billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and other countries in the Saudi-led coalition. For instance, a November, 2017 Reuters report said that Saudi Arabia has agreed to buy about $7 billion worth of precision guided munitions from U.S. defense contractors. The UAE also has purchased billions in American armaments.

Raytheon and Boeing are the companies that will primarily benefit from a deal that was part of a $110 billion weapons agreement coinciding with President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May.

Another dangerous crossing happened in the region last week. U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) arrived in Saudi Arabia, along with a congressional delegation, to meet with the monarchy’s King Salman and subsequently with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has orchestrated the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen. Following that visit, Ryan and the delegation met with royals from the UAE.

“So rest assured”, said Ryan, speaking to a gathering of young diplomats in the UAE, “we will not stop until ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates are defeated and no longer a threat to the United States and our allies. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we are focused on the Iranian threat to regional stability.”

Beyond the simple well-recorded fact of lavish Saudi financial support for Islamist terrorism, Ryan’s remarks overlook the Saudi-led coalition military assaults and “special operations” in Yemen, which the U.S. supports and joins. The war there is arguably undermining efforts to combat jihadist groups, which have flourished in the chaos of the war, particularly in the south which is nominally under the control of the government allied to Saudi Arabia.

The Iranian government Ryan denounced does have allies in Yemen and may be smuggling weapons into Iran, but no one has accused them of supplying the Houthi rebels with cluster bombs, laser-guided missiles and littoral (near-coastal) combat ships to blockade ports vital to famine relief. Iran does not provide in-air refueling for warplanes used in daily bombing runs over Yemen. The U.S. has sold all of these to countries in the Saudi-led coalition which have, in turn, used these weapons to destroy Yemen’s infrastructure as well as create chaos and exacerbate suffering among civilians in Yemen.

Ryan omitted any mention of the starvation, disease, and displacement afflicting people in Yemen. He neglected to mention documented human rights abuses in a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen’s south. Ryan and the delegation essentially created a smokescreen of concern for human life that conceals the very real terror into which U.S. policies have thrust the people of Yemen and the surrounding region.

Potential starvation of their children terrifies people who can’t acquire food for their families. Those who can’t obtain safe drinking water face nightmarish prospects of dehydration or disease. Persons fleeing bombers, snipers, and armed militias who might arbitrarily detain them shudder in fear as they try to devise escape routes.

Paul Ryan, and the congressional delegation traveling with him, had an extraordinary opportunity to support humanitarian appeals made by UN officials and human rights organizers.

Instead, Ryan implied the only security concerns worth mentioning are those that threaten people in the U.S. He pledged cooperation with brutally repressive dictators known for egregious human rights violations in their own countries, and in beleaguered Yemen. He blamed the government of Iran for meddling in the affairs of other countries and supplying militias with funds and weapons.  U.S. foreign policy is foolishly reduced to “the good guys,” the U.S. and its allies, versus “the bad guy,” – Iran.

The “good guys” shaping and selling U.S. foreign policy and weapon sales exemplify the heartless indifference of the smugglers who gamble human life in exceedingly dangerous crossings.

41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo

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.

41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo

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.