All posts by Kathy Kelly

Abandoning Yemen?

Monday, October 11, marked the official closure of the U.N. Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (also known as the Group of Experts or GEE). For nearly four years, this investigative group examined alleged human rights abuses suffered by Yemenis whose basic rights to food, shelter, safety, health care and education were horribly violated, all while they were bludgeoned by Saudi and U.S. air strikes, drone attacks, and constant warfare since 2014.

“This is a major setback for all victims who have suffered serious violations during the armed conflict,” the GEE wrote in a statement the day after the U.N. Human Rights Council refused to extend a mandate for continuation of the group’s work.  “The Council appears to be abandoning the people of Yemen,” the statement says, adding that “Victims of this tragic armed conflict should not be silenced by the decision of a few States.”

Prior to the vote, there were indications that Saudi Arabia and its allies, such as Bahrain (which sits on the U.N. Human Rights Council), had increased lobbying efforts worldwide in a bid to do away with the Group of Experts. Actions of the Saudi-led coalition waging war against Yemen had been examined and reported on by the Group of Experts. Last year, the Saudi bid for a seat on the Human Rights Council was rejected, but Bahrain serves as its proxy.

Bahrain is a notorious human rights violator and a staunch member of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia-led coalition which buys billions of dollars worth of weaponry from the United States and other countries to bomb Yemen’s infrastructure, kill civilians, and displace millions of people.

The Group of Experts was mandated to investigate violations committed by all warring parties. So it’s possible that the Ansar Allah leadership, often known as the Houthis, also wished to avoid the group’s scrutiny. The Group of Experts’ mission has come to an end, but the fear and intimidation faced by Yemeni victims and witnesses continues.

Mwatana for Human Rights, an independent Yemeni organization established in 2007, advocates for human rights by reporting on issues such as the torture of detainees, grossly unfair trials, patterns of injustice, and starvation by warfare through the destruction of farms and water sources. Mwatana had hoped the U.N. Human Rights Council would grant the Group of Experts a multi-year extension. Members of Mwatana fear their voice will be silenced within the United Nations if the Human Rights Council’s decision is an indicator of how much the council cares about Yemenis.

“The GEE is the only independent and impartial mechanism working to deter war crimes and other violations by all parties to the conflict,” said Radhya Almutawakel, Chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights. She believes that doing away with this body will give a green light to continue violations that condemn millions in Yemen to “‘unremitting violence, death and constant fear.’”

The Yemen Data Project, founded in 2016, is an independent entity aiming to collect data on the conduct of the war in Yemen. Their most recent monthly report tallied the number of air raids in September, which had risen to the highest monthly rate since March.

Sirwah, a district in the Marib province, was—for the ninth consecutive month—the most heavily targeted district in Yemen, with twenty-nine air raids recorded throughout September. To get a sense of scale, imagine a district the size of three city neighborhoods being bombed twenty-nine times in one month.

Intensified fighting has led to large waves of displacement within the governorate, and sites populated by soaring numbers of refugees are routinely impacted by shelling and airstrikes. Pressing humanitarian needs include shelter, food, water, sanitation, hygiene, and medical care. Without reports from the Yemen Data Project, the causes of the dire conditions in Sirwah could be shrouded in secrecy. This is a time to increase, not abandon, attention to Yemenis trapped in war zones.

In early 1995, I was among a group of activists who formed a campaign called Voices in the Wilderness to publicly defy economic sanctions against Iraq. Some of us had been in Iraq during the 1991 U.S.-led Operation Desert Storm invasion. The United Nations reported that hundreds of thousands of children under age five had already died and that the economic sanctions contributed to these deaths. We felt compelled to at least try to break the economic sanctions against Iraq by declaring our intent to bring medicines and medical relief supplies to Iraqi hospitals and families.

But to whom would we deliver these supplies?

Voices in the Wilderness founders agreed that we would start by contacting Iraqis in our neighborhoods and also try to connect with groups concerned with peace and justice in the Middle East. So I began asking Iraqi shopkeepers in my Chicago neighborhood for advice; they were understandably quite wary.

One day, as I walked away from a shopkeeper who had actually given me an extremely helpful phone number for a parish priest in Baghdad, I overheard another customer ask what that was all about. The shopkeeper replied: “Oh, they’re just a group of people trying to make a name for themselves.”

I felt crestfallen. Now, twenty-six years later, it’s easy for me to understand his reaction. Why should anyone trust people as strange as we must have seemed?

No wonder I’ve felt high regard for the U.N. Group of Experts who went to bat for human rights groups struggling for “street cred” regarding Yemen.

When Yemeni human rights advocates try to sound the alarm about terrible abuses, they don’t just face hurt feelings when met with antagonism. Yemeni human rights activists have been jailed, tortured, and disappeared. Yemen’s civil society activists do need to make a name for themselves.

On October 7, the day the U.N. Human Rights Council voted not to continue the role of the Group of Experts with regard to Yemen, the United Nations agreed to set up an investigative group to monitor the Taliban. However, the agreement assured the United States and NATO that abuses committed under their command would not be subject to investigation.

Politicizing U.N. agencies and procedures makes it all the more difficult for people making inquiries to establish trusting relationships with people whose rights should be upheld by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights.

When I was approaching shopkeepers for ideas about people we might contact in Iraq, I was just beginning to grapple with Professor Noam Chomsky’s essays about “worthy victims” and “unworthy victims.”

That second phrase seemed to me a terrible oxymoron. How could a victim of torture, bereavement, hunger, displacement, or disappearance be an “unworthy victim?” Over the next thirty years, I grew to understand the cruel distinction between worthy and unworthy victims.

A powerful country or group can use the plight of “worthy victims” to build support for war or military intervention. The “unworthy victims” also suffer, but because their stories could lead people to question the wisdom of a powerful country’s attacks on civilians, stories about those victims are likely to fade away.

Consider, in Afghanistan, the plight of those who survived an August 29 U.S. drone attack against the family of Zamari Ahmadi.  Ten members of the family were killed. Seven were children. As of October 13, the family had not yet heard anything from the United States.

I greatly hope Mwatana, The Yemen Data Project, The Yemen Foundation, and all of the journalists and human rights activists passionately involved in opposing the war that rages in Yemen are recognized and become names that occasion respect, gratitude, and support. I hope they’ll continue documenting violations and abuse. But I know their work on the ground in Yemen will now be even more dangerous.

Meanwhile, the lobbyists who’ve served the Saudi government so well have certainly made a name for themselves in Washington, D.C., and beyond.

Grassroots activists committed to ending human rights abuses must uphold solidarity with civil society groups defending human rights in Yemen and Afghanistan. Governments waging war and protecting human rights abusers must immediately end their pernicious practices.

In the United States, peace activists must tell the military contractors, lobbyists, and elected representatives: “Not in our name!” With no strings attached, the U.S. government should be proactive and end war forever.

This article first appeared in The Progressive Magazine

Tower houses in Sanaa, August 15, 2013 (Rod Waddington)

The post Abandoning Yemen? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

To Counter Terror, Abolish War

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was among a small group of U.S. citizens who sat on milk crates or stood holding signs, across from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Manhattan. We had been fasting from solid foods for a month, calling for an end to brutal economic warfare waged against Iraq through imposition of U.N. sanctions. Each Friday of our fast, we approached the entrance to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations carrying lentils and rice, asking the U.S. officials to break our fast with us, asking them to hear our reports, gathered after visiting destitute Iraqi hospitals and homes. On four successive Friday afternoons, New York police handcuffed us and took us to jail.

Two days after the passenger planes attacked the World Trade Center,  U.S. Mission to the UN officials called us and asked that we visit with them.

I had naively hoped this overture could signify empathy on the part of U.S. officials. Perhaps the 9/11 attack would engender sorrow over the suffering and pain endured by people of Iraq and other lands when the U.S. attacks them. The officials at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations wanted to know why we went to Iraq but we sensed they were mainly interested in filling out forms to comply with an order to gather more information about U.S. people going to Iraq.

The U.S. government and military exploited the grief and shock following 9/11 attacks to raise fears, promote Islamophobia and launch forever wars which continue to this day. Under the guise of “counter-terrorism,” the U.S. now pledges to combine drone attacks, surveillance, airstrikes, and covert operations to continue waging war in Afghanistan. Terror among Afghans persists.

I visited Kabul, Afghanistan in September 2019. While there, a young friend whom I’ve known for five years greeted me and then spoke in a hushed voice. “Kathy,” he asked, “do you know about Qazi Qadir, Bahadir, Jehanzeb and Saboor?” I nodded. I had read a news account, shortly before I arrived, about Afghan Special Operations commandos, trained by the CIA, having waged a night raid in the city of Jalalabad at the home of four brothers. They awakened the young men, then shot and killed them. Neighbors said the young men had gathered to welcome their father back from the Hajj; numerous colleagues insisted the young men were innocent.

My young friend has been deeply troubled by many other incidents in which the United States directly attacked innocent people or trained Afghan units to do so. Two decades of U.S. combat in Afghanistan have made civilians vulnerable to drone attacks, night raids, airstrikes and arrests. Over 4 million people have become internally displaced as they fled from battles or could no longer survive on scarred, drought stricken lands.

In an earlier visit to Kabul, at the height of the U.S. troop surge, another young friend earnestly asked me to tell parents in the United States not to send their sons and daughters to Afghanistan. “Here it is very dangerous for them,” he said. “And they do not really help us.”

For many years, the United States claimed its mission in Afghanistan improved the lives of Afghan women and children. But essentially, the U.S. war improved the livelihoods of those who designed, manufactured, sold and used weaponry to kill Afghans.

When the U.S. was winding down its troop surge in 2014, but not its occupation,  military officials undertook what they called “the largest retrograde mission in U.S. military history,” incurring enormous expenses. One estimate suggested the war in Afghanistan, that year, was costing $2 million per U.S. soldier. That same year, UNICEF officials calculated that the cost of adding iodized salt into the diet of an Afghan infant, a step which could prevent chronic brain damage in children suffering from acute malnourishment, would be 5 cents per child per year.

Which endeavor would the majority of U.S. people have opted to support, in their personal budgets, had they ever been given a choice? Profligate U.S. military spending in Afghanistan or vital assistance for a starving Afghan child?

One of my young Afghan friends says he is now an anarchist. He doesn’t place much trust in governments and militaries. He feels strong allegiance toward the grassroots network he has helped build, a group I would normally name and celebrate, but must now refer to as “our young friends in Afghanistan,” in hopes of protecting them from hostile groups.

The brave and passionate dedication they showed as they worked tirelessly to share resources, care for the environment, and practice nonviolence has made them quite vulnerable to potential accusers who may believe they were too connected with westerners.

In recent weeks, I’ve been part of an ad hoc team assisting 60 young people and their family members who feel alarmed about remaining in Kabul and are sorting out their options to flee the country.

It’s difficult to forecast how Taliban rule will affect them.

Already, some extraordinarily brave people have held protests in in the provinces of Herat, Nimroz, Balkh and Farah, and in the city of Kabul where dozens of women took to the streets to demand representation in the new government and to insist that their rights must be protected.

In many provinces in Afghanistan, the Taliban may find themselves ruling over increasingly resentful people. Half the population already lives in poverty and economic catastrophe looms. In damage caused by war, people have lost harvests, homes and livestock. A third wave of COVID afflicts the country and  three million Afghans face consequences of severe drought. Will the Taliban government have the resources and skills to cope with these overwhelming problems?

On the other hand, in some provinces, Taliban rule has seemed preferable to the previous government’s incompetence and corruption, particularly in regard to property or land disputes.

We should be honest. The Taliban are in power today because of a colossal mess the U.S. helped create.

Now, we U.S. citizens must insist on paying reparations for destruction caused by 20 years of war. To be meaningful, reparations must also include dismantling the warfare systems that caused so much havoc and misery. Our wars of choice were waged against people who meant us no harm. We must choose, now, to lay aside the cruel futility of our forever wars.

My young friend who whispered to me about human rights abuses in 2019 recently fled Afghanistan. He said he doesn’t want to be driven by fear, but he deeply wants to use his life to do good, to build a better world.

Ultimately, Afghanistan will need people like him and his friends if the country is ever to experience a future where basic human rights to food, shelter, health care and education are met. It will need people who have already made dedicated sacrifices for peace, believing in an Afghan adage which says “blood doesn’t wash away blood.”

Essentially, people in Afghanistan will need U.S. people to embrace this same teaching. We must express true sorrow, seek forgiveness, and show valor similar to that of the brave people insisting on human rights in Afghanistan today.

Collectively, recognizing the terrible legacy of 9/11, we must agree:  To counter terror, abolish war.

This article first appeared at Waging Nonviolence

The post To Counter Terror, Abolish War first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Reckoning and Reparations in Afghanistan

Girls and mothers, waiting for donations of heavy blankets, Kabul, 2018 (Photo Credit:  Dr. Hakim)

Earlier this week, 100 Afghan families from Bamiyan, a rural province of central Afghanistan mainly populated by the Hazara ethnic minority, fled to Kabul. They feared Taliban militants would attack them in Bamiyan.

Over the past decade, I’ve gotten to know a grandmother who recalls fleeing Talib fighters in the 1990s, just after learning that her husband had been killed. Then, she was a young widow with five children, and for several agonizing months two of her sons were missing. I can only imagine the traumatized memories that spurred her to again flee her village today. She is part of the Hazara ethnic minority and hopes to protect her grandchildren.

When it comes to inflicting miseries on innocent Afghan people, there’s plenty of blame to be shared.

The Taliban have demonstrated a pattern of anticipating people who might form opposition to their eventual rule and waging “pre-emptive” attacks against journalists, human rights activists, judicial officials, advocates for women’s rights, and minority groups such as the Hazara.

In places where Taliban have successfully taken over districts, they may be ruling over increasingly resentful populaces; people who have lost harvests, homes, and livestock are already coping with a third wave of COVID-19 and severe drought.

In many northern provinces, the re-emergence of the Taliban can be traced to the Afghan government’s incompetence, and also to criminal and abusive behaviors of the local military commanders, including land grabs, extortion, and rape.

President Ashraf Ghani, showing little empathy for people trying to flee Afghanistan, referred to those who leave as people looking to “have fun.”

Responding to his April 18 speech when he made this comment, a young woman whose sister, a journalist, was recently killed, tweeted about her father who had stayed in Afghanistan for seventy-four years, encouraged his children to stay, and now felt that his daughter might be alive had she left. The surviving daughter said the Afghan government couldn’t protect its people, and that’s why they tried to leave.

President Ghani’s government has encouraged the formation of “Uprising” militias to help protect the country. Immediately, people began questioning how the Afghan government could support new militias when it already lacks ammunition and protection for thousands of Afghan National Defense Forces and local police who have fled their posts.

The main backer of the Uprising Forces, it seems, is the formidable National Directorate of Security, whose main sponsor is the CIA.

Some militia groups have raised money through imposing “taxes” or outright extortion. Others turn to other countries in the region, all of which reinforces cycles of violence and despair.

The staggering loss of landmine removal experts working for the nonprofit HALO Trust should add to our sense of grief and mourning. About 2,600 Afghans working with the demining group had helped make more than 80 percent of Afghanistan’s land safe from unexploded ordnance strewn over the country after forty years of war. Tragically, militants attacked the group, killing ten workers.

Human Rights Watch says the Afghan government has not adequately investigated the attack nor has it investigated the killings of journalists, human rights activists, clerics, and judicial workers that began escalating after the Afghan government began peace talks with the Taliban in April.

Yet, unquestionably, the warring party in Afghanistan with the most sophisticated weapons and seemingly endless access to funds has been the United States. Funds were spent not to lift Afghans to a place of security from which they might have worked to moderate Taliban rule, but to further frustrate them, beating down their hopes of future participatory governance with twenty years of war and brutal impoverishment. The war has been a prelude to the United States’ inevitable retreat and the return of a possibly more enraged and dysfunctional Taliban to rule over a shattered population.

The troop withdrawal negotiated by President Joe Biden and U.S. military officials is not a peace agreement. Rather, it signals the end of an occupation resulting from  an unlawful invasion, and while troops are leaving, the Biden Administration is already laying plans for “over the horizon” drone surveillance, drone strikes, and “manned” aircraft strikes which could exacerbate and prolong the war.

U.S. citizens ought to consider not only financial recompense for destruction caused by twenty years of war but also a commitment to dismantle the warfare systems that brought such havoc, chaos, bereavement, and displacement to Afghanistan.

We should be sorry that, during 2013, when the United States spent an average of $2 million per soldier, per year, stationed in Afghanistan, the number of Afghan children suffering malnutrition rose by 50 percent. At that same time, the cost of adding iodized salt to an Afghan child’s diet to help reduce risks of brain damage caused by hunger would have been 5 cents per child per year.

We should deeply regret that while the United States constructed sprawling military bases in Kabul, populations in refugee camps soared. During harsh winter months, people desperate for warmth in a Kabul refugee camp would burn—and then have to breathe—plastic. Trucks laden with food, fuel, water, and supplies constantly entered the U.S. military base immediately across the road from this camp.

We should acknowledge, with shame, that U.S. contractors signed deals to build hospitals and schools which were later determined to be ghost hospitals and ghost schools, places that never even existed.

On October 3, 2015, when only one hospital served vast numbers of people in the Kunduz province, the U.S. Air Force bombed the hospital at 15 minute intervals for one and a half hours, killing 42 people including 13 staff, three of whom were doctors. This attack helped greenlight the war crime of bombing hospitals all around the world.

More recently, in 2019, migrant workers in Nangarhar were attacked when a drone fired missiles into their overnight camp. The owner of a pine nut forest had hired the laborers, including children, to harvest the pine nuts, and he notified officials ahead of time, hoping to avoid any confusion. 30 of the workers were killed while they were resting after an exhausting day of work. Over 40 people were badly wounded.

U.S. repentance for a regime of attacks by weaponized drones, conducted in Afghanistan and worldwide, along with sorrow for the countless civilians killed, should lead to deep appreciation for Daniel Hale, a drone whistleblower who exposed the widespread and indiscriminate murder of civilians.

Between January 2012 and February 2013, according to an article in The Intercept, these air strikes “killed more than 200 people. Of those, only thirty-five were the intended targets. During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.”

Under the Espionage Act, Hale faces ten years in prison at his July 27 sentencing.

We should be sorry for night raids that terrified civilians, assassinated innocent people, and were later acknowledged to have been based on faulty information.

We must reckon with how little attention our elected officials ever paid to the quadrennial “Special Inspector General on Afghan Reconstruction” reports which detailed many years’ worth of fraud, corruption, human rights violations and failure to achieve stated goals related to counter-narcotics or confronting corrupt structures.

We should say we’re sorry, we’re so very sorry, for pretending to stay in Afghanistan for humanitarian reasons, when, honestly, we understood next to nothing about humanitarian concerns of women and children in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s civilian population has repeatedly demanded peace.

When I think of the generations in Afghanistan who have suffered through war, occupation and the vagaries of warlords, including NATO troops, I wish we could hear the sorrow of the grandmother who now wonders how she might help feed, shelter and protect her family.

Her sorrow should lead to atonement on the part of countries that invaded her land. Every one of those countries could arrange visas and support for each Afghan person who now wants to flee. A reckoning with the massive wreckage this grandmother and her loved ones face should yield equally massive readiness to abolish all wars, forever.

• A version of this article first appeared in The Progressive Magazine

The post Reckoning and Reparations in Afghanistan first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Why Daniel Hale Deserves Gratitude, Not Prison

“Pardon Daniel Hale.”

These words hung in the air on a recent Saturday evening, projected onto several Washington, D.C. buildings, above the face of a courageous whistleblower facing ten years in prison.

The artists aimed to inform the U.S. public about Daniel E. Hale, a former Air Force analyst who blew the whistle on the consequences of drone warfare. Hale will appear for sentencing before Judge Liam O’Grady on July 27th.

The U.S. Air Force had assigned Hale to work for the National Security Agency. At one point, he also served in Afghanistan, at the Bagram Air Force Base.

“In this role as a signals analyst, Hale was involved in the identifying of targets for the US drone program,” notes Chip Gibbons, policy director for Defending Rights and Dissent, in a lengthy article about Hale’s case. “Hale would tell the filmmakers of the 2016 documentary National Bird that he was disturbed by ‘the uncertainty if anyone I was involved in kill[ing] or captur[ing] was a civilian or not. There’s no way of knowing.’”

Hale, thirty-three, believed the public wasn’t getting crucial information about the nature and extent of U.S. drone assassinations of civilians. Lacking that evidence, U.S. people couldn’t make informed decisions. Moved by his conscience, he opted to become a truth-teller.

The U.S. government is treating him as a threat, a thief who stole documents, and an enemy. If ordinary people knew more about him, they might regard him as a hero.

Hale was charged under the Espionage Act for allegedly providing classified information to a reporter. The Espionage Act is  an antiquated World War I era law, passed in 1917, designed for use against enemies of the U.S. accused of spying. The U.S. government has dusted it off, more recently, for use against whistle blowers.

Individuals charged under this law are not allowed to raise any issues regarding motivation or intent. They literally are not allowed to explain the basis for their actions.

One observer of whistleblowers’ struggles with the courts was himself a whistleblower. Tried and convicted under the Espionage Act, John Kiriakou spent two and a half years in prison for exposing government wrongdoing. He says the U.S. government in these cases engages in “charge stacking” to ensure a lengthy prison term as well as “venue-shopping” to try such cases in the nation’s most conservative districts.

Daniel Hale was facing trial in the Eastern District of Virginia, home to the Pentagon as well as many CIA and other federal government agents. He was facing up to 50 years in prison if found guilty on all counts.

On March 31, Hale pled guilty on one count of retention and transmission of national defense information. He now faces a maximum of ten years in prison.

At no point has he been able to raise before a judge his alarm about the Pentagon’s false claims that targeted drone assassination is precise and civilian deaths are minimal.

Hale was familiar with details of a special operations campaign in northeastern Afghanistan, Operation Haymaker. He saw evidence that between January 2012 and February 2013, “U.S. special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people. Of those, only 35 were the intended targets. During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.”

Had he gone to trial, a jury of his peers might have learned more details about consequences of drone attacks. Weaponized drones are typically outfitted with Hellfire missiles, designed for use against vehicles and buildings.

Living Under Drones, the most complete documentation of the human impact of U.S. drone attacks yet produced, reports:

The most immediate consequence of drone strikes is, of course, death and injury to those targeted or near a strike.  The missiles fired from drones kill or injure in several ways, including through incineration, shrapnel, and the release of powerful blast waves capable of crushing internal organs.  Those who do survive drone strikes often suffer disfiguring burns and shrapnel wounds, limb amputations, as well as vision and hearing loss.

A new variation of this missile can hurl about 100 pounds of metal through the top of a vehicle or building; the missiles also deploy, just before impact, six long, whirring  blades intended to slice up any person or object in the missile’s path.

Any drone operator or analyst should be aghast, as Daniel Hale was, at the possibility of killing and maiming civilians through such grotesque means. But Daniel Hale’s ordeal may be intended to send a chilling message to other U.S. government and military analysts: keep quiet.

Nick Mottern, of the Ban Killer Drones campaign, accompanied artists projecting Hale’s image on various walls in D.C. He engaged people who were passing by, asking if they knew of Daniel Hale’s case. Not a single person he spoke with had. Nor did anyone know anything about drone warfare.

Now imprisoned at the Alexandria (VA) Adult Detention Center, Hale  awaits sentencing

Supporters urge people to “stand with Daniel Hale.” One solidarity action involves writing Judge O’Grady to express gratitude that Hale told the truth about the U.S. use of drones to kill innocent people.

At a time when drone sales and usage are proliferating worldwide and causing increasingly gruesome damage, President Joe Biden continues to launch killer drone attacks around the world, albeit with some new restrictions.

Hale’s honesty, courage, and exemplary readiness to act in accord with his conscience are critically needed. Instead, the U.S. government has done its best to silence him.

Pedestrians in Washington, D.C. walk past an image of Daniel Hale projected on a D.C. building on June 26, 2021 (Photo Credit:  Nick Mottern)

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

The post Why Daniel Hale Deserves Gratitude, Not Prison first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Art Against Drones

At the High Line, a popular tourist attraction in New York City,  visitors to the West side of Lower Manhattan ascend above street level to what was once an elevated freight train line and is now a tranquil and architecturally intriguing promenade. Here walkers enjoy a park-like openness; with fellow strollers they experience urban beauty, art and the wonder of comradeship.

In late May, a Predator drone replica, appearing suddenly above the High Line promenade at 30th Street, might seem to scrutinize people below. The “gaze” of the sleek, white sculpture by Sam Durant, called “Untitled, (drone),” in the shape of the U.S. military’s Predator killer drone, will sweep unpredictably over the people below, rotating atop its 25-foot-high steel pole, its direction guided by the wind.

Unlike the real Predator, it won’t carry two Hellfire missiles and a surveillance camera. The drone’s death-delivering features are omitted from Durant’s sculpture. Nevertheless, he hopes it will generate discussion.

“Untitled (drone)” is meant to animate questions “about the use of drones, surveillance, and targeted killings in places far and near,” said Durant in a statement “and whether as a society we agree with and want to continue these practices.”

Durant regards art as a place for exploring possibilities and alternatives.

In 2007, a similar desire to raise questions about remote killing motivated New York artist, Wafaa Bilal, now a professor at NYU’s Tisch Gallery, to lock himself  in a cubicle where, for a month, and at any hour of the day, he could be remotely targeted by a paint-ball gun blast. Anyone on the internet who chose to could shoot at him.

He was shot at more than 60,000 times by people from 128 different countries. Bilal called the project “Domestic Tension.” In a resulting book, Shoot an Iraqi: Art Life and Resistance Under the Gun, Bilal and co-author Kary Lydersen chronicled the remarkable outcome of the “Domestic Tension” project.

Along with descriptions of constant paint-ball attacks against Bilal, they wrote of the internet participants who instead wrestled with the controls to keep Bilal from being shot. And they described the death of Bilal’s brother, Hajj, who was killed by a U.S. air-to-ground missile in 2004.

Grappling with the terrible vulnerability to sudden death felt by people all across Iraq, Bilal, who grew up in Iraq, with this exhibit chose to partly experience the pervasive fear of being suddenly, and without warning, attacked remotely. He made himself vulnerable to people who might wish him harm.

Three years later, in June of 2010, Bilal developed the “And Counting” art work in which a tattoo artist inked the names of Iraq’s major cities on Bilal’s back. The tattoo artist then used his needle to place “dots of ink, thousands and thousands of them — each representing a casualty of the Iraq war. The dots are tattooed near the city where the person died: red ink for the American soldiers, ultraviolet ink for the Iraqi civilians, invisible unless seen under black light.”

Bilal, Durant and other artists who help us think about U.S. colonial warfare against the people of Iraq and other nations should surely be thanked. It’s helpful to compare Bilal’s and Durant’s projects.

The pristine, unsullied drone may be an apt metaphor for twenty-first-century U.S. warfare which can be entirely remote. Before driving home to dinner with their own loved ones, soldiers on another side of the world can kill suspected militants miles from any battlefield. The people assassinated by drone attacks may themselves be driving along a road, possibly headed toward their family homes.

U.S. technicians analyze miles of surveillance footage from drone cameras, but such surveillance doesn’t disclose information about the people a drone operator targets.

In fact, as Andrew Cockburn wrote in the London Review of Books: “the laws of physics impose inherent restrictions of picture quality from distant drones that no amount of money can overcome. Unless pictured from low altitude and in clear weather, individuals appear as dots, cars as blurry blobs.”

On the other hand, Bilal’s exploration is deeply personal, connoting the anguish of victims. Bilal took great pains, including the pain of tattooing, to name the people whose dots appear on his back, people who had been killed.

Contemplating “Untitled (drone),” it’s unsettling to recall that no one in the U.S. can name the thirty Afghan laborers killed by a U.S. drone in 2019. A U.S. drone operator fired a missile into an encampment of migrant workers resting after a day of harvesting pine nuts in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. An additional 40 people were injured. To U.S. drone pilots, such victims  may appear only as dots.

In many war zones, incredibly brave human rights documentarians risk their lives to record the testimonies of people suffering war-related human rights violations, including drone attacks striking civilians. Mwatana for Human Rights, based in Yemen, researches human rights abuses committed by all sides to the war in Yemen. In their report, Death Falling from the Sky, Civilian Harm from the United States’ Use of Lethal Force in Yemen, they examine 12 U.S. aerial attacks in Yemen, 10 of them U.S. drone strikes, between 2017 and 2019.

They report at least 38 Yemeni civilians—nineteen men, thirteen children, and six women—were killed and seven others were injured in the attacks.

From the report, we learn of important roles the slain victims played as family and community members. We read of families bereft of income after the killing of wage earners, including beekeepers, fishers, laborers and drivers. Students described one of the men killed as a beloved teacher. Also among the dead were university students and housewives. Loved ones who mourn the deaths of those killed still fear hearing the hum of a drone.

Now it’s clear that the Houthis in Yemen have been able to use 3-D models to create their own drones which they have fired across a border, hitting targets in Saudi Arabia. This kind of proliferation has been entirely predictable.

The U.S. recently announced plans to sell the United Arab Emirates fifty F-35 fighter jets, eighteen Reaper drones, and various missiles, bombs and munitions. The UAE has used its weapons against its own people and has run ghastly clandestine prisons in Yemen where people are tortured and broken as human beings, a fate awaiting any Yemeni critic of their power.

The installation of a drone overlooking people in Manhattan can bring them into the larger discussion.

Outside of many military bases safely within the U.S. – from which drones are piloted to deal death over Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria and other lands, activists have repeatedly staged artistic events. In 2011, at Hancock Field in Syracuse, thirty-eight activists were arrested for a “die-in” during which they simply lay down, at the gate, covering themselves with bloodied sheets.

The title of Sam Durant’s sculpture – “Untitled (drone)” – means that in a sense it is officially nameless; like so many of the victims of the U.S. Predator drones it is designed to resemble.

People in many parts of the world can’t speak up. Comparatively, we don’t face torture or death for protesting. We can tell the stories of the people being killed now by our drones, or watching the skies in terror of them.

We should tell those stories, those realities, to our elected representatives, to faith-based communities, to academics, to media and to our family and friends. And if you know anyone in New York City, please tell them to be on the lookout for a Predator drone in lower Manhattan. This pretend drone could help us grapple with reality and accelerate an international push to ban killer drones.

• A version of this article first appeared at The Progressive.org

Photo credit:  Sam Durant, Untitled (drone), 2016-2021 (rendering). Proposal for the High Line Plinth. Commissioned by High Line Art. Courtesy of the High Line

The post Art Against Drones first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Hunting in Yemen

Iman Saleh fasting in Washington D.C. to protest the blockade and war against Yemen (Photo Credit: Detriot Free Press)

“It’s not normal for people to live like this,” says Iman Saleh, now on her twelfth day of a hunger strike demanding an end to war in Yemen.

Since March 29th, in Washington, D.C., Iman Saleh, age 26, has been on a hunger strike to demand an end to the war in Yemen. She is joined by five others from her  group, The Yemeni Liberation Movement. The hunger strikers point out that enforcement of the Saudi Coalition led blockade relies substantially on U.S. weaponry.

Saleh decries the prevention of fuel from entering a key port in Yemen’s northern region.

“When people think of famine, they wouldn’t consider fuel as contributing to that, but when you’re blocking fuel from entering the main port of a country, you’re essentially crippling the entire infrastructure,” said Saleh  “You can’t transport food, you can’t power homes, you can’t run hospitals without fuel.”

Saleh worries people have become desensitized to suffering Yemenis face. Through fasting, she herself feels far more sensitive to the fatigue and strain that accompanies hunger. She hopes the fast will help others overcome indifference,  recognize that the conditions Yemenis face are horribly abnormal, and demand governmental policy changes.

According to UNICEF, 2.3 million children under the age of 5 in Yemen are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021.

“It’s not normal for people to live like this,” says Saleh.

Her words and actions have already touched people taking an online course which began with a focus on Yemen.

As the teacher, I asked students to read about the warring parties in Yemen with a special focus on the complicity of the U.S. and of other countries supplying weapons, training, intelligence, and diplomatic cover to the Saudi-led coalition now convulsing Yemen in devastating war.

Last week, we briefly examined an email exchange between two U.S. generals planning the  January, 2017 night raid by U.S. Navy Seals in the rural Yemeni town of Al Ghayyal. The Special Forces operation sought to capture an alleged AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula) leader. General Dunford told General Votel that all the needed approvals were in place. Before signing off, he wrote: “Good hunting.”

The “hunting” went horribly wrong. Hearing the commotion as U.S. forces raided a village home, other villagers ran to assist. They soon disabled the U.S. Navy Seals’ helicopter. One of the Navy Seals, Ryan Owen, was killed during the first minutes of the fighting. In the ensuing battle, the U.S. forces called for air support. U.S. helicopter gunships arrived and U.S. warplanes started indiscriminately firing  missiles into huts. Fahim Mohsen, age 30, huddled in one home along with 12 children and another mother. After a missile tore into their hut, Fahim had to decide whether to remain inside or venture out into the darkness. She chose the latter, holding her infant child and clutching the hand of her five-year old son, Sinan. Sinan says his mother was killed by a bullet shot from the helicopter gunship behind them. Her infant miraculously survived. That night, in Al Ghayyal, ten children under age 10 were killed. Eight-year-old Nawar Al-Awlaki died by bleeding to death after being shot. “She was hit with a bullet in her neck and suffered for two hours,” her grandfather said. “Why kill children?” he asked.

Mwatana, a Yemeni human rights group, found that the raid killed at least 15 civilians and wounded at least five civilians—all children. Interviewees told Mwatana that women and children, the majority of those killed and wounded, had tried to run away and that they had not engaged in fighting.

Mwatana found no credible information suggesting that the 20 civilians killed or wounded were directly participating in hostilities with AQAP or IS-Y. Of the 15 civilians killed, only one was an adult male, and residents said he was too old, at 65, to fight, and in any case had lost his hearing before the raid.

Carolyn Coe, a course participant, read the names of the children killed that night:

Asma al Ameri, 3 months; Aisha al Ameri, 4 years; Halima al Ameri, 5 years; Hussein al Ameri, 5 years; Mursil al Ameri, 6 years; Khadija al Ameri, 7 years; Nawar al Awlaki, 8 years; Ahmed al Dhahab, 11 years; Nasser al Dhahab, 13 years

In response, Coe wrote:

ee cummings writes of Maggie and Milly and Molly and May coming out to play one day. As I read the children’s names, I hear the family connections in their common surnames. I imagine how lively the home must have been with so many young children together. Or maybe instead, the home was surprisingly quiet if the children were very hungry, too weak to even cry. I’m sad that these children cannot realize their unique lives as in the ee cummings poem. Neither Aisha nor Halima, Hussein nor Mursil, none of these children can ever come out again to play.

Dave Maciewski, another course participant, mentioned how history seemed to be repeating itself, remembering his experiences visiting mothers and children in Iraq where hundreds of thousands of tiny children couldn’t survive the lethally punitive US/UN economic sanctions.

While UN agencies struggle to distribute desperately needed supplies of food, medicine and fuel, the UN Security Council continues to enforce a resolution, Resolution 2216, which facilitates the blockade and inhibits negotiation. Jamal Benomar, who was United Nations special envoy for Yemen from 2011-2015,  says that this resolution,  passed in 2015, had been drafted by the Saudis themselves. “Demanding the surrender of the advancing Houthis to a government living in chic hotel-exile in Riyadh was preposterous,” says Benomar, “but irrelevant.”

Waleed Al Hariri heads the New York office of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies and is also a fellow-in-residence at Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute.

“The council demanded the Houthis surrender all territory seized, including Sana’a, fully disarm, and allow President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government to resume its responsibilities,” Al Hariri writes. “In essence, it insisted on surrender. That failed, but the same reasons that allowed the UNSC to make clear, forceful demands in 2015 have kept it from trying anything new in the five years since.”

Does the UNSC realistically expect the Ansarallah (informally called the Houthi) to surrender and disarm after maintaining the upper hand in a prolonged war? The Saudi negotiators say nothing about lifting the crippling blockade. The UN Security Council should scrap Resolution 2216 and work hard to create a resolution relevant to the facts on the ground. The new resolution must insist that survival of Yemeni children who are being starved is the number one priority.

Now, in the seventh year of grotesque war, international diplomatic efforts should heed the young Yemeni-Americans fasting in Washington, D.C. We all have a responsibility to listen for the screams of children gunned down from behind as they flee in the darkness from the rubble of their homes. We all have a responsibility to listen for the gasps of little children breathing their last because starvation causes them to die from asphyxiation. The U.S. is complying with a coalition using starvation and disease to wage war. With 400,000 children’s lives in the balance, with a Yemeni child dying once every 75 seconds, what U.S. interests could possibly justify our further hesitation in insisting the blockade must be lifted? The war must end.

The post Hunting in Yemen first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Blood for Oil

Amid the ongoing horror, it’s important to find ways to atone for war crimes —including reparations.

Thirty years ago, when the United States launched Operation Desert Storm against Iraq, I was a member of the Gulf Peace Team. We were 73 people from fifteen different countries, aged 22 to 76, living in a tent camp close to Iraq’s border with Saudi Arabia, along the road to Mecca.

We aimed to nonviolently interpose ourselves between the warring parties. Soldiers are called upon to risk their lives for a cause they may not know much about. Why not ask peace activists to take risks on behalf of preventing and opposing wars?

So we witnessed the dismal onset of the air war at 3:00 a.m. on January 17, 1991, huddled under blankets, hearing distant explosions and watching anxiously as war planes flew overhead. With so many fighter jets crossing the skies, we wondered if there would be anything left of Baghdad.

Ten days later, Iraqi authorities told us we must pack up, readying for a morning departure to Baghdad. Not all of us could agree on how to respond. Adhering to basic principles, twelve peace team members resolved to sit in a circle, holding signs saying “We choose to stay.”

Buses arrived the next morning, along with two Iraqi civilians and two soldiers. Tarak, a civilian, was in charge, under orders to follow a timetable for the evacuation. Looking at the circle of twelve, Tarak seemed a bit baffled. He walked over to where I stood. “Excuse me, Ms. Kathy,” he asked, “but what am I to do?”

“No one in that circle means you any harm,” I assured him. “And no one wishes to disrespect you, but they won’t be able board the bus on their own. It’s a matter of conscience.”

Tarak nodded and then motioned to the other Iraqis who followed him as he approached Jeremy Hartigan, the tallest person sitting in the circle. Jeremy, an elderly UK lawyer and also a Buddhist, was chanting a prayer as he sat with his sign.

Tarak bent over Jeremy, kissed him on the forehead, and said, ”Baghdad!” Then he pointed to the bus.

Next, he, the other civilian and two Iraqi soldiers carefully hoisted  Jeremy, still in his cross-legged position, and carried him to the top step of the bus. Gently placing him down, Tarak then asked,  “Mister, you okay?!” And in this manner they proceeded to evacuate the remaining eleven people in the circle.

Another evacuation was happening as Iraqi forces, many of them young conscripts, hungry, disheveled and unarmed, poured out of Kuwait along a major highway, later called “the Highway of Death.”

Boxed in by U.S. forces, many Iraqis abandoned their vehicles and ran away from what had become a huge and very dangerous traffic jam. Iraqis attempting to surrender were stuck in a long line of Iraqi military vehicles. They were systematically slaughtered.

“It was like shooting fish in a barrel,” said one U.S. pilot of the air attack. Another called it “a turkey shoot.”

Days earlier, on February 24th, the United States Army forces buried scores of living Iraqi soldiers in trenches. According to The New York Times, Army officials said “the Iraqi soldiers who died remained in their trenches as plow-equipped tanks dumped tons of earth and sand onto them, filling the trenches to ensure that they could not be used as cover from which to fire on allied units that were poised to pour through the gaps.”

Shortly after viewing photos of gruesome carnage caused by the ground and air attacks, President George H.W. Bush called for a cessation of hostilities on February 27th, 1991. An official cease fire was signed on March 4.

It’s ironic that in October of 1990, Bush had asserted that the U.S. would never stand by and let a larger country swallow a smaller country. His country had just invaded Grenada and Panama, and as President Bush spoke, the U.S. military pre-positioned at three Saudi ports hundreds of ships, thousands of aircraft, and millions of tons of equipment and fuel in preparation to invade Iraq.

Noam Chomsky notes that there were diplomatic alternatives to the bloodletting and destruction visited upon Iraq by Operation Desert Storm. Iraqi diplomats had submitted an alternative plan which was suppressed in the mainstream media and flatly rejected by the U.S.

The U.S. State Department, along with Margaret Thatcher’s government in the United Kingdom, were hell-bent on moving ahead with their war plans. “This was no time to go wobbly,” U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously warned Bush.

The resolve to attack and punish Iraqis never ceased.

After the “success” of Operation Desert Storm, the bombing war turned into an economic war, which lasted through 2003. As early as 1995, United Nations documents clarified that the economic war, waged through continued imposition of U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq, was far more brutal than even the worst of the 1991 aerial and ground war attacks.

In 1995, two Food and Agriculture Organization scientists estimated that more than half a million Iraqi children under age five had likely died due to economic sanctions.

In February, 1998, while visiting a hospital in Baghdad, I watched two friends from the United Kingdom trying to absorb the horror of seeing children being starved to death because of policy decisions made by governments in the UK and the U.S. Martin Thomas, himself a nurse, looked at mothers sitting cross legged, holding their limp and dying infants, in a ward where helpless doctors and nurses tried to treat many dozens of children.

“I think I understand,” said Thomas. “It’s a death row for infants.” Milan Rai, now editor of Peace News and then the coordinator of a U.K. campaign to defy the economic sanctions, knelt next to one of the mothers. Rai’s own child was close in age to the toddler the mother cradled. “I’m sorry,” Rai murmured. “I’m so very sorry.”

Those six words whispered by Milan Rai, are, I believe, incalculably important.

If only people in the U.S. and the UK could take those words to heart, undertaking to finally pressure their governments to echo these words and themselves say, “We’re sorry. We’re so very sorry.”

We’re sorry for coldly viewing your land as a “target rich environment” and then systematically destroying your electrical facilities, sewage and sanitation plants, roads, bridges, infrastructure, health care, education, and livelihood. We’re sorry for believing we somehow had a right to the oil in your land, and we’re sorry many of us lived so well because we were consuming your precious and irreplaceable resources at cut rate prices.

We’re sorry for slaughtering hundreds of thousands of your children through economic sanctions and then expecting you to thank us for liberating you. We’re sorry for wrongfully accusing you of harboring weapons of mass destruction while we looked the other way as Israel acquired thermonuclear weapons.

We’re sorry for again traumatizing your children through the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing, filling your broken down hospitals with maimed and bereaved survivors of the vicious bombing and then causing enormous wreckage through our inept and criminal occupation of your land.

We’re sorry. We’re so very sorry. And we want to pay reparations.

From March 5 – 8, Pope Francis will visit Iraq. Security concerns are high, and I won’t begin to second guess the itinerary that has been developed. But knowing of his eloquent and authentic plea to end wars and stop the pernicious weapons trade, I wish he could kneel and kiss the ground at the Ameriyah shelter in Baghdad.

There, on February 13, 1991, two 2,000 lb. U.S. laser guided missiles killed 400 civilians, mostly women and children. Another 200 were severely wounded. I wish President Joe Biden could meet the Pope there and ask him to hear his confession.

I wish people around the world could be represented by the Pope as a symbol of unity expressing collective sorrow for making war after hideous war, in Iraq, against people who meant us no harm.

Illustration courtesy of Sallie Latch

• A version of this article first appeared at The Progressive.org 

The post Blood for Oil first appeared on Dissident Voice.

About Suffering: A Massacre of the Innocents in Yemen

In 1565, Pieter Bruegel the Elder createdThe Massacre of the Innocents,” a provocative masterpiece of religious art. The painting reworks a biblical narrative about King Herod’s order to slaughter all newborn boys in Bethlehem for fear that a messiah had been born there. Bruegel’s painting situates the atrocity in a contemporary setting, a 16th Century Flemish village under attack by heavily armed soldiers. Depicting multiple episodes of gruesome brutality, Bruegel conveys the terror and grief inflicted on trapped villagers who cannot protect their children. Uncomfortable with the images of child slaughter, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II, after acquiring the painting, ordered another reworking. The slaughtered babies were painted over with images such as bundles of food or small animals, making the scene appear to be one of plunder rather than massacre.

Were Bruegel’s anti-war theme updated to convey images of child slaughter today, a remote Yemeni village could be the focus. Soldiers performing the slaughter wouldn’t arrive on horseback. Today, they often are Saudi pilots trained to fly U.S.-made warplanes over civilian locales and then launch laser-guided missiles (sold by Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin), to disembowel, decapitate, maim, or kill anyone in the path of the blast and exploding shards.

For more than five years, Yemenis have faced near-famine conditions while enduring a naval blockade and routine aerial bombardment. The United Nations estimates the war has already caused 233,000 deaths, including 131,000 deaths from indirect causes such as lack of food, health services and infrastructure.

Systematic destruction of farms, fisheries, roads, sewage and sanitation plants and health-care facilities has wrought further suffering. Yemen is resource-rich, but famine continues to stalk the country, the UN reports. Two-thirds of Yemenis are hungry and fully half do not know when they will eat next. Twenty-five percent of the population suffers from moderate to severe malnutrition. That includes more than two million children.

Equipped with U.S.-manufactured Littoral Combat Ships, the Saudis have been able to blockade air and sea ports that are vital to feeding the most populated part of Yemen – the northern area where 80 percent of the population lives. This area is controlled by Ansar Allah, (also known as the “Houthi”). The tactics being used to unseat Ansar Allah severely punish vulnerable people — those who are impoverished, displaced, hungry and stricken with diseases. Many are children who must never be held accountable for political deeds.

Yemeni children are not “starving children;” they are being starved by warring parties whose blockades and bomb attacks have decimated the country. The United States is supplying devastating weaponry and diplomatic support to the Saudi-led coalition, while additionally launching its own “selective” aerial attacks against suspected terrorists and all the civilians in those suspects’ vicinity.

Meanwhile the U.S., like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has cut back on its contributions to humanitarian relief. This severely affects the coping capacity of international donors.

For several months at the end of 2020, the U.S. threatened to designate Ansar Allah as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” (FTO). Even the threat of doing so began affecting uncertain trade negotiations, causing prices of desperately needed goods to rise.

On November 16, 2020, five CEOs of major international humanitarian groups jointly wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo, urging him not to make this designation. Numerous organizations with extensive experience working in Yemen described the catastrophic effects such a designation would have on delivery of desperately needed humanitarian relief.

Nevertheless, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced, late in the day on Sunday, January 10th, his intent to go ahead with the designation.

Senator Chris Murphy termed this FTO designation a “death sentence” for thousands of Yemenis. “90% of Yemen’s food is imported,” he noted, “and even humanitarian waivers will not allow commercial imports, essentially cutting off food for the entire country.”

U.S. leaders and much of the mainstream media responded vigorously to the shocking insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and the tragic loss of multiple lives as it occurred; it is difficult to understand why the Trump Administration’s ongoing massacre of the innocents in Yemen has failed to generate outrage and deep sorrow.

On January 13, journalist Iona Craig noted that the process of delisting a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” – removing it from the FTO list – has never been achieved within a time-frame of less than two years. If the designation goes through, it could take two years to reverse the terrifying cascade of ongoing consequences.

The Biden administration should immediately pursue a reversal. This war began the last time Joseph Biden was in office. It must end now: two years is time Yemen doesn’t have.

Sanctions and blockades are devastating warfare, cruelly leveraging hunger and possible famine as a tool of war. Leading up to the 2003 “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq, U.S. insistence on comprehensive economic sanctions primarily punished Iraq’s most vulnerable people, especially the children. Hundreds of thousands of children died tortuous deaths, bereft of medicines and adequate health care.

Throughout those years, successive U.S. administrations, with a mainly cooperative media, created the impression that they were only trying to punish Saddam Hussein. But the message they sent to governing bodies throughout the world was unmistakable: if you do not subordinate your country to serve our national interest, we will crush your children.

Yemen hadn’t always gotten this message. When the United States sought United Nations’ approval for its earlier 1991 war against Iraq, Yemen was occupying a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. It surprisingly voted then against the wishes of a United States, whose wars of choice around the Middle East were slowly accelerating.

“That will be the most expensive ‘No’ vote you ever cast,” was the U.S. ambassador’s chilling response to Yemen.

Today, children in Yemen are being starved by monarchs and presidents colluding to control land and resources. “The Houthis, who control a large part of their nation, are no threat whatsoever to the United States or to American citizens,” declares James North, writing for Mondoweiss. “Pompeo is making the declaration because the Houthis are backed by Iran, and Trump’s allies in Saudi Arabia and Israel want this declaration as part of their aggressive campaign against Iran.”

Children are not terrorists. But a massacre of the innocents is terror. As of January 19, 2021, 268 organizations have signed a statement demanding an end to the war on Yemen. On January 25, “The World Says No to War Against Yemen” actions will be held worldwide.

It was of another painting of Bruegel, The Fall of Icarus, that the poet W.H. Auden wrote:

About suffering they were never wrong,
the Old Masters:…
how it takes place
while someone else is eating or opening a window
or just walking dully along…
how everything turns away
quite leisurely from the disaster…

This painting concerned the death of one child. In Yemen, the United States — through its regional allies, — could end up killing many hundreds of thousands more. Yemen’s children cannot protect themselves; in the direst cases of severe acute malnourishment, they are too weak even to cry.

We must not turn away. We must decry the terrible war and blockade. Doing so may help spare the lives of at least some of Yemen’s children. The opportunity to resist this massacre of the innocents rests with us.

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

The post About Suffering: A Massacre of the Innocents in Yemen first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Like a Rocket in the Garden: The Unending War in Afghanistan

Late last week, I learned from young Afghan Peace Volunteer friends in Kabul that an insurgent group firing rockets into the city center hit the home of one volunteer’s relatives. Everyone inside was killed. Today, word arrived of two bomb blasts in the marketplace city of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, killing at least fourteen people and wounding forty-five.

These explosions have come on the heels of other recent attacks targeting civilians. On November 2, at least nineteen people were killed and at least twenty-two wounded by gunmen opening fire at Kabul University. On October 24, at least two dozen students died, and more than 100 were wounded in an attack on a tutoring center.

“The situation in our country is very bad and scary,” one young Afghan friend wrote to me. “We are all worried.” I imagine that’s an understatement.

A new report released by Save the Children, regarding violations against children in war zones, says Afghanistan accounts for the most killing and maiming violations, with 874 children killed and 2,275 children maimed in 2019.

Since the United Nations started collecting this data in 2005, more than 26,000 Afghan children have died.

Under President Donald Trump, the United States signed a “peace” deal with the Taliban in February 2020. It pertains to troop withdrawal and a Taliban pledge to cut ties with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The agreement certainly hasn’t contributed toward a more peaceful life for Afghans, and a U.N. report indicates the Taliban has continued its ties with insurgent groups.

Now, Afghans face constant battles between insurgent groups, U.S. forces, Afghan government forces, NATO forces, various powerful Afghan warlords, and paramilitaries organized by ruthless mafias which control much of the drug industry and other profitable enterprises.

Under President Biden, the United States would likely abide by Trump’s recent troop withdrawals, maintaining a troop presence of about 2,000. But Biden has indicated a preference for intensified Special Operations, surveillance and drone attacks. These strategies could cause the Taliban to nullify their agreement, prolonging the war through yet another presidency.

Mujib Mashal, a correspondent for The New York Times, was born in Kabul. When he was interviewed recently by one of his colleagues, he recalled being a little boy in the early 1990s, living through a civil war in Kabul, when rockets constantly bombarded his neighborhood.

Taliban groups were fighting various mujahideen. Mujib’s father cultivated a vegetable garden outside their home. One day, a rocket hit the garden, cutting an apple tree in half and burrowing deep into the ground.

But it didn’t explode.

Mujib remembers how his father watered the area where the rocket hit, for years, hoping the bomb would eventually rust and never explode. Now he worries that Afghanistan is headed toward an explosion of violence.

“And the fear is that in that space of war, things only get more extreme,” he told the Times. “The violence only gets more extreme. The brutality gets more extreme. That if this slips into another generational conflict, what we’ve seen over the past forty years in terms of the brutality will probably pale in comparison to what will come.”

I recently watched a video of a talk given in June of this year by Dr. Zaher Wahab, an Afghan professor in Portland, Oregon, who laments the intensifying havoc and violence war is causing in Afghanistan. He and his wife lived there for six years, until about a year ago, when they concluded that the city was unlivable.

Dr. Wahab believes there is no military solution to Afghanistan’s woes and calls for the United States to demilitarize as soon as possible. But he also offers ways forward.

He urges forming a multinational trust fund to justly assist with reconstruction in Afghanistan, including efforts to clear mines and clean up unexploded ordnance. Billions of dollars would be needed, commensurate to the sums spent on funding the war. He believes the United Nations should form a peacekeeping presence in Afghanistan relying on non-NATO countries.

The publication of the “Afghanistan papers” late last year highlighted the failure of the United States to accomplish any of its stated missions in Afghanistan. John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, expressed his astonishment over the “hubris and mendacity” he had witnessed on the part of  U.S. military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan.

Despite its failures, the United States continues to bomb Afghan civilian areas. In 2019, the U.S. dropped 7,423 bombs and other munitions on Afghanistan.

For Afghan civilians, ongoing war means continued  bereavement, displacement, and despair. Bereft of income or protection, many Afghan householders join militias, pledging their support and possibly their willingness to fight or even die. Hence the rise of the Afghan Local Police, numerous militias fighting for various warlords, the Afghan governments’ fighting forces, including “ghost soldiers” who appear in name only, CIA-trained paramilitaries, and military contractors working for NATO contingents.

Afghanistan is a cauldron waiting to explode.

U.S. Army Major Danny Sjursen, retired, notes that in the 2020 election, neither presidential candidate questioned status quo norms about U.S. foreign policy being based on threat, force, and killing. Sjursen assures that pressure to change must, necessarily, flow from the grass roots.

The United States has landed in Afghanistan like a rocket in a garden. It refuses to rust, it poisons the Earth, and even U.S. voters can’t budge it. Normal life can’t continue with us there.

Meanwhile, an inevitably arriving Taliban-led government—one already in control of most of the country—is growing more fanatic and deadly.

Many U.S. voters, and too many Afghans, weren’t yet born when the current war was begun by the United States in 2001. Much of the U.S. public regards the Afghan people with deadly indifference.

Year after year, President after President, Americans continue to pretend the despair and futility we’ve caused in Afghanistan isn’t our fault. We don’t hold ourselves accountable.

But the forever wars, illegal and immoral, bankrupt our economy and our society as well. The military contractors become a sort of mafia. They are like a bomb in our garden, liable to explode.

And, unlike our Afghan counterparts, it’s not a bomb we can complain about. After all, we put it there.

An Elderly Man on a Kabul street

A child labourer studying on a Kabul street

 

• Photo credit: Abdulhai Darya

• This article first appeared in The Progressive

The post Like a Rocket in the Garden: The Unending War in Afghanistan first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Reversal

Another Mother for Peace (Poster Credit: Lorraine Schneider, 1966)

With survival at stake, can weapon makers change course?

Today, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the atomic attack on Hiroshima, should be a day for quiet introspection. I recall a summer morning following the U.S. 2003 “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq when the segment of the Chicago River flowing past the headquarters of the world’s second largest defense contractor, Boeing, turned the rich, red color of blood.  At the water’s edge, Chicago activists, long accustomed to the river being dyed green on St. Patrick’s Day turned the river red to symbolize the bloodshed caused by Boeing products. On the bridge outside of Boeing’s entrance, activists held placards urging Boeing to stop making weapons.

This summer, orders for Boeing’s commercial jets have cratered during the pandemic, but the company’s revenue from weapon-making contracts remains steady. David Calhoun, Boeing’s CEO, recently expressed confidence the U.S. government will support defense industries no matter who occupies the Oval Office. Both presidential candidates appear “globally oriented,” he said, “and interested in the defense of our country.”

Investors should ask how Boeing’s contract to deliver 1,000 SLAM- ER weapons (Standoff Land Attack Missiles-Expanded Response) to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “defends” the United States.

Here are excerpts from Jeffrey Stern’s account of a missile’s impact on the town of Arhab in a remote area of Yemen. In this case, the missile was manufactured by Raytheon:

Now, as Fahd walked into the hut, a weapon about the length of a compact car was wobbling gracelessly down through the air toward him, losing altitude and unspooling an arming wire that connected it to the jet until, once it had extended a few feet, the wire ran out and ripped from the bomb.

Then it was as if the weapon woke up. A thermal battery was activated. Three fins on the rear extended all the way and locked in place. The bomb stabilized in the air. A guidance-control unit on the nose locked onto a laser reflection — invisible to the naked eye but meaningful to the bomb — sparkling on the rocks Fahd walked over.

At the well, at the moment of impact, a series of events happened almost instantaneously. The nose of the weapon hit rock, tripping a fuse in its tail section that detonated the equivalent of 200 pounds of TNT. When a bomb like this explodes, the shell fractures into several thousand pieces, becoming a jigsaw puzzle of steel shards flying through the air at up to eight times the speed of sound. Steel moving that fast doesn’t just kill people; it rearranges them. It removes appendages from torsos; it disassembles bodies and redistributes their parts.

Fahd had just stepped into the stone shelter and registered only a sudden brightness. He heard nothing. He was picked up, pierced with shrapnel, spun around and then slammed into the back wall, both of his arms shattering — the explosion so forceful that it excised seconds from his memory. Metal had bit into leg, trunk, jaw, eye; one piece entered his back and exited his chest, leaving a hole that air and liquid began to fill, collapsing his lungs. By the time he woke up, crumpled against stone, he was suffocating. Somehow he had survived, but he was killing himself with every breath, and he was bleeding badly. But he wasn’t even aware of any of these things, because his brain had been taken over by pain that seemed to come from another world.

In 2019, the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen observed “the continued supply of weapons to parties involved in Yemen perpetuates the conflict and the suffering of the population.”

These experts say “the conduct of hostilities by the parties to the conflict, including by airstrikes and shelling, may amount to serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

A year and a half ago, were it not for a presidential veto, both houses of the U.S. Congress would have enacted a law banning weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

Another end-user of Boeing’s weapons is the Israeli Defense Force.

The company has provided Israel with AH-64 Apache helicopters, F-15 fighter jetsHellfire missiles (produced with Lockheed Martin), MK-84 2000-lb bombs, MK-82 500-lb bombs, and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) kits that turn bombs into “smart” GPS-equipped guided bombs. Boeing’s Harpoon sea-to-sea missile system is installed on the upgraded 4.5 Sa’ar missile ships of the Israeli Navy.

Apache helicopters, Hellfire and Harpoon missiles, JDAM guiding systems, and Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) munitions have been used repeatedly in Israeli attacks on densely populated civilian areas, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. The human rights community, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, and United Nations commissions, ruled these attacks to be human rights violations and at times war crimes.

I lived with a family in Gaza during the final days of the 2009 “Operation Cast Lead” bombing. Abu Yusuf, Umm Yusuf, and their two small children, Yusuf and Shahid, welcomed Audrey Stewart and me to stay with them. Once every 11 minutes from 11 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. and again from 3:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m., we heard an ear-splitting blast. Normally, I wouldn’t have known the difference between the sound of a Hellfire Missile exploding and that of a 500 lb. bomb dropped from an F-15, but soon I could tell the difference. Little Yusuf and Shahid taught us to distinguish one gut-wrenching sound from the other. They had been cringing under the bombs for 18 days and nights.

I don’t see how the sale of weapons to governments which use them against civilian populations, against people like Fahad, in Arhab or Abu Yusuf and his family in Gaza, defends people in the U.S.

Boeing’s vast resources for scientific know-how, skillful engineering, and creative innovation could, however, help defend the U.S. against the greatest threat we  now face, environmental climate catastrophe. Writing for The New York Review of Books, Bill McKibben predicts “a century of crises, many of them more dangerous than what we’re living through right now.” The main question, he says, is whether human beings can hold the alarming rise in temperature “to a point where we can at great expense and suffering, deal with those crises coherently, or whether they will overwhelm the coping abilities of our civilization.”

“A rise of one degree doesn’t sound like an extraordinary change,” McKibben writes, “but it is: each second, the carbon and methane we’ve emitted trap heat equivalent to the explosion of three Hiroshima-sized bombs.”

Boeing’s engineers, scientists, designers and marketers could help turn the tide of human actions destroying our earth. Their expertise could truly “defend” people.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the river flowing outside of Boeing’s headquarters. It actually flows backwards. Long ago, brilliant engineers designed a way for the river to reverse its course. In doing so, they saved Chicago from sewage contamination of its drinking water supply – Lake Michigan. This action was hailed as one of the great engineering wonders of the world.

The City’s sewers discharged human and industrial wastes directly to its rivers, which in turn flowed into the lake. A particularly heavy rainstorm in 1885 caused sewage to be flushed into the lake beyond the clean water intakes. The resulting typhoid, cholera, and dysentery epidemics killed an estimated 12 percent of Chicago’s 750,000 residents, and raised a public outcry to find a permanent solution to the city’s water supply and sewage disposal crisis.”

The Sanitary and Ship Canal was constructed at an estimated cost of over $70,000,000. After its completion, in 1900, waterborne disease rates quickly and dramatically improved, and its water supply system was soon regarded as being one of the safest in the world. With its water source made safe and dependable by the canals, Chicago and the region grew and prospered rapidly.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to dye the Chicago River red or green. We need to protect the river and all wildlife dependent on it. But, we must continually confront Boeing and other weapon manufacturers, and insist they not destroy lives, homes and infrastructures in other lands. We must urge Boeing, like the river, to reverse course and participate, with dignity and humility, in the pursuit of human survival.