Syrian War of Lies and Hypocrisy July 29, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Foreign Policy, Iran, Imperialism.
Tags: roger hollander, Obama, Syria, Middle East, Iran, robert fisk, hillary clinton, saudi arabia, ahmadinejad, bbc, qatar, panetta, assad, syria rebels, hezbollan, syria torture
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The West’s real target here is not Assad’s brutal regime but his ally, Iran, and its nuclear weapons
Has there ever been a Middle Eastern war of such hypocrisy? A war of such cowardice and such mean morality, of such false rhetoric and such public humiliation? I’m not talking about the physical victims of the Syrian tragedy. I’m referring to the utter lies and mendacity of our masters and our own public opinion – eastern as well as western – in response to the slaughter, a vicious pantomime more worthy of Swiftian satire than Tolstoy or Shakespeare.
Is he the US’s real target? Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
While Qatar and Saudi Arabia arm and fund the rebels of Syria to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite/Shia-Baathist dictatorship, Washington mutters not a word of criticism against them. President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, say they want a democracy in Syria. But Qatar is an autocracy and Saudi Arabia is among the most pernicious of caliphate-kingly-dictatorships in the Arab world. Rulers of both states inherit power from their families – just as Bashar has done – and Saudi Arabia is an ally of the Salafist-Wahabi rebels in Syria, just as it was the most fervent supporter of the medieval Taliban during Afghanistan’s dark ages.
Indeed, 15 of the 19 hijacker-mass murderers of 11 September, 2001, came from Saudi Arabia – after which, of course, we bombed Afghanistan. The Saudis are repressing their own Shia minority just as they now wish to destroy the Alawite-Shia minority of Syria. And we believe Saudi Arabia wants to set up a democracy in Syria?
Then we have the Shia Hezbollah party/militia in Lebanon, right hand of Shia Iran and supporter of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. For 30 years, Hezbollah has defended the oppressed Shias of southern Lebanon against Israeli aggression. They have presented themselves as the defenders of Palestinian rights in the West Bank and Gaza. But faced with the slow collapse of their ruthless ally in Syria, they have lost their tongue. Not a word have they uttered – nor their princely Sayed Hassan Nasrallah – about the rape and mass murder of Syrian civilians by Bashar’s soldiers and “Shabiha” militia.
Then we have the heroes of America – La Clinton, the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Obama himself. Clinton issues a “stern warning” to Assad. Panetta – the same man who repeated to the last US forces in Iraq that old lie about Saddam’s connection to 9/11 – announces that things are “spiralling out of control” in Syria. They have been doing that for at least six months. Has he just realized? And then Obama told us last week that “given the regime’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad … that the world is watching”. Now, was it not a County Cork newspaper called the Skibbereen Eagle, fearful of Russia’s designs on China, which declared that it was “keeping an eye … on the Tsar of Russia”? Now it is Obama’s turn to emphasize how little clout he has in the mighty conflicts of the world. How Bashar must be shaking in his boots.
But what US administration would really want to see Bashar’s atrocious archives of torture opened to our gaze? Why, only a few years ago, the Bush administration was sending Muslims to Damascus for Bashar’s torturers to tear their fingernails out for information, imprisoned at the US government’s request in the very hell-hole which Syrian rebels blew to bits last week. Western embassies dutifully supplied the prisoners’ tormentors with questions for the victims. Bashar, you see, was our baby.
Saudi ally: Hillary Clinton at a conference with the Saudi foreign minister on plans for a Gulf missile shield against the Iranians.
Then there’s that neighboring country which owes us so much gratitude: Iraq. Last week, it suffered in one day 29 bombing attacks in 19 cities, killing 111 civilian and wounding another 235. The same day, Syria’s bloodbath consumed about the same number of innocents. But Iraq was “down the page” from Syria, buried “below the fold”, as we journalists say; because, of course, we gave freedom to Iraq, Jeffersonian democracy, etc, etc, didn’t we? So this slaughter to the east of Syria didn’t have quite the same impact, did it? Nothing we did in 2003 led to Iraq’s suffering today. Right?
And talking of journalism, who in BBC World News decided that even the preparations for the Olympics should take precedence all last week over Syrian outrages? British newspapers and the BBC in Britain will naturally lead with the Olympics as a local story. But in a lamentable decision, the BBC – broadcasting “world” news to the world – also decided that the passage of the Olympic flame was more important than dying Syrian children, even when it has its own courageous reporter sending his dispatches directly from Aleppo.
Then, of course, there’s us, our dear liberal selves who are so quick to fill the streets of London in protest at the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians. Rightly so, of course. When our political leaders are happy to condemn Arabs for their savagery but too timid to utter a word of the mildest criticism when the Israeli army commits crimes against humanity – or watches its allies do it in Lebanon – ordinary people have to remind the world that they are not as timid as the politicians. But when the scorecard of death in Syria reaches 15,000 or 19,000 – perhaps 14 times as many fatalities as in Israel’s savage 2008-2009 onslaught on Gaza – scarcely a single protester, save for Syrian expatriates abroad, walks the streets to condemn these crimes against humanity. Israel’s crimes have not been on this scale since 1948. Rightly or wrongly, the message that goes out is simple: we demand justice and the right to life for Arabs if they are butchered by the West and its Israeli allies; but not when they are being butchered by their fellow Arabs.
And all the while, we forget the “big” truth. That this is an attempt to crush the Syrian dictatorship not because of our love for Syrians or our hatred of our former friend Bashar al-Assad, or because of our outrage at Russia, whose place in the pantheon of hypocrites is clear when we watch its reaction to all the little Stalingrads across Syria. No, this is all about Iran and our desire to crush the Islamic Republic and its infernal nuclear plans – if they exist – and has nothing to do with human rights or the right to life or the death of Syrian babies. Quelle horreur!
Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper. He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.
War Reporters Used to Prefer Morality Over Impartiality February 8, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Media, War.
Tags: archibald forbes, battle of britain, bbc, bull run, edward murrow, fall of paris, holocuast, london blitz, Media, nuremberg trials, paris 1940, Paris Commune, quentin reynolds, rebecca west, richard harding davis, robert fisk, roger hollander, war reporters, war reporting, world war II, wwi
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Feb 7, 2009
By Robert Fisk
Editor’s note: This article was originally printed on Saturday in The Independent.
The “normality” of war, part two. We had a great storm in Beirut this week, thunder-cracks like gunfire, great green waves crashing below my balcony, rain like hail. So I curled up on my balcony sofa – coat and red scarf and thick socks – and opened a book sent by a kindly Independent reader, a much bent copy of Snyder and Morris’s 1949 A Treasury of Great Reporting. And I began to wonder – in an age when the
BBC can refuse help to the suffering because of its “impartiality” – whether we still report war with the same power and passion as the men and women of an earlier generation.
“ ‘Turn back! Retreat!’ shouted the men from the front, ‘we’re whipped, we’re whipped!’ They cursed and tugged at their horses’ heads and struggled with frenzy to get past.” This is William Howard Russell covering the Union rout at Bull Run for The Times. “Soon I met soldiers who were coming through the corn, mostly without arms… The ambulances were crowded with soldiers, but it did not look as if there were many wounded… Men literally screamed with rage or fright when their way was blocked… At every shot a convulsion, as it were, seized upon the morbid mass of bones, sinew, wood, and iron, and thrilled through it, giving new energy and action to its desperate efforts to get free from itself… In silence I passed over the long bridge.”
And here is Archibald Forbes reporting the collapse of the Paris Commune in 1871 for the London Daily News. “The Parisians of civil life are caitiffs to the last drop of their thin, sour, white blood. But yesterday they had cried ‘Vive la Commune!’… Today they rubbed their hands with livid currish joy to have it in their power to denounce a Communard and reveal his hiding place. Very eager at this work are the dear creatures of women… They have found him, the misérable!… a tall, pale, hatless man with something not ignoble in his carriage. His lower lip is trembling, but his brow is firm, and the eye of him has some pride and defiance in it. They yell – the crowd – ‘Shoot him; shoot him!’… men club their rifles and bring them down on that head. They are firing on the flaccid carcass now, thronging about it like blowflies…”
The first German war crime of the 1914-18 war – the sack of the Belgian city of Louvain – was covered by Richard Harding Davis of the New York Tribune, forced by the Germans to stay aboard his military train as it circled the burning city. “When by troop train we reached Louvain, the entire heart of the city was destroyed and fire had reached the Boulevard Tirlemont, which faces the railroad station. The night was windless, and the sparks rose in steady, leisurely pillars, falling back into the furnace from which they sprang… Outside the station in the public square the people of Louvain passed in an unending procession, women bare-headed, weeping men carrying the children asleep on their shoulders… Once they were halted, and among them were marched a line of men. They well knew their fellow townsmen. These were on their way to be shot.”
Now a slightly selfish Quentin Reynolds at the fall of Paris in 1940: “I had stayed behind to write the story of the siege of Paris… Now it developed that there would be no siege of Paris. The Grand Boulevard was almost deserted this morning. One middle-aged woman was sitting at a table at a sidewalk café, one of the very few where one could still get coffee and bread. She had driven into the city that morning in her small one-seated (sic) car. She wanted to sell her car. I bought it on the spot. Now I was mobile.”
And Ed Murrow for CBS in the London Blitz: “Millions of people ask only, ‘What can we do to help? Why must there be 800,000 unemployed when we need these shelters?… What are the war aims of this country? What shall we do with victory when it’s won? What sort of Europe will be built when and if this stress has passed?’ These questions are being asked by thoughtful people in this country. Mark it down that in the three weeks of the air Blitz against this country, more books and pamphlets have been published on these subjects than in any similar period of the war… Mark it down that these people are both brave and patient, that all are equal under the bomb… You are witnessing the beginning of a revolution, maybe the death of an age.”
Finally, the sharp tongue of Rebecca West for The New Yorker at the Nuremberg trials. “Though one has read surprising news of Göring for years, he still surprises. He is, above all things, soft. He wears either a German air-force uniform or a light beach-suit in the worst of playful taste, and both hang loosely on him, giving him an air of pregnancy. He has thick brown young hair, the coarse, bright skin of an actor who has used grease paint for decades, and the preternaturally deep wrinkles of the drug addict; it adds up to something like the head of a ventriloquist’s dummy. His appearance makes a pointed but obscure reference to sex… it appears in the Palace of Justice that it is only the Americans and the British who can hold up a mirror to Germany and help her to solve her own perplexing mystery – that mystery which, in Nuremberg and the countryside around it, is set out in flowers, flowers which concert by being not only lovely but beloved… ‘The people where I live now send me in my breakfast tray strewn with pansies,’ says the French doctor who is custodian of the relics at the Palace of Justice (the lampshade made of human skin, the shrunken head of the Polish Jew).”
It’s not just the power of the writing I’m talking about here; the screaming soldiers, the dying Communard, the condemned men, the woman wanting to sell her car, the death of an age, the flowers. These reporters were spurred, weren’t they, by the immorality of war. They cared. They were not frightened of damaging their “impartiality”. I wonder if we still write like this.
BBC and Gaza: Error of judgment January 28, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Media, War.
Tags: bbc, bbc censorship, dec, disasters emergency committee, gaza, humanitarian aid, israel, mark thompson, roger hollander, War Crimes, white phosphorus
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(AFP) Protesters demonstrate in London against the BBC.
As the Gaza appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee was broadcast on ITV and Channel 4 yesterday, the refusal of the BBC and Sky to do so remained puzzling, writes The Guardian in its editorial.
Excerpts: If Mark Thompson’s core objection was that it would have compromised the impartiality of the organization’s reporting of the conflict, then what of the other appeals DEC has mounted and the BBC has screened with no qualms? Congo, Darfur and Chad, Liberia, Kosovo, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia were all man-made disasters for which DEC launched major appeals.
Even the cyclone appeal for Burma had profoundly political implications, as the military junta blocked access of aid agencies to the Irrawaddy Delta. DEC’s campaign formed an open and unashamed part of a wider international effort to get the junta to open up an area of the country that it was initially determined to keep closed.
And yet the BBC had no qualms about its editorial stance then. Thompson claimed yesterday that his decision on Gaza was not a first and was in line with previous decisions. But the consistency was difficult to spot. What qualifies appeals on Darfur or Burma, but not Gaza?
(Watch video: Israel’s use of white phosphorus in Gaza)
(Watch video: Israeli war crimes )
(Watch video: UK Jewish MP: Israel acting like Nazis)
(Watch video: Alex Thomson shuts-up Israeli spokesman!)
Even more mystifying is Thompson’s claim that the BBC is performing its public service duty by reporting the row over DEC’s campaign or linking to its campaign on the BBC’s website. Either the BBC backs the DEC’s plea for humanitarian aid or it does not. There are no half measures on this issue. As the BBC’s editor in chief, Thompson had every right to make a judgment like this. And Douglas Alexander should not, as a government minister, have written to the BBC criticizing that decision. His move played right into the corporation’s comfort zone. The BBC found itself back on familiar turf — defending itself from political interference.
This is not an issue of BBC independence. It is about the ends to which it exercises that independence. By rejecting the campaign in principle, the BBC is taking a partisan stance. The ability of the BBC to report unfolding events in Gaza impartially will be diminished as a result.
Source: Arab News
Tags: Afghanistan, amy goodman, bbc, bbc censorship, gaza, gaza casualties, gaza doctors, gaza hospitals, george mitchell, hamas, humanitarian aid, Iraq, israel, israeli bombs, kathy kelly, lebanon, livni, Middle East, Obama, Palestine, rafah, roger hollander, saddam hussein, war profiteers, weapons makers, west bank, white phosphorus
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January 27, 2009
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama has dispatched George Mitchell on his first trip as Middle East envoy. Mitchell is set to begin in Egypt today, followed by Israel, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Speaking at the White House, Obama said Mitchell will be charged with bringing about “genuine progress.”
- PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The charge that Senator Mitchell has is to engage vigorously and consistently in order for us to achieve genuine progress. And when I say “progress,” not just photo-ops, but progress that is concretely felt by people on the ground, so that people feel more secure in their lives, so that they feel that the hopes and dreams and aspirations of their children can be met. That is going to be our task. It is not something that we’re going to be able to do overnight, but I am absolutely confident that if the United States is engaged in a consistent way and an early—in early fashion, that we can make genuine progress.
Now, understand that Senator Mitchell is going to be fully empowered by me and fully empowered by Secretary Clinton. So when he speaks, he will be speaking for us. And I’m hopeful that during this initial trip, one of the earliest initiatives that we have taken diplomatically, that not only is he able to communicate effectively how urgent we consider the issue, but that we’re also going to be able to listen and to learn and to find out what various players in the region are thinking. And more immediately, we hope that Senator Mitchell will be able to give us some ideas in terms of how we can solidify the ceasefire, ensure Israel’s security, also ensure that Palestinians in Gaza are able to get the basic necessities they need and that they can see a pathway towards long-term development that will be so critical in order for us to achieve a lasting peace.
AMY GOODMAN: George Mitchell has no immediate plans to visit the Gaza Strip, site of the three-week-long US-backed attack that killed more than 1,300 people, injured more than 5,000. A State Department spokesperson said Mitchell might make it to Gaza.
Well, my next guest has just returned from Gaza. She witnessed the Israeli attack. Kathy Kelly is executive director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, veteran peace activist, founder of Voices in the Wilderness, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times. She joins us in our firehouse studio.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Kathy.
KATHY KELLY: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: How long were you in Gaza, and how did you get in?
KATHY KELLY: We were there, Audrey Stewart and I, for a total of six days, and we had entered after going back up to Cairo and getting an official-stamped letter. You had to swear before the United States embassy in Cairo that you were going in on your own responsibility.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did you see? Where did you go?
KATHY KELLY: We went to Rafah, and we were very fortunate. A family that had fled from their own home and was living in a home that was lent to them in-laws invited us to stay with them. And we were immediately outside the area where people were told to evacuate. And so, we timed it. Every eleven minutes, there would be a huge bomb thudding down on the neighborhood. This was very close to where the tunnel industry had been in full activity prior to the December 27th attacks.
And so, we heard many of the bombs falling, we heard Apache helicopters firing, and then traveled with young people, students, up to Gaza City after the ceasefire was in place and the roads had been cleared and could see just how stunned the students were at the extent of the devastation. And then, from there, we visited inside the hospital, the burn unit, in a major—Shifa Hospital in Gaza, and then went up to Beit Lahiya and Audrey over to Tufa to further see the extent of the damage.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking with doctors in the hospital, seeing patients, what struck you most?
KATHY KELLY: The doctors said that the majority of their patients were non-military. They were civilians, grandmothers, teenagers, children. They were shaking with rage, honestly, because the world had watched for twenty-two days while this affliction just went on and on. They talked about patients lying on the floor, dying before their eyes, because they couldn’t open up operating rooms, they didn’t have enough materials to try to save all of the people who were coming in desperate need.
They said they had never seen injuries like this before, doctors with fifteen, twenty, thirty years of practice, particularly with regard to the burns. They’ve now, they believe, proven that white phosphorus was used. They had sent one patient’s tissue out for a biopsy in Egypt, and elements of white phosphorus were found in the tissue. And what actually kills people, when the white phosphorus, which is poisonous, goes into the circulatory system, is that the liver can’t process it. And two of their patients died of cardiac arrest after being transported to Egypt.
They also told about the way that surgeons had to work as teams—a vascular surgeon, a neurosurgeon, an orthopedic surgeon—trying desperately to save lives. And the extent of the wounds that each patient came in with, they said, was nothing like they had ever experienced before.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Kathy Kelly, about this brewing controversy in Britain. Two of Britain’s major broadcasters, the BBC and Sky, are continuing to come under criticism for refusing to air a charity appeal for the victims of the Israel attack on Gaza. The appeal was put together by the Disasters Emergency Committee, or DEC, which includes thirteen of Britain’s main charities. The DEC asked broadcasters to air the three-minute appeal during primetime on Monday, seeking donations for Palestinians affected by the conflict. The appeal aired on many British channels last night, but the BBC and Sky refused. This is an excerpt of the appeal.
- DEC APPEAL: The children of Gaza are suffering. Many are struggling to survive, homeless and in need of food and water. Today, this is not about the rights and wrongs of the conflict. The hospitals have been overwhelmed with the number of casualties and need more resources to treat them. This is why the DEC has launched this appeal.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, the BBC has come under broad criticism for its decision not to air the appeal. This is Caroline Thomson, chief operating officer for the BBC.
- CAROLINE THOMSON: It is a matter of a big national, international controversy. There is a big debate about the rights and wrongs of the war and the causes and so on, and we would want that to have stabilized and the situation on the ground to have stabilized before we could reconsider and feel it was something we could do.
AMY GOODMAN: And here is what the BBC’s director-general Mark Thompson had to say.
- MARK THOMPSON: We believe that the BBC’s reputation of impartiality is so important and so integral to the BBC’s reputation and its trustworthiness here and around the world that it’s very important that we adhere strictly to our principles.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, the charities behind the appeal include the Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children and Christian Aid. Kathy Kelly, your response?
KATHY KELLY: Well, many of those charities had even prior to the December 27th attacks issued a scathing report showing how the economic war, the state of siege that had been imposed on Gaza, was something that was in violation of international law. I think that these charities have had on-the-ground experiences, and they should certainly be listened to.
Surely, the humanitarian is political. That’s just a reality that we should all accept. But I think that the journalistic integrity would be most respected if in fact there would be clear reporting on the ways that these assaults, the Israeli assaults on a civilian population, 50 percent of whom are children, violated international law and any standards of human decency and, I believe, should be examined under the questions of genocide.
AMY GOODMAN: Israel said that they would stop during that attack if Hamas stopped launching the rockets. What was the response of Palestinians inside? Has Hamas increased in popularity or decreased?
KATHY KELLY: It’s difficult to answer that question. I, myself, sensed that when people heard the word “victory,” that gave people pause. I mean, you couldn’t look at the extent of the damage and devastation and the amount of time it will take to repair and speak of victory, if in fact you are going to live in that situation for a long time. But I think that the rage that was felt in every conversation that I heard, in terms of the international community allowing this devastation to go on for twenty-two days without stepping in, was a cause of ongoing chagrin. Now, how that will affect Hamas’s political standing, it’s difficult to say.
AMY GOODMAN: How did this compare to your experience of other conflict situations? I mean, you’re famous, Kathy, for traveling the world to conflict zones. You were in Iraq before the invasion and during. You were in Lebanon in 2006.
KATHY KELLY: You know, in Iraq, when people were trapped under the economic sanctions, it seemed as though there was nothing that average, ordinary people could do except be punished again and again and again.
I was impressed by the tunnel industry. In the town of Rafah, which is bisected by the border, people have found a way to deal with the state of siege that was imposed on them imposing collective punishment. And they created a network of tunnels so that—actually, the first day that people could kind of basically come out after the bombing had ended, the stalls in Rafah were pretty stacked with goods. And I thought, well, how did they ever get there? And people just said, “The tunnels.” And so, I think where there’s tremendous need, people don’t like the idea of burrowing underground in order to get food and water and benzene and needed goods, but I think that there’s a great survival ethos that is—
AMY GOODMAN: Israel said the tunnels are used for weapons smuggling, and Tzipi Livni came to the US in the amidst of the attacks to get the US to vow they would stop this weapons smuggling.
KATHY KELLY: But oughtn’t we just use that as a segue into understanding the extent of the United States weapon delivery to the Israeli government? I mean, the planes that were flying overhead were using aviation fuel given free of charge by the United States taxpayers. The drones that are flying overhead doing surveillance represent state-of-the-art modern technology. The amount of money the United States gives annually, $2.6 billion, to Israel—this is a delivery that doesn’t even require any kind of smuggling, because the world has said, yes, the United States and Israel can collaborate, and they can beat up on Palestinian people, pounding them into the ground as much as they want, and there will be complicity.
AMY GOODMAN: What about George Mitchell going to Israel now, going to the occupied West Bank, but at least at this point they’ve not announced plans for him to go to Gaza?
KATHY KELLY: He has such an opportunity to make tracks out of the comfort of offices and salons in Tel Aviv and go to Gaza. Ban Ki-moon did it. My hope is that he would go and stay for several days, that he would make a thorough tour of the Gaza Strip. And I hope that everybody in the United States who’s tuned into his travel will encourage him to avail himself of what is a crucial opportunity to state his own desire to listen, as the President has instructed him to do. He should be listening to the mothers, to the children, to the doctors, to the people who are trying to now rebuild after a fierce and horrible assault.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you leave Gaza?
KATHY KELLY: You know, the electricity was sporadic. The internet connections were not so available. We felt we had a story to tell, and so we decided—it was a difficult decision to make. We decided, though, that it might be best to leave. But also, the people giving us hospitality, I think, were a bit worried that they were becoming too high-profile. I’ll have to acknowledge that people are afraid of what the Hamas authorities might think of what they’re doing in housing two Westerners, and, you know, shepherding them around the area was perhaps, with students, beginning to become worrisome.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask what you think of your fellow Chicagoan who has just become President of the United States, Barack Obama, who says he will double the force, for example, in Afghanistan, though has vowed to draw down troops in Iraq.
KATHY KELLY: This is a grave disappointment. I think we can still hold out hope in the reports that he said once, maybe four years ago, that his leading lights were the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi. But I think that the pressure that he has buckled under, in terms of adhering to the demands of people who are weapon makers and war makers, is a pressure that won’t bring security to his fellow citizens in the United States or to the world. I hope he’ll step away from US exceptionalism and see the United States as part of the family of nations, not as a nation that has an indispensable role in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: I’ll never forget, not that I was there in Iraq when you were, right before the invasion, but the scene described—I think we talked to you around then—of you holding a protest outside the US embassy right before the attack and the journalists surrounding you, almost attacking you, for what you were doing. Can you explain that scene? They were calling you a collaborator with Saddam Hussein for protesting the imminent attack.
KATHY KELLY: I have a pretty vivid memory of that day, as well. We were in front of the United Nations compound, and we had a big sign that said “No blank check for war.” And Jeremy and others—Jeremy Scahill—had gone over to the prison just prior to that where people had been released by Saddam Hussein. And I remember John Burns, in particular. He was so angry with—
AMY GOODMAN: John Burns of the New York Times?
KATHY KELLY: Yeah—with my belief that in fact, you know, we had a prison-industrial complex in the United States that perhaps should bear scrutiny and attention and that maybe what Saddam had done might be something that the United States could consider, as well. But I have to say that after the war, after John Burns was kind of stuck in the Palestine Hotel in a staircase, at some point, at some risk to his own life, he pulled me over while he was with another group of reporters, and he said, “This is the person to go to if you want to hear the humanitarian story in Iraq.” So, you know, I should probably add that part, too.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you saying he was, in a sense, apologizing to you?
KATHY KELLY: Oh, that might be a stretch. But at any rate, it didn’t seem to be a relationship fraught by conflict.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was the anger that was being expressed to you right before the invasion? I mean, these reporters were supposed to be covering your point of view, but they were arguing with you.
KATHY KELLY: Well, I think that the reporters were very, very angry at Saddam Hussein’s regime, in part because they would be bounced out every ten days and have to pay enormous amounts of money, which all went—in order to come back into the country every ten days. And that went to the Ministry of Tourism. Well, believe me, there was no tourism in Baghdad before the war. So, in a sense, it went right into the pockets of the Mahabharat, the secret service agency that was hounding them and tracking their every step. They were very, very angry, and I think they had a right to be. Saddam Hussein’s regime was ruthless and horrible.
But it wasn’t fair to say that we were the silent servants of Saddam Hussein. We were trying to say that you don’t punish children; children couldn’t be held accountable for that government. And John Burns deemed the demonstration we had as a demonstration that Saddam Hussein loved to see, but we saw the headline that he used as a headline that George Bush loved to see. And these kinds of—
AMY GOODMAN: And what was that?
KATHY KELLY: Oh, it was a headline, exactly that, saying that it was a demonstration Saddam loved to see.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, with Barack Obama now the President of the United States, are you strategizing differently? You are one of the most well known international peace activists.
KATHY KELLY: I think if we take a wait-and-see attitude, that could quickly morph into inertia. And so, I think it’s just as imperative and as much of a responsibility for adults in the United States to keep trying to identify the grave dangers that exist as we continue to pour resources into military projects. And I think we should continue to say, “Abandon these military projects.” They don’t bring us security. And at a time when there are so many environmental concerns, when the financial collapses of so many industries are affecting people, we should be taking that money that we’ve given to the Defense Department and putting it into things that really ensure security and then continuing to demand that President Obama pay attention to these kinds of vital concerns.
We camped outside his home for nineteen days in Arctic temperatures in Chicago—I left in the middle to go to Gaza—what we called Camp Hope. And we did want to be respectful of the neighbors of the Obama family, of all the many people who are feeling great congratulatory happiness. But I think that we have to recognize where—well, that President Obama has now become the chief arms exporter in the world. He’s in charge of the most massive killing machine in the world. And it’s our responsibility to continue to hold forth those visions of another way without extending the arm of imperial menace and might all over the world—instead, to be extending a hand of friendship and to share resources as best we can.
AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Kelly, I want to thank you for being with us. Kathy Kelly is executive director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a veteran peace activist, founder of Voices in the Wilderness. She has just returned from Gaza. She lives in Chicago, when she’s ever home.