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Kathy Kelly Arrested for Anti-War Activism

Kathy Kelly Arrested for Anti-War Activism

By Firas Al-Atraqchi

I was doing my round of internet browsing, going through as well as when I came across news that Kathy Kelly, anti-war activist and member of Voices in the Wilderness (, a non-governmental and charitable organization which campaigned since 1996 to end economic and military warfare against the Iraqi people, had been arrested.

I cringed. Here was a woman who had little concern for her own safety, for her own welfare, and for her own wealth but put her life at risk time and again to bring comfort to the afflicted of Iraq and raise awareness of their plight. According to a VITW statement, Kelly was sentenced to three months in prison on January 26 for her November “walk-on” at Fort Benning military base in Georgia with a party of about a dozen other protesters. Kelly claimed that she was “woman-handled” by arresting military police at the Fort and was brutally treated – five soldiers squatted around her while one placed her knee on Kelly’s neck – after refusing to be abused and humiliated by a female soldier in an aggressive body search. Only when she screamed that she had had four lung collapses in the past did the pressure on her back ease somewhat.

Kelly has appeared on CNN and other news networks in the past several years. She has been accused of supporting the Saddam Baathist government, a claim she vehemently denies, and of being a traitor. She has visited the country and met with Iraqi civilians, and child cancer and leukemia victims (who eventually succumbed to death) several time during the Baathist government’s reign and after its April 9th fall.

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On January 3rd, Kelly was in southern Iraq meeting with Arab refugees who had been detained on suspicion of terrorist activity and Iraqis whose plight had not improved despite the capture of Saddam and the US promise to alleviate the living conditions of the Iraqi people.

I did an internet-wide search on Kelly’s arrest and sentencing. Absolutely no mention of either in mainstream media. Not CNN, NBC, MSNBC, FOX, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and so on.

Why? Is the arrest and sentencing of an anti-Iraq war activist at a time when it has been shown that no WMDs exist in Iraq (the pretext for going to war) not newsworthy enough? At least, a mere mention.

No such luck.

Nevertheless, Kelly is undeterred. In the 1990s, she campaigned to show that some 1.7 million Iraqi civilians (in U.S. numbers, that translates to 19 million people), not military personnel or support, but civilians have died as a result of the United Nations sanctions regime brutally enforced on the people of Iraq. By UN estimates, nearly 500,000 of those fatalities are children below the age of five.

In the midst of the last year’s war rhetoric and media blitz, she shed light on the Iraqi civilians who continued to die as Iraqi hospitals found that vital medicines and equipment were barred from import into the country by a punitive UN regime. Such petty items as pencils were considered dual-purpose items by the UN (U.S. controlled) sanctions review committees. Pencils contain lead, they claimed, which can be used in some scheme to develop nuclear weapons.

I interviewed Kelly a year before the Iraq war. Below are excerpts from the interview which can be found in its entirety at and, parts 1 and 2, respectively.

F.A.: What first inspired you to go to Iraq?

K.K.: "You can't be a vegetarian between meals, and you can't be a pacifist between wars," said Ammon Hennacy, who helped create a generation of radical pacifists. I knew very little about the Middle East when I traveled there to join the Gulf Peace Team in January of 1991, but I was clearly persuaded that the US wasn't going to war with Iraq because it wouldn't tolerate ruthless dictators, - the US had helped create and sustain many such rulers, including Saddam Hussein. I also didn't believe the US was opposed to invasions, since the US had recently invaded Grenada and Panama, and had tolerated numerous other invasions, such as Indonesia's invasion of East Timor. It seemed that the US was going to war in order to maintain control over the flow of petrodollars in the Middle East, and I believed that pacifists should try to find the most vigorous and dramatic way possible to oppose this war…

F.A.: How were you received by the Iraqis - government and people?

K.K.: Some may expect us to return from Iraq replete with stories about why people there would hate us so much. Each of our delegation members has instead returned wondering, "Why do they love us so much?" We do at times hear outbursts of intense anger and frustration. Imagine how helpless and grief stricken parents are when they watch their children writhe in pain or succumb to comas caused by diseases that could have been cured before the sanctions were imposed. Imagine how these parents feel when their purchasing power is so low they can't afford to buy anaesthetics, or simple antibiotics, or blood bags. The hospital personnel also feel dejected, resentful, and bitterly sad when they watch their patients die and can do nothing to ease the pain or cure the symptoms.

Yet, we are consistently treated, even in the hospitals, with dignified and sincere welcomes. Many people say, "We know that you are not your government and that your people would never do this to us." We've been welcomed to visit in homes and to stay with families as long as we like….

F.A.: What is the one message you would like to tell the world about Iraq under sanctions?

K.K.: I'd like to the world to know that upon return from Iraq, we don't divulge stories that would help people answer the question, "Why do they hate us so much?" Rather, we come back wondering, honestly, "Why do they love us so much?"

During my last trip to Iraq (Dec 8 2002 - Jan 10 2002), we visited a primary school in Baghdad. In the entrance was an art exhibit, which included a student's drawing, in chalks and markers, of the World Trade Center being attacked by a jumbo jet. I asked to visit with the student who drew the picture. Minutes later, little 11-year old Hussein stood before me, puffed with pride that a foreigner had called attention to his artwork. I asked him what he was thinking when he made the drawing. "This shows that Allah wanted to punish the people of the United States, to make them see that when they attack other people, they hurt those people." Then he caught his teacher's eye and quickly added, "But we love the people of the United States and we want to be their friends."

I told Hussein that I'd been in NYC on 9/11. I described how I'd stood on the rooftop of a Brooklyn building, watching the smoke billow over the city, and told him I'd felt sure that the people who could best understand the agony and grief experienced by people in New York City, that day, were people in Iraq whose arms ached emptily for loved ones that would not return.

F.A.: What is the most common thing you are told by some of the people you have met in Iraq?

K.K: During my last trip, I visited about twelve different Iraqi families. I repeatedly heard people say, "I can't go on. I can't continue." Some would say, "Believe us, we know that you can do nothing for us, but anyway you are welcome here, always welcome."

In hospitals, many mothers have said to us, "I pray this will never happen to a mother in your country."


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