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[casi-analysis] Injustice - and Comforting the Children

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 Published on Wednesday, January 28, 2004 by
Statement to Judge Upon Being Sentenced to Three Months in Federal Prison
for School of the Americas Protest
by Kathy Kelly
Monday in Columbus, Georgia, Kathy Kelly, co-founder of Voices in the
Wilderness and three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, was sentenced to three
months in federal prison for enacting her habit of bearing witness against
US military violence, this time by crossing onto the property of Ft. Benning
military base in November of 2003, as a form of protest against the School
of the Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation
(SOA/WHISC). You can read "Hogtied and Abused at Fort Benning" Kathy's
account of the inhumane treatment that she received by her arresting
I'm fortunate to have been influenced by the life and witness of some
extraordinary individuals, many of whom have appeared before you in court,
several of whom are now co-defendants.
Their witness in this court has been valuable, constituting a rich and sad
It's important to continue bringing before this court testimony from or
about those who can't appear, people whom we've met when visiting places
directly affected by US expenditures on military training and military
solutions. Quite often these solutions are based on threat and force, rather
than considerations of mercy and compassion.
A report in the London Observer yesterday quotes US Armed forces medical
personnel warning that 20 percent of the veterans returning from Iraq will
suffer post traumatic stress disorders -- already 22 soldiers have committed
Families of these soldiers, whose arms will ache emptily for loved ones that
will never return, can, I believe, find understanding in the families of
others far away from the US who similarly feel bereaved.
In 1985, very aware of Joe Mulligan's and Bernie Survil's work, I traveled
to San Juan de Limay, in the north of Nicaragua. Children there were radiant
and friendly, many of them too young to understand that during the previous
week US funded contras had kidnapped and murdered 25 people in their
village. Later that summer, I fasted with Nicaraguan's Foreign Minister,
himself a Maryknoll priest, and listened to stories pour forth as many
hundreds of Nicaraguan peasant pilgrims vigiled and fasted in the Mon senor
Lezcano church to show solidarity with the priest-minister's desire to
nonviolently resist contra terrorism. Rev. Miguel D'Escoto urged us to find
nonviolent actions commensurate to the crimes being committed. This
experience gave me reason to believe that the US could have used negotiation
and diplomacy to resolve disputes with Nicaragua.
The Christian Peacemaker Teams maintained a steady presence in Jeremie, in
the southern finger of Haiti, throughout the time when the US had determined
it was too dangerous for US soldiers to be there. In 1995, I was there for
the three months just before the US troops returned. Throughout this stretch
of history, the US spent more money on troop movements, equipping troops,
training troops, -- than it spent on meeting human needs. The Commandant of
the region, Colonel Rigobert Jean, commented publicly that he was "ashamed
and embarrassed that it was left to the 'blans' (Creole for foreigners) on
the hill to preserve peace and security in the region." He was referring to
our five person team. Again, I had reason to believe that unarmed
peacemakers could be relied on to create greater security in areas of
Indelibly marked in my memory from that summer are the Creole words that
children could no longer suppress as evenings drew to a close and they
longed for adequate meals. "M'gen grangou," I'm hungry.
More recently, in Iraq, during the US bombing in March and April of 2003, I
saw how children suffer when nations decide to put their resources into
weapons and warfare rather than meeting human needs. All of us learned to
adopt a poker face, hoping not to frighten the children, whenever there were
ear-splitting blasts and gut wrenching thuds. During every day and night of
the bombing, I would hold little Miladhah and Zainab in my arms. That's how
I learned of their fear: they were grinding their teeth, morning, noon and
night. But they were far more fortunate than the children who were survivors
of direct hits, children whose brothers and sisters and parents were maimed
and killed.
Judge Faircloth, we have experienced and seen the deadly effect of US
military policy on mothers and children, on families.
We have held the children and tried to comfort them under bombs.
It is because of these experiences that we feel so strongly. And this is why
I'm willing to go into the US prison system and experience again, as we have
before, the suffering of all of these women who are being separated from
their families in the American prisons. It's important to hear the voices of
women trying to comfort their own children over the telephone, children they
won't see be able to hug and cuddle, -- I remember my friend Gloria, in the
prison telephone room: "Momma's gonna tickle your feets, oh baby, momma's
gonna tickle your feet, you momma's baby." Gloria and many thousands of
other mothers locked up in a world of imprisoned beauty would never tickle
their baby's feet, because they'd been sentenced to mandatory five year
Sometimes I think we face a wilderness of compassion in this country. But
when I think of the many voices that have tried, in this court, to clamor
for the works of mercy rather than the works of war, I feel at home, I feel
grateful, and I feel a deep urge to be silent and listen to the cries of
those most afflicted, -- their cries are often hard to hear -- but when we
hear them, we're called, all of us, to be like voices in the wilderness,
raising their laments and finding ourselves motivated to build a better
Kathy Kelly is the founder of Voices in the Wilderness, a human rights group
based in Chicago that worked to lift the economic sanctions against Iraq.
For more information, contact, call (773) 784-8065, or visit or

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