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Person of the Year: Kathy Kelly

All who are familiar with Voices in the Wilderness will be heartened by the
following: an appreciation of VITW's indomitable co-founder, Kathy Kelly.
Also attached is a devastating piece by Raed Battah, who recently joined
VITW in visiting Iraq.

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA

SpinTech: January 12, 2000 

Person of the Year, 2000: Kathy Kelly 
Never Just a Spectator 
by Ken Freeland

Kathy Kelly impresses almost everyone who meets her as an irrepressible
fireball -- as someone who keeps pushing the envelope of peace activism well
past the boundaries of what for many would mean certain burnout. This was,
in any case, my initial impression of this indefatigable, charismatic
organizer when I first got to her know her during the first Iraq Sanctions
Challenge delegation to Iraq two years ago, which, needless to say, she had
helped to arrange. But by then, organizing delegations to Iraq in defiance
of US laws and regulations (and therefore without sufferance or support by
the State Department) was old hat to Kathy, who had already engineered,
through the organization she co-founded -- "Voices in the Wilderness" -- a
number of smaller group expeditions, each carrying token humanitarian
supplies of medicine or other necessaries (technically violating inhuman US
export restrictions) to poverty-stricken Iraqis and cash-starved hospitals
in Baghdad, Basrah and elsewhere, each time introducing another handful of
her fellow citizens to the firsthand horror of Iraq: to what the most
stringent sanctions in the history of modern warfare, following on an
utterly savage war which deliberately gutted civilian infrastructure, can do
to a Third World population -- even one like Iraq, which in so many ways had
been a showcase of Middle East economic success before crossing paths with
Western designs for the region. 

Kathy and company are now organizing their 31st such Voices delegation, and
all of this amazing work is done from the tiny quadrant of her humble inner
city apartment in Chicago, to which she deliberately moved from her former
haunt in affluent Hyde Park as a way of living out her solidarity with the
poor. There she has been living for twenty years -- for the last six caring
for her dependent father. Her associates, Jeff Guntzel, Nick Arons, Rick
McDowell, and a number of other dedicated people, tred in and out to assist
with the work, and to cover for Kathy in her absences, which are frequent:
Kathy has participated in ten of the delegations thus far (leading some to
quip that she spends more time in Iraq than she does in the United States!).
But what else would one expect of the woman whose commitment to peace and to
the people of Iraq gave her the courage to participate in the Gulf Peace
Team, which steadfastly maintained its witness in Iraq during the Gulf War,
even during the worst of the bombing? 

Kathy has held such faith with these innocent victims of the US militarism
to which she so strenuously objects, that numerous peace organizations have
showered her with awards: Pax Christi, Fellowship of Reconciliation, COPRED,
Peace Abbey and Office of the Americas, among others. Kathy maintains an
endlessly busy schedule of giving public talks to inspire activism around
the issue of Iraq, as well as organizing yet another and another and another
Voices in the Wilderness delegation to Iraq. 

Iraq is not the first issue Kathy has tackled: from 1974 - 1988 she taught
in Chicago high schools and then, largely because she realized that the
billions wasted on US militarism were materially depriving the very children
who were now her neighbors, she decided to quit teaching in order to
participate in the Missouri Peace Planting, a civil disobedience action in
which rows of corn were sown at a nuclear missile silo in Kansas. For this
she received one of her earliest awards: a sentence of one year in a
Lexington, Kentucky, maximum security prison. (An activist who knows her
well says Kathy once allowed that she learned more in that one year behind
bars than she ever did in a year of theological study!) In 1990 she took
part in a water-only fast for 28 days outside the infamous School of the
Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, with the man who still leads the
SOA-Watch movement today: Fr. Roy Bourgeois. 

Where has all this inspired energy come from? Kathy recalls the influence of
several memorable and somewhat radical high school teachers, and some early
exposure to artists who were themselves victims of war, such as those who
spent WWII in concentration camps. "I never wanted to stand by when
something like that was going on," she says. "I never wanted to be just a
spectator." Kathy also deeply appreciates the influence of her erstwhile
husband of 12 years, Karl Meyer, whose example of simple living and war tax
refusal continues today. 

And then there is her religious faith. Kathy has a Catholic background, and
pursued the study of theology to the point of a Master's Degree. She is wary
of any dogmatic approach to religion, but testifies to an enduring pacifism
based on "love of enemies," and insists that this must be lived out to have
any meaning. She is keen to recognize this same spirit in many of the
world's religions. She likes to talk of the "gospel of nonviolence," rather
than any specific denominational belief system, but she emphasizes the
persistent influence of her early connection to prophetic-Christian biblical

Shortly after her incarceration in Kentucky, Kathy decided that she could no
longer pray and work for peace, while paying for war, and in 1980 became a
total war tax refuser. This, of course, means the equivalent of taking a vow
of poverty, as war tax refusers cannot acquire serious assets (which would
be immediately seized by the IRS). But this is consistent with a witness
that finds in our culture's materialism the source of much of our aggressive
foreign policy. 

Prayer and fasting are an integral parts of the Voices in the Wilderness
approach to seeking change of US policy. Current plans call for
participation in the Voices in the Wilderness-sponsored liquid-only fast in
Washington, D.C., from Martin Luther King's birthday on 15 January until 11
February, after which this witness will move to the US Mission to the UN in
New York on 16-17 February, to commemorate the bombardment of the Ameriyah
bomb shelter. "This fast," explains Kathy, "is a means we seek for
self-purification... we are part of a nation that now acts as a rogue
superpower. The props are the luxuries we enjoy, and the false sense this
engenders in us of entitlement to the resources of the less developed
world." This, she insists, lies at the root of our current, militaristic
foreign policy. 

So that's where you can find SpinTech's Woman of the Year, this month and
next, as she other Voices in the Wilderness members welcome everyone to join
them at these events, especially during the vigil at the Capitol steps from
11:00 am to 2:00 pm daily. Everyone may not feel called to fast, but anyone
can schedule a lobbying visit to a congressperson during this session to
advocate an end to the cruel sanctions and continuing bombing of Iraq. And
as VITW's persistent witness reminds us, there is no one reading their story
who cannot, at the very least, find the time to write to government leaders
and representatives -- just tell 'em Kathy sent ya! (In just two minutes you
can send a free fax by email on this issue to your elected representatives
by clicking here and following the instructions!) 

Ken Freeland is a peace activist in the Houston area.

Copyright 1999 SpinTech Magazine and Ken Freeland.

SpinTech: January 12, 2000 

A Visit To Iraq 
by Raed Battah

In late June, 1999 my dreams came true. After routinely scanning the
headlines and making the usual stops at the popular antiwar sites on the
Internet, I found a hit. I made a desperate attempt to reach a Chicago-based
organization called Voices in the Wilderness. Voices in the Wilderness is a
nonviolent activist group that is leading a campaign to end economic
sanctions against Iraq. Since 1996, Voices in the Wilderness (VITW) has sent
nearly 30 delegations to Iraq, including a group of US Congressional aides,
the first government representatives to visit Iraq since the Gulf War. VITW
organizes teach-ins, marches, fasts, vigils, and meetings with government
officials. VITW provides its delegates an invaluable tool for gaining
information related to sanctions and for witnessing first hand the effects
of sanctions at the most personal levels. 

Normally there is a little down time in receiving responses from VITW. Many
more people these days are learning about the situation in Iraq, and they
want to get involved. VITW is one of the most effective ways to get
involved. Because delegations are usually kept to relatively small numbers
(my delegation would have seven members) there can be a little bit of a wait
to be accepted to a delegation. However, with a little luck and a highly
impassioned letter, I received, remarkably, a response just a few hours
after submitting my e-mailed letter. 

Kathy Kelly, co-founder of VITW, phoned me shortly after I returned home
from the computer lab where I sent her my e-mail. She told me that two spots
were open but seven people were ahead of me with their requests. However,
due to my sincere letter, Kathy told me she felt that I deserved to go.
Kathy remembered me from a speech she gave in Detroit to a reunion of
graduates from Al-Hikma University in Baghdad, which my father attended. It
had been one year since I approached her and asked that she not forget my
face because I would call on her to offer my assistance as soon as I
finished my broadcasting degree. I ended up staying a bit longer to finish a
political science degree, strictly for academic credibility when I took the
sanctions issue to the political table. 

Earlier, I had found myself at the computer one day, especially frustrated
at the situation. It could have been any number of things: a new bombing in
the no-fly zones, the report of an outbreak of cholera, the new figures on
infant mortality, or the effects of the worst drought in Iraq's history as a
nation. I was especially troubled and told myself: "Just go! Nothing can be
more important. You can't sleep. You can't concentrate. Just go!" 

Since my father is a physician I was fortunate enough to solicit lots of
medicine to take to the Iraqi people. He also contacted two Indian doctors
who were happy to donate updated medical textbooks (prohibited by
sanctions). With a suitcase full of life, and a spirit full of compassion, I
prepared to make the biggest, most illegal decision of my life. Sanctions
prohibit the transportation of goods to and from Iraq outside the determined
"Food-for-Oil" deal. The penalty for engaging in such actions is the threat
of imprisonment for up to twelve years and $1.2 million in fines. 

I was breaking a number of federal laws just crossing state lines with a
suitcase full of illegal drugs, mostly prescription. What is really
interesting is that I had no trouble boarding a plane in Detroit and flying
to Chicago with all these medications. What is still more shocking is that
no one ever checked the suitcase in Chicago either. I was a little
disappointed because the whole point was to openly violate the sanctions

The other members of my delegation included Tom Sager, a computer science
teacher at the University of Illinois, Ramsey Kysia, an American-Lebanese
businessman and photographer, Stacia Crezynski, a teacher from New Mexico,
Chris Allen Doucot, a seasoned delegate leader from Boston, Dave Rollstone,
a ship builder from Wales, Great Britain, and another Brit, Joanne Baker, an
aroma-therapist and teacher from London. I rounded out the group as the
youngest and only Iraqi. 

Tom, Stacia, and I met in Chicago and flew together to Jordan where we met
the rest of the group, except for Chris who was waiting for us in Baghdad.
After a brief two-day stay in Amman, where we finalized some border papers
and cleared up some things with the Foreign Ministry, we set out across the
desert. My eyes close and I still can see that amazing barren sacred desert
that witnessed many of the greatest stories of the Bible. Worth noting is
the otherwise impassable region which historically represents the sites of
Sodom and Gomorrah. For miles and miles it is nothing but black, razor
sharp, bowling ball sized rocks that send the mind into a whirlwind of
speculation. For thousands of years this region has remained untouched,
presumably damned by God for the sins of its early inhabitants. 

Crossing the desert is a very unique experience. For miles it is flat, then
it turns into desert hills with rocky cliffs. Growing up in Western Kentucky
there was a strange similarity in that it is common to catch several deer
crossing an old country road, but a big difference in seeing a herd of wild
camels just easing on across the only paved road in a hundred mile radius.
Shepherds and their flocks of both camel and sheep could be seen as well all
through the desert. I mean these folks just live out there, completely
self-sufficient and untouched by modernization. At the Iraq-Jordan Border, a
place called Trebil, my group was cordially placed in a big sitting room
which displayed a giant mosaic of Saddam Hussein on one wall. It was
exciting to see because I had read about this picture in several other
journalists' accounts of traveling to Iraq, such by Brent Sadler of CNN.
This room is normally reserved for diplomats and government officials, not
transits. However, Voices has made several trips to Iraq in the past and has
developed what you could call diplomatic relations. 

So there I was, a diplomat taking a two hour nap in front of a giant
portrait of the world's last great enemy. I slept just fine. I recall
meeting two young boys who were in that room. Their names were Ali and
Kasib. They were traveling from Baghdad to Amman. They were 12 and 14 years
old, respectively. I lost a few games of chess to all of them before
discovering that they were child chess champions traveling to Jordan for a
tournament. I gave them a few Snickers bars and they kind of looked at them
as if they were alien. Have you ever seen a child smell a Snickers bar? They
hadn't ever seen one! 

Our approval at the border came quickly due to our status and the couple of
cases of Shasta cola we brought for leverage. The second half of the trip
across the desert I rode with Sattar Al-Jihad, who, unlike his brother
driving the other truck, could speak English. He was a civil engineer who
made his living driving taxis from Baghdad to Amman. He was married and had
two children. I wish the reader could have been there for that eight hour
trip; I must have asked every kind of question about Iraq, and he always had
an incredible answer. We became very close, and for the first time in my
life I had an authentic Iraqi friend. Sattar explained to me that common
daily tasks in the US are monumental achievements in Iraq. For instance,
driving from one place to another without the vehicle breaking down, or
having enough sugar to make a cake, or giving your wife an anniversary
present, or your child a birthday gift. 

When we reached Baghdad, it was almost overwhelming. My whole family was
waiting for me at the hotel after having waited all day and the day before.
They were expecting me a day early but our papers got held up. Some were
missing. My aunt Khemi, the wife of my mother's brother had died nearly a
year earlier because she had no access to an athsma inhaler. My cousin
Behegia who had died from heart failure was also absent. But their families
were there greeting me with tears and hugs. I had made it home, to fight for
all these people who were greeting me with tears, who lived the nightmare
that I could only read about in America. Gena (19), Genevea (23), and Julia
(8) are the daughters of aunt Khemi. All were there crying, overjoyed to see
me -- the first light they had had since their mother abruptly died of
athsma. 81-year-old uncle George couldn't make it to the hotel. This small
giant of the Battah family, formerly known as "King of the Dates" because of
his chief involvement of the import and export date business, waited at the
house my father built over thirty years earlier. His achievements are
incredible considering he was a Christian, a school dropout, and had never
married. He is perhaps the greatest example of sacrifice in the Battah

Somewhere between all the family at the hotel, my group met Chris Allen
Doucot. Chris was our group leader, a Canadian/Bostonian. He was a cross
between a cynic and an anarchist, but very organized, and very official. You
should hear the ringing of a Bostonian accent in the office of the Iraqi
Under-Secretary Minister of Health. Chris did most of the coordinating for
our group. He was the main liason with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, which
appointed minders to our group on official visits. The minders were never
threatening -- they were usually simple people who could translate and tell
us small significant do's and don't's. Don't's usually included taking
pictures of bridges or other government buildings or from cars. The Iraqis
were under a lot of stress because of the on-going bombing taking place in
the north and south. 

The bombing campaign had started December 16, 1998, after UNSCOM Chief
Weapons Inspector Richard Butler declared Iraq as non-compliant. Iraq
claimed the current inspectors were spies. UNSCOM inspectors, specifically
U.S. and British, were later confirmed to have been operating covertly
through the weapons inspection regime. The US, British, and Secretary
General of the UN all confirmed these allegations. So Iraq was bombed for
assuming the truth. And the bombing was a bilateral action that was
condemned by the other three members of the security council. What is sad is
that even today, mainstream media speaks of the bombing campaign in the past
tense even though US and British planes have continued to bomb Iraq on
nearly a day to day basis, killing hundreds of Kurds in the North and Shias
in the South, the same people the U.S. claims to be defending by creating
the "no-fly" zones. 

So I didn't mind -- and actually appreciated -- the motive behind being a
little careful on Iraq's part. Iraq's sovereignty and national integrity had
been marginalized through the actions of UNSCOM, especially considering the
trouble that Kofi Annan had gone through in February of 1998 to get them
back. Referring to the extent at which Iraq had allowed international
inspectors in, Chief Coordinator for the 986 (Food-for-Oil) Program, Hans
Von Sponeck said, "The Iraqis have been completely undressed. It is
humiliating. Try and see if any such action would be acceptable in a western

Although VITW made arrangements in a local hotel, I decided to only use this
as a base. Every night I stayed at a relative's home. One night with my
father's family, one night with my mother's family, and so on. Every morning
at 8am we would meet and go through the day's schedule. Activities, which
usually took all day, were completely optional. If one chose to abstain from
a meeting they were perfectly welcome. A typical day usually went like this:
by 10am we were heading to the Red Crescent to meet our minder. Each day
there was usually a scheduled trip to a hospital. At hospitals we would
first be briefed by a medical supervisor who explained the condition of the
facility, then discussed common operating problems as a result of short
supplies. Then the tours would begin. 

It is unfair to those people for me to even try to recreate in black and
white the conditions of these hospitals, and the environment for the
patients. Common were paint chipping off walls, the smell of piss and shit,
broken windows throughout, almost suffocating heat, sheetless hospital beds,
fly tape over patient beds, fecal contamination in the tap, non-existing
pharmacies (picture an empty closet), and the unnerving screams of suffering
children, grief stricken mothers, and helpless doctors. It is the end of the
world in those hospitals, the end. One would think that your chances are
better off dying than extending such a miserable life. The first doctor I
met at the Saddam's Pediatric Teaching Hospital was named Raed. He was the
chief resident and the first person other than myself that I had ever known
with that name. Raed was just a student when Saddam invaded Kuwait. He knows
only the theoretical procedure for curration, and has very little applicable

Medical texts have been prohibited, along with computers, and most of the
essential elements of a high-tech, highly effective medical facility. They
don't even have working centrifuge machines to separate blood platelets.
They are mixing regular table salt and tap water to make I.V. fluid, leading
to all kinds of recurrences of water-borne infectious diseases. We were
given the opportunity to ask many of the mothers in the hospital if they
wanted us to relay any message. Most of them said the same thing, "What has
my child done to make America want to kill him? Why can't my child live a
happy peaceful life like American children? Would Americans do this if they
knew how our children suffer? Is our oil worth our children's lives?" I knew
most American didn't feel that way. They didn't feel anyway; they didn't
even know those poor children were dying. That is why I went: to find the

The conclusion of "A Visit to Iraq" will be in next month's SpinTech.

Raed Battah is a student at Eastern Kentucky University.

Copyright 1999 Raed Battah.
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