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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. Regards, Drew Hamre Golden Valley, MN USA --- http://www.spintechmag.com/0001/kf0100a.htm 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 roots. 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. http://www.spintechmag.com/0001/rb0100.htm 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 laws. 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 family. 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 state." 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 knowledge. 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 truth. 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. -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email firstname.lastname@example.org Full archive and list instructions are available from the CASI website: http://welcome.to/casi