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Eyewitness to War: An interview with Wade Hudson and Kathy Kelly

Kathy Kelly and Wade Hudson, two activists who experienced firsthand, civilian injuries and deaths, as well as the destruction of homes, hospitals and marketplaces caused by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Read what Metro Santa Cruz "didn't have room for."
Since September 2002, nonviolent activists have been on the ground in Iraq maintaining a constant presence to stand in solidarity with the Iraqi people. Initiated by Voices in the Wilderness, the Iraq Peace Team members have remained inside the country even as the US launched its invasion, and occupation. Iraq Peace Team activists stood witness to document and report on the humanitarian consequences the new war is having on ordinary people living in Iraq. Santa Cruz reporter Vincent Lombardo (aka V-Man) spoke with Kathy Kelly and Wade Hudson, two activists who experienced firsthand, civilian injuries and deaths, as well as the destruction of homes, hospitals and marketplaces caused by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Wade Hudson is a 59 year old resident of Boulder Creek. He has worked as a mental health counselor, an intern minister, an economic policy researcher, and a part-time cab driver. Wade Hudson is a community organizer, activist, and
writer who arrived in Baghdad, Iraq on March 13, just one week prior to start of the US invasion. He plans to release a book composed of writings from his online Baghdad Journal at www.inlet.org/wade

Kathy Kelly has been active in the peace movement for many years. In 1988, she served nine months of a one-year prison sentence for planting corn on nuclear missile silo sites. As a pacifist and war tax resister, she has refused to pay all of her federal income tax for the last 20 years. She has helped organize and participated in nonviolent direct action teams in Haiti, Bosnia, and Iraq. Kathy Kelly first travelled to Iraq in 1991, on the eve of the Gulf War, as a member of the Gulf Peace Team, a delegation of 72 volunteers from 18 countries that set up on the Saudi Arabian border after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. In the mid 1990's she co-founded Voices in the Wilderness, a campaign to end the UN
imposed, US led economic sanctions destroying Iraq. Since 1996, Voices in the Wilderness has sent 60 delegations, to hospitals and clinics in Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul, breaking the siege imposed by the sanctions, and creating an
extensive network among Iraq's people. U.S. authorities have threatened the group with 12 years in prison and over $1million in fines for violating the State Department law regarding travel to Iraq. The recipient of numerous
awards for her activism, Kathy Kelly has been nominated for a Noble Peace
Prize, not once, but twice; in 2000 and again in 2001.

VL
Let's begin with you, Kathy Kelly. You spent almost 8 months in Iraq this time, arriving in Baghdad in Sept. 2002. Could you describe your thoughts, now, after the invasion and occupation by US forces?

KK
I suppose, one friend whose name is Dassan Siboun , characterized what many people were thinking. He said, "the only thing we've been
liberated from is the notion that the United States ever wanted to save us in
the first place." When I left Iraq, there was a very tangible sense of
remorse, disappointment, grief, and loss. I saw people whose eyes are usually
bright and gleaming, staring vacantly. It wasn't that they weren't thinking.
They were trying to absorb the sense of the city that had been swallowed up
from under them. In Baghdad it was very hard on people to see their city
destroyed, as many parts of it had been. To realize what precarity they face
because there is simply nothing like stability or predictability, and more
chaos is bound to ensue. These are people who love their families and want to
protect their loved ones. Many of them have high regards for a very simple,
traditional lifestyle and now western influences are cascading in upon them.
They have alot of reconstruction to do but there certainly are conflicting
allegiences and identities emerging. Its very difficult to see how people are
ever going to impose on the situation some means to find a suitable government
for themselves They face a context in which the occupying power, the US, may
not really ever want to let them arrive at a point of governance where their
resources, their oilwells, their future would be in their own hands. Its a very
difficult scene to leave.

VL
Wade Hudson, tell us what motivated you to travel to Baghdad and participate in
the Iraq Peace Team.

WH
Since 1962 I've been involved in community organizing and activism towards
fundamental social reform, and peace has been a central part of that work over
the years. For quite some time I've been interested in the growing peacemaker
community that has been sending delegations into countries where there's
conflict, like Colombia. Last year, I considered going to Palestine during the
most recent intifada, but for various reasons I didn't, so when things started
heating up in Iraq I looked around and I saw what the Human Shields were
doing. I had some questions about their approach and I learned about what VITW
was doing with the IPT. I'd been familiar with their work for considerable
time and have great respect for them, so I submitted an application.

VL
In the early hours of March 20 the first bombs fell in Baghdad in an attempt to
assassinate Saddam Hussein thus begining "Operation Iraqi Freedom." What went
through your mind, Wade Hudson, as you experienced your first airraids?

WH
I was wondering how many stray bombs were going to fall at locations near where
we were across from the Palastine Hotel. After the second day of bombing I went
out on a tour and saw a crater fifteen feet wide and several feet deep in the
middle of a residential neighborhood. I realized how easily a bomb could have
fallen on our hotel. Whenever you drop a million tons of bombs on a country,
there will be alot that don't fall on military targets. So obviously that was
on my mind, but I was also concerned about what was being done to Iraq and its
people. It was a very disturbing, unsettling moment.

VL
Kathy Kelly, you've said the Gulf War never ended and that this latest invasion
is just an extension of that war.But you were in Iraq in January 1991. What
was different for you this time?

KK
Well, this time I was very conscious of several children who shared the hotel
with us. It was possible to really get to know those kids. I suppose, when you
wake up in the morning, (laughs) I was able to get some sleep, though the
bombing was actually going on morning, afternoon, evening, and nighttime. There
wasn't a particular time of the day that was safe. But to hear birdsong and
see that the river was still flowing, spring was budding, trees begining to
bloom, made life very precious in that context. Particularly because the al
Fanar Hotel hadn't been bombed and these children survived, unharmed. But the
two that I knew best, little Miladh, and Zainab, even though they didn't show
panic, they started to grind their teeth after the first days of bombing. They
were beautiful little girls, one aged three, the other one and a half. The
three year old was constantly playing war games, It was impossible to distract
her. She would imitate an airplane coming out of the sky and pretend it hit
her. Then she would lay backward. Or she would use a flashlight as if she were
a gunner and "shoot" at her mother and then at me! I guess this was how she
needed to cope. I also got to know their mother well, too. That mother felt
intense sadness both through the time of war, and then occupation. At one point
she said to me, crying, "Never did I think that this could happen to my country
and I am very sad now. I think that this sadness will never go away." I can
certainly imagine that there's an abiding sadness that will hang over many
cities, towns, and villages throughout Iraq. I also know theres a great deal of
resilience amongst Iraq's people. I hope that will come to the fore and rescue
them from the terrible tragedy that they face right now.

VL
Wade Hudson, you're familiar with the mental health profession. Can you address
this phenomenon Kathy's describing?

WH
Fortunately, Iraqis have very supportive family structures. And they are very
spritual people who have a strong faith which enables them to perservere
through crisis. (In the longrun) I think the people of Iraq will benefit from
that. By and large, I was amazed at the calmness the Iraqi people demonstrated.
One day we had a birthday party across the street next to a cafe for the a 12
year-old girl. Bombs were falling a half mile away but everyone ignored them
and proceeded to celebrate this childs birthday. The effects were probably more
subconscious in terms of the stress of constant bombing day after day for a
month. It just gets to you after awhile. Even if you're not petrified in any
one moment, the tension builds up and eats at you so I'm, sure they'll have
much to deal with.

VL
One goal of the Iraq Peace Team is to document war crimes. Kathy Kelly, let' s
talk about what you saw, in terms of civilian casualties.

KK
We were really blessed to have Wade, and Dr April Hurley who went out regularly
during the bombing, particularly to hospitals, taking considerable risk to do
so. I had gone to the al Kindi Hospital, which later had some notoriety as a
place that had been turned into a warzone by looters. But when I went, beds
were filling up and all the patients were civilians. I visited several teens,
a child and an elderly man who had all been hit (in bombings). In one case,
trying to leave a home, thinking a bomb was going to come and destroy it
because another bomb hit nearby and a wall fell. Or in the case of the little
girl, she had run to the door to tell her father bombs were coming and she
caught a piece of shrapnel in her chest. To see bodies that are maimed and
mutilated, to speak with Jamila, the aunt of Ali Abbas, the ten-year old boy
whose photo has gone around the world. (Most of his family was killed in a
bombing). She said he woke up and asked her, "Will I always stay this way?"
To see so much punishment inflicted on innocent civilans who had no control
over their government. Where are the weapons of mass destruction that Iraq was
supposed to have? What about the destruction that happened to over 500,000
children over the course of economic sanctions that robbed them of their lives.
Definitely I think we have to talk about criminality. But I myself am not drawn
toward pointing a finger at a particular government official or group of
officials. There's plenty of blame to be handed around between the regime of
Saddam Hussein and the governments that imposed economic sanctions and then
engaged in this terrible warfare against civilians. But in some ways, all of us
bear responsibility because some of the war making of the US has to do with the
lifestyle we choose to lead. As long as we keep putting people in office who
think the American way of life is non-negotiable and that its okay to use
threat, force and really what amounts to acknowledged state-terrorism, in order
to preserve control of other peoples resources in far away places. Yes these
were crimes against humanity that we saw in hospitals and one didn't have to go
very far to see civilian destruction. I had gone to the al Shaab marketplace,
and the evidence seemed to suggest that the kind of explosives used, burst out
horizontally because on a wide boulevard, both sides of the street had been
hit. The building weren't destroyed. They were damaged, but it wasn't like a
rocket had hit, and thirteen cars had been completely demolished. There were
two shallow craters on either side of the intersection, and this would indicate
that a cluster bomb had been used in a civilian neighborhood. At least fifteen
people were killed in that bombing. Afterward, we spoke with eyewitnesses whom
we trust greatly. One in particular said he had seen a US tank pull up to a
huge storage site where one to two years worth of rice and grains were stored.
(According to our contact) an American soldier with a Kuwaiti accent ordered
the driver to shoot out the door of the storage place, then told people to take
what you want, meaning loot it, steal it, and then if you want to burn the rest
go ahead. Looting and thievery happened and then burning. The witness again
said the fires were set by people who soke with accents that were not Iraqi-
Arabic accents.

VL
Upon your return to the US in late April you described you feelings about the
directionof the peace movement, in a journal entry titled, War is Terrorism,
you wrote, "We need practical strategies that will enable us to build momentum
by winning concrete victories. And we need mechanisms that will enable people
to provide support to one another in a timely manner, without sacrificing
particular priorities." Can you please clarify these thoughts.

WH
I think the peace movement needs to develop new tactics to counter the American
military machine and I think our experience in Iraq has been very encouraging
for the prospects of mobilizing thousands activists.

VL
The U.S. government has recently called for the lifting of the sanctions on
Iraq. On April 22, White House Press Secratary Ari Fleischer said: "The
sanctions should become history, because the Iraqi people need help. And
removing the sanctions leads to help for the Iraqi people.... Why should any
nation support imposing sanctions on the Iraqi people now?" Kathy Kelly what
are your thoughts on these pronouncements from the White House?

KK
I hope for the future that the terrrible suffering the Iraqis endured under the
most comprehensive state of siege ever imposed in modern history under
sanctions that lethally punished children, so that thousands of children were
sacrificed. This was child scrifice. This was the most egregious instance of
child abuse, I believe, in the world. Maybe Ari Fleischer words will at least
prevent the United States from ever again insisting that the United Nations
would be used to punish children to death. Remember, the United Nations was
founded to eliminate the scourge of warfare. I hope that Ari Fleischer words
will at least create a blockade so that the United States could never again
impose such cruel and awful economic sanctions. Sure, it's laden with
hipocracy for US leaders now to say, well lets have some compassion for Iraqi
people because clearly Madeline Albright gave the more frank and candid line
when she was interviewed in May of 1996 by Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes. Leslie
Stahl said, "Ms. Albright, more children have died in Iraq than in Hiroshima
and Nagasaki combined. Is it worth the price? Madeline Albright said, Yes, I'm
a humanitarian person. Its a dificult choice to make but the price, we think
the price is worth it. That attitude has characterized US policy through the
Clinton years and also into the Bush administration. The price of innocent
lives was worth it in order to maintain dominance in the region influencing the
price of oil, the recycling of petro-dollars back into the US economy, and
trying to have a geo-political foothold in the Middle East.

VL
If not to hunt down weapons of mass destruction, and to liberate the Iraqi
people from Saddam Hussein, what do you suspect were the true intentions behind
the US invasion?

KK
It seems possible to me that the US no longer wanted Saudi Arabia as a major
client state following 9/11 since so many Saudis had been identified as people
who possibly purpetrated that barbarous act. It seems very possible that the US
wants to instead develop a new Iraq which would be functioning as a client
state to the United States. But, its very important remember the image of the
statue of Saddam Hussien being toppled, and that happening because a US
bulldozer bashed into it and then the crowd of two-hundred, whom some have
suggested might have been a kind of rent-a-crowd. From where we were a block
away, its hard to imagine how anybody could have had such freedom of movement.
We certainly didn't have it. We don't believe that was the neighborhood rising
up in jubilation seeing as how those were people that might have been imported.
But it was quite a photo-op. Certainly there was a great deal of release and
relief when Saddam Hussein and the regime were gone. The Iraqi people certainly
wanted that, but, juxtapose that scene with what happened in Kerbala, a holy
city in Iraq. After all the horrors, the bombing and looting and chaos, one
million people turned to go to Kerbala to commemorate religious leaders that
lived some fourteen centuries ago. There's quite a struggle going on with
various facctions in the Shia faith, some are aligned to a kind of Iraqi
Shi'ism. There are others that would follow an Iranian based faith which
accepts the kind of fundamentalist Islamic theocratic state that defines Iran
today, and you can imagine the Mr. Rumsfeld, and Mr Wolfowitxz and Mr Perle are
not going to want that group to gain ascendence in the future. So the problem
now for the US is how do they contain that group?

VL
What stands out in your mind as the most memorable experience, Wade?

WH
Leaving Baghdad, and just driving through town. We weren't able to get out of
town, the roads were all blocked and we had to repeatedly change our
direction. The whole town was a shambles. Here you have what was once the
most modern country in the Middle East reduced to ruin by the US military over
the course of a twelve year war. It was like Watts after the riots but it was
the whole city of five million people. I don't think I'll ever forget those
images as I drove out of town. We're talking about a sustained war that was
brutal, against a former ally that the US helped put into place. For what
reason? It was like the Bush administration gave a different reason every
week. They would just throw something out and hope it would resonate with one
segment of the American population or another. It may help George Bush get re-
elected and it certainly lined the pockets of the military-industrial complex,
but all the other reasons were either specious or clearly false. So I see it as
a real tragedy.

Kathy Kelly was in Santa Cruz May 15 for a talk and fundraiser. She remains in the Bay Area and will speak Friday, May 23 in Palo Alto. Her talk is at 7:30 pm at First Presbyterian Church 1140 Cowper St Palo Alto, CA call PPJC at 650 326 8837
 
 


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Comments

Peaking into Baghdad

This was a very informative interview!

Thank you very much V-Man, Kathy, and Wade for taking the time to help explain the reality of the devastation in Iraq, as well as the beauty that persists.

There are so many aspects of this interview worth noting again here, but the realization of Dassan Siboun particularily sticks out to me:


I suppose, one friend whose name is Dassan Siboun, characterized what many people were thinking. He said, "the only thing we've been
liberated from is the notion that the United States ever wanted to save us in the first place."


MOBILIZE AGAINST AMERICAN EMPIRE

Stop US Terror and Propaganda at Home and Abroad

Thank you Voices in the Wilderness!
 

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