Waging Peace, November 2010, Page 58

Kathy Kelly Talks About the Killing Fields in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Kathy Kelly speaks in Des Moines July 30. (Staff photo M. Gillespie)

Activist, author and three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Kathy Kelly spoke at Grace United Methodist Church in Des Moines on July 30 about her concern over civilian deaths in the U.S. war in Afghanistan and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, in the U.S. targeted assassination campaign in Southwest Asia.

Kelly recalled and described several attacks in which large numbers of Afghan civilians were killed by U.S. military forces.

"General [Stanley] McChrystal was known, he was legendary for his ability to coordinate night raids—death squads—assassinations, the kind of killing that is done in the dark of night, that is much less visible to people who might have cameras," said Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Non-Violence (VCNV).

"Basically, General [David] Petraeus, President [Barack] Obama, Admiral [Michael] Mullen, in collusion, were all saying to General McChrystal, 'Here's your job: Create terror, create fear, create the killing fields, but do it in a way that won't be so noticeable,'" Kelly told an audience of about 75 who gathered in the church basement.

Kelly noted that McChrystal was sacked "because of insubordination, not because of the killing of civilians, not because of the ghastly attacks and these various atrocities that were committed by U.S. forces.

"Did you know that when the United States first went to war there, Afghanistan was the world's third-worst country in the world in terms of mothers dying during childbirth?" Kelly asked. "Now it's the worst. It was also the third-worst country in the world into which a child could be born. Now it's the worst, after our nine going-on-ten years of warfare."

Along with her VCNV and Catholic Worker colleagues, Kelly believes that non-violence necessarily involves simplicity, service, sharing of resources, and nonviolent direct action in resistance to war and oppression. She lived in Baghdad during the U.S. bombardment and invasion of that country in 2003 and visited Gaza during Israel's 2008-09 assault on the tiny, besieged coastal enclave which killed some 1,500 Palestinians, mostly civilians, women, and children.

Kelly, who visited Pakistan for a month in 2009 and traveled there and in Afghanistan again this year, told her Des Moines audience what she had learned in her conversations with survivors of drone attacks.

"The force of the explosion causes human beings to be flung, and eventually they might be flung into a wall," she said. It's possible to save some of those injured, she noted, "but the people who are close to the place where the Hellfire missile hit, their bodies are carbonized. It wasn't possible even to pick up the body parts, which would crumble, and it was very difficult to identify who had been killed," Kelley said.

A journalist and a social worker told Kelly of secondary missile strikes aimed at those who might come to the aid of those wounded in the initial strike. Rescuers who might come and help those who did survive are afraid to go to the scene because of the likelihood of a second drone attack. For the same reason, Kelly said, people are afraid to gather for funerals.

"They asked me, 'Do people in the United States understand about these drones? Do they know? What kind of democracy do you have? Why don't your people know what's happening to our people?' And then they said, 'The hatred is rising. It's a very big problem,'" said Kelly.

Kelly and two other speakers, Catholic Worker members Brian Terrell of Maloy, IA and Rene Espeland of Des Moines, said that reliance on robotic aircraft has escalated along with increasing numbers of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan under the Obama administration, with very little significant public debate in the United States. For that reason, the two explained, they are looking forward to an opportunity to bring the matter to wider public attention.

In April 2009, Kelly, Terrell, Espeland and 11 other activists walked onto Creech AFB in Nevada, a major drone training and control base, where they were arrested and charged with trespassing. Others arrested include John Dear, S.J.; Dennis DuVall; Judy Homanich; Fr. Steve Kelly; Mariah Klusmire; Brad Lyttle; Libby Pappalardo; Megan Rice, SHCJ; Eve Tetaz; Fr. Louie Vitale; and Fr. Jerry Zawada. The trial of the Creech 14 is scheduled to begin Sept. 14.

—Michael Gillespie