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Back To Iraq As A Human Shield


Day by day, the latest headlines tell us that we are moving ever closer to war with Iraq. So many people around the world are ashamed and outraged by this prospect and yet feel powerless to make their voices heard. Large rallies for peace have been held in cities around the world. Yet the bulletins quickly return to the war drums beating ever faster for what must be one of the most choreographed and longest-planned wars in history.

Those who suffer most will of course be the innocent and victimized men, women and children in Iraq who are set to endure yet another war and unknown loss of life. Their crime? Simply to be the powerless citizens of an oil rich nation with a violent dictator who no longer fulfils the needs of Western powers who supported and armed him in the past.

Yet we need not be powerless. Gandhi said that “peace will not come out of a clash of arms but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the face of odds.” So what would happen if several thousand Western citizens migrated to Iraq to stand side by side with the Iraqi people? Along with at first just a few hundred people – from hundreds of millions in the west – I will be going to Iraq to volunteer to act as a human shield in the interests of protecting human life. We will join our fellow citizens of the world in Iraq to bear witness for peace and justice.

We will run the risk of being maimed or killed – but it is simply the same risk that innocent Iraqis will themselves face. I would rather die in defense of justice and peace than “prosper” in complicity with mass murder and war. This is not about supporting Saddam Hussein, as our governments did in the past. It is about saving the lives of those in our human family. We will be expressing to the Iraqi people the reality that most people in the West do not support this criminal war. And we will bring home to western publics the human cost of war because, unfortunately, the death and destruction faced daily by countless millions of our fellow human beings seems somehow an unfathomable abstraction unless western lives are at stake as well.

For me, this is also an act of personal penance. In 1989, at the age of nineteen I committed the most ignorant act of my life, I joined the United States Marine Corps. In 1991 I went beyond ignorance into criminal participation in a war against the Iraqi people which ultimately included the use of depleted uranium against the civilian population. My reward as an “American Hero” was to be used by Bush Sr. as a human guinea pig along with several hundred thousand other “heroes”. We have still not been told the full story about “Gulf War syndrome” or how many of my fellow soldiers died as a result, but we do know the value our own leaders put on our lives. When a nation’s leaders do not even respect the lives of their own “sons and daughters,” the enemy will never enter into the realm of consideration. The hundreds of thousands killed by sanctions against Iraq are seen as a price worth paying. The human costs of another war in Iraq barely seem to register with our political leaders.

But, as I understand it, we the “citizens” are responsible for the actions of “our” governments. It is we who are privileged to live in so-called “democracies” and so we are collectively guilty for what we allow to be done in our name, to both to the civilian population of Iraq and to others around the world. Ignorance is no defence. The existence of other tyrants, worse or not, is no defence.

In 1999 I renounced my US citizenship in shame and disgust having arrived at the logical, albeit belated, conclusion that my government was not worthy of my funding – through taxes – and certainly not my allegiance. Paying for roads and schools is one thing, paying for “Weapons of Mass Destruction” to the point of insanity and nurturing global oppression is another thing all together. No moral being can be compelled to fund war, death and murder.

Only the most indoctrinated can not see the irony in the United States, with its long record of intervention and around the world, prosecuting this war on terrorism. A leader of a nation with thousands of nuclear weapons – and who has declared his right to use them – is ready to pulverize one of the poorest nations on the planet on the grounds that they may be planning to develop similar weapons themselves.

This “War on Terror” is becoming the ultimate “War on Freedom”, in the United States and around the world. George Bush has said that “every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make, either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

But we do not only have two choices, For the record, I am not with George Bush or with the terrorists. And that is why, when this war finally begins, I will be in Iraq – with the people of Iraq. I invite everybody to join me in declaring themselves not citizens of nations but world citizens prepared to act in solidarity with the most wretched on our planet and to join us or to support our efforts in other ways. In doing so I honour the principles and laws of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And if I should die in Iraq, it will be as a man at peace with himself because he saw the truth and acted on it.

· Ken Nichols O’Keefe of the Universal Kinship Society is leading the volunteer mission of peace activists who will be acting as human shields in Iraq. See www.uksociety.org for more information.

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