Human Shield Project to Iraq
With fervent determination, Ken Nichols O'Keefe, a former American citizen, is leading a Human Shield Project to Iraq, in order to stop the possibility of a US-led military campaign.
"What would happen," he writes, "If thousands of people, people who are sick and tired of criminal war mongering governments leading us to war. decided to stop talking and start acting? If thousands of us simply act, go to Iraq in mass, we can and will stop this war...
The fact is that the world's most powerful nation would be stopped in its imperialist tracks if thousands of Westerners might be killed by its oil lust war. Never has there been a greater need for people to stand up and demand a sane and peaceful world. Voting and recycling is not enough, it is direct action that is desperately required. And never has there been more people more aware about the truth and ready to act."
O'Keefe plans to travel over land Europe with as many volunteers as he can encourage, along the way visiting former concentration camps in Germany, the war torn city of Sarajevo, and victims of state terror in Istanbul. His eventual destination is Baghdad, where he and hopefully a "mass group of people" will act as human shields against US and British weapons.
O'Keefe's own story is both terrible and inspiring. He has a direct relationship to the policies he is defending against, and what he calls a "debt" to himself and the Iraqi people. As a young man in 1989, he joined the US Marine Corps (what he calls the "stupidest decision of my life") and was sent to fight in the first 'Gulf war'. There, like thousands of Iraqis, he was exposed to the Depleted Uranium contained in ammunition fired by US and British troops.
"American and British forces fired more than 700,000 DU shells during the conflict," he says. "This amounts to approximately 315 tons of DU dust left by the use of DU ammunition. 600,000 soldiers including myself were not warned of DU hazards in the Gulf. It is this Depleted Uranium dust that may ultimately lead to my death. My "blessing" as a US Serviceman."
Upon returning to the US, he learned that he would eventually develop terminal health problems, and learned that other 'Gulf war' veterans were suffering from the so-called "Gulf War Syndrome". As a result of his exposure to DU, O'Keefe and his wife also lost their 3-month old baby to health complications.
"I cannot emphasize enough the amount of terrible grief this miscarriage had on my wife and myself. I can only imagine what Iraqi mothers and fathers were experiencing."
O'Keefe became an outspoken opponent of US government policies, and moved to Holland, where he renounced his US citizenship. He publically burned his US passport, and entered the Dutch government's political asylum programme as a stateless person. An excerpt from his letter to the US consulate in Holland reads:
"The need for me as a man of conscience to divorce myself from the US stems from the actions of your government from the moment it was born, but most of all, its actions over the last century. The level of injustice and hypocrisy is simply impossible to measure. What I am ultimately stating within this declaration is already known to thinking people (not "educated") around the world, and the people on the receiving end of your bombs or economic oppression are difficult to brainwash, so it is that these people know the truth I speak. Aside from the comparatively wealthy Western societies of America and Western Europe, whose populations (to a great degree) have been lulled into a morally comatose state of existence, the United States is regarded as a hypocritical rogue nation that is tolerated only out of fear of reprisal. A rogue that is completely out of control, Drunk on its own Power. A rogue that seriously threatens to destroy all life as we know it through its global rape of the natural world and sheer insanity in developing weapons of mass destruction."
Though officially stateless, O'Keefe now calls himself a world citizen, and lives his life inspired by the world views of Mahatma Gandhi, Malcolm X, Albert Einstein, and Noam Chomsky. His final words to the US government are important for all of us: "Instead of hate it is love that calls me to the words and actions herein. I have at my young age become wise enough to know the secret to immortality, energy never dies, it simply transfers. No matter what happens to my physical being I have already touched so many by my life's work and love that I cannot be killed."
Though the Human Shield Project is only three weeks old, he has already "really inspired" by the response from people in the West.
"I've got veterans who are calling up and interested in coming. I've got people from Europe, Turkey as well. New Zealand, Australia, I'm getting responses from all over the world and again these are ordinary people. I've a six months pregnant lady who is concerned for her unborn child and feels compelled to go."
Let us wish them the best on their new mission.
O'Keefe's organisation, the Universal Kinship Society: http://www.uksociety.org/
Interview with O'Keefe, from Turkey's NTV: http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=15&ItemID=2825
Article written by O'Keefe for The Observer (UK): http://zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=1&ItemID=2806