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The Human Shield Movement
On a bright afternoon in January, a convoy of three double- decker buses left London for Baghdad in a blaze of media coverage. On board were over 50 human shields; the first of many hundreds of Western anti-war activists to travel to Iraq. None of them knew what the coming months would hold. All knew that they might not be coming back.
It had all started just three weeks before with an article in the London Observer in which a former Marine, Ken OKeefe, outlined his intention to organize a human shield convoy to try and stop the rush to war. A small group of people who had read the article met with OKeefe. With troops already massing in the Gulf, it was clear that time was of the essence. A convoy would take at least two weeks to drive overland to Iraq and therefore a departure date was set for January 25.
It would be necessary to get funding, vehicles, publicity, visas and most importantly, volunteers willing to leave their homes and families at short notice and gatecrash the theatre of war.
Remarkably all this was achieved. Buses were procured and painted, a website was set-up and human shield volunteers started to come forward. There were press conferences and delegations to Downing Street and interviews with every major news network in the world.
As the buses crossed Europe picking-up more shields en route, efforts were made to capitalize on the publicity and ensure that the human shield project was broadened. An office was set up in Amman and two more groups of shields flew from London to Iraq via Jordan. The week after the convoys departure there were over 60,000 hits on the human shield website and over 1,000 enquiries about becoming shields. Human shield organizations sprouted around the world in France, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, America, Australia, India, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, New Zealand, Korea, and Japan.
The convoy encountered numerous difficulties; mechanical and logistical problems were compounded by stormy clashes of personality. Despite the difficulties, the convoy rolled into Baghdad to a tumultuous welcome. Once there, however, further tensions arose, this time with their Iraqi hosts. Sites for the shields deployment had not been determined prior to the shields arrival and it soon became apparent that sites would be selected by Iraqi government officials wary of infiltration by Western spies. After two weeks of heated discussion, the shields were given a list of seven sites and an ultimatum to start shielding or start leaving. The sites were all civilian infrastructure facilities including water treatment facilities, power stations and food silos, and were fully in keeping with the expressed objective of the shield group.
The need to work closely with the Iraqi government was not something many of shield volunteers felt comfortable with. Some felt that the list delivered by the officials compromised their autonomy. Others felt that they would rather be deployed in schools, hospitals, and orphanages. These shield volunteers left Iraq. The rest took up residence at the sites, a list of which was sent to the Joint Chiefs of Staff together with a request that they recognize that targeting these sites would be in violation of Article 54 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Convention. There was no response to the letters and in the early hours of March 18, the Al Durah power station, home to 23 shield volun- teers, was hit by a bomb.
At its peak the total of shield volunteers in Baghdad numbered about 500, but the realization that the thousands needed to have a chance of stopping a blitz on Baghdad had not materialized, combined with the failure of the United Nations to forestall war, meant that bombing was imminent. Many of the shields chose to stay; many others chose to leave. Still others, like OKeefe, were ordered out by the Iraqi government. In an ironic and tragic twist, 21-year-old human shield, Tom Hurndall, left Baghdad for reasons of safety. He went to Palestine where he was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper while working with the International Solidarity Movement.
As war drew nearer, the British media started to become more critical. The list of sites where the shields were to be deployed were frequently described as military installations and, while stories of shields leaving Iraq were widely reported, the fact that a substantial number remained and that new shields were joining them daily, was ignored. On March 3, BBC news ran a story on the double-decker buses leaving Baghdad, filled with last disillusioned human shields. In reality, there were total of 4 people on the buses and over 150 shields still in Baghdad. Approached with a story about shield volunteers taking up residence in a food storage facility, one journalist responded: Human shields? Were bored of them. Call me when one of them gets killed.
Fortunately none of the 80 shields who stayed in Baghdad throughout the war were killed or injured. None of the sites where they were residing were destroyed. They were afforded freedom of movement by the government and treated with great warmth by the Iraqi people, but largely ignored by the media. This impression that all the shields had fled not only undermined the effectiveness of the action, but also led to ridicule. Rather than being portrayed as brave and selfless, the shields were instead caricatured as naïve and cowardly peaceniks.
What, if anything, went wrong with the human shield action to Iraq? The media can be blamed for the perception that the movement had failed, but cannot be held responsible for actual failures. The ability of the human shield movement to prevent war relies on numbers. The shield volunteers were under no illusions. They knew that it would take more than a few hundred Western human shields to stop a war. However, they felt that the longer war was averted and the borders remained open, the number of shield volunteers would grow. With numbers would come greater safety and more people would be emboldened to join. A critical mass might thereby be reached.
If there were thousands rather than hundreds of human shields then the generals would be forced to factor a new type of collateral damage into their calculations. The reason this did not happen had much less to do with the paucity of the idea than it did to do with the lack of time in which to organize and mobilize.
Although the human shields failed to prevent the bombing of Baghdad, evidence suggests that they were successful in shielding the sites at which they were deployed. All the sites where the shields were deployed were bomb- ed early in the first Gulf War. This time, only one of the sites was mildly damaged. On the day after human shields left, the telecommunications center in Baghdad was bombed. In Basra where there were no human shields, water and power were hit in the first days of the war. Coincidence or an indication that the human shields had some effect?
The speed and ferocity with which the human shields were condemned by the governments of Britain and the U.S. and by the right-wing media is another indicator of the impact of the movement. On the day after the departure of the convoy, White House Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, released a statement condemning the action and Fox News reported that U.S. leaders were considering prosecuting U.S. human shields for war crimes.
In May, Faith Fippinger and Ryan Clancy returned from Baghdad to find letters from the U.S. Treasury Department informing them that they are liable to fines of between $10,000 and $1,000,000 or 12 years in prison for violating U.S. sanctions. The sanctions, which have now been partially lifted, prohibited American citizens from engaging in virtually all direct or indirect commercial, financial or trade transactions with Iraq. It is highly unlikely, however, that the tiny purchases made by Clancy and Fippinger are the type of trade that the sanctions were intended to prevent. The fines are not the routine enforcement of regulations, but a politically motivated effort to punish dissent. Last July, in a similarly punative action, the U.S. government sued Voices in the Wilderness, a Chicago group that has delivered medicine to Iraq since 1996 in violation of the regulations, which allow humanitarian aid, but only by those granted a license.
Human shields are not a new concept, but the scale and impact of the recent movement was unprecedented. Combining the idealism and solidarity of the International Brigades with the principles of non-violent direct action, the human shield movement is the latest in a long tradition of protest. The impact of the human shields on this conflict may be questioned, but their significance in the history of protest can not. Whether a one-time act of defiance or the birth of a wider movement remains to be seen, but we should never doubt the power of thoughtful, committed citizens to change the world: indeed, its the only thing that ever has.
Stefan Simanowitz co-founded and coordinated the Human Shield Action to Iraq. For more information, contact simanowitz@ fsmail.net.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.