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Truth Justice Peace Human Shields Web Site
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War in Iraq:
Human Shields

With Ken Nichols O'Keefe
Founder, Truth Justice Peace Human Shields

Friday, March 28, 2003; Noon ET

There are perhaps 100 'human shields' currently based at seven sites in Baghdad: two at electrical plants, two at treatment plants and one each at an oil refinery, a food silo and a telecommunications facility. They may be in harm's way as columns of elite Iraqi units move south to confront the U.S. forces approaching Baghdad.

The human shields are civilian volunteers who would physically position themselves in key areas to prevent attacks on Iraqi targets. Gen. Tommy Franks has said that their safety cannot be guaranteed. Critics say they are under the control of Saddam Hussein's government and will be used to protect military targets but the shields say they are neither puppets nor anti-American but that they are simply antiwar proponents.

Ken Nichols O'Keefe, founder of Truth Justice Peace Human Shields and a Gulf War Marine who has renounced his citizenship, was online from London on Friday, March 28 at Noon ET, to discuss the role of the human shields as the war reaches Baghdad.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

washingtonpost.com: What is happening with the human shields in Baghdad right now? Baghdad has been hit hard with bombs and that's where the shields are? Any casualties?

Ken Nichols O'Keefe: As far as I know, there are no casualties The sites that the shields are at were among the first sites hit in the first Gulf War, but they have not been hit to this date.

They're living at the sites and the sites have been marked. They are civilian sites that should not be hit. It would be a violation of the Geneva Convention to hit these sites.

There are millions of Iraqi civilians with power and water right now in Baghdad, unlike the hundreds of thousands in Basra whose water and power supplies have been hit and where we have no human shields.

It's hard for a lot of people in the West to understand how serious it is when you don't have water. Disease spreads, diarrhea becomes rampant and suffering becomes immense.

McLean, Va.: Who protects the shields in Iraq? Are your people on their own? What is life like there now for them?

Ken Nichols O'Keefe: There really is no protection for them other than the sad reality that we value western life infinitely more than we value non-western, specifically, in this case, Arab life.

If one American dies, the whole country will know about it whereas you can kill hundreds of Iraqis and it's considered successful because casualties have been held to a "minimum."

Lanham, Md.: Gen. Franks has said that he can't ensure the safety of the human shields. Can you please comment on that?

Ken Nichols O'Keefe: I agree, but the people that are down there understand that but they represent the logical extension of the will of people around the world who oppose this war.

Washington, D.C.: There's been a lot of criticism of your organization. Some say you're working for and enabling helping Saddam Hussein. Others say you're publicity seekers. Can you explain your exact mission and role in this war?

Ken Nichols O'Keefe: First off, I was deported from Iraq. I had spoken very honestly about Saddam Hussein and there can be no denying who this man is and what's he done. However, the pre-emptive Bush doctrine is an absolute invitation to World War III. For that reason alone, all peace-loving people must oppose this war.

As far as publicity, I would ask anyone, would you really be willing to put your life in a war zone and quite possibly lose your life so you can be on TV? Personally, I've been on television for many other things many times and it does not intoxicate me.

The shields are with the Iraqi people. We do things like play football with the children, talk with the people, shake hands, do what people do. That's one of the most important and enriching things of this action -- people, regular people, whether whether they come from the West or Baghdad, sharing their humanity. So sane person wants to be killed or bombed and that's why many of the Iraqis are fighting so hard. They hate Saddam Hussein but they hate America more for what it's done. The people know that the government that the U.S. will install will be nothing more than puppets and that will not stabilize the region or bring about a true democracy.

Washington, D.C.: Do you support the troops?

Ken Nichols O'Keefe: I'm supporting the troops in the very best way which is to call them back. The sons and daughters of America are being called on to kill or be killed in a war that is hugely unpopular, unlawful and all the while their own president is a deserter, who, during the Vietnam War, with his cushy Air National Guard job in Texas, deserted. I don't know what self-respecting military man would respect a leader like that.

I do truly care about the young men and women of America but no more and no less than Iraqi people. The only difference is the Iraqi people have no choice whereas American service men and women do.

Cortez, Colo.: I consistently read comments by the people of Iraq that they do not see this as a war of liberation but as an attack on their country and themselves. Have you met anyone there in Iraq who welcomes or believes in this war?

Ken Nichols O'Keefe: I would not deny that there are some people that are so desperate that they just want change but those people are far and away the extreme minority. The American invading force is perceived as a force of occupation and as murderers.

Cumberland, Md.: How can human shields be taken seriously when you see some of the brutal regimes that they end up supporting by their actions?

Ken Nichols O'Keefe: Let's be honest, the U.S. government could care less about the Iraqi people. This war is one in a series of wars to effect total global domination.

Chicago, Md.: As a former Marine, do you feel there is ever a case for the U.S. to act pre-emptively? Or do you truly feel that we should only act in self-defense?

I used to be only for self-defense. But after 9/11, I'm not so sure.

Ken Nichols O'Keefe: There are seriously unanswered questions regarding 9/11. There is no legitimate independent investigation to this day. The nation's best FBI agents have filed suit against their own government for having thwarted investigations that may have been prevented. The truth has yet to be told about what happened on that day. At the very least, George W. Bush should be fired for criminal negligence when after two jumbo jets had already hit the World Trade Center, no fighter jets had been scrambled, even around the Pentagon, when a third jet was flying full speed on FAA radar towards Washington, D.C. Therefore, 9/11 cannot be used as a pretext for invading whatever nation the U.S. government tells us is the latest threat.

I hope all Americans who love their country would look deeper into what happened on 9/11, just like the best FBI agents did.

New York, N.Y.: Mr. O'Keefe,

I wish you well and admire your physical and moral courage, both as a veteran and as a peace activist.

Has the administration had any contact with you, perhaps issuing a threat of prosecution? Also, there's a rumor that Dick Cheney's daughter is joining the shields. Can you comment on that?

Ken Nichols O'Keefe: Thank you for your best wishes. As far as I know, Dick Cheney's daughter being a human shield is a rumor; I have nothing to indicate otherwise at this point. But as a veteran myself, I know that what I'm doing is out of love for both America and the world that I live in.

There's been no direct threat to me but I have seen reports that one senator -- I don't remember his name -- wants to introduce legislation allowing for charges of treason to be levied against us.

Cumberland, Md.: I have read that many human shields who have returned home now say that they didn't realize how brutal Saddam was. Aren't human shields just being used by Saddam to protect his regime?

Ken Nichols O'Keefe: There are millions of Iraqis in Baghdad with water and power and those were the people we went down there for -- not the Iraqi government.

Washington, D.C. : Why do you think people assume you're working for Saddam Hussein?

Ken Nichols O'Keefe: Because they make the mistake of equating compassion for the Iraqi people to supporting Saddam Hussein. I want the international criminal court to be honored and all criminals who commit the greatest of crimes to be prosecuted and eliminated. But the U.S. record with regard to the international criminal court makes it clear that the U.S. government has no interest in this.

Washington, D.C.: I have read reports of human shield volunteers being put up in posh hotels by the Iraqi Government. Are you concerned that the human shield campaign is at risk of being manipulated by Saddam Hussein and his regime?

Ken Nichols O'Keefe: I have never been naive about Saddam Hussein or the government. My greatest priority aside, from working to prevent this war and save innocent life, is to protect the integrity of our mission which has been and always will be to protect innocent life.

When we arrived in Baghdad (February 8) we had no choice where to stay but the hotels were only a transition to confirm the sites that we ultimately deployed to and during that time in the hotels we physically checked the sites so as not to place ourselves at military targets where we could have been manipulated for the Iraqi regime. It was only a necessary transition as far as the accommodations. We couldn't just arrive in Baghdad and go directly to a site which we haven't even had an opportunity to physically survey. We got out of the hotels and into sites as soon as physically possible.

Washington, D.C.: As a '91 Gulf War marine, do you think we should have finished the job then and taken out Sadaam?

Ken Nichols O'Keefe: I think that that would have been better but my understanding of the first Gulf War is that we needed a reason to be able to have U.S. troops deployed in that strategically critical region and in order to do that we needed to have a boogie man, meaning Saddam, to justify that troop presence. That is why we did not take him out and that is why U.S. troops to this day remain based in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait which is, according to the status quo explanation of 9/11, why those attacks occurred. If an American could put themselves in the position of an Arab Muslim, they would realize how bitter and hateful people feel about U.S. troops being deployed in the Holy Land of Saudi Arabia.

Tempe, Ariz.: Given your activities as described in this chat, would you agree or deny with a statement that you are, colloquially though not perhaps legally speaking, adhering to the enemy?

Ken Nichols O'Keefe: No I do not. I think the greatest enemy to America right now is George W. Bush and I would encourage every American to take a break from waving the stars and stripes. Read the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and then read the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act. I think America needs to take care of its own house. Take care of its citizens that have worked for decades and have no pensions left. Take care of the people in the streets who have nothing. Take care of the tens of millions who have no medical coverage and prove to the world that we are, in fact, a compassionate, democratic, freedom-loving nation.

Landham, Md.: Why aren't you yourself in Iraq now?

Ken Nichols O'Keefe: I was deported along with several others. Probably that has a lot to do with my very clear communications about Saddam Hussein and his treatment of the Iraqi people.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company