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Crossing Lines: Peace Activist Kathy Kelly Faces Two Prison Sentences For Antiwar Actions

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We speak with veteran antiwar activist, Nobel Peace prize nominee and Voices in the Wilderness founder Kathy Kelly as she heads to court where she faces a one-month prison sentence for refusing to pay a fine from an antiwar protest last May. Kelly is also preparing to begin serving a 3-month sentence next week for her non-violent civil disobedience at the US Army’s School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia last November. [includes rush transcript]

Veteran antiwar activist and Nobel Peace prize nominee Kathy Kelly could be headed to prison today. The founder of the peace group Voices in the Wilderness appears in Federal court in Madison, Wisconsin, where she is facing a one month prison sentence for refusing to pay a $150 fine stemming from an anti-war protest last May. In that action, Kelly and 11 other activists entered the site of the Navy’s ELF/Trident transmitter site in the northern woods of Wisconsin. ELF, which stands for extremely low-frequency waves, is a military system used to trigger nuclear missiles and cruise missiles. Cruise missiles were the main weapon of choice among war planners as the Shock and Awe campaign against Iraq was developed.

As Kathy Kelly faces the judge in Wisconsin today, she is also preparing to begin serving a 3 month sentence next week for her non-violent civil disobedience at the US Army’s School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia last November. During that action, Kelly was hogtied by military police at the base after being arrested. She begins serving that sentence on April 6, where she will join many others across the country who are serving 3-6 month sentences for the protest at the SOA.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy joins us on the phone now from Wisconsin. Welcome to Democracy Now.

KATHY KELLY: Hello, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Good to have you with us. Can you talk more specifically about the protest you are being sentenced for today? I don’t think ELF is a household term.

KATHY KELLY: That’s certainly true and yet it is something that’s been around for such a long time and hundreds of activists have crossed the line there. The ELF facility is what is used in a first-strike nuclear attack scenario. It’s never been put to use, of course, and it’s a first strike attack, it would only be useful in terms of launching nuclear weapons if the U.S. decided that it wanted to attack another country, either preemptively or at any rate without us being attacked first because it takes 15 minutes to blast the signal that the ELF transmitters would send through the core of the earth’s bedrock and then down to waiting submarines, which would then launch a nuclear missile. If the United States would attack first retaliation would happen much more swiftly. In many ways, people have felt that the ELF technology might almost be irrelevant. But its turns out that they were using it during the Operation Shock and Awe campaign because 57 of the Navy’s ships were outfitted with these ELF transmitters that were also useful in fast tracking the cruise missiles and, of course, the threatened launch of many hundreds of cruise missiles, actually, then did take place on the third day of the shock and awe campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: I know one of the communities involved in the ongoing ELF protests is the Anafof community. Can you talk about the long-time witness at the ELF site?

KATHY KELLY: Well, the community recognized this is one of the places of the sort of network for nuclear armament of the United States. About two decades ago and decided to move up there and make a dedicated witness for their growing community, regular events at the project ELF site, every celebration of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, every Mother’s Day, August 6 to 9, Hiroshima, Nagasaki being commemorated every year. Occasional gatherings of people that go up there, sometimes with tents and always very, very creative actions, and many people have gotten lengthy sentences. Jeff Laye served two years along with George Osterman for cutting down the poles that support the ELF electrical lines and Bonnie Erfer has repeatedly engaged in line crossings. And there was one released from a one-month prison sentence. And we certainly see a connection between crossing the line at project ELF going into war zones in other countries that might be the recipients of United States tomahawk cruise missiles and also crossing the line at a place like Fort Benning where military combat training continues because what we all want to say is look at $400 billion being spent every year on our bloated military budget is a useless way to try to protect people in the United States. It would be far better to just all start asking ourselves why would people in other countries hate us so much that they’d like to see attacks land on U.S. people or U.S. allies? Well, I think it’s a quick discussion when you start to explore what happens after these cruise and tomahawk missiles and all other manner of bombardment land on other people and they’re punished by our allies. It is also a good idea, for those of us who can, to go toward another war zone that is often very shroud and I consider that to be the prisons and jails of the United States where, you know, once upon a time in this country, we had add war on poverty. Now I think we have a war against the poor. And who goes inside those jails?, Some of the people who have been most abysmally failed by U.S. education systems and U.S. Social Services. So, it is not a bad idea to go in there and just listen and try to find out what’s happening to people on the other side of those lines.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Kathy Kelly, who faces prison today about to be sentenced in Wisconsin. Kathy, a lot of people who opposed the war are dedicating this year to trying to work electoral against the president who invaded Iraq, against president Bush, instead you are facing two prison terms, will be in prison. Do you think that is the most effective way to express your opposition to the current policy?

KATHY KELLY: Well, I do believe that is one way. I don’t like to, you know, organize in my own mind hierarchies of what is the best way. But it is a good way for those who can, to proceed. It seems to me that it’s very important that the Bush administration not get a mandate from U.S. people to continue more of the terrible setbacks that he’s occasioned for people throughout the world and also here in the United States with regard to the lack of an energy plan and the setback in terms of economic realities. There are so many things that he has done that I think have been ruthless and indefensible. But I don’t think it would be wise for us to think that all we need to do is switch over to the Democratic Party and things would be different. I don’t see any presidential candidate, except Dennis Kucinich, who is willing to clearly arctic late the needs for energy plan that involves us changing our lifestyles and I think that that is crucial. It is unavoidable. If we’re not willing to either start asking other countries, ok, what price do you want us to pay for your precious and irreplaceable resources, and either pay it or say final another way to live without those resources and also address the actual war that is going on against the biodiversity of the planet. These are the major, major issues and I think other things come up as smoke screens that distract us from what really ought to preoccupy us and that is so important when people consider the war on terror because, again, no matter what’s happening in the debates with Richard Clarke, which is all very important and ought to go under intense scrutiny, it still begs the question what is the root cause of terror and if we don’t start to address that, what kinds of terrible situations will western leaders be bring their populations into?

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy, it is interesting that you say none of the candidates except Dennis Kucinich, because there was a major unity meeting on Thursday of all the democratic candidates rallying around John Kerry and Kucinich was the only one who was not there. You have spent much of the last year, during the bombing of Iraq, in Iraq. In the last week, Iraq has headlines again because of Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism chief in the White House, who says that the war in Iraq is — was a diversion from weakened the war on terror. What is your response to this key establishment figure who was there through Clinton’s presidency and then through Bush’s invasion of — in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq?

KATHY KELLY: Well, I think he’s shown a certain amount of courage in coming forth with what he must have presumed would bring him a great deal of heat and political slime campaigning. One can’t help, having been in Iraq during the bombardment, which was so dreadful for people, both during the bombardment and in the terrible, terrible aftermath, one can’t help but wish he would have spoken up sooner. What if he would have been able to make a difference? We were so close, I think, to being able to restrain Tony Blair and then possibly George Bush. And, you know, why did he go along with administration policies as long as he did? But I think again we’re not being asked to examine maybe one of the more terrifying question, which is if the united states knew that Iraq didn’t have weapons and went ahead and attacked Iraq, more or less went to war against Iraq because it knew it could, that Iraq couldn’t fight back, isn’t that fairly counterproductive? Aren’t other countries all over the world going to be trying very hard? Never mind Al Qaeda to get these kinds of weapons so that they’ll be protected and the weapon proliferations is then going to create, I think in the future, a terror that is inescapable for future generations.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Kelly, I want to thank you for being with us. Veteran peace activist, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Kathy Kelly will be sentenced today for a protest at the ELF facility in northern Wisconsin in just about a week. She will also be going to prison for her protest at the School of the America’s in Fort Benning, Georgia.

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