medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for over a decade. He works with Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building nonviolent alternatives to war.
mentor with Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers.
co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare. She is among 20 peace activists who are on day five of a week-long vigil and fast in front of the United Nations to protest the ongoing U.S. support for the Saudi bombing of Yemen and the Saudi blockade of Yemeni ports. Kathy Kelly has just returned from Afghanistan earlier this month.
professor of media and communication at Temple University. She’s also a member of the Afghan American Artists and Writers Association and the co-producer and co-director of the documentary Postcards from Tora Bora.
The "Mother of All Bombs" is the nickname for the bomb the U.S. dropped Thursday on Afghanistan, but our guests in Kabul say civilians there are asking if any mother would conduct such an attack. Basir Bita is a mentor with Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, and Dr. Hakim is a medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for over a decade. He works with Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building nonviolent alternatives to war. We are also joined by Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who is just back from Afghanistan, and Wazhmah Osman, professor of media and communication at Temple University and member of the Afghan American Artists and Writers Association.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. It’s called "The Mother of All Bombs." That’s what the U.S. just dropped on Afghanistan, the most powerful non-nuclear bomb ever released in the history of the world. It was unleashed—unleashed an explosion equivalent to 11 tons of TNT, its blast radius one mile wide. We’re in studio with Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, just back from Afghanistan, and Wazhmah Osman, Temple University professor of media, culture and communication.
We are joined in Kabul by two guests. They’re standing with their backs to the camera to conceal the identity. Basir Bita is a mentor with Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, and Dr. Hakim is a medical doctor who’s provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for over a decade, working for Afghan Peace Volunteers, the inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building nonviolent alternatives to war.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! I’m sorry we cannot see your face. In fact, Dr. Hakim, we’ve had you on in profile before. Talk about why you don’t want your face to be seen.
DR. HAKIM: There are security concerns here. But, Amy, thank you for having us on the show. My worries are really the worries shared by the association or Federation of Atomic Scientists, who, for the year 2017, decided to turn the Doomsday Clock from four minutes to midnight to three-and-a-half minutes to midnight, precisely because Trump became the president. And the policies, including this dropping of the bomb over Afghanistan, does cause me and Basir great concern about the safety not only of all of us on the planet, but of the Earth, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the effects of the bomb that was just dropped, the—what’s called, by the U.S. military, "The Mother of All Bombs," with this mile-wide radius? Now, the Pentagon just released the video footage of the bomb. It’s not a bunker buster bomb. It’s a bomb that explodes above ground. But they haven’t released the casualty figures.
DR. HAKIM: I’ll speak, before Basir talks about some of the accounts he’s heard from people in and around Achin district. I think it’s an insult to nickname the bomb "The Mother of All Bombs." This morning, as I was speaking to one of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, Ali, he said, "Would any mother do that? Would any mother do that to Mother Earth? Or would any mother do this to any children?" The effect is what the U.S. military or what militaries across the world want to inflict upon ordinary citizens, which is fear, panic, hunger, anger. And I think that’s what they will get.
Looking at the figures from Global Terrorism Index, Americans and people from all over the world should ask why, like Wazhmah had indicated earlier. The Global Terrorism Index indicates that whatever bombs that the Americans have dropped in Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world has resulted in terrorism increasing, not decreasing. So why? Why drop it? Why drop this "Mother of All Bombs"? It’s such an insult to all of us. Basir.
AMY GOODMAN: Basir Bita, if you can talk about—
BASIR BITA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —what you have heard about the reaction to this bomb?
BASIR BITA: Before speaking about the reactions of Afghans regarding to the incident, I would like to speak about myself. I lost my grandparents. I lost my uncles, my aunts, very close friends, nieces, nephews over the last two decades. And speaking about the accounts, personally, I feel frustrated, because of the—though the government claims that it was an organized event, but today I heard that president’s national security adviser, several hours before the bomb was launched, he was on the scene assessing the area. And the other one is myself. I don’t want to lose any other Afghans. I don’t want to lose any other friends in the area. I mean, it’s—as Hakim phrased it, it’s an insult to all Afghans.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain why it is an insult.
BASIR BITA: It is an insult to us because of losing relatives, losing friends. I mean, imagine the president, Trump, who’s now praising what the U.S. forces carried in Achin district. Imagine relatives of President Trump were in Achin district. They claim that—I don’t believe this claim, but they claim that local residents, who are around 100,000 people, left the area a couple of hours before the bomb was launched. I mean, what if the president’s mother, the president’s daughter, the president’s son were there?
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what people are saying on the ground.
BASIR BITA: People are saying different things, I mean, as in local civil society activists. I mean, there is no one rising his voice against what the U.S. government did to us. I mean, I can’t find—personally, I can’t find any Afghan activists or any Afghan authority to sort of condemn it. Though the president, Hamid Karzai, ex-president, he condemned it by strongest words, but I’m pretty sure that if he was the president now, the current president, he would support the idea. But the people, ordinary people, some people condemn it. I mean, in the area in Nangarhar or in the district, people from the same district living in Kabul, they condemn it strongly.
AMY GOODMAN: I have to say, what we’re showing right now are the backs of our guests, afraid to show their faces in Afghanistan because of how dangerous it is there, and the footage released by the Pentagon. The latest footage of the bomb, the—what the military calls "The Mother of All Bombs," this Massive Ordnance Air Bomb, MOAB, almost looks like a strange, distorted sonogram, extremely sterile, Kathy Kelly. Of course, you don’t see any people. You don’t see people dying. We don’t know the actual figures at this point. And the same thing happened in Syria last week, where the Pentagon released immediately the cruise missile images as they’re taking off of the warships, like we saw shock and awe, not the people on the ground running in 2003 in Iraq, but the blasts in the sky that almost looked like fireworks. One also has to wonder about the timing of this attack that took place on Thursday, the U.S. releasing the largest bomb in the history of the world outside of the two nuclear bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this coming just after the Pentagon has released the information that they mistakenly bombed 18—and killed 18 U.S. allies, 18 Syrian fighters who were fighting with the United States, alongside the United States. Your thoughts?
KATHY KELLY: Well, I think, you know, we’ve seen this word "exceptionalism" many times. And we have to recognize that the United States has communicated to other people all around the world that U.S. lives matter and that there’s almost utter disregard for the lives of people who are bearing the brunt of our wars. And this doesn’t seem to stop the proclivity of the U.S. military to say, "We want to launch yet another war." I mean, here we are wondering, "Will it be North Korea? Will it be Iran?" And, I mean, I’m with a group of people right now focused on Yemen. And once again, we’re looking at the poorest country in the Arab world, and it’s being subjected to siege, to bombardment. Well, what kind of image does this communicate about the United States all around the world? I think we’re looked upon as a fearful, menacing group of the most well-equipped warlords with the most expensive, horrific weapons.
And it seems to me, you know, we’re sort of moving toward the doorway, toward a nuclear exchange, when we can so cavalierly drop this bomb in an area of the world where, I suppose, the military is chaffing, as they would, because of the death of one United States military person a few days—might have been over a week now—earlier. But are we to say that the life of one U.S. soldier is worth so much more than the lives of poor people? Well, it costs, at the height of the surge in Afghanistan, $2 million to keep one U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. And the cost to put iodized salt into the diet of a child would have been five cents per child per year.
You know, I think about the tunnels that they say they destroyed. Well, how are we to know? You know, we were told that we had to go into Iraq with our massive 2003 shock and awe because of weapons of mass destruction, but those were never found. How will we know if the tunnels were ever there? They’ve all been exploded. But, you know, what if we were to make tunnels through which the United States’ weapons would be moved—the C-130 transports that transfer soldiers, the D9 bulldozers, the Apache helicopters, this huge MOAB bomb today? Those tunnels to transport that weaponry would be the size of the Grand Canyon. And yet we’re to be deeply concerned because people dug tunnels in the area where this fighting is going on. Well, the drone operators call the people who run away from their bombs "squirters." And you have to wonder, you know, when I read about the bombing in Yemen of families who lived near the place where this—special operations were going on, they ran. They were running for their lives, and they were killed. Well, they might have well wished there were some tunnels through which they might have run and disappeared.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask Wazhmah Osman about your own family’s history. It is not clear what these tunnels were. CNN says the mountains where ISIS made their base were the same ones used by bin Laden as a bolt hole and the same used by the CIA-backed mujahideen when they were fighting the Soviets in the ’80s, maybe built by the U.S.-backed mujahideen, these tunnels, so the U.S. would—might well know exactly what the map of this is. Talk about this history.
WAZHMAH OSMAN: Well, my family became refugees, and we lived in the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan for four years, so I’m familiar with this area. And although I haven’t been to Achin, I’ve spent—I’ve lived in Peshawar and spent time in Jalalabad, Torkham, the Swat Valley. And all of those are big cities that are within an hour-and-a-half radius of Achin. And I’ve been to the other areas, smaller towns around Achin. And so, you know, this is—this is a media mythology that they create that it’s—they keep on saying it’s remote, it’s desolate, and it’s isolated. And it goes back to the mythology that they created earlier in the war on terror with "smoke them out of their caves." But in reality, those areas are bustling towns and villages. There’s, you know, people living there. And so, the idea of this bomb accurately targeting a few ISIS militants in the caves is not correct. This impacts countless people, as I said, in areas that are thriving with people who have—you know, they have hospitals and schools and other things.
But the thing to also keep in mind is that that area has been created as a buffer zone or an in-between zone by the British during the Anglo-Afghan Wars. And it was to protect British India back then and separate it from Afghanistan. And so what that means for the people living in the area is that some parts are virtually under no laws, whereas other parts are—people are living under contradictory, draconian laws from that era. And so, there’s virtually no government oversight or protection for the population there. They’re vulnerable. And this is part of the reason why this area has been targeted repeatedly by drones, is that nobody is standing up for these people, right? Nobody is standing up for their rights to live peaceably. And what happens is, both the Pakistani and the Afghan government have been in collusion with the U.S. government to make this area essentially an experimental testing ground for these dangerous, destructive weapons of war. And it’s essentially shrouded in secrecy, right? So, they—it’s a perfect place for them to be judge, jury and executioner of people, without giving them any due process of the law, because it’s away from the international gaze and it’s away from all the news bureaus of the media.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn back to Kabul, Afghanistan, where Dr. Hakim and Basir Bita are standing with their backs to the camera, afraid of being identified, in a very dangerous area. And I wanted to ask you each about what you think the alternative is today, the alternative to the U.S. dropping bombs in Afghanistan. Dr. Hakim?
DR. HAKIM: I will talk about two things. There are so many—so many alternatives, Amy. Thank you for asking that question. The reason why we can’t, as a human species, now think of enough alternatives is because we are not imagining enough, we are not asking enough questions. So one of the concrete things that can be done is what the Afghan Peace Volunteers is doing, is to ask questions, wake up every day, educate one another, ask why, ask how, ask what. And in asking those questions, it’s really educating ourselves. Education is one of the concrete ways in which we can address this disaster that the world is facing, both for the planet and for the human race.
And the second thing that we can do, I can learn from the Afghan Peace Volunteers, is to do practical things for the Earth and for one another. Like some youth go out and use permaculture techniques to take care of Mother Earth. Now, that is really taking care of the mother, you know, moving totally and radically away from these deceptive narratives of "The Mother of All Bombs" and glorifying what we ought not to be glorifying, changing the whole political situation in our own individual lives. Just don’t give any space to people like Trump. He’s really behaving in a very ugly way. I have nothing against Trump. He’s a human, and I respect him. But his actions is really something that I would be, as a medical doctor, very ashamed of, because it’s not based on evidence, and it’s not based on fact. It is really a show. And so we should question it. We should change it in our lives. Don’t submit to any leader of any country of the world if they do things without evidence and if they make decisions for 30 million people in Afghanistan, and he’s over there in the White House. He’s so far away.
And the third thing that we can do is to talk to one another. Go talk to the people in Achin district. Find the courage to talk to them. Talk to a mother. Just before this conversation, I had a class of Afghan Peace Volunteers, street kids. And I asked them to imagine the bombing, of this bombing in Achin district. And they closed their eyes, and they heard this story of "The Mother of All Bombs" being dropped on Achin district. They imagined themselves as a mother in that district. And the response is—from that is: "We are sad. We are so sad that we have been treated this way in Achin, that people, fellow Afghans in Achin district, have been treated this way." So—
AMY GOODMAN: And, Basir Bita—
DR. HAKIM: —talk to one another. That’s one concrete alternative.
AMY GOODMAN: Basir Bita, we have 20 seconds before we lose our satellite connection to you. Your thoughts?
BASIR BITA: Speaking very briefly, I think one is the, as Hakim put it, public awareness, finding grassroots and locally acceptable ideas, like conversation, establishing dialogue and—
AMY GOODMAN: We have just lost our guests in Afghanistan. We have been speaking with Basir Bita, as well as Dr. Hakim, both with Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in Kabul, Afghanistan, speaking to us with their backs to the camera to protect their identities. I want to thank our guests here, Wazhmah Osman of Temple University, professor of media, culture and communications, as well as Kathy Kelly. Kathy, I want to speak with you after the broadcast about your protest here, particularly around Yemen, and then we’re going to post it online at democracynow.org.
When we come back from break, we’re going to Tacoma, Washington, to talk about why hundreds of immigrant prisoners are staging a hunger strike. And we’re going to hear from Ralph Nader, the man who sued the airlines for overbooking, and how that relates to the 69-year-old doctor who was beaten and dragged by airport security off of a United flight. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.