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Interview with human shield Ken O'Keefe (pt. 2)
An in-depth interview with "human shield" Ken O'Keefe during his recent Japan tour, on direct action for Palestine, standing up to US military might in Iraq, the legacy of Hiroshima....and the better world to come
Ken O’Keefe (at right) with activist Yumi Kikuchi, speaking to an audience in Kyoto, Japan. “We can communicate, organize, mobilize on a global level. Do I think we can get 10,000 people to go to Palestine to effect a cease fire, to make history, to help protect life, to compel the application of international law, and possibly resolve this conflict that we’re being told is impossible to resolve? You bet I do.”
(continued from part 1)
KEN O’KEEFE: You had heads of state commenting on human shields. Tony Blair commented on it; there was even a comment by Bush. [US vice president Dick] Cheney, I think, made a comment. [US defense secretary Donald] Rumsfeld made a comment about human shields — they were worried. They were worried. And they did everything they could to make us look like a bunch of dumb hippies who were gonna end up supporting the brutal dictator [Saddam Hussein], so that he could torture and kill more people. They had to paint the story that way. And it was really very difficult to try and avoid that accusation.
That’s exactly why I said what I said about Saddam before I went: “He’s a murderer and he’s a tyrant and he’s tortured people, and I’m not supporting him. But bombing Iraq is not the way to help the Iraqi people.” And if I hadn’t done that, then they really could have said, “Yeah, you guys are a bunch of dupes. You’re nothing more than pawns for Saddam.” That’s why I had to do that. ....I mean, I’m not gonna lie for anyone; I’m certainly not gonna lie for Saddam Hussein and pretend he didn’t do what he did.
But the reality is, we didn’t get enough people. And the biggest reason why wasn’t the media. It wasn’t the governments. It was people on the inside who infiltrated and subverted the action; they did everything they could to discredit me. They spread all sorts of lies about me. They fostered all sorts of gossip. They split up the buses as we left London on our way to Iraq. All sorts of nonsense happened on the inside that really fucked us up. To me, it’s just a great tragedy because the momentum we had was sufficient, I think, to at least get thousands of people to Iraq. If we had done that, even if we hadn’t stopped it [the US-led invasion], it would have been such an immense statement. I think we woulda stopped it if we woulda got 10,000. But we didn’t. And it was because of people on the inside.
My biggest mistake with human shields, if I can call it a mistake, is that I started too late. I decided I was gonna go in early December of 2002. I started writing the appeals, the calls to action, in mid-December. Within three weeks it had become an international story. It was a crazy time and I had to trust the people that came. I had to. I had no choice. I didn’t have the resources; I didn’t have money. I didn’t even have money for buses that I said we were gonna travel on to Iraq. I didn’t have any money, didn’t have anything. I was saying we were gonna take buses and go to Iraq, because I was going on faith and I knew we could get it. But, you know, I was lying, essentially. I’m a big believer in truth but in this particular case, I couldn’t say, “Well, actually I don’t have any money” and start to breed a lack of confidence: “You don’t even have money for a bus?” “No, I don’t actually.” But we could get money for a bus — if only a few people would give some money.
—On infiltration of the human shield movement:
It grew so fast. And I knew infiltration was coming, I had no doubt about that. But I just did not have the time, nor the resources, to be able to safeguard against it. One of my very good friends, who’s one of the founding fathers of Greenpeace, Paul Watson, he’s had all sorts of experience with infiltration and subversion. And the organization that they founded, Greenpeace — all the founding fathers kinda refer to themselves as “the Dr. Frankensteins of the environmental movement.”
Because Greenpeace has become this huge giant that sucks massive amounts of resources that are very limited out of a pool of conscientious people, and they take this money and they spend all sorts of money on paying six-figure income salaries to their top people, putting them in swank hotels, mixing with politicans, self-promotion, all sorts of fuckin’ paperwork and brochures and shit. Greenpeace started [in 1971] as a direct-action organization: “If we can’t stop it, let’s do something about it anyway so that we can expose the problem, so that we can get it stopped later.” That’s how they started. Then it turned into this thing we know today as Greenpeace, which is nothing like what it was originally. This is the way [it happens with] almost all organizations too.
And this is what was happening with human shields. People came on board and they started to spread lies about me. They started to say, “Ken’s too extreme, he frightens people away,” and all this kinda stuff. “We need someone who’s gonna appeal to a broader [mass of people].” No, we didn’t! We didn’t need a broad mass. What we needed 10,000 conscientious people who’ve had it and they need something to believe in and something to [participate in]. That’s what they need! And I’m the kind of person that can appeal to that person.
[There’s] the person who’s, like, “Oh, but, you know, we’re not all responsible for the policies of our democracies. I go to the protests and I vote for the Green Party, and you know, I’m not responsible for that.” Then I’m getting up and [saying], “Bullshit! We’re all responsible. If you’re paying taxes, you’re funding that murder over there. Just ’cause you went to a protest doesn’t mean that you don’t have responsibility. And I bear direct responsibility as well.” A lot of people don’t like to hear that kind of stuff. But I’m not gonna stop saying it.
....So we had this kind of takeover crap that tried to turn human shields into some watered-down bullshit version of what it originally intended to be. And I have to give credit to the powers-that-be. They did a good job with their infiltration; they did a good job. They did it. If I had had more time, I’m sure I could’ve prevented it — or at least eliminated a lot of the damage. But I didn’t.
And that’s what’s different about P10K. I been thinkin’ about this plan now for two years, and I know exactly what’s gonna come. I know it. That’s why everyone who comes has to sign a registration form, and on that registration form it asks certain things, such as: “Have you ever worked for a government? If so, which one and in what capacity? Have you ever worked for any intelligence service? If so, in what capacity? Do you have any aliases? Have you used any other names? If so, what are the names? Have you ever been a member of a secret society? If so, which one?” And there’s also a media clause that says: “If you want to talk to media, OK, that’s fine. However, if you directly misrepresent the goal and the mission of P10K, and you do harm to this mission, then there can be a consequence.”
We had a lot of people who did tremendous damage to human shields because they were idiots. They said stuff that fed the propaganda agenda, which was “we’re a bunch of idiots and that we’re supporting Saddam.” And I know this game, because I fuckin’ work at it. I know the game. But a lot of people don’t. It was really maddening to have people come [and say] “I have the right to speak freely” and [I say], “Yeah, I agree with that. But you also have a responsibility. And if there’s a certain mission that we have here, and your individuality is taking precedence over that mission, then you’re not actually a help to that mission, are you? And you’re not really committed to the mission. You’re committed to your individuality. There’s a million different ways that you can express it. But if you’ve come to be part of a mission with a goal, then you commit yourself to that mission and goal — first.” A lot of people don’t wanna hear this crap. But that’s the way it is, in my opinion.
BC: It seems like a lot of what you do is a wake-up call to people, and especially America. What’s it going to take for America to wake up, to make some changes here?
KO: There’s a lot of people doing really good work. Noam Chomsky, although he’s not nearly as known as he should be, has done a hell of a lot to awaken the consciousness of America. I’m a direct result of Chomsky literature myself. I’ve been armed with that knowledge for many years. Noam Chomsky’s a big one. But I’ll tell ya what, the person who’s doing more to raise the consciousness of America, hands-down, in my opinion, is Michael Moore.
BC: Have you seen “Fahrenheit 9/11”?
KO: Yeah, I have.
BC: What did you think about it?
KO: ....There was a few things in there that I didn’t know specifically. But overall, for me, it’s not revolutionary. I know these things. But for the average American, this is revolutionary stuff! And it’s all backed up, factual. He puts in his opinion there in areas, but most of what is being said is fact. It’s mind-blowing for most Americans. So I think it’s absolutely fantastic. Michael Moore is a true American, he is doing a great service to the American people — and to the planet that he lives on — by doing what he’s doing.
I think if I had the ability to raise that kind of consciousness, I would. But my approach is a different approach. I have my own path and it’s a different one, but it’s got the same goal. There’s a lot of people who are working hard every day, legitimately, to raise the consciousness of people. But I think Michael Moore’s really hit on the way — the best way is to try and entertain people. If you can get them to laugh or entertain them while educating them, then you’re gonna get massive numbers of people.
[T]he consciousness in America — I think actually this is the straw that’s gonna break the camel’s back, overall. I think the impact of this, long-term, is huge. The only problem is that it focuses a lot of Bush, as well it should. However, it leaves the possibility open that, like, “OK, we get rid of Bush and the problem is gonna be a lot better. It’s gonna solve a lot of our problems.” That’s not the case. That’s the only fault I would find with it: [Democratic Party presidential candidate John] Kerry is a servant to the rich, just like Bush. He’s a member of the “Skull and Bones Society”, just like Bush. He’s a lying son of a bitch, just like Bush. And if you want the lesser of two evils, great, vote for Kerry. If you want a better world, where you have a true democracy, where the interests of the majority are going to be represented, then you’re a fuckin’ fool if you vote for this man [Kerry] or if you want him in office.
Let’s be realistic: It’s a choice between the lesser of two evils. And that’s no choice at all. That’s not democracy. I hope maybe Michael Moore will do another film to show that actually, it’s not just Bush. This whole serving-the-rich thing, it’s not just America, either. It’s the entire world. There is no democracy in this world....
—Ken O’Keefe on violence in the Middle East:
[C]utting off people’s heads [in Iraq] — there’s not a much more shocking thing we can imagine. But at the same time, these people who are doing this, they’re not the absolute fanatical, crazed people that we think they are. They do get ahold of people, from what I understand, that are peace activists and have let them go. They’re not killing just any foreign national. It’s the ones that are collaborating that they’re going to kill. In all honesty, I can’t disagree with that. I mean, if you’re coming to our nation — even if it’s not Iraqis, if its other Arabs — if you’re coming to our region, working with the occupying force that is committing mass murder against our people so that you can take the resources and put in a puppet government that will oppress us just like Saddam did, well, we’re gonna kill ya if we get our hands on ya. I mean, that’s not all that unreasonable when you think about it.
If it was reversed, and the invaders were coming to Britain or the United States, would we kill them? You bet we would! Of course we would. In a heartbeat. So what comes around goes around, and I can totally understand their position. I just would love for people in the West to realize that we can help create an environment where people in this region of the world don’t have to resort to this kind of really shocking violence. But from my perspective, pretty much they have to. If they get up and start talking about peace, who’s gonna listen to them? If they’re really good and effective organizers in articulating the nonviolent option, they’ll just get killed or imprisoned that much faster.
That’s what Israel does. The Palestinians resist nonviolently every day. Massively. People don’t realize this, but they’re resisting nonviolently every day against the most insane of conditions. And the ones that are really articulate, they just imprison them — or they kill ’em. All the time. So the option of nonviolence is pretty much just cut out. But if you’re a westerner you can go and be nonviolent and they can’t kill you. The worst they could do is kick you out. This is the power we have. But they don’t have that option. They realistically do not have that option. I mean, it’s pretty much a death sentence if you’re really a good, nonviolent [person] — if you were a Gandhi born in Palestine, I mean, shit, they’d kill you so fast it’s not even funny. But if you’re violent, they’ll probably let you keep going. Because they need that violence to justify their own insane policies. They know this.
—On the clash of civilizations:
[F]rom what I can tell, there is a direct and very specific intent to foster a clash of civilizations right now. Certianly the Arab world, in particular the Arab Muslim world, is perceiving western policies as targeting them. And rightly so. I mean, they are targeting the Arab world because of [their] oil and whatnot: You’ve been paying a heavy price and you’ve been punished because you’re Arab Muslims who have control over oil. In the West we are being fed this continual propaganda that says: “Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism,” and “Oh, they’re all Arabs, basically, they’re all Muslim fanatics” and whatnot. We’re bombarded with this. And this clash — it’s being manipulated.
—On the ‘global plantation’:
[T]he only way that a tiny minority of people can maintain control over the masses is if they keep the masses stupid and divided. Period. God forbid the masses ever realize, like, “Why I am working five days a week in this shit job that I hate, so that I can go into debt and barely be able to even put my kids into school? Why am I doing this?”
Now if the masses ever realize that “Well, actually we don’t have to do that because we’re doing this hard work — while these people, who basically hand their incredible wealth to their next generation over and over and over again, inherit all the positions of power and wealth, while we the masses sit here as slaves.” We consider ourselves lucky if we live in England, for instance, and we get to work five days a week and we have a really nice car and a nice home and all this kinda stuff. Compared to, say, for instance, the poor bastard who lives in Sudan or in Sierra Leone. We consider ourselves lucky, because comparatively we are lucky. But in terms of really living our lives, are we lucky? Bullshit. We live this life of serving these powerful interests....
And this is why the powers-that-be, they have to keep us stupid. They have to keep us divided. Because if we ever realize that we’re actually nothing more than slaves on a global plantation, continuing to make the rich richer, if we ever figure that out and come together.... This is why unions and all these kinds of things, they have to be stopped fast. Because when the people come together, the powers that be have big problems.
—On the power of the Internet to unite:
....The biggest fuck-up — to put it in my [US] Marine, western terms — of the powers-that-be was allowing the Internet. This technology should have been held for only the rich and the powerful. And if you look throughout history, who’s controlled the information? It’s the rich and the powerful. Have the masses had access to this stuff? Certainly they haven’t had the ability to communicate on a global level — instantly. Now the masses do. And more and more people — parents, especially, and people around the world — are starting to take the time to go on the Internet and punch in “DU” and see what DU is about. Because you ain’t gonna find out the truth about depleted uranium on NBC or ABC or CNN, or BBC for that matter. You’re not gonna hear about it. But if you go on the Internet and just hit “DU” — boom! Now you’ve got a whole bunch of information that you never knew about. And more and more people are doing this. It’s exponential. It’s exponential growth.
And this is unacceptable; the powers that be cannot maintain this. And I think 9/11 is a reflection of their desperation. They realize that the consciousness of humanity is rising at a rate unparalleled throughout history. Never before have people become as aware as we’re becoming, as fast as we’re becoming aware.”
—On September 11, 2001:
....Especially the lack of fighter jets being deployed [on 9/11] — there is simply no rational explanation for this. And that’s the one big thing. But combined with all the other things, I think we’d have to be absolute fools to not recognize the US should be a number one suspect for that whole goddamn thing....
Why couldn’t they do this again? I mean, I think they can. Am I paranoid? Am I delusional? Or am I looking at the evidence as it is? Am I also looking at the historical facts? Say, for example, Franklin Delano Roosevelt knowing about the Pearl Harbor attacks 11 days before they did, and making sure that the fuckin’ ships are in the harbor so that they all get attacked and they’ll have maximum casualities — so that the American public will be easily led into a war that they wanted no part of, post-World War I. Or the USS Maine, for instance, where we blew up our own goddamn ship [in 1898], blamed it on Cuba so we could enter the Spanish-American War, where people didn’t want to get into it. Or the [Operation] Northwoods document that was approved [in 1962] by the Pentagon, up to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — approved a plan in order to justify an attack on Cuba back in ’62: One, blow up one of our own ships, blame that on Cuba, use that as a pretext for the invasion of Cuba. Or two, blow up airliners with American passengers on board, and use that as a pretext. This was approved by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Pentagon. It was handed to the secretary of defense for [then-president John F.] Kennedy, and it was one step away [from being carried out].
So maybe [that] Kennedy is Bush, you know? If that plan had been handed to Bush, would Bush say, “Omigod, absolutely no!”? I don’t know; I think maybe not. I think maybe he might just listen to his buddies over there in the military-industrial complex who would be saying, “You know, this would make a lot of money, and boy, we could control the oil over there, which might be good for your family.”
—On being a target:
....I have considered myself a legitimate target of the US. I mean, these bastards are mixing with mafia fuck-heads and all sorts of criminals that can easily pull a contract on someone like myself. I’m not paranoid, but I’m not stupid either. And if I ever became enough of a pain in the ass to these son of a bitches, there’s nothing to stop them from just taking out a contract or making sure I have an accident. I mean, if Princess Diana can have an accident like she can, well, I can have an accident too, can’t I?
—On the ‘P10K’ plans:
...I’m not calling the action in Palestine “human shields.” It’s not really human shields. What I want is to set up a long-term “TJP Force” — Truth, Justice, Peace Force — and it’ll be people that’ll be armed with the knowledge of international law and human rights law, most of them able to write and to photograph and shoot video. To be able to compile evidence, to be able document the injustices that are going on as a direct result of western policies. Because that’s the “Truth” part that the media leaves out. And they have to leave it out, because if don’t leave it out, if they tell us the truth, there’s no way that we would stand for any of this crap in the first place. So we have to become that force and we can do it, if we use significant numbers.
We can focus so much light on these places that it will end it. It’ll end it. And we’ll show the links right back to the Bush family — right back to these son of a bitches that own the multi-million-dollar weapons industries and all these oil companies that are making the big bucks. We’ll show exactly who it is — then we can start to prosecute these bastards for their crimes. They’re pulling the strings of these so-called leaders that we have. ....It’s not actually human shields, per se. It’s more a matter of exposing the truth.
....But I have to put it forward in a way that is compelling and shows people: “OK, now that you know this plan, here’s what you can do.” Or do something else. But do something. Do something! Especially if you have children. If you have children, then you have a moral obligation to invest in their future. If you don’t do that, then you’re derelict as far as I’m concerned. You can’t just say, “Well, I have a good job and I’m putting money in the bank account and I’m gonna provide my children with a college education.” That’s not enough. You have to do more than that. Because what good is a college education going to do your child if World War III breaks out and we all fuckin’ die?
—On liberals and the anti-war movement:
[T]his is part of the problem with the anti-war movement: It’s a collection of individuals that believe in individuality more than they do in achieving a goal and working together and using some discipline and working hard. It is a bunch of hippie kids, oftentimes: “Peace, love, hey, smoke pot, peace,” you know. How easy for you, and how ignorant and how naive of you! I don’t have much desire to work in these kinds of circles. To me, it’s just a big social club and I don’t relate. I really don’t. I just went to a peace festival in London, and I just thought, “I have no interest in this. None.”
I know there’s good people and they have good hearts, most of them. But then there’s a lot of idiots and a lot of people who want to enjoy the benefits of what freedom we do have in the West, but have no idea what it is like for people in other parts of the world. They talk about peace, and then they look down on people who use violence. They think they’re better than these people. And I don’t like it at all. It really pisses me off: How dare you go over there and live that life, and you talk about peace! Talk about peace when you’re a Palestinian confronting these lunatic settlers with M-16s and tanks and helicopter gunships....
—On the final race:
And this is, to me, the race. I think we’re either going to have the better world that I’m working for, that so many of us are working for — it’s gonna be a world that I’m sure is not a full utopia, but it’s gonna be a beautiful world in that we will finally treat each other as brothers and sisters in the human family. We will revere our planet as our mother, as we should, as our home. We will see beyond these stupid lines that we’ve drawn up and these nation-state fictitions that we’ve created, and see the world for what it is. Or we’re going to destroy ourselves. And it’s gonna happen soon.
(Brian Ohkubo Covert is an independent journalist based in Hyogo, Japan.)