Human shield action to Iraq

Human shield action to Iraq

Human shield action to Iraq was a group of people who travelled to Iraq to act as human shields with the purpose of preventing the U.S.-led coalition troops from bombing certain locations during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.


url=|accessdaymonth=30 January |accessyear=2005]

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 convoy’s 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, the United States, Australia, India, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, New Zealand, Korea, and Japan.

Upon reaching Baghdad, a strategy was formed on the assumption that there would not be enough human shields to avert an invasion.cite web|title=The Human Shield Movement|work=paragraph 8, Z Magazine Online, November 2003, Volume 16, Number 11|url=|accessdaymonth=30 January |accessyear=2005] This was to involve the voluntary deployment of activists to strategic locations throughout Baghdad, and possibly Basra, in an effort to avert the bombing of those locations. There was much internal debate about which locations were to be chosen.cite web|title=The Human Shield Movement|work=paragraph 6, Z Magazine Online, November 2003, Volume 16, Number 11|url=|accessdaymonth=30 January |accessyear=2005]

Eventually volunteers deployed to Al Daura Electrical Plant, Baghdad South Electrical Plant, 7 April Water Treatment Plant, Al Daura Water Treatment Plant, Tejio Food Silo, Al Daura Oil Refinery and Al Mamun Telecommunications Facility.cite web|title=Human Shields Put Bush on Notice|work=Human Shield Action to Iraq official website|url=|accessdaymonth=30 January |accessyear=2005]

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 volunteers, 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 O’Keefe, were ordered out by the Iraqi government. In an ironic 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 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? We’re bored of them. Call me when one of them gets killed.”

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.

During their deployments a small group of volunteers led by Gordon Sloan of New Zealand took on the job of vetting sites to ensure they were not in close vicinity to military facilities. This was to be the cause of some conflict with their Iraqi host, Dr. Abdul Razak al-Hashimi, Saddam Hussein's spokesman during the first Gulf War, and head of the Friendship, Peace and Solidarity organisation which was hosting the activists, under the authority of the Baathist government.cite web|title=Body blow as human shields ordered out|work=The Age, 8 March, 2003|url=|accessdaymonth=30 January |accessyear=2005]

With an invasion imminent, Hashimi became frustrated by Sloan's explorations, called a meeting, and asked the activists to deploy to sites or leave Iraq.cite web|title=Christiaan Briggs Reports On Iraq|work=Scoop, 14 March, 2003|url=|accessdaymonth=30 January |accessyear=2005] Hashimi's meeting is said by some of the leading volunteers to have been a costly political mistake. It was the trigger of much anxiety among the volunteerscite web|title=Company of a stranger|work=Guardian Unlimited, 19 July, 2003|url=,,999861,00.html|accessdaymonth=30 January |accessyear=2005] and negative reporting in the media, including mis-reports that activists were being forced to deploy to military sites.cite web|title=The Human Shield Movement|work=Z Magazine Online, November 2003, Volume 16, Number 11|url=|accessdaymonth=30 January |accessyear=2005] It was also at this point that some of the British volunteers were to return to London along with the two double-decker red buses and their owner, which were originally meant to have left soon after arrival.cite web|title=UK bus owner defends Iraq trip|work=CNN, Special Report, War in Iraq, 4 March, 2003|url=|accessdaymonth=30 January |accessyear=2005]

The paranoia that rose up around Hashimi's announcement and the reports that the buses were leaving Iraq slowed the influx of activists into Iraq, and caused some of those already there to leave Iraq, believing they had lost credibility through Hashimi's actions. The Iraqi authorities, on the other hand, saw Kenneth O'Keefe, Sloan, and other organisers as constantly challenging Hashimi's authority and being deliberately disruptive, and that some would-be shields were taking too long to deploy to sites. Five of the 'trouble makers' were then asked to leave the country.cite web|title=Body blow as human shields ordered out|work=The Age, 8 March, 2003|url=|accessdaymonth=30 January |accessyear=2005]

Many activists stayed on, however, and continued to shield the chosen sites. It is claimed that eighty human shields stayed in the Baghdad area throughout the bombing campaign.cite web|title=The Human Shield Movement|work=Z Magazine Online, November 2003, Volume 16, Number 11|url=|accessdaymonth=30 January |accessyear=2005]

Analysis and effects of the human shields

On February 26, 2003, Senior CNN Pentagon Correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, commented that the "Pentagon says they will try to work around human shields" as long as they were not deployed to military sites.cite web|title=Transcript of Lou Dobbs Moneyline|work=CNN, 26 February, 2003|url=|accessdaymonth=30 January |accessyear=2005] Of all the shielded sites, only one—arguably a legitimate target under the Geneva Conventions—was eventually bombed, the Al Mamun Telecommunications Facility, one day after the human shields pulled out of it.cite web|title=Human shield summary of action|work=Human Shield Action to Iraq official website, front page|url=|accessdaymonth=30 January |accessyear=2005]

Article 51 of the Geneva Conventions, "Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (Protocol 1)," appears to prohibit civilians such as human shields from being present, "to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations," however, Article 52 specifically prohibits attacking civilian infrastructure unless it is of military value, and Article 54 specifically prohibits attacking food and water equipment, unless it is of military value and does not cause civilians to starve or be forced to move.cite web|title=Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol 1) (2nd part)|work=Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights|url=|accessdaymonth=18 March |accessyear=2005]

For violating a U.S. prewar travel ban, human shields from the U.S. faced fines, loss of retirement benefits, and/or imprisonment.cite web|title=Human shields face 12 years' jail for visiting Iraq |work=The Guardian, 13 August, 2003|url=,,1017313,00.html|accessdaymonth=20 May |accessyear=2006] On the day after the departure of the human shield 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.cite web|title=The Human Shield Movement|work=Z Magazine Online, November 2003, Volume 16, Number 11|url=|accessdaymonth=30 January |accessyear=2005]


The Human Shield Movement was criticised for what many saw as being an overt act of aiding Saddam Hussein’s regime. Charges of the shields being "dupes" and "useful idiots" for Saddam were widespread in the U.S. The human shields countered that while various governments around the globe carry out acts of aggression, the human shield action saw fit to defend against this one.

Human Rights Watch stated that "civilians acting as human shields, whether voluntary or not, contribute indirectly to the war capability of a state. Their actions do not pose a direct risk to opposing forces. Because they are not directly engaged in hostilities against an adversary, they retain their civilian immunity from attack." Human Rights Watch also noted that the use by a state of human shields, voluntary or not, is a violation of international law, citing Protocol I of the First Geneva Convention.cite web|title=International Humanitarian Law Issues In A Potential War In Iraq|work=Human Rights Watch, 20 February, 2005|url=|accessdaymonth=3 June |accessyear=2006]

Jonah Goldberg claimed after a debate with O'Keefe, that "O'Keefe and his friends are objectively in favour of Saddam Hussein and his murderous regime because they believe he is uniquely worth defending with their bodies. They may be brave, I guess, but they're still idiots, and I'm sure Saddam is grateful for them".cite web|title=Saddam's Idiots|, 10 January, 2003|url=|accessdaymonth=3 June |accessyear=2006]

Maria Ermanno, chairwoman of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society, cited reports that Iraqi officials were arranging transportation, accommodations and news conferences for the human shields and that they were being used for propaganda purposes by Saddam Hussein. "To go down to Iraq and live and act there on the regime's expense, then you're supporting a terrible dictator. I think that method is entirely wrong," Ermanno told Swedish Radio.cite web|title=Some British "human Shields" Flee Iraq, Cite Safety Fears|work=Associated Press, 2 March, 2003|url=|accessdaymonth=3 June |accessyear=2006]

The Iraqi regime was also criticised for encouraging and facilitating the human shield actions, since this was seen as violation of international law and Protocol I, article 20 of the Geneva ConventionFact|date=July 2008.

See also

* Human shield
* Non-violent resistance
* Popular opposition to war on Iraq
* Protests against the 2003 Iraq war
* 2003 Invasion of Iraq
* Anti-war
* Peace movement


External links

* [ The Human Shield Movement] The Contemporary Review, 2003, Stefan Simanowitz
* [ Human Shield Action to Iraq] - official website
* [ Some interviews with Kenneth O'Keefe] on global news networks such as "CNN" and "Sky News"
* [ Human shield protest in Iraq: Ask campaign leader] , live interactive forum where members of the public put their questions to Kenneth O'Keefe - "BBC Talking Point Forum" (16 January, 2003)
* [,12820,886353,00.html Interview with Kenneth O'Keefe, part of the Voices of Iraq series] - "The Guardian" (February 4, 2003)
* [,,880126,00.html 'Human shield' protesters visit No 10] - "The Guardian" (January 22, 2003)
* [ U.S. cautions Iraq on human shields] "BBC News" (16 January, 2003)
* [ Fear as human shield faces jail] "BBC News" (21 September, 2003)
* [ Human shield fined over sanctions] "BBC News" (11 August, 2003)
* [ Putting Noncombatants at Risk: Saddam's Use of "Human Shields"] - "CIA" (January 2003)
* [ A man from Norfolk who went to Iraq to act as a human shield is back, saying his mission was a success] "BBC News" (18 April, 2003)
* [ The sister of a Labour MP has vowed to remain as a human shield throughout the bombing of Iraq] "BBC News" (19 March, 2003)
* [ Gulf veteran recruits human shields] - "BBC News" (22 January, 2003)
* [ 'I'm an ex-marine recruiting human shields'] "BBC News" (19 February, 2003)
* [,,866177,00.html 'Human shields' head for Iraq] - (29 December, 2002)
* [,,880273,00.html First wave of volunteers prepare to set off for Baghdad] - "The Guardian" (23 January, 2003)
* [ Human shields speed to Baghdad] "BBC News" (19 March, 2003)
* [ Targeting Decisions Regarding Human Shields] - "Military Review" (September/October 2004)
* [ Inside the deluded world of the 'human shields'] "" (2 March, 2003)

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