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Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and the Nameless Aidworkers Around the World

When Marla Ruzicka got killed in Bagdad on April 16, 2005, many US newspapers had long and impressive obituaries about the founder of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), who convinced Congress to create an Iraqi War Victims Fund.

Rolling Stone Magazine described her as a "youthful representative of a certain kind of not-yet-lost American idealism" in a good, balanced and heart-wrenching biographic article. The Boston Globe wrote:

Virtually alone, she directed attention and resources to the invisible victims of war. She moved the military without using force, galvanized official Washington without powerful connections, and motivated the press without sensationalism.

Four years later not a single newspaper reminds us of her untimely death, according to Google News, even though CIVIC is still very active around the world and blogs as well.

Unfortunately, the media does not write much about the many relief workers in war and natural disaster zones around the world. The nameless humanitarians, who don't just talk and write, but risk their lives to help others don't get awards or much press coverage. Their sacrifice is often only acknowledged, when they get killed or as a statistic, like earlier this month, when several media outlets covered the new report from the Overseas Development Institute (pdf), which states that 2008 was the most dangerous year on record for humanitarian aid workers:

Last year 260 humanitarian aid workers were killed, kidnapped or seriously injured in violent attacks - the highest annual toll on record. Kidnappings have increased 350% since 2006 and the fatality rate of aid workers from malicious acts surpassed that of United Nations peacekeeping soldiers in 2008.

More about Marla Ruzicka's accomplishments in these Atlantic Review posts:

Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and other Idealists Risking their Lives out there 

"Sweet Relief" - A New Book about Humanitarian Activist Marla Ruzicka 

Marla Ruzicka: Civilian Victims of War

Are Americans More Willing to Make Sacrifices Than Europeans?

According to Henry Kissinger, the real transatlantic difference is that "European governments are not able any more to ask their people for great sacrifices." That's why Europe readily opts for a "soft power" approach to so many foreign policy issues. This will, of necessity, make it harder for Europe to reach a consensus with the U.S.

Asked whether "an all-out effort to restore the Cold War-era level of trans-Atlantic comity within NATO, would be a good investment for the U.S.", Mr. Kissinger expressed skepticism regarding the prospects for success. Kissinger's views on diplomacy in the post 9/11 era are described in a Wall Street Journal article (HT: Joe) by David Rivkin, a lawyer based in Washington, who served in the Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Are the differences between Americans and Europeans regarding sacrifice really that big? Germany is certainly a post-heroic society. The Bundeswehr Institute of Social Sciences has even a research procejt on "Armed forces in a post-heroic society." Though, isn't America quickly moving towards a post-heroic society as well? Compared to WWII or Vietnam the casualties in Iraq are pretty small, but the calls for withdrawal are already very loud.

Continue reading "Are Americans More Willing to Make Sacrifices Than Europeans?"

Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and other Idealists Risking their Lives out there

Marla RuzickaToday, December 31st, was supposed to be Marla Ruzicka's 30th birthday.
Marla has founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) and convinced Congress to create an Iraqi War Victims Fund
. Lawmakers realized that financial compensation for families of civilians accidentally injured or killed by the U.S. military is important for helping them cope financially. A compassionate response might convince the families that Americans feel sorry about their loss; therefore they might not hate Americans, i.e. Marla was advancing US interests. Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief wrote that "Marla was alienated from much of the human rights community because she chose to work with the military instead of always against it." As Peter Bergen wrote in the Washington Post:
Ruzicka initially came off like a blond surfer girl (she was much given to exclaiming "Dude!" and "You rock!"), but underneath the effervescent exterior was a tough-minded humanitarian advocate who had little tolerance for leftist anti-war demonstrators. Ruzicka understood that wars happen despite the demonstrations, and she wanted to do something concrete to alleviate the subsequent damage to human life.
Rolling Stone Magazine described her as a "youthful representative of a certain kind of not-yet-lost American idealism." It's a good, balanced and heart-wrenching biographic article.
Continue reading "Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and other Idealists Risking their Lives out there"

"Sweet Relief" - A New Book about Humanitarian Activist Marla Ruzicka

Various search engines continue to send many readers to the Atlantic Review's past posts about Marla Ruzicka, which indicates that there is fortunately still a lot of interest in this "youthful representative of a certain kind of not-yet-lost American idealism" (Rolling Stone Magazine).
Marla founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) and convinced Congress to create an Iraqi War Victims Fund, which was named in her honor after her tragic death in April 2005.
"Marla was alienated from much of the human rights community because she chose to work with the military instead of always against it" said Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief.

Her friend Jennifer Abrahamson has just published the book Sweet Relief: The Marla Ruzicka Story ( |
Marla Ruzicka was a free spirit, a savvy political operator, a wartime Erin Brockovich. Fiercely determined to improve the lives of the less fortunate, the twenty-something blonde was instrumental in convincing the U.S. government to pass historic legislation aiding civilian victims of war.
Sweet Relief recounts Marla's journey from an idyllic childhood in a small California town, through Latin America and Africa, and finally to the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. Whether she was Rollerblading the halls of Congress to secure funds for civilians in Iraq or throwing parties for journalists in Kabul to raise awareness of her cause, no one who came within a hundred yards of Marla missed her. Her friendly smile and indefatigable pose were ubiquitous in Afghanistan and Iraq where Marla managed a door-to-door effort to identify war victims. While Marla worked tirelessly to care for others, in many ways she neglected herself. A diagnosed manic-depressive, Marla battled extreme emotional lows and an eating disorder. And although she brought love into the homes of the aggrieved, she often struggled to find a love of her own. Marla gave the invisible victims of war a voice and, in the process, helped to win them millions of dollars in unprecedented aid. Tragically, Marla was killed by a suicide bomber on Airport Road in Iraq in April 2005. Weeks later, the U.S. government named the program she fought so hard to establish The Marla Ruzicka Fund. Her life and legacy are an inspiring reminder that love and determination can conquer all.

A movie about Marla Ruzicka, starring Kirsten Dunst, is in the making. "The screenwriter is finishing up her script and has relied heavily on the book", writes Jen Abrahamson.
For more background on Marla's life, work and achievements, here are two of the Atlantic Review's previous posts: Marla Ruzicka, Civilian Victims and Reconciliation and Marla Ruzicka and the Iraqi War Victims Fund.

Marla Ruzicka: Civilian Victims of War (UPDATE)

One year ago -- April 16, 2005 -- a suicide terrorist murdered Marla Ruzicka in Bagdad, a young woman from California, who was working to get aid to Iraqi civilians accidentally harmed by U.S. military operations. Sarah Holewinsky, the executive director of Marla's NGO Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) writes in the Washington Post:
Congress created the Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund and a similar fund for Afghanistan, with a total to date of $38 million for families and communities of those injured and killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This program, coupled with our larger humanitarian aid in Iraq (the community action program) is building a post-Saddam Hussein society through small-business loans, education for orphans, new homes for displaced families and other projects. (...)
The brutality of the insurgency has also made it much harder for humanitarian workers such as Marla to help victims of war in most parts of the country. Worse, in some areas insurgents have threatened to kill Iraqis who accept help from Americans. Although experienced military officers have learned that treating civilians well is critical to their mission, the U.S. search for an exit strategy may encourage tactics that put civilians at greater risk -- including more reliance on airstrikes to target insurgents. (...) With increasing airstrikes, U.S. military planners must also do more to assess the risk to civilians before launching attacks, and should include in post-attack reports any available information on civilian casualties. The current lack of data makes the improvement of those procedures difficult. (
HT: David from Dialog International)
CNN video of Marla in Iraq.
Our related posts on Marla's work: Young US humanitarian activist killed in Iraq and Marla Ruzicka, civilian victims and reconciliation.

UPDATE: After the terrorist attacks in London on July 7, 2005 the photo campaign We're not Afraid ("Show the world that we are not afraid of what happened in London, and that the world is a better place without fear.") became an internet phenomenon, followed by Sorry Everybody after the 2004 elections.
Now Marla's NGO started a new photo campaign I care, which is worth participating:

This photo campaign is not about being for or against the war. It is a campaign of compassion. Every day, ordinary women, children, and men are caught in the crossfire. We believe that civilian casualties are the most tragic consequences of war. And each injury, destroyed home, and death should be given the weight it deserves. Please join our campaign and send a loud and clear message to our leaders as well as to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. All over the world... We are watching. We stand in solidarity. We care.

UPDATE II: Obviously we care about civilian casualties in Israel, Palestine and elsewhere as well. The Jerusalem Post writes about the latest terror victims in Israel (via Elder of Ziyon via Israpundit). YNet News has a series of profiles of some of the victims (via Salomonia). More at Crossing the Rubicon2 and A Blog for All.

Why is Abu Ghraib a cover story again, but not Darfur?

Popular German magazines such as Der Spiegel frequently put US critical pictures on their cover. Critical reporting about the world's sole superpower is necessary, but statements like "Torture in the Name of Freedom" (as seen on a recent Spiegel cover) appear to  be malicious distortions to sell more copies rather than critical, ethical journalism. (More at Medienkritik)
The German media (e.g. Die Welt) reported that published more Abu Ghraib torture pictures. Bild published some pictures. 
Those responsible for the torture in Abu Ghraib have done great harm to their victims, their families and the US reputation in the world. The number of insurgent attacks increased dramatically after the Abu Ghraib scandal first became public. The torturers and the high ranking officers who failed to maintain discipline in Abu Ghraib have unintentionally aided the US enemies.  Continue reading "Why is Abu Ghraib a cover story again, but not Darfur?"

Marla Ruzicka, civilian victims and reconciliation

Yesterday was supposed to be Marla Ruzicka's 29th birthday. The humanitarian extraordinaire from Washington State California was the founder of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC). According to United Press International (UPI) she worked with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.,

to put money in the annual Foreign Operations spending bill -- providing a total of nearly $40 million dollars for individuals and communities in Afghanistan and Iraq that suffered what the military calls collateral damage. In the latest bill, passed over the summer, the civilian assistance program was named the Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund, in her honor. (…) The funds are used to provide in-kind assistance, such as medical care, equipment to start a business, or the replacement of damaged or destroyed property like homes and schools, said the Leahy aide, Tim Rieser. And millions of dollars in cash have also been paid out by the military, under U.S. regulations that give unit commanders access to a special fund to "respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction requirements." In many parts of Iraq, the U.S. military uses these funds to run programs generally paying out up to $2,500 per victim to the families of those killed, and smaller amounts to those who are injured or have property destroyed or who were detained. (…)

Continue reading "Marla Ruzicka, civilian victims and reconciliation"

Standing up for moral values in the war on terrorism

Many people around the world believe that the United States does not anymore live by Benjamin Franklin's famous principle "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." And it is indeed of concern that a federal appeals court panel ruled in September that the president has the authority to indefinitely detain a U.S. citizen without charge as an enemy combatant, as the Washington Times reports. (The Supreme Court will probably have the final word.)

However, the US Senate, an army captain and a US District judge have recently made courageous decisions in support of Benjamin Franklin's principle regarding the interrogation of detainees and the release of unpublished Abu Ghraib pictures. MSNBC informs us that

The Republican-controlled Senate voted Wednesday to impose restrictions on the treatment of terrorism suspects, delivering a rare wartime rebuke to President Bush. Defying the White House, senators voted 90-9 to approve an amendment that would prohibit the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" against anyone in U.S. government custody, regardless of where they are held. (...) Bush administration officials say the legislation would limit the president's authority and flexibility in war. But lawmakers from each party have said Congress must provide U.S. troops with clear standards for detaining, interrogating and prosecuting terrorism suspects in light of allegations of mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay and the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. "We demanded intelligence without ever clearly telling our troops what was permitted and what was forbidden. And when things went wrong, we blamed them and we punished them," said McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Senator McCain (R-Ariz), who proposed the amendment, cited a letter he received from Army Capt. Ian Fishback. The Washington Post published his entire letter, which includes these quotes:

Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq. (...)
Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. (...) Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is "America."

Similarly, US District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein defended US ideals at the expense of US security by ordering the release of unpublished Abu Ghraib photos. The Boston Globe writes:

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had argued in court papers that releasing the photographs would aid al-Qaida recruitment, weaken the Afghan and Iraqi governments and incite riots against American troops. But the judge said: "My task is not to defer to our worst fears, but to interpret and apply the law, in this case, the Freedom of Information Act, which advances values important to our society, transparency and accountability in government." (...) An appeal of Hellerstein's ruling is expected, which could delay release of the pictures for months.