Sen. Patrick Leahy & Joe Volk/FCNL – 2005-04-24 23:20:13
Marla Ruzicka: Our Most Beloved Ambassador
Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D- VT) on The Death Of Marla Ruzicka
(April 18, 2005) — Mr. President, I want to join my friend from California in paying tribute to a remarkable young woman from Lakeport, California, Marla Ruzicka.
Marla was the founder of a humanitarian organization called “Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict,” which is devoted to helping the families of Afghan and Iraqi civilians who have been killed or suffered other losses as a result of US military operations. Marla died in Baghdad on Saturday from a car bomb, while she was doing the work she loved and which so many people around the world admired her for.
I met Marla three years ago, which she first came to Washington at the young age of 26. She had been in Afghanistan, where she had seen the effects of US bombing mistakes that had destroyed the homes and lives of innocent Afghan civilians.
In one or two incidents, wedding parties had been bombed. In others, bombs had missed their targets and destroyed homes and neighborhoods. I remember one incident where every member of a family of 16 people was killed, except a young child and her grandfather.
These were the cases Marla spoke about, and she felt passionately that the United States should help those families piece their lives back together.
It didn’t take long to convince me because she was so obviously right. We not only had a moral responsibility to those people who had suffered because of our mistakes, we also had an interest in mitigating the hatred and resentment towards Americans that those incidents had caused.
And it was Marla’s initiative – going to Afghanistan, meeting those families, getting the media’s attention, coming back here and meeting with me and my staff – that led to the creation of a program that has contributed more than $8 million for medical assistance, to rebuild homes, to provide loans to start businesses, and for other aid to innocent Afghan victims of the military operations.
From Afghanistan Marla went to Iraq, where she arrived a day or two after Saddam’s statue fell. She and an Iraqi colleague, Faiez Ali Salem, who died at the same time as Marla, organized dozens of Iraqi volunteers to conduct surveys around the country of civilian casualties.
She returned to Washington, and again, her efforts led to the creation of a program – now known as the Civilian Assistance Program – which has provided $10 million to the families and communities of Iraqi civilians killed by US and other Coalition forces. Another $10 million was allocated for this program just last week.
To my knowledge, this is the first time we have ever provided this type of assistance to civilian victims of US military operations, and it would never have happened without the initiative, the courage, and the incomparable force of character of Marla Ruzicka.
Mr. President, in my 31 years as a United States Senator I have met lots of interesting and accomplished people from all over the world. We all have. Nobel prize winners, heads of State, people who have achieved remarkable and even heroic things in their lives.
I have never met anyone like Marla Ruzicka. There are many stories about Marla, and some of them are being recounted in the hundreds of press articles that have appeared in just the past 48 hours.
One story I remember happened the day after Marla arrived in Washington from Kabul. She had heard there was a hearing in the Senate where Secretary Rumsfeld and General Franks were going to testify.
Thinking, perhaps a bit naively, that they might talk about the problem of civilian casualties, she decided to go. After the hearing was over and disappointed that the issue she cared so deeply about had not been mentioned, Marla walked straight up to Secretary Rumsfeld, and from the witness table, down the hallway and outside to his car, she did not stop talking to him about the families of civilians she had met who had been killed or injured and the need to do something to help them.
As anyone who knew Marla discovered, she was not someone who it was easy to say no to. In fact it was almost impossible, and that was not simply because she was insistent. It was because she had been there, she knew what war was about, she had seen the tragic results, and she was not about blaming anyone. She was about helping, in whatever ways she could.
Marla saw her work as part of the best of what this country is about. It was the face of a compassionate America that she believed in, and that she wanted the people of Afghanistan and Iraq to see.
It took time to realize that Marla wasn’t just a blond, bundle of energy and charisma – she was in fact a person of great intellect and courage who realized that if she wanted to help war victims it wasn’t enough to protest. She needed to work with people who could help her do it.
And that meant the Congress, the US military, the US Embassy, and the press. She quickly understood that, and she made the choice to put politics aside and focus on the victims.
It did not take long before the US military saw the importance of what she was doing, and started to help her. There were several Civil Affairs officers with whom Marla worked like a team, she finding the cases, and they arranging for the plane to airlift a wounded child to a hospital, or some other type of assistance.
Marla became one of our most beloved Ambassadors.
I think one of the reasons so many people around the world feel Marla’s loss so deeply is because we saw how important her work was and that it meant taking risks that the rest of us are unwilling to take. In a way she was not only helping the families of Iraqi war victims, she was also helping us.
Until she finally became an innocent victim of war herself.
Marla has been called many things. An angel of mercy. A ray of sunshine in an often dangerous and dark world. One person who knew her well described Marla as being as close to a living saint as they come, and I suspect that’s how many of us feel.
Speaking for myself, I have never met, nor do I ever expect to meet again, someone so young who gave so much of herself to so many people, and who made such a difference doing it.
Our hearts go out to her parents, Cliff and Nancy Ruzicka, who had the courage to let Marla be the person she wanted to be. Not that there would have been any stopping her.
Our job now is to carry on the work that Marla started, because it is so important. That is what I am committed to, and I look forward to working with my friend from California to honor Marla in that way.
Office of Senator Leahy, (202) 224-4242
Humanitarian Workers’ Deaths Underscored the Costs of US War and Occupation
Friends Committee on National Legislation
The violent death of humanitarian aid workers Marla Ruzicka and Faiz Ali Salim in a suicide bombing in Iraq this past weekend struck many of us with grief because she has been a regular visitor to the FCNL office in Washington.
The organization she founded, the Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict (CIVIC), plays an important role in working to obtain US government recognition of and financial support for the survivors of civilians killed or injured in armed conflict. We saw first-hand her commitment to the Iraqi people because FCNL played a small role in supporting Marla’s work as she began her project by serving as the fiscal agent for some of those donating to her projects.
Her death, and the death of her Iraqi colleague, Faiz Ali Salim (the father of a 2-month-old child), remind all of us of the violence that is continuing unabated in Iraq. Press reports suggest that at least 17 other Iraqis and 3 US troops were killed on the same day as Marla and Faiz. Some reports suggest that most Iraqi deaths are simply uncounted. The US military has refused since the start of the war to count Iraqi casualties.
Marla wouldn’t stand for it. She fearlessly stood with the Iraqi’s who had not voice, no power, no prospect of justice. She told me, “Joe, when I looked into their eyes, I just couldn’t walk away and do nothing.” Marla did something.
She went straight to the US authorities in Iraq and grabbed them by their epaulets and said, “You have a responsibility, and I’m not going to let go until you do something.”
She just wouldn’t let the survivors of violent conflict go unnoticed, and she wouldn’t allow the authorities to claim they didn’t know what happened to individual people. She informed them face to face. And her Iraqi colleague Faiz exercised extraordinary courage in taking her where she needed to go, despite the terrible risks.
The headlines in the United States focus on the political dynamics and the negotiations to form the new government. Deaths are usually mentioned only if they are the deaths of US nationals.
But the reality for many Iraqis is that the situation on the ground is getting worse, not better, day by day (the FCNL Washington Newsletter that should be arriving in your mailboxes this week includes a personal account of what conditions on-the-ground in Iraq are like today).
The story of on-the-ground conditions in Iraq, however, is still not getting through to your elected leaders in Washington. This week, probably either late Tuesday or Wednesday, the US Senate will almost certainly vote to approve tens of billions of dollars in additional funding for the war and occupation of Iraq.
More and more senators are telling us that they believe the FCNL proposal that the Congress declare that the US has no imperial intentions in Iraq is an important way to advance the debate on US policy for Iraq. But we are still a long way from winning passage of an amendment affirming that it is the US intention to withdraw all military troops and bases from Iraq.
Here at FCNL we will continue to honor the work of Marla and the tens of thousands of others who have died in the Iraq war and occupation by continuing to press Congress to declare that the US has no imperial ambitions in Iraq. As I go into congressional offices, I’ll stop outside the door to silently remind myself – Marla, presente – before I go inside to engage congressional staff and members of Congress.
Joe Volk is the Executive Secretary of FCNL
• For more information about the FCNL Iraq campaign go to http://www.fcnl.org/iraq
• For more information about Marla’s group Civic, go to http://www.civicworldwide.org
• Contact Congress and the Administration: http://capwiz.com/fconl/dbq/officials/
Friends Committee on National Legislation
245 Second St. NE, Washington, DC 20002-5795
firstname.lastname@example.org * http://www.fcnl.org/
phone: (202)547-6000 * toll-free: (800)630-1330