Fined for helping Iraqi kids – Bert Sacks’ story (and web site)

Terrorism is endlessly in our news.  But three areas of U.S. involvement with terrorism are almost never mentioned – from 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and today.  They need to be known and discussed.  On the 11th of each month, starting in January and continuing through September 11, 2011, I’ll post a brief article about each on my website. (You can follow these stories by adding your email address at the signup list on Bert’s website for a once-a-month email.)

I begin with the story of a U.S. fine against me for not asking permission to bring medicine to Iraq.  I will explain why I did not ask for a license and why I refused to pay the $10,000 fine.  I’m being sued for my 1997 violation of U.S. sanctions.  The U.S. restriction of medicines is part of this first story on terrorism.  I do not want money but your help telling these stories.

 

The story as told in the media

Read Bruce Ramsey’s op-ed published in the Seattle Times on Jan. 5, 2011, or watch the interview on Democracy Now! from Jan. 23, 2007, and  in the Seattle P-I on June 17, 2002.

 

My story of the fine & law suit (Jan.)

I have images in my mind which tell a lot about the 12 years of U.S./UN sanctions on Iraq.

Early one morning in Baghdad I was walking along the Tigris River when I smelled a terrible odor: raw sewage was pouring from a large pipe directly into the river. I knew it would become the drinking water of people downstream. Many people would become sick.

The second image comes from the diarrhea clinic in Basra, the large city downstream of Baghad.  The clinic was filled with mothers holding their infant and very young children.  I knew that water-borne diseases were the prime killer of Iraqi children under five.

What is the relation of these images with my refusal to pay a fine and with terrorism?

Right after the 1991 Gulf War, I learned why raw sewage would be flowing into the Tigris.  A Pentagon bombing planner explained why the U.S. bombed and destroyed virtually all of Iraq’s electrical-generating plants:

“People say, ‘You didn’t recognize that it was going to have an effect on water or sewage,’” said the planning officer. “Well, what were we trying to do with [United Nations-approved economic] sanctions — help out the Iraqi people? No. What we were doing with the attacks on infrastructure was to accelerate the effect of sanctions.”  (emphasis added)

The economic sanctions prevented Iraq from repairing its electrical plants, and water and sewage infrastructure.

U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III explained to Congress the purpose of these sanctions: “[W]e will never normalize relations with Iraq so long as Saddam Hussein remains in power.  That means maintaining UN sanctions in place so long as Saddam remains in power.”  (emphasis added) The official U.S. goal of sanctions — stated publicly in May 1991, but never authorized by the UN — was to overthrow the Iraqi government.

At what price?

I learned the price Iraqis were paying from The New England Journal of Medicine: “These results provide strong evidence that the Gulf war and trade sanctions caused a threefold increase in mortality among Iraqi children under five years of age. We estimate that an excess of more that 46,900 children died between January and August 1991.” (emphasis added)

But for U.S. planners the price was cheap: no Americans would die in an invasion.

Some might point out that the UN authorized sanctions.  But UN sanctions never included medicine — U.S. sanctions always did.  We made a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) asking how many licenses for medicine were denied by the responsible agency (OFAC) and for what reason.  Their reply came back after seven years: If I sent them $79,718.10 they would answer this request!  (I didn’t pay but I would still like to know.)

The Oil-for-Food program began six years after the end of the 1991 Gulf War.  It supplied food, safe water, medicine, electricity, transportation, education — with an allowance of about 50 cents per Iraqi per day.  “Woefully inadequate,” I was told, by Hans von Sponeck, one of the two UN Assistant Secretaries General who headed the program and resigned to protest this U.S.-enforced limit.  Fifty cents a day for each Iraqi — from their own oil wealth — that is the real Oil-for-Food scandal!

In her new book Invisible War: the United States and Iraq Sanctions, Professor Joy Gordon writes: “What is clear is that, left to its own, there was simply no limit to how much harm the U.S. government was willing to do to Iraq.”  After 200 pages of devastating documentation, Joy Gordon has earned the right to make this accusation!

The UK journalist Robert Fisk wrote: “In other words, the United States and Britain and other members of the Security Council were well aware that the principal result of the bombing campaign – and of sanctions – would be the physical degradation and sickening and deaths of Iraqi civilians. Biological warfare might prove to be a better description. The ultimate nature of the 1991 Gulf War for Iraqi civilians now became clear.  Bomb now: die later.”

The New England Journal of Medicine called it “a war against the public health” — with many children dying from water-borne diseases. One could also call it a war on the rule of law.

Bombing Iraq’s civilian infrastructure and using sanctions to prevent rebuilding or supplying basic human needs — for the stated purpose of overthrowing the Iraqi government — constitute a crime according to U.S. law.  Title 18 U. S. Code Section 2331 defines terrorism as “acts dangerous to human life” when those acts are intended to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.”

I understood this before the 1997 trip I’m being sued for, so I could not, in conscience or in law, cooperate with an agency participating in an act of terrorism against the Iraqis.

And, for the same reason, I can not pay the fine that has been imposed on me: that would be contributing money to an organization which has engaged in terrorism.

This is indeed difficult to think about; it was for me.  It contradicts much of what I had wanted to believe about my country.  But only by holding to truth — and going into this heart of darkness — can we hope to create the America that needs to be.

Langston Hughes once wrote a poem which in essence said: “America that has never been, America that needs to be.”  Only by holding to and speaking truth, can we help create the America that needs to be.

Gandhi called this truth force satyagraha.  It was the nonviolent means he used to get the most powerful empire in the world then, the British Raj, to leave India … and to leave as friends.  If we wish to positively affect the most powerful empire in the world today, we must hold to and share this truth: no empire can engage in terrorism for a decade against Iraqi children — UNICEF reported 500,000 Iraqi children had died — and then credibly condemn terrorism and claim to wage a war against it.

 

There is much more to be said: I encourage you to follow the hyperlinks, see my various pages, or leave a comment.  The pages References and Common Myths might be particularly useful.  The link to a legal decision related to my case on genocide is very shocking! Also, I would strongly encourage you to sign up for a monthly email.  The upcoming email next month will discuss our media and our courts — and the month after, what we can do.

                                                                                                Bert Sacks

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