Bert Sacks

Israel pursues policy in Gaza that U.S. used in Iraq

Welcome to the fourth monthly posting: On the 11th of each month, from January through September 2011, I’ll post an article about terrorism and the U.S.  You can follow by adding your address on the right for a once-a-month email.  If you haven’t yet, please read the earlier postings.  You can also follow on the Media, Videos, and Photos pages.

CHAPTER 4: On Israel’s policy towards Gaza (Apr.)

In January I wrote about U.S. policy towards Iraq from 1991 to 2003.  From the public record it is quite easy to show what U.S. policy was: By bombing Iraq’s civilian infrastructure and re-imposing economic sanctions, the U.S. knowingly created and maintained conditions “dangerous to human life” – especially the lives of vulnerable young Iraqi children.  Top administration officials then stated the reason: The UN economic sanctions would continue until “Saddam Hussein was overthrown.”  The major cost of this failed, criminal policy was hundreds of thousands of extra Iraqi children’s deaths.  According to our U.S. legal code, this was international terrorism.

The U.S. policy of collective punishment against the entire Iraqi civilian population to force the overthrow of their government has been a disaster.  What is surprising – or perhaps not – is that Israel would then pursue the same policy towards the civilian population of Gaza to undermine and overthrow the elected government of Gaza.

The blockade of Gaza – maintained by Israel with the cooperation of Egypt on its border with Gaza – is not done with any international facade of legality; it has simply been unilaterally imposed.  But Israeli officials have been very candid about the nature of and reason for the blockade.

Here are two paragraphs from the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz describing the blockade:

As the Hamas team laughs

by Gideon Levy on Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Hamas team had not laughed so much in a long time. The team, headed  by the prime minister’s advisor Dov Weissglas and including the Israel  Defense Forces chief of staff, the director of the Shin Bet and senior generals and officials, convened for a discussion with Foreign Minister  Tzipi Livni on ways to respond to the Hamas election victory. Everyone  agreed on the need to impose an economic siege on the Palestinian  Authority, and Weissglas, as usual, provided the punch line: “It’s like  an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot  thinner, but won’t die,” the advisor joked, and the participants  reportedly rolled with laughter. And, indeed, why not break into  laughter and relax when hearing such a successful joke? If Weissglas  tells the joke to his friend Condoleezza Rice, she would surely laugh too.

But Weissglas’ wisecrack was in particularly poor taste. Like the  thunder of laughter it elicited, it again revealed the extent to which  Israel’s intoxication with power drives it crazy and completely distorts its morality. With a single joke, the successful attorney and hedonist  from Lilenblum Street, Tel Aviv demonstrated the chilling heartlessness that has spread throughout the top echelon of Israel’s society and  politics. While masses of Palestinians are living in inhumane  conditions, with horrifying levels of unemployment and poverty that are unknown in Israel, humiliated and incarcerated under our responsibility  and culpability, the top military and political brass share a hearty  laugh a moment before deciding to impose an economic siege that will be  even more brutal than the one until now.

If this seems chilling in its callousness, we can recall the exchange in 1996 from the CBS program 60 Minutes between Leslie Stahl and then UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright:

Leslie Stahl: “We have heard that a half million children have died [in Iraq from the sanctions]. That’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price is worth it?”

Madeleine Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.”

Albright was subsequently confirmed to be the next U.S. Secretary of State.

The relationship between the blockade of Gaza and the 2008-2009 devastating military attack on Gaza (which the Israelis named “Operation Cast Lead”) is made clear by these comments of the former head of the Israeli Mossad, Ephraim Halevey, in an article in the Guardian newspaper of the UK (my emphasis):

A Hamas condition for a ceasefire is that Israel lift its three year blockade of Gaza that has helped wreck the economy and left many of its 1.5 million residents hungry, poor and trapped.

Ephraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad intelligence service, wrote in the Israeli press today that the government in Jerusalem could have stopped the rocket attacks long ago by lifting its siege of Gaza. But, he said, Israel has a broader interest — to ensure that it is the Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas, who is popularly known as Abu Mazen, and not Hamas that is politically dominant in the Palestinian territories.

 “If Israel’s goal were to remove the threat of rockets from the residents of southern Israel, opening the border crossings would have ensured such quiet for a generation. But the real objectives of the operation include preserving Fatah’s status as the sole sovereign in the Palestinian Authority and as a partner for negotiations,” he said.

The illegality of this policy of blockade of basic humanitarian goods to the people of Gaza has also been discussed at some length in a letter to the Washington State Attorney General, Rob McKenna, from ten international lawyers and legal scholars.  (The detailed reason why the letter is directed to Rob McKenna will be the subject of next month’s posting.)  The letter states in part (with my emphasis):

For five months, from June to early November [2008], both Israel and Hamas had observed a truce along the Israel-Gaza border that had brought substantial calm to the area. … Israel’s assault was not necessary to preserve the security of its citizens. Innocent Israelis have undeniable rights to be free of indiscriminate attack. Yet their government failed to explore negotiating a renewal of the truce, which had brought the greatest calm to the region in years.   Hamas had offered to extend the truce in public pronouncements in the days immediately preceding Israel’s attack, as long as Israel abided by its terms – including ending its blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel ignored those offers.

Related to this point, President Obama in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech incorrectly stated the international requirements of a “just war.”  Obama said: “The concept of a ‘just war’ emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense ….”  However the U.N. Charter says that war is justified only if it is “a last resort AND in self-defense.”  It must be BOTH in self-defense and also a last resort.  But Operation Cast Lead was not a last resort, as pointed out above; therefor it must be seen as an avoidable and illegal aggression.

Finally, it should be obvious that Dov Weissglas’ quote (from the Ha’aretz article above) that “Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die” is simply untrue.  While Palestinians in Gaza may not die directly of starvation, everyone will recognize that chronic malnutrition – especially among very young children whose immune systems are not well developed – makes children particularly vulnerable to opportunistic diseases.  These are diseases which a normal healthy child can resist, but a malnourished one may easily succumb to and die from.  Just as happened to so many children in Iraq.

The World Health Organization writes, “The shortage of fuel required to operate the Gaza power station, as well as the regulation of the electricity supply from Israel are continuing at the same rate, leading to many health, social, and economic impacts.”  Just as in Iraq, when electricity is deliberately shut down, the health consequences will be dramatic.  Just as in Iraq, electricity is essential to process safe drinking water and process sewage.

When the condition of drinking water and sanitation systems is included, the risk of dying from all of these conditions is much greater than if they were not present.  In short, just as in Iraq, the deaths that will occur will be more hidden than if there were skeleton-like bodies to be photographed for the media.  This is the nature of slow death by sanctions or blockade.  It is why Professor Joy Gordon titled her book on the Iraq sanctions Invisible War.

In a 46-page report Protecting Children from Unsafe Water in Gaza, UNICEF concludes: “90-95 per cent of water in Gaza is too contaminated to drink say UN agencies, The World Bank and the Coastal Municipal Water Utility (CMWU); ― ‘only five percent–10 percent of the aquifer is suitable for human consumption and…this supply could run out over the next five to 10 years without improved controls.’”

Of these conditions, President Obama commented in a news conference: “[I]f the people of Gaza have no hope, if they can’t even get clean water at this point, if the border closures are so tight that it is impossible for reconstruction and humanitarian efforts to take place, then that is not going to be a recipe for Israel’s long-term security or a constructive peace track to move forward.”  (This important paragraph was completely missing from The New York Times coverage of this meeting between the President and Prime Minister Netanhayu.)

From a Gaza Mental Health Programme report on the Gaza population:

  • 95 percent of people were negatively affected by the blockade on Gaza
  • 93 percent of people have given up on some daily living requirement
  • 96 percent of residents are sad or depressed and studies show that tensions and despair in Gaza are rising
  •  47 percent of patients lack medications
  • Nearly half of all children have lower energy, suffer physical pain and were unable to complete school assignments.

Retiring Congressman Brian Baird (WA-3) who visited Gaza four times since Operation Cast Lead, recently said of the ongoing Israeli blockade, “… from a humanitarian perspective, it’s a tragedy. From a legal perspective, it’s unlawful.  And from a strategic perspective, it’s unwise.” (Winter 2010 newsletter of The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace & Justice.)

This is certainly true. But when an act or policy is unlawful, it is important to identify which law has been violated. As with the U.S. policy supporting bombing of civilian infrastructure and sanctions on Iraq, the Israeli policy towards the people of Gaza is a violation of the Geneva Convention prohibition of collective punishment; and, since it is admittedly done to undermine a government, it is also an act of international terrorism.

The United States government cannot honestly contend it is engaged in a war against international terrorism at the same time as it supports a close ally which engages in it.

On what nonviolence can teach us



(Each month, from January through September 2011, I’ll post a brief article about terrorism and the U.S.   Please read the earlier postings, if you haven’t already. You can also watch a new 7-minute interview from, and follow other news entries on the Media, Videos, and Photos pages.)


In January I wrote about U.S. policy towards Iraq from 1991 to 2003. From the public record it is not difficult to show that bombing Iraq’s civilian infrastructure and re-imposing economic sanctions – to overthrow Saddam Hussein at the cost of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children’s lives – constitutes international terrorism according to the U.S. legal definition of that crime.

In February I wrote about how the U.S. courts and the mass media responded to this policy: The courts ruled that even if the U.S. government pursues a policy which knowingly kills 500,000 Iraqi children – as long as Congress passes the necessary laws and the Executive executes those laws as written – it is legal. And if it can’t be made legal – as with genocide – Congress then legislated that no one has any legal rights in the matter.

The mass media dealt with this issue mainly by repeating the many common myths and misrepresentations about what was happening in Iraq – and refusing to question or investigate them. Even more frequently, the mass media simply ignored crucial, well-documented information. In the words of Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen, our democracy is being endangered because of the “untold stories.” He is right – even though his paper often failed to tell those same stories.

The Iraq sanctions issue covers 12 years. But the response of the courts and media is relevant to a great many other issues. What can we do … whether it’s the use of lethal sanctions again, or global warming, nuclear proliferation, or the selling of our democracy?

A remarkable example of what can be done was shown to us by the Egyptians. I was totally enthralled by the uprising in Tahrir Square in Cairo. It was such a communal expression of goodness, truth and physical nonviolence overcoming a government’s cruelty, lies and the use of lethal force.

As Adrienne Maree Brown wrote in YES! Magazine of her own reaction, “My heart is bursting from my chest today, tears on my cheeks, my skin covered in waves and waves of goosebumps as my body integrates the beautiful revolution in Egypt.” I felt just the same way. Here is what I have come to understand from my own feelings and thinking about events in Egypt.

On goodness and badness in our culture

I grew up on cowboys and Indians and the Lone Ranger. I grew up on good guys and bad guys! Fifty years later, I heard the U.S. President announce that we need to go to war with the bad guys – the so-called axis of evil – so that we can destroy evil in the world.

If there are only these two choices, of course we will call ourselves the good guys. It is not surprising then that our media and our courts have been unwilling to consider evidence that our actions have sometimes been terribly cruel and hurtful – such as when we committed a massive act of terrorism against Iraqi kids.

We can joke at the comic-book characterization of good guys and bad guys, but our culture is awash in this perspective in many subtle ways as well. For example how often do we hear the very sensible question, What motivates a person to commit an act of terrorism? How often do we hear questioned, as an appropriate moral response, the calls to hate terrorists? “The bad guys don’t deserve such thoughts” we are told. “Bad guys” are not like us, they are less human, they are untermenschen, we are told.

An alternative view: nonviolence

A serious study of nonviolence has much to teach us about wiser ways to think … and to act.

Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is leading what she calls a nonviolent “Revolution of the Spirit” in her home country of Burma. (Burma, which is ruled with extreme ruthlessness and violence by a military junta, has unilaterally renamed the country Myanmar.)

In the book Voice of Hope – in conversations with Aung San Suu Kyi – she talks about the ruling junta: “But you know, I have never felt vindictive towards [the junta]. Of course, I have been very angry at some of the things they have done. But at the same time I can sense their uneasiness – their lack of confidence in good, as it were. And I think it must be very sad not to believe in good.”

In this very simple, brief statement Aung San Suu Kyi offers two very important principles of nonviolence. The first is the importance of making a distinction between the actions of persons and the persons themselves.

The second follows from the first: anger or hatred which is felt can wisely be directed at the actions, while the persons can still be understood, their condition even sympathized with, and effective responses, if possible, can be chosen.

Mahatma Gandhi made these same two points: “I hold myself to be incapable of hating any being on earth. … But I can and do hate evil wherever it exists. I hate the system of government that the British people have set up in India. I hate the ruthless exploitation of India even as I hate from the bottom of my heart the hideous system of untouchability for which millions of Hindus have made themselves responsible. But I do not hate the domineering Englishmen as I refuse to hate the domineering Hindus. I seek to reform them in all the loving ways that are open to me. My noncooperation has its roots not in hatred, but in love.”

As Gandhi himself says of his claim not to hate, “I know this is a big claim. Nevertheless, I make it in all humility.” The point for me is not to ask, Do I still hate anyone? – but rather to ask, Do I really, deeply want to give up hating anyone? Given Gandhi’s statements about what true nonviolence means, do I really want to become truly nonviolent? My understanding and motivation will determine my thinking … and then eventually my actions.

On not believing in goodness

Aung San Suu Kyi’s second observation has a particular resonance for me. She thinks that the leaders of Burma’s regime do not really believe in good or have confidence in it. I do not, of course, compare my own actions to those of these rulers, but growing up in the culture that I did, I still think that some deep part of my consciousness doesn’t believe that the good can survive in the world as I conceive of it. Part of me still believes (as the common saying goes) that “good guys finish last.”

Yet evidence continues to mount showing how effective nonviolence can be: how one can realistically have confidence in the good. Remember how effective Gandhi was in accomplishing the removal of the British empire, the most powerful empire in the world at the time, from India, its “crown jewel.” And there are many other recent examples in world history.

Tahrir Square is just the latest example of how confidence in the good can unleash immense positive energy. We may not know how changes in Egypt will end up, but compare Tahrir Square with the so-called liberation of Iraq by force and the staged toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square.

Gandhi said, “I seek to reform them in all the loving ways that are open to me. My noncooperation has its roots not in hatred, but in love.” I hold that that is true nonviolence. This is a central difference between the current dominant view within our culture and the view of Gandhi, King, and the many other advocates of nonviolence.

Look at the difference in outcomes when cultivating hatred and turning to violence is used. I believe that if we had not demonized one man, Saddam Hussein, and cultivated our hatred for him, we would not have caused the deaths of half-a-million children in trying to overthrow him. Eventually we ended up committing “the supreme international crime, initiating a war of aggression” (quoting Justice Jackson at Nuremberg) with disastrous consequences for Iraqis – and disastrous consequences for the United States as well.


There are many excellent books written on nonviolence. I would recommend Gandhi, the Man by Eknath Easwaran, The Search for a Nonviolent Future by Michael Nagler, and Voice of Hope by Aung San Suu Kyi and Alan Clements. The Metta Center in Berkeley offers many publications and free downloads, including the important booklet Hope or Terror: Gandhi and the Other 9/11. Also the works of Gene Sharp (referenced in The New York Times as influencing nonviolent strategies in the recent Arab uprisings) can be found at this site.

“Establishing lasting peace is the work of education …” – Maria Montessori

Seattle activist Bert Sacks defied the draconian sanctions against Iraq, for which the U.S. government fined him $10,000. Sacks refuses to pay despite years of government threats and court actions.

U.S. courts, Iraq and the mass media

After reading my January posting (and you should read it here before reading this one) it is natural to ask the question, What can we do?

To think wisely about that I suggest we need to ask an earlier question: How is it possible that the U.S. could create conditions in Iraq which knowingly led to the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children – maintain those conditions for twelve years until 500,000 children had died – and publicly state that this will continue until the government of Iraq is overthrown – all without any major public outcry?

We are at the 50th anniversary of President Eisenhower’s famous farewell address to the nation, where he warned us of the undue influence of the military-industrial complex. In an earlier draft, he apparently included “congressional” as part of that complex … and with good reason. Without doubt, Congress, the military, and its allied industries all share some responsibility for this happening.

But aren’t U.S. courts supposed to be an independent check on Congress and the Executive?

On the courts

In 2004 lawyers on my behalf brought a law suit against the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). That’s the agency which fined me for my 1997 trip to Iraq. The fine gave me legal standing to challenge in court the U.S. economic sanctions on Iraq.

I learned a lot from this three-year experience in the courts, up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here is my short summary: If the U.S. Congress passes laws which lead to the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children in pursuing its foreign policy – and if the Executive carries out those laws as stipulated – then it is legal! At best, if not legal, there is no legal way to challenge the policy.

If this sounds exaggerated, I ask you to read about our most dramatic legal argument: We contended that a policy which knowingly causes the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children constitutes genocide. The federal district judge ruled to dismiss our suit before we were allowed to present any evidence. The judge, in order to dismiss the case, had to accept that we could reasonably argue this was genocide.

But the judge found that Congress, in partially ratifying the Genocide Convention, “provided that the Convention creates no ‘substantive or procedural right enforceable by law by any party in any proceeding’”! Genocide was made by Congress, not legal, but beyond any U.S. legal remedies!

The treaty’s full name is the “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” What prevention or punishment of genocide is possible under these terms? It speaks to the difficulty of challenging U.S. policy in our courts (as does this extensive article, “The Charade of U.S. Ratification of Human Rights Treaties,” by Kenneth Roth).

On the media

But if turning to the courts for remedies of human-rights violations is difficult, there is an even greater barrier. It is public opinion – misinformed or not informed at all – by a mainstream media which is failing our democracy badly.

Frank Blethen is publisher of the Seattle Times. In 2009 he testified before a U.S. Senate committee saying: “The greatest danger to democracy is, and has always been, the ‘untold stories,’ whether due to disinvestment in journalism or corporate-office intimidation ….” I wrote to Mr. Blethen that I could not agree more.

However, in that letter to him I described how badly the Seattle Times failed to report on a major story about the deaths of 500,000 children in Iraq. It took six months for that statistic to make it into the news section of his paper, and then it was buried in the middle of a news article on another subject.

I feel embarrassed to have to point out to Frank Blethen how his own paper has contributed to “the greatest danger to democracy … the ‘untold stories’” by so badly failing to report on a story of national and international import: the number of children who were dying in Iraq … and why they were dying.

Imagine if we knew what the Iraqis knew: they lost their electricity, safe water, good health care, and plenty of food when, in 1991, the U.S. bombed their civilian infrastructure and used economic sanctions to try to overthrow their leader. Would we then have believed Dick Cheney’s promise that American soldiers would be greeted with open arms and flowers by Iraqis when we invaded in 2003? In fact, if we knew what we had done, would we have considered the Iraq invasion a good idea?

It is no consolation at all to report on how poorly virtually all of the U.S. mass media failed to cover this story. I once asked Dan Rather of CBS Nightly News how this could have happened. He had no answer. Over the 15 years that I have been trying to get the Seattle Times to tell these ‘untold stories’ about Iraq, my last email to Mike Fancher executive editor at the time, from June 24, 2004, still has gone unacknowledged. As has my letter to Frank Blethen from January 24, 2011.

What are we to do?

Next month I’ll share my thoughts, with an emphasis on what nonviolence might teach us.

In the meantime, those who would like to take some action could begin this way: write or email Mr. Blethen a respectful letter. Follow the hyperlinks here and include the most compelling facts you’d like to raise (or perhaps your own). Remember, be courteous and factual. And also remember that it becomes harder for everyone to admit errors and change when confronted with angry words.

Mr. Blethen’s mail address is Publisher of the Seattle Times, P. O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111, USA. If you prefer to write an email, send it to and I’ll collect and deliver them to him.

Another very important action you can take is to turn off your TV, especially the mainstream news – and don’t rely solely on whatever mainstream newspaper you might read. Instead look to alternative media. For example, my favorite electronic media is Democracy Now! on KBC and streaming on my computer; my favorite print media is now fast becoming Real Change, Seattle’s great street paper.

One final comment and a preview of my thoughts on nonviolence.

I’d like to suggest that there’s a benefit to the person who really tries to practice nonviolence, whatever the ‘outcome’ is. On January 5th, the Seattle Times published a sympathetic op-ed by the conservative editorial writer Bruce Ramsey about the law suit against me. (Ironically, it’s the editorial pages of the paper – at least for a period around the year 2000 – which editorialized about the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children, while the news section of the same paper was continuing to ignore the story.)

After the op-ed, the first of 52 comments began on the readers’ comment blog. I began to answer them.

Working to remain calm and factual is very good practice in nonviolence. Whatever happened ‘out there’ with other readers, it was an exercise that benefited me. Nonviolence entails speaking the truth, as best you understand it, while wishing well even for those whose views you are working to oppose.

Hard work sometimes!


In thinking or writing about Iraq, the pages Common Myths and References might be especially useful.

In answer to a common criticism that we must all obey all laws, no matter what the laws are, this is part of my answer: “150 years ago it was the highest law of the United States of America that runaway slaves from the South were legally ‘stolen property’ of their owners. Anywhere in this country, an American was breaking the law to help such a slave escape via the ‘underground railroad.’ The people I greatly admire from this terrible era in our history were not law-abiding citizens, but those who broke the law to help slaves. They risked legal penalties and personal danger out of a conviction that slavery was wrong, and that helping slaves to escape was their obligation. I have come to feel a similar obligation to the Iraqi people, especially the children, who suffer and die from sanctions.” Would we wish to obey the law in those circumstances and return a slave to his slave-owner … or would we not?


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