Writing this piece on August 6, Hiroshima Day, I remember the reference to Hiroshima by Leslie Stahl on "60 Minutes" in 1996 when she talked about the effect of the sanctions on Iraq. She questioned the then U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright about U.N. report that half a million Iraqi children had died. Stahl said, "I mean that's more children than died in Hiroshima. You know, is the price worth it?" Albright answered that it indeed was "worth it".
It's a good day today for reflection about the sanctions, because by chance August 6, 1990 was the day the U.N. Iraq sanctions began. Saddam Hussein had invaded four day before and the Iraqi people were going to pay the price.
Few on the Left got it right. Most supported some sanctions as a way of avoiding war. I was one of them. Others called on the U.N. to set things straight (just when the U.N. had become a solely owned property of the U.S. Empire). Others saw Saddam's attack as "progressive" as it wiped out royalty, restored to Iraqis land that was really theirs. Some saw it as the start of an Arab revolt that would bypass Saddam and drive the U.S. out of the Middle East. None imagined it was the start of decades of genocides.
The August 6th trade sanctions were total. Not even food and medicine were allowed in a country where 70% of all food was imported. Food and medicine didn't trickle into Iraq again until months after Saddam's force had been beaten and a U.N. report on civilian casualties shamed Bush the First to easing the stranglehold a few inches.
However, Iraqi oil couldn't be sold and anything that would restore infrastructure or modern life could not be imported. A 1991 Harvard doctors' report warned if things did not change 170,000 Iraqi children might die.
"170,000 children might die", a world class understatement. As the years rolled by activists like Ramsey Clark and Kathy Kelly went to Iraq and brought back pictures and video of the starving children, tiny little things, with sticks for arms and legs and faces of old men and women. In 1995 Peter Pellet's U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization group published a report in "The Lancet" estimating that 567,000 children had died. And the sanctions still had eight gruesome more years to run.
What again were the reasons once the Gulf War ended? Saddam was a threat "to the world". He had weapons of mass destruction. His crafty minions outwitted the U.N. inspectors again and again. The charges are almost comical now when you think about it.
And the Iraqis died and died, even after resignations by U.N. officials Denis Halliday and Hans von
Sponeck and even after the Oil for Food program let Iraq have more money to buy food. A million, a million and half, "who knows how many perished.
Now as we all know now, Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and was not a threat "to the world". How do we classify all those deaths by sanctions? Somehow "mistake" doesn't seem to cut it. "Crimes against humanity" seems a better fit.
To my knowledge no U.S. official has been punished or demoted for these killings. No politician has suffered either.
A million dead and no one punished.
Not quite. While attending the United National Peace Conference in Albany I came across the case of Syracuse cancer doctor Dr. Rafil Dhafir. He's serving 22 years in prison for breaking the sanctions and sending money to Iraq.
He broke these monumentally evil laws and now sits in the special prison for Muslim terrorists, the Communications Management Unit in Terre Haute, Indiana. He's been there since 2003.
The prosecutors have a different interpretation. They say Dhafir was playing fast and loose with the money, saying it was all going to go to starving Iraqis but using some of the money for preaching Islam, business affairs, car repairs etc. He was also convicted of improperly taking his own contributions to his Help the Needy charity off on his taxes. Prosecutors even found unrelated Medicare billing offenses to add more years to his sentence.
It was odd then that various government officials connected the Dhafir case to terrorism. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, "Both the US Attorney General and the NY State Governor referred publicly to this case in the context of a terrorism prosecution. However federal prosecutors never filed any charges related to terrorism nor did they prove any link to terrorists. Instead, this turned out to be a case of white collar crime."
Let's say the prosecutors were right. Dhafir was out of control. He lied on various forms. He was cutting corners, etc., etc. He improperly got a tax break on the $1.4 million of his own money that he gave to the fund.