New Century, Old Crime
by Alexander Cockburn
The Nation magazine, Jan. 31, 2000
On January 15, the birthday of Martin Luther King and the
ninth anniversary of the Gulf War, ten people began a month-long
fast on the steps of the Capitol in Washington. They're members
of Voices in the Wilderness, the Chicago-based group that has
been trying to marshal public opinion against the sanctions against
Iraq instigated by the United States through the UN. The group
won't eat, and will spend each day lobbying around town.
There are plenty of awful US policies that have survived the
turn into this new century, but few are as malignant as the sanctions,
which have been killing Iraqis at a steady rate since 1990. UNICEF
and other UN agencies in Iraq reckon that more than a million
civilians, mostly children, have died from malnutrition and disease
as a result of the embargo. Despite the UN's oil-for-food program
(whose lethal stipulations were detailed last September in CounterPunch,
the newsletter edited by Jeffrey St. Clair and myself), UNICEF
estimates that more than 4,500 children under the age of 5 die
each month as a consequence of this same embargo.
The embargo, we must not forget, is demonically designed to
prompt gnawing, endless suffering throughout Iraq's social economy.
The water is filthy and dangerous because chlorine and larger
cleansing mechanisms are forbidden. Every illness is magnified
and protracted, often fatally, because the simplest medicines
and equipment are similarly embargoed. The pretext is "dual
use"- meaning the UN will forbid a compressor for a dentist's
drill that might perhaps be used for some military purpose-but
the strategy is to drive Iraq into the basement of Third World
US policy clearly intends to keep the embargo going indefinitely.
The latest adjustment-UN Resolution 1284, passed on December 17,
with three of the five permanent Security Council members, China,
Russia and France, abstaining-inaugurates a new schedule of inspections,
but if anything the prognosis is actually worse. Under the old
schedule, the embargo was to have ended when the inspectors declared
Iraq cleansed of weapons of mass destruction. Under the new one
it will merely be suspended.
I talked to Nicholas Arons, one of the Voices in the Wilderness,
as he prepared for the fast. A month ago he was in Iraq. There
he'd visited a public primary school in Mosul. "When they
heard Americans were coming, three children began shaking and
screaming. Their mothers had to be fetched to pick them up. We
found out they were traumatized because a cement bomb from an
American plane patrolling the northern no-fly zone had just hit
the school. Some children were severely wounded." Arons went
on to describe how a teacher respectfully but angrily explained
to him why bombs and shattering glass don't cultivate a new generation
of leaders or protect minorities or change the regime in Iraq.
The fast, Arons said, addresses a moral question. It is "the
imposition of deprivation toward a political end. More children
have died in Iraq as a result of this embargo than died in Hiroshima
or the Bosnian war. The Iraqi economy has been devastated.
The education budget has gone from $2 billion to $27 million.
Nearly every Iraqi child has had to watch a relative die of violence
or preventable disease. By forsaking food for one month, we intend
to dramatize the issue of the sanctions, demonstrate to Congresspersons
and State Department officials (as well as to the Iraqi Mission
in DC and New York, who share culpability for this disaster) our
sincerity, and tell our friends in the anti-sanctions movement
that people need to make literal and major sacrifices in order
for sanctions to near their end."
Representatives Tom Campbell, a Republican from San Jose,
California, and John Conyers, a Democrat from Detroit, have circulated
a letter calling for a change in US sanctions policy. So far it's
been signed by thirty-one members of the House.
A few score, a few hundred perhaps even a few thousand people
every day, pledging to fast till February 11, either on the Capitol
steps or at a federal building in their local town, would back
these brave people and join in denunciation of the inhumanity
of the embargo, forever a bloodstain on the Clinton Administration
and its predecessor. And, yes, there's not one of the major candidates
for the presidential nomination who does not deem sanctions a
splendid idea. Bradley, the liberals' darling, thinks they should
be toughened. Close your eyes, throw a dart at the ballot sheet
and you'll be almost certain to hit a mass murderer.
Voices in the Wilderness is at 1460 West Carmen Ave., Chicago,
IL 60640,(773)784-8065, www.nonviolence.org/vitw.
International War Crimes