Over Thanksgiving in 1994 I had personal business in Boston. While there I made a life-changing decision: I decided to track down a report from a group then called the Harvard Study Team, which had gone to Iraq in 1991 after the first Gulf War. They’d reported in the Washington Post that the destruction of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure and sanctions were going to cause an estimated 170,000 Iraqi children to die as a consequence.
I found someone who’d been on that team. She told me to read the New England Journal of Medicine from September 1992. It contained the estimate that 46,900 Iraqi children had died in the first eight months of 1991; these were excess deaths above the number of deaths that would otherwise occur. Since that time 15 years ago I could not leave this issue alone.
I made nine trips to Iraq — starting in 1996 with the group Voices in the Wilderness — to educate myself and my fellow Americans about the disastrous effect of this policy on Iraqis. In 2002 I was fined $10,000 by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for my 1997 trip to bring $40,000 in medicine to children in Basra. I refused to pay the fine. We in turn sued OFAC in 2004 over their fine, but lost. (See the page Bert’s Case.) Now I’m being sued for the fine plus $6,000 in interest and penalties. The civil suit will take place September 19, 2011 in Seattle.