November article 2013

Reflections – November 2013

Friends:Those who’ve followed these postings know that my legal battle with the federal government over a $16,000 fine (for traveling to Iraq to bring medicine without a U.S. license) has ended. The judge dismissed the government’s efforts to collect saying the government waited too long to sue. See Bert’s Case for a history of the legal issues, including our earlier suit against the government for crimes including genocide and terrorism.

In my June posting, I wrote how I’d read an article in the Pacific Standard magazine (psmag.com) called “The Iraq Sanctions Myth.” It claimed that the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children “almost certainly never happened.” I responded to the author of the article, Professor Michael Spagat, in my post. Since then, he and I have corresponded by email half-a-dozen times.

In this back-and-forth, I have included Sarah Zaidi, a woman I know and we both respect for her work on the issue of sanctions. And, very recently, I spoke with Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institute about Iraq sanctions after his talk at Seattle’s Town Hall. This correspondence among the four of us lasted much of the past three months.

You can follow the continuation of this discussion in last month’s October posting.  This month I supply my letter to Kenneth Pollack regarding what’s gone on in the discussion.  I hope it may be of interest.

Dear Kenneth Pollack,

In your email back to Mike Spagat and me, you wrote thatI am NOT an expert on health and mortality issues and so have merely tried, to the best of my ability, to rely on the latest work by real experts on the subject of the impact of the Iraq sanctions.” Well, neither am I and neither is Mike Spagat, as far as I know. But relying on the “work of real experts” can be a dangerous business.

As a case in point, two months before the impending war on Iraq I said the following in Seattle in a speech (available at BertOnIraq.blogspot.com, search “January 3, 2003”) referring to U.S. policy towards Iraq:

“… this has always been about regime change. It has never been about weapons of mass destruction.”

In the weeks leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that was a pretty strong statement. It contradicted virtually all the “real experts” who said we needed to invade Iraq because of WMDs. How did I know this? What were the psychological issues involved in my saying this. More in a bit. But I continued my speech this way:

And we wanted to wage the Gulf War in such a way that we would get regime change without having American soldiers die. How did we do that? In the targeting of the Gulf War, the United States’ Pentagon bombing strategists* said, “We are going to bomb Iraq’s civilian infrastructure, up and down the country, taking out all the electrical generating plants, so that they have, in the end, 94% of the electricity gone that they had in 1990. (*ConcernForIraq.org/infrastructure)

We did that. You realize that takes out water and sewage, especially in the South and Central regions which are very flat – you can’t pump water. We also hit some water and sewage targets.

“But what were the consequences of reimposing economic sanctions and having bombed the civilian infrastructure of Iraq? Three weeks after the end of the war, the United Nations told us precisely what those consequences are. It’s a document* from the New York Times, March 22nd, 1991. (*ConcernForIraq.org/NYTimesAhtisaariWithEmphasis22Mar91.html.)

“If you read the very last paragraph, and I’ll read it to you for those of you that don’t have it, the UN told us, “It is unmistakable that the Iraqi people may soon face a further imminent catastrophe, which could include epidemic and famine, if massive life-supporting needs are not rapidly met. Time is short.”

“That’s the UN telling us what conditions were like in Iraq three weeks after the war: Epidemic and famine.

“What was our position? This is the reporter speaking of the U.S. administration’s view and position about sanctions. “The United States has argued against any premature relaxation [of the economic sanctions] in the belief that, by making life uncomfortable for the Iraqi people, it will eventually encourage them to remove President Saddam Hussein from power.”

“Have you got it? We are publicly saying that we intend to use epidemic and famine against a civilian population as tools of our foreign policy in order to get what we want – and what we want is regime change. What we want is our guy in Baghdad who’ll give us control of the oil.”

All of this is public information. None of it is hidden. Yet it is NOT what the “real experts” told us. Certainly not “this [war] has always been about regime change. It has never been about weapons of mass destruction!”

How did I know that this was always about regime change?  President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker III told us, right after the 1991 Gulf War.  On May 27, 1991, in front of a Congressional subcommittee, Secretary Baker reported: That means we 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.”

How did I know that we intended there to be severe health consequences for the civilian population? The Pentagon bombing planners told us so, in a front-page story in the Washington Post, June 23, 1991, by Barton Gellman.

“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.”

 Col. John Warden III, deputy director of strategy, doctrine and plans for the Air Force, agreed that one purpose of destroying Iraq’s electrical grid was that “you have imposed a long-term problem on the leadership that it has to deal with sometime.”

“Saddam Hussein cannot restore his own electricity,” he said. “He needs help. If there are political objectives that the U.N. coalition has, it can say, ‘Saddam, when you agree to do these things, we will allow people to come in and fix your electricity.’ It gives us long-term leverage.”

When you destroy a country’s electrical grid knowing what it will do to water and sewage, you can know that it will have a very significant impact on children’s health and child mortality in that country. You do not need to be a “real expert” to know this.

But in this case, real experts – doctors from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Oxford – did tell us:

Abstract. … Conclusions. 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.


Our data demonstrate the link between the events that occurred in 1991 (war, civilian uprising, and economic embargo) and the subsequent increase in mortality. The destruction of the supply of electric power at the beginning of the war, with the subsequent disruption of the electricity-dependent water and sewage systems, was probably responsible for the reported epidemics of gastrointestinal and other infections.

War is never good for health. … During the Gulf war, it was suggested that by using high-precision weapons with strategic targets, the Allied forces were producing only limited damage to the civilian population. The results of our study contradict this claim and confirm that the casualties of war extend far beyond those caused directly by warfare.

That report was from The New England Journal of Medicine, September 1992.

The sources for all of these quotes are available at ConcernForIraq.org/infrastructure – I attach a copy of that webpage for your reference. It also contains information of the U.S. foreknowledge of where this policy would lead; it’s described in a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency memo to CENTCOM titled “Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities.”

I contend that one does not need to consult “real experts” – or to decide which experts to believe – between the following choice: (A) the water-borne diseases described in The New England Journal of Medicine health survey (and subsequent opinion piece) was a major cause of excess deaths of over 5,000 Iraqi children every month following the 1991 Gulf War destruction of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure – versus – (B) the Gulf War and the following decade produced no impact at all on children’s mortality statistics; in fact, that period showed an improvement in child mortality continuing as from 1989.

I am attaching my Declaration to the U.S. federal court as it provides a great deal more detail. (I provided it to the court as background because I had been sued by the government (OFAC) for refusing to pay a fine for traveling to Iraq to bring medicine. The details of the legal aspects of that case and my last posting to Professor Spagat are all at IraqiKids.org under “Bert’s Case” and “Archives” for October article 2013.

I’d like to end with a comment about the psychological prices involved in accepting or contradicting those people considered by a country’s governing elites as “the experts.”

I felt confident enough to contradict all the “experts” regarding regime change vs. WMDs which I began this letter with. That was when I spoke to an audience of some 800 people in a local church. A number of them were friends, and even the others I didn’t know I expected would be open to hear the evidence I was presenting.

But then a month later I was invited for an hour-long radio interview on exactly the day Colin Powell gave his speech at the United Nations “proving” that Iraq had dangerous WMDs and “closing” the case for invading Iraq. I knew nothing to cause me to change my opinion on the question from what I’d said a month earlier.

But the radio host was from a right-wing station and he clearly was for the war. And here was Colin Powell, a well-respected U.S. Secretary of State. Not only were the “real experts” all unified in agreement, but our major papers too (such as the Washington Post which titled “Irrefutable” their editorial of approval).

Simply put, I was intimidated. I failed to repeat what I’d said to a more sympathetic audience. I did observe that it was clear that George W. Bush – and those in his administration wanted war. That was easy to say. But that I didn’t believe the war would be over WMDs – which everyone else was saying – I failed to say.

I failed my convictions. That’s a lesson I learned the hard way.

But now I can appreciate the psychological integrity it takes to go against the “real experts”. And having followed the tragedy of Iraq – since the U.S. invasion up to the current violence – I can also appreciate the consequences of failing to speak the truth.

You ended your email to us this way: “I will look forward to whatever either of you continue to produce on this subject so that I can continue to learn and refine my own understanding of the benefits and liabilities of sanctions.”

I, for one, am very interested to hear what you think of the evidence I’ve provided here.

Best Regards,

Bert Sacks

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