October article

Chapter 10: Still Waiting for the Judge to Rule

At the start of last month’s posting on September 11th I wrote this:

Welcome to the ninth monthly posting: The date of the government trial against me has been vacated – the trial won’t take place on September 19, 2011, and we have to wait for the judge to rule if there will be a trial at all. The U.S. is suing me to collect a $10,000 fine because I was unwilling to ask the U.S. for a license for a 1997 trip I took to bring medicine to Iraqi children. I’ve consistently refused to pay the fine – and did not request a license – to challenge the legitimacy and legality of U.S. policy on Iraq.

On August 9th, the judge issued an Order; in part it says: “[T]he court ORDERS the Government to SHOW CAUSE why the court should not dismiss this action.” We have received the brief the judge ordered the Government to provide and we are replying. After reviewing the briefs – possibly by the end of September – the judge will decide whether to have a trial or not. As soon as I know his decision I will post more information. You can still follow by adding your address at IraqiKids.org for an update. If you haven’t yet, please look at earlier postings and follow other pages at this website.

The Government provided its brief, we provided ours, we’re now waiting.

If the Judge rules that we get to Court, I hope to raise these questions: Was it legal for the U.S. to destroy Iraq’s electrical system in the 1991 Gulf War? Was it legal for the U.S. to maintain economic sanctions on Iraq despite the report of 46,900 excess deaths of Iraqi children in 1991? Was it legal for U.S. Secretary of State Baker to announce that the U.S. would maintain UN sanctions on Iraq until Saddam Hussein was overthrown? Given that maintaining economic sanctions to overthrow the Iraqi leader meant Iraqi children would continue to die, was this not terrorism?

If we don’t get to Court, I will still do what I can with the media to educate on the issue.

A short time ago, I got myself a copy of the book We Meant Well: How I helped lose the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. The author, Peter Van Buren, spent a year in Iraq in 2009 as a Foreign Service Officer of the U.S. Department of State. His role was to be part of “the civilian Surge to backstop the manlier military one.”

From the title, one can see that Mr. Van Buren concludes we lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people by 2010. I wondered how he understood the background of his assignment – i.e., what chance did we ever have to win that battle.

Here is what he writes in his book about that history:

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story really began in the early 1990s, as I sat ignorant in Taiwan processing tourist visas as a brand-new Foreign Service Officer while Saddam invaded Kuwait. Iraq had since then been continuously under siege by the United States.

So far so good, I thought. Not many Americans know that Iraq had been “continuously under siege” for almost two decades, from 1991 to 2009. Then he continues:

During Desert Storm we destroyed large portions of its infrastructure. We had gone out of our way to make a mess, using clever tools such as cruise missiles that spat metallic fibers to short circuit entire electrical systems we would have to reconstruct.

I’ve been told that the U.S.A.F. possessed tools such as metal fibers to short out transmission lines. But please spend 5 minutes to watch as U.S.A.F. Colonel John Warden III explains that the U.S. destroyed Iraq’s electricity system for “long-term leverage” – watch how it was actually done – and witness what the medical consequences were for Iraqis, especially the children. This video – snippets of the PBS Frontline program – was broadcast September 1991. The book continues:

In the years that followed Desert Storm, three US Presidents bombed and rocketed Iraq, running up the bill we would later have to pay. Sanctions meanwhile kept Saddam fat and happy on black-market oil profits while chiseling away Baghdad’s cosmopolitan First World veneer and plunging most of Iraq’s population into poverty.

In one sense, the killing of Iraqi civilians with our bombing and rocketing was a bill we would have to pay once we invaded Iraq in 2003. In another sense, it was a bill that drew down our credibility especially in the Arab and Muslim worlds as it continued. It certainly was a bill that was paid by Iraqis over 12 years. The wonderful website of No More Victims shows what that price really means in human terms. The book continues:

Events in Iraq ebbed and flowed through the US media over the years but the storm never ended for most Iraqis. It was a seamless epic as the war of 1990-91 continued through the no-fly zones and the sanctions of the nineties, to be capped off by the 2003 invasion and the ensuing years of occupation.

Peter Van Buren is very correct that for most Iraqis “the storm never ended” and they suffered “a seamless epic … [of] war.” As to the US media, one can say that there was a great deal more ebbing than flowing on its coverage of Iraq – particularly what our policy was doing to the Iraqis suffering that policy. I am aware of only one other mainstream program showing what was happening to Iraqis, CBS’ Sixty Minutes program in May 1996. Here is a 3-minute snippet showing conditions then.

What is most striking from the earlier 1991 video is that it did not cause an uproar of concern over what our policy was doing to ordinary Iraqis. Even worse, when the 1996 segment of Sixty Minutes was shown on national TV, Madeleine Albright was not called to explain her terrible statement that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children was “worth the price.” Instead she was soon confirmed as our new Secretary of State.

But the most dramatic example of the ebb of national media away from any serious coverage of the “price” ordinary Iraqis were paying took place on August 12, 1999. On that date UNICEF reported on their survey saying that there would be half a million fewer Iraqi children’s deaths if the improving child mortality rate in the 1980s had continued. Not one of the three U.S. commercial TV networks – and TV is where most Americans get their news – said a single word about 500,000 Iraqi children’s deaths! Hear my question to Dan Rather as to how could this happen and his reply. Of the 50 top newspapers in the country, only two of them reported that statistic – and they were not the major nation-wide newspapers. That’s quite an ebb … and not much flow.

As a result, I once had occasion to ask Stansfield Turner, Director of Central Intelligence (CIA) from 1977-81, if he knew how many Iraqi children had died excess deaths in Iraq. He did not appear to know, but said however many died it was because Saddam Hussein built palaces. For a former Director of the CIA to be so ill-informed would be shocking if such ignorance was not so wide spread and was so maintained by virtually all of the mainstream media. (See here for a discussion of this and many other common myths.)

I have had one main goal over 15 years concerning Iraq: it has been to correct, in whatever small way I could, the immense ignorance and misunderstandings the American people have had about the reality of U.S. government policies towards Iraq. I wanted to use this court case against me as a further opportunity to do that. I’ll have to see if that happens or not. I thank you all for your interest and following these posts.

I have just received a letter from FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) about Noam Chomsky’s book 9-11: Was There an Alternative? It reminded me that after the attack (and still today) “pundits and newspapers were declaring that the attack on the United States was driven by Islamic hatred of American freedom and democracy” and that this picture was “completely at variance with everything we know ….”

Whatever one’s view of 9-11, the facts I’ve been presenting here in 10 months of postings are surely relevant to analyzing the position of the United States in the world. In 1990 we became the world’s sole superpower – and undertook our first major foreign-policy adventure in that role in Iraq. After almost 21 years of continual war on the Iraqis, the real consequences are devastating: in lives, so many American and Iraqi lives – in wealth, 3 trillion dollars or $10,000 for every American – in the moral and “soft power” standing of the United States – and in the lies we’ve been told and believed.

It still astonishes me that a country with so many resources could squander them so disastrously in Iraq. Misinformation lies at the heart of this waste, certainly for U.S. citizens, but I suspect to a large degree also for our policy planners. If nothing else, this should be a lesson in the limits of violence to achieve goals today. At the same time it represents a possible awakening that moral and nonviolent means achieve good goals.

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