September article

Chapter 9: What’s It All Been About

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 for an update. If you haven’t yet, please look at earlier postings and follow other pages at this website.

First I want to thank my friends – and others I don’t yet know – who have taken the time to follow this case. I’m sure you realize that the case has been about issues beyond the fine on me. My excellent lawyers certainly do: they have spent many hours of pro bono time on the case, much more than the fine alone could justify. I thank them very much!

This uncertainty about the trial is my chance to reflect on what those other issues are.

It should be clear to those who have read my first three postings (Jan., Feb., Mar., in the Archives) that the narrowest, but still very important issue is that the U.S. imposed great collective suffering on Iraqi civilians to coerce the Iraqi government. Officially, this was supposed to force Iraq to disarm its weapons of mass destruction. Unofficially – though publicly stated by U.S. officials – this coercion was to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

The Gulf War destruction of Iraq’s electricity and followed by economic sanctions on Iraq quickly became lethal forms of coercion. According to surveys in The New England Journal of Medicine and from UNICEF, some 5,000 Iraqi children were dying every month as a consequence. In 2004 we argued in federal court that this policy, continued over 12 years, came to constitute genocide. The judge ruled in effect that it didn’t matter! I still hope to say in court, in the law suit against me, that these acts of lethal coercion were terrorism according to the U.S. legal definition of that crime.

But my case raises a broader issue concerning this 21-year ongoing war on Iraq.

There is a great gap between the story most Americans believe, when it is compared to publicly available (but little known) statements and facts which tell a different story.

Here, in regular text, I put a conventional American understanding of the Iraq war.
Below that, I put in italics, statements and facts which challenge that understanding.

The Iraq war began in 2003 and is now eight years old.
For Iraqis the war began in 1991, is ongoing, and will soon be 21 years old.

Hillary Clinton: the Iraqis need to appreciate all that we’ve done for them.
With 100-120 degrees in the summer, Baghdad now has 5 hours of electricity a day.

L. Paul Bremer: Iraq lacks electricity because Saddam never invested in infrastructure.
Iraq had 9,000 Mwatts of capacity before we bombed 96% of it during the Gulf War.

We bombed electricity for “long-term leverage” but they’re not competent to repair it.
Engineers and managers fled Iraq under sanctions which blocked any means of repair.

We had to drive Iraq from Kuwait because babies were taken from incubators to die.
That story was false, but babies did die in incubators after we bombed Iraq’s electricity.

Saddam Hussein used faked funerals and faked children’s deaths to get sanctions to end.
The New England Journal of Medicine found 5,862 excess Iraqi kids’ deaths a month.

Madeleine Albright: Saddam spent $2 billion on palaces, that’s why children are dying.
Using Madeleine Albright’s estimate, that amount comes to 4 cents per Iraqi per day!

We gave Iraq money from the oil-for-food program, so Saddam is at fault for deaths.
The U.S. kept the oil-for-food program to 52 cents per Iraqi per day for all their needs.

Saddam Hussein spent all of Iraq’s money on building palaces and on his military.
Saddam Hussein invested heavily in electricity, roads, safe water, education and health.

Saddam Hussein was a ruthless ruler who started a war by invading a foreign country.
The U.S. supported him for 12 years in his war on Iran, including his use of poison gas.

It was UN corruption, not economic sanctions on Iraq, that caused Iraqis to suffer.
Two UN Assistant Secretaries General resigned to protest U.S./UN sanctions on Iraq.

Sunnis and Shiites have fought for centuries, their violence is not because we invaded.
Before 2003 there wasn’t conflict, but often intermarriage, between Sunnis and Shiites.

Madeleine Albright: no Iraqi children would die if Saddam just complied with the UN.
This is a remarkable admission that Iraqi children were dying to coerce their leader!

James Baker III: we will maintain UN sanctions on Iraq so long as Saddam is in power.
In 1991 this was a remarkable admission that U.S. was after regime change, not WMDs.

Iraqis were glad to see us, have us remove their dictator, and bring them democracy.
In a 2004 poll, 92% of Iraqis saw the U.S. as occupiers, not liberators or peacekeepers.

The Iraq war isn’t a factor in our economic problems since politicians don’t talk about it.
Nobel Laureate Stiglitz says Iraq war will cost U.S. $3 trillion, $10,000 per American.

Well at least the Iraq war has made us safer.
American commander in Iraq: we are making terrorists faster than we can kill them.

What price have we paid, in lives, in wealth, in safety, in reputation for this Iraq war?

There are many other misleading or incorrect views about the war. A major incorrect belief was given me in reply to my question by Senator Cantwell this way: Yes, our invasion of Iraq was legal because we had a cease-fire with Iraq and they violated it.

However the cease-fire was with not with us but with the UN, per Security Council Resolution 687. That resolution ends with a stipulation that any further action can only be taken by the UNSC itself (not unilaterally by any country as it might choose).

Mahatma Gandhi once said that there is a coin which has written on one side “truth” and on the other side “nonviolence.” It follows, I believe, that there is another coin with “untruth” on one side and “violence” on the other.

Despite all the negative results of our long, ongoing war on Iraq, a positive side is perhaps a growing recognition among Americans that we have not been told much truth about that war. As Alan Greenspan wrote in 2007, “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is mainly about oil.”

We are now in the process of seeing that the promised withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq will actually leave thousands of troops to hold on to our huge military bases plus thousands of State Department and CIA paramilitary contractors in the country.

Does anyone think that will make us safer … or that Iraqis believe it is for their sake? Does anyone think that self-deception and dishonesty can lead to positive outcomes?

In terms of Gandhi’s coin with truth on one side and nonviolence on the other, I have a certain hope: As Americans realize the terrible disaster which our reliance on violence in Iraq has caused everyone, we may start to ask the question, Is there no other way?

The excellent book The Search for a Nonviolent Future by Michael Nagler asks this question. He is founder of the Metta Center, a group committed to study and education about nonviolence. On their website he writes, “Probably the most hopeful sign in today’s world is the way nonviolence and the knowledge of how it works is spreading.”

After watching the Egyptian start of the Arab Spring, I took some heart that perhaps others can help us find a better way … through nonviolence. I commented on the vast contrast between the nonviolent, spontaneous energy in Cairo’s Tahrir Square with the violent, staged energy of Baghdad’s Firdos Square as Saddam’s statue was pulled down.

Then after the recent terrorist bombing and shooting in Norway, it was wonderful to read this response: “Our answer will not be hate and revenge, but more openness, more tolerance, and more democracy.” That theme was stated by the Mayor of Oslo, the Prime Minister, and one of the near victims on the island where the shooting took place.

Nonviolence is not simply about a more effective way to respond to physical violence internationally. It involves a most profound personal commitment to seeing ourselves and others in a radically different way from our conditioning. May I recommend the Metta Center website and the Yes! Magazine website as two fine, helpful resources.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *