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March 2001

Spin Doctors Need Surgery—Brain Surgery, That is


Iraq: Who’s the Bully?
In December of last year, Hans von Sponeck, former United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, confirmed that 50,000 Iraqi children die every year as a result of the UN-imposed economic sanctions. Recent statistics released by the Iraqi Health Ministry showed a total of 1,351,535 deaths for all ages since August 1990, when the sanctions were imposed, through last May. Of the total deaths, 1,338,808 were children—99 percent. Others estimate that nearly 5,000 Iraqi children under the age of five are dying each month; that’s 150 a day. Just take a moment to let that sink in. Von Sponeck, who resigned from his position in March 1999 in protest of the sanctions, recently expressed his outrage: “Is the death of a person…as a result of hunger and disease any different than the death of a child or an adult because of war and bombs?” Well, is it?

In 1996, when asked on national television if half a million dead children as a result of sanctions against Iraq is justified, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright answered, “We think the price is worth it.” (“60 Minutes,” 5/12/96.)

Last month the Bush administration flexed its muscles in the Gulf, bombing Iraq. At first, politicians and their lackeys clamored to claim it was an act of “self-defense” in “protection” of the so-called “no-fly” zone (an area through which only Iraqis cannot fly—Turkish planes zoom through unmolested on missions to bomb Kurds in southern Turkey), and implied that the Iraqis were firing on American war planes (as if the need for Iraqi self-defense weren’t real), which was not the case. Then the Pentagon disclosed that apparently the Iraqis had developed better radars that could possibly detect American bombers (oh no—having a heads-up on impending bombs is against the rules!). “Senior Senator” Chuck Schumer huffed that the only way to deal with a “playground bully” was by force. Well, who is the bully here?

Since President Clinton took office in 1993, the U.S. (with negligible assistance from the U.K.) has regularly bombed Iraq, on average, every other day. Most Iraqis wonder daily whether they will be bombed. One Pentagon official has complained that there’s nothing left to bomb—they’re down to the “last outhouse.” This last show of muscle was, in fact, the fourth bombing of Iraq to take place since W. took office. The only difference was that this one required permission from our Chief Executive Officer, because, technically, it was an act of war. But then, when has America ever fussed over technicalities when it came to our own behavior? Details, details…

Yet, we continue to brutally punish the entire population of a country because their president won’t comply with “technicalities” that the U.S. dictates via inspections for weapons of mass destruction and the technology for their creation. Two separate international teams have determined that Iraq is not capable of generating such weaponry and is effectively disarmed; but, definitions of “compliance” change as compliance becomes more of a possibility. The U.S. government has even acknowledged that members of the UN inspection committee supplied information to the U.S. military, making their choice of effective targets so much easier. But when Iraq threw out a group that was compromising its national security, the U.S. conjured up the “boogey man” and claimed the Iraqis were hiding weapons of mass destruction. Did you ever play a game with a bully who yelled “Time Out!” every time he or she was about to lose? Changing the rules to benefit yourself is a universal definition of a playground bully. How long can this charade go on and at what cost?

Who Let the Bully Out?
If we hold a people fully responsible for the actions of their leader, the world will do the same to us, and the responsibility will land on the heads and hearts of average Americans, no doubt. Right now, 22 million Iraqis are being punished—essentially by the U.S.—apparently for the actions of Saddam Hussein. It’s no wonder the Iraqis rally behind him. The U.S. president is seen by many in the world as a murderous despot—not as an advocate of freedom. Leaders who stand up to the world’s hyperpower are seen by their populace as courageous—even if they themselves are murderous despots. Think about it: an entire generation of Iraqis is growing up who know nothing except American tyranny, the primary culprit for their poverty, high death rate, poor health and hunger, and, ultimately, for the denial of their childhood and national pride.

There is a reason why the U.S. will not ratify the pact to establish the International Criminal Court, which would try individuals accused of mass murders, war crimes and other gross human rights violations. Since we are the most powerful and aggressive of nations, we define who is a “war criminal” and what acts are “terrorism.” But as the Alpha Male, these definitions cannot and will not be applied to ourselves, or to any of our friends. Currently, the UN establishes war crimes tribunals with the authority to investigate crimes related to a specific area, such as Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Thus, it is to our advantage not to have a global court that could potentially try U.S. leaders or soldiers for war crimes. Can you imagine the outrage and indignation Americans would feel if “George Herbert Walker Bush” and “William Jefferson Clinton” appeared alongside the names Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic on the list of indicted war criminals still at-large? As a citizen, I can’t be expected to personally answer for Bill’s sexual foibles or for Daddy and Baby Bush’s acts of terror. Why, then, should the Iraqi people suffer for Saddam’s brutality?

It is an explicit violation of the UN Charter to deliberately destroy facilities essential to civilian life, such as electricity-generating power plants, communication systems, reservoirs, and water-purifying and sanitation centers. Thus, the systematic decimation of the Iraqi power grid and clean water and sewage systems are war crimes. It is considered a war crime to purposefully destroy civilian economic targets, such as textile factories and oil refineries. It is also a war crime to bomb indiscriminately, not to distinguish between civilians and soldiers. We did all this and more during the Gulf War, and continue to do so to this day.

On top of this, the U.S., under the guise of the UN, exacerbates the damage by blocking the ability to repair power, water and communications infrastructures by determining lists of items considered to have “dual natures”—meaning, they could potentially be used for the creation of weapons of mass destruction—that cannot be imported into Iraq. These include: bleach, cleaning detergents, paper, pencils, water pumps, artificial respirators, heart machines, air-conditioned vehicles such as ambulances, piping for sewage and water systems, reeds for clarinets and violin strings, computer equipment, and a host of other things. Most hospital floors stink of gasoline because they don’t have access to other cleaning agents.

Before the Gulf War and the cruel decade-long regime of sanctions, the most important problem facing Iraqi pediatricians was childhood obesity, and the average Iraqi enjoyed a quality of life similar to that of most Greeks. Now Iraq has a child mortality rate worse than that of the Sudan, poverty has skyrocketed and the quality of life has plunged. With the deaths of 5,000 children each month—mostly from treatable illnesses such as diarrhea, malnutrition, gastro-intestinal inflammations, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes—on our consciences, we’ve got to ask ourselves: who is the one engaging weapons of mass destruction here? How on earth can such “collateral damage” be justified in the name of democracy; in the name of the American people? Von Sponeck’s question haunts my conscience: “Is the death of a person…as a result of hunger and disease any different than the death of a child or an adult because of war and bombs?” Effectively, there is no difference. I imagine that if they really knew what was going on, most Americans would be appalled.

Catherine Clyne

An excellent source of information is: Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War, edited by Anthony Arnove, available from South End Press.


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