Voices in the wilderness call for defying sanctions against Iraq

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Our Own Correspondent

Shawwal 14, 1419 1999-02-01

Occupied Arab World

by Our Own Correspondent (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 27, No. 23, Shawwal, 1419)

Killing Iraqi civilians, especially children, has become so routine that it hardly evokes a yawn in the western media. For those who consider this to be harsh judgement, just look at the media coverage of the latest outrage perpetrated by the US on January 25 when several missiles were fired into residential areas of Basra, the southern Iraqi city, killing 11 people, six of them women and children from one family.

Among US officials and law-makers, there is complete understanding that while they may disagree among themselves on policy matters, there is perfect unanimity when it comes to bombing civilians in Iraq. This comes into even sharper focus when viewed against the backdrop of the senate impeachment trial of US president Bill Clinton. Not one voice has been heard objecting to his decision to kill innocent Iraqi civilians despite questioning Clinton’s assertions on many other issues.

Far from impeaching him on the sex and perjury charges about which there is so much noise in the senate chambers and the media, a number of American professors have said Clinton’s crimes in bombing Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq are of a much higher magnitude. They have called for his impeachment on these charges where he is in clear violation of the 1973 War Powers Act. But then, the congressmen and congresswomen are one in this war of aggression and attrition against the Iraqi population, 1.5 million of whom have perished in the last eight years. As estimated 8,500 children continue to die every month from lack of medicines or due to starvation.

While on the official level, there are no dissenting voices against the genocidal policy imposed on Iraq, there are a number of American civilians who are appalled by this on-going human tragedy. A group calling itself Voices in the Wilderness (VIW)has shown not only compassion but also courage in challenging US policy. It has sent food, medicines and toys to Iraq over the last three years.

The brainchild of Kathy Kelly, a Chicago native, and Rick McDowell, the group’s members have on several occasions, visited Baghdad with these items in defiance of US law. Kathy Kelly in fact returned to the US on December 30, 1998, having spent several weeks in Iraq including the four days from December 16-19 when the country was subjected to 425 cruise missiles and hundreds of bombs dropped from American and British aircraft.

The US justice department has imposed fines totalling about US$130,000 on members of Voices in the Wilderness for violating what it calls regulations of the Office for Foreign Export Control (OFEC). This office, under the justice department, is charged with granting licenses to groups wishing to export humanitarian aid to other countries. In reality, such permission is rarely granted if the recipient country is designated as ‘enemy’ by the US government.

Voices in the Wilderness refuses, as a matter of principle, to apply for a license. Father Thomas Gumbleton of the Archdiocese of Detroit explained at a press conference in Washington DC on December 31 that to have applied to the OFEC would have meant confering legitimacy on an immoral policy of the US government. He said that the group deliberately chose not to apply for such permission as part of a campaign of peaceful civil disobedience.

Father Gumbelton has visited Iraq three times, and had returned only two weeks earlier, when he spoke at the Washington press conference. Kathy Kelly, another member of the group, had returned only the night before and was also a participant at the conference as were two others, Rick McDowell, a co-coordinator of Voices in the Wilderness, and Dr Simon Harak, professor of Ethics at Fairfield College in Connecticut. A number of other members of the group, whom McDowell described as ‘co-cospirators,’ for violating the US ban on shipping humanitarian aid to Iraq, also appeared at the Washington press conference.

When asked by the media about Saddam Husain’s manufacture and storage of weapons of mass destruction, Kathy Kelly shot back. While she readily accepted that Iraq might be hiding some of these weapons, she asked, what right did the US have when it was guilty of far worse things. She pointed out that the US has stockpiled tonnes of these lethal weapons.

Father Gumbleton and professor Harak added that the US not supplied these weapons to Iraq in the eighties to use against Iran but that the US itself has used such weapons--nuclear bombs--against Japan in the second world war, and chemical weapons against Vietnam in the sixties and early seventies. They both condemned US hyprocrisy, emphasising that in any case, there was no justification for holding Iraqi civilians, especially children hostage over this issue.

The courageous stand taken by these individuals and others--professor Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois at Urbana, professor Noam Chomsky of MIT and Ramsey Clark, the former attorney general of the US--would put many Muslims to shame. Instead of rushing to attend Eid parties at the white house and trying to ingratiate themselves to wicked American officials and their criminal policies, Muslims ought to join such people who would challenge and expose the US’s anti-human policies.

Muslimedia: Feb.1-15, 1999

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