Three recent graduates of UCSB were among over 100 people who risked 12 years in prison by delivering $1.5 million worth of much-needed medicine to the people of Iraq. The delivery was an act of civil disobedience in defiance of genocidal U.S.-led U.N. economic sanctions and continued bombing. This incident causes us to reflect on the disastrous U.S. policy toward Iraq.
This month marks the 10-year anniversary of the Gulf War. The war has not stopped. The continued sanctions and bombing have put a choke-hold on the Iraqi people, killing over 1.6 million, over half of which are children under five years old.
The Gulf War was a slaughter in which innocent civilians were the most victimized. One hundred thousand Iraqis lost their lives, while the U.S. lost 100. While the U.S. claimed to target just military targets, scores of obliterated hospitals, schools and water treatment plants suggest otherwise. The American government bombed Iraq’s largest powdered milk factory, claiming the building contained chemical weapons. In the rubble, nothing was found but powdered milk. Mothers are now forced to give their babies untreated water (since most water treatment plants were bombed), causing chronic diarrhea and vomiting among young children. Sickness related to untreated water is the leading cause of death among the 5,000 Iraqi children that die each month.
The U.S. government has never disputed these numbers. In 1996, Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” asked Madeleine Albright point blank, “We have heard half a million children have died. That’s more children than died in Hiroshima. Is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “I think it is a very hard choice. But the price, we think the price is worth it.” I don’t know how she can live with herself, but such callousness is nothing new among U.S. political leaders, particularly when protecting and defending U.S. political and economic hegemony.
The government and the media would have us believe that Saddam Hussein is the sole cause for the sanctions, because we think he has “weapons of destruction.” He may have. But if we started slapping sanctions on every country with the potential for weapons of mass destruction, we would have no countries with which to trade, or workers to exploit. Besides, it is the U.S. that is the biggest threat when it comes to using weapons of mass destruction. We have used them on people in Panama, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Grenada, Puerto Rico and more recently, Yugoslavia, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq. No country has used weapons of mass destruction more frequently and against more countries than the U.S. Furthermore, radiation from depleted uranium shells have been found in Yugoslavia and Iraq, resulting in unknown diseases and cancer for civilians and military personnel.
Even if the Pentagon truly seeks to oust Hussein, the sanctions are working against it. Saddam remains in power and the life is being sucked out of the Iraqi people. Before the sanctions, Iraq was a rich country with some of the best education and healthcare systems in the world. If anything, the fact that the U.S. is starving out the population simply because we do not like its leader, has resulted in anger toward the U.S., both in Iraq and around the world.
Support for the sanctions is deteriorating. The French and Italian governments have called for an immediate end to the sanctions, and many other European countries are applying pressure as well. The movement in the U.S. is growing, but when the same corporations that profit from the sanctions and the bombing control our newspapers and televisions, accurate information is hard to find.
With the Shrub administration coming in with promises to uphold and intensify the sanctions, we have no choice but to engage in civil disobedience, and support those who do. The delegation that just went to Iraq was not only people breaking the sanctions in order to bring much needed medical supplies to the people. They were sending a very important message. Sanctions, as a foreign policy tool to protect U.S. political and corporate interests, are immoral and must be stopped immediately. We must no longer accept that the U.S. is spending $60 billion a year (yes, that is our taxpayer money) to uphold the sanctions, while thousands of children die each month in our name.
Harley Augustino is a recent UCSB graduate and Isla Vista resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.