News Release Archive - 2003

Text of Statement by Sean Penn At News Conference in Baghdad

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The actor and director Sean Penn made the following statement at a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday afternoon:

I am a citizen of the United States of America. I believe in the Constitution of the United States, and the American people. Ours is a government designed to function “of”-“by”-and-“for” the people. I am one of those people, and a privileged one.

I am privileged in particular to raise my children in a country of high standards in health, welfare, and safety. I am also privileged to have lived a life under our Constitution that has allowed me to dream and prosper. In response to these privileges I feel, both as an American and as a human being, the obligation to accept some level of personal accountability for the policies of my government, both those I support and any that I may not. Simply put, if there is a war or continued sanctions against Iraq, the blood of Americans and Iraqis alike will be on our hands.

My trip here is to personally record the human face of the Iraqi people so that their blood — along with that of American soldiers — would not be invisible on my own hands. I sit with you here today in the hopes that any of us present may contribute in any way to a peaceful resolution to the conflict at hand.

I thank Norman Solomon and the Institute for Public Accuracy for facilitating my visit.

Sean Penn
December 15, 2002

Interviews Available: Bush vs. International Law?

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“International law? I better call my lawyer; he didn’t bring that up to me.”
— George W. Bush, responding yesterday to a question about U.S. policy in Iraq violating international law

BENJAMIN FERENCZ
Ferencz was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials for Nazi war crimes after World War II and is available for a limited number of interviews. He said today: “It’s a sad commentary when the president of the United States has apparently no knowledge or concern for international law. We said at Nuremberg that we would be bound by laws — that they would apply equally to all. But it’s a violation of international law to go to war without the approval of the [U.N.] Security Council when you are not under armed attack. The U.S. has violated that in its attack on Iraq, as well as other times. The Bush administration has repudiated the International Criminal Court, when over 90 nations want to carry on the legacy of the Nuremberg tribunals, but the administration is trying to cripple it in its cradle.”
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BONNIE DOCHERTY
Docherty is a researcher in the arms division at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the just-released report “Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq,” which examines the actions of U.S., British and Iraqi militaries in Iraq. Docherty said today: “Cluster bombs used by the U.S. killed or wounded more than 1,000 civilians in Iraq. This raises serious concerns under international law.”
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JODY WILLIAMS
Williams is the 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate for her work on the Mine Ban Treaty, which now has 141 states as parties and an additional nine signatories, but not the United States. She said today: “The U.S. military dropped 1.8 million cluster bomblets in Iraq. Most of course have exploded, but with a failure rate of some 5-10 percent too many duds remain active. They are more difficult to deal with in some ways than landmines and often much more lethal…. Mr. Bush’s sarcastic comments about international law yesterday when discussing barring some countries from bidding for U.S. reconstruction contracts for Iraq exemplified the administration’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach to diplomacy. It’s particularly curious when he has just dispatched James Baker to try to get other countries to forgive Iraq’s debt that Bush would make a move to further alienate other countries. We’ve got to understand that there are 191 countries in the world, not just one.”
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ROGER NORMAND
Normand is executive director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights and co-author of the report “Tearing Up the Rules: The Illegality of Invading Iraq.” He said today: “By expressing contempt for international law, President Bush is simply confirming a policy of dismantling the post World War II legal order so that the United States can exercise a new and open form of imperial rule unconstrained by recognized principles of justice.”

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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Controversial “Enola Gay” Exhibit: Interviews Available

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SAYURI MIYAZAKI
PAT ELDER
Miyazaki and Elder will accompany Japanese survivors of the atomic bomb [Hibakusha] as they deliver signatures on a global petition to the Smithsonian Museum. The petition states: “The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has announced that it has completely restored the B-29 bomber Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima…. The public display devotes a great deal to the performance characteristics and the like of the Enola Gay, but is said to restrict itself to a brief reference to the dropping of the atomic bomb…. Of the 140,000 people estimated to have died in Hiroshima within that year, 65 percent were women, children and elderly people…. Deep wounds and radiation-induced handicaps … continue to afflict victims…. We request that you also exhibit photographs and materials showing the damage inflicted by the atomic bomb that was dropped from this airplane.” The petition will be delivered following a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington on Friday, December 12 at 9:00 a.m.
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TERUMI TANAKA, HIROTAMI YAMADA, MINORU NISHINO, TAMIKO TOMONAGA [via John Steinbach],
Tanaka is the president of HIDANKYO, the national organization of atom bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yamada, Nishino and Tomonaga are members of the delegation of atom bomb survivors.

GAR ALPEROVITZ
Alperovitz is the author of “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.” He said today: “The use of the atomic bomb, most experts now believe, was totally unnecessary. Even people who support the decision for various reasons acknowledge that almost certainly the Japanese would have surrendered before the initial invasion planned for November [1945]…. As the criticism [of the bomb] grew, there was an organized, semi-official response to put it [the criticism] down. The argument was that the bomb was the least abhorrent choice we had available. The documents available show that isn’t true — but it was an extraordinarily successful propaganda effort…. One of the lessons from Hiroshima is how terribly small the group of people was who made decisions that had incredible world-shaking implications….[Another] is the way information can be manipulated so that for 50 years a whole society is taught to believe a myth.”
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PETER KUZNICK

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PETER KUZNICK
Kuznick is a professor at the Nuclear Studies Institute at the American University and an organizer of the upcoming “Hiroshima in the 21st Century: Will We Repeat the Past?” conference [Saturday, December 13]. He said today: “We are not opposed to exhibiting the Enola Gay, we welcome any exhibition that will spur an honest and balanced discussion of the atomic bombings of 1945 and of current U.S. nuclear policy. Our greatest concern is that the disturbing issues raised by the atomic bombings in 1945 will not be addressed in the planned exhibit and that President Truman’s use of atomic weapons will legitimize the Bush administration’s current effort to lower the threshold for future use of nuclear weapons.”
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PHIL WHEATON
Wheaton, an Episcopal priest, will co-host the inter-faith/secular witness liturgy, “Remembrance, Repentance and Re-Commitment,” honoring [Hibakusha] nuclear radiation survivors on Sunday, December 14 at 3 p.m., at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, two blocks east of the White House.
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Unspinning Today’s Unemployment Numbers

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HEATHER BOUSHEY
An economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Boushey said this afternoon: “Payroll employment grew by only 57,000 jobs in November and unemployment fell to 5.9 percent. November’s employment is still 235,000 jobs fewer than last year, even though the economy has added 328,000 jobs since July. While there are some positive indicators, the overall employment picture is much weaker than is typical during a recovery. November’s job growth is much lower than the previous two months, indicating that the labor market is not picking up. Manufacturing continued to shed jobs, losing 17,000 last month, although the rate of job loss is slowing…. Nominal wage growth has virtually stopped; the average hourly wage is up by only $.01 since August. The 0.8 percent annual rate of growth for the quarter is far less than the rate of inflation.” CEPR produces “Jobs Byte,” published each month upon release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment report.
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LAWRENCE MISHEL, [via Karen Conner]
President of the Economic Policy Institute, Mishel said this afternoon: “The number of new jobs is far below the administration’s promise of 306,000 new jobs each month as a result of the recent tax cut. The plan the president declared a success is now 1.25 million jobs short of administration projections of jobs that would be created through the so-called Jobs and Growth Plan implemented in June…. We need 150,000 jobs per month just to maintain unemployment at the current level and to keep up with the population entering the workforce, and we haven’t seen that amount of growth in more than two and a half years. The president leads another economic event today near Baltimore, even though Marylanders lost 21,500 jobs since the administration’s plan took effect. If the president’s plan had worked as the administration said it would, Maryland should have gained 25,400 jobs.”
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NAA AKO-ADJEI
Community organizer with Progressive Maryland, which recently conducted a successful “living wage” campaign, Ako-Adjei said this afternoon: “The significant loss of jobs in Maryland shows that President Bush’s economic plan only benefits the wealthiest in society and is harmful to working families.”
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HELEN GINSBERG
Co-director of publications for the National Jobs for All Coalition and professor emeritus of economics at Brooklyn College, Ginsberg said today: “There is systemic undercounting in the unemployment numbers. People who are under-employed, even if they are just working an hour a week, are not counted as ‘unemployed.’ Also, we know from other data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that millions of people want a job but have not actively looked for one in the last month — they are discouraged, think they cannot find anything. These people, similarly, are not counted in the ‘unemployment’ numbers which are widely reported.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Nuclear Weapons Push

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GREG MELLO
Director of the Los Alamos Study Group, Mello said today: “The Energy and Water Appropriations Bill signed by President George W. Bush yesterday is a milestone in the further nuclearization of U.S. foreign policy. The weapons to be developed are explicitly for potential use against targets in many countries, not just one or two. The fact that these weapons would add little military utility while generating large ‘collateral damage’ — medical, political, legal, and moral — suggests that they are being driven more by institutional and ideological ‘push’ than any military ‘pull.’ … It is unlikely that the drive for new nukes can be stopped unless Democrats and arms controllers are willing to rethink their support and legitimation of the other 99.9 percent of Department of Energy and Department of Defense nuclear weapons programs.”
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JOHN BURROUGHS
Burroughs is the executive director of the New York-based Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy and co-editor of “Rule of Power or Rule of Law? An Assessment of U.S. Policies and Actions Regarding Security-Related Treaties.” He said today: “The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — the same agreement the U.S. insists that North Korea and Iran respect by submitting to international inspections — requires elimination of existing arsenals through good-faith negotiation. At the UN General Assembly this fall, the U.S. voted against resolutions calling for compliance with the program for transparent, irreversible and verified reduction and elimination of nuclear forces to which it agreed at the 2000 NPT review conference.”
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JACQUELINE CABASSO
Executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, Cabasso said today: “If the world’s only remaining superpower feels that it must threaten the first use of nuclear weapons to ensure its ‘national security,’ why shouldn’t we expect other countries to follow suit? As responsible global citizens, we must insist on a more sustainable concept of universal ‘human security.’ Nuclear weapons have no place in this new security paradigm.”
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LLOYD J. DUMAS
Dumas is the author of “Lethal Arrogance: Human Fallibility and Dangerous Technologies” and is a professor of political economy at the University of Texas at Dallas. He said today: “By signing a bill that allocates nearly $40 million for research on new nuclear weapons and readying the Nevada nuclear test site for quicker reactivation, the administration has found yet another way to weaken American security, while claiming to strengthen it…. Building these weapons can only undercut diplomatic efforts to prevent other nations from building their own. And the idea that we can protect ourselves against proliferation with nuclear ‘bunker-busters’ by going around the world blowing up underground storage sites that our intelligence reports claim contain weapons of mass destruction is too ludicrous for words. Have we learned nothing from Iraq?”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

U.S. Military Families in Iraq

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Relatives of U.S. military personnel stationed in Iraq are currently in Baghdad. They are meeting with members of the Governing Council and ordinary Iraqis, as well as with U.S. soldiers including their loved ones stationed in Iraq.

Today they expressed surprise at the dire conditions of schools and hospitals that they have visited. They also report that many Iraqis they encounter want direct elections.

In the United States, media can contact: Andrea Buffa [andrea@globalexchange.org] and Victoria Cunningham [victoria@codepinkalert.org]. They are in touch with members of the delegation and can arrange interviews upon their return to the U.S. after December 8.

Family members of U.S. military personnel currently in Iraq include:

* MICHAEL McPHEARSON
McPhearson, who has a son in the military, said: “Both George Bush and Hillary Clinton have a hidden agenda. They are both using their trips to Iraq to better position their political parties in the upcoming elections. The only agenda of our delegation is to uncover the truth.”
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* FERNANDO SUAREZ DEL SOLAR
Fernando Suarez del Solar, whose son Jesus was a Marine who died in combat in Iraq, said: “Our mission is not photo ops. Our mission is talking to ordinary Iraqis and U.S. troops, figuring out why things have gone so terribly wrong and what we can do to stop the violence and bring the troops home.” He is also bringing thousands of letters of peace from children in the United States to children in Iraq, as well as medical supplies for hospitals.
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* ANABELLE VALENCIA
Valencia, a military mother and school teacher traveling with the delegation, said: “I want to see my son and daughter and talk to the other troops. I want to talk to the Iraqi people, especially the women. And I want to talk to the U.S. authorities and ask them when they are going to send our troops home and allow the Iraqis to run their own country.”
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* MIKE LOPERCIO
A businessman from Tempe, Arizona, whose son is stationed in Iraq, Lopercio said: “I want to ask Iraqis how they feel about our presence and if they understand and agree with our objectives. I want to find out if the current attacks on our troops are acts of a small minority or supported by most of the population.”;
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Relatives of U.S. Soldiers in Iraq Decry Bush’s “Photo Opportunity”

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FERNANDO SUAREZ DEL SOLAR
Fernando Suarez del Solar (whose primary language is Spanish) is the father of Jesus Alberto Suarez del Solar Navarro, who died in Iraq on March 27. He will be leaving on a delegation for Iraq this Saturday and is available for a limited number of interviews. He said today: “Bush goes and looks like he loves the troops with his posturing. We will be going to Iraq and speak with people in the streets, with the Iraqis and with the troops to try to find out what is happening…. Bush says he wants to make a transition of power to Iraqis, and then says he might send more troops.”

JERI REED
Reed’s son has been in Iraq since March. She is a history PhD candidate at the University of Oklahoma and a member of Military Families Speak Out. She said today: “It was obviously a big publicity ploy…. These types of events are all orchestrated. Many of the soldiers are just as angry as we are. While the ceremony was going on, a U.S. convoy was attacked. Bush is awfully gallant with our kids’ lives. He took a long trip over there and only spent two and a half hours. It’s apparent to him that it’s not safe there. He’s saying that we’re going to stay no matter what they do to us — well they’re not doing anything to him. We don’t need him going there, we need to bring the troops back here.”
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JARI SHEESE
Sheese owns a small business in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her husband is stationed in Iraq. She said today: “My husband has been away from home for 308 days now. I guess I have 200 more if the latest orders don’t get changed again. I don’t really count down since my husband was only supposed to be gone for 179 days. Today I counted to just see how that compared to the few hours George Bush spent in Iraq, how that compared with the time he spent away from his family. In the end, it just seemed like a photo opportunity that will be used for his election next year. It makes me wonder what else he has up his sleeve…. So for now, all I have is one more day that I didn’t get a knock at my door by some soldiers in uniform. That is what I am thankful for this day — no thanks to George Bush.”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

* Death Penalty * AARP’s Financial Interests * Buy Nothing Day

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BRYAN STEVENSON
Executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama, Stevenson said today: “The legitimacy of the death penalty in the United States has been so undermined — by inadequate legal services to the poor, unreliable administration of criminal justice and political exploitation by elected officials trying to prove they’re tough — that it cannot be appropriately applied to anyone, including John Muhammed. We have already learned that many of the 3,600 people on death row in the U.S. are innocent, many have been wrongly or unfairly sentenced, many have been treated differently because of racial bias and most wouldn’t be on death row if they could have obtained adequate legal assistance. The death penalty in the U.S. is not about whether someone convicted of murder deserves the punishment, but rather about whether a society that can’t provide equal justice to the poor, the disadvantaged and the disfavored deserves the right to kill its citizens.”
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CONOR KENNY
Legislative assistant at Public Citizen, Kenny said today: “Our analysis suggests that there were strong financial incentives for AARP to support the Republican-drafted Medicare prescription drug bill, because the organization is likely to realize significant profits from the programs to be established by the legislation…. While AARP might be considered primarily a membership organization, it has in many ways become a business — one that derives approximately 60 percent of its revenues from a variety of insurance-related ventures, and only 29 percent of its revenues from membership dues…. AARP’s royalty income from health insurance policies amounted to $107.8 million in 2002, or 17 percent of its operating revenues. A large portion of this royalty income was derived from insurance policies administered by the UnitedHealth Group, one of the largest managed care companies in the country. Such health plans are a central feature of the Medicare drug bill…. AARP’s investment income from insurance products totaled $26.7 million in 2002, or 4.2 percent of income. This would dramatically increase if many more health premiums get written as a result of the legislation, which is likely.”
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KALLE LASN, KIMBERLY BUSCHERT
Lasn is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Adbusters magazine; Buschert is the Buy Nothing Day media representative. They said today: “November 28, 2003 is the 12th annual International Buy Nothing Day — a day when over a million people in over 55 countries bypass the cash register, kick back and relax … or they dash out to the streets and kick up a fuss about the joy of living free from the tether of excessive consumerism. Buy Nothing Day (the day after U.S. Thanksgiving) marks the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. It’s a day to remind ourselves that, as a group, North Americans are the most voracious consumers in the world.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

* Bogus Benefits? * Medicare’s Death Spiral? * AARP Betrayal?

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GAIL SHEARER
Shearer is senior health policy analyst for Consumers Union and author of the just-released report “Medicare Prescription Drugs: Conference Committee Agreement Asks Beneficiaries to Pay Too High a Price for Modest Benefit.” Among the report’s findings:

* “The funds set aside for this ‘benefit’ — $400 billion over 10 years — cover just 22 percent of the anticipated drug costs, leaving consumers to foot the rest of the bill.”

* “Medicare is being moved down the road to privatization by requiring competition between private health plans and Medicare….”

* “Private Pharmacy Benefit Managers get to pick what drugs are covered under the plan, with no transparency, methodology or public accountability. This means patients who are sensitive to the choice of drug will be out of luck if their needed drug is not on the plan….”

* The deal “actually prohibits the government from negotiating deep prescription drug discounts for consumers, meaning the average Medicare beneficiary will pay more out-of-pocket for drugs in 2007 when the benefit begins, than what they currently pay now without the ‘benefit.'”

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DON McCANNE, M.D.,
President of Physicians for a National Health Program, Dr. McCanne said today: “As a stand-alone component, the prescription drug benefit fails miserably on its alleged purpose: making drugs affordable for seniors. It provides a blank check for pharmaceutical firms to continue to gouge seniors, and introduces the Pharmacy Benefit Manager middlemen who profit by taking away our choices in drug access. Worse, the legislation provides financial incentives for the healthy and wealthy to exit the traditional Medicare program and enroll in private PPO plans. This concentrates high-cost, chronically ill patients in the traditional program, driving up program costs. When forced to compete with the private HMOs, which will be subsidized, the higher costs will be shifted to Medicare beneficiaries in the form of unaffordable premiums. This ‘death spiral’ of ever-higher Medicare premiums will force patients into the private plan marketplace. To keep premiums affordable, the plans will strip out benefits and require unaffordable cost sharing. Then Medicare will no longer ensure either health security or financial security for our seniors.”
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JOHN HESS
Hess has written extensively on issues relating to the elderly. He said today: “Once again, the AARP has stabbed America’s elderly in the back. For more than 30 years now, it’s been held up as a scarecrow — a monster representing 35 million greedy geezers…. Briefly, the AARP is not a league of the elderly, but a marketing agency with a shady past. It peddles insurance, travel, advertising, and anything else it can get its hands on. It has a mailing list — not a membership — of 35 million customers. If you turn 50, they’ll try to get your name on it. It calls itself an ‘association’ and goes through the motions in an effort to dodge taxes and commercial mailing rates, and it’s been in constant trouble with the IRS and the Postal Service.” Hess recalled that the AARP similarly “sold out seniors with the Social Security cuts of ’78 and ’83 and the catastrophic medical scam of ’88.” Hess, a former New York Times reporter, has written the just-published book My Times: A Memoir of Dissent.
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Live, From Iraq

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The following people are available for interviews. Note that Baghdad is 8 hours ahead of Eastern Time.

JAMES JENNINGS
President of the humanitarian aid organization Conscience International and a longtime professor of Middle East and Islamic Studies, Jennings has worked extensively in Iraq. He last traveled to Iraq with Congressman Nick Rahall and former Senator James Abourezk in a trip sponsored by the Institute for Public Accuracy in mid-September. Now in Baghdad until Friday (Nov. 22), Jennings said today: “On his arrival here, chief weapons inspector Hans Blix raised two important points. First, Blix talked about the importance of the sanctions as an issue and how lifting them would move Iraq forward and that we should move toward that. Secondly, he raised the idea from one of the earlier UN resolutions, that in the Mideast there should be a zone free of weapons of mass destruction.” Jennings also noted: “A war now would destroy the limited progress that Iraq has been able to make in the wake of the war and sanctions, and so the issue is not just about arsenals, but is also about the ordinary people of Iraq and their welfare. Over the last three years, you can see an improvement here in Baghdad. Simply put, there are more cars and fewer beggars.”

KATHY KELLY, CLIFF KINDY, CYNTHIA BANAS
Kelly is co-coordinator of Voices in the Wilderness, a group opposed to the sanctions on Iraq. The organization has initiated the Iraq Peace Team, a group of activists working to prevent war. They currently include Cliff Kindy, a farmer from Indiana, and Cindy Banas, a retired librarian from New York state. Kelly said: “Yesterday, CNN offered a 3-D rendition of a street in Baghdad to illustrate how fighting in Baghdad might go. I realized that the street they were showing was the street I’m on — Abi Nawas Street. There’s the detail and the assurance of the war planning; but here in Baghdad, there’s the terrifying uncertainty of Iraqis not knowing what’s going to happen though it affects them greatly. There’s even a reluctance to follow the news as many Iraqis feel they owe it to their children to maintain some equilibrium.” Diaries of team members are available at the above web page.

BERT SACKS
Now in Washington state, Sacks is a retired engineer. He said today: “In late September, I traveled to Iraq with three U.S. Congressmen. We went to Basra where the greatest threat … comes from unsafe drinking water. We visited a diarrhea clinic and saw dozens of babies weakened from bouts with water-borne diseases. When we returned to Baghdad we saw the cause: the largest sewage treatment plant for Baghdad is in severe disrepair. There is a lack of electricity and spare parts — a result of the Gulf War bombing and economic sanctions.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167