In 2002, the U.S. government fined a retired American engineer, Bert Sacks, $10,000 for traveling to Iraq to bring medicines with the humanitarian groups Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility and Voices in the Wilderness.
At a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., at 1 p.m. on Tuesday (the 16th anniversary of the beginning of the Gulf War), Sacks will discuss his recently filed petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to take up his case.
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Sacks’s most recent article is “Challenge to the Supreme Court: Can the U.S. Kill Iraqi Children Legally?” He said today: “In 1997, I traveled to Iraq to deliver medicine to desperately needy civilians. In response, the U.S. government fined me $10,000. I announced I’d refuse to pay the fine. Several Seattle attorneys offered pro bono support. Our case began in district court and then to appeals court.
“Despite widespread notions to the contrary, it was not hard to show that U.S. policies lethally targeted civilians, using famine and epidemic as tools of coercion, violating international law.
“But the courts declined to invalidate the U.S. embargo. According to the trial court, provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child didn’t count because the U.S. (along with Somalia) hasn’t ratified it. The Geneva Convention is not ‘self-executing’ so it doesn’t help me. … Finally, the court ruled, if Congress wants to violate customary international law it may do so and the U.S. courts are powerless to stop it.
“I hope the Supreme Court will decide otherwise. The issue is simple: There are certain norms of international behavior — often called ‘jus cogens’ — that are so fundamental to the rule of law that no nation may violate them. Genocide, wars of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity are among them. So is the killing of 500,000 children to coerce a foreign government.”
Halliday is a former assistant secretary general of the United Nations and headed the UN “oil-for-food” program until resigning in protest over the continued sanctions on Iraq. He will introduce Sacks at the news conference Tuesday. Halliday said today: “Bert Sacks, of Seattle and before that of Israel and the [U.S.] East Coast, in his quiet and courageous manner, persistently struggled in the 1990s and into this century to reach out to the children of Iraq being killed by U.S./U.K.-driven sanctions. He carried medicines to Iraq, thereby undermining the genocidal impact of those sanctions so eagerly sustained by Washington. This quiet American is the kind of American hero that this country should want to be remembered for. … Bert Sacks will represent before the Supreme Court the very best the U.S. has to offer. Let us hope that in their combined wisdom, [the justices] can recognize his vision of what this country could be.”
Peck, a former U.S. chief of mission in Iraq and ambassador to Mauritania, was deputy director of the White House Task Force on Terrorism in the Reagan administration. He said today: “We should be aware of the punishment inflicted on Iraq by our 1991 aerial destruction of the electrical power grid, combined with the U.S.-urged, UN-imposed total embargo on imports.
“Sewage treatment and water purification plants became inoperative, imports of the chlorine needed for both processes were blocked, and water supplies became seriously contaminated. This led to the deaths of over 500,000 children before the beginning of the UN’s oil-for-food (and medicine) program, a crime defended by then-UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright on American TV, aired thousands of times overseas, as being ‘worth it.’
“In a commendable act of conscience, at his own expense, Mr. Bert Sacks took a small quantity of donated medicines to Iraqi hospitals. Our government rewarded his selfless act with a fine of $10,000. He responded that if America was prepared to punish him for trying to save the lives of children, he was prepared to resist, and has petitioned the Supreme Court to consider the case.
“Bert Sacks’s story deserves to be told on its own considerable merits, and also to help us understand why perceptions others have of America, especially but not only in Iraq, may not be exactly the same as ours.”
A noted historian, Zinn is the author of many books including the just-published A Power Governments Cannot Suppress. He said today: “The prosecution of Bert Sacks is perhaps the greatest indictment of U.S. policy as it makes clear the contrast between his persecuted humanitarian effort and the government’s militarism. This is exactly what Martin Luther King spoke against when he opposed the bombing of Vietnam.”
A profile of Bert Sacks from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is at Common Dreams.
Sacks’s letter to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control regarding his fine, with legal in informational enclosures is here.
For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167