Bert Sacks' reply to OFAC (June 17, 2002)
OFAC penalty notice (May 17, 2002)
Bert Sacks' reply to OFAC (December 28, 1998)
OFAC pre-penalty notice (December 3, 1998)
127 NW Bowdoin Pl., #103
Seattle, WA 98107
December 28, 1998
Office of Foreign Assets Control
Department of the Treasury
Washington, DC 20220
Dear Friends at the Office of Foreign Assets Control:
I hope that you'll accept my addressing you this way. I appreciate that you must see yourselves as doing your job to uphold US sanctions laws against Iraq, which I have violated. However I want to explain here, as I would to any personal friends of mine, why I have done this --- in addition to our main response letter which I've also signed.
You are correct to say in your prepenalty letter (12/3/98) that I brought "medical supplies and toys to Iraq" absent prior OFAC approval. We all recognize, I hope, that the $40,000 of medicines we brought to Iraq --- despite the lives it saved --- was essentially a symbolic act: it lasted the 22 million people of Iraq about 15 minutes, given their pre-sanctions needs of $1,000,000 of imported medicines per day. Further, we brought nothing towards the $10,000,000 of food imports Iraqis need per day. And we brought nothing towards the $22,000,000,000 of essential repairs for the life-supporting infrastructure needed to stop the water-borne epidemics in Iraq. These numbers long ago convinced me that the human crisis in Iraq cannot be solved by humanitarian aid --- but only by an end of economic sanctions.
The decision to turn to civil disobedience to end sanctions, in public defiance of the laws you are entrusted with enforcing, was not a natural one for me. I first spent two years of research, writing, and contacting people about the situation, but this failed to cast any significant public attention on the thousands of Iraqi children who were dying every month because of the bombed civilian infrastructure (unsafe drinking water) and sanctions (lack of food and medicines). In deciding to publicly violate sanctions, two events and two people played an important role for me.
The first is knowing that 150 years ago it was the highest law of the United States of America that runaway slaves from the South were legally "stolen property" of their owners. Anywhere in this country, an American was breaking the law to help such a slave escape via the "underground railroad." The people I greatly admire from this terrible era in our history were not law-abiding citizens, but those who broke the law to help slaves. They risked legal penalties and personal danger out of a conviction that slavery was wrong, and that helping slaves to escape was their obligation. I have come to feel a similar obligation to the Iraqi people, especially the children, who suffer and die from sanctions.
The second event influencing me is the deaths of millions of innocent civilians during WWII. I visited Auschwitz one year ago, just before my trip to Iraq. At both places over a million innocent civilians have died. I greatly admire the people who took personal risks to help Jews, against prevailing indifference and prejudice. I used to wonder, if I were a German Christian in that period, would I have the courage to help as some did. Professor Richard Falk of Princeton University is providing you with legal arguments about a citizens' obligations under international law in such cases. I am speaking about the human obligation to stop the Auschwitz of civilian deaths that have occurred in Iraq.
These two events are certainly not identical with events in Iraq, but the example of people motivated by high moral considerations to "break the law" has given me encouragement to do the same. Equally, the teachings of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King are inspirations to me. A third inspiration is Denis Halliday, the former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, who recently resigned in protest saying "Sanctions are starving to death 6,000 Iraqi infants every month." I include his closing statement from a speech at Harvard about what sanctions do.
Enclosures: conclusion of a speech by Denis Halliday; personal interview in the magazine "Common Ground."
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