P-I is wrong on Iraqi sanctions

Thursday, June 21, 2001


One of the Post-Intelligencer's June 14 editorial conclusions on the Iraqi sanctions is well-supported: The present "oil-for-food" sanctions are not working.

Unfortunately, you do not ask the important next question: Will the revised sanctions program proposed by Great Britain offer real amelioration of the civilian suffering in Iraq?

In the expert opinions of those who have administered or studied the United Nations' programs, the proposed revisions are not the new approach that is sorely needed. Rather, they would merely tinker ineffectually with a failed and terribly costly mechanism. [To quote The Economist, "the new British proposal is an aspirin where surgery is called for."]**

The reality on the ground in Iraq is not contested. Thousands of innocent children and adult civilians die every month as a direct result of the 1991 bombing of civilian infrastructure: sewage treatment plants, electrical generating plants, water purification facilities. Allied bombing targets included eight multipurpose dams, repeatedly hit, which simultaneously wrecked flood control, municipal and industrial water storage, irrigation and hydroelectric power. [Four of seven major pumping stations were destroyed, as were 31 municipal water and sewerage facilities. Water purification plants were incapacitated throughout Iraq. We did this for "long term leverage." These military decisions were sanctioned by then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney.]

In May 1996, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reaffirmed that the "price" of 500,000 dead Iraqi children was "worth it."

The resulting devastation frequently has been confirmed. A physician study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1992 concluded that the Gulf War and trade sanctions caused a threefold increase in mortality among Iraqi children under 5, estimating 1991 deaths alone at approximately 50,000 children. Those numbers have become a numbing yearly reality. A report released by UNICEF in December 2000 substantiates the dramatic increase in child mortality in the past decade. The same agency reports that 50,000 children continue to die every year. [These people are dying because of bad water, inadequate diets, broken down hospital care, and a collapsed system.]

Article 54 of the Geneva Convention states: "It is prohibited to attack, destroy or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population" and includes foodstuffs, livestock and "drinking water supplies and irrigation works."

Tittle 18 U.S. Code Section 2331 defines international terrorism as acts dangerous to human life that would violate our criminal laws if done in the United States when those acts are intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.

We prosecuted Timothy McVeigh for blowing up a civilian "target" to strike at the federal government and were appalled by his description of the resulting deaths as "collateral damage." Yet our own destruction of the means for Iraqis to obtain clean drinking water and medical treatment is described as a legitimate, if painful, way to strike at Saddam Hussein. That he has collaborated in this terrorism does not reduce our responsibility for the bankruptcy of our policies to date.

Even if we could set aside the law and the humanitarian crisis, our campaign has been a failure in political terms. Saddam continues in power as his people suffer and the United States is effectively blamed throughout much of the world for their privations. Changes in the way cumbersome lists work to allow more civilian goods into Iraq will not change that perception. Our response, the so-called "food-for-oil" program, has been a stunning failure.

Denis Halliday, the original administrator of the program, gave up a 34-year career when he resigned. He describes the program as keeping many Iraqi people alive in "famine conditions." He has candidly called it genocide because "it is an intentional program to destroy a culture, a people, a country." H.C. Graf Sponeck, successor administrator of the program, also resigned in protest. A diplomat as fundamentally conservative as Scott Ritter, former head of UNSCOM in Iraq, resigned in protest and has been moved to speak out against sanctions as nothing less than a crime against humanity.

The proposed revised sanctions policies will contain many of the same flaws pointed out by these officials: complicated schedules of prohibited "dual-use" technology, political and bureaucratic delays and judgment calls, differing political goals set for the program itself. Presently, 30 percent of oil-for-food revenues goes to "reparations," including $16 billion to British Petroleum.

Most important, none of these plans addresses the critical need to rebuild and support a civilian infrastructure and Iraq's need to access revenues for legitimate national needs: to rebuild sanitation and water supply facilities, pay doctors or keep schools open.

[The UN's own report from a panel tasked to examine the humanitarian needs of Iraq stated in 1999 that the crisis would continued to be dire "in the absence of a sustained revival of the Iraq economy." That revival would require an estimated $100Billion for essential infrastructure repairs.]

We need a proposal that returns to the original goals of sanctions, offering Saddam a clear choice: Allow the United Nations to verify an embargo on military goods by means of border and airport inspections. In return, end all sanctions on trade of civilian goods.

This is the heart of a proposal endorsed by 70 members of Congress more than a year ago. They urged President Clinton to "de-link economic sanctions from the military sanctions currently in place against Iraq." They recognized that current policy "makes the children and families of Iraq into virtual hostages in the political deadlock between the U.S. and the government of Iraq."

I hope we will all consider the conclusion of these members of Congress and urge it on political leaders:

"The time has come to turn a new page in our dealings with Iraq. While we have no illusions about the brutality of Saddam, the people of Iraq should be allowed to restore their economic system. We simply ask you to do what is right: lift the economic sanctions. At the same time, we support the continued embargo on military equipment and materials."

Kate Pflaumer is former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington.

© 1998-2001 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

* From 1993 to 2001, Kate Pflaumer was in charge an office of 53 attorneys, as the chief U.S. federal attorney for the region of Western Washington.

** The sentences in brackets were in the op-ed as submitted to the paper, but were edited out by the Post-Intelliegencer for reasons of space.




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