Since 1995, I've been working on a campaign called Voices
in the Wilderness, a campaign to end United States and United Nations sanctions
When you try to look at why in the world there is so much tolerance for over half a million children under the age of five being killed as a direct result of U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq, it's madness. Why is there acceptance of the fact that 5,000 to 6,000 children under the age of five die Every Single Month? It seems to me that racism has to function in it. That there is a clear sense on the part of some very, very powerful people in our country, that the life of an Iraqi child, that the life of an Iraqi civilian, is worth far, far less than a U.S. person, a European-descended person!
And, certainly when the U.S. invaded its neighbors to the south, Panama and Grenada, there was never any U.N. movement to censure the U.S. The U.S. has thumbed its nose at U.N. mandates, such as when we blew up the harbor in Puerto Corinto, in Nicaragua. There was never any sense that we should have a state of siege imposed on us, that would last for eight years and take a terribly high toll!
When the United States has supported its ally Israel, with Israel being in violation of the U.N. mandate 69 times (I don't think that one hair on the head of one Israeli child should be harmed), what a tremendous double standard, we have right now! Israel has 200 nuclear weapons and still these sanctions persist!
So, I think that just perhaps, I can bring in some new talking points that tie in with some of the racism that is so operative in this country. I would like to talk about language that we most often associate with the death penalty.
A couple of weeks ago, I did a talk for a college course, where I once taught, about the death penalty, for the Amnesty International chapter. I thought you know, how can I do that? How can I do that, always focusing on Iraq for the last 2 1/2 years? I went to Iraq during the Gulf War.
I was in Iraq for the first 15 days of the war- came back with memories of parents cradling their children in bomb shelters, saying "It's all right." And you see the fear in people's faces. They knew it wasn't "all right."
Then, the realization by 1995, that even if those children survived, they might now face conditions so horrific- I mean young girls in what once was an enormously proud society, where there was not a noticeable rate of prostitution... Now? Jordanian men sometimes drive all the way from Amman overland (a long trip) since there is a profit to be made. That's what the society has been reduced to.
So, I think about those little girls, who in 1991 may have survived the war... I think about those kids today, a lot!
I've been to Iraq five times in the last few years. We've decided to start a campaign to publicly, openly defy the sanctions as often as we possibly can. We've got 17 delegations now that have gone with medicines directly to children and families in Iraq. Then, we come back and hit the ground running to try to get the word out far and wide, as to what the civilian consequences of the sanctions are.
The government has threatened us with 12 years in prison, $1,000,000 in fines and a $250,000 "administrative" fine. Most of us who go, are tax-refusers and they can just add it to our tab, when they talk about a fine. That's not too much of a threat, really. What can they take- my contact lenses?
We don't want to have false bravado, but most of us felt "OK. If they did slap down pretty heavy prison sentences, it would be worth it," if we could bring this tragedy to light. We were lucky for the confrontation because we needed a little drama of confrontation-something to work with to be able to get out and talk to the communities and do this work. So, that's the campaign.
Going back to how I can talk about the death penalty, when I've been so focused on Iraq, I looked over my notes and realized, "Whoo! I use 'death penalty' language all the time!" I think it is directly related to a concept which I think is going to sound pretty abstract, so I ask you to indulge me with it.
Is it possible that one of the reasons 2/3 of the people of this country give assent to, endorse, give consent to the death penalty is because deep down inside for some very irrational reasons, people are afraid of the very idea of death? This could be the fear of the death of their own loved one, the death of a relationship, their own imminent death. There's a kind of a sense that you ought to be able to "get the killer and kill the killer!"
And so, never mind the fact that the kids 16, 17, 18 years old, who reside on death row, are probably among society's most walloped victims- never mind the fact that the death penalty hasn't shown any deterrence, still a great majority of the population strongly supports the death penalty!
I wanted to share insight into why there is this collective death wish against Saddam Hussein. Now believe me, I don't want to be associated with just anybody serving with any non-American government, but it does seem to me that the demonization of Saddam Hussein has been accomplished through a military-industrial-congressional-media contract and has been so thorough, that most people can go and believe that one person who lives in a country (such as Saddam Hussein) is that country. They can vilify the people of an entire nation, who can't possibly be held accountable for what Hussein has done.
So, it seems to me that this is a situation of "there's the killer-get the killer!" And, somehow that vengeful feeling goes well and plays well, here in the United States.
How is it played out when you get closer to Iraq, when you start to see on the way, almost like a bombardier who flies way, way above the atmosphere and can't see what is going on down on the ground? I think the best metaphor for what is happening right now is this month 5,000 to 6,000 children, under the age of five, are at risk of dying because of these sanctions. Think of a stadium where the United States, WE, are holding 5,000-6,000 of your little ones, your toddlers, hostage. "If YOU don't force your government to unconditionally surrender to every demand that we make of it-we'll SLAUGHTER these children! And if you don't believe it, check your statistics from last month and the month before that and the month before that!"It is child sacrifice. It is child slaughter. It is brutality. And when the question was posed to Madelaine Albright by Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes, "Miss Albright, more children are dying in Iraq today than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Do you think it is worth the price?" Albright, at this time the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., said, "Yes, Leslie. It is a difficult price and choice to make, but the price-we think the price is worth it." You never heard of one commission being called to investigate the scandal of those lines! Never saw one out there, across the country! Now, she has been elevated to the highest position a woman in this country has ever held! Now, that is noticed in other parts of the world!
When I went in February 1998 to Iraq, the renewed bombing crisis was very real. The searches for weapons of mass destruction were pretty intense. A lot of Iraqis thought they were going to get hit. I thought so too, actually.
We heard regularly from Iraqi people that we were going to start getting hit every day and I am still afraid now as we try to avert another crisis. Sanctions are staying where they are.
I remember so clearly walking into a hospital and having such respect for the doctor, and then... you know, being reminded again, what it means not to have spare parts in the place. The junk was backed up in the wing. The stench was foul. The reality is that people don't have incubators, don't have x-ray machines. They don't have air conditioners in the hot weather, so there are flies everywhere-not a clean place to be.
In some ways, the doctor was our guide. He stuck it out through these dangers and he went racing off to one of the beds and bent over to a child who had just had a cardiac arrest. This little child was seven months old. The mother was sobbing and wailing. The doctor administered resuscitation and brought the child back to life. She had septicemia. Initially, it was just a small infection, but with no antibiotics, because the sanctions prevent even simple antibiotics from going into the country, this child had a full-blown infection and it was too much for her little heart. Then the doctor was so somber and he said with tremendous dignity to the girl's mother, "Your child can be with you for minutes, perhaps hours, but cannot live. We have not the oxygen to give here." And he walked away.
I remember the last time I met him, he said, "The only difference between me and the patient is that I wear the white coat."
The mother was sobbing and she realized I was from the United States. She pulled me down on the bed next to her and she just clung to me. She sobbed and sobbed. She had in her hand a tube that was the size of a pencil and she held it up to her little girl's nostril. This baby lying on this dirty mat had a nostril the size of the point of a pencil. That tube was utterly irrelevant-useless!! She hung onto that and clung onto me and wept until her baby was out of her torment.
It was a crowded ward and all the mothers were crying and I realized they were crying not only for the babies who were dying, but also for the babies they held. I was with a British team member. His name was Martin Thomas and I came with him during the war. He's a very sensitive guy, trained to be a nurse after that war, and he looked around with a kind of mounting horror on his face. Finally, he murmured, "I think I understand. It's a death row for infants, isn't it?"
Walking over to the cancer ward, EVERY CHILD is marked for execution. In a country where there are not only no drugs, but the depleted uranium that covered the missiles, the ammo, the TNT, that was scattered all across that country- that depleted uranium is very likely the cause of higher and higher incidence of cancer. Presently, the doctors are seeing a five-fold increase in cancer. Twelve-year-olds coming and getting mastectomies, others with congenital deformities...
You know, there's another story that needs to be told in relation to the death penalty. I think you remember at the end of the Gulf War, a lot of young Iraqi soldiers were running for their lives. They heard of the cease-fire and felt the war was over and thought they were "home free."
They were running out of Kuwait, through Basra, and they were trying to make it further north.
As I understand it, thousands didn't even have helmets. Some of them hardly had shoes. They didn't have any guns, no ammo. They were running for their lives along the road, with no cover. The U.S. and allied forces were coming at them from behind, rained down on their heads TONS and TONS and TONS of TNT. Much of this materiel was covered in depleted uranium.
U.S. soldiers were quoted as saying, "It's like shooting fish in a barrel!...Like a turkey shoot!"
One of those soldiers is on death row today. His job was to drive what is called a "Bradley vehicle"-an armored truck with a plow mounted on it. A Bradley vehicle would push the sand in the road back into the trenches. Some of those Iraqi soldiers maybe thought they could hide in the trenches or just didn't get out in time, and were buried alive in those trenches. Perhaps you saw one picture made famous, a hand sticking out of the sand.
The soldier I'm talking about, who is on death row today, was pushing the sand into the trenches and burying soldiers alive.
In 1995, a letter he wrote to his aunt got printed in the New York Times. He wrote, "We did some terrible things over there in Iraq. Killing Iraqis was real hard at first, but after a while, killing Iraqis got easier." His name is Timothy McVeigh, and he will be executed for blowing up the Oklahoma Federal Building.
So, I have a question. Who taught Timothy McVeigh to kill?
My second question is for President Clinton, Madelaine Albright and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Kathy originally presented this piece in November 1998
at the Confronting Whiteness Conference in Chicago. Soon after, Kathy again
went to Baghdad to bear witness to the possible carnage threatened by Clinton,
Albright, & Co. The previous February, she had been prepared to drive an
ambulance, if the bombs began to fall.
Kathy is looking for radio stations to send live and taped reports to. She can be reached at:
Voices in the Wilderness campaigns to end the United Nations/United States' economic sanctions against the people of Iraq. If you are interested in joining a delegation to Iraq, hosting a speaker, collecting medical supplies, making a donation, or simply need more information, write to the address above.
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