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An Open Letter to Senator Carl Levin

Compassion for Iraqis

by KATHY KELLY

From: KATHY KELLY, Co-coordinator, Voices in the Wilderness

To: Senator Carl Levin, Chair, U. S. Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on Iraqi Oil Allocations to Foreign Leaders

July 29, 2005

Dear Senator Levin,

Greetings from Geneva, Switzerland, where nine companions and I are on day 14 of a fifteen-day fast outside the U.N. We are urging the United Nations Compensation Commission to let compassion for Iraqi civilians guide their deliberations today and tomorrow, during which they’ll determine how much of a 65 billion dollar outstanding debt Iraq should be required to pay for Saddam Hussein’s 1990-91 war against Kuwait.

While here, some of us are preparing for a July 6, 2005 hearing in a D.C. federal court. We are charged with violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iraq. Lawyers will present additional oral argument, requested by the judge, as to whether or not we should pay a $20,000 fine, imposed by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for bringing medicines to Iraqi children and families.

On May 17, 2005, testifying before the U.S. Senate, you demonstrated that the U.S. OFAC failed to enforce U.S. sanctions against U.S. oil companies accused of violating the economic sanctions against Iraq during the years 2000 2002. Using Iraqi internal records, your staff tracked deals made with the Iraqi regime in which oil companies paid illegal surcharges for their transactions, allowing the Iraqi regime to pocket the surcharge "under the table," beyond U.N. Security Council scrutiny. Your staff estimated that more than half of the money Iraq received in the form of surcharges was paid on oil sold to U.S. companies. Bayoil, headquartered in Houston, became the largest single buyer of Iraqi oil for the U.S. market, bringing in over 200 million barrels to the U.S.

Your report also described an incident in which seven massive oil tankers loaded with crude oil which the Iraqi regime sold to a Jordanian company were docked at Khor al-Amaya, in plain view of the Maritime Interdiction Force (MIF), which was then under U.S. command. According to an article in The Guardian, (May 16, 2005), investigators found correspondence showing that Odin Marine Inc, the U.S. company chartering the seven tankers which picked up the oil at Khor al-Amaya, repeatedly sought and received approval from U.S. military and civilian officials that U.S. Navy vessels in the MIF would not enforce the embargo by confiscating or stopping the ships.

A state department official reassured Odin that the U.S. "was aware of the shipments and has determined not to take action."

And, as you point out, the U.S. position on overland oil smuggling to Jordan and Turkey was outright approval. Jordan and Turkey, crucial U.S. allies, were quietly and informally exempted from the sanctions after complaining, in 1991, that the sanctions were harming their economy. Joy Gordon, a scholar who has closely examined the history of economic sanctions against Iraq, quotes former Assistant Secretary of State Robert Pelletreau saying that the United States had decided "to close our eyes to leakage via Turkey." (Joy Gordon, The U.N. Is US, Harper’s Magazine, December 2004)

Your Subcommittee asked the OFAC why it didn’t do more to enforce the economic sanctions against major U.S. companies. The OFAC told your Subcommittee that it considered the Oil for Food program to be a U.N. responsibility, and that it was up to the U.N., not the U.S. to police compliance with sanctions. (The OFAC seems to have had a different point of view regarding humanitarian groups that traveled to Iraq.)

Senator Levin, I draw some hope from your May 17 testimony before the U.S. Senate. Clearly, you and your staff understand that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. You tackled a very complicated issue, examining voluminous records, and tried to better understand the OFAC’s priorities as the U.S. government’s primary enforcer of economic sanctions against Iraq.

You went after some of the relatively "big fish" in the pond of "sanctions-busters." But I think both you and the OFAC have overlooked the terrible monster in the pond, and the monster is striking again.

I’m one of the very little fish swimming in that pond. Voices in the Wilderness broke the sanctions at least 70 times and tried to be as open and public as possible about our actions. We brought donated medicines to children and families in Iraq, from 1996-2002. Immediately after we announced our campaign to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno on June 15, 1996, OFAC notified us of the high penalties and prison terms that could be imposed on us if we persisted. We thanked them for the clarity of their warning, assured them we wouldn’t be governed by cruel and unjust laws, and invited them to join us in our travel to Iraq.

In over twenty visits to Iraq, from 1996 – 2003, I saw first hand the horrible consequences of the economic sanctions. Saddam Hussein may not have missed a meal; arguably his control over the country was strengthened while the sanctions battered the civilian population. But Iraq’s most vulnerable people, the elderly, the sick, the poor, and in a tragedy beyond words, hundreds of thousands of children, were brutally and lethally punished by sanctions. The 15-year economic siege devastated the economy, wrecked the infrastructure, prevented rehabilitating water purification systems, and debilitated health care systems. The economic sanctions were a monstrous crime against humanity, a silent weapon of ghastly, massive destruction.

The monster in the pool is the cool disregard for the unbearable and yet avoidable suffering that afflicted innocent Iraqi children.

Now, hundreds of thousands of Iraq’s children again writhe in pain and sink into limp nausea, overcome by starvation and water-borne disease. Under a new Iraqi government and ongoing U.S. Occupation, these children fare no better than before.

You have supported appropriating billions of dollars of U.S. productivity toward force protection for U.S. armed forces and toward developing Iraqi armed forces. These measures reduce the funds that could be directed toward meeting essential needs of Iraqi families for potable water, reliable electricity, job creation and adequate food rations. In any country, basic security rests on access to these vital life supports. Iraq is no different.

Please, Senator Levin, let us agree that whether examining facts of the case against big fish or little fish, in terms of violating the sanctions, the monster in the pond was callous disregard for the survival of Iraq’s children.

You could take an exemplary path-breaking stand and insist that U.S. foreign policy toward Iraq be guided, first and foremost, by compassion for Iraq’s children. You could announce as the top priority in your future committee work a determination never again to repeat the disasters created by overlooking the effect of U.S. foreign policy decisions, regarding Iraq, on the children of Iraq. You could advocate enacting all necessary measures to secure the survival of the 7.7% of Iraqi children now suffering from acute malnourishment.

I’m urging you to take steps that would risk severe disapproval from the numerous groups that currently support ongoing funding for U.S. occupation of Iraq.

At least I can say that we’re not asking you to make political sacrifices without ourselves undertaking some risks in our efforts to resist U.S. economic and military warfare against Iraq.

Should you or your staff be interested in further argument as to why we little fish believed there was a monster lurking in the pool, please join us as our case is argued in Judge Bates’s courtroom next week.

Sincerely,

KATHY KELLY
Co-Coordinator,
Voices in the Wilderness

KATHY KELLY is co-coordinator of Voices in the Wilderness. Her book, Other Lands Have Dreams, was just published by CounterPunch / AK Press. She can be reached at: kathy@vitw.org