Federal Judge Fines Voices in the Wilderness $20,000 for Taking Medicine to Iraq

On August 12, 2005 U.S. Federal District Judge John Bates ordered payment of a $20,000 fine imposed against Voices in the Wilderness. Voices was fined for bringing medicine to Iraq in a classic campaign of open nonviolent civil disobedience to challenge the economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the U.N. against Iraq. The U.S. Treasury Department initially imposed the fine in 2002, days after Voices participated in international actions to oppose the U.S. buildup for war against Iraq.

Voices in the Wilderness issued the following statement:

“Today, the judiciary branch of the U.S. government completed a perfect trifecta of inhumanity in upholding a $20,000 fine against Voices in the Wilderness for bringing medicine to Iraqi citizens. Judge Bates agrees that it was lawful and proper for the U.S. government to deny needed drugs and medical supplies to Iraq’s most vulnerable citizens, despite the evidence that several hundred thousand innocent children were dying because of brutal economic sanctions.

“Voices will not pay a penny of this fine. The economic sanctions regime imposed brutal and lethal punishment on Iraqi people. The U.S. government would not allow Iraq to rebuild its water treatment system after the U.S. military deliberately destroyed it in 1991. The U.S. government denied Iraq the ability to purchase blood bags, medical needles and medicine in adequate supplies-destroying Iraq’s health care system.

“We chose to travel to Iraq in order to openly challenge our country’s war against the Iraqi people. We fully understood that our acts could result in criminal or civil charges. We acted because when our country’s government is committing a grievous, criminal act, it is incumbent upon each of us to challenge in every nonviolent manner possible the acts of the government.

“We continue to oppose the U.S. occupation of Iraq, which continues the devastation of the Iraqi people. Over the past two years of occupation, the health care and water systems in Iraq have not improved. Nearly 300,000 children under the age of 5 now suffer from acute child malnutrition. It’s likely that over 100,000 Iraqis have died because of the occupation-either killed outright by military action or died because of the lack of safe drinking water, adequate health care, lack of food. What has our country wrought in Iraq?

“We choose to continue our non-cooperation with the government’s war on the Iraqi people through the simple act of refusing to pay this fine. To pay the fine would be to collaborate with the U.S. government’s ongoing war against Iraq. We will not collaborate.

“We fully understand that the U.S. government may take other action against Voices in the Wilderness, or possibly us as individuals, for our continued refusal to collaborate with the government’s policies. But we invite representatives from the government to enter into dialogue with us about how best to correct the misguided, ill-conceived and criminal acts of our country towards the Iraqi people. We invite all U.S. citizens to pause and consider how we might bring about an end to the blood shed and the violence in Iraq-an end to the occupation and payment of reparations to Iraq for the devastation our country has wrought upon the Iraqi people these past 15 years.

“We pause to ponder the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who asked of himself and his co-conspirators in resistance to Hitler, whether they were yet of any use. We too live in times of unspeakable peril and violence. We too live in times when questioning and resisting our government is the one path remaining to act for justice. We too have struggled and seen untold numbers of innocent people die at our government’s hand. We too answer as Bonhoeffer did, that yes, indeed, our acts and fidelity to our brothers and sisters throughout the world are not only of use, but of absolute necessity. We invite all to join us in a conspiracy of life to end our country’s war against the Iraqi people.”

For More Information Contact: visit the Voices in the Wilderness website or email Kathy Kelly at kathy@vitw.org