May 12 was the ten year anniversary of a public defense of genocide. On that date Bill Clinton’s then UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright was asked on “60 Minutes” how she could justify the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children from the sanctions. She was asked by journalist Leslie Stahl whether the cost was “worth it”. She replied that it was “worth it” because Saddam Hussein was “coming clean” on weapons and had recognized Kuwait. She said her first responsibility was “to make sure United States forces not have to go and refight the Gulf War.”
The 500,000 figure was based on a letter that that researchers for the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization had sent to British medical journal, the Lancet, in December ’95 estimating that 570,000 children had died up until that point as a result of the sanctions. The news of the letter made national nightly TV news and there was even a substantial article in the New York Times. Those of us exposing the terrible toll of the sanctions were heartened. Now the facts were finally getting out. Something would be done. Yet the months ticked by and and the toll mounted. Then five months later came Stahl’s interview with Albright.
Half a million children children had died and our UN Ambassador had not denied it! Her responses on why it was “worth it” exposed her and Clinton as brutal, heartless, callous! Surely now something would be done.
But all that was done was the creation “Oil for Food” program. Iraq could sell oil and the proceeds would be put in a bank in New York. A chunk went to Kuwait for reparations. A chunk went to the Kurds in autonomous northern Iraq. A chunk went to the UN itself. Then Iraq could ask that its remaining money could be used for food and medicine and every other desperately needed item.
The result was that whatever moral upset there was among the powers that be was satisfied. How much it helped Iraqi people can only be debated. More supplies got in, but infrastructure had so badly deteriorated that the ghastly death rate never really decreased very much. And in acts of deliberate calculation (or sadism) the UN Sancitons committee would selectively allow in items in a way that made them useless, like allowing in insulin, but not refrigeration units, so the insulin went bad. By 1998 things were so bad that Denis Halliday, the UN administrator of the Oil for Food program resigned in protest and began calling the sanctions “genocide”. He eventually claimed that the sanctions had caused over one million civilian deaths.
And all the time Clinton and Albright and the rest knew Saddam had nothing. Scott Ritter, the aggressive US marine, turned UN arms inspector had verified that the SCUD missiles aresenal had been destroyed or accounted for way back in 92. In the fall of ’95 Rolf Ekeus the head of UN Special Commision on Iraqi weapons (UNSCOM) filed a report saying that all missile, chemical, and nuclear production facilities in Iraq had been dismantled. Clinton and Albright killed all those children not out of any real fear of Saddam, but for reasons of empire.
All this is as they say “ancient history” and by definition irrelevant. Albright has not only never been brought to the Hague, she has not had to face a single grieving Iraqi mother or father. In fact she is lionized wherever she goes. This consumate violator of the most serious precepts of international law was recently feted at the Yale Law School! Clinton is still a king-maker among the Democrats and his wife who sat by while all those children were sacrificed is front runner for the brass ring. There was a investigation into an “Oil for Food” scandal, but it wasn’t into finding who was responsible for the children that were killed, but into money officials and businessmen were raking off.
As they say “No use crying over spilt milk”, but I bring all this up because what may happen in Gaza. The Olmert government of Israel with the collaboration of the Bush regime is taking unprecedented measures of “pressure” on the Palestinians. $55 million a month in Palestinian tax money is being withheld from the Palestinian by the Israeli government as “pressure”. The main crossing into the strip, the Karni Crossing, has been shut down half the time since January 1st. At times the bakeries of Gaza have to shut down because there is no flour.
Europe and the US are doing their part, suspending aid programs to the Palestine Authority. Pressure. Pressure. Dov Weinglass a key adviser to Olmert made a joke about it, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger”
Maybe they are not dieing of hunger yet, but they are dieing. Four died at Shifa Hospital last month when the facility cut their dialysis treatments by a third because it doesn’t have enough supplies. Chemotherapy treatments are being suspended and results are predictable. It’s getting so bad that even the New York Times reported about it. On May 8 a front page article was devoted to the shortages.
As Ali Abunimah put it on ElectronicIntifada.net on May 10,
“Suppose I were to leave my office here in Chicago and walk the short distance to the kidney dialysis unit down the road and pull out the tubes to which four elderly patients were attached, making them seriously ill or killing them. Suppose I said I did this because I disagreed with the Bush Administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, its use of torture, and its countless other profoundly undemocractic and illegal policies. What would that make me? A murderer for sure, a monster and a new vicious kind of terrorist. Such an action would be unconscionable in any moral system. And yet this is what the so-called “international community,” a few powerful governments, feel entitled to do to Palestinians because those governments disagree with the policies of the elected Hamas authority.”
There has been polite criticism of the strangling of Gaza so the Adminstration has come up with new PR. Secreatry of State Rice has said “we’ll be talking about a plan to provide substantial, new in-kind, rapid intervention into the health care situation so that Palestinians can have health care.” So big of her. They’ll airlift in a case of band-aids. “Oil for Food” writ small.
How bad can it get? This country sanctioned to death a million Arabs and not one of the guilty paid a price. So if it serves their interests the lords of the empire will do it again.
STANLEY HELLER is chairperson the Middle East Crisis Committee and can be reached at mail@TheStruggle.org. The full transcript of Madeleine’s incriminating remarks to Leslie Stahl can be found in the articles section of www.TheStruggle.org