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Washington predicted Iraq’s suffering

As we go to press with this issue, we heard the news that a dozen protesters were arrested on the steps of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. They were sharing a meal of lentils and rice, normal fare for many Iraqis living under economic sanctions, and had issued an invitation to mission staffers to discuss the effects of the sanctions that have been in place for 11 years.

Those arrested included Kathy Kelly, co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness, a Chicago-based group that has long opposed the sanctions, Jesuit Frs. Daniel Berrigan and Simon Harak and Franciscan Fr. Jerry Zawada.

So far Washington has found it easy to dismiss such public irritants by simply pointing to Saddam Hussein, a brutal dictator, as the ultimate cause of Iraq’s trouble. While it is easy to make the case that with Saddam out of the way, the rebuilding of Iraq could go on, the fact is that the sanctions were the primary cause of the continuing degradation of the country’s infrastructure and with the continuing death of inordinate numbers of children by waterborne and other diseases. Meanwhile, the sanctions have had almost no effect on loosening Saddam Hussein’s grip on the country.

Now The Progressive magazine unveils intelligence documents from 1991, a year after the sanctions were put into place, that predicted the widespread epidemics and the particularly devastating toll on children that would result from sanctions, especially those that banned imports of chemicals to purify water and spare parts for water systems (see story Page 14).

In light of the documents from the Defense Intelligence Agency, which provides foreign intelligence for the Pentagon and other areas of government, it appears there is little way around the conclusion that the United States knew that it was going to cause massive illness and death among civilians, particularly children, but continued the embargo anyway. How can the United States hope to have credibility before the world, to demand accountability from others in the areas of human rights and basic justice, when it plots out such an assault on a civilian population?

We doubt that U.S. citizens, understanding as the Pentagon did before the fact the kind of destruction that would result, would have approved such awful measures.

In a news statement, the group on the steps of the U.S. Mission noted that Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security adviser, recently said that the United States has Iraq on its radar screen. “We’d like to see the vulnerable Iraqis, particularly children, who continue to suffer under sanctions and bombardment, appear on the screen,” said the group.

So would we.

National Catholic Reporter, August 24, 2001