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Repeating History with Iran


A French court recently recognized the idiocy of one of the U.S. government’s attempts to enforce its sanctions against Iran by denying the government’s request to extradite an Iranian businessman for allegedly violating the sanctions. U.S. prosecutors were alleging that the businessman, Majid Kakavand, violated the sanctions by exporting goods from the United States that could be used in weapons manufacturing.

Apparently, U.S. prosecutors took the position that by importing the items into Iran, Kakavand violated U.S. law that prohibits the exportation of the goods. In other words, in the minds of the prosecutors, importing is the same as exporting because when you import an item, it must be exported for you to import it.

Kakavand happened to be traveling in France when U.S. officials requested his arrest and extradition. Oddly, he did not oppose the extradition request on the same ground that the U.S. government has opposed Venezuela’s request for the extradition of suspected terrorist Luis Posada Carriles — a legitimate and well-grounded fear of being tortured. Instead, Kakavand simply claimed that the U.S. allegation that the imported items could be used for weaponry was ridiculous, pointing out that they wouldn’t have even “needed special customs clearance if they had been exported from a EU country.”

The French court agreed with Kakavand, denied the extradition request, and ordered the man’s release. Perhaps the court was familiar with how U.S. officials had used the so-called “dual use” game against the Iraqi people during the 11 years of brutal sanctions against Iraq.

The best accounts of the deadly game that U.S. sanctions bureaucrats employed against Iraq have been set forth in excruciating detail by Joy Gordon, in her article “Cool War: Economic Sanctions as a Weapon of Mass Destruction” and in her insightful new book Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions, which I highly recommend.

We shouldn’t forget that just as the U.S. government has gone after that private Iranian businessman for supposedly violating the government’s sanctions against Iran, it did the same thing to Americans who violated the government’s sanctions against Iraq.

What made the situation in Iraq even worse, however, is that some of the people they went after weren’t even accused of helping Iraq with its (nonexistent) WMD program. Instead, they went after them because they had committed the dastardly crime of trying to save Iraqi children from the brutal effects of the sanctions.

During the Persian Gulf War, the Pentagon intentionally destroyed Iraq’s water and sewage facilities after it conducted a study confirming that this would help spread infectious illnesses among the Iraqi people, especially through the drinking of untreated, sewage-infested water. As Gordon documents in her book, U.S. sanctions bureaucrats then used the sanctions to prevent the Iraqis from repairing the water-and-sewage facilities.

The Pentagon’s study proved to be right. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children died as a result of the sanctions. The U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright told “Sixty Minutes” in 1996 (five years before the sanctions were finally lifted) that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children were “worth it.”

Two high UN officials, Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday, resigned their posts with the UN because of what they termed sanctions genocide.

They weren’t the only ones who were struck by a crisis of conscience. The same thing happened to an American citizen named Bert Sacks, who decided to take $40,000 worth of medicine to the Iraqi people in 1997.

What was the reaction of U.S. officials to Sacks’ humanitarian efforts? Now, before you answer that question, keep in mind the secondary justification that U.S. officials employed when they invaded Iraq five years later — after the primary justification for invading, those infamous WMDs that Saddam was about to fire at the United States, evaporated. They said that the invasion was intended to help the Iraqi people achieve democracy because, they said, U.S. officials loved the Iraqi people and just wanted to help them out.

But if you answered that they praised Sacks and gave him a humanitarian medal, you would be wrong. Instead, they threatened him with criminal prosecution and ultimately leveled a civil fine of $10,000 against him, a fine that Sachs fought all the way to the Supreme Court in a case that he ultimately lost.

Sacks wasn’t the only American who was trying to help the Iraqis escape the ravages of the sanctions. There was also a group of American medical workers, including doctors, who risked federal criminal prosecution and civil fines for violating the sanctions by traveling to Iraq to help the Iraqi people.

To my knowledge, that group of doctors escaped prosecution and fine by the U.S. government. Another American physician, a New York oncologist named Rafil A. Dhafir, was not so lucky, no doubt because he was a Muslim, one who had been born in Iraq. In fact, according to his entry in Wikipedia, he is “believed to be the only U.S. citizen ever to be held in prison for violating the sanctions on Iraq.” Having committing the dastardly crime of using a charity to send money to help alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people, the U.S. government indicted him and convicted him for violating the sanctions.

Ironically and revealingly, Dhafir’s conviction took place in 2005, three years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an invasion that by that time (i.e., no infamous WMDs) U.S. officials were justifying out of a purported love and concern for the Iraqi people.

Everyone has heard the time-honored quote by Santayana: “Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” What better example of Santayana’s dictum than the U.S. history of sanctions in Iraq and Iran?

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.