In my article “The Evil of Killing Children,” I pointed out how the U.S. government, in an attempt to achieve regime change in Iraq, knowingly and intentionally killed hundreds of thousands of innocent children in Iraq.
Unfortunately, killing those innocent Iraqi children was not the only evil action taken by U.S. officials regarding the Iraq sanctions. They also went after an American man for trying to help the children that U.S. officials were trying to kill with their sanctions.
The man’s name is Bert Sacks. They didn’t try to kill him but they did prosecute him both criminally and civilly for trying to help the Iraqi children who U.S. officials were killing.
What specifically did Sacks do that caused U.S. officials to put him in their sights? He took medicine to Iraq. That infuriated U.S. officials because the medicine that Sacks took into Iraq interfered with their ability to kill more Iraqi children, which in turn, impeded their ability to achieve regime change in Iraq.
In a 2003 article entitled “Sanctions in Iraq Hurt the Innocent in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sacks explained the origins and consequences of the U.S. government’s system of sanctions against Iraq.
He began the article by focusing on the large number of Iraqi children that that the U.S. government killed with the sanctions. Quoting an article from the New York Times magazine, he wrote: “American officials may quarrel with the numbers but there is little doubt that at least several hundred thousand children who could reasonably have been expected to live died before their fifth birthdays.” Sacks then cited Richard Garfield, a health specialist at Columbia University, who estimated the death toll among the Iraqi children to be 400,000.
We also should also note that when U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright was asked in 1996 whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children were worth it, she didn’t deny the number and said that the deaths were, in fact, worth it. After she said that, no other U.S. official, to my knowledge, took her to task, either on the number of Iraqi children they had killed up to that year or the fact that the official U.S. spokesperson to the UN considered the deaths to be worth it. (The sanctions weren’t lifted until 2003, after the U.S. government had finally achieved regime change with its invasion of Iraq.)
While it’s true that several hundred thousand doesn’t rise to the number of people killed by Hitler’s Nazi regime or Stalin’s communist regime, nonetheless hundreds of thousands is not a small number of dead people. Moreover, while all innocent life is sacred, it seems, instinctively, that killing innocent children might be more evil than killing innocent adults.
Citing the New England Journal of Medicine, Sacks pointed out that during the Persian Gulf War, “The [U.S. government’s] destruction of the country’s power plants had brought [Iraq’s] entire system of water purification and distribution to a halt, leading to epidemics of cholera, typhoid fever, and gastroenteritis, particularly among children.”
One of the important things to note about the sanctions, which were continued after the war, is that they prevented Iraq from repairing the water and sewage treatments that the U.S. military had intentionally destroyed during the war. Naturally, that ensured that that the cholera, typhoid fever, gastroenteritis, and other illnesses would continue, particularly among the Iraqi children, who were dying en masse.
A 1991 Washington Post article pointed out:
The worst civilian suffering, senior officers say, has resulted not from bombs that went astray but from precision-guided weapons that hit exactly where they were aimed — at electrical plants, oil refineries and transportation networks. Each of these targets was acknowledged during the war, but all the purposes and consequences of their destruction were not divulged. Among the justifications offered now, particularly by the Air Force in recent briefings, is that Iraqi civilians were not blameless for Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. “The definition of innocents gets to be a little bit unclear,” said a senior Air Force officer, noting that many Iraqis supported the invasion of Kuwait. “They do live there, and ultimately the people have some control over what goes on in their country.”
A 1991 New York Times article cited in Sacks’ article pointed out what U.S. officials were aiming for: “Ever since the trade embargo was imposed on Aug. 6, after the invasion of Kuwait, the United States has argued against any premature relaxation in the belief that by making life uncomfortable for the Iraqi people it will eventually encourage them to remove President Saddam Hussein from power.”
In a 2002 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a U.S. official was quoted on U.S. policy: “We have made it clear that the world would be better off with a regime change in Iraq. Regime change has always been part of United States policy.”
The article also pointed out, “After 12 years of sanctions, Saddam is still in power but more than 70 percent of the population does not have clean drinking water.” As a 2011 article in the Seattle Times put it, “For 12 years, Iraqis had bacteria-infected water. The result was cholera, typhoid and gastroenteritis. Add malnutrition and a shortage of common medicines. The problem was known; in 1992, the New England Journal of Medicine raised the alarm about it. By the late 1990s, UNICEF estimated that an extra half a million Iraqi children had died because of war and sanctions.”
The U.S. government just didn’t care because that was their aim — to kill as many Iraqi children as necessary with their sanctions until the Iraqi people cried “Uncle” and ousted Saddam from power and replaced him with a pro-U.S. dictator.
Enter Bert Sacks. Struck by conscience by the massive number of deaths that his own government was inflicting on the children of Iraq, Sacks traveled to Iraq with $40,000 in medicines to help the victims of the sanctions.
Not surprisingly, Sacks attracted the attention of U.S. officials, who deemed him an anti-American criminal for helping America’s enemies by bringing them medicine that could save their lives.
To make it appear that they were not objecting to Sack’s bringing medicine into Iraq, the U.S. government filed criminal charges against him and also levied a civil fine of $10,000 on him $10,000 for spending money in Iraq. They said that spending money in Iraq violated their sanctions.
The criminal charges went nowhere but U.S. officials pursued the civil fine with an obsession that bordered on the pathological.
To the everlasting credit of Bert Sacks, who can only be described as a genuine real-life hero for standing up against manifest evil, he told the U.S. government to go take a hike. He told them that he would never pay their stupid and evil fine.
U.S. officials went after Sacks with the same vengeance they pursued against the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi children they were killing, harassing Sacks for years in an Ahab-like manner in their angry attempt to collect their $10,000 fine. While the money was no doubt important to them, what was much more important was sending a message to other Americans: Don’t even think of helping people in Iraq, including the innocent children we are killing, because doing so interferes with our foreign policy goal for Iraq, which is regime change.
Sacks stood his ground. Like Hans von Sponek, Dennis Halliday, and Jutta Purghart, the three UN officials who resigned their positions in a crisis of conscience over the U.S. government’s killing of Iraqi children, Sacks steadfastly followed the convictions of his conscience and refused to pay the fine.
In 2012, a U.S. federal court threw out the government’s claim against Sacks, which now totaled $16,000 with accumulated interest, based on a technicality. While the decision did not save the lives of any Iraqi children, at least in the case of the U.S. government versus Bert Sacks, good triumphed over evil.
For more information, see:
“Bert Sacks: A Hero in Our Time” (2012) by Jacob G. Hornberger
“One Man’s Mission: Justice for Iraq” (2015) by Dahr Jamail
“U.S. Vows to Prosecute on Iraq Sanctions; Sacks Won’t Pay” by Charles Pope (2002)
“The U.S. vs. Bert Sacks’ Principles on Iraq” (2002) by Charles Pope
“Bert on Iraq” (2005) by Bert Sacks
“Cool War: Economic Sanctions as a Weapon of Mass Destruction” by Joy Gordon
Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions by Joy Gordon