Published on Tuesday, June 18, 2002 in the Seattle Post Intelligencer
U.S. Vows to Prosecute on Iraq Sanctions; Sacks Says He Won't Pay
by Charles Pope
WASHINGTON -- The Treasury Department yesterday vowed to aggressively prosecute people who violate economic sanctions against Iraq despite complaints that the embargo isn't working and that it's causing deep suffering among children.
The tough talk came on the same day that Bert Sacks refused to pay a $10,000 fine for violating economic sanctions during a 1997 trip.
"I will not pay the fine," Sacks, 60, a retired Seattle engineer said at a news conference here. Yesterday was the deadline imposed by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control for Sacks to pay the fine.
The case stems from a 1997 trip Sacks and four other activists took to Iraq to deliver $40,000 worth of medicine in the hope of alleviating a rising death toll among children. Government and United Nations reports estimate 5,000 children a month die from illnesses that could be easily treated with antibiotics and other common medicines.
According to Sacks and others who have visited Iraq, thousands of children are dying because of a shortage of basic antibiotics, vitamins and other medicines. Under the sanctions, those items can't be shipped to Iraq without government approval.
The government isn't accusing Sacks of violating the embargo by taking in medicines. The action is based on allegations that Sacks engaged in "travel-related transactions" while in Iraq in violation of the sanctions.
Sacks denies that charge.
"We do not go to Iraq to ride in taxis to give money to Iraq. We go so we can bring medicine -- aspirin, antibiotics, diarrhea medicine, vitamins, cough syrup. We bring things to people in need there," Sacks said.
"My objection is we are using (sanctions) as a lethal tool of coercion to try and have a regime change. How in the world do cough syrup, aspirin and antibiotics endanger the national security of the United States?"
Sacks, who has made eight trips to Iraq since 1996, refuses to pay the fine even though doing so could keep him out of jail. Paying, he said, would make him "complicit" in a policy that is directly responsible for killing children. Joining Sacks on his trips are groups such as Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility and Chicago-based Voices in the Wilderness.
The United Nations put sanctions in place in 1990 against Iraq. The sanctions were continued after the Gulf War by the United States to create public pressure to topple the country's leader, Saddam Hussein.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher repeated the U.S. policy yesterday, saying: "We have made clear that the world would be better off with a regime change in Iraq. Regime change has always been part of United States policy."
After 12 years of sanctions, Saddam is still in power but more than 70 percent of the population does not have clean drinking water.
Under law, the government can seize Sacks' property if he refuses to pay. But Sacks pointed out that he does not own a car or a house.
Asked why the government is pursing the case, neither Sacks nor Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness could offer an explanation.
"It's a question we're quite curious about," Kelly said. "Perhaps they thought people would be intimidated if one person were singled out. I haven't noticed that taking place at all."
Instead, Sacks and Kelly said they plan to raise $10,000 for more medicines and take them to Iraq in July.
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