Published on Tuesday, August 14, 2001 in the Madison Capital Times
U.S. Sanctions Against Iraq are a Crime
by John Nichols
The Progressive magazine's latest issue exposes details of wrongdoing by the United States that raise the very real prospect that high-level military and civilian officials violated the Geneva Convention by using sanctions against Iraq to undermine the quality of that country's water supply after the Gulf War.
As writer Thomas J. Nagy notes in his well-documented article, "The Secret Behind the Sanctions: How the U.S. Intentionally Destroyed Iraq's Water Supply," the evidence proves beyond a doubt that "the United States knew the cost that civilian Iraqis, mostly children, would pay, and it went ahead anyway."
Nagy, who teaches at the School of Business and Public Management at George Washington University, relies on documents obtained from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency to paint a chilling picture of military planners determined to use sanctions to spread disease and death among civilians.
One document, dated Jan. 22, 1991, reads, "Iraq depends on importing specialized equipment and some chemicals to purify its water supply. ... Failing to secure supplies will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population. This could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease."
Make no mistake, those are the words of U.S. officials hopefully anticipating the prospect of epidemics among civilians. Later, the same planners cite the "most likely diseases during (the) next 60-90 days (include): diarrheal diseases (particularly children); acute respiratory illnesses (colds and influenza); typhoid; hepatitis A (particularly children); measles, diphtheria, and pertussis (particularly children); meningitis, including meningococcal (particularly children); cholera (possible, but less likely)."
How horrific to read these words now, when we know that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children have indeed died as a result of diseases and deprivation resulting directly from the U.S.-backed sanctions against that country.
But this is not just a matter of detailing past wrongs. The sanctions continue. And they seem to be having precisely the impact imagined in that 1991 document. U.S. Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, recently warned the State Department about "the profound effects of the increasing deterioration of Iraq's water supply and sanitation systems on its children's health."
In his letter of concern, Hall explained that "the prime killer of children under 5 years of age - diarrheal diseases - has reached epidemic proportions, and they now strike four times more often than they did in 1990. ... Holds on contracts for the water and sanitation sector are a prime reason for the increases in sickness and death."
The "holds" Hall describes are part of the sanction regimen anticipated in the 1991 Defense Intelligence Agency documents.
The Progressive's publication of this information places a new pressure on U.S. officials. No one, from President Bush on down the chain of command, can claim to be unaware that the intent of the sanctions is to cause suffering among Iraq's civilian population.
Nor can anyone in that chain of command defend that intent, since it is clearly in violation of the Geneva Convention, a protocol of which states: "It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse party, whatever the motive."
"Attacking the Iraqi public drinking water supply flagrantly targets civilians and is a violation of the Geneva Convention and of the fundamental laws of civilized nations," U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., told a House hearing after reviewing the Defense Intelligence Agency documents.
McKinney's conclusion is the only one a reasonable reader of The Progressive's article could reach. It is a conclusion that demands investigation of the actions of U.S. officials by Congress, and by appropriate international tribunals.
Above all, however, it is a conclusion that demands an immediate lifting of these immoral sanctions.
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times.
Copyright 2001 The Capital Times