WASHINGTON -- Only days before Congress is expected to begin debating the use
of military force against Saddam Hussein, a Seattle congressman and a group of
human rights activists from Seattle are planning separate trips to Iraq that they
hope will yield ground-level arguments against going to war.
Democrats Jim McDermott and David Bonior of Michigan are leaving for Baghdad
today. The purpose of the congressional trip, they said, is to inspect Iraq's
infrastructure, shattered by allied forces in the 1991 Gulf War.
United Nations officials estimate that 500,000 children have died since 1991
as a result of the war damage and subsequent international sanctions. The nation
still lacks some basic medical supplies, such as antibiotics, as well as fully
functioning water systems and other services.
A separate group of activists will leave Seattle for Iraq later in the week.
For Bert Sacks, the road to Iraq is a familiar one. Sacks, a retired engineer
from Seattle, helped arrange the trip and will be going to the country for the
As in previous trips, Sacks is taking with him a small Seattle group -- and
At a send-off for the group in Seattle, about 100 children including Isabella
Beerli, 11, sang "We Are the Children of Peace" for Sacks and dozens of anti-sanction
activists at Keystone United Church of Christ near Green Lake.
Beerli said learning the song, especially the parts in Arabic, was difficult
but worth it.
"It's incredibly awesome," she said. "I love that song."
A Seattle artist, who refers to herself as Mary K. and works with local children,
wrote the song and assembled the performers.
"They are the most powerful voice in the world," she said of the ensemble.
"They do not want to grow up to be enemies of anyone."
In June, Sacks chose not to pay a $10,000 fine imposed by the Treasury Department's
Office of Foreign Assets Control for violating economic sanctions during a 1997
trip. On that trip, Sacks and four other activists went to Iraq to deliver $40,000
worth of medicine in the hope of alleviating a rising death toll among children.
Instead of paying the fine, Sacks collected more than $10,000 for a diarrhea clinic
In his satchel along with almost 1,000 letters from people around the world
who support his efforts -- people who Sacks said "if it's criminal to send medicine
to the children of Iraq, then count me in"-- Sacks carried a bottle of tap water
taken from Basra. He said the water was contaminated because of the infrastructure
damaged in the war, and has contributed to the illnesses and deaths of thousands
"This bottle of water is a weapon of mass destruction," Sacks said. "We know
the answer of what will happen if we go to war again with Iraq."
As for any children who could die in the aftermath of a new war with Iraq,
"we need to consider that as if they were our children."
McDermott said he wants to educate himself and his congressional colleagues
as they decide whether to give President Bush broad authority to invade the country.
The trip coincides with the intensifying debate in Washington over the language
Congress will accept.
McDermott and Bonior are among a group of two dozen House members stridently
opposed to military action.
Leaders in the House and Senate are planning to work this weekend on a resolution
that will narrow Bush's authority while still providing the flexibility he has
requested to oust Saddam from power. The House is expected to begin debating the
resolution next week.
"Many people who talk about war have never seen it, they've never participated
in it," McDermott said. "Both David and I in our ways had parts in the Vietnam
War. And when you know that, you are not very interested in bringing that down
on people unless there's a very good reason."
Bush has drafted a resolution asking Congress for authority to use "all means
that he determines to be appropriate" to disarm Saddam. He also has urged the
United Nations to enforce its mandates calling for weapons inspections, the dismantling
of chemical and biological arms and an end to human rights abuses.
"I tend to think there are other ways to deal with the disarmament of Iraq,
and we should exhaust every single possibility to do that before the United States
takes the absolutely unprecedented step of pre-emptive strike," McDermott said.
"The day the United States starts saying, 'We don't like this leader; we going
to take him out no matter what the human cost is,' we have crossed a major line
in international behavior. And I am very worried about that," he said.
McDermott and other critics have questioned the wisdom of the United States
taking action without the backing of an international coalition.
"It's very hard for me to imagine myself supporting a resolution that gives
the president the power to go in and act until I see what happens with inspections;
until I see what happens in the (United Nations) Security Council; until I see
the whole international process," said McDermott, who last visited Iraq soon after
the Gulf War ended in 1991.
Although planning for the trip began months ago, McDermott only committed Monday.
He feared that he would be in Iraq when debate on the resolution began.
In reaching a decision to go, McDermott said he consulted with many people,
including former House Speaker Tom Foley, CIA Director George Tenet and a senior
member of the Iraq's foreign ministry in a brief conversation in New York last
"The process has been moving so rapidly that I was afraid I might be in Iraq
at the time the decision was made here. I didn't want to miss the debate," he
With the decision made, however, McDermott said he's eager to get to Iraq.
"We have our tickets, and we're on our way," he said.
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