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 Treasury Department has to enforce the law of the land, period," a spokesman
said. "We don't do that selectively."
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
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.
©1999-2002 Seattle Post-Intelligencer