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The Sanctions are the Silent War
Published on Thursday, December 12, 2002 by the Portland (Maine) Press Herald
The Silent War
Since Mary Donnelly and her husband secretly entered Iraq on a medical mission four years ago, they say the threat of war means little to the Iraqis compared to the debilitating sanctions.
by Joshua L. Weinstein
 

Mike and Mary Donnelly knew they were breaking the law when they flew off to Jordan four years ago, en route to Iraq.

They made no secret of the illegal trip - in fact, they informed the U.S. embassy in Jordan that they were going, and they spoke with members of the press in Portland before they left.

Mary Donnelly
Mary Donnelly demonstrates Wednesday in front of the Portland Public Library while holding a photograph she took in Iraq four years ago. Donnelly is accused by the U.S. government of illegally taking medical supplies into Iraq
(Press Herald Photo/Doug Jones)
And despite the prospect of fines and even jail time, Mary Donnelly, a retired schoolteacher who lives on Peaks Island, says she'd go again.

On Wednesday afternoon, she and a small group of peace activists stood outside the Portland Public Library on Congress Street, holding signs opposing war in Iraq. Donnelly held a large photograph of a few people, which she took at Saddam Pediatric Hospital.

She wonders about them. Wonders whether they are still alive.

She is convinced, though, that a war would be in no one's best interest.

"When we were there, the people welcomed us," she said. "They separate us from the government."

She said the people there didn't particularly fear a war because, they said, the sanctions were worse.

"They said, 'Get it over with,' she said. "The sanctions are the silent war."

Those sanctions, in place since 1991, prohibit her from visiting Iraq, and prohibited her and her husband from bringing the duffel bags filled with about $110,000 worth of medicine, syringes and bandages.

The Donnellys could have applied for a permit to bring the items, but because they believe the sanctions are illegal and immoral, they refuse to go along with the process that sanctions put in place.

Many people associated with Voices in the Wilderness, the Chicago-based organization that sponsored the Donnellys' trip, believe the same way. And the U.S. Department of the Treasury is penalizing some of them for it.

The organization itself and three people who went to Iraq in November 1997 - the trip immediately before the Donnellys' - now face fines of $10,000 for the individuals and $20,000 for the organization.

Mary Donnelly, who is 64, said she doesn't know whether the government will fine her, too, but unlike the people who have been fined, she did not receive a pre-penalty notice. The organization and individuals received such notices a year after their trip, and were told this year that they must pay the fines, which are due this month.

Donnelly said what she saw in Iraq made her both sad and angry.

She said that the United States bombed Iraq's infrastructure, including water-treatment plants. Consequently, the nation's water is contaminated, and people die from entirely preventable causes, such as diarrhea.

The United Nations estimates that between 1991 and 1999, a half-million children younger than 5 died in Iraq.

Donnelly wants people to know that, and believes that if Americans knew that the sanctions are causing suffering, they would have a different attitude toward Iraq.

Danny Muller, who coordinates Voices in the Wilderness, said the sanctions and travel ban make no sense.

"It's legal to bomb people from 40,000 feet away," he said, "but it's illegal to try and bring them medicine? That's not a world I want to live in. As an American, I feel I have to change this."

He said that the best way to bring about regime change in Iraq is to lift the sanctions, so the people there will have more comfort and more time to become politically active, and not have to worry about being able to eat or whether their children will die.

He said that the organization is not a shill for Saddam, and that it has turned down money when it has come from "the wrong places."

Donnelly said there are huge portraits of Saddam all over Iraq. There is huge suffering, as well, she said.

Copyright © Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc

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