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Activist defies government prosecution threat
Standing up against Iraq sanctions

By Elizabeth Schulte | June 21, 2002 | Page 2

BERT SACKS could be the next stop on George W. Bush's "you're either with us or against us" witch-hunt. This week, federal prosecutors threatened Sacks with up to 12 years in jail for "aiding an enemy of the U.S." His crime? Transporting medical supplies to Iraq.

In 1997, Sacks, a 60-year-old retired engineer from Seattle, traveled to Iraq with $40,000 worth of medicine, in violation of United Nations (UN) sanctions. He was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine by June 17 for violating the embargo --a fine he refuses to pay.

The sanctions were imposed nearly 12 years ago. George Bush Sr.--and Bill Clinton after him--argued that the sanctions would weaken the power of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. They also claimed that military sanctions were necessary to keep Saddam from manufacturing "weapons of mass destruction."

But even an embargo on military goods would continue to ban items considered to have "dual uses"--such as cardiac machines, which are run by computers that UN officials argue could potentially be used to run weapons systems. The list of banned goods also includes vaccines to treat infant hepatitis, tetanus and diphtheria--because they could be used to produce biological weapons.

During the 1991 Gulf War, thousands of Iraqi citizens were killed and much of the country's infrastructure destroyed in the U.S. government's relentless bombing campaign. The continued sanctions have heaped on more suffering and death.

"We should speak in clear English," Sack said at a press conference in Washington, D.C. "It's killing 5,000 children a month. It's not honest; it's not accurate to say it penalizes the Iraqi people. It kills them."

Sacks has made eight trips to Iraq over the last six years with several groups, including Voices in the Wilderness and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. His hope is that breaking the sanctions will shine a light on this sick policy. "If that truth gets out, then there's a chance for change," Sacks said.

Sacks' case also highlights the important link to be made between Bush's war aims abroad--with Iraq on the short list of targets--and his attack on dissent at home. We have to oppose Bush's war--on all its fronts.

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