May 12 - Iraq Genocide Memorial Day

By Stanley Heller

A few weeks ago U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry transmitted his first "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices". In his message he says, "The United States continues to speak out unequivocally on behalf of the fundamental dignity and equality of all persons."

There follows a detailed report on all the countries of the world. All the countries get a report card from the great defender of dignity and equality, the great father looking down on all the children

One country is excluded, the United States itself.

What utter gall for the U.S. government to judge other countries. After what it did in Iraq what nerve does it have to tell others how to behave?

Forget "Shock and Awe" and the decade of occupation. Look at the 13 years of sanctions from 1990 to 2003, 13 years of massive hunger, sickness and disease, and immense numbers of deaths. In 1995 an article in the UK medical journal the Lancet UN Food and Agricultural researchers estimated that 567,000 children had died from the sanctions. And the sanctions still had another eight years to run. Denis Halliday who resigned as Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations in protest over the sanctions estimated that the sanctions had killed over a million Iraqis. Who can forget the pictures of the starved children brought into the hospitals or children with cancers or other diseases who had no access to the medicines that would have save them.

But it wasn't just children who died, nor was it just the old and sick. Jenan Ezzat, the wife of the conductor of the Iraqi National Orchestra burned to death in front of him because of a faulty kerosene lamp. Iraqis used those antiquated lamps because sanctions cut off electricity for a good part of every day.

George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton and the other authorities and politicians did this killing without any opposition from those in power. They claimed they were doing it to keep Saddam Hussein's "threat to the world" safely contained. The U.S. media for the most part kept quiet except for one major lapse. Someone on the "60 Minutes" TV program must have been outraged by the Lancet report and Leslie Stahl did an outstanding segment called "Punishing Saddam". She went to Iraq and walked in the hospitals empty of supplies and looked at the emaciated fly covered babies. Then she interviewed the then U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright who was carrying out Clinton's policy. On May 12, 1996 the show was aired. Part of the interview included this interchange:

Leslie Stahl: We have heard that a half a million children have died. I'm mean that's more children than died in Hiroshima. You know, is the price worth it?

Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price we think, we think the price is worth it

This was admission of mass murder.

Many, many government leaders in the U.S. and elsewhere were responsible for deliberately killing Iraqi civilians as a way of influencing Saddam Hussein. Yet, the only person I think who ever went to jail for the sanctions, was Dr. Rafil Dhafir. He wasn't imprisoned for creating the sanctions, but for breaking them. Dhafir was an upstate New York cancer doctor who founded a charity which sent money to Iraq. He was arrested in Feb. 2003 at the height of the hysteria about Iraq and the public was made to believe he was involved with acts of terrorism. He was never allowed bail, was found guilty of violating the sanctions and other white collar crimes like technical violations of the Medicare law. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison and is sitting to this day in a special Indiana high security prison.

Our committee in Connecticut was founded in 1982 over outrages done to Palestinians, but during the '90's we did what we could to oppose the sanctions. Several of us swore out a police complaint against Madeleine Albright in the late '90's when she spoke in Middletown CT at Wesleyan University. Some were arrested for interrupting when George H.W. Bush was being honored at another Connecticut college.

The hundreds of thousands killed by sanctions will never come back to life, but at least we can remember them. For the past several years we have called for the May 12, the date of Madeleine Albright's infamous admission, to be commemorated as Iraq Genocide Memorial Day. We have an old banner showing a starving Iraqi child that we unfurl and we write about what was done to Iraqis our site.

We hope eventually the memorial will be marked internationally as is the bombing of Hiroshima in many cities around the world. The genocide in Iraq wasn't a tragedy or a mistake. It was a massive crime and though we know the guilty will never be punished at least we should start compiling the names of those who took part in the atrocity and list them on the pages of shame.

One U.S. government action that is conceivable is the pardoning of Dr. Dhafir. He's been imprisoned now for ten years. He never had anything to do with terrorism or supporting Saddam's government. Whatever violations of U.S. law he committed surely have been paid for by him many times over the last decade and balanced by the lives he saved in Iraq. He should be set free.

Stanley Heller is Executive Director of the Middle East Crisis Committee