The Thistle Volume 12, Number 2: July 4, 2000.

We Were Not Merely Hecklers

As many people may know, on Saturday June 17, Secretary of State Madeline Albright gave the keynote speech at Northeastern University’s graduation ceremony which was held at the Fleet Center here in Boston. I was one of the thousands on hand to hear her speech, but more importantly, I was one of the handful of people inside who had the courage to stand up for those without a voice and to denounce the genocideal polices of the United States government, which are created, supported, and enforced by Madeline Albright. Those of us who risked arrest and who were willing to be forcibly removed from the Fleet Center in order to show Albright that her polices were not going unnoticed were far more than merely hecklers, as the article in the June 18 Sunday Boston Herald labeled us. Along with many other protesters who were forced to remain outside, we were there to show Madeline Albright that we think the deaths of more than half a million children in Iraq is not a price worth paying as she once claimed in a “60 Minutes” interview. Those of us who were there joined the ranks of students and activists from around the world who have protested Madeline Albright at every university she has spoken at this year. In fact, at Berkley’s graduation this spring, the administration was forced to rearrange the ceremony at the last minute so that she would be able to leave the stage before the student speaker could have a chance to “embarrass” her by bringing the truth about the sanctions to light. There are, however, far more than just a few outsiders and young kids protesting the sanctions and her role in keeping them in place.

In June 1997 a special commission within the United Nations verified that more than 1.2 million people in Iraq, including 750,000 children below the age of five, had died because of the scarcity of food and medicine caused by the economic sanctions that have been in place since Aug. 6, 1990. In 1998, UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, reported that since the imposition of economic sanctions on Iraq the mortality rate for children under the age of five has increased by more than 40,000 deaths per year, due primarily to preventable causes such as diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition. In addition, chronic malnutrition among children under five had reached 27.5% by that time. This is even worse when you realize that once a child reaches two or three years of age, chronic malnutrition is difficult to reverse and the damage on the child’s development is likely to be permanent. The report also stated that the mortality rate for children over the age of five had increased by more than 50,000 deaths per year due mainly to causes such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, liver or kidney disease. Under the dual usage clause of the sanctions, any substance or device that has both a civilian and a military use may be kept out of the country. This clause has been maliciously invoked by the US and Great Britain to keep out things like ambulances, detergents, chlorine, and many types of medicine. At the time of this report approximately 250 people were dying every day in Iraq due to the economic sanctions. The UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Health Organization report that basic public health services are near total collapse in Iraq due to a desperate shortage of basic medicines, life-saving drugs, and other essential medical supplies kept out through the dual usage clause. They also stated that up to fifty percent of the rural population has no access to clean water and that the waste water treatment facilities have stopped functioning in most urban areas, dramatically increasing the spread of disease. From these reports, and many more I have not mentioned, it is clear that the sanctions against Iraq are in blatant violation of the Geneva Protocol 1, Article 54, which states that the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is strictly prohibited. To this day, all of these atrocities continue to be carried out in our name, and the face that is put on this policy both at home and abroad is our Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

In order to prevent the appearance that the Western powers were simply standing by while their policies destroyed an entire generation of Iraqi children, they pushed the United Nations Security Council to pass resolution 986/1111, which is now commonly referred to as the “Oil for Food” program. In 1998 Dennis Haliday, then UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, stated that Iraq would need close to 30 billion US dollars per year to meet its current requirements for food, medicine, and for rebuilding its infrastructure. Resolution 986 initially allowed for Iraq to sell up to 2.14 billion dollars worth of oil every six months. After the allocations were taken out to pay for Gulf War reparations and UN administrative expenses, the amount of money which was actually spent to help the average person in central and southern Iraq was less than 25 cents per person per day. In response to this fact, the UN did increase the allowed quota to 5.26 billion dollars worth of oil every six months, but due to deterioration of oil field equipment under the sanctions, Iraq was only capable of pumping 4 billion dollars worth of oil every six months. This problem was exacerbated by the application of the dual usage clause which prevented equipment needed to repair the oil rigs from entering the country. In another UNICEF report, it was demonstrated that there has been no improvement in the living conditions of the Iraqi people since resolution 986 was passed.

This massive human suffering, however, has done nothing to weaken Saddam Hussein’s government. The wealthy elite, who are still loyal to his regime, can afford to buy whatever food or medicine they need on the black market, and the widespread malnutrition and disease has successfully weakened what little internal resistance survived after the end of the Gulf War. The total failure of the sanctions to weaken Saddam’s power, the successful elimination of his weapons of mass destruction program, and the terrible human cost of the sanctions have prompted the resignation of Dennis Haliday, former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, former UN Humanitarian Relief Coordinator who replaced Dennis Haliday, Jutta Burghardt, former World Food Program Chief in Iraq, and Scott Ritter, former weapons inspector with UNSCOM, in protest of the continuation of the sanctions. Echoing the sentiments of the rest of this group, in his resignation letter Hans von Sponeck said that the “Oil for Food” program had failed to meet even the minimum requirements of the civilian population, and that as a UN Official he should not be expected to remain silent about what he saw as a true human tragedy that needs to be ended. In addition to these individuals, France, Russia and China, all permanent members of the UN Security Council, 72 members of the United States Congress, the Pope, 53 bishops, the World Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Church, and the National Gulf War Resource Center (NGWRC), the largest Gulf War veterans organization in the country, have all openly and vocally called for an end to the economic sanctions. Closer to home, MIT professor Noam Chomsky, along with Edward Herman, Edward Said, and Howard Zinn, summed up the situation best by stating that “this is not foreign policy — it is sanctioned mass-murder that is nearing holocaust proportions. If we remain silent, we are condoning a genocide that is being perpetrated in the name of peace in the Middle East, a mass slaughter that is being perpetrated in our name.” As citizens of this country we have the power and the responsibility to do everything within our power to stop this wholesale slaughter of children.

Given the immoral and genocideal nature of the policies which Madeline Albright has helped to make, and the growing atmosphere of resistance to their continuation, I hope that it is clear that those of us escorted out of the Fleet Center were far more than simple hecklers trying to disrupt her speech. This country has entered upon a program of mass murder that has threatened to wipe out an entire generation in order to ensure that our economic interests in the Middle East are protected. Those of us there that morning, both those lucky enough to get inside and those who remained outside, have decided that never again will a government be allowed to exterminate a people without a fight. To me, the only real shame I felt that morning was when more people did not stand up for the Iraqi children that Madeline Albright is helping this country to kill everyday.


The Thistle Volume 12, Number 2: July 4, 2000.