Denis Halliday, the UN humanitarian coordinator, who later resigned in protest, called the sanctions regime against Iraq ‘genocidal’. When asked by 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl if the deaths of nearly 500,000 Iraqi children was worth it, the then US Ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, replied ‘We think the price is worth it.”
Today, we are told by our media mavens (particularly newspapers like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post that pretty much act and behave as an arm of US policy and hence US state propaganda as any number of recent Glenn Greenwald pieces – e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and more, on the US media’s behavior in the face of corporate and government ass-kissing will reveal) that Iraq is free and democratic – Our invasion justified. Our actions moral. These publications, and I will include magazines like Time and Newsweek and others, have been in the forefront of the program to erase the memory of the illegality, immorality and sheer criminality that was inflicted on a people that meant this country no harm other than to have had the misfortune of sitting on oil. Where prosecution and war crimes tribunals are needed, excuses and brute manipulations of law, logic and humanity are offered.
Now comes a fantastic new book that takes us back and into the details of the sanctions regime and the callous and hideous calculations that went into maintaining and strengthening them. Joy Gordon’s Invisible War reminds us not only of the brutality and criminality of the sanctions that the US was principally responsible for maintaining, but also that it was maintained and sustained on the basis of lies. We invaded and further raped a nation already bought to its knees through starvation, disease, pestilence, deprivation and desperation. Later we blamed it on Al-Qaeda, and continued a process of systemic lies and outright fabrications to justify our desire to shed mass blood only so that we could pump oil.
Lest we forget, the sanctions were kept in place over the lie of Saddam’s possessions of WMDs. In a review of this recently published book Andrew Cockburn reminds us that:
The economic strangulation of Iraq was justified on the basis of Saddam’s supposed possession of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Year after year, UN inspectors combed Iraq in search of evidence that these WMD existed. But after 1991, the first year of inspections, when the infrastructure of Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme was detected and destroyed, along with missiles and an extensive arsenal of chemical weapons, nothing more was ever found…by early 1997 Rolf Ekeus had concluded…that he must report to the Security Council that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and was therefore in compliance with the Council’s resolutions, barring a few points. He felt bound to recommend that the sanctions should be lifted. Reports of his intentions threw the Clinton administration into a panic. The end of sanctions would lay Clinton open to Republican attacks for letting Saddam off the hook. The problem was solved, Ekeus explained to me, by getting Madeleine Albright, newly installed as secretary of state, to declare in a public address on 26 March 1997 that ‘we do not agree with the nations who argue that, if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted.’ The predictable result was that Saddam saw little further point in co-operating with the inspectors. This provoked an escalating series of confrontations between the Unscom team and Iraqi security officials, ending in the expulsion of the inspectors, claims that Saddam was ‘refusing to disarm’, and, ultimately, war.
And what was the consequence of a policy based on lies. Cockburn points out:
…its [the 661 Committee’s] actual function was to deny the import of even the most innocuous items on the grounds that they might, conceivably, be used in the production of weapons of mass destruction. An ingenious provision allowed any committee member to put any item for which clearance had been requested on hold. So, while other members, even a majority, might wish to speed goods to Iraq, the US and its ever willing British partner could and did block whatever they chose on the flimsiest of excuses. As a means of reducing a formerly prosperous state to a pre-industrial condition and keeping it there, this system would have aroused the envy of the blockade bureaucrats derided by Keynes. Thus in the early 1990s the United States blocked, among other items, salt, water pipes, children’s bikes, materials used to make nappies, equipment to process powdered milk and fabric to make clothes. The list would later be expanded to include switches, sockets, window frames, ceramic tiles and paint. In 1991 American representatives forcefully argued against permitting Iraq to import powdered milk on the grounds that it did not fulfil a humanitarian need. Later, the diplomats dutifully argued that an order for child vaccines, deemed ‘suspicious’ by weapons experts in Washington, should be denied.
Throughout the period of sanctions, the United States frustrated Iraq’s attempts to import pumps needed in the plants treating water from the Tigris, which had become an open sewer thanks to the destruction of treatment plants. Chlorine, vital for treating a contaminated water supply, was banned on the grounds that it could be used as a chemical weapon. The consequences of all this were visible in pediatric wards. Every year the number of children who died before they reached their first birthday rose, from one in 30 in 1990 to one in eight seven years later. Health specialists agreed that contaminated water was responsible: children were especially susceptible to the gastroenteritis and cholera caused by dirty water.
As we wave our flags, celebrate our ‘liberties’ and claim for ourselves the exclusive ownership of ‘humanity’, ‘democracy’ and all that is good on this earth, perhaps a moment to reflect and hear the sounds being drowned out by these bromides – the screams and tremblings of the millions who we sacrificed to serve our sense of righteousness, revenge and retribution.
‘They hate us for our freedoms.’ he said and laughed the laugh of a vampire after a feast.