On June 4, 2004, lawyers for Voices in the Wilderness (VitW) will argue, in federal court, that a judge should allow further "discovery" to help establish why VitW travelers believed they had a duty to challenge economic sanctions against Iraq. The U.S. government charges us with the "crime" of delivering donated medicines to Iraq, without authorization. The U.S. Treasury Department is attempting to collect $20,000 from VitW for violation of U.S. sanctions against Iraq, sanctions which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children in Iraq and effectively destroyed the civilian infrastructure. VitW is countersuing for reparations for the catastrophic effect of UN/U.S.-led economic sanctions.
From 1996-2003, our resolve, not bound by unjust UN/U.S.-led economic sanctions, deepened each time we personally witnessed innocent Iraqis being brutally and lethally punished by shortages of food and medicines, deteriorating infrastructure, contaminated water and a disastrous breakdown in their health care systems.
Prosecuting lawyers will argue that our case should be resolved swiftly since we have already acknowledged delivering medicines to Iraq. Our attorney, Bill Quigley, professor of law at Loyola University, New Orleans, who traveled to Iraq prior to the U.S. war, counters, "The U.S. government has no business punishing people for bringing medicine to Iraq, while its sanctions and occupation cause the daily deaths of Americans and Iraqis and continue to create a desperate need for medicine and basic goods for many Iraqis. This case is about justice, this hearing is an attempt to further criminalize dissent, and we will continue our civil resistance and actions regardless of the outcome of this case."
Only the lawyers will appear in the courtroom on June 4. But our role, in the wider court of public opinion, continues.
I can’t directly participate in activity outside a courtroom, on June 4th – a federal court has already imprisoned me for protesting at a U.S. military combat training school which has been graduating Latin American trainees who have later been implicated in torture, disappearance, assassination, and murder upon return to their home countries. But here in the Pekin Federal Prison Camp, between work shifts in the dish room, I have several hours each day to contemplate further nonviolent resistance to U.S. war-making.
There is considerable press attention right now to the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse and torture scandal. Here in the prison library, I’ve read numerous letters to the editor that insist that, even if ordered, U.S. Military Police and prison guards should not have cooperated with the degrading humiliation of Iraqi prisoners. Should VitW members have gone along with economic sanctions when we saw that Saddam Hussein didn’t miss a meal while these sanctions were inflicting disease and death on Iraq’s most vulnerable people? Should we have cooperated with one of the most egregious instances of child abuse in history?
Here is a tableau that communities across the country could set up outside of courtrooms as a demonstration of solidarity with VitW defendants.
Several friends could pack a duffel bag with antibiotics, aspirins, and vitamins, along with a few toys. One could hold a sign reading:
"Yes, VitW traveled to Iraq, after learning that ½ million Iraqi children died as a direct result of economic sanctions.
"Yes, VitW brought medicine and toys to children’s hospitals in Iraq.
"Yes, VitW developed friendships with Iraqis.
"Yes, VitW disobeyed a U.S. law."
Efforts to extend a hand of friendship and build bonds of trust between people enhance our collective "social security." Treat other people well and you won’t have to be afraid of them – this truism could liberate us from the trap of insecurity set for us by Bush’s ongoing war against Iraq.
Imagine the frustration felt by mothers here in the prison when they can’t directly influence situations affecting their children. Hampered by maddeningly limited phone time and long distances between themselves and their loved ones, women still do what they can, over the months and years, to help care for their children.
I hope they’ll inspire me, beyond these confines, to use our freedoms creatively and constantly in hopes of shaping a more secure future for our children and later generations.
We can’t wait for Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry to improve our "social security." Exercising our right to free speech, let’s join Dennis Kucinich, community and religious leaders and others worldwide who are calling for an end to the war against Iraq. Let’s help people deliver a verdict against war and occupation. You might start with an exercise in front of your local courthouse.
For documents regarding this case, please see http://vitw.org/summons
For further information call: Angela Garcia, 773-784-8065 or Danny Muller 917-217-6809 (on site in D.C.)