Punished for Saving Lives: Courts Cracks Down on Nonviolent Activism

October 18th, 2005 - by admin

Voices in the Wilderness – 2005-10-18 08:45:41


(October 9, 2005) — After 10 years of non-violent protest and direct aid to the suffering people of Iraq, Chicago-based group Voices in the Wilderness (VitW) has been forced to cease operating following an order by a US federal judge that the group pay a civil penalty — effectively a fine — of $20,000 for delivering medical supplies to Iraq without a permit.

Founded in 1995, VitW was always upfront about its deliberate violations of the genocidal embargo on the Iraqi people, organising more than seventy delegations to the country, each of which took vital medicines and medical equipment. Their banning follows repeated warnings from the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), part of whose job is to ensure that Iraqi children die unnecessarily from diseases which would barely keep the child of a rich western family home from school.

The judge’s decision concluded an eight-year battle over charges of sanction violations. When they were at last fined $20,000, they responded by sending 20,000 Iraqi dinar, then valued at under $14, with telling the media that they were attempting to draw attention to the way in which the embargo had destroyed the currency’s purchasing power.

The group defended itself by arguing that as they were involved in humanitarian acts, they were exempt from the embargo. Criticised for not applying for the necessary permit, they explained that this would have caused unacceptable delays in a situation of increasing urgency.

Why Were Corporations Allowed to Violate the Sanctions?
During court hearings, VitW repeatedly asked why humanitarian organizations were prosecuted while companies that broke sanctions for profit were not fined or penalized. “It’s incredible that OFAC has pursued fining a relatively small number of people, but companies are untouched,” said Jeff Guntzel, one of many group activists who has travelled to Iraq on numerous occasions.

The group has decided against accepting donations, despite the fact that the money could easily be raised from sympathisers. VitW bank accounts are frozen, and cheques are being returned uncashed.

This action is designed to ensure that all such available cash goes to where it is most needed, to humanitarian aid in Iraq and educational work within the United States. The latter has increasingly become the group‚s focus since it took the decision in March that conditions in Iraq had become too dangerous for activists‚ lives to be put at risk.

Although delegations have ceased pending an improvement in the security situation — one which currently seems a long way off — VitW will continue to work with the Iraqi people under its new name, Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

We Will Not Pay “One Penny or Dime”
Despite the risk of up to 12 years in prison, founding member Kathy Kelly says that VitW will not pay “one penny or dime” of the civil penalty‚ in a “conscientious objection to the utterly ruthless policies of war criminals in power.”


• How long are we, as the real patriotic American citizens, going to put up with the obvious abuse of power by this government and unseen elite special interest groups that control the media and government? We all need to see the corruption and graft in government going on all around us and start doing something about it! Otherwise, it’s not just going to “go away”.

Comment by mike ˜ 11/Oct/2005 @ 8:24 pm
I hope this story really gets around. VITW is one of the most courageous peace groups out there. I’ve heard Kathy Kelly being interviewed on Pacifica station KPFA (Berkeley) many times, giving listners information on what going down in Iraq for years.

Not surprisingly, arch War Criminal Dick Cheney, CEO of Halliburton at that time, “oversaw $23.8 million of business contracts for the sale of oil-industry equipment and services to Iraq throught two of its subsidiaries, Dresser Rand and Ingersoll-Dresser Pump” (1988-1999) according to the Financial Times of London. Story at: http:www.sfbg.com/reality/04.html.

The intentions of the sanctions, and nearly daily bombing of civilians in and outside the no fly zone were to break the legs of Iraq, so that the planned invasion in 2003 would be a push-over.

Comment by Meri Lea ˜ 11/Oct/2005 @ 10:52 pm
The story on VITW shows the duplicity of an Administration which, on the one hand, insists its various acts of aggression are meant to advance democracy, and then, with its actions against VITW, suppresses genuine, nonviolent, and humanitarian dissent. F

ew things the US government has done are as apalling as the long sanctions against Iraq, which caused monumental suffering to the people of Iraq (more died in those ten years as a result of the sanctions than have died in the horrific Pakistan earthquake). These people were willing to look past the brutality of Saddam to the reality of the suffering of women and children — and act. The shame is on the US government, the leaders of which belong in front of an international tribunal.

Comment by David McReynolds ˜ 12/Oct/2005 @ 6:48 pm
Along the same vein in the US is the growing movement to refuse to pay taxes for military use (www.peacetaxfund.org, etc.).

Comment by Heather ˜ 14/Oct/2005 @ 10:35 am
This type of punishment against humanitarian acts is exactly what Pastors for Peace experienced this year for travelling without a permit to Cuba to deliver educational supplies and medicine. We caravanistas received warning letters from the US Treasury Office.

Only when all organizations join together to blockade US weapons manufacture and delivery to all parts of the world and join together to demand congressional hearings on the massive crimes against humanity will this carnage slow down.

The majority of American people believe in human rights. We must support civil disobedience massively across the United States and demand that the neoconservative minority be brought to justice.

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