The Political Trial of a Caring Man and the End of Justice in America

By Pilger, John | New Statesman (1996), November 9, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Political Trial of a Caring Man and the End of Justice in America


Pilger, John, New Statesman (1996)


In 1999, I travelled to Iraq with Denis Halliday who had resigned as assistant secretary general of the United Nations rather than enforce a punitive UN embargo on Iraq. Devised and policed by the United States and Britain, these "sanctions" caused extreme suffering, including, according to Unicef, the deaths of half a million Iraqi infants under the age of five.

Ten years later, in New York, I met the senior British official responsible for the imposition of sanctions. He is Came Ross, once known at the UN as "Mr Iraq". I read to him a statement he made to a UK parliamentary select committee in 2007:

  The weight of evidence clearly indicates
  that sanctions caused massive ... suffering
  among ordinary Iraqis, in particular children.
  We--the US and UK governments who were the
  primary engineers and defenders of sanctions--
  were well aware of this evidence at the time
  but we largely ignored it or blamed [it] on the
  Saddam government. [We] effectively [denied]
  the entire population the means to live ...

I said, "That's a shocking admission."

"Yes, I agree," he replied. "I feel very ashamed about it ... Before I went to New York, I went to the Foreign Office expecting a briefing on the vast piles of weapons that we still thought Iraq possessed, and the desk officer sort of looked at me slightly sheepishly and said, 'Well actually, we don't think there is anything in Iraq."

"Our way of life"

That was 1997, more than five years before George W Bush and Tony Blair invaded Iraq for reasons they knew were fabricated. The bloodshed they caused, according to recent studies, is greater than that of the Rwandan genocide.

On 26 February 2003, one month before the invasion, Dr Rafil Dhafir, a prominent cancer specialist in Syracuse, New York, was arrested by federal agents and interrogated about the charity he had founded, Help the Needy. Dr Dhafir was one of many Americans, Muslims and non-Muslims, who for 13 years had raised money for food and medicines for sick and starving Iraqis who were the victims of sanctions. He had asked US officials if this humanitarian aid was legal and had been assured it was--until one early morning when he was hauled out of his car by federal agents as he left for his surgery. His front door was smashed down and his wife had guns pointed at her head. Today, he is serving 22 years in prison.

On the day of the arrest, Bush's attorney general John Ashcroft announced that some "funders of terrorism" had been caught. This "terrorist" was a man who had devoted himself to caring for others, including cancer sufferers in his own New York community. More than $2m was raised for his surety and several people pledged their homes; yet he was refused bail six times.

Dr Dhafir was charged under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. His crime had been to send food and medicine to the stricken country of his birth. He was "offered" the prospect of a lesser sentence if he pleaded guilty but he refused on principle. Plea bargaining is the iniquity of the US judicial system, giving prosecutors the powers of judge, jury and executioner. …

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