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January 3, 2012 at 2:52 PM

Bert Sacks: No fine and no court time for Iraqi sanctions

Posted by Bruce Ramsey

The federal case against Bert Sacks, the Seattle activist fined for violation of the Trading with the Enemy Act, was dismissed Dec. 28—and Sacks is not too happy about it.

Sacks wanted a jury trial. He wanted to argue in public court that in the 1990s the U.S. government had committed an act of terrorism by destroying Iraq’s water purification plants during the first Gulf War and using economic sanctions to block their repair. Sacks cited UNICEF and other sources that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children had died from the effects of unclean water and no medicine. In Sacks’ view, they had been killed by the United States as surely as if our government had bombed them.

I think that is a good argument, morally at least. Sacks has been making it for more than 10 years--that economic sanctions can amount to a war crime. His problem has been getting anyone to listen to him. The lawsuit against him by the U.S. government was a chance for him to make an argument in federal court, and entice a federal judge to rule on it.

No such luck.

Judge Richard Jones of U.S. District Court in Seattle ruled that the government’s attempt to make Sacks pay a $16,000 fine had gone beyond the statute of limitations.

Sacks’ violation was in 1998, when Bill Clinton was president. Sacks took medicine to Iraq and donated it to Iraqi hospitals. He did it openly as a protest against the U.S.-U.N. sanctions.

In 2002, when George W. Bush was president, the Office of Foreign Assets Control demanded a $10,000 fine—not for the medicine, which was donated, but for his actual “trading” — paying for taxi rides, etc. Sacks refused to pay the fine. He sued the government and lost. He appealed, and lost at the Ninth Circuit. He appealed to the Supreme Court and was not granted a hearing. All this took time.

In March 2010 the Obama administration sued him, demanding the $10,000 plus more than $6,000 in accumulated interest and fees. Eight years had passed since the original fine—and Judge Jones ruled that the government had made its move too late.

The Seattle Times’ edit on the sanctions, from 2000, is here.

My column of a year ago on Bert Sacks is here.

Bert Sacks’ web page is here.

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