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Ramsey Clark's Defense Of Iraq

On September 4th, at the National Press Club, one of the most powerful statements against the Bush administration's drive to war against Iraq was made. Ramsey Clark, attorney general in the administration of President Johnson, fresh off of a visit to Iraq, made a statement and took questions last week regarding the reasons behind his strong stance against U.S. military action against Iraq, and American foreign policy, in general. Here is part of the transcript of the event moderated by Brian Becker, co-director, International Action Center and a member of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition steering committee which is planning an October 26 march on Washington to prevent a U.S. war on Iraq:

MR. CLARK: And perhaps a dozen countries now have been asked the question, "If the American people are free, as they say, why do they permit their government to act against us, as it does?" It's a question every American citizen has to ask {themselves}. Part of the reason -- perhaps the major part -- is the lack of access to information. Iraq's a classic example. It's in the papers every day. Yet who is told so that they painfully remember as the people of Iraq do? But the war against Iraq has been going on for more than 12 years. It's been killing scores of people every day, thousands some days, every year -- every day for 12 years -- every year for 12 years.

It began with sanctions, which has proved to be genocidal. Every U.N. agency that deals with health or children or with food, agriculture for over 11 years now has condemned the sanctions because of the deaths of innocent Iraqi people. The first major report was in August of 1991 by UNICEF; 47,500 children under the age of five, it said, dead as a direct result of the sanctions. Actually, the number was considerably higher than that. Perhaps the most famous report is the food and agricultural organization report of October 1996, which told us that 585,000 children under the age of five have died in Iraq as a direct result of the sanctions.

Now the figure is much greater. We meet the health minister every time we go there. He's a Kurdish man who's had experience that no one who wants to heal the sick should ever have to go through, trying under almost impossible circumstances -- wondering whether you're spreading infection rather than helping people. We hear of a woman being operated on without anesthesia. We saw hundreds of people operated on without anesthesia. During the bombing I remember and will never forget an 11-year-old girl whose left leg was amputated just below the hip while four men held her down until she went into a coma. And somehow or other, she survived. They had no gloves. They had no alcohol. They had no gauze. They had no clean water. They didn't know whether they were going to kill her with infection or from the shock of what they were doing to her. But she survived. And so many haven't.

And as we were told just a few minutes ago, the overwhelming majority of -- actually, the million-and-a-half figure is much closer to being accurate than the million figure of deaths caused by the sanctions. The great majority are infants, which is infants born alive within the first year of their lives, up almost tenfold in numbers of deaths. For every infant who was dying in 1989, 10 are dying now. Children under five, the elderly -- that's more than half of the people dying. Those are the people that every decent society in history has struggled the hardest to protect, to revere -- you care for. And we are causing their deaths.

And if we don't know it, it's in part because we're not told often enough or we don't want to know it.

And the death rate continues, and it affects the whole population. In 1989, the percentage of live births that were under 2 kilos, which is the marginal birth weight for the hope for healthy life, was 4.5 percent; today it's 25 percent. One in four of the infants born are under 2 kilos at birth.

And it's not a line that separates everybody, where everybody above that is healthy. There is a stunted generation. The British medical team, 30 doctors that went there in 1994, said there's a stunted generation of Iraqis on the way. If you go to Basra, particularly, and see the malformed fetuses that abort, to see the malformed infants that survive for a little while, by the hundreds and hundreds, from depleted uranium.

We're told they're not using depleted uranium any more. Well, let's hope so, but it's hard to be confident. We know what happened to Italian troops and other troops in Kosovo from depleted uranium that was used there. It's very hard to clean up, and the incidence of tumors and leukemia and cancers and abnormalities at birth that have never been seen before are growing.

And the death rate is continuing to increase in spite of the fact that there's a lot more food there now. It's still less than is needed.

For years, when you'd go into the pharmacy of any hospital, there would be practically no medicine there and maybe 50 people waiting and waiting till some medicine came in, to see if their prescription could be the first filled, all free, as it's always been in Iraq because their medical system, which was as good as any in a Third World country anywhere before the bombing, was always free, free not only for Iraqis, for all the people in Iraq, whether they were Sunni Muslim or Shi'a Muslim or Christian or Kurdish or whatever they may have been, free. And now the pharmacies and the hospitals are maybe two- thirds full. The hospitals have been cleaned up, just by plain hard work.

But there's been bombing against Iraq nearly every day since the war -- the major assault in 1991 ended.

We ought to think about that assault for a moment. These are Pentagon figures, so you may be skeptical about them, depending on your persuasion, but since they're against interest, they have some higher credibility than ordinary statements: 110,000 U.S. aerial sorties against Iran in 42 days, unprecedented in warfare, one ever 30 seconds for 42 days; 888,500 tons of bombs, the Pentagon tells us, unleashed on that country in 42 days.

That's the equivalent of 7-1/2 Hiroshima bombs, but spread generously and democratically all over the place, not just 7-1/2 big holes incinerated into Mother Earth at the cradle of civilization.

And the marks of that, in the destruction of the water system, the destruction of the food chain, the destruction of the ability to grow new food because we took out everything needed to produce food -- fertilizers, insecticides. To see the dead groves of date palms, which made Iraq by far the largest exporter of dates in the world, and now they look like graveyards with strange monuments, the stumps of date palm trees. And then trying to tell all their neighbors they can't help their neighbor, they can't feed them, they can't care for them.

That's changed now. It was quite interesting to go to the major Shi'a Muslim mosque in Baghdad -- last Wednesday, I think, I'm not quite sure what day it was -- 2,000 Iranian Muslims there camped out. They've been there for four or five days on a pilgrimage, all on the same kind of blue blankets they brought over from Iran. Syria, two flights a day in defiance of the United States' demand that no one engage in such activity.

Turkey urging the United States -- these are the neighbors: Don't attack Iraq. Saudi Arabia urging the United States: Don't attack Iraq. Kuwait. There's not a neighbor that hasn't said "Don't attack Iraq." And still we attack nearly every day. You rarely hear of it. And we have to ask why.

Someone asked me how many people have been killed in all those attacks. And they're very hard to count, but it's been hundreds and hundreds.

If you went back to the 17th of January 1993, which was just before the installation of a new president, 34 people killed, an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein, because they hit right at the Al Rasheed Hotel, the famous incident that people can remember. We were there about two weeks later. They missed him. He was to come to speak at a major international Muslim meeting, which had been changed to another location, and two people who clean up the lobby were killed.

About 15 kilometers way, at the home of the director of the national gallery of modern art and one of the greatest artists in the Arab world, in the whole world, perhaps, of the last 20 years, Leila al Attar, life snuffed out, her husband killed, child killed. Another child survived, lost one of its eyes, badly injured.

What craziness to believe that you can simply attack any time indiscriminately wherever you want to whenever you want to. While we were there, the first Monday, a major attack from bombers at high altitude -- apparently lasering bombs in, but you could feel it and hear it from all over town, from people we talked to, although it's outside town by maybe 15, 20 kilometers -- eight killed outright.

One died in the hospital the day we were there. Three or four were still on the critical list the day we were there, which was a week ago Tuesday, a week ago yesterday, and about 20 still in the hospital.

The next day the radar system at the civilian airport in Mosul, third-largest city in Iraq, destroyed. But Mosul's up north, and you need radar guidance more there than you do in the other airports, because you have more inclement weather, you have more fog, and you have more winds and more radar. We just came and took it out. It had been operating for quite a while. And one fine day, we decided it was time for it to go.

It's awfully important that we know that the war against Iraq has been continuing all this time, and the people feel it. They think it's basically to unnerve them, to debilitate them, just as the sanctions debilitate them. But we here have to know what we're doing and what's being done in our name. And another attack on Iraq would be the most outrageous violation of morality and law in a long, long time, after all we've already done.

The Pentagon tells us that in the 42 days that we attacked Iraq in 1991, we destroyed 80 percent of their armor, materiel and capacity for producing arms, including arms involving weapons of mass destruction -- 80 percent taken out in 1991.

You've got to remember, during that assault -- because that's what it was -- no weapons were used against us. We had no real casualties in combat. The Pentagon says 157 soldiers died. They admit that more than a third were from friendly fire, including a couple of silver bullets, artillery firing depleted uranium missiles that hit our tanks.

The rest were accidents, basically. One of the big ones was a chow tent, a mess hall tent, way down in -- you know, 50 miles below the Kuwaiti border, and a Scud comes wobbling down. There's no way that we even knew there was a mess tent -- that the Iraqi even knew there was a mess tent there. It hits the mess tent and kills 30-some- odd people.

No casualties, while we killed, one former secretary of the Navy estimated at the time, 200,000. The DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, estimated at one time 150,000 lives we took.

And we've killed indiscriminately, and we killed to cripple the civilian population. And then, in that crippled condition, we kept the sanctions on mercilessly.

The U.N. arms inspectors -- and we have to remember that the two heads of that office who have served for the longest period of time both resigned in protest -- it takes courage for a bureaucrat to do that. When was the last high official of the United States government that you can remember resigning in protest because of what he or she may have considered to be immoral conduct by her own government? Let me tell you that in the real world anyone who loves her country has to be the first to stand up and say, "Stop," when she sees it doing an unjust act. That's the least you owe your country, if you love it.

And to stand by silently and watch it destroy everything we've always said we were or wanted to be, and this use -- this massive use of violence -- why is our military budget greater than the military budgets of the next nine major arms manufacturers in the world combined? What has made us so belligerent?

Why are you waging war again in the Philippines on the hundredth anniversary of the worst year of the Philippine-American War, in which, we concede, a million Philippine people died, 200,000 from violence outright. We can talk about bad things we say the Iraqis -- done in the past. There are pictures within two or three miles from here of trenches in the island of Negros, where General Smith gave the order to Colonel Chesterfield to kill every man on the island, and Lieutenant Colonel Smith -- rather, Chesterfield asked the general, "What age?" He said, "Fourteen and over." And there are pictures of trenches of bodies, called "little niggers" by the soldiers. Dengue fever took hundred of thousands of in the war, and here we're sending troops back in.

What we're doing in Colombia now is what we did in Vietnam in the early years. The northwest corner of South America is more populous and bigger and closer and more difficult than Vietnam. More than 100 million live in Venezuela and Colombia and Ecuador and Peru, and we're spending billions there now. We're spending money on troops and training their people to kill their own, and we participate some, as we find we did in Guatemala and Salvador for years, but we're just now learning of what common sense would have told us all along.

We really are now talking about regime change. I defy you to show me in history any government that has engaged in regime change that wasn't an aggressor government. What business is it of the United States to engage in regime change? And how successful have our efforts in the past been? Ask the Filipinos how they liked Marcos. Ask the Chileans how they liked Pinochet. Ask the Iranians how they liked the shah for a democratically elected Mossadeq. Ask the people of the Congo, who suffered more for 35 years than any other people on the beautiful continent of Africa, which is dying, how they liked Mobutu.

And Patrice Lumumba offered hope at the beginning of the process that's hardly begun even now, of decolonization. Regime change is no business of a single country ever.

And ask yourself about the meaning of the war on terrorism, as we call it. We shot Afghanistan up from one end to the other. Who believes that half of the casualties on the ground there were anything -- had anything to do with terrorism against the United States, directly or indirectly, or belong to an organization that was involved in it. They're guests at a wedding party, they're people coming to Kabul for meetings. It was indiscriminate bombing.

And the very theory of the war on terrorism encouraged Pakistan and India to face each other off, in one of the most dangerous moments of our time, to see those troops mounting on each side of the border, because they had been told by the superpower, the United States, that, look, if you suspect someone is causing terrorism in your country, you can go out and kill them and kill anybody that happens to be in the neighborhood or several neighborhoods. I mean, I can remember as a kid when they caught Bonnie and Clyde in Dallas, and I can tell you, if the police had tried to shoot up Texas all over the place, claiming they were trying to get Bonnie and Clyde, they'd have had a revolution on their hands, and ought to have.

Our threats, our daily threats against Iraq are unprecedented in history. Here is this huge superpower with all these powerful -- a threat is a crime, it's a serious crime. If I threaten my neighbor, I could be arrested and convicted, and ought to be. And these threats are a crime against peace, and a crime against peace is the most serious of all crimes, because without it, there's no war. And yet they're celebrated.

And the debate we're hearing in the United States is not whether we attack Iraq, but when and how. And the answer must be never. We have to reach out in friendship and believe we can make friends in this world and stop trying to rule it by force.

Thank you.

MR. BECKER: Thank you, Ramsey Clark. Okay, we're going to open the floor for a few minutes of questions and answers.

Again, the October 26th demonstration for people to be -- to learn more about it, go to the website,

The floor is open.

Q Excuse me. Mr. Clark, if President Bush wanted to meet with you about Iraq, what would be your message? What would you talk to him about?

MR. CLARK: I would say that it would be the gravest mistake of any president in my lifetime if he did so. There have been some mistakes -- Vietnam -- that we lived through, and many others.

I would say that it would be an impeachable offense, clearly, because it would be in violation not only of international law -- the Nuremburg Charter, the Geneva Conventions. It would not only be a crime against peace to attack; the attack, by every description we've heard of it, would be in violation of prohibitions against crimes in war. It'd be a violation of the Constitution, that's suffered so much lately.

I'd say, "Help inform the American people about what's really happening and what's really needed about hunger in Africa, AIDS sweeping the planet, violence among people all over the world, including here in the United States, and seek to heal. And never believe that what you do won't be a lesson for others.

"It'll be seen by a billion-and-a-half Muslims as attack on Islam. How else can they see it? It's what they've seen for a long, long time. It'll be seen by poor countries as an attack on the poor. It'll be seen by Europe as an effort to dominate even them from their former fair share and preying on the rest of the world. It would be the biggest mistake a president of the United States has ever made at one of the most dangerous times in history. We've just come through the most violent century in history, and the next one has got to be better -- (chuckles) -- and different, or it'll be the last. And you're the first president of the United States in that century."

Q Mr. Clark, how do you assess Saddam Hussein? Is he a threat? Do you believe he has access or is close to access nuclear weapons? Where does fit in this trip?

MR. CLARK: I think the claim that Iraq is a threat is a complete fraud. I don't believe that they think it's true for a minute. I think it's the neatest excuse they can think of to do what they wanted to do, anyway and were pretty much doing, anyway. I think the administration has used what we call 9/11, which is a pretty glib way to treat what happened, such a terrible tragedy, as a means of justifying a foreign policy that was in place and advancing it more rapidly. Then we have to wake up and turn that around. If Iraq is a threat to us, we have to recognize there are dozens of other countries that are a greater threat -- (chuckles) -- and in a greater position to carry out a threat. But we (shopped who ?) we considered the threat to be around among chosen enemies, and Iraq just happens to be number one on the docket right now. The rest are waiting their turn.

Q Would humanitarian conditions improve or worsen if Saddam Hussein was removed from power? I mean, what would happen to the people under new leadership?

MR. CLARK: Well, if the past is prologue, we could assume that Iraq would, in time, recover its health under the government that existed throughout the '90s, '80s; that it would be soon well fed, perhaps too well fed; that it would be soon well medicated, perhaps too well medicated. One of the things that doctors have learned is that easy money made free use of too much medicine too easy, and now they'll be treating people considerably different. They won't be buying every pharmaceutical that comes on the market and untested, and testing it on their own people.

Iraq was one of the best countries off in terms of the human condition, even with the tragedy of the Iran-Iraq war, which took a million very young lives, and which was very much to me an American strategy of dividing and conquering. Henry Kissinger, at the time, said I hope they kill each other. I think he meant it's our plan that they kill each other. What could be better? You know, like the Indian wars; if you can set them against each other, the land is there without the risk.

Conditions, you'd have to assume, would improve. Why not? They've made remarkable progress coming back already. But if everything was off, the death rate will continue for several years and it will be a generation before whatever happened, before health would be restored as it was.

Q General Clark --

MR. BECKER: We're going to -- just for the format, we're going to go for about five more minutes.


Q You've traveled in the region. Have you discovered among the leaders in the region any concern among them that if the United States is successful in bringing about a regime change in Baghdad that the United States might then be eager to bring about a regime change in Teheran or regime change in Damascus or regime change in Tripoli?

MR. CLARK: Certainly. But I think they're worried about the United States trying to bring about a regime change if we fell in love with Iraq, you know, which isn't going to happen, because they've been under the gun themselves for a long time and some of them have known regime change at the -- by the actions of the United States.

There's no one in the region that doesn't have a direct economic interest in -- or political interest in regime change that's personal, that doesn't see this as an enormous risk. We don't know what flare- ups there'll be, from Indonesia to Morocco and other parts of the world, you know, in the Philippines, in Latin America, because the -- you know, we've known for a long time we don't have enough people to police the world.

I mean, we're not willing to police an easy place, like Kosovo, you know? So if we start it up, what's going to happen? And how patient do we think the world will be if they see the United States -- the arrogance of our power is something that's unprecedented -- to see daily the president of the United States threatening that country? We haven't seen that often.

MR. BECKER: We're going to wrap up the conference. We'll take two final comments. The woman here and the woman in the back, and then we're going to end.

Q Dr. Clark, is it possible -- there are two issues on on the floor I hear; one are the erosion of American civil liberties, the other is the war on Iraq. Is it possible that this war is a smokescreen to debilitate -- I heard you say that the Iraqi people are experiencing being debilitated because of the possibility of a war. Is it possible that this threatened war is a smokescreen to take away the issue of eroding or eroded American civil liberties and the current wars in Palestine and against the American people?

MR. CLARK: No, I think it would be a mistake not to believe that the United States government really wants to attack Iraq, in and of itself, and it really wants to see a Palestine that is totally subservient. If you watch what our government does rather than listen to what it says -- said, we'd have to (perceive ?) that you see for 50 years our acts have led to the erosion of dignity and sovereignty and independence for the Palestinian people and for the region. We want to do that, and we want the American people to not only accept it, but applaud it. And we're doing pretty good after 9/11, because we could appeal to fear and hatred. I remember Dr. King saying -- I'm not sure he ever wrote it -- that you must never be afraid, because you'll come to hate the cause of your fear, and that hatred will consume your soul. He believed in souls.

I think the erosion of civil liberties has been setting in for a long time -- 30 years. It's accelerated in the last year at a rate that I don't believe has been seen at any time, going back to Alien Sedition in the early years of the republic, or in the Civil War, when we always talk about the suspension of habeas corpus. But it affected a handful of people, not thousands who -- you didn't even know their names or where they're being detained. (Laughs.) I mean, how can you run a writ to something you don't know? The Mitchell Palmer raid, 6,000 rounded up and released quickly. Debs imprisoned, he sets -- you know, it's a real important thing for a country fighting to make the world free for democracy to imprison someone for exercising free speech.

But what we've done in the last year is unprecedented, and we need to wake up quickly to it and believe that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Charter of the United Nations and their principles are really the road to peace, that peace is found in a respect for the rights of others, not at the end of a barrel.

MR. BECKER: Yes? And your last question?

Q Yeah. So how do you explain that U.S. public opinion is strongly supportive of a strike against Iraq? And what do you see as the biggest challenge to mobilizing the U.S. public against this?

MR. CLARK: You know, technology is -- doesn't make moral judgments. I thought in the Vietnam War that the two great problems there were -- for the United States were we didn't respect their lives as our own and we used technology against life.

The technology of communications can work miracles. It could educate all the children, all over the world, with the finest instruction in every and every subject. And yet we have growing illiteracy and ignorance.

It can also be the best control system ever known. Rome could use bread and circuses -- the circus to entertain the people and the bread to keep them from getting too hungry. But we can use television as more than a "vast wasteland," as the great anesthetizer --don't think, just wait for the next episode in your favorite program -- a nation of couch potatoes.

Our news has gotten so soft and so one-sided. I'm constantly told how, you know, I've isolated myself. I haven't isolated myself. I've been right here, you know. (Laughs.) It's just that you may lose your job if you carry what I say. And I've had reporters from the networks, friends, tell me that in Iran and in Salvador and Vietnam and other places. We have to loosen up and tell it like it is. And if we did, I have enough faith in human nature and the American people -- which is, after all, this huge nation of immigrants, of all the people, our strength -- to believe that the government would act entirely differently. It really wouldn't be a wrestling match; the government would realize that the power's in the people.

So I think the media's one of the very major problems. I don't mean to excuse ourselves for that, but it's hard to combat.

Just from Iraq this time, the number of radio stations we could get on, the number of TV we could get on here, the number of newspapers here that reported the trip -- not that it's the biggest story in the world, it's certainly not -- but we were talking that much about Iraq and it's that important, and you're reporting whatever everybody else under the sun says if they're for the attack, you might just mention that there are some that feel otherwise, and there may be tens of millions.

MR. BECKER: I want to thank the press, and Ramsey Clark, Bishop Gumbleton, Mahdi Bray, Carl Messineo from the Partnership for Civil Justice, the Free Palestine Alliance, the Muslim Student Association, Catholic Worker, International Action Center. These are the groups that are coming together for a test of public opinion.

It's our position that the public opinion polls as of yet do not reflect the fact that the anti-war movement is just beginning. If you asked the American people in 1965 about the war in Vietnam, you would have found overwhelming support, perhaps, for the war in Vietnam; and within a couple years, that public support turned into its opposite, and the opposition by the people, the ordinary, average person -- in the millions -- became the most potent political force against the Vietnam War.

Our goal, this new anti-war movement, is to reclaim the concept that the power is indeed in the people. We want regime change, but not in Baghdad. We want regime change in the United States. And I don't mean replacing Republicans with Democrats. We want a change so that the government does not represent the corporations, the banks, the commercial interests that seek to dominate the Middle East and all of its strategic natural resources. We want a government that puts the needs of people first.

So on October 26th, tens of thousands of people in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco will be in the streets saying, "Money for jobs and education and housing and child care and to meet people's needs, not for a war of aggression against the people of Iraq." And that's when the real debate in the United States will open up, is when the people are in the streets.

Thank you very much.

Monday, September 9, 2002

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