Embargo Makes Deathbeds of Hospital Beds for Iraqi ChildrenPublished in The Orlando Sentinel on March 2, 1999.
By Charley Reese
Johanna Berrigan, a Catholic Worker lay person out of Philadelphia, is used to working with poor people, but she wasn't prepared for a "death row for infants" that she found in Baghdad hospitals.
The hospitals, devoid of almost everything they need, and staffed by doctors exhausted and grieving, are just a place to die for the thousands of Iraqi children suffering from diseases and infections brought on by the malnutrition and contaminated water.
Our government is responsible for that. The embargo on Iraq, which even denies the Iraqis chlorine to use for purifying their water supply, has become a weapon of mass destruction. Half a million dead children -- and that's a United Nations number -- is mass destruction, I would say.
Berrigan said in 1989 about 92 percent of the Iraqis had access to health care and that education was free through the university level. In that year, there was not a single case of cholera in the country. Today, there are thousands of cases -- a direct result of contaminated water. There has been a fourfold increase in childhood leukemia, possibly linked to the depleted uranium the United States used in its shells.
She said a small infection that easily could be dealt with escalates to kidney failure and coma for the malnourished Iraqi children whose doctors lack medicines and even antiseptics. In one hospital ward she toured, they were using kerosene in an attempt to sterilize because it was all they had.
But don't think the U.S. government isn't on the job. It has just threatened another group of Americans with tens of thousands of dollars in fines and long prison sentences for taking "medicines and toys" to Iraq. Under this administration, compassion for dying children is apparently a criminal activity.
But, as Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf said, long before he came back to do speeches at $50,000 a pop, "We have bombed Iraq back into the pre-industrial age." That was a great feat for a superpower, taking on a Third World country with only 100 or so out-of-date airplanes. But he was admitting what is now evident: We bombed a heck of a lot more than just military targets.
We need to halt this asinine and inhumane policy of killing children and elderly. It has not hurt Saddam Hussein one bit. In fact, people in Berrigan's group picked up the information that the army and the Baath party are pressuring Hussein to take a tougher line.
Bill Clinton, of the forked-tongue tribe, tries to pretend that letting Iraq sell a little oil can solve the problem. Unsaid, of course, is that Iraq's oil-producing equipment is in such bad shape that it can't even pump what it would be allowed to sell. And unsaid is all the delays and outright blocking of contracts the United States does behind the scenes. And, of course, we now know that the United Nations arms-inspection team was riddled with spies and covert agents. So much for all those lies.
There's food in Iraq, smuggled and at black-market prices. People suffering are the poor, the rural, the elderly, the chronically ill -- and the children.
Berrigan noted that in the gift shops in the Al Rashid Hotel were nothing but the personal possessions of Iraqis who had pawned those belongings to get money for food or medicine.
If you have no compassion for Iraqis, then consider your own welfare. If we keep this up, long after Saddam Hussein is only a memory, Iraqis will be stalking Americans, in search of vengeance.
We are showing the world a cruel and ugly face, and sooner or later there will be payback.
And, by the way, don't blaspheme by calling yourself a Christian while turning your back on these dying children.
[Posted 03/01/1999 7:23 PM EST]