The United States is knowingly
violating Article 54 of the Geneva Convention which prohibits any
country from undermining "objects indispensable to the survival of
(another country's) civilian population," including drinking water
installations and supplies, says Thomas Nagy, a business professor
at George Washington University.
Writing in the September 2001
Progressive, Nagy cites recently declassified documents that
show the United States was aware of the civilian health consequences
of destroying Iraq's drinking water and sanitation systems in the
Gulf War, and knew that sanctions would prevent the Iraqi government
from repairing the degraded facilities.
During the Gulf War, coalition
forces bombed Iraq's eight multi-purpose dams, destroying flood
control systems, irrigation, municipal and industrial water storage,
and hydroelectric power. Major pumping stations were targeted, and
municipal water and sewage facilities were destroyed.
Article 54 of the Geneva
Convention prohibits attacks on "drinking water installations and
supplies and irrigation works."
Nagy says that not only did the
United States deliberately destroy drinking water and sanitation
facilities, it knew sanctions would prevent Iraq from rebuilding,
and that epidemics would ensue.
One document, written soon after
the bombing, warned that sanctions would prevent Iraq from importing
"water treatment replacement parts and some essential chemicals"
leading to "increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease."
Another document lists the most
likely diseases: "diarrheal diseases (particularly children); acute
respiratory illnesses (colds and influenza); typhoid; hepatitis A
(particularly children); measles, diphtheria, and pertussis
(particularly children); meningitis, including meningococcal
(particularly children); cholera (possible, but less likely.)"
Then U.S. Navy Secretary John
Lehman estimated that 200,000 Iraqis died in the Gulf War, but many
more have died since. UNICEF estimates that well over a million
Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S-led sanctions regime, in
place for the last decade. Some 500,000 children have died, and an
estimated 4,000 die from various preventable, sanctions-related
diseases, every month, says the U.N. agency.
Despite the massive human toll,
the United States continues to support the sanctions regime, arguing
that sanctions won't be lifted until U.N. inspectors are free to
return to Iraq to verify that the country has rid itself of weapons
of mass destruction.
American Scott Ritter, a former
U.N. arms inspector, claims that Iraq is effectively disarmed, and
has been for some time.
And deaths from sanctions exceed
those from weapons of mass destruction. Political scientists John
and Karl Mueller say that sanctions have "contributed to more deaths
during the post Cold War era than all the weapons of mass
destruction throughout history," including deaths at Hiroshima and
At one point, former U.S.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that despite the civilian
deaths the sanctions were "worth it."
Meanwhile, Israel, a U.S. ally in
the region, is widely believed to have an arsenal of 200 nuclear
weapons. While in violation of countless U.N. Resolutions ordering
its withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, Israel faces no
sanctions and no order to disarm. Amnesty International, which has
warned that Israel's crackdown on the latest Palestinian uprising,
or Intifada, borders on war crimes, recently condemned Tel Aviv for
its "utter disregard for human life in the Occupied Territories" and
for its violations of international law. And yet even calls for
intervention as mild as placing international observers in the
Occupied Territories have been rebuffed.
The Gulf War erupted after Iraq
invaded neighboring Kuwait. After the war, the United Nations
imposed sanctions, ordering Iraq to disarm. Iraq's violation of
international law in invading its neighbor was cited for the harsh
treatment. But critics of the policy say that punishment for
violations of international law are being meted out unevenly and
hypocritically. Israel's innumerable transgressions go unpunished,
while governments that have fallen out with Washington, often over
investment or debt repayment issues, are treated severely.
Moreover, say critics, the United
States itself has a long track record of violating international
law. Washington's undermining of Iraq's water treatment and
sanitation facilities in violation of the Geneva Convention is just
one of many recent transgressions, including the bombing of
Yugoslavia, Sudan, Afghanistan, and the continued bombing of Iraq.
U.S.-led NATO forces also
targeted civilian infrastructure in Yugoslavia. At one point, U.S.
Air Force General Michael Short explained that NATO's bombing
campaign was aimed at causing misery in the civilian population. "If
you wake up in the morning," said Short, "and you have no power to
your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work
is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I
think you begin to ask, 'Hey, Slobo, what's this all about? How much
more of this do we have to withstand?'"
NATO forces used depleted uranium
munitions in Yugoslavia, as did coalition forces in Iraq. Depleted
uranium may be toxic, and may be responsible for an epidemic of
cancers and birth defects that have arisen in Iraq over the last
decade. Some have charged that Gulf War syndrome, a cluster of
mysterious and debilitating illnesses suffered by U.S. and allied
soldiers, is related to depleted uranium. Others point to the
contamination of soil, water and air by carcinogenic effluent from
destroyed industrial facilities and chemical plants as being
Nagy says that what is most
disturbing about the documents is that they reveal a U.S. government
concerned more with the potential negative publicity of the deaths,
than with the deaths themselves. Dealing with the public relations
downside of massive killing is a common theme in U.S. foreign
policy. During the Gulf War a bomb that hit a marketplace and killed
civilians led CBS News correspondent Dan Rather to remark: "We can
be sure that Saddam Hussein will make propaganda of these
casualties." Frequent reference is made in the documents Nagy has
uncovered to the potential for Iraq to use epidemics for propaganda
When Nagy sent the documents to
the media last fall, only two reporters wrote lengthy articles. One
was Felicity Arbuthnot, who wrote in Scotland's The Sunday Herald
that the "US-led allied forces deliberately destroyed Iraq's water
supply during the Gulf War – flagrantly breaking the Geneva
Convention and causing thousand of civilian deaths." Despite the
seriousness of the allegations, and their being backed up by
official documents, the story quickly fizzled.
Mr. Steve Gowans is a
writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.