Ashcroft Targets Group for Bringing Medicine to Iraq

| August 2003

At a time when America should be focusing massive resources on rebuilding civilian infrastructure, devastated from two U.S.-led wars and a decade of economic sanctions, the Bush administration has filed a lawsuit against Voices in the Wilderness (VitW) for providing humanitarian relief and medicinal supplies to the people of Iraq. Since being founded in 1995, VitW has organized more than 65 delegations to Iraq. Many delegates carried symbolic amounts of medicine as an act of civil disobedience against economic sanctions.

In a statement responding to the lawsuit, the organization noted, 'In every phase of this matter, we must never allow the government to obscure the key point that the sanctions imposed on the people of Iraq caused the deaths of over 500,000 children under the age of five and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of others.' Indeed, throughout the existence of the program, Voices in the Wilderness has never lost sight of this tragedy or the dire need to end sanctions. Thus, members of the program have actively engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience, including multiple 20-day, water-only, hunger strikes and a walk from the Pentagon to the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Many of the members refuse to pay taxes for war and VitW officials have said they have no intention of paying the most recent fines imposed by the Department of Justice. Because of the highly critical nature of their protests against U.S. foreign policy it is likely that the legal attacks from the government have more than a little political motivation. In the past, members have been arrested, fined, and continually threatened with legal action.

Organization leaders say they have taken what can be seen as an extreme stance on the issue because other options for political speech and action have not worked. They have lobbied congress, written letters and op-ed pieces, and held up masses of signs at hundreds of protests. They write, 'In short, as individuals and as a group, we have exhausted every legal means we know of to address the daily deaths of so many blameless human beings. And so, in the spirit of Gandhi, Thoreau, and Dr. King, we knowingly and willingly broke a law that has brought suffering to the innocent and prohibited our fellow citizens from learning about it.'

Voices in the Wilderness is asking for 20,000 people to raise their voices against the lawsuit by signing a petition on their website.

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