Glenn Greenwald reports on Dr. Shakir Hamoodi, an Iraqi-American who is serving a three-year prison sentence for sending food assistance to his family in Iraq when U.S. economic sanctions were in place:
Dr. Shakir Hamoodi, an Iraqi-American nuclear engineer … just began a three-year prison sentence at the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas penitentiary for the “crime” of sending sustenance money to his impoverished, sick, and suffering relatives in Iraq- including his blind mother - during the years when US sanctions (which is what caused his family’s suffering) barred the sending of any money to Iraq.
Yesterday in Columbia, Missouri, I met with Hamoodi’s son, Owais, a medical student at the University of Missouri (MU) School of Medicine, and Hamoodi’s son-in-law, Amir Yehia, a Master’s student in MU’s School of Journalism. The travesty of this case - and the havoc it has wreaked on the entire family - is repellent and genuinely infuriating. But it is sadly common in post-9/11 America, especially for American Muslim communities.
While Greenwald’s piece tends to focus on the government’s response to Shamoodi through the lens of the post-9/11 security state, I think Dr. Shamoodi’s story also highlights the backwards thinking of economic sanctions.
Sanctions are typically thought of as a humane foreign policy alternative to war. And in a sense, they are: economic sanctions seem, on their face, to be self-evidently preferable to a full-scale war. But the problem with sanctions is that they often inflict grievous harm on the very people whom our sanctions are supposedly trying to help. The effects of economic sanctions on Iraqi people under Saddam were dreadful and insidious, including many collateral, unforeseen consequences, such as massive reductions in the literacy rate as children were pulled out of school to help support families, reversal of previous declining trends in infant mortality, a reversal of public investments in women’s education, and increased reliance on the Iraqi government and military by Iraqi citizens for basic necessities (thus making them less willing or able to overthrow the regime than if no sanctions had existed in the first place). This is, of course, in addition to the estimated hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths caused by U.S. sanctions against Iraq.
This so-called humane alternative often results in loss of life that is arguably indistinguishable—in terms of collateral damage—from a hot military conflict. Of course, in order to have their intended effect, economic sanctions must be fortified against any breach of the trade restrictions they are comprised of. That means we have to put people like Dr. Hamoodi in jail for trying to feed his family; an unjust proposition if ever there was one.
This reality should give us pause when we consider whether economic sanctions are a humane alternative to armed conflict, or simply a more palatable form of warfare, made more easily digestable by the fact that we aren’t killing people with bombs and bullets, but by inflicting the populace of a nation with desperation, disease, a lack of education, and grinding poverty.
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