To an Unknown Iraqi

2013 is the year that accountability and Justice for Iraq should be high on the agenda of the International Human Rights Community. Hans C. von Sponeck, member of the BRussells Tribunal, who resigned as Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq in 2000, wrote a moving apology letter to the Iraqi people in June 2003. We republish this letter again today.

By Hans von Sponeck

What we have done to you in the name of freedom and democracy has no parallel in history. We have trampled the truth concerning your suffering, we endeavoured to solicit allies through bribery and ruthlessly marginalized those who objected to our imperial intentions. Brute force became the substitute for the promise of 1945 “to save future generations from the scourge of war”. It was you who paid the price.

Will you ever forgive us?

The torture of dictatorship was terrible for you; we added the sword of sanctions. The curse of double punishment for something you had not done was the verdict against you. Two million of you died during those years, perhaps more. The figure does not really matter. None should have died because of us; everyone had the right to live, as we do, in peace. Let us not forget the many who are still alive may never live again, maimed and traumatized forever, reduced to empty human shells. We never really wanted to share with you the dream of freedom and democracy. All we were willing to pass on to you was naked hypocrisy.

Will you ever forgive us?

The camera of life takes real pictures. Lest we choose the wrong lenses they tell us the truth. We cannot pretend that we did not know of your plight. We can but admit that we have contributed to your suffering with unsurpassed ferocity. We knew of the malnourishment of your children. We knew of their deaths in the thousands and felt no guilt. Our vision was properly priced, we thought. We did not hesitate a moment to block ever increasing amounts of supplies you needed for survival. They might be used for weapons of mass destruction we argued. Ultimately we had to admit that the sanctions we imposed on you were the most effective weapons of mass destruction deployed.

Will you ever forgive us?

For a long time we limited the amount of oil you could sell, and took from this limitation funds to pay for wealthy governments and firms in compensation for losses they said they incurred when your government was the aggressor in Kuwait. We know that many of your children would not have died had these funds come instead to you. We refused to allow you resources to maintain your schools, hospitals, roads and bridges, to pay for your civil servants, doctors and teachers. We did not even shy away from withholding the meager travel money you wanted to pay your hajjis so that they could pray in Mecca.

Will you ever forgive us?

It was our mandate to follow the impact of our policies on your lives. We severely neglected this responsibility. Intimidated by the power of the moment, we closed our eyes and ears and ignored your pain. We decided that the oil for food program, the fig leaf of our conscience, was good enough to give you what you needed. Your suffering therefore had nothing to do with us, we pretended. Our former ally, your dictator, was declared the sole source of your misery. Whoever among us protested on your behalf was pronounced unpatriotic, declared a social outcast, was belittled, maligned and even arrested. This was democracy in action.

Will you ever forgive us?

Of course, it did not escape us that the most innocent and most vulnerable among you, your children, the nation’s leaders of tomorrow, were also the most severely punished. Your children did not get the education you and we have had. We purposely blocked the repair of your printing presses and even introduced postal regulations to prevent sending you learning materials, including sheets of music. As one of you said, we destroyed your economy and continued to destroy your minds. Again and again we withheld what you needed to make your water safe to drink and to keep your rivers clean. Contaminated water was a major reason why your children died. We did not care, they were not our children.

Drought, pests and epidemics joined the forces of your dictator and our sanctions. We could have increased the pittance we gave to combat these menaces but chose not to do so.

Will you ever forgive us?

There was indeed an axis of evil, an alliance of governments, think-tanks, media and corporations erecting a massive wall of disinformation. Iraq and Al Qaeda, weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, we told the world, were a lethal combination. Hundreds of tons of biological and chemical agents, missiles, rockets and hordes of terrorists were ready to destroy us. An imminent threat existed that only a preemptive strike could avert. All those who pleaded for peace, humanity, reason and law were subjected to and punished with ‘shock and awe’ tactics before ‘shock and awe’ was rained upon you. With cynicism we declared that 170 UN bureaucrats and three white helicopters were not up to the job of disarming Iraq. Falsified documents, plagiarized reports, invented intelligence helped us to make our case for war by instilling fear among the innocent and convincing our parliaments to concur.

We pretended to care for your sovereignty, yet, in direct contradiction we unlawfully established no-fly-zones in your country and announced that our pilots were there on dangerous missions, risking their lives on your behalf. Instead they came to further weaken you and risk your lives, not ours, before declaring war.

Will you ever forgive us?

For a long time our spin doctors tried to keep us hostage as we watched the tragedy of war and illegality coming closer to your borders. Deep were the divisions among us. Many feared for you while others could not wait to begin a war that had been decided long ago. Our leaders needed to distract us from urgent and numerous social and economic problems. Our eviction from your next door neighbour was imminent. Without your oil the strategy for global domination would not work.

Will you ever forgive us?

We told our young men and women in uniform that they were fighting evil and defending the good. Years of hard work spent refining the technology of death and costing millions of dollars gave us the confidence that the losses would be on your side and not on ours. We ensured that the reports from the war front would portray us as heroes and you as the villains, extensions of an evil dictator. As predicted the most uneven war in history did not last long. Our new weapons were simply too good. While we continued our lives in the comfort of peace, we watched you suffering the horror of war. Honest reporting of a war that was killing your sons and daughters and ours as well could have meant the end of a career for a journalist.

Will you ever forgive us?

There were few flowers, flags or smiling faces. Where were those weapons of mass destruction we assuredly would find? We suffered no guilt and made no apologies. Unfortunately for you, no plan was made for starting the healing. Victors are victors. Chaos suited us well… but we made certain that the oil administration was safe. Our concerns were not yours, quite to the contrary. We watched and encouraged your anger and hate. Yes, your dictator deserved it. However, the greed, yours and ours, raped our common heritage. Your museums are empty, your libraries burnt, your universities destroyed. Only your pride is still there…. and our guilt.

Will you ever forgive us?

Geneva, 1 June 2003

H.C. Graf Sponeck
UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq 1998-2000

Originally published here.

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