Letter to The Honorable Elton Gallegly
by Leah Wells*, February 6, 2003
Dear Congressman Gallegly,
This letter is in regards to my concern for the American people and the Iraqi people as the leaders of our country position for a massive invasion.
Under Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship, the people of Iraq have suffered greatly. It is true that, using biological and chemical agents purchased from the United States and other Western governments, he oversaw the massacre of Kurdish people in the North of Iraq and of Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war. He has been uncooperative in the past with the UN weapons inspectors and is guilty of invading Kuwait.
Dealing with international tyrants is possibly one of the most crucial challenges of our time. Yet a military option does not have to be the only answer. Dictatorships despise a thriving civil society. If it is Saddam’s removal that we seek, we should strengthen the civic participation of the Iraqi people and allow them to create a government of their choosing, not ours. The Iraqi people have been all but left out of the equation in the discussions surrounding dealing with Saddam.
Nonviolent civilian-based defense has been an option in many countries in addressing oppressive dictatorships the Philippines, Chile and in Serbia. “Nonviolence does not mean being nice to your oppressor,” said Jack DuVall and Peter Ackerman, authors of A Force More Powerful. “It means removing his base of power and forcing him out.” Slobodan Milosevic, whose case is being tried at the International Criminal Court, was brought down by a powerful nonviolent student movement partially financed by the United States and Western Europe.
Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations purports to raise new evidence that Iraq is resisting disarmament, but his information is even questioned by U.S. intelligence sources. CIA and FBI officials told the New York Times that the Bush administration is “exaggerating” the links between Iraq and al-Qaeda to strengthen their case for war. With respect to the evidence linking the two, they said “we just don’t think it’s there.”
Hans Blix himself, the director of the UN inspection team in Iraq, has seen no evidence of the movable biological weapons labs that Powell described and has “no persuasive indications” of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The international community has continually called on the United States to allow the UN weapons inspectors more time to complete their investigations. The Bush administration routinely cites the disarmament of South Africa as an example of success which took a full two years to complete.
Furthermore, if we are concerned with tyrannical governments acquiring weapons of mass destruction, we should look to North Korea. Even though North Korea has admitted it has a nuclear weapons program, the United States is pursuing a course of diplomacy with them. It is understandable that other nations would want to gain weapons of mass destruction to be taken seriously by the United States and the other countries that already benefit from the political and economic leverage those weapons provide.
The most important aspect missing from the dialogue on Iraq, however, are the lives of millions of Iraqi people, all of whom have their own faces, stories and families. The 24 million people who live in Iraq are not only concerned with the pending invasion of their country, but with the oppressive economic sanctions which have been in place since August 1990. We are potentially jeopardizing the lives of 500,000 Iraqis and risking putting 10 million Iraqis in need of immediate humanitarian aid. In a meeting with UNICEF in Baghdad last September, I asked about the potential effects of a massive invasion. The response from UNICEF was that “war is the last thing Iraqi people need.”
Already the economic sanctions are a weapon of mass destruction in Iraq, killing more people than perished in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the majority of them clearly being non-combatants. Containment is a code word for sanctions, which you note in your press release of 5 February having been ineffective.
The cost of invading Iraq estimates suggest in excess of $1 trillion should be enough to convince Americans that this war is impractical and will burden generations to come with the debt of war, particularly in an economic downturn. Here in the state of California, Governor Gray Davis has cut $2 billion from the education budget, which means that the state will spend $303 less per student next year. Already school districts are strapped for resources and are scrambling to maintain their staff. The students of your district bear the burden of misappropriated funds; one grimly remarked, “So we’re balancing the budget.”
As your constituent, I cannot shelve my conscience and ration my compassion to rationalize an invasion of Iraq. I care deeply for the future of the United States and for the future of my students who depend on quality public education. I am also concerned for the many veterans needing better benefits and medical care.
Heads of state from many countries, including many allies and permanent members of the Security Council, religious leaders from many faiths and average concerned citizens continue to raise their voices in the hopes of bringing this war to a halt and allowing a peaceful resolution. On Monday, February 10, the Ventura City Council will hear from residents regarding a proposed resolution opposing an attack on Iraq.
I trust that as our representative, you will listen to the voices of your constituents and make every effort to avert an escalated war with Iraq and lift the economic sanctions, heeding our calls for peace.
Thank you in advance for your response to this letter.
Leah C. Wells
Peace Education Coordinator
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
*Leah C. Wells, a Santa Paula teacher, serves as peace education coordinator for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in Santa Barbara.