Case dismissed: Activist Bert Sacks confronts a bittersweet victory
Bert Sacks ended 2011 with news that would cause most activists to celebrate: A judge dismissed a federal fine against him that totaled more than $16,000.
But as 2012 begins, Sacks, 69, believes that without the chance to defend himself in court, he’ll have to find new ways to vocalize his core belief: “That the greatest purveyor of terrorism in the world is my own country,” said Sacks.
Strong words from a self-proclaimed nonviolent activist, but they have a precedent. The phrase, said Sacks, is a slight reworking of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s statement, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world is my own country.” King spoke those words at Riverside Church in New York City in his 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”
Sacks, finding fault with American military action in the Persian Gulf, felt he had to break his silence, too. His nonviolent response to the 1991 invasion of Iraq ultimately led to the federal suit against him.
As part of a humanitarian mission, Sacks traveled to Iraq in 1997 to provide medicine to sick and dying children. Sacks undertook the trip, he said, because military actions in Iraq resulted in the deaths of close to 47,000 children between January and August 1991 (“An American citizen confronts America’s sins,” RC, Jan. 19, 2011).
But the federal government claimed his actions ran afoul of a U.S. embargo against Iraq and charged Sacks with “engaging with an enemy.” A federal agency in 2002 levied a fine against Sacks of $10,000.
The case worked its way to the bench of U.S. Judge Richard Jones in March 2010. After hearing from federal attorneys and Sacks’s team of pro-bono lawyers, it took the judge until Dec. 28 to issue his ruling: the U.S. government did not sue Sacks in a timely manner. The U.S. government has up to 60 days to appeal.
With the decision, Sacks found his nine-year legal struggle had ended and $16,000 in fines and penalties were erased. He is pleased with the outcome of the case, he said, which can be followed on iraqikids.org.
But what remains is his desire to profess his beliefs to a larger audience. “I still want to have my say,” Sacks said.
To that end, he has devised a strategy. Sacks said he is putting final touches on a workshop, which he’ll lead at the city’s 30th Annual MLK celebration at Garfield High School on Mon., Jan. 16, that will provide evidence U.S. officials knowingly endangered the lives of Iraqi civilians. He hopes local journalists will attend.
He said he intends to contact Jenny Durkan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, to ask if she’ll consider investigating former Secretaries of State James Baker and Madeleine Albright for terrorism. Sacks said statements made by both—Baker to Congress and Albright on “60 Minutes”—indicate their actions resulted in the deaths of countless Iraqi civilians.
Both of these proposed actions, Sacks said, have caused him to consider one of King’s hallmarks: the use of nonviolent protest.
Sacks said that while the superficial understanding of nonviolence is to act in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone or destroy another’s property, King, Gandhi and Jesus Christ professed that practicing nonviolence means you love your enemy. Sacks said he’s unsure he can say he loved U.S. officials when he took medicine to children in Iraq. He said he intends to tackle this moral dilemma in his workshop.
Even if he has failed in this regard, Sacks said he still draws inspiration from King and other nonviolent practitioners and the radically different way they viewed fellow human beings: “Their deep level of action and words and thoughts and inner intentions, that’s real nonviolence.”
Bert—thank you for your continued witness. I hope to be at your workshop on Monday morning.
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