BACKGROUND: Office of Foreign Assets Control v. Voices in the Wilderness

In January, 1996 Voices in the Wilderness formed as a campaign to end the sanctions against Iraq. They decided to bring medicine to the people of Iraq to relieve the suffering caused by sanctions.

In December, 1998, the US Treasury Department's wing governing trade, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a "pre-penalty notice" to Voices (threatening fines of $100,000).
Voices responded by saying they refused to take part in any aspect of the sanctions regime (including applying for a license to deliver medicine) because the law compels us to help those in need.

In November, 2002, the Treasury Dept. sent notice that it intended to collect the fines, now dropped to $20,000. Voices replied that they refused to pay.

On June 20, 2003, the Justice Department filed a "Complaint for Civil Penalties" in federal court to collect those fines, based on trips to Iraq in July and September, 1998, in which VitW "exported medical supplies to Baghdad, Iraq."

On September 26, 2003, VitW filed an answer to the government's allegations and a counterclaim.

In short the defense states:
1) The OFAC regulations on food and medicine were not authorized by the Presidential directives, acts of congress, or UN resolutions
2) The sanctions regime was designed to cause suffering in Iraq and was illegal (citing Madeleine Albright's "The price was worth it" referring to the 1/2 million deaths of Iraqi children)
3) International law and common law (the "Nuremberg principles," that one must violate a domestic law if that law runs contrary to international law) demanded that VitW take these actions to prevent the loss of human life in Iraq, acting in the defense of others
4) The US is selectively targeting VitW because of its first amendment expressions against US policy and denying its religious freedom to act on ethical, moral or religious conscience

and the counterclaim further alleges:
1) The licensing provisions were created to offset public outcry against the effects of sanctions
2) The sanctions constituted warfare against a civilian population

and seeks
1) Dismissal of the fines
2) Declaration that the sanctions were illegal
3) An injunction against future government restriction on humanitarian aid
4) Compensatory damages (funds to be used to provide medicine to the people of Iraq) and attorney's fees

The papers filed by Voices' lawyers, Bill Quigley (of Loyola University School of Law), Carl Messineo and Mara Verheyden-Hilliard (of the Partnership for Civil Justice) cite numerous cases in which the government has admitted that humanitarian aid cannot be prohibited. One such case involved the delivery of aid to Nicaragua in trucks, where the trucks were left behind. The government agreed the medical aid was exempt from regulation, but that the trucks were not "humanitarian aid."

June 4, 2004:
The case will be argued before Judge John D. Bates. The outcome could be:
1) Agreement with the government (it is unclear how they would then go about collecting the fine)
2) Agreement with the VitW motion to dismiss
3) Agreeing that the Counterclaim can move forward and further "discovery" is needed

Here's the news on the Judge:
Appointed by George W Bush on Sept. 4, 2001 (confirmed 3 months later), these three cases rose to the top of a web search:
1) Judge Bates upheld a case directing an internet service provider to turn the names of users downloading music over to the copyright holders in absence of a subpoena. (Privacy advocates were not happy about this decision.)
2) Judge Bates ruled that the General Accounting Office had no standing to sue Vice President Cheney to get access to the energy task force notes. (Some Constitutional scholars seem to think there was good reason for this decision)
3) Judge Bates ruled that Dennis Kucinich and others had no standing to sue President Bush for withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, claiming only an act of the whole Congress could determine that (the Constitution says how Treaties are ratified, but not how they are cancelled).

For more background see

(This summary written June 2, 2004)

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