Voices in the Wilderness/Portland

Welcome to the VitWpdx home page

Our group was established in December 1998 as an affiliate of Voices in the Wilderness, a Chicago-based campaign whose focus was defying U.S./U.N. sanctions on Iraq from January 1996 until September, 2005.

Many of the people involved in that campaign chose to launch a new campaign, Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV) in Setpember, 2005. We remain in close contact and support of Voices in its current work. VCNV's mission is: To build and strengthen active nonviolent resistance to the U.S. war against Iraq's people; to foster international and domestic peace teams; and to challenge the United States' "Global War on Terror", which is a war OF terror far more than it is a "war ON terror."

Our primary purposes prior to the lifting of sanctions after the invasion of Iraq in May, 2003 were to end the sanctions on Iraq through direct violation of the sanctions and support of those who did so; and, alone and in coalition with other groups, to educate the public regarding the effects of the sanctions and in general, the effects of U.S. policy in Iraq. We continue that educational work, as well as organizing support for Dan Handelman, one of our members, who was threatened with $12,000 in fines for his trip to Iraq with VitW in November, 1997, and all those threatened with fines for their humanitarian efforts (see NEWS, below).

The sanctions killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, mostly children, between August, 1990 and May, 2003. As the invasion and occupation of Iraq continues to kill thousands of Iraqis, our work is as important as ever.


AUGUST, 2005:

Federal Judge Orders Fine Against Nonviolent Campaign
for Delivering Medicine to Iraq
Voices in the Wilderness Refuses to Pay

Chicago-On August 12, 2005 U.S. Federal District Judge John Bates ordered payment of a $20,000 fine imposed against Voices in the Wilderness. Voices was fined for bringing medicine to Iraq in a classic campaign of open nonviolent civil disobedience to challenge the economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the U.N. against Iraq. The U.S. Treasury Department initially imposed the fine in 2002, days after Voices participated in international actions to oppose the U.S. buildup for war against Iraq.

Voices in the Wilderness refuses to pay the fine, noting that despite the Judge's contention that the regulation of medicine to dying people was legal, "The economic sanctions regime imposed brutal and lethal punishment on Iraqi people. The U.S. government would not allow Iraq to rebuild its water treatment system after the U.S. military deliberately destroyed it in 1991. The U.S. government denied Iraq the ability to purchase blood bags, medical needles and medicine in adequate supplies-destroying Iraq's health care system."

"We choose to continue our non-cooperation with the government's war on the Iraqi people through the simple act of refusing to pay this fine. To pay the fine would be to collaborate with the U.S. government's ongoing war against Iraq. We will not collaborate."

Voices' full statement is available at http://vitw.org/archives/978. The judge's ruling is at http://www.rdrop.com/~vitwpdx/opinion081205.pdf.

JUNE, 2005:

On July 6, 2005, Voices in the Wilderness participants including Dan Handelman of Portland will be in federal court to watch as a lawyer for Voices and one for the US Government present further oral orguments in the case involving $20,000 in fines for brining medicine to Iraq in 1998 (see June, 2004 item, below). For more info, read the Portland news release on the hearing.

JUNE, 2004:

On June 4, 2004, Voices in the Wilderness will be in federal court to defend itself against the Treasury Department's attempt to collect $20,000 in fines for trips to Iraq in July and September, 1998, in which VitW "exported medical supplies to Baghdad, Iraq."

Background information on VitW, the Case, the Judge (6/2/04)
Background and documents on VitW website

Third and Fourth penalty notices met with same reply:
We will keep working to end this siege

In early November, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed $20,000 in fines on Voices in the Wilderness $10,000 on member Dan Handelman for bringing medicine to Iraq. On December 5, members of Voices in the Wilderness (VitW), a campaign to end the U.S./U.N. embargo on Iraq, will be holding news conferences all over the nation. The participants will reaffirm that they have all traveled to Iraq in nonviolent defiance of the United Nations sanctions, bringing medicine and toys to children and families in need. On November 6, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sent a letter to Voices in the Wilderness (and co-founder Kathy Kelly) imposing a fine of $20,000 for delivering medicine without a permit to Iraq on two occasions in 1998. OFAC simultaneously sent a letter to activist Dan Handelman of Portland, OR, imposing a fine of $10,000 for alleged travel-related expenses on his November, 1997 VitW delegation. This notice was similar to ones received in May and June of 2002 by other members of that delegation, Bert Sacks, a retired engineer, and Rev. Randall Mullins, both of Seattle, WA.

In their replies to OFAC, Voices and Handelman explained why they are compelled to aid fellow human beings without asking for a government license, why they will not pay the fines, and why, instead, Voices in the Wilderness would immediately begin raising a sum of $30,000 toward humanitarian and peacemaking efforts in Iraq as an alternative to paying penalties to the Office of Foreign Assets Control. For more information and how you can sign on to the Voices letter, visit www.vitw.org.

Dan Handelman returns from 43rd Voices Delegation (May, 2002)

Frequently Asked Questions about the 2002 trip

A few photos of Iraq from the 2002 trip (posted 6/5/02)

JULY 6, 2000
Dan Handelman Settles Lawsuit Against USA
Over Seizure of Video Tapes

On July 6, Dan Handelman announced the settlement of his lawsuit over the seizure of his videotape, film, and other items upon his return from Iraq in 1997--the return of all the seized items and payment from the U.S. Treasury Dept. of $15,000 in attorney's fees and damages. The full text of the settlement agreement and the dismissal order are available on line, as is the ACLU of Michigan's news release about the case.


The released film and video included a number of images of life in Iraq in 1997. We hope to have some of the video posted here soon.


On December 3, 1997, Dan had his videotapes and undeveloped film seized by U.S. customs on his return from Iraq. (click here for details) About a month later, Dan filed a petition for the return of his materials. While Customs promised to process the case within three months, a year passed before Customs wrote back denying their return.

U.S. Customs and the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) deliberatied on whether Handelman's tapes are "imported Iraqi goods or services." In December, 1998, VitW received a letter from OFAC threatening fines on Dan, his three traveling companions, and Voices, totalling $163,000. VitW worked with attorneys and well-known intellectuals to craft a response to OFAC. (Also see Dan's response to OFAC)

At the same time, Dan filed a second petition to Customs, outlining numerous first amendment defenses for the return of his tapes.

Eight months later, in August, 1999, Customs denied his second administrative petition.

Then, Handelman engaged a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan who filed a lawsuit on Handelman's behalf. (For more information, click here).

The film and video in question contain pictures of ordinary Iraqis and the conditions they live in due to the embargo, which prohibits Iraq from selling its oil. Images of dying children in hospitals, sewage- and trash-strewn streets, as well as interviews with a dozen or so humanitarian workers were been in the hands of the U.S. government for two and a half years.

We are fully aware that the videotapes and film and their confiscation is nowhere near as serious an issue as the sanctions themselves. However, the U.S. government, by seizing the materials, gave us an extraordinary tool for organizing.

For more information or to get involved, email VitW/Portland at vitwpdx@agora.rdrop.com.

Please make donations to "Dan Handelman/Voices in the Wilderness-Portland" and mail to:

Voices in the Wilderness/Portland
c/o Huntwork
2116 NE 18th
Portland, OR 97212

Thank you for your support.

Voices in the Wilderness/Portland

Updated November 13, 2005 and December 28, 2009