Aid and comfort?
September 30, 2003 7:25 AM   Subscribe

Anti-sanctions group sanctioned. Anti Iraq-sanctions group Voices in the Wilderness is being sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for bringing relief supplies to Iraq before the war. ViTW has issued an initial response and filed an answer and counterclaim. Does the DoJ have a leg to stand on? What moral and legal obligations do we have to refrain from giving aid and comfort to "enemy" civilians? How about if they live in sunny Cuba?
posted by stonerose (19 comments total)

 
I think that, umm, it's in that pesky Constitution that people on the Left keep telling me that John Ashcroft is shredding.

Aid and comfort to the enemy is what's known colloquially as "Treason." (US Const III.3)

"Section 3. Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court. "

The whole "adhering to their enemies" and "giving them aid and comfort" thing.

You can argue that civilians aren't part of "the enemy" but I think the jurisprudence, while very rare, will prove you wrong.

The simplistic view is that enemy civilians support (whether actually or superficially) the enemy government, and thus, are the enemy.

The more nuanced view can be found in law review articles the country over.

Whether or not it's the "right thing" isn't the issue. It was, I think, a right act to bring food to starving Iraqis, whose ability to obtain food was curtailed by an evil (and I don't use that term loosely) dictator who tortured and killed his people, a corrupt UN (has anyone ever asked where that Oil for Food money went? Hint: not to helping Iraqi civilians) and UN imposed sanctions.

But certain right acts may, at the same time, be treasonous. That's why they're courageous and amazing. VIW's actions were both things. As well as treasonous.
posted by swerdloff at 7:46 AM on September 30, 2003


(err, amend that to "possibly treasonous" as I think we were at Truce with the "enemy" before Gulf War II, and I'm not sure what the standard is during a truce/cease fire)
posted by swerdloff at 7:47 AM on September 30, 2003


swerdloff, this is why I asked if the DoJ has a leg to stand on (from my first link):

in its response to the Justice Department filed September 26th in US District Court for the District of Columbia, VITW points out that the laws and Executive Orders cited by the Justice Department in its "Complaint" all specifically exempt donated medical supplies from the sanctions. The International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 United States Code, Section 1702 (a)), cited by the Justice Department as the authority for the penalty, specifically states as follows:

"The authority granted to the President by this section does not include the authority to regulate or prohibit, directly or indirectly ...donations... of articles, such as food, clothing, and medicine, intended to be used to relieve human suffering..."


I'm not saying ViTW is legally right - I'm just askin', is all.
posted by stonerose at 7:51 AM on September 30, 2003


The US not declaring war would make these things very difficult to stick, IMO. But looking at the big picture, there's no way they can make themselves look good by prosecuting this case.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:54 AM on September 30, 2003


"has anyone ever asked where that Oil for Food money went? Hint: not to helping Iraqi civilians"

Oh, please do tell who are the rascals that profit from misery swerdloff. After all, the programme is still running.
posted by magullo at 8:03 AM on September 30, 2003


Note that the action brought against ViTW is not based on the Treason Clause. Rather, it is a regulatory action brought based on the sanctions. From the complaint:
COUNT I
...
24. Voices in the Wilderness engaged in a prohibited transaction with Iraq, in violation of §§ 575.205 and 575.211 of the Regulations, by exporting medical supplies from the United States to Iraq in July 1998, without authorization from OFAC.

COUNT II
...
26. Voices in the Wilderness engaged in a prohibited transaction with Iraq, in violation of §§ 575.205 and 575.211 of the Regulations, by exporting medical supplies from the United States to Iraq in September 1998, without authorization from OFAC.
As such, it has nothing to do with whether war was ever declared. Further, as stonerose pointed out above, medical supplies, the exports specifically referred to in the complaint, are exempted from the Act which provides the authority for the regulations under which ViTW is being sued.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:07 AM on September 30, 2003


Of course, in the meantime, Cheney's Halliburton was doing all sorts of business with Iraq. If only ViTW had set up a shadow corporation in the Cayman Islands to deliver its aid, they'd be in the clear.

God Bless America.
posted by jpoulos at 8:23 AM on September 30, 2003


Magullo - The Rascals (or billionaire bastards as I like to call them) are at the United Nations. I've written about this before. The Billionaire Bastards club screwed the people of Iraq. As did their El Presidente. (Who was, if you remember, voted for by 100% of the voting populace of Iraq... which means that he obviously didn't steal the election, giving him more legitimacy than... say... a certain Texas Cowboy we all know and love...)

Don't believe an easily caricatured centrist like myself? ask the SFGate reporters.

MeFi: Never letting facts get in the way of a good fight.

(And me neither. If it ain't treason, and medical supplies are exempt, Ashcroft is doing a bad job indeed. Can we recall him?)
posted by swerdloff at 8:24 AM on September 30, 2003


From the VITW wevsite:

Some of the VITW activities were acts of civil disobedience, in direct violation of US laws, Executive Orders, and regulations that authorized economic sanctions. (emphasis added)
posted by probablysteve at 9:13 AM on September 30, 2003


"MeFi: Never letting facts get in the way of a good fight"

The facts being an entry from your blog and a report of the SFGate titled "Lawmakers see abuses in Iraqi oil-for-food programs" (notice the use of the third person, not first person)? You have got to be kidding, mate.
posted by magullo at 9:20 AM on September 30, 2003


Anti-sanctions group sanctioned.

That's good. I mean, bad. I mean, good. I mean... I'm so confused.
posted by soyjoy at 9:23 AM on September 30, 2003


probablysteve, let's place that quote (from my first link, for those who are keeping score) in context:

"Some of the VITW activities were acts of civil disobedience, in direct violation of US laws, Executive Orders, and regulations that authorized economic sanctions.

However, in its response to the Justice Department filed September 26th in US District Court for the District of Columbia, VITW points out that the laws and Executive Orders cited by the Justice Department in its "Complaint" all specifically exempt donated medical supplies from the sanctions.

...

The VITW response, filed today, argues that these specific actions were not illegal under the law and Executive Orders cited by the Justice Department and, therefore the Justice Department claim against VITW needs to be dismissed."

So, they're not saying they didn't break the law. They're saying that this suit is without merit.

Why isn't the DoJ suing them for their admitted transgressions of the law, but choosing instead to prosecute them in this (apparently, and IANAL) underhanded fashion?
posted by stonerose at 9:28 AM on September 30, 2003


"...in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort."

At what point did Iraq become our enemy? Doesn't that usually entail a declaration of war or at least a beginning of open hostilities?

(Not that we didn't open hostilities before the war by attacking Iraqi targets with our air force, using the false claim that such attacks were justified under the terms of the 'no-fly zone'.
posted by insomnia_lj at 10:00 AM on September 30, 2003


You know, I may have been watching too many episodes of MASH or something, because I always understood that doctors treated both their own injured and - sometimes - the enemy. This being the case:

"Section 3. Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court. "

Um... if handing over medical supplies is "aid and comfort" then surely any medic or surgeon treating any Iraqi wounded should be handing themselves in about now, shouldn't they?
posted by kaemaril at 10:14 AM on September 30, 2003


kaemaril, in that situation, the Geneva Conventions take over (these are part of a body of international law that supersedes state law) - they regulate how combatants are allowed and obliged to treat each other, and how combatants relate to civilians. It's interesting to note that they do not cover how civilians on one 'side' relate to civilians on the other.
posted by stonerose at 10:23 AM on September 30, 2003


VITW mentions the exception, but they forgot to mention the exception to the exception (in bold).

(b) The authority granted to the President by this section does
not include the authority to regulate or prohibit, directly or
indirectly -
(1) any postal, telegraphic, telephonic, or other personal
communication, which does not involve a transfer of anything of
value;
(2) donations, by persons subject to the jurisdiction of the
United States, of articles, such as food, clothing, and medicine,
intended to be used to relieve human suffering, except to the
extent that the President determines that such donations (A)
would seriously impair his ability to deal with any national
emergency declared under section 1701 of this title, (B) are in
response to coercion against the proposed recipient or donor, or
(C) would endanger Armed Forces of the United States which are
engaged in hostilities or are in a situation where imminent
involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the
circumstances;


If you read the complaint, regulations were enacted pursuant to this legislation whereby humanitarian aid was to be licensed, presumably to effectuate the power of the President to regulate humanitarian transfers granted in the statute. VITW refused to apply for such a license. Their only hope is to argue that the regulations exceeded the mandate of the statute. In all likelihood, the DOJ will win.

VITW's explanation is really just spin, it does not tell the whole story. And if you click "VITW Legal Response" or any other link that seems like it might take you to a legal document, you get more spin. I could not find a true legal response on the website.
posted by probablysteve at 10:23 AM on September 30, 2003


Of course, in the meantime, Cheney's Halliburton was doing all sorts of business with Iraq.

And of course the DOJ has no interest in going after Halliburton. The DOJ has even recently defended Unocal's profitting from slave labor in Burma.
posted by homunculus at 10:30 AM on September 30, 2003


probablysteve, thanks for that. It seems to me that (2)a) and (2)b) in your quote don't apply, so the matter hinges on (c). So, does the President have the unquestioned authority to determine that, say, sending aspirin to the 'enemy' places U.S. armed forces in danger? Or would ViTW get the chance to show that its humanitarian aid couldn't constitute a danger?

the legal response is here (I screwed up one link in my FPP).
posted by stonerose at 10:38 AM on September 30, 2003


The regulations established a licensing regime whereby humanitarian groups were to apply for a license, at which time the gov would determine whether 2(a), 2(b) or 2(c) applied. VITW never applied for the license so a determination was never made. Therefore, I don't think the issue is if one of those sections applied, it's that they never followed the regulation requiring a license.

As I said, it seems to me their only argument is that the regulations exceeded the mandate of the statute. VITW makes that argument in their Seventh Defense.

I know little about the international law arguments, but my hunch is they won't carry the day.

I
posted by probablysteve at 10:49 AM on September 30, 2003


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