by Jacob G. Hornberger
It’s fascinating to see the GOP presidential candidates supporting the principles of economic liberty while, at the same time (except Ron Paul), ardently supporting Obama’s imposition of sanctions against Iran. Not only are sanctions an attack on the people of the foreign country on which they are imposed, they are also an attack on the economic liberty of the American people.
The heritage of liberty in America is based on the principles of the Declaration of Independence. People have been endowed by nature and God with fundamental rights, ones that cannot legitimately be taken away by anyone, including people’s own government. The only reason for government to exist is to protect the exercise of such rights.
Such rights include, but are not limited to, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Most every American would agree, for example, that such rights as freedom of speech and freedom of religion are fundamental, natural, God-given rights that no one, including a democratically elected government, can legitimately take away or infringe.
But as libertarians have long emphasized, economic liberty stands in the same position as free speech and religious freedom. Your money belongs to you, not to society and not to the government. It’s yours. As such, you have the fundamental, natural, God-given right to do whatever you want with it — spend it, donate it, invest it, hoard it, save it, or whatever.
Others might not like what your do with your own money. That’s their problem. They can ask you or even try to persuade you to do something else with your money, but they have no legitimate authority to force you to comply with their wishes.
Enter sanctions and embargoes. Those governmental actions do precisely the opposite of what the Declaration of Independence says that government should be doing. Sanctions and embargoes don’t protect the exercise of people’s fundamental rights — i.e., their right to do what they want with their own money — they destroy their right to do what they want with their own money.
With sanctions and embargoes, the government prohibits the citizenry from spending their money the way they want. If an American spends money in the targeted nation, the U.S. government targets him with criminal prosecution and a civil fine. And all because the American has spent his money in a way that isn’t allowed by the government.
Consider the case of 69-year-old American citizen Bert Sacks. He’s a real-life example of how sanctions operate as a violation of economic liberty.
During the brutal sanctions that the U.S. government imposed on the Iraqi people for some 11 years, Sachs was aware of the high death toll that the sanctions were producing among Iraqis, especially Iraqi children. Every year, tens of thousands of Iraqi children were dying as a result of the sanctions.
One possible reaction to that death toll, of course, was indifference. After all, Americans were told, “national security” was at stake. And everyone knows that when “national security” is at stake, the death toll among foreigners is irrelevant. All that matters is “national security.”
Recall, for instance, what U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright told “Sixty Minutes” upon being asked whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were “worth it.” Expressing the mindset of U.S. officials, Albright responded that the deaths were, in fact, “worth it.”
Not everyone had that sort of reaction. For example, two high UN officials — Hans von Sponek and Denis Halliday — were appalled by the high death toll among the Iraqi children. Suffering a crisis of conscience, they finally resigned their positions with the UN, arguing that they could no longer participate in what they themselves considered was genocide, even when it was the U.S. government producing it.
That was the reaction of Bert Sacks. He was shocked over what his own government was doing to the Iraqi people and obviously didn’t buy into the “national security” justification for killing the Iraqi children. So, he decided to travel to Iraq to take medicines to the Iraqi people.
What’s wrong with that? Well, you see, by spending his own money in Iraq Sachs was violating the sanctions that the U.S. government had imposed against the Iraqi people.
So, the U.S. government went after Bert Sacks. It fined him $10,000 for violating its sanctions. And it has never given up trying to collect the money. Ever since Sach’s 1997 trip to Iraq through January 2012, the feds have pursued him relentlessly to collect the fine, plus interest, making the total amount now $16,000.
To his everlasting credit, Sachs, a true hero of our time, consistently told the feds to take their fine and shove it. To their everlasting shame, the feds continued going after him with an unbelievable vindictiveness and vengeance.
And keep in mind that it wasn’t just President Clinton and President George W. Bush who went after him. It was also President Obama, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who went after him.
Recently, a federal judge dismissed the federal government’s lawsuit against Bert Sacks. The judge held that the government waited too long to file its lawsuit for recovery of its fine. The statute of limitations had expired, the judge held.
That’s too bad, as Sachs himself feels. It obviously would have been much better if the judge had dismissed the government’s suit on the ground that its cruel and brutal sanctions on the Iraqi people were not only unconscionable but also an unconstitutional infringement on the economic liberty of the American people.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.
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