Trying to Arrest Madeleine Albright
— Stanley Heller
I used to cringe every time I'd be in a demo and hear the chant, "You can't run. You can't hide. We charge you with genocide!"
But in the case of the sanctions against Iraq it really has become genocide: hundreds of thousands of civilians have been deliberately killed through the intentional crippling of Iraqi water treatment system and the sanctions that prevent Iraq from selling enough oil to cover essential civilian needs. Clinton, Albright, and Cohen are-in a very literal sense-war criminals.
At a very successful day of protest against Madeleine Albright in Middletown, Connecticut on February 6, four of us tried something I don't think has been done before in the United States. We went to the Middletown police and filed a complaint, asking that the police arrest Albright for the grave crimes of violation of the rules of war, and participation in the crime of aggression and genocide.
Filing a Complaint
The complaint was filed and got some very good publicity.
We had two sources of inspiration. The first was Elias Davidsson of Iceland. He publicly demanded the arrest of Iceland's foreign minister on three occasions last year. The second was an article in time magazine on December 14 of last year called "the Pinochet problem."
This essay presented an imaginary scenario in which George Bush is arrested in Russia for war crimes against Iraq. The article said "officials in Washington and other capitals are starting to take [the possibility of this kind arrest] seriously."
I had a lively e-mail discussion with Davidsson and several activist US lawyers about the actual legal charges that could be presented against Albright. I sent a certified letter to the Middletown police with the complaint a few days before February 6.
The reaction of the police was to investigate me! Two special agents of state department security services came to my house and not finding me there, found out my place of work and talked to me there. I had no obligation under the law to talk to them, but I did talk so I could emphasize that we were acting peaceably and legally.
They said I had "every right to write the letter" to the police, but they wanted to remind me that I had to obey the city and campus police of Middletown and Wesleyan campus. I refused to answer questions about other people or other groups.
That same day I was interviewed by two radio stations. One let me talk for three minutes live about the charges against Albright.
when a delegation of myself, Patrick Kearney, middle east crisis committee secretary-treasurer; and lush Colville, of the Caesar Jerez catholic worker house; and Stephen Kobasa of the Atlantic Life Community went to the police station on the day of Albright's talk, the sergeant on duty allowed us to sign a complaint, #99-3303.
A major TV station appeared and broadcast what we were doing for about twenty seconds, showing me signing the complaint, and airing five or six sentences of what I said. The Middletown/new Britain herald talked about the police complaint in its article on the protest (the various acts of protest received more coverage than Albright's speech.) I also was interviewed for a half hour by a non-commercial radio station in Bridgeport.
About 125 people demonstrated against Albright. They were mostly Wesleyan students, but there were people from all over the state. It went on for two hours. Since everyone going in to hear Albright was searched her audience was lined up outside the building and was forced to listen to our slogans and speeches.
Ms. Albright, herself, heard nothing. Top government leaders are completely insulated from protest. They come into halls through secret doors and tunnels. Protestors are kept far, far away from them for "security reasons."
Albright didn't even allow questions. However, five people interrupted Albright's speech with remarks of their own. The first interrupter shouted that Albright had committed genocide. The secretary of state was visibly shaken by the protest. Those who interrupted Albright were taken out of the meeting and had their ids checked. [For similar remarks against bush a month later I and four others were arrested!]
A few weeks after the protest I wrote to the Middletown police and asked what happened to our complaint. A letter from the police department arrived a few days later. It said, "The case you are inquiring about was reviewed and has been closed. There will be no further police action."
Arrest the War Criminals!
Nevertheless, we should continue to ask the police to arrest the war criminals.
First, because it's right: these people are committing unspeakable crimes. What is more hideous than slowly starving children to death?
Second, because it gives us strength: we're not only making a moral appeal, we're demanding the justice system enforce the law.
Third, filing a civil suit is worse than useless. Ramsey Clark filed a lawsuit on behalf of the families of victims of Reagan's bombing of Libya. Not only was the suit thrown out, but Clark had to pay $15,000 for filing a "frivolous" lawsuit.
Fourth, it's an aggressive though completely peaceful action. We're not calling for disorder. We are merely asking the police to do their duty.
Letter to the Police
What follows is the final form of our letter to the police. Hopefully it can be of use to others.
"Dear chief Brymer:
A major lawbreaker is coming to the Crowell concert hall at the Wesleyan university, Middletown, Connecticut on Saturday, February 6th. in her position as US ambassador to the United Nations and US secretary of state Madeleine Albright has administered trade sanctions against Iraq that have caused enormous death and injury to Iraqi civilians. Her actions violate US and international law.
She, herself, has acknowledged the enormous number of deaths of Iraqi civilians caused by the sanctions. She gives reasons for her actions, but they in no way mitigate her guilt in what are war crimes. She also took part in the decision to send missiles and bombs against Iraq in December 1998. This act of war was not authorized by the UN Security Council and hence was a crime of aggression. We ask the Middletown police department to arrest Madeleine Albright and hold her for prosecution."
To this we appended background material on the sanctions, their effects and Albright's role in perpetrating and defending them. We'll send this material to anyone interested. The Middle East crisis committee e-mail address is: u11434@ snet.net Davidsson's web site address is: http://www.nyherji.is/edavid
ATC 81, July-August 1999