the role of AmeriCares
a wolf in sheep's clothing
By Sara Flounders
The strangulation of Iraq through sanctions is a policy shrouded in official lies whose devastating consequences have been ignored by the major corporate media. It is held in place globally through more than ten UN Security Council resolutions and backed up by a U.S. military presence in the Gulf that costs $50 billion a year and deploys aircraft carriers, jet fighters, and satellite reconnaissance. Various pieces of U.S. legislation defining the economic blockade devote hundreds of lines to threats of imprisonment and massive fines. And when all else fails, there are always dirty tricks and cynical media lies.
The NBC-TV news magazine "Dateline" on 29 June 1998 gave people in this country an astounding view of Iraq under sanctions -- a view totally different from what I experienced a few weeks earlier as a delegate of the Iraq Sanctions Challenge. Anchor John Hockenberry, whose camera team had accompanied a shipment of medicine to Iraq organized by the group AmeriCares, centered the report on Iraqis dancing the night away in happy abandon at discos, purchasing luxury items, building palaces -- "new ones all the time" -- and watching pirated copies of Titanic.
The message of this television special on the AmeriCares' shipment came through loud and clear: "conditions are not as bad as my imagination led me to expect"; "people figure out how to get around" the sanctions; "the food situation is under control"; it's "not as bad as it could be"; there are "periodic shortages of medicine and anesthesia" but "we're not seeing sick, profoundly ill children." The special ended with reassuring phrases: "They will get by. ... Life goes on."
Why didn't the horror of the sanctions get through? Why was NBC so interested in the AmeriCares trip? Could it have something to do with the fact that NBC is owned and controlled by General Electric, the largest military weapons manufacturer in the world? Selling U.S. wars and military adventures is the bottom line for GE's major stockholders.
The goal of the Iraq Sanctions Challenge was to rip the veneer off the bland word "sanctions" and expose the full horror of that systematic strangulation of a whole country. The eighty-four participants who went to Iraq with four tons of medicine on 6-13 May 1998, and the thousands of supporters who raised funds and support for the effort, did so as a challenge to the criminal sanctions laws and were willing to risk severe legal consequences.
The other shipment of medical supplies, sponsored by AmeriCares, was taken to Iraq just a few days earlier, on 28 April. On the surface both seemed to be humanitarian efforts to bring desperately needed medical supplies to Iraq. But the two trips provide a classic example of the difference between form and essence.
The AmeriCares shipment was a sophisticated effort to reinforce and prolong the sanctions by blaming the Iraqi government for the resulting starvation and disease. This U.S. group was positioning itself to be a "humanitarian" cover for continuing the sanctions. The publicity at the time of that shipment sought to create the impression that a few tons of supplies, if taken past the Iraqi government and directly to the hospitals, would alleviate the crisis. Later, the "Dateline" show went even further and denied there was a crisis.
A closer look at AmeriCares gives an understanding of how humanitarian assistance can function as an arm of the most brutal forms of U.S. foreign policy.
Since the sanctions were first imposed on Iraq in August 1990, the U.S. State Department's official position has been that food and medicine are not included in the restrictions. But these officials know very well that it takes more than a cup of rice to survive. All of Iraq's billions of dollars in hard currency deposited in banks around the world were frozen, all credits were frozen, and all exports -- from oil to dates -- that could earn hard currency were restricted. The Iraqi dinar became a worthless currency as inflation soared past 2,000 percent.
Iraq's infrastructure was devastated by 110,000 aerial sorties flown during the forty days of bombing in 1991. It could not be rebuilt as no spare parts have been allowed in. Commerce with the outside world is shut down. Industries are denied materials, putting millions out of work. Food production has plummeted without fertilizers, pesticides, or preservatives.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice threatens anyone in the U.S. who dares break the sanctions with twelve years of imprisonment. Even the simplest shipment of food or medicine entails highly restrictive licenses and bureaucratic delays of many months.
Around the world millions of people have sent supplies and confronted the policy of starvation with militant demonstrations. Trade unions, human rights, religious and progressive grassroots organizations in many countries have used their modest resources in a collective statement of solidarity and defiance.
In the U.S. many thousands of people were involved in the grassroots campaign of the Iraq Sanctions Challenge. For the first time since the war a broad coalition was formed that included significant religious organizations -- Catholic, Protestant, Muslim -- along with political and activist groups. The Iraq Sanctions Challenge involved or was in communication with almost every U.S. group concerned about conditions in Iraq.
Just days before the 6 May departure, as centers around the country were organizing major send-off rallies and press events challenging the sanctions, came news of an unexpected shipment of medical supplies to Iraq from AmeriCares. For over seven years this organization had sent no supplies or even issued a press release on the Iraqi health crisis. Major media publicity about the shipment at first raised expectations and enthusiasm. Was the political climate on the sanctions issue changing? However, its real purpose soon became clear.
The organizers of the AmeriCares shipment announced they were abstaining from any political discussion critical of the U.S. role in the sanctions policy. Their shipment was "strictly humanitarian." However, their criticism of Iraq was highly political and reinforced the U.S. State Department line.
Their public statements condemned Saddam Hussein for "manipulating UN humanitarian programs" and called on Iraq to cooperate with the UN Security Council. They declared the medicine they were taking would be delivered directly to hospitals so it would not be stolen or appropriated by the military.
The shipment's arrival on 28 April evoked wide media coverage in the U.S. Both CBS Evening News and ABC World News Tonight did special reports, describing the aid as "pioneering." ABC's Peter Jennings enthused, "This is the first time since the Gulf War that American aid of any kind has been flown in."
Even though all flights to Iraq had been banned for more than seven years, AmeriCares was given permission to fly its shipment of medicine directly to Baghdad. The flight was arranged in coordination with the Royal Jordanian Air Force. Special permission was granted by the UN Security Council. At the last minute, when the Iraqi government refused to allow any military aircraft to land in Baghdad, AmeriCares was able to quickly charter two other planes to take the supplies. Even though the UN Security Council requires one month's advance notice of the exact coordinates and type of any aircraft applying to fly to Iraq, AmeriCares was able to get the approval for this change in plans in one day.
AmeriCares claims its medicines were all donated by major U.S. pharmaceutical firms. In contrast, pharmaceutical companies that had pledged to contribute to the Iraq Sanctions Challenge were threatened by the U.S. Department of Justice that such a donation would be in violation of U.S. law and that they would face prosecution and fines.
Instead of facing threats of imprisonment like the delegates of the Iraq Sanctions Challenge, the AmeriCares delegation was applauded by the Clinton administration, which released the following statement on 28 April: "The United States Government was pleased to assist AmeriCares in its effort to undertake this mission. ... We remain deeply disturbed by the manipulation of UN humanitarian programs by Saddam Hussein, and again call upon the Iraqi regime to cooperate with UN Security Council Resolution 1153, which authorizes increased humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq."
AmeriCares distributed to the media a letter of support from the National Security Council (NSC). The letter to AmeriCares founder and chair Robert C. Macauley was signed by Eric P. Schwartz, the Special Assistant to the President and the Director for Democracy, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Affairs of the NSC. It said, "On behalf of the Administration allow me to express appreciation to you and the entire AmeriCares organization for your efforts in organizing this important mission."
The White House was genuinely grateful because this mission attempted to upstage the efforts of many thousands of people across the U.S. who had, at great sacrifice and risk, collected several million dollars worth of medical supplies for Iraq in order to demonstrate graphically the conditions of famine and plague artificially created by the sanctions.
The AmeriCares shipment was clearly a cynical, one-shot publicity stunt by an organization that functions as an arm of U.S. foreign policy. A call to the national office of AmeriCares in New Canaan, Conn., two months after their much-publicized shipment confirmed they do not plan to send any additional supplies or assistance to Iraq. This is a group that brags it is the world's largest private relief organization.
AmeriCares is a highly political organization. Barbara Bush, wife of former CIA director and U.S. President George Bush, is its ambassador-at-large. Its sixteenth annual fund-raising party was held this year on the USS Intrepid -- an aircraft carrier converted into a military museum and docked on the Hudson River in New York City. The co-chairs of the gala were George and Barbara Bush. George's brother, Prescott Bush Jr., is on AmeriCares' board of directors.
The dinner honored Amoco President William Lowrie and Mayo Foundation President Dr. Robert Waller. Amoco, one of the largest oil companies in the world, is a direct beneficiary of the Gulf War. It has provided over $46 million to AmeriCares Foundation. This is hardly generosity, considering the trillions of dollars in oil wealth that Amoco has stolen from the Arab people.
AmeriCares describes itself at its Internet web site as the "humanitarian arm of Corporate America. ... Overseeing AmeriCares operations is an Advisory Committee composed of some of the leading minds in business, medicine, and government, including support from all of the living Presidents."
The founder and chair of AmeriCares is Robert C. Macauley, president of Virginia Fibre -- a multimillion-dollar paper manufacturing company. He went to Yale with George Bush and has been his buddy since childhood. Macauley says the inspiration for AmeriCares came from Pope John Paul II at a 1982 Vatican meeting. Its first mission that same year was an airlift and distribution network in Poland, which had become indebted to Western banks and was reeling from the social and political effects of food price increases demanded by its creditors.
Throughout the 1980s AmeriCares continued to play an active role in Eastern Europe in coordination with the Reagan administration and the Vatican, spreading the influence of its corporate patrons in a region where socialist economic planning was crumbling.
Since then AmeriCares' "mission" has spread to over forty countries world-wide. Its literature describes how, just hours after U.S. troops took over Kuwait City at the end of the Gulf War, an AmeriCares' Boeing 707 cargo jet arrived carrying a team of physicians from the White House and the Mayo Clinic.
The timing of the recent planeload of supplies to Iraq is hardly the first controversy over a shipment from AmeriCares. Sandinista officials accused AmeriCares of being a CIA front and part of the secret network of private groups used by Marine Corps Lt. Col. Oliver North to deliver aid to the Contras. In 1988 the embattled Sandinista government in Nicaragua rejected an airlift of newsprint donated by AmeriCares to the right-wing opposition daily newspaper, La Prensa. It had been timed to arrive just before the elections. The newspapers that supported the Sandinista government were unable to buy newsprint at that time because of a U.S.-imposed embargo on newsprint, but Vice President George Bush's staff called the Nicaraguan Embassy to try to expedite the shipment to La Prensa. Two years earlier, AmeriCares had delivered 200 tons of newsprint to La Prensa during another crisis created by the U.S.
AmeriCares has also delivered supplies to contra terrorists based in Honduras. AmeriCares' tax returns revealed donations of cash and materials to the brother of contra leader Adolfo Calero. The Nicaraguan Freedom Fund, a front organization of Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, channeled $350,000 to AmeriCares.
The AmeriCares website shows that its shipments seem to find their way to wherever the CIA is most active. Special "humanitarian supplies" have been shipped to contra forces in Afghanistan and their rear bases in Pakistan. An airlift was organized for U.S.-supported forces in Eritrea and Tigre during the war in Ethiopia. During the civil war raging in the Balkans, aid was sent to Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
AmeriCares often acts as an arm of U.S. foreign and domestic policy by reinforcing and supplying the most reactionary organizations. It controls the distribution network to millions of people in desperate need. This strengthens the infrastructure and influence of groups with a political agenda supportive of U.S. corporate goals. Millions of dollars of supplies flooding into a region during a war crisis or famine can exert enormous political influence. As Forbes, the magazine that calls itself the "capitalist tool," enthused, "AmeriCares is a splendid example of what a free-enterprise approach can accomplish in charity."
A look at AmeriCares' advisory board shows links to both the U.S. government and right-wing organizations in the United States. Besides its links to the former CIA director, AmeriCares' board includes his brother Prescott Bush, former U.S. Treasury Secretary William Simon, former U.S. Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski, General Colin Powell, and former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. If asked what word best characterized this group of people, would anyone say "humanitarians"?
But the most important link between AmeriCares, the CIA, and ultra-right organizations was the chair of AmeriCares -- from its founding in 1982 until his death in 1995 -- J. Peter Grace Jr., chair of W.R. Grace & Co. Grace is still listed posthumously as chairman of the AmeriCares Advisory Committee on the group's stationery.
J. Peter Grace was the chair of the American Institute for Free Labor Development, the CIA's labor front, and a director of both Kennecott Copper Co. and First National City Bank -- now Citibank. His prominent role in the organization of the fascist coup that overthrew the Allende government in Chile is well documented. He is also connected to the Liberty Lobby, a racist think tank and militarist lobbying group based in Washington, DC. He served as chair of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty Fund. Grace was the key figure in Project Paperclip, which brought nine hundred Nazi scientists to the U.S. after World War II, many of whom had been found guilty of experimentation on humans.
A thread running through all this is J. Peter Grace Jr.'s position as president of the American Eastern Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, also known as the Knights of Malta.
In an issue of CovertAction Information Bulletin devoted to "The Nazis, the Vatican, and the CIA," a well-researched and extensively footnoted article explains many of the early links between the Knights of Malta, fascist and other right-wing organizations, and AmeriCares.
Throughout Latin America, AmeriCares is openly connected to the Knights of Malta. AmeriCares' press releases and its Website confirm the Knights of Malta as its official arm for distributing supplies in many countries. In a phone interview, Rachel Granger, manager of AmeriCares' International Programs, praised the international network of the Knights of Malta and explained that it reflects the goals and values of AmeriCares.
The other side of this extremely right-wing Roman Catholic organization is that the Knights of Malta has been frequently linked to the CIA and to death squads throughout Latin America that target trade union organizers, human rights activists, grassroots groups, and religious figures who side with the poor.
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta has a membership that includes wealthy corporate and top government officials of many Western countries linked to neo-Nazi and racist organizations. Over the last sixty years it has been closely tied to such organizations as the World Anti-Communist League, the American Security Council, and the Coalition for Peace Through Strength.
Board members and recipients of awards connect it to an international network of anti-Semitic and racist publications in the U.S., France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Latin America, and to lobbying organizations and semi-secret groups linked to the CIA. The Grand Cross of Merit of the Knights of Malta has gone to Robert Gayre, editor of the racist magazine Mankind Quarterly, and Roger Pearson, president of the World Anti-Communist League and board member of the French neo-Nazi journal Nouvelle Ecole.
The connection between the Vatican, the Knights of Malta, and Nazi organizations dates back to the 1930s. The Knights of Malta were important promoters of General Francisco Franco's fascist army in the Spanish Civil War. They supported Mussolini's Fascist party in Italy and Hitler's Nazi party in Germany. Many commanders in Hitler's notorious SS were decorated members of the Knights of Malta. At the end of World War II the "Rat Lines" -- secret networks by which so many top Nazi leaders escaped with their fortunes to South America -- were organized through the Vatican and the Knights of Malta.
Another prominent and decorated member of the Knights of Malta was a man known as "Hitler's paymaster" -- Herman Abs. Abs was chair of the Deutsche Bank from 1940 to 1945. He was also a board member of the notorious I.G. Farben Co. His role was well known to the Nuremberg Tribunal and every book on the Third Reich discusses his role. Abs was convicted of war crimes in absentia in Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, after the war Abs retained his top banking position and reorganized German finances in the interests of U.S. financial domination.
The connection between top financiers, Cabinet-level Treasury officials, and right-wing, racist organizations didn't begin with William Simon and J. Peter Grace. It reflects the way corporate rule is enforced through the interconnection of government agencies, religious institutions, media outlets, and secret organizations.
It is important for the progressive movement to grasp the significance of AmeriCares' cynical public relations shipment to Iraq. It is connected in a living way to the global struggle that pits those fighting for basic union rights and national self-determination against a handful of extremely wealthy corporate rulers.
AmeriCares' shipment to Iraq during a critical time of growing opposition to the continuing war of aggression shows that the U.S. government is determined to continue the sanctions. It is just one of the many covert ways the corporate-military-political complex manipulates public debate to maintain and justify the murderous policy against Iraq.
The anti-sanctions movement should appreciate how deeply threatened U.S. government officials and corporate rulers are by the growing awareness and resistance of grassroots organizations in the U.S. The Iraq Sanctions Challenge not only brought aid to Iraqi children -- it challenged the criminal role of top U.S. government officials. The greatest military power on earth fears the anger of world opposition. A simple act of solidarity is a powerful weapon.