Saturday, January 03, 2009


"A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out."
~ Walter Winchell.

Sadly, Kurdistan has lost another friend. On 1 January, Senator Claiborne Pell died:

Claiborne deBorda Pell, the quirky Newport blueblood who held the affections of blue-collar Rhode Island and championed better education of the poor during a 36-year Senate career, died shortly after midnight today at his home in Newport. He was 90 years old.

Democrat Pell, who had suffered from Parkinson’s disease since before his retirement from the Senate, died peacefully in the presence of his wife, Nuala O’Donnell Pell, and family members, according to a statement released by the family.

Pell, who served as the U.S. senator from Rhode Island from 191 to 1997, was perhaps best known nationally for the college grant program that bears his name.

He focused heavily on education, the arts and humanities, and foreign affairs during his 36 years in the Senate. During the latter part of his Senate career, he served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Although the mainstream media has remembered him solely for his contributions to education through financial aid, I remember Senator Pell for his efforts on behalf of the Kurdish people. It was Senator Pell who sent Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer Peter Galbraith to check out genocide suspicions against the Saddam regime:

In Washington in early September [1988], I laid out my concerns to Senator Pell. He accepted my suggestion that he introduce legislation imposing tough sanctions on Iraq, and he urged me to write something immediately as there was almost no time left on the Senate calendar. In little more than an hour, I drafted a four-page bill that imposed on Iraq every sanction that I could think of. The bill prohibited the import of Iraqi petroleum into the United States, ended U.S. credit guarantees for Iraq, prohibited most U.S. exports to Iraq including all sensitive technologies, prohibited loans or financial assistance, and required the United States to oppose international lending to Iraq. The president could waive the sanctions only if he certified to the Congress in writing that "Iraq is not committing genocide against the Kurdish population of Iraq . . . and Iraq is not using chemical weapons banned by the 1925 Geneva Conventions and has provided reliable assurances that it will not use such weapons." I gave the bill the title "The Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988" in part to help win support but also because that was what it was intended to do.

Making use of an arcane parliamentary procedure explained to me by Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd's floor staff, Senator Pell got the bill on the calendar for an immediate vote. Among the bill's co-sponsors were Byrd, arch-conservative Republican Jesse Helms, and Tennessee Democrat Al Gore. The Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988 unanimously passed the Senate the day after it was written and introduced. I had never seen the Senate act so quickly on such an important issue.

Senator Pell asked me to go to eastern Turkey to collect evidence that might bolster the bill's prospects in the House, and, as importantly, help persuade President Reagan not to veto the bill. I asked Chris Van Hollen, then a junior Foreign Relations Committee staffer working on European issues (and now a Democratic congressman from Maryland), to join me. Robert Finn, a political officer at the American Embassy in Ankara, and Hamza Ulucay, a Turkish Kurd working for the U.S. consulate in Adana, filled out our team.

From the NYTimes, 9 September 1988:

Secretary of State George P. Shultz met privatley today with Saadun Hammadi, Iraq's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and raised American concerns about Iraq's use of chemical weapons.

Mr. Redman said after the hourlong session: ''The Secretary stressed to Dr. Hammadi that we attach great importance to the further development of our relationship with Iraq, but that we do not intend to pursue this course if illegal Iraqi use of chemical weapons and other human rights abuses continue.''

Although Mr. Hammadi had no prepared remarks for reporters, as he left the State Deparment he was faced by pro-Kurdish demonstrators and reporters.

He said of the charges of gas use, ''This is absolutely baseless, and this has not taken place at all.''

In Congress, Senator Claiborne Pell characterized the Iraqi attacks as ''genocide.'' Tonight, he introduced legislation calling for punitive sanctions against Iraq, such as a halt to Federally backed commodity credits and other loan guarantees, and a ban on oil imports from that country.

It is unclear whether Congress, which faces a crowded legislative calendar, will take up the measure before it adjourns in early October. Such action almost certainly would prompt opposition from the Administration, which has stopped short of calling Iraq's offensive against the Kurds genocide, a Senate aide said. No similar measure was proposed in the House.

A State Department official said the Administration had not seen the proposal by Senator Pell, a Rhode Island Democrat, and declined to comment on it.

Use of any chemical weapon is considered a clear violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, but officials at the State Department and the White House, speaking privately, said there were technical ambiguities in international law regarding the use of such weapons by a sovereign nation within its own borders.

''There's nothing in international law that prohibits that,'' said an Administration official. But he added that the United States could, had and would condemn the action on human rights and moral grounds alone.

Although the Administration believes the protocol's other provisions allow for a strong case that internal use of such weapons violate the Geneva accords, he said, ''There's not much we can do.''

From the Congressional Record, Senator Pell's own words in the Senate:

I, along with the distinguished chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Helms, have tried very hard to call attention to the persecution of the Kurds, including by introducing the first-ever sanctions bill against Iraq in 1988 for its use of poison gas against the Kurds.

Since then a wealth of evidence has been uncovered documenting Iraq's brutality against the Kurds, much of which was written in Iraq's own hand. The Foreign Relations Committee--particularly through the vigorous efforts of former staff member, now United States Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith--led an effort to retrieve more than 18 tons of Iraqi Secret Police documents captured by the Kurds in 1991, which charts out Iraq's criminal behavior in excruciating detail. Human Rights Watch, the independent human rights organization, has done a superb job of analyzing those documents to mount an overwhelming case that Iraq has engaged in genocide against the Kurds.

This is a story that must be told. As some of my colleagues may know, the issue of genocide has a particularly strong resonance for me. Just after World War II, my father, Herbert Claiborne Pell, played a significant role in seeing that genocide would be considered a war crime. Although he met stiff resistance, my father ultimately succeeded and I learned much from his tenacity and commitment to principle. The world must oppose genocide wherever and whenever it occurs; Halabja cannot be forgotten, and Iraq must be held accountable for its atrocities against the Kurds. . .

[ . . . ]

I wish I could say that there is a happy ending to the tragic story of the Kurds in Iraq, and that there was a lesson learned by the Iraqi leadership. Sadly, I cannot. Although the Iraqi Kurds now control a significant portion of Kurdistan--a consequence of the Persian Gulf war--Saddam's ill treatment of the Kurds continues. Iraqi agents continually carry out terrorist acts against Kurdish targets, and Iraq maintains an airtight blockade of the Kurdish-controlled provinces. Since there also is a U.N. embargo on all of Iraq, the Kurds are forced to live under the unbearable economic weight of a dual embargo. In addition, Kurds in other portions of the region--particularly in Iran and Turkey--have been subjected to serious abuses of human rights and outright repression, demonstrating that the Kurdish plight knows no boundaries. . .

Ah, if only there were more senators like Claiborne Pell . . . Rest in peace, old friend.

The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.
~ Elie Wiesel.