Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Iraq sanctions in focus

A Portland peace activist seeking to end the U.S. and U.N. sanctions on Iraq reached a settlement with the U.S. government last week over the return of materials Detroit customs officials took from him in 1997.

Dan Handelman said he was on his way back from Iraq and passing through Detroit Metro Airport when customs officials seized his pictures, videotapes and other materials. Handelman, who had gone to Iraq with other members of the Chicago-based organization Voices in the Wilderness to deliver medicine to children’s hospitals, said he had taken the pictures and videos in order to show the devastation wrought by the sanctions. By some estimates, the embargo, which was imposed in 1990, has been responsible for the deaths of at least a half-million people in Iraq.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan, customs officials at Detroit Metro Airport justified the seizure of Handelman’s film and videocassettes by claiming they were illegally imported "goods or services of Iraq." However, the actual film and videotape were bought in the United States.

"He didn’t buy any of it in Iraq," ACLU legal director Michael Steinberg told News Hits.

Handelman’s attorneys, including Steinberg, argued in the lawsuit that the items customs took from Handelman are protected under the First Amendment.

According to the ACLU and other groups: In late March, customs returned everything to Handelman – even some things Handelman did not dispute were "of Iraqi origin," such as a piece of cardboard containing Iraqi stamps purchased at a flea market in Jordan.

Federal officials also agreed to pay Handelman $15,000 in damages and lawyers’ fees.

Says Handelman: "The fact that they returned my items only after being faced with a legal challenge is a sign they know their policy is flawed. This agreement is effectively a chip in the ‘intellectual embargo’ that has been placed on Iraq."

For more information on the lawsuit and to view some of Handelman's photos, visit his Web site.

News Hits is edited by W. Kim Heron. He can be reached by phone at 313-202-8004 or via e-mail

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