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GUEST COMMENTARY: Hamoodi incarceration is an example of U.S. hypocrisy

Monday, August 20, 2012 | 2:22 p.m. CDT; updated 3:13 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 20, 2012

Imagine if you will: Your mother, blind and elderly, and many other relatives are struggling to stave off hunger and disease in your homeland where hundreds of thousands of others have already perished. You, your spouse and children meanwhile, live thousands of miles away in the United States, in relative affluence.

U.S. immigrants over the generations confronting similar dilemmas have helped relatives as they could. As would any of us. Shakir Hamoodi, over a nine-year span channeled funds periodically both to relatives and on behalf of a dozen other immigrants to their loved ones, languishing in Iraq under some of the most brutal sanctions leveled in modern times against a people.

Sadly, a U.S. District Court judge in Jefferson City sentenced him this spring to three years in prison for violating sanctions against Iraq. Hamoodi — widely cherished as a friend, peacemaker, proponent of multicultural and religious acceptance, a dedicated family man, pillar of the local Muslim community and owner of World Harvest Foods — is to turn himself in Aug. 28.

Friends and other members of the community wishing to extend well wishes in these challenging times are welcome to attend a potluck dinner with the family at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Rock Bridge Christian Church, 301 W. Green Meadows Road in Columbia. Those attending are encouraged to buy ingredients for their dish at the family’s store, 3700 Monterey Drive, just north of Landmark Bank on Nifong Boulevard.

More than 3,700 people so far have signed a petition urging President Barack Obama to commute Hamoodi’s sentence. Find more information and/or add your name to the petition at helphamoodi.org.

Who will truly be served by incarcerating our friend Shakir Hamoodi? Certainly not his wife, nor their five children, who collectively exemplify what is most hopeful and encouraging about this nation. They are hardworking and high-achieving contributing citizens. Three of their kids have completed undergraduate degrees (two of them finished master's programs, while one is attending medical school). The youngest two are in college and high school, respectively.

Society won’t benefit by his costly imprisonment, which will leave a painful void in our local community. He poses no threat. As a Newsweek article reported online in June, “there was no suggestion that Hamoodi ... aided terrorists, or that money wound up in Saddam Hussein’s hands.” Instead the more than $200,000 “was doled out mostly in dribs and drabs, even authorities concede,” for example with $40 monthly going to the son of a friend to help feed himself while attending medical school.   

The article notes Justice Department officials provided the reporter a list of seven individuals who have been incarcerated for violating sanctions. The 60-year-old Columbian stands out as the only one facing prison for undertaking purely humanitarian actions, taking nothing for himself.

To be sure, many individuals have indeed committed despicable crimes in Iraq over the past few decades and should be held accountable. Hamoodi, however, is not one of them. U.S. officials, including the past few presidents, have essentially waged war crimes there and in other countries — wrongdoings that in a reasonable and just world would earn fast passage to the Hague’s dock to stand trial before the World Court.

More than one million Iraqis, most of them children, died due to a lack of adequate food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies denied to the country because of U.S.-advocated and UN-imposed sanctions, according to UNICEF, under the oversight of President Bill Clinton and both Bushes. The sanctions on oil production and what could be purchased with the revenue were a continually detonating, quiet-killing weapon of mass-destruction upon a war-ravaged people.

Hamoodi was under the impression the sanctions prohibited assistance to the Iraqi government, not providing aid to relatives. Steve Jacobs and I knowingly violated the immoral sanctions — ignoring the travel ban, when we traveled to Iraq in 1998 as part of a citizen delegation with Voices in the Wilderness to better understand the human impact of the U.S. policy. We also illegally carried in hundreds of dollars worth of medical and school supplies.

I have had the great pleasure of knowing Hamoodi and his family for more than 20 years and am proud to count them all as treasured friends. Critical of violent actions such as the attacks of 9/11, he has greatly helped me and the larger community know more accurately that Islam, like Christianity and most other major religions, is fundamentally a spiritual tradition committed to peace. Terrorists and other extremists bastardize the essence of religion for their narrow, harmful interests, contributing to public bigotry and misunderstanding globally heaped upon various faiths such as Islam in this country. Hamoodi is one of the main individuals who kindly helped make possible our illuminating travels to his homeland.

My memories from Iraq are colored by hundreds of recollections of a proud and welcoming people, amazing, given their dire straits. Scores of ghastly images also haunt me, helping me to understand what compelled Hamoodi to act.

Ours was one of a few dozen delegations that defiantly journeyed there. Several delegates and I tried to turn ourselves in at the Department of Commerce office a year later, admitting our purported wrongdoing. No official even bothered to open the locked office door that weekday morning.

U.S. hypocrisy is jaw-dropping. Hamoodi gets a three-year sentence. Former President George W. Bush and top officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney, on the other hand, lied to the U.S. public and congressional leaders about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction and launched an unjustified war.

One can advocate and hope that our great nation matures, recognizing and correcting past policy mistakes in a determined effort to compassionately, peaceably co-exist as an equal among states globally. A presidential commutation of Hamoodi would help demonstrate that U.S. leaders are embarking upon such an enlightened path. To share your thoughts call 449-4585.

Jeff Stack is the coordinator of the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.


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