National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  June 18, 2004

Judge asks government to show it acted 'promptly' against antiwar group


A federal district court judge ordered the government to show it has acted “promptly” in its suit seeking a $20,000 fine against Voices in the Wilderness, a Chicago-based antiwar group.

At a June 4 hearing, Judge John D. Bates gave prosecutors two weeks to explain why the government took nearly four years to take action against Voices, which is accused of providing unauthorized medical assistance to Iraqis in violation of the pre-war U.S. trade embargo against that government. Justice Department regulations require the government to act “promptly” against those accused of violating the embargo.

Voices attorney William Quigley conceded that the judge’s inquiry does not go to the substance of the action against the group. “It’s a technical point, but it’s a real pleasure to be before a judge who actually wants to follow the law when it comes to protecting people’s rights,” said Quigley.

The group, said Quigley, “is absolutely guilty of providing medicine to the people of Iraq,” but believes its actions should fall under the exception for humanitarian aid allowed under the Emergency Economic Powers Act. That exception, however, required explicit U.S. government permission to provide such aid, which was not sought by Voices.

Voices has led more than 70 delegations to Iraq over the past decade and its representatives were present in the country during the U.S.-led invasion.

“Even if [the provision of medicine] did violate the law,” said Quigley, “it is an unjust law. The government doesn’t have the right to stop people from helping other people in an emergency.” Quigley said the suit was an attempt to “stifle legitimate dissent” against U.S. policies toward Iraq.

The government has until June 18 to justify the speed at which it took action against Voices. Even if Bates finds in the government’s favor, said Quigley, a full-scale trial would not take place for several months.

Joe Feuerherd is NCR Washington correspondent. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, June 18, 2004

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