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Bomber's defense focuses on U.S. policy on Iraq

ramsey clark
Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark testified on what he called "extensive destruction ... of civilian life" in Iraq.  

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN New York Bureau

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Mohamed al-'Owhali, convicted in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, relied on the words of two former U.S. Cabinet officials Monday in mounting his defense against the death penalty.

Al-'Owhali's lawyers played a television interview with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and produced former Attorney General Ramsey Clark as a witness, both attesting to the detrimental impact sanctions and bombings have had on Iraqi civilians during and since the Gulf War.

Al-'Owhali's attorneys have argued U.S. policy toward Iraq was a motivating factor for militant Muslims such as al-'Owhali, a 24-year-old Saudi, and his leader, Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, whom the United States accuses of leading a decade-long terrorist conspiracy to kill Americans and destroy U.S. property.

Defense attorney David Baugh has told jurors --- the same panel that convicted al-'Owhali last week in the August 1998 bombing and the murder of all 213 people it killed -- that he would offer an explanation, not a justification, for al-'Owhali's actions, and that he would argue the United States also put innocent people's lives "at grave risk."

First, Baugh played a CBS-TV "60 Minutes" segment from May 1996 that reported an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children had died from the economic sanctions imposed on August 6, 1990, days after Saddam Hussein's troops invaded Kuwait. Since the war ended with Iraqi's withdrawal in 1991, the number of Iraqi civilian casualties has more than doubled, according to various international aid groups.

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    "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price -- we think the price is worth it," said Albright, who was then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, which imposed and still maintains the sanctions. Hussein subsequently recognized Kuwait and allowed weapons inspectors into Iraq.

    "It is hard for me to say this because I am humane person, but my first responsibility is to make sure that United States forces do not have to go and re-fight the Gulf War," Albright said.

    She blamed Hussein for spending $1.5 billion building new palaces, for using water pumps to build lakes with fountains instead of sewage systems, and for applying spare parts for agricultural equipment to military gear.

    "His priorities are wrong," Albright said in the interview.

    Then Clark, 73, attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson and assistant attorney general under President John F. Kennedy, testified about what he called "extensive destruction ... of civilian life" in Iraq, a country he has visited nearly a dozen times during and since the Gulf War.

    Clark worked on historic civil rights cases while in the Justice Department and has spent most of the past 30 years working on international human rights. He was an outspoken critic of the Gulf War and is a long-time death penalty opponent who called for the abolition of capital punishment in 1965.

    "The number of deaths have increased every year," Clark said about Iraqi civilians. "About half the deaths are children under five." A quarter of the country's newborns have a low birth weight, he said.

    "We've had 10 years of malnutrition and sickness," Clark said.

    Clark said the U.S-led bombings demolished the country's water system and U.N. sanctions devastated agriculture. Increases in cancer and miscarriages have occurred, and medicines are not widely available. It is not uncommon for diabetics to go blind due to the lack of insulin, he said.

    A declassified Pentagon document read to the jury by Baugh candidly assessed the vulnerability of Iraq's water purification system and revealed that the United States knew it.

    "Unless water is purified with chlorine, epidemics such as hepatitis, typhoid, and cholera could occur," said the 1991 memo. "Locally produced food and medicine could become contaminated."

    Madeline Albright
    Madeleine Albright was U.S. ambassador to the U.N. when she said in a 1996 interview shown at trial that Saddam Hussein is to blame for Iraq's problems, not U.N. sanctions.  

    Chlorine was among the Iraqi imports banned under the sanctions.

    Baugh also read to the jury an article of the Geneva Conventions that states it is illegal for one country to destroy civilian supplies such as drinking water and foodstuffs.

    When asked outside the courtroom why he appeared, Clark said, "I didn't volunteer; they asked me. I felt a duty to testify."

    He said U.S. troop presence in the Gulf region is unpopular: "Muslims feel the United States government is destroying their lives, at least in Iraq and other places."

    The jury also heard from Dennis Halliday, who until 1997 had administered the U.N.'s "oil for food" program that permits Iraq to sell limited amounts of oil for export and earmarks the proceeds for food and medicine purchases.

    "I was being associated with a program that I considered genocidal," Halliday said in a videotaped statement.

    He said nations on the U.N. Security Council knew supplies Iraq received were inadequate. UNICEF found as many as 10,000 Iraqis died every month from shortages and that Iraqi's infant mortality rate quadrupled, he said.

    "They continued the sanctions even when they knew the consequences," Halliday said.

    Al-'Owhali's lawyers cast a wide net seeking activists and academics to testify about U.S. policy flaws and perceptions about the United States in the Middle East. None besides Clark or Halliday would cooperate, Baugh told the court, because potential witnesses feared an association with terrorists.

    "I don't think you really appreciate how hated Osama bin Laden is -- well, maybe you do. He is the bogeyman," he told the judge last week.

    Baugh said he even sent a query via fax to the Dalai Lama in Tibet to no avail.

    None of al-'Owhali's family members will appear on his behalf. The defense will rest on Tuesday with jury deliberations likely to begin on Wednesday.

    If the jury does not unanimously decide to sentence al-'Owhali to death, U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand will sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    Once the al-'Owhali punishment is resolved, the jury will hear death penalty arguments on convicted Tanzania embassy bomber Khalfan Mohamed, 27, of Tanzania, who was found guilty of killing 11 people in that coordinated attack.

    Two codefendants, Wadih el Hage and Mohamed Odeh, face a maximum life in prison for their roles in the terror conspiracy and the Kenya embassy bombing, respectively.




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