September 9, 2002

Forum on Iraq Held At Ithaca High School

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Approximately 200 Ithacans of all ages gathered yesterday to discuss U.S. involvement in Iraq. “Voices of Peace: Must We Attack Iraq?” featured a panel presentation from four adversaries of the proposal for a pre-emptive strike against the Middle-East nation.

Linda Finlay, the moderator of the event, introduced the panel with a call to the audience.

“The planners of this meeting hope that you will increase pressure on Congress to pursue their constitutional duty.”


The first speaker was Rev. William E. Gibson, director emeritus of the Ecojustice Project of Center for Religion, Ethics, and Social Policy (CRESP) at Cornell.

“Must we attack Iraq? My answer is no,” said Gibson. “Not only is the United States not compelled to attack, there are several reasons why it should not.”

Gibson said he believed that there is no moral justification for a pre-emptive strike.

“A heavy burden of proof comes down on any proposal for war. When war comes, the truth is distorted to justify the war and civil liberties are violated,” he said.


Gibson claimed that President George W. Bush and his administration have not made a sufficient legal explanation for an attack, and if pursued, any proposal to make war on Iraq would anger the Muslim world.

“A year after the Sept. 11th attack, I hope and pray that the nation will arrive at a more teachable moment. It is time for honesty and humility,” said Gibson.

Kathy Kelly, a founder of Voices in the Wilderness, a human rights organization that has traveled to Iraq, spoke about the life of the average Iraqi citizen. Kelly herself has visited Iraq 16 times and has spoken to members of the Ithaca community about her experiences there before.

“They blame themselves,” said Kelly. “They told us how they feel trapped and have a great deal of anxiety.”

Kelly accused the United States of conducting a “psychological war” against the Iraqi people by imposing sanctions that limit the amount of necessary supplies, such as hospital equipment, that can enter into Iraq.

Kelly also warned the audience to be wary about statements from the government.

“We need to be careful about what we are hearing,” said Kelly.

Matt Evangelista, director of the peace studies program at Cornell also spoke to the crowd.

“In the peace studies program, we unfortunately don’t have much occasion to study peace. The destruction from the war [in Iraq] 12 years ago turned a modern, industrial society into a primitive one,” Evangelista said.

Evangelista also gave a short history of the country.

In July of 1979, Saddam Hussein and his regime took control of the country. In September of the next year Hussein led an attack against Iran.

“The U.S. wanted both sides to kind of bleed each other to death. However, it leaned somewhat towards Iraq,” Evangelista said.

The Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988, and according to Evangelista, the United States and other countries believed that Hussein would not provoke any more conflicts in order to build up his country from the inside.

However, in 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, which eventually led to U.S. involvement via Operation Desert Storm. The terms of the ceasefire signed by Hussein in April of 1991 provided that Iraq give up its program for weapons of mass destruction and allow an inspections team from the United Nations to monitor its facilities.

“It was the inspections regime that did a lot more than the war to remove weapons of mass destruction. And it is the inspections regime that should be our focus now,” said Evangelista.

“Iraq was genuinely seeking to develop nuclear weapon capability. These are things we have to acknowledge.”

Following the panelists’ speeches, members of the community spoke to the crowd about getting involved in the peace movement. The peace advocates asked members of the audience to sponsor a peace advertisement in local papers, among other proposals. The event concluded with a question and answer period from the audience.

Archived article by Mackenzie Damon