Human shields had freedom of speech on their side

A 62-year-old retired teacher faces $10,000 in fines and potential jail time. Faith Fippinger was charged by the U.S. Department of Treasury after she returned home to Sarasota from a trip to Iraq where she acted as part of the human shield protest.

The Department of Treasury raised the charges on the grounds that Fippinger violated the U.S. economic embargo on Iraq. Whatever one’s opinion of human shield protesters, they are engaged in a form of non-violent protest, and should, therefore, be protected by the First Amendment. It is difficult not to conclude that the U.S. government intends to make Fippinger an example because she does not agree with its opinion about the war.

The now-rescinded economic embargo on Iraq specifically targeted those who had business ties with Saddam Hussein’s government. Fippinger in no way qualifies as a corporation or a businessperson. She said in an interview in Newsweek that the only money she spent there was on food and emergency supplies. These are hardly transactions that would prop up the Hussein regime.

Fippinger says that her protest was intended to show that, “(My) death is no more or less important than the Iraqi lives that will be lost.” Her intention was to protect Iraqi civilians and to demonstrate her objections to the war on Iraq. In no way can her protest be construed as being protective or supportive of the very regime that was suppressing the people she sought to protect. The fact that Fippinger has not stopped speaking to the media since she returned home may be a further spur to the government, which must find a way to punish her, knowing that it cannot hold her accountable for “speaking out,” as it would directly violate the First Amendment.

The sanctions against Iraq were implemented to prevent companies and businesspeople from bolstering the Hussein regime. The legislation was not intended to target individuals who have risked their life for their beliefs. For the government to pursue this prosecution for what amounts to a few insignificant transactions is not a proper use of public funds or resources.

The First Amendment allows U.S. citizens to form whatever opinion they want, and it allows them to voice that opinion whether they are on U.S. soil or not. It can be argued that Fippinger broke the letter of the law by visiting Iraq, but the prosecution of Fippinger and other human shield protesters would not be in keeping with the intention of the lawmakers. Fippinger’s trip to Iraq served only as a method of expressing her right to free speech, and for that she should not be punished. At a time when the Bush administration is trying to promote democratic values in Iraq, it seems counterproductive to indict Fippinger for speaking out against her government.