When Feeding Your Family is a Crime

Glenn Greenwald is the author of a great book called With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful, and a recent column he wrote for the Guardian provides a textbook example of that distortion of the rule of law. It’s the story of an Iraqi-American who is now in prison for sending money to his family in Iraq, who were starving as a result of American sanctions.

Such is the case with the treatment of Dr. Shakir Hamoodi, an Iraqi-American nuclear engineer who just began a three-year prison sentence at the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas penitentiary for the “crime” of sending sustenance money to his impoverished, sick, and suffering relatives in Iraq – including his blind mother – during the years when US sanctions (which is what caused his family’s suffering) barred the sending of any money to Iraq…

The sanctions regime decimated Hamoodi’s family. His elderly blind mother was unable to buy basic medication. His sister, one of 11 siblings back in Iraq, suffered a miscarriage because she was unable to buy $10 antibiotics. His brother, a surgeon, was earning the equivalent of $2 per month and literally unable to feed his family.

Hamoodi was earning a very modest salary at the time of roughly $35,000 per year from the university, but – as would be true for any decent person of conscience – could not ignore the extreme and growing suffering of his family back in Iraq. Because sending money into Iraq from the US was physically impossible, he set up a bank account in Jordan and proceeded to make small deposits into it. From that account, small amounts of money – between $20 and $100 – were dispersed each month to his family members.

When other Iraqi nationals in his Missouri community heard of his helping his family, they wanted to help theirs as well. So Hamoodi began accepting similar amounts of money from a small group of Iraqis and ensured those were disbursed to their family members suffering under the sanctions regime. From 1993 until 2003, when the sanctions regime was lifted after the US invasion, Hamoodi sent an average of $25,000 each year back to Iraq, totaling roughly $250,000 over the decade: an amount that fed and sustained the Iraqi relatives of 14 families in Columbia, Missouri, including his wife’s five siblings.

Nobody, including the US government, claims that these amounts were intended for anything other than humanitarian assistance for his family and those of others in his community. Everyone, including the US government, acknowledges that these funds were sent to and received only by the intended recipients – suffering Iraqi family members – and never got anywhere near Saddam’s regime, terrorist groups, or anything illicit.

Hamoodi goes to prison for sending money to his starving relatives and helping others do the same, money that served no purpose other than that. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney violated American sanctions against several countries, including Iraq, Iran and Libya in ways that clearly helped those regimes as the CEO of Halliburton and not only has he not suffered one bit for it, he became vice president. Because the rule of law only applies to the plebes, not the rich and powerful.

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  • fastlane

    I’m just glad the coming climate fuckup will at least take a lot of the rich fuckers along too (even though, like everything else, it will hit the poor people the hardest).

  • Oh, come on! Everybody knows that the American Dream is one day reaching the point where you’re protected by the Law but not under it, rather than under the Law but not protected by it.

  • slc1

    The government of the USA is the government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

  • Olav

    Everything Greenwald writes should be mandatory reading. His online home is at The Guardian:


  • erichoug

    The Law in this country is established to help wealthy corporations and individuals maintain their power and influence and take an ever larger share of an ever shrinking pie. The Law in this country is designed to prevent smaller players from actually making a difference in the market or in our society and to keep anyone making less than $100M a year from having any voice whatsoever.

    We have seen it over and over again in this country. the Law will throw your entire life away in a heartbeat over nothing and not feel bad about it.

  • Nepenthe

    Every once in a while, I wish the US legal system had a clause like Wikipedia’s Ignore All Rules policy, so that when a judge is about to sentence a man to prison for feeding his starving, blind mother, they can say “actually, no, there is no way on Earth I can be that much of a shitbag, overturned”. I also want a pony and an unlimited supply of kittens, neither of which would have unpleasant unintended consequences either.

  • Why isn’t this guy a candidate for a pardon?? Can we start a campaign or something?

  • Crudely Wrott

    Without belaboring the principle of unintended consequences, sometimes the law is simply an ass.

    Perhaps we could formulate a common, multipurpose clause to deal with such regrettable outcomes?

    Oh, yeah. That would just ignite more conflagrations of hair splitting and spittle flecked raving.

    *there’s yer problem, buddy*


    /opens fresh beer, awaits rational discourse in congruous, where all are incongruouspersons gather for the lip service ritual.

  • @Crudely Wrott

    Unintended Consequences don’t come into it when there is selective enforcement.

  • criticaldragon1177

    Ed Brayton

    I forgot to say this earlier, but I’m glad you’re cover this story. From what I can tell, far too few media outlets are covering it.

  • laurentweppe

    A relative of mine (who, by the way, was an italian communist who had to flee the country and go in France after killing a fascist official) ended up detained at the liberation for “collaboration”: he had sent food to my grandfather who was at the time a war prisoner in Germany alongside bribes to make sure that no low-level nazi bureaucrat who keep the food instead of letting it go to my grandad.

    And of course, he was denounced by some “25th hour resistants” who did not do a thing when the Wehrmacht was close buy then tried to demonstrate their über-patriotism by pointing fingers everywhere.

    The more things change…

    Wait a minute: no: “The more things change” doesnt even works here: France at the time was in the chaotic state after having been occupied either directly or through a puppet regime: that didn’t make it right, but one can understand how wild accusations could succesfully put innocents in prison given that the state was non-functionning at the time: the US does not even have this excuse

  • Olav

    Laurent, #11:

    one can understand how wild accusations could succesfully put innocents in prison given that the state was non-functionning at the time: the US does not even have this excuse

    Because the US is such a well functioning state?

    Sorry, cheap shot, I know.

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