By Fergal Parkinson BBC News
Sept. 22, 2003
FLORIDA -- Sitting in her modest two-bedroom home on the west
Florida coast, Faith Fippinger begins to cry as she talks about the prospect
of going to jail.
This spring, the 62-year-old retired schoolteacher decided to travel to
Iraq as a human shield. To many she is a humanitarian, but in the eyes of
the US Government she is a criminal. By the standards of most Americans
Faith Fippinger is well-travelled. Over the past few years she has visited
almost every continent and the souvenirs dotted around the house prove it.
But it was her decision to travel to Iraq to try to prevent the war which
has got her into trouble. "War is carnage, I understand that,"
she says. "War is death, I understand that. In my opinion though this
war was illegal, unjust and unnecessary," she told me. For three months
she travelled around Iraq, guarding oil refineries, teaching in schools
and working in hospitals. But when she returned home there was a letter
waiting for her from the US Treasury Department. "It was a requirement
to send information as to why I was in Iraq," she says. "It also
said the penalties for being there could be as high as a million dollars
and up to 12 years in jail."
'Freedom of speech'
By going to Iraq Faith Fippinger had broken the US economic embargo on Iraq,
which had been in place for many years. The letter explained that by travelling
to the country and spending money there, Miss Fippinger was now liable for
prosecution. Supporters argue that she was simply exercising her right to
freedom of travel and speech and accuse the Bush administration of trying
to make an example of her. "You know, part of what democracy is all
about is that you can have varying opinions and that we can express them,"
she says. "It's in regimes like Saddam Hussein's where that freedom
is not allowed."
But the US Treasury Department is standing firm. In a statement to the BBC
it said that to express one's freedom of speech is a right but breaking
the law of the United States is not a privilege. It says it fully intends
to proceed with her prosecution.
For travelling to Iraq Faith Fippinger will now probably lose
her house, her pension and go to jail.
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