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American Human Shield in Iraq Wants to Avoid U.S. Fines

Before the bombs fell on Baghdad, Judith Karpova went there to put herself in harm's way, hoping to prevent attacks on a population that was already suffering.

The activist was among dozens of "human shields" who poured into Iraq as the U.S.-led offensive loomed in early 2003, but she left before the war began.

After she returned to the United States, Karpova was fined $6,700 by the Treasury Department for violating U.S. economic sanctions. Fines up to $8,000 were also levied against three other human shields.

None are paying up quietly, and Karpova is disputing in a federal appeals court charges that she illegally exported services to Iraq as a shield.

"They say it's an export — export! — of services to Iraq, as if a human being is a commodity that can be shipped like light bulbs," the 61-year-old Hudson Valley woman said.

Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said in an e-mail that anyone who violates U.S. sanctions may face civil or criminal penalties. Asked why only four shields were fined, Millerwise noted "there are instances where U.S. persons skirt the sanctions without the knowledge of officials."

As the U.S. edged closer to war with Iraq, Karpova felt a sense of deja vu.

A peace activist for roughly half her life, Karpova protested the Vietnam War, took on an anti-nuclear crusade in the '80s and was gassed during anti-globalization protests during a 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle.

"It was very bitter for me to see this happen all over again," Karpova said in an interview at her home in the woods 80 miles north of Manhattan. "And I felt I had to do something."

Paying her own way, she arrived in Amman, Jordan, on Feb. 17, 2003, and took an Iraqi-sponsored bus trip to Baghdad with a few dozen other human shields. It was Karpova's first trip to Iraq.

She spent five days at an oil refinery with another shield, Faith Fippinger.

The shields stationed themselves at potential airstrike targets in Iraq such as food storage warehouses and refineries. U.S. officials warned them that there was no way to guarantee their safety and critics accused them of being pawns of Saddam Hussein.

But 10 days before the military campaign began, Karpova left Iraq. She cited several reasons, including not wanting to upset a brother recuperating from a stroke and fear for her life.

When she got home, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control informed her that she was not licensed to engage in "travel transactions" in Iraq and later fined her $6,700.

Karpova sued, arguing her constitutional rights to free speech and travel were being violated. She also disputes that she provided an economic service for Iraq.

"I had no effect or influence on anything at Iraq — at all," she said.

A federal judge in October granted a government motion to dismiss Karpova's complaint. Karpova's appeal, which she filed last month, is being watched by the three other Americans hit with fines.

The government has filed similar dismissal motions in reaction to court complaints from two of the peace activists: Ryan Clancy, 29, of Milwaukee, and the Rev. Frederick Boyle of New Jersey, who went to Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Judges in those cases have yet to rule on the motions. Fippinger has not challenged her fine, though her lawyer said there's a chance she will.

Clancy said the issue is not so much the fine, but his right to have his day in court.

"I'm happy to accept the consequences of what I did. That being said, the right of due process is a fundamental one," Clancy said. "To have to beg and claw for a trial, it doesn't seem right."

Fippinger said she'll go to jail before paying the fine.

"Whatever the government does to me, they really can do nothing," she said.

The fine seems to have done little to dampen Karpova's zeal. She spent time last summer near President Bush's ranch in Texas at the peace camp organized by Cindy Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son died in Iraq.