Oil-for-food scandal actually pretty dull
By Rachel Campbell
The Journal Times has gotten a bit of flak lately for not covering the oil-for-food scandal as prominently as some would like. Personally, I haven’t covered it thus far because, frankly, there isn’t much to report. But in the name of fairness and balance, here’s what’s goin’ down: In 1996, the United Nations’ Security Council adopted the oil-for-food program, in which Saddam Hussein could sell oil in exchange for funds to be used specifically for food, medicine, and other necessities.
In short, the money was supposed to go directly to his people. What isn’t surprising is that Saddam managed to siphon money away from his people through this program over the years, corrupting various officials as he went. What is surprising is that he did it so well: out of Iraq’s $64 billion total oil-for-food income, Hussein took nearly a third - $20 billion - for himself. The wheels he allegedly greased to make it possible are the source of the word “scandal” in “oil-for-food scandal.” These include several American oil giants, government officials across the globe, and, most notably, the very U.N. official chosen to facilitate the program. These parties and others, according to documents recovered in Iraq, received options to buy Iraqi oil significantly below public market prices in exchange for looking the other way.
What has people shocked and appalled lately is that U.N. leader Kofi Annan’s own son, Kojo Annan, has been receiving “non-compete” payments for years from a Swiss firm, Cotecna Inspection S.A., that won an oil-for-food contract in 1998.
Now, here’s why we in the liberal media aren’t running around gritty city streets and polished court hallways, sleepless and intense, dramatically screaming things like, “The public has a right to know!” First of all, this isn’t a movie. Second of all, even if it was, none of us could exactly pass for Tom Cruise; so he would be the one screaming that, not us. We would be lucky to be cast as Mute Juror No. 6. Third of all, no evidence exists - yet - that proves that Kofi Annan had anything to do with his son’s business maneuvers. Furthermore, no evidence exists - yet - that the payments Kojo Annan was receiving were illegal - “non-compete” fees are perfectly legitimate, if not required, by Swiss law - or that Cotecna was explicitly on Saddam’s payroll.
I stressed “yet” because conservatives already furious with the U.N. would love to get their hands on such evidence: if it exists, I’ve no doubt they will uncover it, one way or another.
Editorial, December 4
"The witch-hunt against Mr Annan and the UN over the Iraq oil-for-food scandal is, quite simply, a scandal all on its own. The leaders of this lynch mob in the US Congress and the right-wing commentariat are not gunning for Mr Annan so much as aiming to destroy the UN as an institution. That would be a disaster - for all of us, including… the US…
“The ‘headline’ figure… of a $21bn £11bn] leakage from the scheme - transmogrified by editorialists into ‘US taxpayers’ dollars’ - is fantasy, albeit a damaging one… Forgotten in this intellectually dishonest campaign is the fact that sanctions worked: Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. And that oil-for-food mitigated their effect on the Iraqi people… There is nothing here to be laid at the door of Mr Annan, even though the lobbying activities of his son… will have hurt him.”
New York Times
Editorial, December 5
"The ever-shriller attacks on oil-for-food and on Mr Annan play down this fact: Iraq accumulated far more illicit money through trade agreements that the US and other security council members knew about for years but chose to accept… Right from the start, Iraq found ways to circumvent the sanctions, often with the tacit approval of the US… The main routes for these illicit transactions - $8bn £4.1bn] worth - were trade deals that Iraq negotiated with neighbouring countries… The UN bureaucracy had no power to prevent these illicit oil or arms deals outside the oil-for-food programme. It was the responsibility of member nations to adhere to sanctions imposed by the security council…