u n c o v e r I r a q . c o m

[First published in the Minnepaolis StarTribune on November 22, 2004]

Seven Questions for Senator Norm Coleman as He Investigates Oil for Food
by Drew Hamre

I'm confused, Senator Coleman.

You're investigating the United Nations' Oil for Food program, the central humanitarian effort in a political conflict that claimed 500,000 children's lives, and yet your subcommittee does not mention these deaths. It averts its eyes, and interrogates accountants, and mumbles financial bromides, and smiles, smiles, smiles for C-SPAN.

You're walking on graves, Senator Coleman.

Begin with the children. If the investigation of Oil for Food has any moral weight, it's here. How accurate is the estimate of 500,000 children's deaths, why did they die, and where lies the blame?

Investigate, and let the chips fall where they may.

Here are seven questions to get you going:

(1) The senator has noted that Oil for Food's mission was humanitarian. How well did it work? Will the subcommittee review the research of UNICEF and others estimating that 500,000 excess deaths occurred among Iraqi children from 1991 through early 1999? How solid is this estimate, and could it have been inflated by Saddam Hussein's government? Why did the American media not cover these studies when a policy change could have saved lives? Invite Prof. Richard Garfield of Columbia University as an expert witness.

(2) The senator has called the United Nations uncooperative in its response to the investigation. Why doesn't the senator invite the former in-country administrators of Oil for Food to testify? Three key figures -- Assistant Secretaries General Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, and World Food Program head Jutta Burghardt -- are all available, as they resigned and ended their careers rather than continue participation.

(3) By most accounts, economic sanctions removed $100-$150 billion from Iraq's economy through the 1990s. By contrast, illicit revenue outside Oil for Food amounted to $11 billion (though your subcommittee's investigation claims to double this amount). Which figure had more influence on the welfare of the average Iraqi? What if "smart sanctions" (aimed solely at military and dual-use goods) were implemented initially rather than a decade later?

(4) Investigate Saddam's mismanagement and manipulations. Dig deeper than the obvious (the postwar freeways and palaces). Pound the table and ask why Iraq drained the southern swamps rather than rebuild the sewers of Basra. Ask why, in heaven's name, Iraq delayed ordering protein biscuits (so vital in reducing infant mortality). Invite Prof. Amatzia Baram of the University of Haifa as an expert witness.

(5) The Duelfer report shows almost 100 percent of Iraq's illicit revenue prior to Oil for Food, and 73 percent of their illicit revenue overall, was agreed to by the United States. (Smuggling to Jordan and Turkey was allowed to ease damage to our allies' economies. Pipeline trade with Syria was allowed to secure support in the war on terror.) Removing these figures from the "U.N. fraud" calculations reduces it to Halliburton-size. But that's not a comfortable headline for a protégé of the vice president, is it, Senator?

(6) Will the subcommittee review cases where the United States, like Iraq, used Iraq's Oil for Food funds for political leverage? The U.S. blocked humanitarian contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars, freeing the goods only after key U.N. votes were obtained. At one point, the U.S. held roughly $5-billion in contracts -- risking a calamity in Iraq -- until U.N. procedures changed.

(7) When Oil-for-Food began in 1996, presidential candidate Bob Dole criticized the humanitarian program as "a source of revenue which will reduce Iraqi domestic discontent with (Saddam's) reign." U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright said that "the price is worth it," even if containing Iraq via sanctions caused 500,000 children's deaths.

Both statements advocate lethally targeting civilians to pressure their leadership, a textbook definition of terror. Albright later apologized in her autobiography, but neither party has disavowed these statements, and I'm curious whether you agree or disagree.

You may want to talk to a Brooklyn Park family whose home was raided by government agents, guns at the ready, early one morning in February 2002. Their "crime" was sending survival money to Iraqi grandparents. Similar raids occurred simultaneously in 14 U.S. cities and involved three federal agencies. Agents said there was no concern the money was financing terror, but that the transfer violated an administrative order and they were merely "doing their job."

Sometimes, Senator, you must ask whether merely doing your job is sufficient. I don't envy you, saddled with a morally charged investigation into policies you did not make.

But please don't walk on the graves, Senator Coleman.

[Note: This piece appeared in the Minnepaolis StarTribune on November 22, 2004, shortly before Senator Norm Coleman's (R-MN) committee began investigating allegations of fraud in the UN's Oil for Food program. Coleman's investigation was later capped by the dramatic appearance of MP George Galloway. -DH]

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