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The Most Underreported Story of the Year

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Safire Looking For Whistleblowers – The Most Underreported Story of the Year

To be honest, I haven’t been following the $5 billion controversy carefully detailed in William Safire’s op-ed piece in today’s New York Times. But if I’m to take Safire’s facts as truth, I’m joining him on the witch-hunt for a whistle blower.

The gist of the scandal (called Kofigate) points to a ring of U.N., French and Russian contractors responsible for doling out food and medical aid for the Iraqi’s. Prices for diluted medicine and rotten food were inflated 10% netting $5 billion in kickbacks to French and Russian companies. This, according to Safire, is why the French and Russians were the only prewar defenders of Saddam Hussein.

[…] Prices were inflated to allow for 10 percent kickbacks, and the goods were often shoddy and unusable. As the lax Cotecna made a lot of corporate friends, Iraqi children suffered from rotted food and diluted medicines.

The U.N. press agent also revealed that Benon Sevan, Annan’s longtime right-hand man in charge of the flow of billions, was advised by U.N. lawyers that the names of companies receiving the contracts were “privileged commercial information, which could not be made public.” Mr. Sevan had stonewalling help.

To shift responsibility for the see-no-evil oversight, the U.N. spokesman noted that “details of all contracts were made available to the governments of all 15 Security Council members.” All the details, including the regular 10 percent kickback to the tune of $5 billion in illegal surcharges? We’ll see.

To calm the belated uproar, Annan felt compelled to seek an “independent high-level inquiry,” empowered by a Security Council resolution, as some of us called for […]

Problem is France’s UN ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere is blocking an “independent high-level inquiry.” Plus, the White House and State Department are seemingly uninterested in pushing for a real investigation.

[…] because as the truth emerges, the U.N. may use the furor as cover for refusal to confer its blessing on the new Iraq. Our present and former U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. would have to take issue with Annan if he tried to hide under their wing. Peter Burleigh and Andrew Hillman, our frequent representatives on the “661 committee” – so named for a sanctions resolution – are not about to be the U.N.’s scapegoats because as the truth emerges, the U.N. may use the furor as cover for refusal to confer its blessing on the new Iraq. Our present and former U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. would have to take issue with Annan if he tried to hide under their wing. Peter Burleigh and Andrew Hillman, our frequent representatives on the “661 committee” – so named for a sanctions resolution – are not about to be the U.N.’s scapegoats […]

The good news is, as Safire points out, the new Iraqi government-in-formation have hired accountants and lawyers to examine documents in Baghdad and the Henry Hyde’s International Relations Committee begins hearings in mid-April. The press have been rather silent to the tune that Newsday calls “the most underreported story of the year.”

I’ll join Bill and cheer for an “embittered whistleblower.”

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  • Eric Olsen

    Sounds pretty damn big to me. It has been evident for some time that Russia and France’s opposition to the war were not based purely upon noble principle (more like principal and interest). I am glad to see the story is being pursued, at least by some. Thanks Allan.

  • mike

    But they don’t hold a candle to the United States, which invaded to steal Iraq’s resources on a scale France and Russia could only dream of.

    The good news is that the rest of the civilized world is in the process of isolating the United States. After Bush is re-elected (and there’s no way he can lose), the U.S. government will lose its last shred of legitimacy as a civilizing force.

    I’m with the people of Spain, France, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, Turkey, Japan, the Netherlands, and virtually every other democracy on Earth, who are all working to stop the dual threats of al-Quada and U.S. aggression.

  • Eric, thanks for your comment. I’m anxious to watch this one unfold.

    Mike I see your excited to be isolated from the rest of the world. Well why I don’t disagree with the questionable moves of our current administration, I’d suggest hoping a plane and turning in your passport and go take refuge in South Korea, the Netherlands or Mexico. I’m confident you’ll be happier.

  • mike

    Actually, I’m thinking Brazil, Costa Rica, Argentina, or Canada.

  • I am well aware of Halliburton overcharging for just about everything it has done in Iraq. However, I would have to look into the allegations in this entry to determine whether they are a Right Wing smear. I believe there are very good reasons to oppose the U.S. and its allies’ occupation of Iraq.

  • I’d go for Costa Rica. Thought the weather is really nice in Ushuia around New Years 😉

  • Allan, can you direct me to where you found an account saying the medicine was diluted and the food spoiled? I haven’t found an article that says that so far.

    I also wonder why so little proof is available after three months of inquiry.

    In January, Al Mada, a 5,000-circulation Baghdad newspaper, made an international splash by naming dozens of individuals who allegedly received oil bribes in return for supporting Hussein. The story was picked up around the world and triggered government investigations in Iraq and other countries.[The L.A. Times]

    Furthermore, I peeked Safire’s writings to see if he has criticized Halliburton. I didn’t find any criticism. Could there be a double standard?

  • with regards to reported info on diluted medicine or spoiled food, i don’t know. i acknowledged in my piece that ” I’m to take Safire’s facts as truth” – but I don’t doubt it given the atrociites of AID programs worldwide and abuses by EVERYONE.

    However, with regards to Halliburton, I’m not sure what this has to do with the issue being discussed. Help me, if you can. We’re talking prewar Iraq where the UN through worldwide AID funneled $50 BILLION DOLLARS earmarked for the Iraqi people.

    Halliburton’s abuses are postwar Iraq. I’m not sure if Safire has written anything about Postwar contracts in Iraq. Whether he supports or is ad odds with Halliburton has nothing to do with this issue.

  • Mac Diva – Here are a few other sources if you want to do some digging:

    1) http://www.rogerlsimon.com/archives/00000801.htm

    2) http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/29/international/middleeast/29FOOD.html?ei=5007&en=1630b4e7c2aa6da9&ex=1393390800&partner=USERLAND&pagewanted=all&position=

    3) http://www.washtimes.com/op-ed/20040322-082824-9902r.htm

    4) http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/rosett200403101819.asp

    5) http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB107896733191552156,00.html?mod=opinion%5Fmain%5Fcommentaries

    or if you don’t have a subscription of the WSJ you can read the article here in the Kurdistan online paper: http://www.puk.org/web/htm/news/nws/news040211b.html

    Perhaps I shoulda included more links, I’ve been following this loosely over the last two months and Safire’s piece just riled me up in even more — damn French!

    I’m sure we’ll hear more as Hyde begins his hearings. Stay tuned….

  • mike

    With the exception of The New York Times, these are all right wing rags. It be as if I supported a story by refering indymedia and znet.

  • bhw

    However, with regards to Halliburton, I’m not sure what this has to do with the issue being discussed.

    I’ll jump in.

    The irony is that Safire is:

    a) asserting that France and Russia didn’t want to go to war because they were fleecing the Iraqis and it was too profitable to give up

    while convienently forgetting to

    b) assert that the Bush administration pushed so hard for the war in part to, as some have argued, help big business friends, like Dick Cheney’s former company Halliburton, which has already admitted to fleecing the American people by overcharging them for their services in Iraq.

    So one country doesn’t want war because they’re making a profit and the war would screw that up, while the other country wants a war so they can get in on the action [not the military kind], which they can’t do without the war.

    Safire is a conservative. He’s forgetting to tell the other side of the story. But you know, word counts and all that at the NYT probably prevented him from doing so. Let’s see if he chimes in again next week on the Halliburton angle, shall we?

  • My apologies for not getting back to you sooner, Allan. I wasn’t ignoring the thread. Just busy. I will read the links you have posted.

    Meanwhile, mike and bhw have done a fine job of carrying the conversation on. Mike’s point about sources is a touchy one around here I’m afraid. We have another BCer who takes us on wild goose chases with irrelevant or biased links, so mainstream material is appreciated. Bhw’s concern about Safire’s myopia is the same as mine. If he is going to turn a jaundiced eye on the U.N., France and Russia, based on very little information, should he not look even more askance at Halliburton, about which there is much more revealing material, including admissions? Isn’t there a fairness issue here? Or, is Halliburton shielded by its Right Wing political connections?

    I am also troubled by the assumption inherent in Safire’s op-ed that countries that do not support the occupation of Iraq must have some nefarious reason for not jumping in bed with the Bush administration. It seems to me that there are good reasons for not doing so. Among them I would include being wary of becoming mired in a country that does not want them there, fear of retaliation attacks at home and just plain MYOB. (Surely, Russia has plenty of nation building of its own to do.) I don’t understand why Safire is rushing to a judgment that seems not to have much support.

    P:S: In Safari at least, this thread is missing perimeters. If you can’t fix it, you can ask Phil to.

  • bhw

    I agree, MD. The jury is still out on this issue. But if it IS true, it’s quite ugly, particularly if the allegations of fleecing are true. [I mean by the French and Russians, since we already know Halliburton has done it to us.]

    It wouldn’t make Bush & Co. right about the war, but it will give them lots of ammunition to argue that point, which Safire has started to do for them.

  • Sorry, Allan, but Mike is on point. Most of those URLs are opinion pieces by Right Wing commentators. I want to see actual evidence, not hyperventilating over liberals. Here are some questions I want answers to:

    *Who finances Al Mada, the tiny newspaper that published the list of alleged bribery recipients?

    *Where did Al Mada get the list?

    *Are there any other sources of information about the alleged bribery?

    *Doesn’t the United Nations have records that can be examined by representatives of member nations? Why haven’t they been?

    *Are the people criticizing Kofi Annan the same ones who have been opposed to the U.N. since Third World countries began producing some of its leaders? Can they be relied on to be objective?

    I am not saying there is nothing to this story. But, I’ve yet to see proof there is more to it than an effort to discredit the U.N., France and Russia.

  • SFC Ski

    Well, having seen the lavish palaces that Saddam built here, as well as for his family and friends, and seen how the infrastructure of Baghdad was basically neglected for more than a decade, it is easy to see that no matter how Hussein got the money, it surely was not going to his people.