- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations will hold a hearing this afternoon examining how Saddam Hussein abused the United Nations Oil for Food program. The panel is likely to hear testimony showing that earlier estimates that the Iraqi dictator stole approximately $10 billion from the program substantially underestimate the extent of the thievery. The Oil for Food program, which operated from 1996-2003, was supposed to be using these funds to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people.

In a bipartisan show of cooperation, the subcommittee chairman, Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, and its ranking member, Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week repeating their request for access to internal U.N. reports and employees. Messrs. Coleman and Levin are rightly unhappy with the behavior of Mr. Annan, who they say has been blocking access to 55 internal audit reports on the Oil for Food program and has refused to permit subcommittee investigators to interview U.N. officials.

The senators make a powerful case that Mr. Annan continues to stonewall and impede the investigation of the Oil for Food scandal; Messrs. Coleman and Levin write that four months passed until Mr. Annan finally answered the subcommittee’s requests for information. But in that reply, Mr. Annan refused to provide the requested information.

Mr. Annan claims he is barred by confidentiality rules from releasing this information. But in their letter, the senators suggest that Mr. Annan manipulates these rules to suit his convenience: turning over records when doing so favors the U.N., and refusing to do so when it has negative implications.

Two government officials who have extensively examined the financing of Saddam Hussein’s weapons-procurement efforts and financing of terrorism are scheduled to testify before the panel today. One is Juan Zarate, the Treasury Department’s deputy assistant secretary in its Executive Office for Terrorist Financing. Mr. Zarate will address the extent to which funds illicitly obtained by Saddam through the Oil for Food program were used to fund Iraq’s terrorist insurgency.

Another witness will be Charles Duelfer, head of the CIA’s Iraq Survey Group, which recently issued a report on Saddam Hussein’s illicit weapons programs. Mr. Duelfer will discuss how Saddam manipulated Oil for Food in order to undermine United Nations sanctions and purchase weapons.

We expect that Messrs. Zarate and Duelfer, two outstanding public servants, will shed more light on the ways in which this United Nations program was used to maintain a brutal dictator in power.

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