Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Money for Blood

Senator Norm Coleman has called for the resignation of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for his role in the maladministration of the U.N. Oil-for-Food program. Coleman, who chairs the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee charges that Annan allowed the Oil-for-Food program to become a covert program for subverting the very sanctions they were intended to enforce. According to a signed article in the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Annan was at the helm of the U.N. for all but a few days of the Oil-for-Food program, and he must, therefore, be held accountable for the U.N.'s utter failure to detect or stop Saddam's abuses. The consequences of the U.N.'s ineptitude cannot be overstated: Saddam was empowered to withstand the sanctions regime, remain in power, and even rebuild his military. Needless to say, he made the Iraqi people suffer even more by importing substandard food and medicine under the Oil-for-Food program and pawning it off as first-rate humanitarian aid.

Since it was never likely that the U.N. Security Council, some of whose permanent members were awash in Saddam's favors, would ever call for Saddam's removal, the U.S. and its coalition partners were forced to put troops in harm's way to oust him by force. Today, money swindled from Oil-for-Food may be funding the insurgency against coalition troops in Iraq and other terrorist activities against U.S. interests. Simply put, the troops would probably not have been placed in such danger if the U.N. had done its job in administering sanctions and Oil-for-Food.

But Coleman's next argument is properly directed at the very nature of the United Nations itself. He argues that it lacks the institutional mechanism to police itself. This is a far more serious shortcoming, one which the resignation of Kofi Annan will not address.

As a former prosecutor, I believe in the presumption of innocence. Such revelations, however, cast a dark cloud over Mr. Annan's ability to address the U.N.'s quagmire. Mr. Annan has named the esteemed Paul Volcker to investigate Oil-for-Food-related allegations, but the latter's team is severely hamstrung in its efforts. His panel has no authority to compel the production of documents or testimony from anyone outside the U.N. Nor does it possess the power to punish those who fabricate information, alter evidence or omit material facts. It must rely entirely on the goodwill of the very people and entities it is investigating. We must also recognize that Mr. Volcker's effort is wholly funded by the U.N., at Mr. Annan's control. Moreover, Mr. Volcker must issue his final report directly to the secretary general, who will then decide what, if anything, is released to the public.

Therefore, while I have faith in Mr. Volcker's integrity and abilities, it is clear the U.N. simply cannot root out its own corruption while Mr. Annan is in charge: To get to the bottom of the murk, it's clear that there needs to be a change at the top. In addition, a scandal of this magnitude requires a truly independent examination to ensure complete transparency, and to restore the credibility of the U.N. To that end, I reiterate our request for access to internal U.N. documents, and for access to U.N. personnel who were involved in the Oil-for-Food program.

Edward Mortimer, Kofi Annan's Director of Communications maintained that the UN could not delegate powers it did not itself possess. Nor could it bring criminal charges against any malefactors within its ranks maintaining only that it would not protect its staff from prosecution by member countries.

Mr. Annan responded to allegations about the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq by asking Paul A. Volcker to head an independent inquiry. That inquiry does not have subpoena power, because the United Nations does not have that power to pass on to Mr. Volcker, but all U.N. staff members have been ordered to cooperate with the inquiry on pain of dismissal. If the inquiry finds evidence of criminal acts by U.N. officials or others, national courts with the right to subpoena will pursue these people. Also, Mr. Annan has said that any U.N. official found guilty of wrongdoing will not be allowed to claim immunity from prosecution.

Coleman hints, but does not wholly pursue the idea that the Oil-for-Food program tacticly served the agenda of some "permanent members" of the Security Council. That in turn suggests that the Gulf War and subsequent events, far from being a purely bilateral struggle between the United States and Saddam's regime, was really the nexus of a great power struggle involving France, Russia and the US. French policy in the Security Council prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom; their determined efforts to prevent the 4th ID from deploying through Turkey and its hostile attitude toward the Allawie government hints that the real bone of contention with Paris was not over how to topple Saddam but whether or not to keep him there.