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The Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror

StoryOctober 22, 2004
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The new documentary “The Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror” examines the link between oil interests and current U.S. military interventions. It includes original footage shot over a four-month period in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as many interviews with a large array of personalities including Bush administration officials. [includes rush transcript]

It has been just over 3 years since the Bush administration began it’s large scale bombing of Afghanistan, kicking off the so-called war on terror. Osama bin Laden remains at large, tens of thousands of innocent civilians have been killed in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

More than 130,000 US troops are on the ground in Iraq and the body bags continue to come back to US soil. While the invasion and occupation of Iraq dominates the political discussions and debates ahead of the November 2 election, both major candidates have vowed to “win the war in Iraq.”

Against the backdrop of the US election campaign, a new documentary has just been released that examines what many see as the key US motive for the war. That motive is oil.

The documentary is called “The Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror.” It examines the link between oil interests and current U.S. military interventions. It includes original footage shot over a four-month period in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as many interviews with a large array of personalities including Bush administration officials. The film was produced by Gerard Ungerman and Audrey Brohy of Free-Will Productions.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we turn now to a documentary, a new documentary that examines the link between the oil industry and military invasions. It’s called The Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror, and it is a documentary that, well, it’s been just over three years since the Bush administration began its large scale bombing of Afghanistan, kicking off the so-called war on terror. Osama bin Laden remains at large. Tens of thousands of innocent civilians have been killed in both Afghanistan and Iraq. So, we felt it was critical to look at what many feel is the key factor behind it. Again, we bring you, The Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror, produced by Gerard Ungerman and Audrey Brohy of Free-Will Productions.

MARC GARLASCO: During the war, the Americans had a group of targets that they called “high value targets.” These were the Iraqi leaders. They were bombing them in the cities. The problem with this is that you’ve got thousands of kilos of weapons going into civilian areas. They took 50 shots at the Iraqi leadership and they did not hit a single one. While in this zero for 50 shooting at the Iraqi leaders, they’re killing many, many civilians.

DR. MOHAMED ASSAN: We have to receive many, many injured patients from the bombs, so it’s a big job for five doctors in this hospital to receive all of the injured patients in an area like this. At that time the hospital was filled with bodies. The garden was the only place to keep these bodies.

ED ASNER: After a brief and easy campaign, George Bush lands on the aircraft carrier ”USS Lincoln” off the coast of San Diego, California.

GEORGE W. BUSH: The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11, 2001. America is grateful for a job well done.

MARC GARLASCO: Now, George Bush said this was the most humane war ever thought, but civilians still died. Their deaths were not humane.

ED ASNER: After hearing so much from Washington about how dangerous Saddam Hussein was, the total lack of resistance of the Iraqi military in and around Baghdad comes as a real surprise.

ANDREW SHLAPAK: The resistance that we had wasn’t very high at all. The only major threat we had was the guerrilla warfare, and at times that wasn’t much at all. Some accidents — we had a hummer roll over into a ditch at night. That’s basically the only real threat we had going into Iraq.

LT. COL. KAREN KWIATKOWSKI: The information that was being put out about the danger that Saddam Hussein posed to the United States or the United State’s interests was being grossly exaggerated. The sanctions had weakened Saddam Hussein. The long war with Iran, he never really recovered from that war. And, frankly, he had been bombed by us with the enforcement of the no-fly zones for a dozen years, basically eliminating any possibility that he would be able to reconstitute his military.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: The fundamental problem is that the central justification for going to war is that Iraq possesses — I emphasize the word possesses — weapons of mass destruction, which pose a grave danger to the United States as of now. Obviously, that’s turned out not to have been true. And that’s a very serious problem that damages American global credibility.

LT. COL. KAREN KWIATKOWSKI: The political perspective that Saddam Hussein must go was not based on intelligence. It was formulated and developed and articulated very publicly during the Clinton administration years, and even somewhat during Bush I, the predecessor to Bill Clinton. It was articulated through various organizations like the Project for a New American Century, American Enterprise Institute, and others who built their case that Saddam Hussein needed to go.

ED ASNER: Instrumental in planning the removal of Saddam Hussein is the Project for the New American Century, based in Washington, D.C., this think tank includes such members as Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Defense Adviser Paul Wolfowitz, and the Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Politically close to the Israeli Likud Party, the group openly advocates the cause of American leadership, the need to increase defense spending significantly, challenging regimes hostile to our interests and values, extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles. While traditional American conservatives are more focused on taking care of problems at home, these self-proclaimed neoconservatives focus on promoting U.S. Economic and military domination over the world.

GARY SCHMITT: I think that the American public very quickly came to the conclusion after 9/11 not that Iraq was simply or somehow involved in 9/11, but they quickly came to the same conclusion that President Bush did, which was that if you thought through the full ramifications of 9/11, that is a state that harbored terrorists, a state that harbored terrorists who wanted weapons of mass destruction to use, and a state that was potentially producing weapons of mass destruction — or had produced weapons of mass destruction, the American public very quickly joined the President in his judgment that Iraq was as much a part of the problem after 9/11 as other states like Afghanistan

LT. COL. KAREN KWIATKOWSKI: I got a clear sense that what we were doing in The Pentagon, or what the neoconservative group was doing in The Pentagon as far as a middle east policy was to not just fabricate falsehoods for the Defense Department, but to push that into the mainstream of American media.

ED ASNER: Seeking any valid or fabricated evidence against Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration allies with an internationally wanted felon. The self-proclaimed Iraqi opposition leader, Ahmed Chalabi.

RANDA HABIB: Ahmed Chalabi has been living in Jordan. He ran away from this country on the 11th of August, 1989. He was the chairman of a bank, the Petrol Bank, and that — and he was accused of embezzlement. He has been condemned in absentia by a military court in Jordan for 22 years of prison, and he is responsible for over $1 billion of losses. This is what the court has said.

LT. COL. KAREN KWIATKOWSKI: The main thing that happened was the influence of Ahmed Chalabi. In the office that I was at, I saw Ahmed Chalabi. He would come in to visit Bill Luti. There was a military officer working in the Office of Special Plans whose job was described to me as the Ahmed Chalabi’s handler. He would set up meetings downtown. They traveled to London to meet with members of the I.N.C. Ahmed was a key source of a lot of the stories that Saddam Hussein had vast quantities of undetermined weapons of mass destruction, that he was going to either use directly against U.S. interests or give to terrorists who would do the same thing.

ED ASNER: In June of 2004, accused this time of counterfeiting Iraqi money, Ahmed Chalabi runs again from justice. He flees from Iraq where he had been appointed by the Bush Administration to the so-called Iraqi Governing Council. For President Bush this comes as the latest embarrassment surrounding the war in Iraq. In April of 2004, State Secretary Colin Powell himself publicly admits that had he known that Iraq didn’t really pose a threat to peace, he wouldn’t have supported the war. He blames the C.I.A. headed by George Tenet for providing faulty intelligence, but he quickly adds that President Bush was right in his decision to remove what he calls a terrible despotic leader. John Negroponte was appointed U.S. ambassador to the U.N. by President Bush in 2001, and as such became the U.S. Salesman of the war on Iraq at the United Nations. In the 1980’s while John Negroponte was Ambassador to Honduras, the C.I.A. was involved in covert operations in Central America, including the training of local death squads responsible for the disappearance of many Central American leftist opponents. In June of 2004, Negroponte is appointed U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. Given the Bush Administration’s apparent concern for dictatorship in Iraq, John Negroponte’s appointment comes as a surprising choice.

LT. COL. KAREN KWIATKOWSKI: We are not too worried about dictators as long as they’re on our side and they do what we tell them. Democracy is not the reason we went in there. The main reason is geo strategic regional dominance, which is the one that relates to energy supplies. Another reason for this invasion-occupation at the time that we did it, had to do with the pressure to lift sanctions. There was a huge pressure building to lift sanctions on Iraq. Had sanctions been lifted or partially lifted, Iraq could have been filled with Europeans, Russians, Chinese, Japanese, all kinds of folks. No American or British folks, but we and the U.K. had been bombing Iraq for 12 years. Had sanctions been lifting with Saddam Hussein still in charge, we would have gotten no contracts and no opportunities to invest in Iraq, but furthermore, we would have lost the ability to attack Iraq at any time, because Iraq would have been filled with foreigners. The other aspect to me is a smaller one, but it has to do with Saddam Hussein’s decision in November of 2000 to switch to the Euro for all of his oil for food exports. He had been on the dollar for decades. He decided to switch to the euro. He had gone into full production of his oil capability and had he continued to trade oil on the Euro and not the Dollar, this would have actually had a financial impact on the United States in that Central Banks in the world would be more favorable towards the Euro and less to the Dollar.

GARY SCHMITT: The idea that the United States needed to go to war with Iraq over the issue of oil, I think is just wrong-headed. There was no push, you know, to get more oil by getting rid of Saddam. The truth is, we had plenty of oil in the world, and supplies were enough.

ED ASNER: In June 2004, just one day’s worth of oil consumption would represent a line of barrels long enough to encircle the earth. With almost half used for fuel and the other half used for plastics and chemicals, oil is indispensable in every single aspect of our modern, everyday lives. The world population has been able to increase in the course of one century from about 1.5 billion to 6.5 billion, only because oil has allowed for more food to be grown and distributed than ever before.

MICHAEL C. RUPPERT: World food production is so dependent upon hydrocarbon energy. All commercial fertilizers are made out of natural gas that produces ammonia. All pesticides are made out of oil. Now, with agribusiness, you drive an oil-powered machine to plow, you drive an oil-powered machine to plant, and then you fertilize it with “natural gas,” then you irrigate it with water that’s pumped by electric pump where the electricity comes from burning natural gas or oil, in most cases. Then you spray it with “oil pesticides,” then you harvest it with an oil-powered vehicle and — the bottom line is this we eat ten calories of hydrocarbon energy for every calorie of food consumed on the planet.

ED ASNER: All around the world, oil consumption is exploding. New gigantic markets such as those in India and China have opened up to modern consumerism, and have driven the global need for oil through the roof.

MICHAEL C. RUPPERT: China, with its red-hot economy, just passed Japan as the second largest importer of oil on the planet. China’s economy has had like a 10% growth rate. It’s on fire. The Chinese people are demanding more computers, automobiles. Chinese auto sales went up 100% in one year. GM sales in China, up 300% in one year. That keeps the American economy going.

GEN. PIERRE-MARRIE GALLOIS: The United States, the only superpower uses 20 million barrels of oil every day, and it is estimated that it will need 25 million barrels per day around 2020. While its own reserves are dwindling, the U.S. only produce 5 to 6 million barrels per day and imports almost three-quarters of the oil it needs.

ED ASNER: Satellite imaging applied to oil exploration has confirmed a stark reality. With increasing consumption, and diminishing reserves, the world is rapidly running out of oil. At the current rate of production, the west will be first to hit the zero mark by 2010. At this point, both the United States and Europe will depend entirely on outside sources for their oil. Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, while self-sufficient today are next, and due to run out by 2013. With this exploding oil consumption, Asia will run dry in 2018. The reality, however, is that major conflicts are likely to erupt before any of these players actually runs out of oil.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of The Oil Factor we’ll be back with it in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: As we resume with the documentary that is produced by Gerard Ungerman, and Audrey Brohy, narrated by Ed Asner, called The Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror.

ED ASNER: A year and a half after the start of George Bush’s controversial war on Iraq, the Iraqi population has grown increasingly hostile to its U.S. occupants. Sporadic violence has given way to organized resistance. Sabotage of pipelines has disrupted the flow of Iraqi oil. As a result, the price of oil on the international market has been driven to record highs. The seeds of chaos, however, were planted at the very time of the U.S. invasion, when G.I.’s did nothing to stop hoards of looters from destroying Iraqi institutions.

ANDREW SHLAPAK: In regards with the looting, we were watching looters, it was very interesting. They were grabbing anything and everything they could. They were grabbing doors, screws from doors, air conditioners, chairs, couches, anything that they could get their hands on, they took.

DATHAR AL KAHAR: The looters, they — after the war, they started coming in with weapons, so it was a fight, you know, a crossfire between us, the U.S. army in this area. They were able to talk to them, to the commander to give us protection.

DAVID MULHOLLAND: One of the things that’s interesting, and the focus of what the troops did when they invaded, they immediately seized the oilfields, but the focus on seizing the oilfields right away seemed to distract the forces from seizing other very important sites, for instance securing the nuclear facilities.

ED ASNER: While the U.S. military quickly secures Iraqi oil assets, the well-known al-Tuwaitha nuclear research center, some 15 miles south of Baghdad, is left totally unattended. As a result, local villagers make off with radioactive barrels they empty on the ground and recycle for storing food and water. Made aware of it, the U.S. authority fails to take proper action to protect the civilian population. Greenpeace steps in and after surveying the entire area, offers the villagers a brand new replacement barrel for every contaminated barrel returned. The dangerous containers are quickly recovered and evacuated.

DAVID MULHOLLAND: The focus on seizing the oilfield forgot many, many other sites that in reality pose a much greater threat of terrorism, which was supposedly what this was about.

ED ASNER: But in Iraq, radiation comes in other forms as well. Like during the 1991 Gulf War, and the war in Kosovo, depleted uranium rounds were used again by the U.S. military, this time including the center of Baghdad. They lie around for anyone to see and touch. A Geiger counter will give a reading of between 5 and 15 pulses per minute in a typical environment. This depleted uranium round will trigger 10,000 pulses in about 40 seconds. This type of ammunition is radioactive because it is made of nuclear waste, referred to as Uranium 238, or depleted uranium. This material is left over from the processing of Uranium 234, used for atomic bombs, and Uranium 235, used in nuclear power plants. Long considered toxic garbage, it found an extremely controversial application in the making of cheap, high perforation shells. Uranium 238 remains radioactive for 4.5 billion years, and its toxicity reveals itself as soon as particles are inhaled or ingested. Cancer and birth defects are the most common side effects.

SCOTT PETERSON: The United States military forces used 320 tons of depleted uranium in the first Gulf War in 1991. The difference between the first Gulf War and the second Gulf War is very significant, and that is that in the second war, we have seen a lot more depleted uranium used in populated areas, in urban centers. American planes, A-10 Warthog planes that used D.U. rounds, the 30 millimeter D.U. rounds fired at targets in cities.

ED ASNER: These particular rounds were found inside the compound of one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces in Baghdad. This compound is now guarded by American soldiers who are totally unaware of the contamination. Ironically this particular palace was chosen by U.S. authorities to house their so-called coalition provisional authority. As its boss, the White House appointed the former managing director of consulting firm Henry Kissinger and Associates, Mr. Paul Bremer.

PAUL BREMER: The other key task of the coalition is to help build the democratic institutions to safeguard Iraq’s newfound freedom. We want to insure that the governing council which emerges is truly representative of all Iraqis, Shia and Sunni, men and women, Kurds and Arabs, secular and religious, tribal and urban. Democracy is on the move in Iraq.

RANDA HABIB: Free elections would mean, whether in Iraq or any other Arab country, that Islamists will take power, because they are the majority, but particularly in Iraq, it will most definitely be a Shiite who will win because they represent 60% of the population.

ABDEL AZIZ AL-HAKIM: [interpreted] We didn’t welcome the invasion, because our viewpoint was that war must not occur. The responsibility of changing (Iraq) is on the Iraqi people.

NOAM CHOMSKY: The Shiite majority, of course, would play a role in any democratic government. Suppose they decided to improve relations with Iran, as in fact the countries of the region have been trying to do over strong U.S. objections for years, will the U.S. tolerate that?

ABDEL AZIZ AL-HAKIM: [interpreted] Relations between the Iraqi people and the Iranian people is a historical relation. We try the relationship to be good, to have brotherhood with Iran and other countries.

ED ASNER: Since 1979, when the U.S. Embassy personnel in Tehran were taken hostage by the Islamic revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini, the U.S. government has kept Iran in its gun sites. The American’s hatred for the Shia regime of Tehran grew even stronger when the Iranians became the sponsors of the Hezbollah, a violent Lebanon-based militant group responsible for many attacks on Israel since the 1980s. Free elections today in Iraq would mean the immediate victory of a potentially pro-Iranian Shia majority, something that Washington and Israel would never tolerate. Instead, the U.S.-led coalition provisional authority appointed a council of so-called Iraqi representatives.

IRAQI WOMAN: I don’t know the new government.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think it will represent the Iraqi people?


IRAQI MAN: It will represent the Americans, not the Iraqis.

IRAQI MAN: We want Iraqis who lived under the torment of Saddam’s regime to represent Iraq. We don’t want those who lived safely abroad.

IRAQI MAN: The council, I don’t know who are they, but I don’t think it is representing a broad (spectrum) of the Iraqi people.

ED ASNER: The discrepancy between what the Iraqis want for their country and how Washington sees freedom and democracy is again illustrated by the appointment at the Iraqi governing council of such a corrupt individual as Ahmed Chalabi. Installing officials more loyal to money than to Iraq seems to be Washington’s first step in opening up opportunities for U.S. corporations.

ERIK LEAVER: American corporations stand to win a huge amount of money in the current reconstruction process in Iraq, and many of those people are in corporations who have close ties to the administration. Many contracts so far were given without any sort of bidding process that was done.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: So you have got U.S. companies like MCI in line to run the telephone system. As I said, you have got a company like DynCorp that’s helping them redo their justice system. You have got companies like APT Associates, a U.S. consultant working on educational issues. You have already got American companies writing the textbooks in Iraq. You have got essentially a privatized occupation where Paul Bremer, the head of the provisional authority, a U.S. government appointee, is make all of the decisions.

PAUL BREMER: On the question of privatization, there is no reason at all why the service sector, as well, cannot be brought up and become a source of economic activity, and therefore, in the end, also of revenues. But realistically over the next 18 months, we are looking more or less at revenues from the oil sector.

DAVID MULHOLLAND: What we have seen was a very quiet plan to privatize Iraq’s oil. This is not really surprising from an administration that is run by former oil executives.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: The first companies that were allowed to buy Iraqi oil post-occupation included Chevron, Condoleezza Rice’s former company. She was a board member; they named a tanker after her.

GARY SCHMITT: Just recently, the president has decided to take more direct control over the reconstruction of Iraq by having Condi Rice essentially create a national security council entity that will allow her to sort of manage the reconstruction from the N.S.E.

CHARLES HEATLY: In terms of refurbishing the existing oil production facilities and potentially bringing on new fields online, I imagine that a number of those contracts will go to American firms.

ED ASNER: Halliburton is a multibillion dollar American corporation specializing in building U.S. military bases and oil infrastructures worldwide. In May of 2004, Halliburton is awarded the contracts to refurbish Iraq’s oil infrastructures, including wells, pipelines and refineries.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: I mean, how does it look to the rest of the world when the first big contract for rebuilding Iraq goes to Halliburton, Cheney’s ex-company. He is still getting money from that firm. He’s getting $150,000-$200,000 a year in deferred compensation. He still owns stock options that he can exercise when he chooses. So he still has financial ties to this company even as it is the biggest company profiting not only in Iraq, but from the whole war on terrorism, because they’re running the bases in Afghanistan, in Uzbekistan. They built the prison at Guantanamo, where they’re putting the suspects incommunicado and so forth. The second big contract goes to Bechtel, which George Shultz and other major republican figures are a part of.

TERRY VALENZANO: Our contract with U.S. Aid is actually quite broad. We have the responsibilities for infrastructure reconstruction in seven different sectors. First of all, the port of Umm Qasr. The second sector is roads, bridges and railroads. The third area is the buildings and facilities. And these primarily are schools, medical facilities like clinics, and some ministerial buildings. The next sector is power. Another sector is water and wastewater, including irrigation. The final sector is aviation. Oh, and excuse me. One area I forgot to mention, one sector was the communications.

ED ASNER: American defense contractors made a fortune selling to the U.S. military the weapons and the bombs that destroyed Iraq. Now Bechtel, Halliburton, and the many other American contractors will make a fortune off contracts to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructures. Regardless if the work is really done or not, the Iraqis will eventually be forced to pay for it with their oil revenues. In the meantime, not only did U.S. taxpayers pay for the war, but they will also have to front the money for the reconstruction as well.

AMY GOODMAN: The Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror, narrated by Ed Asner, produced by Gerard Ungerman and Audrey Brohy of Free-Will Productions.

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