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Fmr. Iraq Oil-For Food Head: Kofi Annan “Should Open the Doors, Open the Files”

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Denis Halliday, the former head of the UN Humanitarian Program in Iraq during the Oil-for-Food program discusses the brewing scandal at the UN, which is facing widespread charges of bribery, corruption and is accused of a cover-up. [includes rush transcript]

  • Denis Halliday, the former head of the UN Humanitarian Program in Iraq and a former UN Assistant Secretary General. In 1998, he resigned his post in protest of the US-led sanctions against Iraq.

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

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about a scandal that’s getting attention in the U.S. media. For several months now, the U.N. has been facing widespread charges of bribery and corruption in the Oil-for-Food program, administered in Iraq from 1996 to 2003. You were head of the Oil-for-Food program for a few of those years. The sustained attacks against the U.N. have come from both U.S. politicians, conservative newspapers, and they’re accusing Kofi Annan of a cover-up. Can you explain this Oil-for-Food program and then talk about your response to it, the — can you explain the scandal?

DENIS HALLIDAY: Yes. Oil-for-Food was established in the mid-1990s, 1996-1997 in particular, to, under pressure from the world at large on the Security Council, particularly Washington and London, who drove the sanctions regime of the United Nations, to provide a means for the Iraqi people to have access to foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and some basic equipment for education, the health care sector, agricultural sector. The government in Baghdad was allowed to sell a certain amount of oil, initially $4 billion gross per year. And that money was then used for sending out invitations, international bidding on foodstuffs, particularly pharmaceuticals. Those contracts were then approved or not approved by the Security Council in New York. The goods were delivered. The payments were made by the United Nations. No money went into the hands of the Iraqi people. The fact is, however, under sanctions — sanctions is a form of warfare. Any opportunity the Iraqis had to find hard currency they naturally sought and obviously accomplished. Now, there was — the scandal, quote, unquote, is in my view, nonsense. The United States was perfectly well aware of the trade between Turkey and Iraq under sanctions. They knew that Baghdad was exporting paraffin, gasoline and oil into Turkey. It was monitored by U.S. satellites. It was agreed upon with Turkey, because Turkey is an ally, a friendly NATO member and so on, and this was compensation to Turkey for the loss of revenue given the sanctions on Iraq, its close trading neighbor and partner. There is no scandal. Everything that has happened has been monitored by the United States and Britain. The contracts were approved by the United States and Britain. The kickbacks made by companies who provided supplies, in my view, were also known. And likewise, when it came to the sale of oil by Iraq, including some 40% going to American companies indirectly, including Chevron, of Miss Rice at one stage, they also paid those kickbacks indirectly and certainly in full knowledge of what they were doing. As you know during the sanctions period, some 9 or 10% of the oil coming into the United States was Iraqi oil. So there’s no scandal. Washington has been fully informed. I think as Carl Levin has said, mentioned in The New York Times today or yesterday, we knew what was going on. I knew what was going on. We knew that there was smuggling and trade going on outside sanctions. We knew perfectly well that Washington had approved this trade.

AMY GOODMAN: So why now? Why is this coming out now?

DENIS HALLIDAY: I think it’s because the U.N. has become irritating. The Secretary General has finally woken up to his responsibility and has announced that the war is illegal, which has sort of threatened, I think, the United States and Britain perhaps. And the old frustration of the neo-con right wing who feels that the U.N. is a threat, international law is unacceptable. It’s part of the rejection by the Bush regime of Kyoto, of the I.C.C., of all of the other international laws which the rest of us in the world feel are so important, but are rejected by Congress as — because they feel it impinges on the Constitution and their function and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: When Charles Delfer addressed the congressional subcommittee, he singled out a former U.N. Official, Benon Sevan, as a recipient of some 13 million barrels of oil from Saddam Hussein. Sevan has denied the charges. He was your boss in Iraq?

DENIS HALLIDAY: No, I worked directly for the Secretary General. He became the boss of Von Sponeck a few years after my period in Baghdad.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you believe ? Do you believe his denials?

DENIS HALLIDAY: I believe Mr. Sevan is innocent until proven guilty. I think the point to make, however, is that we put together $64 million — sorry, $64 billion from Iraqi oil sales, gross. The U.N. took off 35%. They gave 30% to Kuwait while Iraqi children were dying for lack of water and adequate foodstuffs. That’s a crime in a sense in my view, and many of us believe sanctions in fact turned out to be genocidal. But the Oil-for-Food program did extraordinarily good work. We fed over 20 million Iraqis every day for many years. We saved, I would think, hundreds of thousands of lives. This so-called scandal is a fiction in my view. Now if some members of the secretariat broke the rules, they must be prosecuted like any other normal human being. I don’t believe the secretariat is the problem. The problem is the United Nations and its member states, particularly Washington and London, who make the decisions, who designed the sanctions, who designed the Gulf War and the most recent invasion. These are the people who make the decisions that impact on Iraq. They are the ones who knew who was happening. They allowed the Baghdad government to have hard currency from Jordan and Turkey and other smuggling arrangements and kick backs. They know all about this, it’s nonsense to put the finger on Kofi Annan or the secretariat.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think, so Kofi Annan should open all the documents, just make the U.N. transparent on this?

DENIS HALLIDAY: Absolutely. I cannot understand why he’s holding back information. They should open the doors, open the files. People like Von Sponeck and myself and others should be made available to Volcker and to those in Washington who are concerned. I think we can show a different light here. This is not a complex issue. This is a known private sector quantity, approved by Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you asked the Secretary General to make you available?

DENIS HALLIDAY: He knows I’m available. He knows I’m in New York. I’m waiting to be called by Volcker and Washington, and Hans, who was on your show recently, feels the same way I do.

AMY GOODMAN: Denis Halliday, I want to thank you very much for joining us, a former assistant U.N. Secretary General, head of the Oil-for-Food program in Iraq in the late 1990s. Quit over the sanctions regime.

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