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The Reagan-Saddam Connection: “We Create These Monsters And When It’s Not Convenient We Cover Them Up”

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Journalist Alan Friedman author of Spider’s Web: The Secret History of How the White House Illegally Armed Iraq discusses how Reagan normalized U.S. relations with Iraq and sold chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein. [Includes transcript]

  • Alan Friedman, author of Spider’s Web: The Secret History of How the White House Illegally Armed Iraq_. He has reported for the International Herald Tribune and for the Financial Times. “Previous Democracy Now! coverage”:_SLASHLINK__

FLASHBACK: The Saddam in Rumsfeld’s Closet

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

ALAN FRIEDMAN: What we’re looking at is we need to put this into its historic context so that I’d like to do for your listeners is talk about how Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush, and James Baker who was Secretary of State, and Robert Gates, who was the C.I.A. Director in the 1980’s, how they met what was called a tilt policy in favor of Iraq and against Iran in the 1980’s and developed what they thought was strategic reasons were for the United States to be doing that. Then the sad story of how it got out of control, how Vice President Bush was deeply personally involved in illegal arms transfers to Saddam Hussein in the late 1980’s that shouldn’t have happened, and how the Bush Administration, that’s Bush one, then proceeded with the help of Boyden Gray as White House general counsel and others to cover up a scandal that in my judgment was significantly larger than Watergate. Lets put it into historical context. In the 1980’s, the Reagan White House wasn’t just busy defeating the so-called evil empire of the Soviet Union and out spending and bankrupting the Soviets, they were also engaged in a Middle East Policy in Iraq and Iran, that was aimed at obviously trying to defeat and neutralize the Islamic fundamentalists of Iran which were Americas perceived enemy at the time. To defeat Iran, we will fortify Saddam, he may be a killer. He may be a butcher, but he’s our guy. We will keep him to keep a balance of power between Iran and Iraq. What that meant in order to get around U.S. law, which says that you cannot conduct illegal secret covert operations without Presidential directive, approve as and disclosure to the Senate oversight committees, rogue operations very similar to the Iran contra operation and indeed in many cases involving the same C.I.A. front companies in Virginia, the same shippers from Florida, and Louisiana, the same people who worked with Ollie North on the Iran-contra scandal were also involved in getting arms to Iraq in the 1980’s. They did this in the following way. They let a small Atlanta, Georgia, branch of an Italian bank receive taxpayers’ money in the form of U.S. Department of Agriculture credits that the United States provided for Iraq totaling $5 billion — b for boy — dollars that went to Saddam Hussein with the knowledge of the C.I.A. and the White House, which turned a blind eye, because they thought they had to find a way to help Iraq against Iran. Of now, that Iraq-Iran war in part thanks to U.S. assistance for Saddam Hussein went years longer than this should have done, and resulted in 1 million, men, women and children dying. 1 million people died in the Iran-Iraq war and Reagan and Bush probably have blood on their hands, because if they hadn’t sent the military equipment to Iraq, fewer people would have died. When the war between Iran and Iraq ended, and we were already in 1988, 1989, 1990, the Bush administration, the same policies continued. The C.I.A. was reinforced, and this stuff kept going. In my investigations, and those I conduct with Ted Koppel of ABC “Nightline,” and Bill Safire of the “New York Times” was active in exposing as well, we not only discovered that illegal set of shipments to Saddam Hussein with the blessing of the Bush white house, but we covered that the something got out of cool — control, and we kept going. We’re talking about elements that go well beyond helicopters and include the building blocks of nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction. Inertial navigation systems and cluster bombs from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that found their way to Saddam Hussein thanks to George Herbert Walker Bush and his C.I.A. and their shipments using taxpayer money. Strong words, all of it documented, all of it little focused upon as America pays tribute to Ronald Reagan’s death and makes him into a hero when indeed, his and Bush’s policies in my judgment resulted in major loss of life and major strategic errors by the United States that they sought to cover up later on.

AMY GOODMAN: As we look at the 1980’s, Donald Rumsfeld, as Reagan envoy reported by my colleague, Jeremy Skahill at Democracy Now! in his piece, “The Saddam and Rumsfeld’s Closet,” in 1983 and 1948 goes to Iraq, meets with Saddam Hussein at the time when the U.N. and State Department reports had come out saying that Saddam Hussein had used gas. He wasn’t there to condemn Saddam Hussein for this, but to normalize relations. Can talk about -

ALAN FRIEDMAN: Can I interrupt you and tell you what Donald Rumsfeld did in Baghdad? Donald Rumsfeld went to Baghdad, was met by Saddam Hussein at the airport. That’s right. Donald Rumsfeld. With a big Rumsfeld grin on his face said, “I’m really glad to be here in Baghdad with my good friend, Saddam Hussein,” and proceeded to carry messages back and forth for the Reagan administration of active military and economic support for Saddam Hussein. I think it’s important you don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist of course because there are people who make up stories. You just need to look at the facts to understand that the same Rumsfeld and the same Bush advisers, the coterie of C.I.A. and military types who have been around the family of the father and are now in the administration of the son, are the same people who built up Saddam Hussein as our guy, and turned a blind eye at his atrocities, and slapped him on the back, literally, physically, Rumsfeld in his jovial way, slapped Saddam on Iraq Saddam and said, great to do business with Iraq, our friend. And the same people used the same funds to support Osama bin Laden in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union. We create these monsters and then when’s not convenient we cover them up. The press is not what it used to be and has forgotten how to investigate criminal acts by the White House. That’s where we are today.

AMY GOODMAN: Rumsfeld brought from Saddam Hussein golden cowboy spurs and pistols.

ALAN FRIEDMAN: He brought presents like those.

AMY GOODMAN: I was wondering if the pistol that now George W. Bush shows to friends just off the Oval office that soldiers had given to him that they had gotten from Saddam Hussein’s, one of his offices or palaces is perhaps the one that Reagan gave to them?

ALAN FRIEDMAN: I think that’s unlikely. I think it’s a different pistol. I by the real bottom line is that if you want to go to the depths of his involvement, let me mention a couple of things. Alexander Hague, and Bobby Ray Inman, two names from the 190’s, who are associated with the Reagan era. Bobby Ray Inman did not become Secretary of Defense under Reagan and Bush until Safire and Ted Koppel and I exposed the fact that Bobby Ray Inman of Defense Intelligence had been literal paid by one of the companies that shipped cluster bombs to Iraq and he couldn’t get out of that allegation because it was documented and the senate failed to confirm him at the time. It was a cowboy mentality at the time. I think it unfortunately created the framework and set the stage for the tragedy we have seen in recent days, weeks and months.

AMY GOODMAN: Alan Friedman, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Alan Friedman is the author of “Spider’s Web. The Secret History of How the White House Allegedly Armed Iraq” and we are posting on our website, the hour interview that we did with Alan Friedman in the last year.

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