Our capacity for outrage is being tested daily, and not just by Harry Reid. We could concern ourselves with the election of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe to the U.N. Human Rights Commission last week, or with Kofi Annan's scolding the U.S. for maintaining a nuclear arsenal that has kept the free world free since World War II while ignoring the impending North Korean nuclear test. We could even marvel at the inanity of U.N. goodwill ambassador and Hollywoodenhead Angelina Jolie talking to Pervez Musharraf about the plight of refugees, believing she is being taken seriously. By the end of last week, it came down to this: which government -- the U.S. or the U.N. -- has jurisdiction over Robert Parton?
You say the U.N. isn't a government? That Kofi's Kumbaya Klub has no power or jurisdiction over an American citizen who is no longer in its employ? Tell Paul Volcker's "Independent Inquiry Committee" which asked the U.N. to instruct Robert Parton, former U.N. Oil for Food Program investigator, to refuse to comply with subpoenas from Rep. Henry Hyde's International Relations Committee.
The request is part of the Oil-for-Food-for-Bribes-for-Weapons melodrama being scripted, directed, and performed by Kofi Annan's consigliere cum inquisitor, Paul Volcker. In a press conference last week, Volcker announced that if Congress did anything before he gave permission, they could cause the deaths of cooperating witnesses. "Lives of certain witnesses are at stake," said Volcker, though he declined to name the witnesses or those who threatened them. "We're not playing games here, we are dealing, and let me just emphasize this, in some cases, with lives." Who would ever suggest Mr. Volcker was playing games?
Volcker, desperate to regain control of the facts, witnesses, and documents at the heart of the scam, was hyperventilating about the progress being made by several congressional committees, principally Hyde's, to penetrate the smokescreen Volcker has blown around his whitewash of the largest ripoff in the history of man. By surrendering documents in his possession that show the reasons he quit -- principal among which is that Volcker's team is letting Kofi off too easy -- Parton has committed an act of integrity hitherto unknown in the U.N. under Annan. In so doing, Parton -- and his companion in resignation, investigator Miranda Duncan -- have scared the pants off Annan and demonstrated the complete lack of credibility of the Volcker investigation.
Paul Volcker's "inquiry" began more than a year ago. In that time, it has not exposed anything that hadn't already been in the press. In January 2004, the Al Mada newspaper in Baghdad published a list of hundreds of governments, government officials, companies, and private individuals who apparently -- according to records kept by Saddam's Germanically meticulous henchmen -- received the billions of dollars in bribes by which Saddam bought the U.N. Security Council's opposition to American military action. In two interim reports, Volcker's team hasn't even indicated that it was investigating the matter with any seriousness. Volcker's reports said little more than that the inquiry suspected Benon Sevan -- the former head of the Oil for Food program -- of receiving $160,000 in questionable payments and Kojo Annan (the Secretary General's son) of obtaining employment with a U.N. Oil for Food program contractor under circumstances in which his father apparently played a questionable role. Even the most cursory comparison with the real investigations into the scam drives the conclusion that the Volcker effort is, to be charitable, unserious.
While Volcker's team has been pecking away at the edges of the scam, U.S. investigators, including several congressional committees and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, have made real progress that is burning an ever-widening hole in the silk curtain surrounding the U.N. scam. Indictments have been issued, convictions have been obtained, and a few outer layers of corruption have been revealed. Which is why Volcker and Co. are now screaming so loudly.
We -- all those who care to see that justice is done, that those who bribed and were bribed are jailed and the money stolen from the people of Iraq returned -- have lost any faith in Volcker's investigation. It's about as likely to determine the facts of the Oil for Food scam as Mohamed el-Baradei's purblind International Atomic Energy Agency is to find that Iran is building nuclear weapons. El-Baradei may discover the truth if a mushroom cloud rises over Dallas, but Volcker never will.
To say that witnesses' lives are endangered by the congressional and Justice Department investigations is simply outrageous. Who, Mr. Volcker, is in a better position to protect witnesses? The U.S. or the U.N.? The U.N.'s ability to protect anyone was best demonstrated by its refusal of American security arrangements for its mission to Baghdad, which was subsequently attacked with much loss of life. If any witnesses are endangered -- here, in Iraq, Russia, France, Jordan and the other nations in which the truth is to be found -- all it will take to ensure their safety is for them to surrender themselves into U.S. custody. Which Volcker wouldn't want, because it would make their information available to people who are serious about getting the facts and doing something with them.
It is equally outrageous to say, as Volcker has, that the congressional investigations be put on hold while his continues. Since the first whiff of this scandal breezed around, the U.N. has insisted that the United States government, which pays about $7 billion a year to the U.N., has no right to see the U.N.'s internal documents, to interview its paid staff, or to pursue the matter before Volcker closes the book on his faux inquiry.
The biggest outrage would be for Congress or the Justice Department to slow, far less stop, their investigations. Volcker's inquiry is being conducted under the authority of one of the principal suspects, Kofi Annan, and reports directly to him. The U.N. can't prosecute the criminals or recover the money. It has every interest in preventing its most powerful organization -- the Security Council -- from being exposed as the bought tool of Saddam's regime. Henry Hyde -- and the rest of the congressional investigators, notably Norm Coleman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations -- won't bend to the wishes of Annan and Volcker. They will proceed -- and possibly succeed -- where Volcker can't and won't. Robert Parton and Miranda Duncan should be protected legally from whatever legal actions the U.N. takes to silence them, and whatever documents they have produced must be kept. Volcker wants to silence them, limiting Parton to one public statement which would be U.N.-controlled. That offer should be dismissed with the scorn it deserves.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).
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