By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Iraq would never have developed its chemical-, biological- and nuclear-weapons program —or even its conventional missiles —without technology and material support supplied by a phalanx of American and international corporations. It also helped mightily that officials in the first Bush presidency – many of whom now work for George W. Bush – were willing to look the other way or directly assist Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Between 1985 and 1990, the U.S. government approved 771 licenses for exports of biological agents, high-tech equipment and military items to Iraq, reported Representative Sam Gejdenson (D-Connecticut) in 1991. Those exports were valued at $1.5 billion, said Gejdenson, who was the chairman of the House Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the time.
"The United States spent virtually an entire decade making sure that Saddam Hussein had almost whatever he wanted . . . We continued to approve this equipment until just weeks before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait," declared, according to a Congressional transcript.
Gejdenson also told his subcommittee that the State Department refused to impose controls on the export of biological toxins to Iraq until 1989, even though it knew Hussein used chemical weapons against Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq war as well as Kurdish civilians.
And, he added, the administration of the elder George Bush had lobbied, right up to "July 27, 1990 — six days before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait," against a proposed House amendment that would have restricted agricultural credits to Iraq.
In a 1991 speech on the House floor, Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Gonzalez denounced the billions in financial support given to Hussein with assistance from both the Reagan and Bush administrations. Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL), an Italian, multinational banking concern with American operations based in New York, delivered more than $4 billion in loans to Iraq, during the 1980s.
Those loans, unreported to U.S. banking officials, were funneled through BNL’s Atlanta branch. The subsequent scandal eventually resulted in the conviction of several BNL employees for fraud.
And yet Gonzalez was able to cite a Federal Reserve document showing that the secretary of state for the first President Bush actually discussed these criminally suspect BNL loans with Saddam Hussein. Investigators also found BNL-related telexes between April Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and the State Department in Washington.
Gonzalez also reported that U.S. officials under Reagan and Bush routinely ignored evidence that Iraq was using its weapons of mass destruction. He cited congressional testimony by Paul Freedenberg, the chief export-licensing official at the Department of Commerce during parts of both the Reagan and Bush administrations, to underscore that point.
"In the summer of 1988, a number of licenses were pending with regard to technology transfers to Iraq," testified Freedenberg. "I asked for official guidance with regard to what the licensing policy would be toward Iraq, since by then there was credible evidence of the use of poison gas by the Iraqis against their own people and also against the Iranians."
Freedenberg told Congress that he suggested the "imposition of foreign controls" be used to justify the denial of these export licenses. But the National Security Council told him to treat these exports as "normal trade."
More would be known about corporate and governmental malfeasance except that this information is being kept under wraps. This secrecy even applies to the weapons declarations issued by Iran in 1997 and in December of 2002. Attorney Gary Pitts, who is suing corporations that allegedly helped to arm Iraq, found that there were only three places to get the information: the United Nations, the U.S. government and Iraq.
"The U.N. refused to disclose" either the 1997 or 2002 lists of Iraqi suppliers, said Pitts. And his request to U.S. officials has been stuck in bureaucratic limbo. Pitts finally made a direct appeal to Iraq: "I told them that they should release the list and let the companies share the heat."
To his surprise, Iraq agreed on the condition that Iraqi officials would hand over this information at a press conference. But the Iraqis postponed the meeting indefinitely in the face of increasing tensions. It was then that Pitts sent Scott Ritter, a former U.N. weapons inspector who was serving as a legal consultant, to Baghdad. Because Ritter returned with reams of documentation, Pitts was able to amend and update his lawsuit. Currently, his suit names 68 corporations and individuals, the majority of which are European.
Pitts also has coordinated with British and German law firms to sue some of the European companies named as defendants in his class-action suit, which he filed in the Texas state court system. Through the lawsuit or through an act of Congress, he hopes to tap into the more than $1 billion in frozen Iraqi assets in the U.S. on behalf of his clients, who are some 3,500 sick Gulf War veterans. Pitts originally filed his lawsuit in 1994.
Because the U.N. has guarded the names of Iraq’s weapons suppliers, several countries, including Syria, have accused the U.S. of spearheading a cover-up to protect Iraq’s corporate suppliers.
The Weekly contacted the Syrian and Iraqi missions for comment. The Syrian mission declined to elaborate. But an assistant to the Hussein government’s U.N. ambassador, who identified himself as Osama, declined to release the names of the suppliers. "Those names are confidential," he said. "And we don’t even have a copy of the declaration here in New York, so I couldn’t give them to you anyway."
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