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 Husseins 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 BNLs 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 Iraqs weapons suppliers, several countries, including Syria, have accused the U.S. of spearheading a cover-up to protect Iraqs corporate suppliers.
The Weekly contacted the Syrian and Iraqi missions for comment. The Syrian mission declined to elaborate. But an assistant to the Hussein governments U.N. ambassador, who identified himself as Osama, declined to release the names of the suppliers. "Those names are confidential," he said. "And we dont even have a copy of the declaration here in New York, so I couldnt give them to you anyway."
A representative of the U.N.s weapons-inspection team, who spoke on condition of anonymity, denied the U.S. had pressured anyone. "The decision to sanitize the list of names was made by the permanent members in consultation with us. We felt it was necessary to protect their names, so UNMOVIC [the U.N. inspection agency] could go back and ask the companies follow-up questions. Its like journalists protecting their sources," the source added.
Also speaking on a not-for-attribution basis, a spokesperson for the U.S. United Nations delegation denied the U.S. had pressured anyone to withhold suppliers names: "We wanted them released," the spokesperson said. "It was the Europeans who demanded they be kept secret."
The corporate entities were subsequently listed in a German newspaper, but the disclosure got little play in the United States, despite the presence of an impressive list of American corporate players.
It turns out that the Iraqi declaration also identified three American nuclear-weapons labs as assisting with Iraqs nuclear-weapons program: Los Alamos, Sandia National Laboratories, and Lawrence Livermore. A Los Alamos representative refused comment. And Sandias spokesperson did not return calls. But a representative from Lawrence Livermore told the Weekly the reference was to a public conference that several Iraqi scientists attended. "There was no classified material discussed. It was only about conventional explosives and detonations," the spokesperson said. "These were public, scientific papers being discussed. And I think the conference was sometime during the late 1970s."
Former congressional investigator Jeff Hodges remembers it differently. "First, the conference wasnt held in the late 1970s," said Hodges. "It was September 1989. Thats less than 14 months before the Gulf War started," he said.
Hodges also pointed out it was the elder Bushs State Department that arranged visas for three participating Iraqi nuclear scientists. "In addition to the information they received from the public papers, the scientists also profited from valuable contacts they made at the conference," he added.
Six months after the conference, American and British customs officers at Londons Heathrow Airport arrested operatives working for Iraqs nuclear-weapons research lab.
Of course, history could have taken a completely different turn in 1990. A former U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, tells the Weekly that in July of 1990 his associate, an intelligence operative, was reviewing developments in Iraq with President Bush, Colin Powell (then chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), Dick Cheney (then the Secretary of Defense) and Secretary of State James Baker on the looming crisis in the Gulf.
"My friend was the individual used by our government to hand-carry secret intelligence information on Irans military to Baghdad," recounted the source. "He told Bush and the others that Iraq was moving troops towards the Kuwaiti border. He also told the president he could stop them dead in their tracks by making a public announcement that any attack on Kuwait would be viewed as an attack on the U.S." But the source said that the advice was rejected.
Bush et al. "decided they didnt want to align the U.S. that closely with Kuwait," the former intelligence official said. "But I guess that plan didnt work out too well, did it?"
Companies Being Sued for Ties with Iraq
The following companies are named in the Gulf vets class-action suit, which claims the companies aided Iraqs weapons program. None of these companies has admitted any wrongdoing; some have yet to be served with the lawsuit alleging wrongdoing:
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