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Today's London Telegraph runs a fascinating interview with Michael Soussan, a Dane and the former coordinator for the UN Oil For Food program. Soussan recently testified before Congress regarding the scandal and made clear that the rampant fraud found at the end of the war had been well-known during most of the program's operation (thanks to CQ reader Diana Sebben, a British ex-pat living in Texas):
During his years at the United Nations, monitoring sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf war, critics called Michael Soussan a baby killer. One said the oil-for-food programme administered by the UN amounted to "overseeing genocide". To Mr Soussan's dismay, the most vocal critics worked alongside him at the UN. The genocide charge was levelled by an assistant secretary general in charge of humanitarian work in Iraq.
His colleagues blamed the Security Council - especially the United States and Britain - for the suffering of Iraqis, ignoring evidence that Saddam was stealing food from his own people's mouths.
They could hardly ignore the wickedness of Saddam's regime. Foreign UN staff could sense the terror in Iraqis they met, and saw for themselves the gilded excesses of the Ba'athist elite. But somehow that wickedness was taken as a given, then promptly smothered in a warm soup of moral relativism.
Moral relativism at the UN? I'm shocked! Why would anyone think that an organization composed primarily of autocracies and dictatorships would discount the evils of Saddam Hussein in order to line their pockets with Iraqi oil wealth? I agre with Soussan, but really, blaming moral relativism almost lets the crooks off the hook. It ony provides a cheap philosophical excuse for the money-grubbing actions taken by people in power at the UN and elsewhere to feed at Saddam's trough.
If you doubt that the kickbacks motivated silence, read on:
UN staff did not speak out when Saddam refused to buy high protein foods recommended by UN experts, or spent oil-for-food millions on sports stadiums, or broadcasting equipment for his propaganda machine.
The UN turned a blind eye to signs that Saddam was bribing cronies at home and abroad with black market oil vouchers, and was skimming billions from funds meant for food and medicine, demanding secret, 10 per cent "kickbacks" on humanitarian contracts.
The UN recently claimed it "learned of the 10 per cent kickback scheme only after the end of major combat operations" in 2003.
A lie, said Mr Soussan, recalling the hapless Swedish company that called in 2000, seeking UN help after being asked to pay kickbacks. The Swedes' plea was quickly lost in red tape and inter-office turf wars. After a "Kafka-esque" flurry of internal memos, the Swedes were told to complain to their own government.
Soussan says that UN workers, eager for high-powered careers at the UN or back in their home countries, needed to maintain good terms with "key countries" on the Security Council in order to achieve those aspirations. The Telegraph notes that France, Russia, and China all opposed sanctions anyway, and implies that their reluctance to enforce them may have led the OFF staff to allow the program to run wild. Soussan makes it clear that the UN knew full well about the fraud and corruption on both sides of UNSCAM. Read the entire article.Sphere It View blog reactions
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