Sinclair Broadcast Group commentator Mark Hyman used the April 12 edition of "The Point" to attack United Nations and European leaders with false and misleading accusations regarding their involvement in corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program.
Referring to Benon Sevan, the U.N. undersecretary who headed the oil-for-food program, Hyman opened "The Point" by stating, "Generally, if someone has found to have illegally profited at the expense of his employer, he'll at least get a good swift kick out the door if he escapes prosecution. But if you are caught at the U.N., they pay your legal fees." What Hyman failed to note is that the United Nations stopped paying the legal fees for Sevan in February, when the Independent Inquiry Committee investigation headed by Paul Volcker revealed that Sevan had personally solicited illicit oil from Iraq on behalf a small African trading company and that his actions "were ethically improper, and seriously undermined the integrity of the United Nations." Until that time, the allegations against Sevan were unsubstantiated.
Hyman further claimed: "After Operation Iraqi Freedom toppled Saddam Hussein, it was learned that the program was corrupt with officials from Europe to the U.N. profiting from off-the-books deals and kickbacks." But the United States and other members of the U.N. Security Council -- which had primary responsibility for overseeing oil-for-food -- were aware of potential oil-for-food kickbacks well before Hussein was ousted and took only minimal steps to confront the problem, apparently in order to maintain support for the sanctions regime, which had effectively thwarted Hussein's ambition to restart his weapons of mass destruction programs by denying him the necessary materials, even as Hussein found ways to gain illicit revenue.
An examination of oil-for-food corruption by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released in April 2004, stated that in March 2001 the U.S. "informed the Security Council about allegations that Iraqi government officials were receiving illegal surcharges on oil contracts and illicit commissions on commodity contracts." GAO noted that the Security Council took action on the oil contracts surcharges by implementing retroactive pricing for such contracts, but that "it is unclear what actions" were taken regarding the illicit commissions on commodities contracts.
Further, The Washington Post reported on November 14, 2004, that Edward Mortimer, communications director for the U.N. Secretary-General's office, stated that beginning in late 2001, "U.N. officials presented the sanctions committee with 70 contracts that were potentially overpriced. ... But 'nobody placed a single contract on hold,' he said -- including the United States and Britain, Baghdad's toughest critics on the Security Council." In testimony before the House Government Reform Committee's subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations on April 12, Fairfield University professor Joy Gordon, who studied the U.N. sanctions against Iraq, confirmed Mortimer's assertion:
Where price irregularities were clear, the customs officers of the OIP [Office of the Iraq Program] staff did in fact inform the 661 Committee [the committee established in 1990 by U.N. Security Council Resolution 661 to monitor Iraq's compliance with sanctions], giving each member the opportunity to block the contract, or to ask for further information before approving. On over 70 occasions, this was done. On none of those occasions did any member of the Council -- including the U.S. -- seek to delay or block the contract for pricing irregularities.
Hyman also claimed that "[t]he involvement of high-ranking U.N. officials in the oil-for-food scandal may have been the deciding factor in the international body's reluctance to hold Saddam accountable for his actions," but Hyman provided no explanation for how Sevan and other bureaucrats in the U.N. Secretariat could have influenced the actions of member states in the Security Council, the only U.N. body that can authorize the use of force. The Security Council is comprised of sovereign governments, whose leaders decided to oppose the resolution authorizing force. Sevan and the Secretariat did not have a vote. Only the 15 member states had a vote on whether to support war in Iraq. As USA Today noted on March 18, 2003, "Eleven days after Bush vowed to demand a vote on the U.S.-British-Spanish resolution, backers acknowledged reality -- they could not get the nine votes they needed on the 15-member Security Council. The defeat appeared to leave the United States and its allies isolated on the eve of an internationally unpopular war in Iraq, which could be days away."
Lastly, Hyman's assertion that "the program was corrupt with officials from Europe to the U.N. profiting from off-the-books deals and kickbacks" conceals the fact that officials, firms, and private citizens from all over the world, including the United States, allegedly received bribes from Hussein in the form of illicit oil vouchers. The alleged corruption was not limited to "officials from Europe to the U.N.," as Hyman claimed. The Baghdad newspaper Al-Mada initially published a list of names of those involved in the scheme in January 2004. The Associated Press noted, "Iraq's Al-Mada daily published a list of 270 former Cabinet officials, legislators, political activists and journalists from more than 46 countries allegedly involved in the scam." In September 2004, CIA weapons inspector Charles A. Duelfer's final report on Iraqi weapons published a document found in Iraqi government files listing alleged voucher recipients, including several U.S. citizens and firms. The Duelfer report redacted the names of U.S. citizens and firms, but the redacted entries indicate "U.S. Company."
Media Matters for America leads SinclairAction.com, a coalition of groups and individuals protesting Sinclair's continued misuse of public airwaves to broadcast one-sided, politically charged programming without a counterpoint.