Politics & Policy

The Turtle Bay Mafia

Taking the U.N. to court.

You have to hand it to the Turtle Bay crime family: They have turned the art of stonewalling congressional investigators into a science. And while the evidence of the largest financial scam in history drips out in bits and pieces, the U.N.’s only answer is “trust us.” It’s time to take a harder line on the U.N.’s Oil-for-Food-for-Bribes-for-Terrorism program.

Can you imagine what would have happened to Kenny Boy and the rest of the Enron crowd if they’d told the Justice Department it couldn’t see the corporate books or interview the employees? If they had said, “Trust us, we’ll take a look into the problem and tell you what we think you need to know”? At this moment, that’s exactly what Kofi Annan and his chief inspector, Paul Clouseau Volcker, are telling Sen. Norm Coleman, chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Coleman is neither a hothead nor an anti-U.N. radical. But Annan’s conduct, and Volcker’s, may yet turn him into both.

The Senate PSI is not a body to be trifled with. Its jurisdiction is comprehensive, and its powers of subpoena and public hearings are enough to compel cabinet members and heads of Fortune 100 companies to view a PSI investigation as something akin to being skinned alive. But Kofi and Clouseau take a different view–and for very good reason.

On November 9, Coleman and ranking minority member Carl Levin sent a letter to Kofi Annan asking for access to the documents in U.N. possession on Oil-for-Food (including some 55 internal audit reports) and interviews of key U.N. staffers. Among the staffers listed in the request were Benon Sevan, head of the Oil-for-Food program; John Almstrom, chief of its contracts-processing section; and Stephanie Scheer, who had been Sevan’s deputy. That letter followed Annan’s refusal of a similar request last September.

On Tuesday, Volcker replied for Annan, turning Coleman and the PSI down flat. Volcker said that the U.N. wouldn’t release any of its papers or make its people available to the Senate, effectively blocking Coleman’s investigation. In a letter to Coleman, Volcker said, “The clear purpose is to avoid potentially misleading and incomplete information that could impair ongoing investigation, distort public perceptions and violate simple concerns of due process.” He objected to U.N. officials’ appearing before the Senate committee, writing, “For a U.N. official to appear before the subcommittee in the current highly charged environment would plainly risk ending prospects for their cooperation with our committee and with subsequent potential criminal investigations.”

Equally bad are the U.N.’s extreme efforts to block any of the involved companies, and any involved people who are not U.N. employees, from cooperating with the congressional investigations. (There are four other committees investigating the Oil-for-Food scam in addition to Senate PSI.) Coleman’s letter to Annan enclosed a letter from Lloyd’s Register, one of the companies responsible for inspecting the goods purchased by Saddam with Oil-for-Food funds. Lloyd’s wrote to the PSI staff that it had been instructed by the U.N. to not comply with any U.S. subpoenas unless they were made effective through English courts. Lloyd’s is only one of hundreds of companies that should be complying but have been instructed by the U.N. to resist.

The U.N. can get away with this because it has immunity from U.S. law, and its employees (at least in the conduct of their U.N. duties) have diplomatic immunity. But those immunities aren’t an insurmountable obstacle. And the way around them has just come to light.

Rep. Henry Hyde’s House International Relations Committee is releasing documents and information that show how some of the Oil-for-Food money was used by Saddam to pay bounties to the survivors of Palestinian homicide bombers. In my book Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think, I revealed that many of the documents found by the Israelis in their 2002 incursion into Arafat’s Ramallah compound showed that Saddam was paying these bounties:

Among the documents the Israelis found were copies of checks paid through the Palestinian Authority to the families of the terrorist bombers. Typical, in the words of the Israeli [Defense Forces] report, is a check for $25,000, drawn on the Palestinian Investment Bank, payable to, “Khaldiya Isma’il Abd al-Aziz al-Hurani, the mother of Hamas terrorist Fuad Isma’il Ahmad al-Hurani, who carried out a suicide attack on 9 March 2002 in the Moment café in Jerusalem. 11 Israelis were killed and 16 wounded in the attack.

Alan Gerson, an international-law expert, has been a leader in the litigation of antiterrorist cases. He told me that when a person or an entity–even a government–has aided and abetted terrorism, its immunity can be bypassed in legal proceedings. When someone violates the “commitment to peremptory norms”–i.e., when it helps fund terrorism–it effectively gives up its immunity from legal action. The president can and should act on this idea.

The president could determine–and issue an order saying–that the U.N. Oil-for-Food program, according to the available evidence, violated that “commitment to peremptory norms” and thus waived its immunities to congressional and other U.S. legal proceedings. At that point, Coleman’s PSI could issue enforceable subpoenas against the U.N., its staff, and the companies that participated in the program. The U.N. would then be in a position such that it had to either cooperate with the investigation or be held in contempt of Congress. (Which it manifestly is right now.)

The American system of government is based on the principles of checks and balances, and accountability. The U.N. is now unaccountable to anyone but its members. We give about $7 billion a year to the U.N. and its agencies. If the U.N. remains contemptuous of Congress–and the American people–it should suffer the loss of those funds until it decides to cooperate fully. There is no reason to trust the U.N. to investigate and punish those who abused the program, or to recover any of the funds that were looted by Saddam through the U.N.’s program. Congress should use its power of the purse to compel the U.N. to cooperate. And the president could make that much easier by declaring the U.N.’s immunities waived by its involvement in terror.

See you in court, Kofi.

NRO contributor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think.

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