Rod Driver

From The Chariho Times, April 20, 2000

Weygand Should Get His Facts Straight


When President Clinton attacked Sudan on Aug. 20, 1998 he told America that his target was a chemical weapons plant. Four days later Congressman Bob Weygand endorsed the missile attack, declaring "we had hard physical information about that chemical plant in the Sudan" and praising Clinton as "one of the greatest leaders we've ever had."

But Clinton's story soon unraveled. The plant he had destroyed was actually a pharmaceutical plant producing medicine for the impoverished people of Sudan. Neither Bill Clinton nor Bob Weygand offered restitution or even an apology.

Congressman Weygand has now demonstrated his gullibility on another tragedy. In letters to Clinton and to constituents in Rhode Island, Weygand recently announced his support for continued economic sanctions against Iraq.

He dismissed the deaths of more than a million innocent Iraqis (mostly children under five) due to starvation, disease and continued U.S. bombing. Iraq's "$12 billion in oil revenues in 1999," Weygand wrote, could have provided food for all Iraqis, however "Saddam Hussein has diverted UN funds away from food and medicine to oppress his people further."

It is alarming to find a congressman so ignorant about the human tragedy in Iraq and about the workings of the UN "oil-for-food" program. Anyone who spends just an hour on the web site of the UN Office of the Iraq Program ( gets a lot closer to the truth.

Congressman Weygand gives no indication who told him that Iraq had $12 billion in "oil revenues" and had "diverted UN funds." Not even Clinton spokespersons say this because they know it is impossible. The proceeds from sales under the "oil-for-food" program go into a UN escrow account. These funds cannot be diverted by the Iraqi government because it has no access to them!

But funds are being diverted from Iraq's oil sales! The UN takes one-third of the proceeds for "reparations and administration." In 1999, after deductions, there remained only a potential $6 billion (not $12 billion) for the regions of Iraq under government control. Iraq cannot simply spend that for food and medicine. It must use some of the proceeds to repair power plants and water-purification systems, because thousands of children die each month from diseases carried by polluted water -- as well as from starvation. And unless Iraq spends money repairing its bombed oil facilities, it will not be able to continue exporting even as much oil as we permitted in 1999.

But that's only the beginning of the problem. None of this money from Iraq's oil sales can be spent for repairs, food, medicine or anything without approval from the UN "661 Committee;" and the U.S. has veto power in that committee. The Clinton Administration has used its veto to put "on hold" one-third of the proposed contracts for oil-sector repairs. It has also put "holds" on contracts for repair parts for X-ray machines and other medical equipment, fire engines, water-treatment equipment, pumps, generators and irrigation equipment. The United States and Britain have put "on hold," contracts for cancer drugs, vaccines, and even pain killers. Thus the value of goods received in Iraq via the oil-for-food program for 1999 was just a small part of what was supposed to be available.

Not even the most ruthless hawk in the Clinton Administration believes that the economic sanctions are hurting Saddam Hussein. They may even strengthen him. The sanctions are, however, a systematic violation of the Geneva Convention, which prohibits "starvation of civilians as a method of warfare."

Pope John Paul II and other religious leaders have urgently called for an end to the economic sanctions. France has expressed its dismay at the civilian death toll from the continued bombing of Iraq by the U.S. and Britain. Amnesty International has called on the Security Council to "protect the rights of the civilian population." The Chicago Tribune has endorsed a proposal to "break the link between economic sanctions and the military embargo, easing pressure on Iraq's people while keeping tight control of any arms going into Iraq."

The terrible suffering of innocent people, not seen on our evening news, has led three respected UN career diplomats assigned to the Iraq program to resign. They are now speaking out against economic sanctions. And Scott Ritter, the gung-ho weapons inspector featured on so many newscasts a couple of years ago, now says, "The Clinton Iraq policy is morally bankrupt. There can be no honor," he wrote in the Boston Globe, March 9, "in a policy that has resulted in the doubling of the infant mortality rate in Iraq and that leads to the death, through malnutrition and untreated disease, of 5,000 children under the age of 5 every month."