Britain's Iraq Accounting & the U.S. Dodge
In London, the Conservative government barely survived a
challenge to its secret policy of arming Iraq in the 1980s and
the lies told about it. By a single-vote, 320-319, John Major's
government held the majority in a heated debate over the
critical findings of an investigation into the scandal by Sir
Richard Scott. A loss in the Feb. 26 vote could have toppled
the Conservatives from power.
The emotional touchstone of the debate was the decision by
senior Conservatives to permit the criminal prosecution of three
businessmen for selling machine tools to Iraq. At the time, the
government was withholding evidence that the sales were in line
with a secret policy. When a judge refused to go along, the men
were acquitted amid a flurry of press criticism directed against
the British secret services.
This so-called Matrix-Churchill case has a current parallel in
the United States, with the 1995 prosecution of Teledyne
Industries Inc. and one of its salesmen, Edward A. Johnson.
Teledyne stood accused of shipping explosive zirconium pellets
to Chilean manufacturer Carlos Cardoen, who then fashioned them
into cluster bombs for Iraq, which in the 1980s was fighting a
bloody war with Iran.
Teledyne lawyers argued that the sales were part of a covert
U.S. policy to arm both sides of the Iran-Iraq war. In 1986,
the disclosure of secret arms sales to Iran touched off the
Iran-contra scandal. In 1990, after Saddam Hussein invaded
Kuwait, evidence of similar U.S. military assistance to Iraq
pulled President Bush into a controversy called Iraqgate.
But unlike the British case, the Bush administration
successfully stonewalled the Iraqgate allegations. CIA Director
Robert Gates and other senior officials issued flat denials as
whistle-blowers, such as former Israeli intelligence officer Ari
Ben-Menashe, came under fierce attack. High-level solidarity on
the touchy topic continued into the Clinton administration which
apparently wanted to avoid the distraction of re-fighting these
On Jan. 15, 1995, Clinton's Justice Department issued a report
stating that it found no "evidence that U.S. agencies or
officials illegally armed Iraq" in the 1980s. The report,
however, contained a curious admission that the CIA had withheld
relevant data from the investigators.
"In the course of our work, we learned of 'sensitive
compartments' of information not normally retrievable and of
specialized offices that previously were unknown to the CIA
personnel who were assisting us," wrote John M. Hogan, counselor
to Attorney General Janet Reno. Then, without further
skepticism, Hogan added, "I do not believe this uncertainty
severely undermined our investigation."
But two weeks after Hogan's odd findings, Howard Teicher, a
former national security official under Ronald Reagan, came
forward with a startling affidavit in the Teledyne case.
Teicher asserted that the secret arming of Iraq had been ordered
by President Reagan in June 1982 as part of a National Security
Decision Directive. Under it, CIA Director William Casey and
his then-deputy, Robert Gates, "authorized, approved and
assisted" delivery of cluster bombs to Iraq through Cardoen.
The Clinton administration's response was telling. Instead of
welcoming the new evidence, the administration attacked the
credibility of Teicher's affidavit and ordered it sealed as a
national security secret. Federal prosecutors then convinced
the Teledyne case judge to block Teicher's testimony on the
grounds that it was irrelevant.
Never hearing about Teicher or his affidavit, the jury found
Teledyne salesman Johnson guilty of violating the Arms Export
Control Act. Johnson, who had supported his family with modest
earnings of about $30,000 a year, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years
in prison. He began his sentence on Jan. 4, 1996. His lawyer
and others who assisted in his defense are now themselves facing
the possibility of court sanctions.
But perhaps the sharpest contrast with the British parallel was
that the national U.S. news media gave the Teledyne case almost
no attention. From The Washington Post to the major networks,
the historical reality of what happened behind the public facade
of the Reagan-Bush presidencies was deemed not news. Neither
was it news how the Clinton administration ran its high-handed
prosecution of the low men on the Iraqgate totem pole.
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