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Say, Waiter, Where’s the Blood on My Margarita Glass?

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

The new year promises a rich manure of hypocrisy and bad faith. Take the current tumult here in the US about the UN high command and the oil-for-food imbroglio, which right-wing columnists are gnawing on with relish. There are no good guys here, just vistas of corruption and bad faith stretching into the distance.

Certainly, weep not for Kofi Annan, whose servility toward the imperatives of Empire was comically revealed in the very same press conference where a pertinacious journalist extorted from the reluctant Secretary General the grudging admission that the war on Iraq was illegal. Later on, Annan offhandedly invoked “our allies,” a term that should be alien to the lips of any UN Secretary General, but that accurately reflects political realities.

The private dealings of the Annan family may well be fragrant with corruption, but it’s hard to get too excited about alleged skims off the oil-for-food deals, against so vivid a backdrop as hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, many of them infants, being starved to death or dying for lack of suitable medicines under the UN sanctions commanded by the United States.

On one calculation by Jude Wanniski, if sanctions had been lifted in 1991 Iraq would have collected $126 billion in oil revenues in the fourteen years thereafter, thus paying off its international debts and feeding its population. PR-wise for the United States, the sanctions were dire enough in terms of killing defenseless Iraqis that the oil-for-food program was installed in 1996, benefiting, among others, the Kurds, who have fine representation in Washington and who were to get a big slice of the oil revenues.

From his side, Saddam was able to organize oil-revenue kickbacks to the Iraqi government from some customers which weren’t filched by the program’s supervisors in New York. So what? Any capable leader in the same situation would have done likewise. But of course the neocon lobby here, through such willing conduits as Senator Norm Coleman, the New York Sun and that diva of drivel from the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, Claudia Rosett, have hyped the oil-for-food “scandal” as a way of somersaulting the war lobby past the great disaster of 2004, the nondiscovery of WMDs.

The second rule of propaganda is that when the first Big Lie explodes, immediately make up another one. Vigilant students of last October’s report from the US government’s Iraq Survey Group, headed by Charles Duelfer, on the nonexistence of WMDs noted that Duelfer tried to shift attention from the embarrassment of nonapparent WMDs by suggesting that they were not only eternally immanent but also imminent as long as Saddam Hussein led Iraq, because he might well have used revenues from the oil-for-food program to ramp up his old WMD programs. Of course, the Bush Administration pounced on this morsel, and the neocon press has been chewing on it ever since.

It would take the brush of Hieronymus Bosch to do proper justice to the moral darkness prevailing in the New York residence of Richard Holbrooke, as the man who vied with Joseph Biden to be John Kerry’s Secretary of State assembled a posse to rub Annan’s nose in the UN’s woes, and proffer Mark Malloch Brown as the savior. Brown, whose private lobbying roster has included such clients as the ineffable and unlamented Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada of Bolivia, will now return to UN HQ as US-designated commissar at Annan’s elbow, just in time to prompt the Secretary General to acclamations for whatever result issues from the elections in Iraq at the end of January.

On the topic of the Beast of Baghdad, January’s Esquire brings an interesting article by Sara Solovitch reporting her discovery that Jumana Hanna’s accounts of rape and torture at the hands of Uday Hussein don’t appear to have the intimate connection to reality trumpeted by the Bush Administration and by such reporters as Peter Finn of the Washington Post, who promoted her in the Post in July of 2003.

Hanna poured out her story to many eager ears belonging to Finn; Bernard Kerik (surely an expert in mendacity); a New Jersey Superior Court Judge called Donald Campbell, who was the coalition’s top legal adviser; Paul Wolfowitz; Hanna’s shrink, Paul Linde; and finally Solovitch, who was hired to co-write Hanna’s story. Solovitch says she began to entertain some doubts when pondering Hanna’s claim to have received an MA in accounting from Oxford, but somehow put off making a simple phone call to Oxford till she had spent a lengthy period of presumably well-paid toil checking other aspects of Hanna’s story.

I could have saved the publishers a wad of money. In atrocity stories there are some things that don’t ring true, even when dealing with such well-credentialed butchers as Saddam and his sons. Take the story, subsequently identified as one concocted by a Western intelligence agency, that Uday had put some of his victims through a wood chipper. Anyone using these chippers knows the damn things jam if inconvenienced by anything with a diameter larger than that of a stick of asparagus, let alone an Iraqi human, however scrawny. Uday’s chipper, whose origin can probably be traced to a scene in the movie Fargo, just didn’t pass muster, same as the incubator story from the first Gulf War, first identified in this column as intrinsically preposterous.

Among the horrors of Uday’s boudoir divulged by Hanna to many, including Solovitch, was the following:

“She was raped for days. A virgin when she entered, she heard the guards ask “Master Uday” what he wanted to do with her blood. He ordered them to sprinkle it around the rim of his whiskey glass like salt on a margarita.”

That’s the point at which any person equipped with minimal power to suspend willing belief should have said, “Oh, come on!” No call to Oxford would have been necessary. But then, there’s no ear more credulous than the one that yearns to believe.

 

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