Saddam Hussein’s intelligence agency secretly financed a trip to Iraq for three U.S. lawmakers during the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
The three anti-war Democrats made the trip in October 2002, while the Bush administration was trying to persuade Congress to authorize military action against Iraq. While traveling, they called for a diplomatic solution.
Prosecutors say that trip was arranged by Muthanna Al-Hanooti, a Michigan charity official, who was charged Wednesday with setting up the junket at the behest of Saddam’s regime. Iraqi intelligence officials allegedly paid for the trip through an intermediary and rewarded Al-Hanooti with 2 million barrels of Iraqi oil.
The lawmakers are not named in the indictment but the dates correspond to a trip by Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington, David Bonior of Michigan and Mike Thompson of California. None was charged and Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said investigators “have no information whatsoever” any of them knew the trip was underwritten by Saddam.
“Obviously, we didn’t know it at the time,” McDermott spokesman Michael DeCesare said Wednesday. “The trip was to see the plight of the Iraqi children. That’s the only reason we went.”
Both McDermott and Thompson are popular among liberal voters in their reliably Democratic districts for their anti-war views. Bonior is no longer in Congress.
Thompson released a statement Wednesday saying the trip was approved by the State Department.
“Obviously, had there been any question at all regarding the sponsor of the trip or the funding, I would not have participated,” he said.
During the trip, the lawmakers expressed skepticism about the Bush administration’s claims that Saddam was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Though such weapons ultimately were never found, the lawmakers drew criticism for their trip at the time.
I actually believe Thompson and McDermott when they say that they didn’t know that Saddam was the direct backer of their trip. Given the run-up to the war, I don’t think even anti-War Dems would have been foolish enough to take money from Saddam and go on an official Iraqi sponsored trip. At the very least, they’d have known that to have done so would have cast doubts on any findings they made, just as no one believes reports that come back from official visitors to North Korea.
What makes the story interesting isn’t that three Congressmen got snookered. What makes it interesting is that Saddam Hussein was using local affiliates to affect the American political process. Only the most naive would believe that this was a unique incident, or that Saddam Hussein was/is the only one doing it. The covert aspects of this story are disturbing, and have a distinct Cold War odor in the middle of the hot war that’s currently preoccupying us. As those of us who lived through the Cold War know, disinformation is as potent a weapon as a bomb, and the ease with which Hussein manipulated American politicians is disturbing.