Easter Document Friday: Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law wishes you “happiness, good health, and prosperity” for Easter!
You are probably doing something wrong if Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Hussain Kamil Hasan, head the Iraq Ministry of Industry and Military Production, sent you a telex “on the occasion of the Easter festivities” wishing you “happiness good health and prosperity.” The bank BNL Atlanta –where Kasan sent the well wishes– certainly was.
The Atlanta branch of Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL) approved over 4 billion in unauthorized loans to Iraq between 1984 and 1989. Much of it was used for Iraq’s military. The Washington Post described BNL Atlanta as, “Iraq’s principal source of credit in the United States…during the time Iraq was at war with Iran, cash-starved and considered a risky debtor.”
BNL employees kept records of these transactions in hidden computer files they called “gray books.” Written records were not kept in filing cabinets. Instead, they were stored in car trunks or homes. Iraqis gave one BNL employee a diamond necklace. Another employee had his rent on a summer cottage paid for.
In 1991 the scandal, dubbed “Iraqgate,” led to a 347-count indictment against three BNL Atlanta officers and four Iraqis. The chief defendant, Christopher Drugal –to whom Hasan addressed the telex– eventually reached a plea bargain with the US Department of Justice. He maintained that the supposedly unauthorized loans were actually approved by BNL headquarters in Rome and the US intelligence community “with a wink and a nod from both.” The plea bargain prevented senior Reagan and Bush officials from having to testify about the billions of dollars that the United States loaned to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war.
Sadly –if not surprisingly– when these events were investigated by Representative Henry B. Gonzales of Texas, he was accused of leaking documents and “harming national security” by the Department of Justice, Department of State, and Central Intelligence Agency. The more things change, the more they stay the same. But Gonzales was correct. As he eloquently stated on the House floor:
“Our Government knew a great deal about all this, but decided that as long as the shipments did not explode, or if they fell just short of enabling Iraq to build nuclear weapons, they would be tolerated. The great mystery is why this went on right up until the invasion of Kuwait, in August of 1990. The President has talked about making Iraq into a better world citizen, but that surely does not explain why his administration allowed Saddam Hussein to use this country as a source of materials he needed to build weapons of mass destruction, including materials our Government knew were destined for Saddam’s nuclear weapons program.
Trying to explain all this is naturally embarrassing for the administration, of course, it is. And so it is not surprising that the administration has not cooperated fully with our requests for information. They have classified harmless materials, needlessly censored other information, stonewalled information requests, and withheld documents that have clearly fallen within Congressional requests.”
The Easter note’s author, Hussain Kamil Hasan, defected from Iraq in 1995 and then told UN weapons inspectors that all biological, chemical, missile and nuclear weapons were destroyed after the First Iraq War. (Of course, it is extremely likely that the billions in BNL loans were used to develop these weapons in the first place.)
In 1996 Saddam Hussein promised Hasan he would be forgiven if he simply returned to Iraq. Three days after Hasan’s return, he was killed in a gunfight.
Seven years later, during the lead up to the Second Iraq War, Hasan’s 1995 testimony to UN inspectors was frequently cited by Iraq war hawks, including Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell (to the UN), and even President George W. Bush, as proof that Saddam Hussein still possessed WMD.
But they distorted his testimony. What he had actually said was the exact opposite: “All weapons [likely funded through BNL Atlanta] — biological, chemical, missile, nuclear, were destroyed.”