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Friday, May 06, 2005

Tracking a right wing fact

Posted by: Hammer / 2:08 PM

The latest news on the House investigation of the Oil for Food program is a case study in how the right wing learns facts. Here's the objective news:
A former investigator in the U.N.-appointed oil-for-food probe on Thursday gave Congress boxes of documents concerning his findings on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, drawing an angry response from his former employer.

Lawyers for that investigation, formally called the Independent Inquiry Committee, said they are checking if that investigator, Robert Parton, violated a confidentiality agreement by giving up the potentially explosive documents. He did so under subpoena from Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House International Relations Committee. ...

Parton, a former FBI agent, has been the focus of heated controversy since he resigned from the committee in April because he believed the panel's most recent report was too soft on Annan. A second investigator, Miranda Duncan, resigned with him for the same reason.

Since then, speculation has swirled about the exact reasons why Parton believed the latest Volcker report, released in March, wasn't critical enough of Annan. The documents he gave Congress will almost certainly help settle that issue.

That Volcker report said Annan failed to properly investigate possible conflicts of interest surrounding an oil-for-food contract won by Cotecna Inspection S.A., the Swiss company where Annan's son Kojo worked. It criticized Annan for refusing to push top advisers further after they conducted a 24-hour investigation related to his son and found nothing wrong.

But Volcker's report cleared the secretary-general of trying to influence the awarding of Cotecna's $10 million-a-year contract and said he didn't violate U.N. rules. The oil-for-food program was set up to help Iraqis cope with international sanctions the United Nations imposed on Saddam Hussein's regime after his 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

It's a juicy story, no doubt. An investigator on the Independent Inquiry Committee quit because he thought the committee's report was too soft. He's violating his oath of confidentiality to deliver documents to the House committee that's also investigating Oil for Food. (For those keeping score, that's 3 investigations of Oil for Food, 0 investigations for the billions lost, stolen and wasted by the Coalition Provisional Authority.) The documents might or might not contain evidence of Kofi Annan acting improperly.

That story gets emphasized in a certain way by Fox News:

Because the review of the subpoenaed materials is currently underway, Hyde, R-Ill., declined to characterize their contents. The materials contain records of Parton's investigation of the role played by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) in the probe of what happened to billions of dollars that went missing from the nine-year humanitarian aid program with Iraq.

The contents of the boxes handed over by Parton are believed to be damaging to the secretary-general because, as sources told FOX News, they describe inconsistencies in the story Kofi Annan told investigators about a conflict of interest involving his son Kojo Annan, and Cotecna, the Swiss company that employed Kojo Annan and which won one of the most lucrative Oil-for-Food contracts.

So Fox News has confidential sources who are willing to describe the secret documents. Those sources say the documents will show that Kofi Annan lied to investigators. So far it's just a difference in emphasis and a willingness to speculate or rely upon confidential sources. Turn on the radio, though, and the speculation-enhanced story becomes damning fact:
Fox: New Docs 'Prove' Kofi Lied to Probers

U.N. investigators have turned over to Congress boxes of evidence on the Oil-for-Food program, including "proof" that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan lied to the Independent Inquiry Committee probing the scandal, Fox News Channel reporter Jonathan Hunt said Thursday.

"One source close to the case told me that in those boxes is the ammunition to prove that Kofi Annan lied to investigators," Hunt told Fox News Radio host Tony Snow. "So this is a very dramatic development indeed."

Hunt contributed to the Fox News story. The story on is journalistically couched in speculation, but when Hunt goes on the radio, he has proof that Kofi Annan lied.

I'm not going to pretend to know what Kofi Annan did or didn't do. The investigations aren't finished yet, but unless someone can demonstrate why Volcker's committee isn't impartial, I'm willing to accept his report. On the right, though, they've rejected Volcker's findings and accepted as fact anonymous descriptions of secret records. Official reports are not always correct, just as anonymous descriptions of secret records are not always wrong. It takes a special kind of wing nut, though, to be willing to believe an anonymous source over a distinguished public servant.


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