Was 'Iraqgate' a Crime? Or Worse?

September 02, 1992

Attorney General William Barr has refused a request by the House Judiciary Committee to appoint an independent counsel to investigate Bush administration policy toward Iraq prior to the Persian Gulf War. Some Democrats charge that administration officials broke the law in arranging phony agricultural loan guarantees to Iraq that were in fact used to build up Saddam Hussein's military. Democrats also charge that Bush administration officials then tried to cover up those arrangements. Those are serious charges and, as we have said here before, of much more pertinence to the public's appraisal of George Bush's stewardship than the fading Iran-contra affair. Whatever was done should be investigated and publicized.

But the attorney general is on pretty solid ground in refusing to appoint an independent counsel to look into this. For one thing, he knows the public has lost its old faith in independent counsels, as the "Irangate" investigation and prosecution goes on and on. For another, the sort of evidence that has been available in previous instances in which an independent counsel was appointed has not been produced in "Iraqgate."

That does not necessarily mean no such evidence exists. If it does exist, Congress has the means to gather it and demonstrate to the public that crimes were committed -- if they were -- and who committed them. Almost all of what the public knows about the affair has been developed and publicized by the House Banking Committee. Now that it sees no independent counsel will not look into this, the committee should redouble its effort and force the issue into what one House member calls "the court of public opinion."

Actually that may be the best place for it, if Democrats are right in their accusations that Bush administration policies were, wittingly or unwittingly, vital to Saddam Hussein's ability to create a dangerous military force. What happened may have been worse than a crime: It may have been a policy blunder that brought on a war.

The banking committee voted last month to subpoena documents from the Justice Department and other government agencies, including the intelligence agencies. If there are smoking "Iraqgate" guns lying around in files and computers, the committee should be able to find them. The committee has not yet but may vote to subpoena officials the administration has refused to allow to testify.

Meanwhile, of course, as Bill Clinton said recently, with no special prosecutor appointed, the burden is now greater on the nTC Justice Department (especially the careerists in its Public Integrity Section) to investigate the charges of corruption and criminality in a way uncompromised by politics or the appearance of politics. The same standards should apply to congressional Democrats.

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