Thursday, March 27, 2008

This is honestly my favorite story of the day. I just cannot get enough of it.

Jim McDermott: "We Don't Mind Being Used" by Saddam Hussein

Last night came the news that Saddam Hussein's regime paid for a high-profile trip taken by three congressional Democrats to Baghdad in the fall of 2002. The visit, by Democratic Representatives David Bonior, Jim Thompson, and Jim McDermott, was brokered by Muthanna al Hanooti, a Michigan resident with close ties to the Iraqi regime. Hanooti is being prosecuted for spying on behalf of Saddam's regime.

Reacting to the latest news, Mike DeCesare, a spokesman for Jim McDermott, one of the three congressmen, said his boss wasn't aware that the money came from Saddam Hussein's regime when he accepted it. He told me the same thing in 2004, when I asked him about the $5,000 McDermott had accepted for his legal defense fund from Shakir al Khafaji, one of Saddam Hussein's biggest U.S. boosters before the war. Khafaji, who accompanied the congressmen and made the arrangements for their visit, had run "expatriate" conferences in Baghdad for Saddam as recently as 2000. He also provided $400,000 to former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter for Ritter's propaganda film on behalf of the former Iraqi regime. In an interview back in 2001, Ritter told me that Khafaji was "openly sympathetic" with Saddam Hussein.

All of this was public record -- available to the lawmakers with a Google or Nexis search. But they went anyway. Reacting to the news yesterday, Jim Thompson pleaded ignorance.

"Obviously, had there been any question at all regarding the sponsor of the trip or the funding, I would not have participated."

Thompson and McDermott would have us believe that they visited a sworn enemy of the United States -- one who had tried to assassinate a former president and declared that the "Mother of all Battles" had never ended -- without doing even the most basic research about who was funding their trip? That's hard to believe. And Bonior, who was from Michigan and had taken money from al Khafaji before, had no idea that he was backed by Saddam Hussein? When I spent a week reporting in Michigan for a story on Iraqi exiles, virtually every Iraqi I spoke to told me about al Khafaji and his dirty money. Is is possible that nobody ever mentioned this to Bonior, who recently chaired John Edwards' presidential campaign, before he traveled to Iraq with al Khafaji? Again, hard to believe.

In any case, they knew well that they would be used as propaganda tools before they left. This is how we put it in a piece on the trip back in October 2002:

EVEN BEFORE the Baghdad boys left Iraq, media outlets throughout the Middle East gleefully highlighted divisions in the U.S. government and the travels by the "antiwar" congressmen. The Iraq Daily, for example, published by Saddam's Ministry of Information, printed daily updates of the trip and posted them in English on their website.

For example, a September 30 report says, "the members of the U.S. Congress delegation has underlined that this visit aims to get acquainted with the truth of Iraq's people sufferings due to ongoing embargo which caused shortage in food and medicine for all Iraqi people." (That article appeared next to a report on Saddam's continuing financial support for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers or, to use the paper's formulation, "intrepid Palestinian uprising martyrs." Also in that issue is an article by American white supremacist Matthew Hale, "Truth About 9-11: How Jewish Manipulation Killed Thousands.")...

So how does it feel to be used as a propaganda tool against your own country? McDermott, who was asked that question by CNN's Jane Arraf when he was still in Baghdad, said it feels fine. "If being used means that we're highlighting the suffering of Iraqi children, or any children, then, yes, we don't mind being used."

Once again? "We don't mind being used."

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