Condi Rice--Cooked in Oil?

Now that Paul Wolfowitz has been more or less sidelined, how about some questions for Condoleezza Rice?

What’s to ask Condi? Well, for starters about her role in the Oil-for-Food scandal–a role she might have played first in private industry, and then, as President Bush’s National Security Advisor.

This week an investigation by the International Herald Tribune and the Italian business daily Il Sole 24 Ore revealed that Total, France’s largest company, indirectly paid up to $1 million dollars in illegal surcharges to Saddam’s regime on oil it bought from Iraq from 2000 to 2002.

That sum, however, is nothing compared to the $20 million that–according to another report– U.S. oil giant Chevron apparently paid indirectly to Saddam during the same period. Chevron will now pay between $25 to $50 million dollars in fines as part of a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department.

What has Condoleezza Rice to do with all that?

As she tells it, she was just a very concerned spectator. In January 2005, during Senate confirmation hearings to be the nation’s next Secretary of State, Ms. Rice expressed her outrage at revelations that Saddam had used some of the billions he skimmed from the Oil-for-Food program to purchase dual use equipment that could have been used to produce WMD.

“I think it is a scandal what happened with Oil-for-Food” She told the senators. “We’ve got to get to the bottom of what happened here…and those who were responsible, I think, should be held accountable.”

Right, except that during much of the period that Chevron was violating the sanctions, Condoleezza Rice was on the Chevron Board of Directors. She went on the board in 1991. Iraq began demanding the illegal surcharges in August 2000. By the time that Rice resigned from the board in January 15, 2001 to work in the White House, Chevron had already bought millions of barrels of crude from Iraq, even though Iraq’s supplemental charges violated the Oil-for-Food program.

According to the Volcker Committee which investigated the Oil-for-Food program, the fact that Saddam was charging illegal supplements was common knowledge in the oil industry.

Though it may be argued that boards of directors are often big name figureheads, according to Chevron’s own executives the company’s policy was that “board members must hear the bad news along with the good. And they should hear it in board meetings, before it appears in the newspapers.”

As Claudio Gatti, who wrote the IHT reports, pointed out, if any board members should have heard the bad news about illegal payments to Saddam, it would have been the board’s Public Policy Committee, established specifically to consider important legal, environmental and other policy issues. For two years, it was chaired by Condoleezza Rice. (Perhaps some enterprising reporter or congressional investigator will talk with other members of that committee to see if the subject ever came up.)

But Rice’s possible complicity in the Oil-for-Food scandal doesn’t stop there. At the beginning of 2001, she became President Bush’s National Security Advisor. One of her major preoccupations, of course, was Saddam Hussein. As she told the Senate committee in 2005, the United States relied on Oil-for-Food “to keep Saddam Hussein contained and checked. And clearly we weren’t doing that. The sanctions were breaking down. He was playing the international community like a violin.”

Who arguably better knew the music and some of the key players then Condoleezza Rice, fresh from the Chevron board?

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