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One-Man Debate Last February San Antonio Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez began an extraordi nary series of special orders speeches on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. Most of the speeches have been delivered in a near-empty chamber while a junior representative, designated speaker pro tempore, presided and a C-SPAN crew trained its camera on Gonzalez. The speeches are, in a sense, part of a thorough debate that Congress is supposed to conduct before this republic goes to war. The war ended 15 months ago when George Bush declared a cease-fire in Iraq. The debate never really occurred. Henry B. continues. The speeches are not polemics. Although the tone is at times polemical, these are expository speeches, explaining fact-by-fact, partyby-party and date-by-date how a bank owned by the Italian government and operating though its Atlanta branch provided $4 billion in credit much of it guaranteed by the U.S. government to Iraq. The loans were used by Iraq to purchase from American and Western European businesses material and technology used to build the Iraqi war machine, material such as “chemicals, specialty steel products, sophisticated computer controlled industrial machinery, electronic components, computers, and engineering and construction service.” There is sufficient information in the speeches to have already provided the raw material for one long investigative series in the Los Angeles Times, at least one New York Times news feature, a comprehensive article written by a TV producer for the New Republic and a U.S. News & World Report cover story. It’s not that an Iraq arms procurement scandal like the one that rocked Germany after the Gulf War hasn’t occurred here. It just hasn’t been reported. And it now appears that it hasn’t been reported because the Bush Administration is withholding information. Gonzalez has released some of that information, at times circumventing the U.S. government and presenting documents and press clips readily available in Germany, England, or Italy. Already New York Times columnist and former Nixon speech writer William Safire is writing about “Crimes of Iraqgate,” and somebody ought to be nominating House Banking Committee researcher Dennis Kane for a Pulitzer Prize in journalism. “The American people,” Gonzalez says, “have a right to know.” What does Henry B. know that the people don’t? We begin at the beginning. He knows that the Bush Administration is steadfastly opposed to the chair of the House Banking Committee conducting these hearings. In his first speech. Gonzalez introduces the text of a letter written by then-U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, warning against release of sensifive information. Thomburgh’s letter, all of which is included in the first special orders speech, delivered February 4, 1991, says, in part: “The purpose of this letter is to express my profound disappointment in your decision to ignore the strong objections of this Department in the “As you should be aware, this is a sensitiv case with national security concerns. The United States Attorney in Atlanta advises me that both witness security and the willingness of witnesses to continue to cooperate with the investigation and prosecutions will be jeopardized by your Congressional staff interviews and hearing.” Part of Gonzalez’s response to the Attorney General was also read into the record: “The purpose of this letter is to respond to your letter of September 26, 1990, and to express my distress over your apparent lack of understanding of the investigative and legislative functions of the Congress.” The Attorney General’s concern might have been legitimate. The Justice Department was and is investigating the bank, and in fact when Thornburgh wrote his letter, indictments were about to be handed down. But part of what the House Banking Committee and investigator Kane turned up pertained to the questionable nature of the federal investigation itself. With no one to investigate the investigation, important facts might have never come to light. For example, Gonzalez questioned the Bush Administration’s appointment of Joe Whitley as U.S. attorney in Atlanta. At the time of Whitley’s appointment, the Atlanta office of the U.S. Justice Department was conducting an investigation of BNL and its clients, including Cleveland-based Matrix-Churchill Ltd., allegedly “an Iraqi-owned exporter used by Saddam Hussein to acquire technologies for nuclear devices and rockets.” Before being hired by the Justice Department Whitley was working for a law firm representing Matrix-Churchill. Whitley, hired to lead a prosecution team, was a prosecutor who couldn’t prosecute. He recused himself from the case he was hired to direct and his recusal had the effect of slowing the investigation down. The indictment was handed down the day after Bush announced the cease fire in the Persian Gulf. It is with Matrix-Churchill’s relationship with the bank that Congressman Gonzalez begins, in a speech he delivered before ground troops went into combat in Iraq in February of 1991. “Iraqis secretly owned Matrix-Churchill and its affiliate in England and used both to obtain computer-controlled lathes and other industrial machinery that went into the Taji Cannon Complex,” a weapon manufacturing plant, Gonzalez said on the floor of the House. “…Matrix-Churchill helped find U.S. contractors to build a fiberglass plant and sophisticated cutting tool plant in Iraq. The cutting plant may have been used to manufacture parts with nuclear applications, while the fiberglass plant was supposedly used to produce missile casings.” Matrix-Churchill was one of a number of American exporters that took advantage of loans available at BNL’s Atlanta office. The bank, with assets of $8 billion in the United States and $100 billion internationally, was raided by the FBI in 1989, for allegedly maintaining an offbook operation in Atlanta. There the bank raised and loaned billions of dollars, which allegedly were not reported to U.S. regulatory agencies nor to the Italian government. The bank also used several U.S. loan guarantee programs to insure its loans, and now, Gonzalez contends, the U.S. taxpayer is left with the tab. None of this could have taken place, Gonzalez argues, had not Ronald Reagan officially reestablished normal diplomatic contacts with Iraq in 1984. The Reagan-Bush plan was to strengthen Iraq so that it might serve as a counterbalance to the Islamic fundamentalism of Iran, with whom Iraq was at war. “It appears that the U.S. wanted Iran to lose the war so bad that it was willing to reestablish diplomatic relations with Saddam Hussein’s terrorist regime after a 17-year interruption, even though many believed Iraq was still harboring terrorists,” Gonzalez said. By now, the Reagan-Bush team’s cozying up to Iraq is old news. But it is notable in this context for at least two reasons. One is the climate in which Gonzalez’s first special orders speech was delivered. American planes were in the air, troops were on the ground, and most Americans, in and out of Congress, had blindly rallied around a President bent on destroying a dictator he had helped arm. Also, the Reagan-Bush “tilt toward Iraq” and their tradebased foreign policy made possible what the chair of the House Banking Committee describes as one of the largest bank scandals in the history of the United States, and what “Dateline NBC” producer Mark Hosenball now calls a foreign policy debacle that “could be more devastating to the Reagan and Bush administrations than the Iran-contra affair.” number of important questions. What were the connections of Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger with the Iraq arms scandal? What part was played by A. Robert Abboud, the former chairman of First City Bank of Houston who traveled to Baghdad with a trade mission? How could a VolvoGeneral Motors delegation have traveled to Iraq, met with a commission directed by a brigadier general and with the secretary and deputy secretaries of the Ministry of Industry and Armament, visited plants “considered top secret defense operations in any country,” yet return to claim that the equipMent they were planning to sell was intended for civilian use? How is it that information denied to a member of Congress is available in press reports in Germany and Italy? In the next issue of the Observer we will consider the answers to these questions as we explore in detail Congressman Gonzalez’s special order speeches. L.D. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5