By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 5, 2007
The Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has thwarted investigations into corruption at the top levels of his administration, including probes of his relatives, while nearly four dozen anti-corruption employees or their family members have been brutally murdered, the former top Iraqi corruption investigator told a House panel yesterday.
Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, the former commissioner of the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity, has sought asylum in the United States, according to Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Radhi said his investigators had uncovered "rampant" corruption in Iraqi ministries that had cost the country as much as $18 billion, but only 241 cases, out of 3,000 forwarded to the courts, had been adjudicated.
"We have learned the hard way that the corrupt will stop at nothing," Radhi said. "They are so corrupt that they will attack their accusers and their families with guns and meat hooks, as well as countercharges of corruption." Radhi recounted how one staff member "was gunned down with his seven-month-pregnant wife," his security chief's father was found dead on a meat hook and how the body of the father of another staff member was riddled with holes from a power drill.
Radhi's grim account was buttressed by documents released by the committee showing how Maliki's office blocked investigations, by similar assessments from a new report by the Government Accountability Office, and by testimony from Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction. Comptroller General David M. Walker said the GAO found that the Bush administration lacks direction and has no clearly defined strategy to improve the performance of Iraqi ministries.
But unsuccessful efforts by lawmakers to elicit at the hearing a response from the State Department on the extent of Iraqi corruption resulted in a series of increasingly testy exchanges. Waxman, angered because the State Department had retroactively classified internal memos that had begun to appear on the Internet, charged that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is facing a confrontation with Congress because "these efforts to silence debate are an absolute embarrassment."
Waxman asked Larry Butler, a deputy assistant secretary of state and the State Department witness: "Do you believe that the government of Iraq currently has the political will or the capability to root out corruption within its government?"
"Mr. Chairman, questions which go to the broad nature of our bilateral relationship with Iraq are best answered in a classified setting," Butler responded.
Waxman tried several more times, but Butler calmly insisted that such a discussion could take place only in a classified briefing.
Waxman asked: "Why can you talk about the positive things and not the negative things? Shouldn't we have the whole picture?"
"Mr. Chairman, I would be very pleased to answer those questions in an appropriate setting," Butler responded, eliciting laughter in the hearing room.
"An appropriate setting for positive things is a congressional hearing, but to say anything negative has to be behind closed doors?" Waxman asked.
"This goes to the very heart of diplomatic relations and national security," Butler said. "This is our ability to . . ." Waxman cut Butler off in mid-sentence. "It goes to the heart of propaganda," he said.
Waxman said that State's position was "absolutely absurd," but Republicans sprang to Butler's defense. "I'm not disappointed in your testimony," Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) said. "In my judgment, you're being asked to say that individuals in Iraq are corrupt and then we have to work with those individuals."
Radhi delivered his opening statement in English, then took questions through an interpreter. He said Maliki had refused to recognize the independence of the Commission on Public Integrity, set up in 2004, though that independence is enshrined in the Iraqi constitution. Giving one example, he said that a legal provision dating from 1971 had been invoked to prevent the transmission of cases to court "unless we received permission from the minister of the agency we were investigating."
As for corrupt ministers, cases could not proceed without permission from Maliki. In particular, Radhi pointed to an inability to investigate corruption involving oil, which he said "resulted in the Ministry of Oil effectively financing terrorism through these militias," which control the transport and distribution of oil.
Some Republican lawmakers tried to cast doubt on Radhi's credibility. Rep. Dan Burton (Ind.) accused Radhi of working for "the Saddam Hussein regime" from 1979 to 1992 as public prosecutor. "How did you get those jobs?" he asked.
Radhi, speaking through an interpreter, said that he received them through "my hard work, my studying and my work at the judicial institute," but that he was jailed and "they broke the bones of my head" because "under Saddam Hussein, I refused to do what he was asking."
Butler, the State Department official, lauded Radhi. "I can only offer tribute to the courage and the tenacity of the judge, and his departure from the scene is a blow," he said. "It may be a while before somebody with his capacity and willingness steps in to replace him."