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Rice in Rare Testimony, in Rare Form

Rice in Rare Testimony, in Rare Form

By Matt Renner
t r u t h o u t | Report

In combative and analytical testimony, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended her department's work in Iraq in front of a Congressional committee that has uncovered multiple failures and potentially criminal actions taken by State Department officials and contractors.

The State Department is under investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for potential failures in combating corruption within the Iraqi government, mismanagement of funds and assisting in cover-ups by contractors accused of murder.

In his opening statement, Congressman Henry Waxman (D-California) explained why the Committee's investigation was relevant to the situation in Iraq: " ... almost every expert agrees that political reconciliation is the key to achieving lasting peace in Iraq. As General Petraeus has observed: 'There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq.' I think that's exactly right. And that's why it's so important to assess what the State Department is doing in Iraq and to understand the impacts that corruption, mismanagement, and lax oversight are having on our mission."

In her first appearance before a Democratically-controlled Oversight Committee, Rice was aggressive. The members of the Committee were given five minutes to have their questions answered. Rice, known for her long explanations and attempts to filibuster, at times talked over committee members who were attempting to cut her off.

Rice stated that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the liberation of Iraq were worth the money and sacrifice of life. She blamed the current chaos in Iraq on the previous regime, stating the stabilizing Iraq "has been harder than we thought because we didn't realize how broken the country was under Saddam Hussein."

Republicans accused Democrats of holding these hearings to try and force a withdrawal of US forces. Congressman Christopher Shays (D-Connecticut) said that Democrats thought because Iraq is corrupt, the US should withdraw troops, calling this notion "patently absurd."

Congressman William Lacy Clay attacked Republicans, accusing the State Department and the Bush administration of ignoring multiple incidents where Blackwater protectors killed innocent Iraqi civilians with impunity.

In response to charges that private security firms were not held accountable for their aggressive behavior, Rice dogged responsibility by repeatedly referring to a "lacuna" or a gap in the law that prevented the contractors from being prosecuted.

Much of Thursday's contentious hearing focused on the State Department's mission to help create a functioning government in Iraq. Rice refused to publicly answer many specific questions regarding political corruption in Iraq; she argued public criticism could undermine the political progress. Democrats on the Committee pressed the issue, insisting the public had a right to know about the state of the Iraqi government.

An internal order from Maliki to the Iraqi General Commission of Integrity, Iraq's version of an inspector general, revealed Maliki had undermined the Commission's ability to conduct oversight and fight political corruption. By forcing the investigative body to seek his approval of all prosecutions against current and former Iraqi politicians, Maliki politicized the body.

When Waxman asked Rice about allegations Maliki had intervened in an investigation of his cousin who serves as Iraq's Minister of Transportation, Rice responded by saying, "I am not personally following every allegation of corruption in Iraq Mr. Chairman, but I am certain that we are tracking these allegations of corruption because ... no one is more concerned about what is a pervasive problem of corruption than we are."

When pressed on the issue by Waxman, Rice said, "I can't comment on this specific allegation, I don't want to do so without reviewing precisely what you are talking about." Rice argued commenting on the specific investigation "would be deeply damaging."

Previously the State Department refused to discuss corruption investigations against the Maliki government unless the Oversight Committee agreed to treat the information as national security secrets.

According to Rice, Howard Krongard, the State Department inspector general, will answer extensive misconduct allegations made against him by his current and former employees. Krongard has been accused of interfering in Department of Justice investigations, censoring State Department Inspector's reports and covering up fraudulent and inhumane practices by State Department contractors.

"Howard Krongard has said that he wants very much to answer all the questions and allegations that have been put against him and that he will do that," Rice said. She did not specify whether Krongard would appear before the Oversight Committee.

According to Waxman, the State Department has been the least cooperative body within the Bush administration. In a heated exchange over the production of State Department documents that have not been turned over to Congress, Waxman said "your department has been the most difficult to get documents from." Rice claimed there are State Department staffers hard at work to locate relevant material for the Committee.

An October 16 resolution rebuking the State Department for "withholding information relating to corruption in Iraq," passed the full House of Representatives by a vote of 395-21. This bipartisan vote may have prompted the State Department to cooperate in Thursday's hearings.

The Oversight Committee issued a subpoena for Rice's testimony regarding her role in the controversy over false intelligence claims made prior to the war in Iraq. She said publicly she would not comply with this subpoena and no questions about pre-war intelligence were asked during Thursday's hearing. Waxman has not commented on this subpoena and has not sought to enforce it publicly.


Matt Renner is an assistant editor and Washington reporter for Truthout.

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