An Iraqi “Eliot Ness” Out in the Cold–UPDATED

An Iraqi “Eliot Ness” Out in the Cold–UPDATED

An Iraqi “Eliot Ness” Out in the Cold–UPDATED

Three days ago, I called the State Department with a question: what is the Bush administration doing to help Radhi al-Radhi? The answer appears to be this: …


Three days ago, I called the State Department with a question: what is the Bush administration doing to help Radhi al-Radhi? The answer appears to be this: nothing.

I was referring to the former Iraqi judge who until recently was head of the Commission on Public Integrity, the independent government agency tasked with investigating corruption within the Iraqi government. As I’ve previously reported, earlier this month Radhi was forced out of his job by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, while Radhi and several of his investigators were attending a training session in Washington sponsored by the U.S. government. A draft of a secret U.S. embassy report–which was first revealed in this column–depicts Radhi as a diligent and serious (though hobbled) pursuer of the rampant corruption infesting the Maliki government. (You can read the full draft report–which concludes that corruption is the “norm” throughout most Iraqi ministries–here.)

Radhi was apparently tossed out of his job because he pushed too hard on corruption within the Maliki administration. He was replaced with a Maliki ally who last month was arrested on corruption charges. Moreover, the Iraqi government cut off Radhi’s funding while he was in the United States–except for a small pension of several hundred dollars a month. (As a former government official who held a minister’s rank, Radhi says he is due ten times as much in retirement pay.) Given that Radhi has accused past and present government officials of corruption and has recently said that the Maliki administration is so rotten it ought to be abolished, it would be unwise for him to return to Iraq, where his family remains. “I consider him Iraq’s version of Eliot Ness,” says Chris King, an American who was a senior adviser to Radhi in Iraq. “Time and time again, he put himself and his family at risk to prosecute corruption and promote the rule of law in a nonsectarian, non-ethnic, non-tribal and nonpolitical manner.”

Now Radhi has essentially been stranded in the United States. Last week, the 62-year-old former jurist, who was imprisoned and tortured during Saddam Hussein’s regime, had to leave the Alexandria, Virginia, hotel where he was staying because he could not pay the bill.

Up until Maliki and his allies removed Radhi, State Department advisers were working with Radhi and his anticorruption commission. It was the U.S. government that brought him and his investigators to Washington for training sessions conducted by the Justice Department and the Defense Department. But now the State Department, according to Radhi associates and U.S. government officials, is not aiding the former judge. “No U.S. government agency has provided him any help to date,” says a Radhi associate. On Monday morning, I asked Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokesperson, if this is true. She promised a quick answer. No reply came quickly. When I called again, she told me she had to check with Bureau of Near East Affairs and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. On Wednesday afternoon, Thompson called with an official response:

State Department officials have met with Judge Radhi and are aware of his situation. As a standard practice, we do not comment on private conversations.

But according to Radhi associates, State Department officials met with him about two weeks ago, and Radhi has not heard anything from the department since then. “Judge Radhi is in immigration limbo,” says Christopher Nugent, a lawyer who is working pro bono with Radhi. “He is a man without a state, contemplating his options.”

It’s no surprise the State Department has displayed little interest in assisting Radhi. For the Bush administration, Radhi is an inconvenient Iraqi. And he is speaking out while in the United States. Radhi is scheduled to testify about corruption in the Iraqi government next week before the House oversight and government reform committee chaired by Representative Henry Waxman. (On Tuesday, Waxman released a letter noting that according to seven current and former officials, State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard has repeatedly interfered with investigations to protect the White House and State Department from political embarrassment.)

When Radhi appears before Waxman’s committee, his testimony can be expected to shoot a hole in the Bush administration’s rationale for its military action in Iraq. George W. Bush has said the point of the so-called surge is to create “breathing space” in which Maliki’s government can achieve national reconciliation and provide basic services to the people of Iraq. Yet Radhi says the Maliki government is so sleaze-ridden and so dominated by criminals that it cannot achieve anything. This raises an obvious question: is the current Iraqi government worth dying and killing for?

During their recent appearances on Capitol Hill, General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker did not address the issue of corruption within the Maliki government. The pair discussed the Maliki administration in hopeful and positive terms. Crocker saluted Maliki’s “patriotism.” But Radhi’s damning conclusions about the Maliki administration challenge Bush’s strategy, which is predicated on the notion that the Maliki administration, given a chance, can take meaningful steps to bring peace and security to Iraq.

The Bush White House is apparently not eager to see Radhi testify that the Maliki government is a criminally-run cesspool of fraud and waste. That may explain why the State Department has abandoned Radhi. The State Department also has no plans, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Iraq, to release the draft report detailing corruption in the Iraqi government. In fact, according to Waxman, the State Department may try to classify that report retroactively. The copy of the draft I obtained was marked “SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED.”

The State Department also has withheld this secret U.S. embassy document from Congress. On September 10, Waxman sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rive requesting copies of “all reports prepared by the Office of Accountability and Transparency [within the State Department], whether classified or unclassified, relating to the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity.” This request covered the secret U.S. embassy report on Iraqi corruption, for this report was drafted by officials of the Office of Accountability and Transparency [OAT]. The State Department refused to turn over to Waxman any OAT records, but it allowed staffmembers of Waxman’s committee to inspect documents at the State Department. After that review, Waxman reiterated his demand that copies be given to the committee. (The 82-page draft report, though, was posted on the Internet this week.)

Waxman’s committee also requested interviews with three Office of Accountability and Transparency officials who worked on Iraqi corruption matters. One, James Mattil, showed up for an interview. The State Department refused to make the other two officials–Vincent Foulk and Christopher Griffith–available to the committee.

Yesterday, Waxman sent another letter to Rice demanding that the OAT documents be handed over today and that Foulk, Griffith, and James Santelle, the rule of law coordinator at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, appear for interviews with the committee. Waxman noted he was prepared to subpoena the State Department if the documents and witnesses were not produced.

Keep Radhi isolated, cover up the draft report and other documents on corruption, sit on witnesses–the State Department is doing what it can to prevent the issue of corruption from undermining the White House’s current rationale for the war. Radhi, who would like to return to his job pursuing fraud and waste in Iraq (but who knows that’s not likely to happen), says he has no political agenda. He merely wants the truth about the Iraqi government to be known. “His only commitment,” says an associate, “is to the rule of law and transparency.” But Radhi’s truth is trouble for the Bush administration. As he has gone from U.S.-supported investigator to an in-the-cold whistleblower, it looks as if the Bush administration has decided that regarding Radhi the mission is a simple one: cut and run.

UPDATE: As I reported above, Representative Henry Waxman, the chairman of House government oversight and reform committee, on September 19 asked the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to turn over to him a copy of the secret draft Baghdad embassy report on corruption in the Iraqi government and other documents and to produce three State Department officials for interviews with committee investigators.

Rice had not done so. In response, Waxman has issued subpoenas to the State Department for these records and witnesses.

Meanwhile, Waxman’s committee is proceeding with the hearing on Iraqi corruption–scheduled for September 27–that will feature Radhi.

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