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Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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March 28, 2008 7:24 AM

More on McDermott's trip to Iraq

Posted by David Postman

I was away from the blog yesterday as I did some reporting for the paper on how Congressman Jim McDermott’s trip to Iraq ended up being paid for by a man the U.S. government says was a paid agent of Saddam Hussein. You can see that story here.

Bert Sacks with the Seattle-based Interfaith Network of Concern for the People of Iraq & Citizens Concerned for the People of Iraq told me that his group was set to pay for the trip. But then he got a call out of the blue from a man offering to pick up the tab for McDermott and other members of Congress making the pre-war trip.

Sacks has a long history with Iraq. (And maintains a blog on the subject.) He made nine trips before the U.S. invasion. One of those trips led the U.S. government to fine him for violating sanctions against Iraq.

Muthanna Al-Hanooti, the Iraqi-American the government indicted this week was well known in the Detroit area. People there, according to the AP, were shocked to hear that he was an alleged spy.

Sacks was unhappy with some of the coverage of Al-Hanooti's indictment because it said that Al-Hanooti had organized the trip. Sacks told me that he organized half the trip, though not the appointments with high-ranking Iraqi officials.

He wrote this letter to the editor of the New York Times:

Your article "U.S. Says Hussein Spy Agency and Iraqi Organized '02 Trip by Congressmen to Iraq" (p A15, 3/27/08) claims that they "organized and paid for" the trip by Congressmen to Iraq. However the Washington church group you refer to had already organized the trip and begun to pay for it before any involvement with the Detroit-based charity. I helped found that church group. I made the first of nine trips to Iraq in 1996 -- six months after hearing Madeleine Albright say on national television that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were "worth the price." By going to Iraq and learning about the sanctions, I came to say publicly in Seattle (January 3, 2003) that our conflict with Iraq "has always been about regime change. It has never been about weapons of mass destruction." That's a prescient statement -- it might have saved many, many lives.

MORE: Sacks just called. He’s unhappy that my story didn’t include more about the effects of U.S. sanctions on Iraq. He called that “death by omission.”

It’s not the first time he’s thought the Times glossed over, or even censored, news about sanctions. He has posted a chart that tracks some examples.

A bit of discussion about sanctions got cut from my story for space. (I wrote too long.) Sacks told me yesterday that at a meeting of peace activists in about 1998 McDermott watched from the back of the room during a discussion about sanctions. Sacks said:

Some people got angry at Jim and said, "You need to go over there. You need to see what’s happening to children," which at that point was 5,000 deaths a month.

Sacks says the Al-Hanooti indictment is a “small story” while the deaths of Iraqi children “is an overwhelmingly major story that no one is covering.”

Sacks had worked for years to get McDermott to Iraq as part of his efforts to fight U.S. sanctions against Saddam’s regime. I asked him yesterday if he thought the 2002 trip by McDermott and the other members of Congress did any good in that effort.

It was simply too late and too little. If the purpose was to educate people about the sanctions it was quite late in the game and if the goal was to try to draw attention to what might happen if we went to war, it was too late.

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