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The Feds, Not Wyatt, Should Be Going to Jail

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Federal prosecutors are undoubtedly celebrating the one-year sentence doled out to 83-year-old Houston oilman Oscar Wyatt by a federal district judge. Wyatt committed the heinous federal “crime” of violating the federal government’s infamous “oil-for-food” program by paying a $200,000 bribe to Saddam Hussein’s regime in exchange for the purchase of Iraqi oil under the program.

Never mind that the feds were providing aid to Saddam during the 1980s in the form of weapons of mass destruction to help him kill Iranians. Never mind that the feds provided aid to the Shah of Iran to help him torture and brutalize the Iranian people. Never mind that the feds funnel billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money into the coffers of the Pervez Musharraf regime, one of the world’s most brutal and corrupt dictatorial regimes. Never mind that the feds provide millions of dollars in drug-war money to corrupt dictatorial regimes in Latin America.

The lesson here is a simple one: The feds, not American businessmen, will decide which dictatorial regimes will be supported with cash and which ones will not be supported. Wyatt’s “crime” was putting private money into the coffers of a dictator who had once been in favor with the feds but who had now fallen out of favor.

The “oil-for-food” program was the socialist program that the feds came up with in response to growing outrage in the world over what the brutal sanctions were doing to the Iraqi people, especially Iraqi children. The best estimates are that the sanctions contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. The federal attitude toward those deaths was perfectly reflected in the words of UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright, who told “Sixty Minutes” that, yes, the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were “worth it.” What she meant by “it” was the attempt to oust Saddam Hussein from power and replace him with a U.S.-approved stooge, such as Chalabi or Allawi, which of course was the real goal of President Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, after the sanctions had failed to achieve the desired regime change.

As the brutal sanctions continued taking their toll on the Iraqi children and on Iraqi life, without any real effect on Saddam’s grip on power, U.S. officials steadfastly refused to lift the sanctions. Instead, they came up with their infamous “oil-for-food” program, which was just another standard Washington, D.C., central-planning (i.e., socialist) program designed to make it look that the feds were “doing something” for the Iraqi people. In fact, the program became a great big bureaucratic game for D.C. officials. For the best description of the brutal gamesmanship that the feds engaged in, read “Cool War” by Joy Gordon.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that when you set up a socialist/interventionist program, the opportunity arises for bribery, extortion, and blackmail. That, in fact, is why governments riddle their economic systems with thousands of rules and regulations.

It also shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Saddam Hussein regime would seek bribes from such a program. That’s the way dictatorial regimes operate. Does anyone really think that Gen. Musharraf and his military goons are not squirreling away some money out of those billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars that President Bush has funneled into the country? Does anyone really think that the Latin American regimes that received millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money, such as Columbia and Mexico, don’t put some of that money into the private bank accounts of government officials? Does anyone really think that the billions of dollars that the feds shipped into Iraq to “rebuild” the country and that are now accounted for weren’t used for bribes? Heck, while we’re on the subject of bribes, should we just ignore all those federal grants that incumbent politicians and bureaucrats offer voters at election time?

No doubt the federal prosecutors in the Wyatt case were filled with self-righteous indignation over what a bad person Wyatt is in paying the bribe. Never mind that the federal judge who sentenced him was flooded with so many letters praising Wyatt and the exemplary life he has led that he actually gave him a sentence lower than the minimum provided by official sentencing guidelines.

For his part, Wyatt expressed deep remorse over his conduct and even broke down into tears, which is what the feds love to see. Too bad Wyatt didn’t instead say, “Judge, the feds had no right to brutalize Iraqi children with their sanctions, and the oil-for-food program was just a federal scam and sham to cover up the deadly effect of the sanctions. As a businessman, my job is to make a profit by satisfying consumers with a product they need and want. The surcharge that the Iraqi regime was charging me and other oil companies arose as a direct consequence of the oil-for-food program. It was just one more cost of doing business, a cost that arose as a direct consequence of federal meddling in the Middle East. Anyway, what’s the difference between my putting money into the pockets of foreign dictators and the foreign aid that the feds put into the pockets of foreign dictators, except that my money is my own and the money that the feds use has been taken from American taxpayers? It’s the feds, not me, who deserve to be here in the dock for the holocaust they have brought to Iraq, a holocaust that has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people, including Iraqi children, not to mention the destruction of the entire country.”

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.