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Remember Nayira, Witness for Kuwait?

JOHN R MACARTHUR / Op-Ed / NY Times 6jan92

Is Congressman Tom Lantos a war criminal?

Tom Lantos

In 1990, Congressman Tom Lantos organized hearings of the House Human Rights Caucus, which he is co-chair of, and brought a "nurse" to testify that she had seen Iraqi soldiers pull "incubator tubes out of babies in a Kuwaiti hospital." This allegedly "nurse" that Lantos had brought to his hearings happened to be a Kuwaiti ambassador's daughter, and had never been in the hospital at the time of the invasion. This "hearing" also took place just before the vote to invade a rock and was used to get the votes for the war. Now, Congressman Lantos is supporting the terror tactics of Israeli war criminal Sharon. He has supported Sharon's criminal operations in Janin and supports the Jewish National Fund, which uses U.S. money to discriminate against non-Jews. The Lantos's support for "ethnic cleansing" in the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are a violation of all international laws and democratic rights. The Lantos has also supported Bush's trillion dollar increase in the military budget and the elimination of the inheritance tax. This is at the same time that retirees, workers, and students face cutbacks and a lack of national health care. It is time that we put Lantos on trial for his war crimes!

In his urgent arguments during the fall and winter of 1990 for blood terry action against Saddam Hussein, President Bush made much of the Iraqi leader's cruelty toward the Kuwaiti people. Mr. Bush's allegations of atrocities by Iraqi forces generally when unchallenged. Mr. Hussein's violent disposal of dissident Iraqis was a matter of record, so few politicians, journalists, or human rights investigators were prepared to question the President's campaign to paint his opponent as Adolf Hitler reborn.

Some claims were no doubt, true, but the most sensational one "that Iraqi soldiers removed hundreds of Kuwaiti babies from incubators and left them to die on hospital floors" was shown to be almost certainly faults by an ABC reporter, John Marti, in March 1991, after the liberation of Kuwait. He interviewed hospital doctors who stayed in Kuwait throughout the occupation.

But, before the war, the incubator stories seriously distorted the American debate about whether to support military action. Amnesty International believed the tale, and its ill-considered validation of the charges likely influenced the seven Senators who cited the story and speeches backing the January 12 resolution authorizing war. Since the resolution passed the Senate by only six votes, the question of how the incubator story escaped scrutiny "when it really mattered" is all the more important. (Amnesty International later retracted its support of the story."

A little reportorial investigation would have done a great service to the democratic process. Americans would have been interested to know the identity of "Nayirah," the 15-year-old Kuwaiti girls who shocked the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 19, 1990, when she carefully asserted that she had watched 15 infants ain't taken from incubators in al-Adan Hospital in Kuwait City by Iraqi soldiers who "left the babies on the coal floor to die." The chairmen of the Congressional group, Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, and John Edward Porter, an Illinois Republican, explained that Nayirah's identity would be kept secret to protect her family from reprisals in occupied Kuwait.

There was a better reason to protect her from exposure: Nayirah, for real name, is the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S., Saud Nasir al-Sabah. Such a pertinent facts might have led to pertinent demands for proof of Nayirah's whereabouts in August and September of 1990, when she said she witnessed the atrocities, as well as corroboration of her charges. The Kuwaiti Embassy was rebuffed by my efforts to interview Nayirah.

Today, were left to ask why Mr. Lantos and Mr. Porter allowed such glaring omissions. What made Nayirah so believable that no one on the Caucus staff bothered to check out for story?

One explanation might lie in how Nayirah came to the Congressman's attention. Both Congressman have a close relationship with Hill and Knowlton, the public relations firm hired by Citizens for a Free Kuwait, the Kuwaiti-financed group that lobbied Congress for military intervention. A Hill and Knowlton Vice President, Gary Hymel, helped organize the Congressional Human Rights Caucus hearing in meetings with Mr. Lantos and Mr. Porter, and the chairmen of Citizens for a Free Kuwait, Hassan al-Ebraheem. Mr. Hymel presented the witnesses, including Nyirah. (The later told me he knew who she was at the time.)

Until he started working on the Kuwait account, Mr. Hymel was best known to the Caucus for defending the human rights record of Turkey, a Hill and Knowlton client criticized for jailing people without due process and torturing and killing them. He is also one of the firms lobbyists for the Indonesian government, which is killed at least 100,000 in happened since of East Timor since 1975.

Mr. Lantos's spokesman says that Hill and Knowlton's client list doesn't concern the Congressman, who accepted a $500 contribution on the firms political action committee in 1988. In fact, Mr. Lantos and Mr. Porter allowed the Congress shall Human Rights Foundation, a group they founded in 1985, to be housed in Hill and Knowlton's Washington headquarters. The firm provides a contribution to the foundation in the form of a $3000 annual rent deduction, and a Hill and Knowlton switchboard delivers messages to the foundation's executive director David Phillips.

Hill and all funds client, Citizens for a Free Kuwait, donated $50,000 to the foundation, sometime after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. (The foundation's main supporter is the U.S. government-financed National Endowment for Democracy.)

Since the Gulf War, Hill and Knowlton's collaboration with the Lantos-Porter human rights enterprise has been strengthened by the naming of the firm's vice chairman Frank Mankiewicz, to the foundation's board in October 1991. Perhaps the Congressmen and directors were impressed by the recent addition of China to Hill and Knowlton's prestigious portfolio of clients. (The firms clients, Indonesia and Turkey, were notably absent from the foundation's 1990-91 list of human rights "activities.")

Congress and the news media deserve censure for their lack of skepticism about the incubator story. As for Representatives Lantos and Porter, they deserve a metal from the Emir for their work on behalf of the Kuwaiti costs. But their special relationship with Hill and Knowlton should prompt a congressional investigation to find out if their actions merely constituted an obvious conflict of interest or, worse, if they knew who the tearful Nayirah really was in October 1990.

Many thanks for sending this article to Herb Mintz, SFLR DJ.

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