| US vice-president Dick Cheney
New York, July 22: Documents released under America’s Freedom of Information Act reveal that an energy task force led by vice-president Dick Cheney was examining Iraq’s oil assets two years before the latest war began.
The papers were obtained after a long battle with the White House by Judicial Watch, a conservative legal charity that opposes government secrecy and which is suing for the dealings of the task force to be made public.
The emergence of the documents could fuel claims that America’s war in Iraq had as much to do with oil as national security. It also indicates that the Bush administration is beginning to lose the battle to keep its internal workings secret.
The 16 pages, dated March 2001, show maps of Iraq oil fields, pipelines, refineries and terminals. A document titled Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts is also included, listing which countries were keen to do business with Saddam’s regime.
Judicial Watch requested the papers two years ago as part of its investigation into links between the Bush administration and senior energy executives including Enron’s former chairman Ken Lay.
Cheney has fought the release of the documents at every stage.
A court ordered two weeks ago that at least some of the task force’s working papers should be made public.
Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said: “People will draw their own conclusions about the documents, but that is what an open society is about. Given the delay in their release, the Bush administration clearly did not want them to come out”.
A spokesperson for Cheney did not return calls yesterday. The US commerce department said in a statement: “It is the responsibility of the commerce department to serve as a commercial liaison for US companies doing business around the world, including those that develop and utilise energy resources. The energy task force evaluated regions of the world that are vital to global energy supply.”
Judicial Watch isn’t claiming that the documents are proof of any particular intent but say they should be open to public scrutiny.
Fitton said: “Opponents of the war will point to the documents as evidence that the Bush administration was after Iraqi oil. Supporters will say the energy task force would have been remiss if it did not take Iraq’s oil into account.” Nevertheless, the documents represent a surprising development.
Until now it had been assumed that the US government was stonewalling over the energy task force papers because they would show the extent to which major party benefactors, including Enron, effectively wrote national energy policy.
Judicial Watch and other watchdogs are now curious what else may be revealed. A court ordered the government to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and give up these documents more than a year ago. Judicial Watch said it could not explain why the papers were suddenly released.