Total Immunity?

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When the UN passed Resolution 1483, it probably had the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind. The proceeds of Iraqi oil sales are supposed to be added directly to the Iraq Development Fund. At the US’s insistence, the Development Fund is controlled by the US (and overseen by representatives from the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the UN). But ultimately, Resolution 1483 was meant to insure that the proceeds from the sale of crude oil and natural gas, Iraq’s most profitable resources, went to benefit the impoverished citizens of the war-torn country. To that end, the UN resolution provided legal immunity for any revenues generated from the sale of Iraqi oil. Ideally, the profits of Iraqi oil sales would go into the development fund, and, ideally, to the Iraqi people.

President Bush was extremely supportive of Resolution 1483 — especially that stipulation about legal immunity. Our man in the White House was so enthusiastic that he took it upon himself to write up an executive order that broadened the immunity stipulation. Where the UN Resolution ends immunity at the point of sale, Executive Order 13303 guarantees immunity from the ground to the pump — and covers any advertising or promotion involved therein. Lisa Girion of the Los Angeles Times reports:

“According to the order, ‘any attachment, judgment, decree, lien, execution, garnishment or other judicial process is prohibited, and shall be deemed null and void, with respect to the following:

(a) the Development Fund for Iraq and

(b) all Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products, and interests therein, and proceeds, obligations or any financial instruments of any nature whatsoever arising from or related to the sale or marketing thereof, and interests therein, in which any foreign country or a national thereof has any interest, that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons.’

The order defines ‘persons’ to include corporations, and covers ‘any petroleum, petroleum products or natural gas originating in Iraq, including any Iraqi-origin oil inventories, wherever located.'”

That’s right. It’s a blanket immunity for US-based — and only US-based — corporations. Jim Vallette, an analyst with the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network, is the man who came across 13303 in the Federal Register and realized something was amiss. He explained the difference between the UN Resolution and Bush’s executive order to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!:

“The Iraqi resolution halted the immunity to the point of sale. Once the oil is sold, the revenues are there for the development fund’s Coffers. Bush went further, he went through the whole lifetime of that oil, once the title passes hands, it’s still immune, as long as it’s handled by U.S. corporations. So once it’s on a tanker, once in the U.S. marketplace, once it’s at the gas pump, it’s still immune from any kind of accountability for anything that happens associated with the handling of that oil.”

Aside from the logical decision to end immunity after the initial sale of crude oil, the UN resolution provides an exception to that immunity in the event of an oil spill or other ecological disaster. Shockingly, the ever-green Bush neglected to include that exception in his executive order. So if an oil tanker leaks or spills Iraqi oil, the US corporation and individuals responsible wouldn’t actually be held, well — responsible. And an ecological disaster could be just the tip of immunity iceberg, report Vallette and Steve Kretzmann for Common Dreams:

“Anything that could go, and elsewhere has gone, awry with U.S. corporate oil operations will be immune to judgment: a massive tanker accident; an explosion at an oil refinery; the employment of slave labor to build a pipeline; murder of locals by corporate security; the release of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The President, with a stroke of the pen, signed away the rights of Saddam’s victims, creditors and of the next true Iraqi government to be compensated through legal action. Bush’s order unilaterally declares Iraqi oil to be the unassailable province of U.S. corporations.”

Tom Devine, legal director of the Democratic think tank Government Accountability Project (GAP), is one of 13303’s most vocal critics. Calling the order “a blank check for corporate anarchy,” Devine told the LA Times’ Gririon that the order “appears to cancel the rule of law for the oil industry or anyone else who gets possession or control of Iraqi oil or anything of value related to Iraqi oil.”

So a little legal provision that was initially meant to help Iraqis has been transformed by Bush’s over-zealous stamp of approval. And American corporations, again, stand to profit. This may no longer be surprising. But Kenneth Davidson of Australia’s The Age wonders where the line in the sand will be drawn. US soldiers are still in Iraq, and still — despite the administration’s pronouncement that the war is over — in harm’s way:

“The question is, for how long will US troops be prepared to risk death for Mr. Bush’s Texas oil mates?”

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This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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