OPENING STATEMENT OF SENATOR LAUCH FAIRCLOTH

Senator FAIRCLOTH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I want to thank you for holding this hearing. It's necessary and it's going to serve an excellent purpose.

In the wake of the Gulf War, it is time we looked back to see what was done wrong and what was done right. We can't change what was done, but we will be accountable for what we do now.

My statement also gets to another cover-up of that conflict, not as touching as the sick veterans, but well worth a review.

The Commerce Department has a lot of questions to answer about its role leading up to the Gulf War. It is also time that we in the Banking Committee revisit a current Commerce Department nominee—Lauri Fitz-Pegado, who played a crucial role in shaping public opinion toward U.S. involvement, and she did it by personally orchestrating perjured testimony before Congress.

Mr. Chairman, in 1990, after the Iraqi invasion of their country, the Kuwaiti government in exile formed Citizens for a Free Kuwait. They hired the lobbying firm of Hill and Knowlton to influence public opinion in this country toward entering the conflict. Lauri Fitz-Pegado was in charge of the effort.

Her strategy was to use alleged witnesses to atrocities, to tell stories of human rights violations in occupied Kuwait. Using their testimony, she orchestrated what has come to be known as the Baby Incubator Fraud.

She first coached a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl, identified only at the time as Naira, to testify before Congress that she had seen Iraqi soldiers remove Kuwaiti babies from hospital respirators. Naira claimed to be a refugee who had been working as a volunteer in a Kuwaiti hospital throughout the first few weeks of the Iraqi occupation. She said that she bad seen them take babies out of the incubators, take the incubators, and leave the babies "on the cold floor to die."

Naira's emotional testimony riveted human rights organizations, the news mediums, and the Nation. That incident was cited by six Members of the U.S. Senate as reasons to go to war with Iraq.

However, it was later discovered that the girl was in fact the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. It turns out that Lauri Fitz-Pegado had concealed Naira's real identity. Since then, reputable human rights organizations and journalists have concluded that the baby incubator story was an outright fabrication. Every study commissioned by the Kuwaiti government could not produce a shred of evidence that the ambassador's daughter had been back in occupied Kuwait to do volunteer work in a hospital. It was a total fabrication.

Lauri Fitz-Pegado then put on a repeat performance in front of the U.S. Security Council on November 27, 1990. In the testimony before Congress, they claimed they couldn't fully identify who the witness was because they wanted to protect her family that supposedly was still trapped in Kuwait. But, in fact, they were here on Embassy Row.

In front of the United Nations, Lauri Fitz-Pegado abandoned that pretense and instead employed witnesses who testified using false names and occupations. The most important of these phony witnesses was a man who called himself Dr. Ebrahim. With Lauri Fitz-Pegado there in New York, he claimed to have personally buried 40 babies pulled from incubators by the Iraqis. Dr. Ebrahim told the Security Council that he was a surgeon. But after the war, when the scam was exposed as a total fraud, he admitted to being a dentist and had never buried any babies or seen any. More lies.

The Fitz-Pegado scam continues. Mr. Chairman, as a supporter of our country’s involvement in the Gulf War, I am offended that Lauri Fitz-Pegado believes that those kinds of illegal and unethical activities were necessary to get this country to face the threat of Saddam Hussein. None of & these facts and allegations were disclosed to either you Mr. Chairman, or other Members of the Banking Committee when her nomination was voted on here.

If confirmed, Lauri Fitz-Pegado would have control over a global network of 200 trade offices in 70 countries. My opposition is based not on party or ideology. It is based on the fact that there are few people in America who have less business being in charge of our Nation’s trade secrets than Lauri Fitz-Pegado.

Lauri Fitz-Pagado's nomination should be returned to the Banking Committee for further review. If it is not, then facts that are far more embarrassing to Ms. Fitz-Pegado and to others in Government will be revealed in other speeches and in long, protracted debate on the Senate floor.

Mr. Chairman, the Banking Committee was hoodwinked by a professional scam artist. Lauri Fitz-Pegado should be asked to disclose her entire past and then be prepared to defend what I believe is a totally indefensible past.

I thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Senator D’AMATO. Mr. Chairman.

The CHAIRMAN. Senator D’Amato.

Senator D’AMATO. Mr. Chairman, I would urge the Chairman to consider the Senator from North Carolina, Senator Faircloth's request.

I know that he does not make this request in anything other than the spirit of honesty and fair play and not in partisanship. I know he feels deeply about this matter. He has conferred with me about it, Mr. Chairman, and I know the Senator and his staff will make available to you and your staff an outline of those matters that he has withheld and has not gone forward on, and that you might then reconsider this request.

I’d urge you to consider that. I think in fairness to everyone, that might be the best course of action, to ask that this be sent back to the Committee for further consideration. I join in the request. I did not oppose the nominee, but I am very much concerned at this point in time before we go further.

The CHAIRMAN. Let me take this request and the suggestion under advisement. Senator Faircloth and I have not discussed this previously, and so this is an issue that we do need to discuss personally beyond what's been said here now. I will plan to do that with you. Then we'll see where we go from there.

Senator FAIRCLOTH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The CHAIRMAN. Thank you. I want to note that Senator Nighthorse Campbell was here and may be able to return. He had another situation.

He's been a very important voice on this issue in the Veterans' Affairs Committee as well, and feels very strongly about this issue. In any event, he's next in the order and I will recognize him at any point at which he returns.

Senator Bond.

 



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