Oliver North

 In his opening remarks, Annan -- who last week declared the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein to be "illegal" -- hectored world leaders to "start from the principle that no one is above the law and no one should be denied its protection." He went on to describe his ethical universe: "In Iraq, we see civilians massacred in cold blood ... and we have seen Iraqi prisoners disgracefully abused." Apparently to Annan, the ghastly, systematic beheading of innocent civilians is morally equivalent to an isolated case of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. Ironically, as he was drawing this frightening parallel, a radical Islamic website was posting the horrific images of Jack Armstrong being beheaded.

 Sadly, few in the U.S. media took the time to focus on the hubris or ethical inconsistencies in Annan's lecture. Instead, the potentates of the press rushed to cite the differences between the president's challenge to the world body and the approach offered by his rival, Sen. John Kerry. The day before Bush spoke to the General Assembly, the Democrat nominee was feted at New York University, where he demanded that in Iraq "the U.N. must play a central role" and pledged that if he is elected he will "recruit troops from our friends and allies for a U.N. protection force." Who does Kerry want to lead such a force? Kofi Annan?

 Since none of the reporters covering the Kerry campaign bothered to ask that question at the candidate's press conference this week, we don't know -- but before anyone offers the U.N. Secretary-General the mantle of leadership for rebuilding Iraq or fighting terrorism, it would be wise to examine his record.

 In March 2003, prior to the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I reported from Kuwait that "senior U.S. military officials were concerned that Saddam Hussein was using cash from the U.N. Oil for Food program to buy votes in the Security Council." The New York Times immediately trashed the charge -- and anonymous sources at the United Nations claimed the allegation was "preposterous" and "unfounded."

 But we now know better. Since then, we have learned that cash from the Oil for Food program -- administered directly from Annan's office by one of his most trusted aides, Benon V. Sevan, was used by Saddam for everything but food. The Iraqi dictator used the U.N. provided funds to buy weapons, finance terror and enrich officials in the Communist Party of Slovakia, the Palestinian Liberation Organization and political figures in France, Libya, Syria, Indonesia and Russia. Despite the presence of U.N. administrators in Baghdad and "auditors" at the U.N. headquarters in New York, Saddam was able to offer "coupons" worth millions of barrels of Iraqi crude oil to "friendly officials," who were allowed to sell them on the market and pocket huge profits.

Did Annan, his cronies or family reap any of this windfall? We don't know because the U.N. Secretary-General -- so willing to lecture President Bush about the "rule of law" -- is accountable to no one. And, since U.N. activities are not subject to the laws or the scrutiny of member states, he has been able to effectively stonewall an independent audit of the Oil for Food program. Meanwhile, Annan stands above the fray, offering little but rhetoric for dealing with the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons or the barbaric genocide taking place in the Sudan.

 This arrogance flies in the face of Kerry's call to give the United Nations greater say in how we protect ourselves from terror -- much less any suggestion that American troops should again don blue berets. Doing either or both won't make the world body more relevant to present realities. Dealing with corruption at the United Nations might.

Oliver North

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.