The Banality of Greed
As the Iraq war that Vice President Dick Cheney created continues to shred American—and many more Iraqi—lives, further documentation has emerged proving that, even during failed wars, the merchants of death profit. No company has profited more from the carnage in Iraq than Halliburton, which Cheney headed before choosing himself as Bush's running mate. One shudders at the blissful arrogance of this modern Daddy Warbucks, who sees no conflict of interest over the blood-soaked profits garnered by the once-bankrupt division of the company that left him rich.
This week's evidence of the continuing corruption of Halliburton and its subsidiaries profiteering from contracts costing American taxpayers an unbelievable $22 billion stems from a report by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. The report, only one of many about Halliburton's recently severed subsidiary KBR, focuses on work done in Baghdad's super-secure Green Zone. While parent company Halliburton insults U.S. taxpayers by relocating its headquarters to the tax shelter of Dubai, subsidiary KBR has been spun off to focus more directly on the American military contracts that form the core of its operations.
Those operations have already produced a litany of condemnation by congressional and administration oversight bodies, and the June 25 report hardly details the company's most egregious activities. However, the Green Zone, the site of this latest instance of taxpayer fleecing, is instructive because, safely removed from the risks of battle, it deprives these war profiteers of their favorite excuse: that construction in a battle zone is inherently more costly. While KBR's Green Zone shenanigans covered by this report may seem small in comparison with the enormous waste attendant to the U.S. reconstruction program in Iraq, they are illustrative of the feeding frenzy that has fueled the American effort.
The corrupt reconstruction project has left a wasteland of failed energy, water, educational and political reform plans. As report after report details, garbage is not collected, hospitals are not staffed, schools close soon after they are opened and factories sit idle in shocking refutation of the vaunted efficiency of the United States' political economic model.
KBR's role in this fiasco is easily exposed by a basic Google search, beginning with a stop at the website of Henry Waxman, the California congressman who heads up the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Waxman deserves a Medal of Freedom for trying to figure out what happened to those $22 billion that KBR received but are now lost to U.S. taxpayers, as well as to the once hopeful but now bitterly disillusioned Iraqi people. Indeed, six months ago, the inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., termed the high level of official corruption in Iraq the "second insurgency," stating that the siphoning-off of U.S. dollars is a major source of funds for the anti-American fighters in the country. It was estimated that last year upward of $100 million in stolen oil funds went directly to the insurgents. In the context of that horrid record of waste and corruption amid the destruction of Iraqi society in which "democratic nation building" transmogrified into fascist mayhem, KBR's antics in the Green Zone seem petty.
But the fact that KBR played loose with our tax dollars even in the safety of the Green Zone is evidence of the company's contempt for the sacrifice of U.S. taxpayers. For example, concerning KBR's mismanagement of the fuel distribution program, the inspector general wrote: "We found weaknesses in KBR's fuel receiving, distributing and accountability processes of such magnitude that we were unable to determine an accurate measure of the fuel services provided." Yet, it was paid for by American taxpayers.
Or, take the extra $4.5 million spent on the company's food service and the cost of billeting 90 percent of KBR personnel in single quarters, as opposed to the doubling-up practiced by regular Army folks.
That was chicken feed compared with other examples of taxpayer rip-offs, as revealed in one case by the Army reducing payments to KBR by $19.5 million following Waxman's first "fraud, waste, and abuse hearings." It is hoped that there will be other efforts at forcing accountability for the billions of dollars that have been spent to advertise the efficiency of the United States' free-enterprise model to a skeptical Mideast public.
It is claimed by American officials that KBR's accountability issues are being addressed. In one instance cited, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad—a spiraling enterprise well on its way to becoming a nation-within-a-nation akin to the Vatican in Italy—announced that, as a means of avoiding food theft, its personnel would no longer be allowed to bring large bags into the eating halls. Such sacrifice for the mission of securing Iraqi freedom.
Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.
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