Category Archives: corruption

america’s role in iraq

The U.S.’s sledgehammer worldview is destroying countless lives and future generations.

The front page of The New York Times on June 26 featured a photo of women mourning a murdered Iraqi.

He is one of the innumerable victims of the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) campaign in which the Iraqi army, armed and trained by the U.S. for many years, quickly melted away, abandoning much of Iraq to a few thousand militants, hardly a new experience in imperial history.

Right above the picture is the newspaper’s famous motto: “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”

There is a crucial omission. The front page should display the words of the Nuremberg judgment of prominent Nazis – words that must be repeated until they penetrate general consciousness: Aggression is “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

And alongside these words should be the admonition of the chief prosecutor for the United States, Robert Jackson: “The record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.”

The U.S.-U.K. invasion of Iraq was a textbook example of aggression. Apologists invoke noble intentions, which would be irrelevant even if the pleas were sustainable.

For the World War II tribunals, it mattered not a jot that Japanese imperialists were intent on bringing an “earthly paradise” to the Chinese they were slaughtering, or that Hitler sent troops into Poland in 1939 in self-defense against the “wild terror” of the Poles. The same holds when we sip from the poisoned chalice.

Those at the wrong end of the club have few illusions. Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of a Pan-Arab website, observes that “the main factor responsible for the current chaos [in Iraq] is the U.S./Western occupation and the Arab backing for it. Any other claim is misleading and aims to divert attention [away] from this truth.”

In a recent interview with Moyers & Company, Iraq specialist Raed Jarrar outlines what we in the West should know. Like many Iraqis, he is half-Shiite, half-Sunni, and in preinvasion Iraq he barely knew the religious identities of his relatives because “sect wasn’t really a part of the national consciousness.”

Jarrar reminds us that “this sectarian strife that is destroying the country … clearly began with the U.S. invasion and occupation.”

The aggressors destroyed “Iraqi national identity and replaced it with sectarian and ethnic identities,” beginning immediately when the U.S. imposed a Governing Council based on sectarian identity, a novelty for Iraq.

By now, Shiites and Sunnis are the bitterest enemies, thanks to the sledgehammer wielded by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney (respectively the former U.S. Secretary of Defense and vice president during the George W. Bush administration) and others like them who understand nothing beyond violence and terror and have helped to create conflicts that are now tearing the region to shreds.

Other headlines report the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Journalist Anand Gopal explains the reasons in his remarkable book, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes.

In 2001-02, when the U.S. sledgehammer struck Afghanistan, the al-Qaida outsiders there soon disappeared and the Taliban melted away, many choosing in traditional style to accommodate to the latest conquerors.

But Washington was desperate to find terrorists to crush. The strongmen they imposed as rulers quickly discovered that they could exploit Washington’s blind ignorance and attack their enemies, including those eagerly collaborating with the American invaders.

Soon the country was ruled by ruthless warlords, while many former Taliban who sought to join the new order recreated the insurgency.

The sledgehammer was later picked up by President Obama as he “led from behind” in smashing Libya.

In March 2011, amid an Arab Spring uprising against Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1973, calling for “a cease-fire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians.”

The imperial triumvirate – France, England, the U.S. – instantly chose to violate the Resolution, becoming the air force of the rebels and sharply enhancing violence.

Their campaign culminated in the assault on Gadhafi’s refuge in Sirte, which they left “utterly ravaged,” “reminiscent of the grimmest scenes from Grozny, towards the end of Russia’s bloody Chechen war,” according to eyewitness reports in the British press. At a bloody cost, the triumvirate accomplished its goal of regime change in violation of pious pronouncements to the contrary.

The African Union strongly opposed the triumvirate assault. As reported by Africa specialist Alex de Waal in the British journal International Affairs, the AU established a “road map” calling for cease-fire, humanitarian assistance, protection of African migrants (who were largely slaughtered or expelled) and other foreign nationals, and political reforms to eliminate “the causes of the current crisis,” with further steps to establish “an inclusive, consensual interim government, leading to democratic elections.”

The AU framework was accepted in principle by Gadhafi but dismissed by the triumvirate, who “were uninterested in real negotiations,” de Waal observes.

The outcome is that Libya is now torn by warring militias, while jihadi terror has been unleashed in much of Africa along with a flood of weapons, reaching also to Syria.

There is plenty of evidence of the consequences of resort to the sledgehammer. Take the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly the Belgian Congo, a huge country rich in resources – and one of the worst contemporary horror stories. It had a chance for successful development after independence in 1960, under the leadership of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.

But the West would have none of that. CIA head Allen Dulles determined that Lumumba’s “removal must be an urgent and prime objective” of covert action, not least because U.S. investments might have been endangered by what internal documents refer to as “radical nationalists.”

Under the supervision of Belgian officers, Lumumba was murdered, realizing President Eisenhower’s wish that he “would fall into a river full of crocodiles.” Congo was handed over to the U.S. favorite, the murderous and corrupt dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, and on to today’s wreckage of Africa’s hopes.

Closer to home it is harder to ignore the consequences of U.S. state terror. There is now great concern about the flood of children fleeing to the U.S. from Central America.

The Washington Post reports that the surge is “mostly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras” – but not Nicaragua. Why? Could it be that when Washington’s sledgehammer was battering the region in the 1980s, Nicaragua was the one country that had an army to defend the population from U.S.-run terrorists, while in the other three countries the terrorists devastating the countries were the armies equipped and trained by Washington?

Obama has proposed a humanitarian response to the tragic influx: more efficient deportation. Do alternatives come to mind?

It is unfair to omit exercises of “soft power” and the role of the private sector. A good example is Chevron’s decision to abandon its widely touted renewable energy programs, because fossil fuels are far more profitable.

Exxon Mobil in turn announced “that its laserlike focus on fossil fuels is a sound strategy, regardless of climate change,” Bloomberg Businessweek reports, “because the world needs vastly more energy and the likelihood of significant carbon reductions is ‘highly unlikely.'”

It is therefore a mistake to remind readers daily of the Nuremberg judgment. Aggression is no longer the “supreme international crime.” It cannot compare with destruction of the lives of future generations to ensure bigger bonuses tomorrow.

© 2014 Noam Chomsky — Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

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iraqi officials face abuse scandal

Sunday,  July 19, 2009 3:53 AM

By Deb Riechmann and Bushra Juhi
ASSOCIATED PRESS

BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials outraged by the abuse of prisoners at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison are trying to contain a scandal of their own as allegations continue to surface of mistreatment inside Iraqi jails.Accounts of Iraqis being beaten with clubs, blindfolded and coerced into signing false confessions are attracting increased attention partly because the United States is getting out of the prison business in Iraq. The U.S. has transferred 841 detainees into Iraq’s crowded prison system, and more are on the way.

Allegations of mistreatment have persisted since 2005, when U.S. troops raided an Interior Ministry lockup in a predominantly Shiite area of southeastern Baghdad and found scores of emaciated prisoners. The matter returned to the spotlight after the June 12 assassination of Sunni lawmaker Harith al-Obeidi, an outspoken advocate of prisoner rights.

The issue is a test of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s commitment to the rule of law and to reconcile with the Sunni minority, who account for most of the prisoners held in security cases. Sunnis say they are being unfairly singled out by security forces run by al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government.

“The cases are as bad as what took place at Abu Ghraib, but it is painful when these things take place in Iraqi prisons,” said Sunni lawmaker Salim Abdullah. “We met some of those who were released and saw the scars on their skins. They use different kinds of torture, like tying the shoulders and hanging the body, which normally leads to dislocation of the shoulders.”

The allegations pale in comparison with the horrific accounts of Saddam Hussein’s prisons, where inmates were systematically beaten, jammed into tiny windowless cells and executed on the flimsiest of evidence, and where men were forced to watch their wives and daughters raped.

Still, the current Iraqi leadership came to power with the promise to hold itself to a higher standard and respect human rights.

An eight-member panel that al-Maliki set up after al-Obeidi’s assassination to look into abuse is expected to complete its investigation in a month or two.

A military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said the panel has visited three detention centers in Baghdad and will inspect others. He said most of the abuse uncovered so far took place in Rusafa prison in eastern Baghdad.

the demons of american occupation

CBS: KBR knowingly exposed troops to toxic dust  

 CBS News Interactive: Battle For Iraq

WASHINGTON (CBS News) ―

The military contractor Kellogg Brown and Root, known as KBR, has won more than $28 billion in U.S. military contracts since the beginning of the Iraq war. KBR may be facing a new scandal. First, accusations its then-parent company Halliburton was given the lucrative contract. And later, allegations of shoddy construction oversight that resulted in Americans getting electrocuted. Now, some other American soldiers say the company knowingly put their lives at risk, CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian exclusively reports.

In April of 2003, James Gentry of the Indiana National Guard arrived in Southern Iraq to take command of more than 600 other guardsmen. Their job: protect KBR contractors working at a local water plant.

“We didn’t question what we were doing, we just knew we had to provide a security service for the KBR,” said Battalion Cmdr. Gentry.

Today James Gentry is dying from rare form of lung cancer. The result, he believes, of months of inhaling hexavalent chromium – an orange dust that’s part of a toxic chemical found all over the plant.

At least one other Indiana guardsman has already died from lung cancer, and others are said to be suffering from tumors and rashes consistent with exposure to the deadly toxin.

“I’m a nonsmoker. I believe that I received this cancer from the southern oil fields in Iraq,” he said.

Now CBS News has obtained information that indicates KBR knew about the danger months before the soldiers were ever informed.

Depositions from KBR employees detailed concerns about the toxin in one part of the plant as early as May of 2003. And KBR minutes, from a later meeting state “that 60 percent of the people … exhibit symptoms of exposure,” including bloody noses and rashes.

“We didn’t question what we were doing,” a grief-stricken Gentry told CBS. “We just knew we had to provide a security service for the KBR. … We would never have been there if we would have known.”

It wasn’t until the end of August that the Indiana National Guardsmen were informed that the plant was contaminated, and some say they have only just learned about it this year.  Gentry says it wasn’t until the last day of August in 2003 – after four long months at the facility – that he was told the plant was contaminated.

A new internal Army investigation obtained exclusively by CBS News says the Army’s medical response was “prompt and effective.” But even after a briefing Monday, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh says that KBR has a lot to answer for.

“Look, I think the burden of proof at this point is on the company,” Bayh said. “To come forward and very forthrightly explain what happened, why we should trust them, and why the health and well-being of our soldiers should continue to be in their hands.”

In a statement, the company told CBS News: “We deny the assertion that KBR harmed troops and was responsible for an unsafe condition.”

The company says it notified the Army as soon as it identified the toxin.

Still, some Indiana guardsmen say they only just learned of the risk.

“I didn’t know I was exposed to a deadly carcinogen until five years later when I received a letter,” said Indiana National Guardsman Jody Aistrop.

This is far from the first time the multi-billion dollar contractor has been accused of questionable conduct at Iraq. In addition to convictions for bribery, it’s alleged KBR provided contaminated water to troops. The company denies all charges.

“It’s going to cost American lives, I’m afraid,” Gentry said. “I love them. I love my men so much.”

So much so Gentry says he will urge each and every one of them get tested for the cancer that he fears is taking his life. A CBS News investigation has obtained evidence that a subsidiary of Halliburton, the giant energy company formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, knowingly exposed United States soldiers to toxic materials in Iraq.

KBR, which was spun off by Halliburton in 2007 as a separate corporation, has previously been accused of providing contaminated water to troops in Iraq, taking kickbacks, and sending workers to Iraq against their will.

David Edwards and Muriel Kane contributed to this article.

double-cross? the spoils of war? or something else?

In secret agreement, Shell nets 25-year monopoly on S. Iraq’s gas

Stephen C. Webster
Published: Saturday November 8, 2008

Royal Dutch Shell oil company and the Iraqi Oil Ministry have struck a secret, as-of-yet non-binding agreement that gives a monopoly over southern Iraq’s natural gas to the energy giant. It marks the first time in over 35 years a Western oil company has played a major role in the country’s most lucrative industry.

Signed Sept. 22 and obtained by United Press International, the “Heads of Agreement” document — basically a legal framework for a contract — delegates Shell sole access to the reserves for the next 25 years, with an option to extend that term.

Shell says the arrangement gives it exclusive rights to all natural gas runoff produced by oil exploration operations in the southern portion of the country. However, like so many other major industrial contracts coming out of Iraq, the process used to reach an agreement is being questioned.

“There hasn’t been much transparency in this agreement,” said Ali Hussain Balou, chairman of Iraq’s Oil and Gas Committee, in a report by Reuters. “They did not give a chance to another company. We want to know why.”

“It is only a partnership,” Iraqi Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad told UPI. “There will not be a monopoly of the gas.”

The agreement does not allow Iraqi’s the first rights to the natural gas reserves. Under its terms, state-run companies would capture “non-associated gas” discovered during oil exploration, which would then be sold exclusively to Shell for export.

In Sept., several no-bid Iraqi oil contracts were supposedly canceled after coming under fire from US Senators. Though the deals were allegedly scuttled, the companies were invited to bid for the contracts. Almost immediately, Shell was announced to be on the cusp of becoming the first company to have major dealings in Iraq since the 1960’s.

The “Heads of Agreement” document is just the next step in what AlterNet’s Nick Turse says is a secretly negotiated arrangement between the Pentagon and the UK’s most powerful oil company.

“The Pentagon’s Shell deal came during one DoD’s periodic petroleum benders – massive multi-day spending sprees where hundreds of millions or billions of taxpayer dollars are paid out to oil companies,” writes Turse. “This one, on September 17th and 18th, netted Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and seven other oil companies a grand total of over $1.5 billion.”

“These complex issues go ignored because they are viewed as so routine as not to be worth mentioning, but in any other context the confluence of guns, oil and billions of dollars would certainly raise eyebrows,” he concludes.

blackwater reminder

blackwater incident photos by abc

Blackwater
   

First Images From Blackwater Sept. 16 Incident

ABC News has obtained the first images of the controversial September 16 shooting involving Blackwater security forces, which resulted in Iraqi civilian deaths. The still images, taken at 11:50 that morning, show the car bomb explosion near a financial compound in western Baghdad that precipitated the incident.At left, this image shows a Blackwater convoy escorting a State Department official to the financial compound, 11:50 am.
(ABC)
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doug feith is to blame for the flawed intelligence

IRAQ

Douglas Feith’s Blame Game

In a new memoir the Washington Post calls “a massive score-settling work,” former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith defends himself from charges that his Pentagon office politicized pre-war Iraq intelligence. Feith blames former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, the CIA, U.S. Army General Tommy Franks, former Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer, and almost everyone else but himself and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for mishandling the run-up to the Iraq war and the subsequent occupation. The Post obtained a 900-page manuscript of Feith’s book, entitled, War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism. After the 9/11 attacks, Feith headed up the Office of Special Plans (OSP), which was created “to find evidence…that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons that threatened the region and, potentially, the United States.” Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked under Feith in the OSP, characterized the program’s purpose as “developing propaganda and pushing…an agenda on Iraq.” Kwiatkowski also said that OSP had “developed pretty sophisticated propaganda lines which were fed throughout government, to the Congress, and even internally to the Pentagon” to make the case that Saddam was an imminent threat.

POLITICIZING INTELLIGENCE: In February 2007, the Pentagon’s Inspector General concluded that the OSP under Feith had “developed, produced, and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al Qaida relationship…that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community, to senior decision-makers” and that Feith’s  intelligence briefings to the President presented “conclusions that were not fully supported by the available intelligence.” Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) stated that the report was “a devastating condemnation of inappropriate activities in the DoD policy office” that demonstrated “that intelligence relating to the Iraq/al-Qaeda relationship was manipulated by high-ranking officials in the Department of Defense to support the administration’s decision to invade Iraq.” When asked about the activities of the Office of Special Plans, CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden stated before Congress in May 2006 that he was “not comfortable” with Feith’s approach to intelligence analysis. “I wasn’t aware of a lot of the activity going on, you know, when it was contemporaneous with running up to the war,” Hayden said. “No, sir, I wasn’t comfortable.” The Senate Intelligence Committee will also soon release a new report criticizing Bush administration officials “for making assertions that failed to reflect disagreements or uncertainties in the underlying intelligence on Iraq.” Many of these statements were made based upon analyses produced by Feith’s office at the Pentagon, which posited a working relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda and claimed that Saddam was in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

A PREDETERMINED INVASION: Feith’s account of the lead-up to the Iraq invasion also offers more evidence that President Bush was resolved to invade Iraq, regardless of international opinion and irrespective of whether inspectors found evidence of an Iraqi weapons program. Feith writes that Bush declared “war is inevitable” in a National Security Council meeting in December 2002, even as he continued to insist in public that no decision had been made. On December 31, 2002, Bush said to reporters, I hope this Iraq situation will be resolved peacefully. … I hope we’re not headed to war in Iraq,” and “I hope this can be done peacefully.” On Jan. 2, 2003, Bush told reporters that he washopeful we won’t have to go war.” On March 6, 2003, Bush said in a press conference that no decision had been made to use force against Iraq, even though two weeks earlier, he told then-Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar that the U.S. would “be in Baghdad at the end of March.”

THE INCOMPETENCE DODGE: Responding to charges that his office “politicized” intelligence, Feith reportedly claims in his book that it was the CIA that was politicizing intelligence by discounting evidence of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. In other words, Feith claims that the CIA was delinquent in ignoring evidence of a relationship that did not, in fact, exist. Feith’s charges of failure against those initially responsible for the occupation of Iraq will likely be seized upon by those seeking to cast the war, as Feith does, as a good idea ruined by poor implementation — a line of argument which has been termed “the incompetence dodge” because it attempts to present the Iraq disaster as a failure of implementation, not of conception. While he has harsh criticisms for many people, the Washington Post notes that Feith treats Rumsfeld “with almost complete admiration.”

UNDER THE RADAR

ADMINISTRATION — PENTAGON REPORT CONFIRMS NO SADDAM LINK TO AL QAEDA: McClatchy reports that an “exhaustive” Pentagon-sponsored review of “more than 600,000 Iraqi documents” captured after the 2003 invasion “has found no evidence that Saddam Hussein’s regime had any operational links with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida terrorist network.” The full report, set to be released tomorrow, “was essentially completed last year and has been undergoing what one U.S. intelligence official described as a ‘painful’ declassification review.” In September 2002, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that American intelligence had “bulletproof” evidence of links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Earlier that same week, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice asserted that “there are some Al Qaeda personnel who found refuge in Baghdad.” In fact, the Defense Department reported last April that interrogations of deposed Iraqi leaders showed that Hussein’s government “did not cooperate” with al Qaeda. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s September 2006 report revealed a 2005 CIA assessment declaring that prior to the war Saddam’s government “did not have a relations, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward” al Qaeda leader Abu Musam al-Zarqawi and his associates.

ADMINISTRATION — BUSH UNPOPULARITY PROVIDES FUNDRAISING CHALLENGES FOR PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: Southern Methodist University in Dallas recently announced that the university will be home to the George W. Bush presidential library. Bush’s “censored” library — which will also house a partisan institute to “celebrate” Bush’s presidency — is reportedly set to cost over $200 million. But U.S. News reports that “Bush’s friends are concerned that he will face serious problems raising” the money needed for the library because his “unpopularity will put a damper on donations” and “the sour economy will limit contributions even more.” Moreover, U.S. News notes that “there is the matter of an endowment to keep the library going, which could cost an additional $50 million.” Bush recently said that he has not been “focused” on fundraising for his library, but that he would “probably take some foreign money” to cover the library’s costs. Indeed, in November 2006, the New York Daily News reported that Bush hoped to get roughly $250 million in “megadonations” from key allies in the Persian Gulf. 

IRAQ — SHENON: ZELIKOW DESIGNED BUSH’S PRE-EMPTIVE WAR DOCTRINE IN 2002: In his new book, New York Times reporter Philip Shenon alleges that 9/11 Commission staff director Philip Zelikow had an obvious conflict of interest while serving on the panel. Zelikow allegedly scaled back criticisms of the White House and did not inform the Commission he helped Condoleezza Rice set up Bush’s National Security Council in 2001. Zelikow also held periodic discussions with Karl Rove, which he ordered his secretary to keep off-the-record. He also helped “demote” Richard Clarke, a vocal critic of the administration’s counterterrorism policies. This weekend on CSPAN’s Book TV, Shenon bolstered the case that Zelikow was inextricably tied to the administration. Shenon said Zelikow authored the September 2002 National Security Strategy (NSS), which outlined the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war and helped make the case for the invasion of Iraq. Zelikow’s White House ties were so pronounced that former senator Bob Kerrey threated to Kean, “It’s either him or me. Zelikow goes, or I go.” In the interview, Shenon concluded that Zelikow’s authorship of the pre-emptive strategy “appeared to pose yet another conflict of interest for Zelikow.”

inside the world of war profiteers: halliburton’s continued legacy

From prostitutes to Super bowl tickets, a federal probe reveals how contractors in Iraq cheated the U.S.

| Tribune reporters

ROCK ISLAND, Ill.—Inside the stout federal courthouse of this Mississippi River town, the dirty secrets of Iraq war profiteering keep pouring out.

Hundreds of pages of recently unsealed court records detail how kickbacks shaped the war’s largest troop support contract months before the first wave of U.S. soldiers plunged their boots into Iraqi sand.

The graft continued well beyond the 2004 congressional hearings that first called attention to it. And the massive fraud endangered the health of American soldiers even as it lined contractors’ pockets, records show.

Federal prosecutors in Rock Island have indicted four former supervisors from KBR, the giant defense firm that holds the contract, along with a decorated Army officer and five executives from KBR subcontractors based in the U.S. or the Middle East. Those defendants, along with two other KBR employees who have pleaded guilty in Virginia, account for a third of the 36 people indicted to date on Iraq war-contract crimes, Justice Department records show.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Rock Island sentenced the Army official, Chief Warrant Officer Peleti “Pete” Peleti Jr., to 28 months in prison for taking bribes. One Middle Eastern subcontractor treated him to a trip to the 2006 Super Bowl, a defense investigator said.

Prosecutors would not confirm or deny ongoing grand jury activity. But court records identify a dozen FBI, IRS and military investigative agents who have been assigned to the case. Interviews as well as testimony at the sentencing for Peleti, who has cooperated with authorities, suggest an active probe.

Rock Island serves as a center for the probe of war profiteering because Army brass at the arsenal here administer KBR’s so-called LOGCAP III contract to feed, shelter and support U.S. soldiers, and to help restore Iraq’s oil infrastructure.

In one case, a freight-shipping subcontractor confessed to giving $25,000 in illegal gratuities to five unnamed KBR employees “to build relationships to get additional business,” according to the man’s December 2007 statement to a federal judge in the Rock Island court. Separately, Peleti named five military colleagues who allegedly accepted bribes. Prosecutors also have identified three senior KBR executives who allegedly approved inflated bids. None of those 13 people has been charged.

A common thread runs through these cases and other KBR scandals in Iraq, from allegations the firm failed to protect employees sexually assaulted by co-workers to findings that it charged $45 per can of soda: The Pentagon has outsourced crucial troop support jobs while slashing the number of government contract watchdogs.

The dollar value of Army contracts quadrupled from $23.3 billion in 1992 to $100.6 billion in 2006, according to a recent report by a Pentagon panel. But the number of Army contract supervisors was cut from 10,000 in 1990 to 5,500 currently.

Last week, the Army pledged to add 1,400 positions to its contracting command. But even those embroiled in the frauds acknowledge the impact of so much war privatization.

“I think we downsized past the point of general competency,” said subcontractor Christopher Cahill, who for a decade prepared military supply depots under LOGCAP. Now serving 30 months in federal prison for fraud, Cahill added: “The point of a standing army is to have them equipped.”

KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton Co., says it has been paid $28 billion under LOGCAP III. The firm says it quickly reports all instances of suspected fraud and has repaid the Defense Department more than $1 million for questionable invoices.

In a statement, KBR said its roughly 20,000 employees and 40,000 subcontractors have performed laudably in a war zone where Army demands shift rapidly and local suppliers don’t always maintain ledger books. Spokeswoman Heather Browne wrote: “Ethics and integrity are core values for KBR.”

But a wiretapped transcript recently released in Rock Island underscores the brazen nature of the exceptions.

In October 2005, with federal agents tailing them, three war contractors slipped through London’s posh Cumberland hotel before meeting in a quiet lounge. For the rest of that afternoon, the men sipped cognac and whiskey and discussed the bribes that had greased contracts to supply U.S. troops in Iraq.

Former KBR procurement manager Stephen Seamans, who was wearing a wire strapped on by a Rock Island agent, wondered aloud whether to return $65,000 in kickbacks he got from his two companions, executives from the Saudi conglomerate Tamimi Global Co.

One of the men, Tamimi operations director Shabbir Khan, urged him to hide the money by concocting phony business records.

“Just do the paperwork,” Khan said.

Party houses, prostitutes

In October 2002, five months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Khan threw a birthday party for Seamans at a Tamimi “party house” near the Kuwait base known as Camp Arifjan. Khan “provided Seamans with a prostitute as a present,” Rock Island prosecutors wrote in court papers. Driving Seamans back to his quarters, Khan offered kickbacks that would total $130,000.

Five days later, with Seamans and Khan hammering out the fine print, KBR awarded Tamimi the war’s first $14.4 million mess hall subcontract, court records show.

In April 2003, as American troops poured into Iraq, Seamans gave Khan inside information that enabled Tamimi to secure a $2 million KBR subcontract to establish a mess hall at a Baghdad palace. Seamans submitted change orders that inflated that subcontract to $7.4 million.

By June, Seamans and fellow KBR procurement manager Jeff Mazon, a Country Club Hills resident, had executed subcontracts worth $321 million. At least one deal put U.S. soldiers at risk.

The Army LOGCAP contract required KBR to medically screen the thousands of kitchen workers that subcontractors like Tamimi imported from impoverished villages in Nepal, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

But when Pentagon officials asked for medical records in March 2004, Khan presented “bogus” files for 550 Tamimi workers, Assistant U.S. Atty. Jeffrey Lang said in a court hearing last year.

KBR retested those 550 workers at a Kuwait City clinic and found 172 positive for exposure to hepatitis A, Lang told the judge. Khan tried to suppress those findings, warning the clinic director that Tamimi would do no more business with his medical office if he “told KBR about these results,” Lang said in court. The infectious virus can cause fatigue and other symptoms that arise weeks after contact.

Retesting of the 172 found that none had contagious hepatitis A, Lang said, and Khan’s attorneys said in court that no soldiers caught diseases from the workers or from meals they prepared. It remains unclear if that is because the workers were treated or because they did not remain infectious after the onset of symptoms.

Still, the incident shows how even mundane meal contracts can put troops at risk. Similar disease-testing breaches cropped up at cafeterias outsourced to firms besides Tamimi, former KBR Area Supervisor Rene Robinson said in a Tribune interview.

“That was an ongoing problem,” Robinson said. “When the military asked for paperwork, it was spotty.” KBR was forced to begin vaccinating the employees at their work sites, he added.

Tamimi and its U.S. lawyers did not respond to requests for comment. The company has said it is cooperating with federal authorities.

By July 2005, Tamimi had secured some 30 KBR troop feeding subcontracts worth $793.5 million, records show. Khan continued to negotiate Iraq war subcontracts for Tamimi until shortly before he was arrested in Rock Island in March 2006.

He is now serving a 51-month prison sentence for lying to federal agents about the kickbacks he wired to Seamans, who pleaded guilty and served a year and a day in prison. Both declined to comment.

Seamans, a 46-year-old Air Force veteran, once taught ethics to junior KBR employees. At his December 2006 sentencing hearing, he expressed remorse for taking the kickbacks, telling the judge: “It is not the way that Americans do business.”

It was another repentant LOGCAP veteran standing before a Rock Island judge on Wednesday. Peleti, formerly the military’s top food service adviser for the Middle East, wept as he admitted taking bribes from Tamimi and three other subcontractors between 2003 and early 2006.

Ribbons and badges glittered across Peleti’s pressed green Army shirt. “I stand here before you today to convey my remorse and sincere regret,” he said, then broke down.

One subcontractor, Public Warehousing Co., took Peleti and another top Army official to the Super Bowl, a defense investigator said in court Wednesday. The firm has denied wrongdoing. Khan also bribed Peleti to influence LOGCAP contracts with cash. Peleti was arrested in 2006 while re-entering the U.S. at Dover Air Force Base with a duffel bag stuffed with watches and jewelry as well as about $40,000 concealed in his clothing.

While prosecutors documented kickbacks in only the first two of Tamimi’s mess hall subcontracts, they contend that the tone was set to corrupt the system.

“Tamimi and Mr. Khan have their hooks into Mr. Seamans, they have their hooks into KBR,” Lang said in court last year. “It is difficult to assess the kind of damage that did to the integrity of the subcontracting process when the first two subcontracts are corrupted.”

Auditors in the basement

Military auditors say they closely monitor the layers of KBR subcontractors who actually perform most of the LOGCAP work, stationing teams in Iraq. But one Rock Island search warrant said auditors working back in the U.S. could manage only limited reviews of the cascade of deals.

In the basement of one of KBR’s Houston office buildings, a 25-member team from the Defense Contract Audit Agency had “no communications” with “personnel on the ground,” so they could not confirm whether goods and services actually were delivered, the search warrant application said.

In the absence of oversight, some Middle Eastern businessmen would offer “Rolex watches, leather jackets, prostitutes, and the KBR guys weren’t shy about bragging about the fact that they were being treated to all that stuff,” said Paul Morrell, whose firm The Event Source ran several mess halls as a KBR subcontractor.

Such questionable relationships continued long after early procurement managers like Seamans had been rooted out. Early subcontractors such as Tamimi became almost indispensable in part by outfitting Army cafeterias with expensive power generators and refrigeration systems, records and interviews show.

“If you ever gave Tamimi a hard time, you’d get a call,” former KBR subcontract manager Harry DeWolf told the Tribune.

When subcontracts came up for renegotiation, DeWolf said, companies like Tamimi “would say, ‘Fine, we’re going to pull out all of our people and equipment.’ They really had KBR and the government over the barrel.”

Complicating the investigation of war-contract crimes, the government of Kuwait has denied a U.S. request to extradite two Middle Eastern businessmen accused of LOGCAP fraud. The country’s ambassador last year sent letters to the Justice Department asking the U.S. to drop its case against one of them, arguing that international agreements forbid U.S. prosecution of Kuwaiti residents for crimes allegedly committed on Kuwaiti soil. Prosecutors disagree, but a judge is considering Kuwait’s assertion.

Investigators also have faced challenges in dealing with KBR. The company has withheld some internal company documents relating to Mazon, Seaman’s fellow KBR procurement manager, the firm’s attorneys wrote in court filings.

In response to one subpoena, the firm gave agents about 2,760 of Mazon’s computer files but withheld 398 others, saying they were covered by attorney-client privilege or other protections.

Federal prosecutors say they have given KBR no special treatment and that the company has legal rights afforded to all firms whose employees have been charged with wrongdoing. “We did withhold some documents as being privileged,” a KBR spokeswoman wrote, but added that the company has provided statements and grand jury testimony.

Mazon has pleaded not guilty to charges that he inflated a fuel contract. His attorneys say the fuel subcontract was accidentally inflated when figures were converted from U.S. dollars to Kuwaiti dinars then back again. At least 22 KBR troop support subcontracts were inflated through similar errors, Mazon’s attorney J. Scott Arthur wrote in papers filed in Rock Island.

KBR attorneys said the company informed federal officials of three similar “double conversions” on other subcontracts. But KBR said it “has not undertaken an exhaustive search of its millions of pages of procurement documents” to determine whether other such errors exist.

dyjackson@tribune.com

jgrotto@tribune.com

walter reed breeds infection still

Ongoing Problems at Walter Reed Hospital

Ongoing Problems at Walter Reed
By Matt Renner, t r u t h o u t | Interview, Tuesday 15 January 2008

“Nothing has changed [at Walter Reed]. Same facility. None of the recommendations that I made have been implemented and to my knowledge they really aren’t working on it.”

Former Army Lt. and military nurse Doug Connor sat down for an interview with Truthout reporter Geoffrey Millard to share his experience before and after the Walter Reed Medical Center scandal broke.

Encouraged by the firings of top military officials as a result of the problems at Walter Reed, Connor spoke out about the dilapidated conditions at Walter Reed. He sent a letter to Gen. Gregory A. Schumacher with recommendations for improving conditions in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where there were equipment shortages and outbreaks of infectious bacteria, including extremely dangerous drug-resistant forms of Acinetobacter baumannii, a bacterium that has been ravaging injured soldiers in Iraq and in domestic military hospitals.

The infection problems caused other units within the hospital to lose faith in the ICU’s ability to care for surgical patients. Because of the infections, “the kidney transplant team will not recover their patients in the surgical ICU anymore,” Connor said in the interview.

According to Connor, his recommendations were not acted upon. Instead, he claims that he was retaliated against. “I thought he would thank me for letting him know where there were areas that needed to be fixed … I have been retaliated against because of the letters that I have sent out. It is pretty transparent … Everyone that has seen what happened around me is just like ‘yeah, they’re going after you.'”