Posted by: mutantpoodle | August 25, 2007

Fighting for Halliburton

Cartoon by Mike Lane

Cartoon by Mike Lane

You would think, if you were a rational person, that in a time of war, those with the courage to report war profiteering – acts which Harry Truman referred to as treason – would be lauded, protected, and encouraged.

Think again.

In this devastating piece by the AP’s Deborah Hastings, whistleblower after whistleblower is punished for doing what is the right thing:

Corruption has long plagued Iraq reconstruction. Hundreds of projects may never be finished, including repairs to the country’s oil pipelines and electricity system. Congress gave more than $30 billion to rebuild Iraq, and at least $8.8 billion of it has disappeared, according to a government reconstruction audit.

Despite this staggering mess, there are no noble outcomes for those who have blown the whistle, according to a review of such cases by The Associated Press.

“If you do it, you will be destroyed,” said William Weaver, professor of political science at the University of Texas-El Paso and senior advisor to the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.

“Reconstruction is so rife with corruption. Sometimes people ask me, `Should I do this?’ And my answer is no. If they’re married, they’ll lose their family. They will lose their jobs. They will lose everything,” Weaver said.

They have been fired or demoted, shunned by colleagues, and denied government support in whistleblower lawsuits filed against contracting firms.

Ah, yes – government support. It is possible to file a “qui tam” lawsuit, in which the government can join in the case, and the persons filing can receive a portion of the recovery. The U.S. Government has done it before, but not once have they signed on to an Iraq war reconstruction whistleblower suit. And they don’t protect those who do the right thing.

For example:

Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse knows this only too well. As the highest-ranking civilian contracting officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, she testified before a congressional committee in 2005 that she found widespread fraud in multibillion-dollar rebuilding contracts awarded to former Halliburton subsidiary KBR.Soon after, Greenhouse was demoted. She now sits in a tiny cubicle in a different department with very little to do and no decision-making authority, at the end of an otherwise exemplary 20-year career.

People she has known for years no longer speak to her.

“It’s just amazing how we say we want to remove fraud from our government, then we gag people who are just trying to stand up and do the right thing,” she says.

In her demotion, her supervisors said she was performing poorly. “They just wanted to get rid of me,” she says softly. The Army Corps of Engineers denies her claims.

“You just don’t have happy endings,” said Weaver. “She was a wonderful example of a federal employee. They just completely creamed her. In the end, no one followed up, no one cared.”

But Greenhouse regrets nothing. “I have the courage to say what needs to be said. I paid the price,” she says.

Then there is Robert Isakson, who filed a whistleblower suit against contractor Custer Battles in 2004, alleging the company – with which he was briefly associated – bilked the U.S. government out of tens of millions of dollars by filing fake invoices and padding other bills for reconstruction work.

He and his co-plaintiff, William Baldwin, a former employee fired by the firm, doggedly pursued the suit for two years, gathering evidence on their own and flying overseas to obtain more information from witnesses. Eventually, a federal jury agreed with them and awarded a $10 million judgment against the now-defunct firm, which had denied all wrongdoing.

It was the first civil verdict for Iraq reconstruction fraud.

But in 2006, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III overturned the jury award. He said Isakson and Baldwin failed to prove that the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-backed occupier of Iraq for 14 months, was part of the U.S. government.

Julie McBride testified last year that as a “morale, welfare and recreation coordinator” at Camp Fallujah, she saw KBR exaggerate costs by double- and triple-counting the number of soldiers who used recreational facilities.

She also said the company took supplies destined for a Super Bowl party for U.S. troops and instead used them to stage a celebration for themselves.

“After I voiced my concerns about what I believed to be accounting fraud, Halliburton placed me under guard and kept me in seclusion,” she told the committee. “My property was searched, and I was specifically told that I was not allowed to speak to any member of the U.S. military. I remained under guard until I was flown out of the country.”

Halliburton and KBR denied her testimony.

She also has filed a whistleblower suit. The Justice Department has said it would not join the action. But last month, a federal judge refused a motion by KBR to dismiss the lawsuit.

Most incredibly is the story of Donald Vance. After reporting illegal arms sales…

…Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods.

There were times, huddled on the floor in solitary confinement with that head-banging music blaring dawn to dusk and interrogators yelling the same questions over and over, that Vance began to wish he had just kept his mouth shut.

He had thought he was doing a good and noble thing when he started telling the FBI about the guns and the land mines and the rocket-launchers – all of them being sold for cash, no receipts necessary, he said. He told a federal agent the buyers were Iraqi insurgents, American soldiers, State Department workers, and Iraqi embassy and ministry employees.

The seller, he claimed, was the Iraqi-owned company he worked for, Shield Group Security Co.

“It was a Wal-Mart for guns,” he says. “It was all illegal and everyone knew it.”

So Vance says he blew the whistle, supplying photos and documents and other intelligence to an FBI agent in his hometown of Chicago because he didn’t know whom to trust in Iraq.

For his trouble, he says, he got 97 days in Camp Cropper, an American military prison outside Baghdad that once held Saddam Hussein, and he was classified a security detainee.

Also held was colleague Nathan Ertel, who helped Vance gather evidence documenting the sales, according to a federal lawsuit both have filed in Chicago, alleging they were illegally imprisoned and subjected to physical and mental interrogation tactics “reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants.”

And yet, despite the obscene cost to our country, the risk to the troops this administration “supports” by keeping them in the midst of sectarian violence, and the affront to justice that war profiteering represents, the government has not joined a single case.

Not one.

Talk about justice being blind.

I wish I could say I am surprised by this. But at a time when the privatization of government has spread through the military, and defense contractors are at the point where a permanent state of war is the best thing for the balance sheet, doing the right thing is bad for business. And to hell with the rest of us.

It is a cliche to reach back to Eisenhower when talking about the pervasive influence of those who profit (whether appropriately or not) from war, but Ike, who saw first hand how awful war was, and bragged as he left office that war (with the Soviet Union) had been avoided, was a seer:

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together….

As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

Rather than making a hash of historical analogies, or misreading the meaning of great literature, perhaps George Bush should read the words of someone who understood war, understood the military, and understood how vital it was that it be subservient to the broader needs of society. Instead, he has damaged our world standing, hobbled our military, deepened our debt, and made us less safe as a nation for decades to come.

But he’s never been any good at listening to the Generals, has he?

[Update: Edited to fix some clumsy wording. Also, credit to Mike Lane for the cartoon above.]


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