JOHN OSTRANDER: Fighting Words
Just when I think there’s nothing more coming from the Mess in Iraq that can appall me, they find a new spoonful of shit to shove down my throat. Here. Go read this link from MSNBC.
Blood boiling yet? Quick summary for those of you who didn’t click the link: those people, the whistleblowers, who have spoken up about the corruption and the fraud, the outright diversion and theft of funds going into Iraq – our tax dollars! – are being vilified, harassed, fired, detained, tortured and, in general, getting their lives ruined. And our government – surprise! – is a big part of it.
There’s a purpose to all this: discourage anyone else who might think about speaking out. What makes the folks perpetrating this travesty think they can get away with it? The fact that they are getting away with it! Small companies to large and by large, I do mean Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR which got the lion’s share of money going to Iraq to “rebuild” it.
You remember Halliburton – the corporation Dick Cheney headed before going into public service as President – whoops, Vice-President. It’s no longer an American company; it’s now a United Arab Emirates company. I thought you weren’t supposed to be working for the government if you’re also going to be a company’s lobbyist but either I’m misinformed or Cheney is uninformed on this point. The amount of no competition contracts Halliburton or its KBR subsidiary received for the rebuilding on Iraq is staggering as was the price gouging and corruption. Here follows the testimony of one whistleblower:
“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.” — Iraq corruption whistleblowers face penalties,” Associated Press Aug 25, 2007
That last bit was just crooked, petty, and arrogant. Done because they could. Why could they? Because one political party controlled both the White House and both houses of Congress. I don’t care if it’s Republican or Democrat – to me, that’s just looking for trouble. And this Administration has worked hand in glove with certain Big Business to the point we’ve become a government Of the Corporation, By the Corporation, and For the Corporation.
What has happened to Ms. McBride? Let her tell it. “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 [Iraq].”
She’s not the only one. The most egregious example may be Donald Vance who exposed illegal arms sales from the private contractor he was working for in Iraq. Among the buyers were Iraqi insurgents. That’s right – some of the bullets that kill our troops in Iraq may come from the guns that were illegally sold to them by our private contractors. Hey, it’s all just widgets, right?
Vance was feeding info to an FBI agent he knew back in Chicago because he didn’t know who to trust in Iraq. I wouldn’t either. When the bust came down, Vance and his partner were arrested by the military and Vance was held for more than three months in the same prison where Saddam Hussein was held and subjected to interrogation methods that bordered on assault because – you gotta love this – their employer was suspected of selling illegal weapons. And who was providing documents and photographs? The guys “detained.”
How can all this go on?” Because there’s no oversight and there hasn’t been since the whole fiasco in Iraq started. Take a listen to this account:
“The 15-month proconsulship of the CPA [Coalitional Provisional Authority – what passed for government of Iraq just after the war was won – or whatever it was that happened] disbursed nearly $20 billion, two-thirds of it in cash, most of which came from the Development Fund for Iraq that had replaced the UN Oil for Food Program and from frozen and seized Iraqi assets. Most of the money was flown into Iraq on C-130s in huge plastic shrink-wrapped pallets holding 40 “cashpaks,” each cashpak having $1.6 million in $100 bills. Twelve billion dollars moved that way between May 2003 and June 2004, drawn from accounts administered by the New York Federal Reserve Bank. The $100 bills weighed an estimated 363 tons. (Emphasis mine.)
“Once in Iraq, there was virtually no accountability over how the money was spent. There was also considerable money “off the books,” including as much as $4 billion from illegal oil exports. The CPA and the Iraqi State Oil Marketing Board, which it controlled, made a deliberate decision not to record or “meter” oil exports, an invitation to wholesale fraud and black marketeering.
“Thus the country was awash in unaccountable money. British sources report that the CPA contracts that were not handed out to cronies were sold to the highest bidder, with bribes as high as $300,000 being demanded for particularly lucrative reconstruction contracts.” — The American Conservative, Money For Nothing, October 24, 2005 issue, ©2005, All Rights Reserved.
Note, if you would, the source of that bit of info. It was that notorious left leaning journal called The American Conservative. Note also, if you would, the section in bold – the amount of hard currency that was sent over and spent sans oversight or receipts. You don’t have to be Danny Ocean to figure out how to get your hands on some of that. If I sent in a plot that called for that amount of hard currency to be shipped into a war zone, a place with little or no established order or law, most of my comics editors would reject it as being too far fetched, too divorced from reality.
And yet, that’s what the Administration did. With our tax money. Meant to help re-build Iraq. Government waste at its finest. To update the late Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen, “A billion here, a billion there – pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”
And the people who are trying to tell us about it are getting crushed. It’ll be done the same way they attack politicians – assaults on character, telling lies to assault the whistleblower’s veracity, punishing them for doing what we should want people in that position to do.
Wait, I forgot. We don’t like “snitches,” we don’t like “tattletales.” We don’t like people who “rat out” others. The police put up a “blue wall” of silence to protect their own. The underworld is supposed to honor a vow of omerta – of silence (practiced more in fiction than in reality). What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Nobody likes a stool pigeon, right?
The whistleblowers cited in the article are, in my book, heroes. They’re doing what I hope I would have the guts to do in their place. They’ve seen something terribly wrong and they’re speaking up about it and it is costing them. Big time. And nothing is happening. In World War II, Harry Truman made his mark by going after war profiteers. We need Harry Truman. Since the Democrats are in charge of Congress, they need to probe this like a diseased tooth. Maybe an Independent Counsel is necessary. We, the People, need to get on their cases until something is done.
This isn’t about liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, Red State or Blue State. We’re being robbed. The corruption has helped put weapons into the hands of those who are killing our soldiers. (Whether our troops should be in Iraq or not is a separate argument – the fact is that they’re there.) I say it’s not just war profiteering or greed; I say it’s treason.
Fighting words? Yup. It’s time to get royally pissed. And give the whistleblowers the Congressional Medal of Honor. It’s the least we owe them.
ComicMix columnist and comics writer John Ostrander is pissed. He’s hardly alone. Please feel free to offer your comments.