It's easy to forget sometimes - amidst all the lofty talk of geopolitics, of apocalyptic
clashes between good and evil, of terror, liberty, security and God - that the
war on Iraq is "largely a matter of loot," as Kasper Gutman so aptly
described the Crusades in that seminal treatise on human nature, The Maltese Falcon.
And nowhere is this more evident than in the festering, oozing imposthume of corruption
centered around the Gutman-like figure of Dick Cheney.
Yes, it's once more into the breach with Halliburton, the gargantuan government
contractor that still pays Cheney, its former CEO, enormous annual sums in "deferred
compensation" and stock options - even while, as "the most powerful
vice president in American history," he presides over a White House war
council that has steered more than $10 billion in no-bid Iraqi war contracts
back to his corporate paymaster. This is rainmaking of monsoon proportions.
Indeed, the company's military servicing wing, KBR, announced a second-quarter
profit spike of 284 percent last week - a feast of blood and gravy that will
send Cheney's stock options soaring into the stratosphere.
But although Halliburton has already entered the American lexicon as a by-word
for rampant cronyism - the butt of a thousand late-night TV jokes and water-cooler
witticisms - the true extent of its dense and deadly web of graft is only now
emerging, most recently in a remarkable public hearing that revealed some of
the corporation's standard business practices in Iraq: fraud, extortion, brutality,
pilferage, theft - even serving rotten food to American soldiers in the battle
By piecing together bits from the fiercely-suppressed and censored reports
of a few honest Pentagon auditors and investigators, a joint House-Senate minority
committee (the Bushist majority refused to take part) has unearthed at least
$1.4 billion in fraudulent overcharges and unsourced billing by Cheney's company
in Iraq. Testimony from Pentagon whistleblowers, former Halliburton officials
and fellow contractors revealed the grim picture of a rogue operation, power-drunk
and arrogant, beyond the reach of law, secure in the protection of its White
House sugar daddy.
One tale is particularly instructive: Halliburton's strenuous efforts to prevent
a company hired by the Iraqis, Lloyd-Owen International, from delivering gasoline
into the conquered land from Kuwait for 18 cents a gallon. Why? Because LOI's
cost-efficient operation undercuts Halliburton's highway-robbery price of $1.30
a gallon for the exact same service.
But how is Halliburton able to interfere with the sacred process of free enterprise?
Well, it seems that Cheney's firm, a private company, has control over the U.S.
military checkpoint on the volatile Iraq-Kuwait border, and also has the authority
to grant - or withhold - the Pentagon ID cards that are indispensable for contractors
operating in Iraq. (Even contractors who, like LOI, are working for the supposedly
sovereign Iraqi government.) Halliburton used these powers to block LOI's access
to the military crossing - which provides quick, safe delivery of the fuel -
for months. Then the game got rougher.
In June, Cheney's boys blackmailed LOI into delivering some construction materials
to a Halliburton project in the friendly confines of Fallujah: no delivery,
no "golden ticket" Pentagon card, said Halliburton. They neglected
to tell LOI that convoys on the route had been repeatedly hit by insurgents
in recent days. And sure enough, LOI's delivery trucks were ripped to shreds
just outside a Halliburton-operated military base: three men were killed and
seven wounded. But that's not all. An email obtained by investigators revealed
that Halliburton brass expressly prohibited company employees from offering
any assistance to the shattered convoy.
Halliburton extended this milk of human kindness to its food services as well.
The firm had to bring in Turkish and Filipino guest workers to feed American
soldiers, because the happily liberated Iraqis couldn't be trusted not to blow
up their benefactors. The Cheneymen treated these coolies as befitted their
lowly station: they packed them into tents with sand floors and no beds, and
literally fed them scraps from the garbage. When the peons complained, Halliburton
sacked the subcontractor, who had been buying bargain produce and meat from
the locals, and hired an American crony to ship in food all the way from Philadelphia.
U.S. soldiers weren't treated much better. Employees testified that Halliburton
brass ordered them to serve spoiled and rotten food to soldiers - day in and
day out. Meanwhile, Halliburton brass were reserving choice cuts for the big
beer-soaked barbecues they threw for themselves two or three times a week. They
also billed the taxpayer for 10,000 "ghost meals" a day at a single
base: the food was phantom, but the rake-off was real. Meanwhile, any employee
who made noises about exposing the fraud to auditors was threatened with transfer
to a red-hot fire zone, like Fallujah or Saddam's hometown, Tikrit.
All of this criminal katzenjammer - and much, much more - was authorized at
the highest levels, as top procurement brass and Pentagon officials confirmed.
Cheney's office kept tabs on Halliburton's bids while Pentagon warlord Don Rumsfeld
"violated federal law," the committee noted, by directly intervening
in the procurement process to eliminate all possible rivals and make sure Cheney's
employer got the guaranteed-profit gig. Rumsfeld's office also removed oversight
procedures for the dirty deals, and has ignored repeated warnings from Pentagon
auditors about Halliburton's blatant, persistent, pervasive fraud. Instead,
the money keeps rolling in: just last month, Don and Dick ladled another $1.75
billion dollop of pork gravy into Halliburton's bowl.
For this they have made a holocaust in the desert sands, sacrificing tens of
thousands of innocent lives: for cheap, greasy graft, for grubby pilfering,
for the personal profit of Richard B. Cheney and the whole pack of Bushist jackals
gorging themselves on blood money.