Isaiah J. Poole is the executive editor of TomPaine.com.
The only correct response to the waste, mismanagement, theft and, yes, death that have been endemic among private contractors in Iraq is the kind of outrage that makes heads roll and forces sweeping change. Bringing this sordid tale into the limelight are the combined forces of documentary producer Robert Greenwald and congressional Democrats, who are pursuing the kind of oversight that the majority party is refusing to do. As a result, the Bush administration and the Republican Congress may soon find themselves on the wrong side of what looks to be a wave of white-hot anger over Iraq war-profiteering.
The impact of Greenwald’s new documentary and intrepid Senate Democrats are converging powerfully today in Washington. The Senate Democratic Policy Committee scheduled the latest in a series of hearings to examine the behavior of Halliburton and other contractors handed billions of taxpayer dollars for reconstruction after the fall of Saddam Hussein. After that hearing, Greenwald will appear as a guest at the Washington premiere of “Iraq for Sale,” a jaw-dropping account of the squandered dollars and lost lives as a result of Bush administration cronyism, bumbling and ideological blindness. The movie premiere and panel discussion , which is open to the public, is being hosted by the Campaign for America’s Future.
Each week seems to add new counts to the indictment against the administration’s reconstruction quagmire. The Campaign for America’s Future has compiled the basic case in a damning report it is making public today. That report chronicles “a procurement process that rewards cronies and condones widespread abuse.” It describes how half of the $270 billion spent on the reconstruction effort between the fall of Hussein and 2005 was distributed without competitive bidding and reveals that the government can’t even track the distribution of more than $20 billion.
The report weaves together news reports and government documents requested primarily by Democrats to prove that the failure of the reconstruction effort in Iraq is not merely the product of the inherent difficulties of rebuilding a country in the midst of an occupation and an insurgency. It is, instead, what inevitably happens when the reins of government are handed to people who have contempt for government and whose arrogance blinds them to realities that do not fit into their ideological fairyland.
As the report reminds us, George W. Bush mocked President Clinton in 2000 for using U.S. troops in nation-building exercises. In 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld muscled aside knowledgeable State Department experts—and, later, Iraqis who could have helped lead the reconstruction effort themselves—to bull-headedly pursue his own misbegotten neoconservative blueprint.
The case against the administration is further detailed in the book Blood Money , written by Los Angeles Times investigative reporter T. Christian Miller. His commentary for TomPaine.com highlights key points from the book. His point about contractor accountability bears repeating:
The record suggests that the ‘accountability administration’ has let the war profiteers run amok. … The lack of oversight has encouraged fraud, waste and abuse. It has threatened our soldiers and Iraqis. And it has turned Iraq into a Wild West, a place without law, a judge or even a traffic cop.
Another book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, solidifies the evidence of an insidious form of cronyism that forced competence and knowledge to take a back seat to conservative ideological purity. Chandrasekaran wrote in a book excerpt in the Sunday Washington Post:
Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation, which sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort. … Interviews with scores of former CPA personnel over the past two years depict an organization that was dominated—and ultimately hobbled—by administration ideologues.
This would be bad enough if what was at stake were the typical patronage spoils handed out by administrations of both parties. But, in the case of Iraqi reconstruction, lives were at stake—and were lost.
Today’s Senate Democratic probe, led by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., will include testimony from survivors of a 2004 ambush of a fuel truck convoy run by KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary. Eight died and 26 were injured in the attack. One of the survivors, Edward Sanchez, is among several former KBR employees who are suing the company for negligently directing the convoy into an active combat zone. He is profiled in “Iraq for Sale” and is slated to testify at the Dorgan hearing.
"It was totally preventable,” Sanchez says in the film. “There was absolutely no reason for us to be there. And we had no knowledge, and one of the first things that came across my mind was, a soldier came up to me and said, who are you guys? What are you guys doing out there? The roads are closed. We have been fighting those guys for over 48 hours. They own that road out there. And I was like, how in the world could we [have been] sent down here into this road?"
Indeed, how in the world could we have been sent down this road? The answer is all too clear. The administration that ignored the facts to get us into Iraq behaves as if the public will ignore the facts about the occupation and the criminal behavior that has accompanied it. To keep that from happening, Greenwald wants people to purchase copies of “Iraq For Sale” and show the documentary to their friends at house parties. Armed with the facts in the documentary, the Campaign for America’s Future report and the work of such journalists as Miller and Chandrasekaran, an enraged and energized public can hold to account the Republican leadership and the contractors that were allowed to pillage Iraq and the federal treasury.