Thursday, February 08, 2007

Fallujah I, the Blackwater ambush and Henry Waxman

Yesterday, Henry Waxman had the family members of the four Blackwater USA employees killed in Fallujah in 2004 -- Scott Helvenston, Jerko Zovko, Wesley Batalona and Michael Teague -- up to the Hill to testify about their wrongful death lawsuit against Blackwater. In their testimony in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee the four women alleged that Blackwater failed to provide their loved ones with adequate protection to ensure their safety. They said the men were sent into the hornet's nest of Anbar undermanned and lacking sufficient armor for their vehicles. Blackwater even skimped on giving them maps which led to them to drive right into an ambush before they even knew what was going on.

Despite Rep. Darrell Issa's [Of Gray Davis re-call fame] dismissing the testimony of the distraught family members as a stunt to gain attention for their suit, Waxman's investigation, according to the FT, "lies at the heart" of the family's lawsuit. It's all very complicated, but what's at issue is whether companies that the pentagon gave no-bid contracts to, ripped off the American taxpayer to the tune of millions of dollars.

Along with Waxman's investigation the FT reports today that "The US military is weighing up whether to force Halliburton to pay back what could amount to tens of millions of dollars in fees it charged the army to pay for private security contractors in Iraq."

Specifically, the army wants to know if Halliburton paid private security subcontractors, which would have violated the terms of its $16 billion logistics contract, known as a Logcap. "Under the terms of the Logcap, Halliburton is prohibited from using security contractors, such as Blackwater." Yesterday in testimony before Waxman's oversight committee, Tina Ballard, deputy assistant secretary of the army, admitted that an army probe had found that KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary, had subcontracted Blackwater to protect another subcontractor, ESS, a food services company (a subsidiary of Compass of the UK), under a Logcap subcontract.

Got all that? No one else does, either. The more you go into this maze, the more it starts to resemble Kenny Boy's Enron corporate shell games.

The FT: "Henry Waxman . . . said that after three years investigating the [Fallujah] ambush, it was still unclear whether the men, who were working for ESS, were ultimately working under a contract held by KBR -- which would have violated contracting rules -- or Flour, another contractor, because Flour had offered conflicting information on the issue." [Note: The first person sent over to Iraq to oversee the fiasco was Jake Garner, a former executive of Flour.]

Waxman said: "It's remarkable that the world of contractors and subcontractors is so murky that we can't even get to the bottom of this, let alone calculate how many millions of dollars taxpayers lose in each step of the subcontracting process."

To say nothing of the lives lost in this one incident. Keep in mind that images of the contractor's burning corpses hanging from that bridge, in turn, led to calls for revenge from the pages of the Washington Times and other like minded right-wing outlets. [See my LTTE in the WaTi 4/6/04] Just four days later, under pressure from W.'s bloody minded base, an ill-conceived revenge assault was launched against Fallujah, [Now known as Fallujah I] which ended in a ignomious retreat and the deaths of 27 US service members. [No one knows how many Fallujians were killed.]

There are 100,000 private contractors roaming around Iraq, all of them operating under the different agendas of their various corporate masters, none of them beholden to any law. As Kathryn Helvenston, the mother of the one the Blackwater employees killed in Fallujah, told Waxman, "It's like the Wild West over there and there is no accountability."

Hopefully, now that there's a new sheriff in town, this all will change. The sooner the Democrats get to the bottom of this criminal contractor free-for-all in Iraq (and Afghanistan) the better. The cleansing effects of sunshine thrown into the dark recesses of W.'s dirty war should help to mitigate the painful hang-over we've all got coming.

[Read more about Blackwater and the Fallujah ambush at Frontline: Private Warriors]

See also Halliburton Watch

Note: What we need is an updated Public Utility Holding Company Act. According to ECD this 1935 New Deal law "Was designed to correct holding-company abuses in the form of nonuniform accounting standards, excessive charges to subsidiaries, obstruction of state regulations, and a growth that was unrelated to operating properties."

In other words: shell games. One way to deal with this shady contractor morass, is to outlaw it.


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