Saturday, February 21, 2009

Forty belly aches from the fool

Starting with one-time Halliburton subsidary Kellogg Brown & Root, US House Rep Carol Shea-Porter's office announced that a letter was sent to US Secretary of Defense "Robert Gates asking why defense contractor KBR, Inc. was recently awarded a new $35.4 million contract involving electrical work in Iraq.  KBR is currently under investigation by the Department of Defense Inspector General for the deaths of 18 Americans, who were electrocuted in buildings that KBR held a contract to mainatin.  Military criminal investigators have reopened five cases, and the Army Criminal Investigate Services has classified one of them as 'ngeligent homicide'."   The letter, signed by 18 other members of the House, notes:
As you are aware, KBR has held a contract for building maintenance for U.S. military facilities in Iraq since 2003.  During this time, there have been numerous investigations into the dangers KBR's faulty electrical work is creating for our military personnel. The Department of Defense Inspector General is currently investigating the electrocution deaths of 18 Americans (16 soldiers and 2 contractors) in KBR-maintained facilities.  KBR is under criminal investigation for the electrocution deaths of several U.S. soldiers in Iraq.   The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform conducted an in-depth investigation into the problem of electrocutions in U.S. facilities in Iraq and the death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, a decorated Green Beret electrocuted in his shower on January 2, 2008.  The Committee's investigation showed that KBR was alerted to the deficiencies in this and other cases, but failed to take corrective action. In 2008, the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) issued a "Level III Corrective Action Request" to KBR, indicating that the contractor was in "serious non-compliance."  This action request, the final warning before a contract is terminated, points to KBR's continuing failure to ensure electrical safety for our troops.  With this history, it is not surprising that Capt. David J. Graff, commander of the DCMA's International Division, was quoted in an Associated Press article, stating that "many within DOD have lost or are losing all remaining confidence in KBR's ability to successfully and repeatedly perform the required electrical support services mission in Iraq."       
Despite these serious, ongoing concerns, the Department of Defense has awarded KBR a new contract that includes the type of work that KBR failed to perform adequately for years.  Threats to the safety and lives of soldiers or others because of known hazards and negligent performance of work are not acceptable.    
US House Rep Betty McCollum is among the 18 signing the letter and she released this statement earlier this week, "Secretary Gates should immediately rescind any new awards to KBR.  It is irresponsible and negligent for the Department of Defense to grant additional contracts to a company facing such serious allegations.  We recently learned, after five years of scrutiny, that a Minnesota sailor was electrocuted to death by faulty wiring.  Who can trust KBR's work? . . . We have a moral responsibility to esnure the safety for our troops at home and abroad -- not pad the pocket of a negligent military contractor."  CorpWatch's Pratap Chatterjee (writing in Asia Times) explains that $35.4 million contract is "for the design and construction of a convoy support center at Camp Adder in Iraq.  The center will include a power plant, an electrical distribution center, a water purification and distribution system, a waste-water colleciton system, and associated information systems, along with paved roads, all to be built by KBR."   KBR is being entrusted with a project that has to do with electrocity?  It should not be getting any contracts but you'd think that just the term "electricity" in a KBR contract would be more than enough to make one pause.

Those actions are on the House side of Congress.  December 23rd, we last noted what the Senate was working on.  KBR was involved in that as well.  For an update, we'll note that Senator Evan Bayh's office issued the following statement last week:
Washington -- Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) are taking issue with the conclusions of an Army investigation into the exposure of hundreds of U.S. soldiers to a deadly carcinogen, sodium dichromate, at Qarmat Ali in Iraq in 2003. Since September 2008, Bayh has pushed to ensure the Army conducts a thorough investigation to ascertain whether every precaution was taken to protect Indiana National Guardsmen serving in Iraq.
"I am still unsatisfied with the information provided by the Army about their response to the exposure of U.S. service members to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali water injection facility in Iraq," Bayh said. "We are asking again for a complete account of how our service members were exposed to these conditions and what went wrong. If there's criminal negligence, people must be held accountable. If there was a lack of oversight by Army Corps of Engineers, people ought to be fired."                  
Senators Bayh and Dorgan released a letter Thursday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, saying the conclusions reached by the Army study the senators requested only raise new questions on the exposure of U.S. troops from Indiana, North Dakota, Oregon, West Virginia and South Carolina.    
The senators say the Army's evidence and their own investigations indicate that exposure of the troops appears to be far more severe than the Army or KBR have acknowledged.
Bayh said he still has many unanswered questions about KBR's role in the original exposure and contamination.      
"The company needs to be held to account for its behavior in this incident. We have a moral obligation to the men and women who were put in harm's way. We need to make sure to never find ourselves in this situation again," Bayh said.    
They also asked Gates and Geren to explain how the Army could pronounce itself "satisfied" with its own oversight of contractor KBR, and with the response by KBR and the Army to the exposure, given that:   
  • Some soldiers, exposed to the deadly chemical in the spring and summer of 2003, still have not been informed by either the Army or KBR that they were exposed.  
  • For months, KBR failed to identify the presence of the chemical, even though it was required to conduct an "environmental risk assessment" at the site.
  • According to the Army's own timeline, nearly three months passed after the initial detection before KBR began testing at the site. KBR waited two more weeks to start to start remediation of the site, and protective gear was not provided to soldiers until nearly a month after that.  
  • Indiana National Guard personnel were not told of the exposure until they saw KBR employees using PPE (personal protective equipment) at the site.        
"It looks like conclusions were made, without regard to the facts," Dorgan said. "We owe our soldiers much more than that. Given the well documented and serious failures at the site, I don't understand how the Army can claim KBR acted appropriately.  
"We have to identify those service members who were exposed to sodium dichromate and other lethal chemicals and make sure they get the kind of long-term care and treatment they deserve," Bayh concluded.
That is KBR, a corporation that Pratap Chatterjee points out has raked in "more than $25 billion" from the US government.  KBR announced another contract this week.  They're currently being sued by ten contract employees over the exposure to the carcinogen and AP notes of that lawsuit, "The KBR contractors' complaint in Houston is scheduled to be heard by an arbiter at a March hearing that will be closed at KBR's request. Contractors with complaints about work in Iraq generally have gone to arbitration as part of KBR's contract with the U.S. government in Iraq." 
Despite the above, UPI reported that the corporation won a contract "from the Army Contracting Command" worth $`9.2 million to "provide bulk fuel farm support for the Army in Kuwait".  Tom Fowler (Houston Chronicle) reported last week on KBR's guilty plea to bribing "Nigerian officials to win contracts to build a massive natural das project in that country".  Zachary A. Goldfarb (Washington Post) reports the $579 million fines agreed to are "the biggest fines ever paid by U.S. companies in a foreign corruption case".   We're not done with KBR.  The February 10th snapshot included thi
Meanwhile Deborah Haynes and Sonai Verma (Times of London) report that "a British manager for the services company Kellogg Brown and Root" is accused of an inappropriate sexual relationship with an Iraqi women working for the British embassy and that the manager "was also accused of sexual harassment more than 18 months ago by an Iraqi cleaner and two cooks at the embassy."  The reportes quote the cleaner who charged sexual harassment a year and a half ago stating today, "I was in the British Embassy and under the British flag and I was oppressed but nobody did anything about that."
Today Afif Sarhan (Islam Online) reports the woman described above "is locking herself home, refusing to meet anyone and sinking into despair over what she describes as sexual abuse and bullying at the British Embbassy and notes serious questions being raised as to why the British Embassy is allowing KBR to (again) investigate themselves?  British attorney Anna Areen declares, "The UK has long been very serious on the law of conduct inside government and similar places.  If they don't take on their hands the investigation in Baghdad, they will be saying that it is sllowed in Britain on the coming future.  [Those] responsible should pay for what they did and it will be honorable if UK officials take head of the investigation and punishment." . 
The January 9th snapshot highlighted Laurel Brubaker Calkins and Margaret Cronin Fisk (Bloomberg News) report that KBR and Halliburton decided that the an attack on a KBR truck in 2004 was not due to lack of security provided by the mega-rich corporations, the attack -- resulting in deaths and injuries -- was the fault of "the U.S. Army and Iraqi terrorists". Which was a low even for them.  Throughout the illegal war, KRB has put the US military at risk -- not just by electrocuting them or exposing them to dangerous chemicals.  When the KBR trucks would have a flat, get stuck or whatever, KBR employees would be able to leave the scene while US service members would have to stay there and wait for orders on what to do.  Stay there and be sitting ducks.  Kelly Dougherty (IVAW) has explained repeatedly, they would wait and wait and then finally be told to destroy the trucks and any cargo on it. Which would frequently anger the local populations.  In March of last year, Iraq Veterans Against the War held their Winter Soldier Investigation.  KPFA carried the hearings live for the bulk of the four days and Aaron Glantz and Aimee Allison were the on air moderators.  One of the ways to hear the audio of the hearings is to go to Glatnz' War Comes Home site.  [Allison is co-host of the station's The Morning Show and co-author with David Solnit of Army Of None.]  March 14th was the first day of panels (the previous day was the opening of the hearings) and one of the afternoon panels was on corruption and war profiteering.  Appearing on that panel was Doughtery and we'll note this from the March 14, 2008 snapshot:
KBR was the focus of Kelly Dougherty's testimony.  She discussed how she and others serving in Iraq assigned to protect convoys were repeatedly put at risk when a KBR vehicle broke down, how they were told it was an asset to be protected even if that meant killing someone and then they would be told to forget it, to destroy the vehicle and move out.  Iraqis desperate for fuel or the contents of the truck were not a concern and, if pressed, the US military command would instruct service members that distributing something in the trucks (before destroying them) could cause a riot.  All of which goes to Doughtery's statement of Iraqis, "I'm looking at people I can't even look in the eye."  Moving to Kuwait after serving in Iraq and while waiting to be sent back homes, service members were living in a KBR tent city.  Doughtery explained, "When we were leaving . . . we were put in these tent cities.  Our tents were completely covered with mold on the inside."  The tents had bunk beds and not cots so service members were not allowed to (as some wanted) sleep outside the tents to avoid what appeared to be Black Mold.  Instead, they suffered from respitory infections.  Dougherty noted "this living condition where we couldn't even be in the place were we were supposed to live without getting sick."  KBR made a big profit of the illegal war.  KBR provided the troops with tents that made them sick.  Where's the audit on that?  
They were dealing with KBR trucks -- which were worth about $80,000, chump change to KBR. You may remember the stories of contractors abandoning trucks and cars and the cost for new ones (usually on a cost-plus contract) being passed back on to you and me the tax payers. 
Doughtery noted that KBR's trucks "would break down a lot, would get in accidents a lot." They'd stop for flat tries or because they got stuck in the mud,things like that as well. The drivers were treated horribly by KBR and were from countries such as Pakistan, India, etc. 
The truck would break down, the driver would hop out of the truck and get a ride with someone else in the convoy and the MPs would be called in to secure the abandoned trucks. 
Doughtery explained, "For us as miltary police, we're told when we get into Iraq and when we're getting on these convoy missions" that KBR's trucks are United States assets and "need to be protected, with force, with deadly force if necessary." 
The drill was always the same: secure the trucks and wait. Then came the call that they couldn't find anyone to come get the trucks so they should just leave it.
That didn't mean, "Hop in your vehicles and leave!" 
That meant disable the vehicles (fire grenades into the engine blocks) and destroy whatever cargo it had. That meant setting fuel on fire in front of Iraqis who had no fuel. That meant burning produce in front of Iraqis who were hungry. That meant destroying a brand new ambulance in an area that had none and really needed one. Doughtery explained that even the local sheiks were out on the last one, trying to convince US soldiers that if they would leave the ambulance alone, they (Iraqis) would figure out how to get it off its side and out of the mud.
"That was pretty much a daily occurence," said Dougherty. "Where we were abandoning vehicles by KBR contractors on a daily basis."
And we'll use Kelly Dougherty's testimony as the transition to Iraq Veterans Against the War in order to note:
  • IVAW's Afghanistan Resolution and National Mobilization March 21st

    As an organization of service men and women who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, stateside, and around the world, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War have seen the impact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the people of these occupied countries and our fellow service members and veterans, as well as the cost of the wars at home and abroad. In recognition that our struggle to withdraw troops from Iraq and demand reparations for the Iraqi people is only part of the struggle to right the wrongs being committed in our name, Iraq Veterans Against the War has voted to adopt an official resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people. (To read the full resolution, click here.)  
    To that end, Iraq Veterans Against the War will be joining a national coalition which is being mobilized to march on the Pentagon, March 21st, to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and further our mission and goals in solidarity with the national anti-war movement. This demonstration will be the first opportunity to show President Obama and the new administration that our struggle was not only against the Bush administration - and that we will not sit around and hope that troops are removed under his rule, but that we will demand they be removed immediately.     
    For more information on the March 21st March on the Pentagon, and additional events being organized in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orlando, to include transportation, meetings, and how you can get involved, please visit: or

That is next month and World Can't Wait is another organization participating. Hopefully someone will ask President Barack Obama about the speech he gave in Danville, immediately after the 2004 DNC convention, where he declared, "I'd pick up arms right now to defend this country.  But if I'm going to ask someone else's son and daughter to go to war, I want to make sure it's the right war."  Did Iraq suddenly become "the right war"?  And what makes Afghanistan the right one as well?  (Barack's always said this is where the fight must be -- but aside from a lot of 9-11 spin, he's never said why.  Yes, Barack is the new Bully Boy and, just like the other one, hides behind 9-11 to justify his actions. (Has everyone forgotten that Bush insisted some pages not be released to the public -- regarding the Saudis and 9-11 -- in the official report?  If Barack's going to toss around 9-11, he might need to order those papers released -- as Congress had intended for them to be.)
While some pretend things are great or even good or even okay in Iraq, Dahr Jamail, back in Iraq, offers some realities:
"We only want a normal life," says Um Qasim, sitting in a bombed out building in Baghdad. She and others around have been saying that for years.
Um Qasim lives with 13 family members in a brick shanty on the edge of a former military intelligence building in the Mansoor district of Baghdad.
Five of her children are girls. Homelessness is not easy for anyone, but it is particularly challenging for women and girls.
"Me and my girls have to be extra careful living this way," Um Qasim told IPS. "We are tired of always being afraid, because any day, any time, strange men walk through our area, and there is no protection for us. Each day brings a new threat to us, and all the women here."
She rarely leaves her area, she says. Nor do her girls, for fear of being kidnapped or raped.
Meanwhile CBS Radio News' Tammy McCormick explained in this afternoon's newscast, "And anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is hailing the Iraqi election results as a new chapter.  He now says religious leaders and others should work together to put the needs of the country first. al-Sadr has long backed rebellions against the invasion and occupation."   AP quotes al-Sadr stating (through a spokesperson -- like when Michael Jackson was interviewed by Rolling Stone and he whispered all his answers to Janet), "Iraq has turned a new page after the elections, which I hope will be a gate for liberation, a gate to serve the Iraqis and not keep occupiers to divide Iraqis.  Goals are unified between politicians and the resistance to push out the occupiers."  I guess the press could pretend al-Sadr's statements meant something if they hadn't all spent the week leading up to the election and the days immediately after telling their news consumers that al-Sadr was nothing, that he had no pull and that he was a relic or at least, as Tanya Tucker once sang, a faded rose from days gone by.  Of Anbar Province, AP notes, "The so-called Awakening Councils won eight of 29 provincial seats in Anbar - giving them a strong hand to form a governing coalition with smaller Sunni groups across a province that was once a major al Qaeda stronghold."  Alsumaria reports, "While Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq (IHEC) was announcing the provincial elections final results a constitutional controversy was raised regarding the conditions of electing a new House Speaker. In fact, Accordance Front insists that its candidate Iyad Assamarrai won while some other blocs say that Saturday's session will decide who won the seat of Speaker of House."  That's yesterday but they have video and it's worth nothing again that there is no Speaker all this time later.
RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"


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