Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) have been making hay in the burning Iraqi sun for years now. It is, of course, no coincidence that the man sitting as vice president played a key role with his influence in obtaining the lion's share of contracts in Iraq for the company he was CEO of prior to his self-appointed position. Yet none of this is news.
What is news, however, is that the ties that bind Cheney to Halliburton also link him to groups with even broader interests in the Middle East, which are causing civilians on the ground there, as well as in the US, to pay the price.
Cheney had much more at stake than pure altruism in making sure Halliburton/KBR obtained so many no-bid contracts in occupied Iraq. Despite his claims of not having any financial ties to Halliburton, the fact is that in both 2001 and 2002 he earned twice as much from a deferred salary from his "old" company as when he was CEO.
But that wasn't the beginning. When Cheney was US Secretary of Defense in the early 1990's under Big Bush, Halliburton was awarded the job of studying, then implementing, the privatization of routine army functions such as cleaning and cooking meals.
Following this study, when Cheney was finished with his job at the Pentagon, he scored the job as CEO of Halliburton, which he held until nominating himself for the position of Little Bush's running mate in 2000. Remember, it was Cheney who was given the task of finding a running mate for Bush. After searching far and wide across the US, Cheney ended up generously offering his own services for the job.
As if Cheney didn't already have enough conflicts of interest, it is important to note that he assisted in founding the neo-conservative think tank, the "Project for the New American Century (PNAC)," whose goal is to "promote American global leadership," which entails acquiring Iraqi oil. Complimenting this, Cheney was also part of the board of advisers to the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) along with John Bolton, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz (all PNAC members) before becoming vice president. JINSA, self-described as a "nonsectarian educational organization," does things like nominate John Bolton for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize and works to "explain the role Israel can ... play in bolstering ... the link between American defense policy and the security of Israel."
Their Mission Statement adds, "The inherent instability in the region [Middle East] caused primarily by inter-Arab rivalries and the secular/religious split in many Muslim societies leaves the future of the region in doubt. Israel, with its technological capabilities and shared system of values, has a key role to play as a US ally in the region," which happens to be quite similar to the stated goals of the PNAC for the region, but I digress.
By the end of 2002, Cheney owned at least 433,000 unexercised Halliburton stock options worth over $10 million. And that was before the invasion of Iraq, when the games really began.
In March 2003, the month the invasion began, Halliburton was awarded a no-bid contract worth $7 billion from the Pentagon. The blatant awarding of this "reconstruction" contract to Halliburton even led Representative Henry Waxman to comment, "The administration's approach to the reconstruction of Iraq is fundamentally flawed. It's a boondoggle that's enriching private contractors."
Of course the invasion and occupation of Iraq aren't only about oil.
Remember, it was Cheney himself who, at a VFW convention in August 2002, said "Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon. Just how soon, we cannot really gauge."
Cheney then, solely in the interests of protecting the American and Iraqi people of course, made sure the US would go into Iraq and take care of that nuclear trouble-maker Saddam Hussein.
Just to be safe, Halliburton was paid $40 million for providing housing and transportation for teams searching for non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. For with each contract Halliburton is and was awarded, Cheney's bank account grows.
The one place where there were remnants of a nuclear program in Iraq, albeit over 20 years before the 2003 US invasion, was the Osirak Nuclear Research Facility on the outskirts of Baghdad. US-made Israeli warplanes bombed it back on June 7, 1981, and when I visited the place in January 2004, all I found were empty warehouses which the American military wasn't concerned about enough to prevent from being looted.
Villagers in nearby al-Tuwetha, ignorant of radioactive waste stored in old drums, looted them in the chaos following the invasion and had been using them as water containers - thus irradiating the entire village.
One example of what it looks like on the ground in Iraq when Halliburton fails to fulfill its contractual obligations is the life of Adel Mhomoud. The 44-year-old beekeeper in al-Tuwetha told me, "I have cancer, and I know I'm dying. My white blood cell count is 14,000, and I don't have enough red blood cells. We are all sick; our joints ache, my hips are killing me, and my blood is bad. But nobody will help us here."
Certainly not Halliburton.
Cheney, who received no less than five military deferments during the Vietnam War despite being a supporter of that war (Sound familiar?), had shamelessly told the veterans at the VFW, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."
So that was the door Cheney took to bring Iraq his Halliburton.
And of course, once through that door, Halliburton promptly went to work.
Aside from the aforementioned awarding of no-bid contracts worth billions of US taxpayer dollars, as early as December 2003, the US Army found out Halliburton was overcharging the government $61 million for fuel transportation and $67 million for food services in Iraq. I remember being in Baghdad when this occurred - seeing the enormously long gas lines at petrol stations whilst knowing Halliburton, not only failing to provide Iraqis with their own petrol, was even charging the US taxpayer three dollars per gallon for fuel that local companies could have imported for under one dollar.
But that was barely the beginning.
Let's take a brief glance at some of the more recent Halliburton/KBR rogueries:
27 February 2006 - US Army decides to reimburse KBR nearly all of its disputed costs on a $2.41 billion no-bid contract to deliver fuel and repair equipment in Iraq, despite Pentagon auditors identifying over $250 million in charges as "potentially" excessive.
17 February 2006 - KBR executive hired to fly cargo into Iraq pleads guilty to inflating invoices by $1.14 million to cover fraudulent "war risk surcharges."
6 February 2006 - KBR employee in Iraq, speaking on condition of anonymity, says "We pay our locals [in Iraq] $5 to $16 dollars a day and you can see where [KBR] put it down [on the military requisition] as $60 a day." Military requisitions reveal KBR to be paying between $5-$16 per day in wages to third world laborers in Iraq whilst billing US taxpayers between $50-$80 per day.
30 January 2006 - Bush administration settles dispute between Pentagon and Halliburton by agreeing to pay company $199 million in disputed gasoline charges in Iraq. To date KBR has been awarded nearly $16 billion in total revenue from Iraq contracts.
23 January 2006 - Halliburton fails to alert American troops and civilian contractors at US base in Ramadi that their water was contaminated. Despite allegations which came from Halliburton's own water quality experts, the company denies there was a contamination problem.
27 December 2005 - KBR, linked to human trafficking-related concerns via its work in Iraq (such as forced prostitution and labor), Halliburton benefits from Defense Department's refusal to adopt policy barring human trafficking.
1 December 2005 - UPI reports KBR workers in Iraq ("third country" nationals) found to be paid as little as 50 cents an hour.
5 November 2005 - UN auditing board finds that US should repay Iraqi government $208 million from Iraqi oil revenue for fraudulent contracting work.
Then there is how these "policies" Halliburton is following in Iraq affect US soldiers and contractors, including its own employees.
With contracts in Iraq now worth up to $18 billion, there is nothing stopping Halliburton from abusing the lack of oversight and obvious conflict of interest between their free reign and their ties to the vice president.
An example of this is Jim Spiri, who was hired by Halliburton/KBR in January 2004 to work as a logistics coordinator. Sent to Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, he worked the flight line handling passenger movements, as Spiri had 20 years of aviation experience.
"During my time there, I assisted nightly with medevac [medical evacuations] operations and was highly respected among all military medical folks," he told me this week. "I had a good name throughout the theatre."
But problems were immediately apparent to him.
"I witnessed much alcohol abuse, in an environment where alcohol is strictly prohibited. I made note of this and reported it to my superiors, who actually were the ones abusing the system. It was obvious that the fox was guarding the hen house, so to speak."
He told me his entire flight line operation was "run in a gang-like manner" and "the work was never done in an efficient manner." Instead, according to Spiri, the motto was, "Do as little as possible for as much as you can, for as long as you can."
On February 5th of this year, while working the night shift which he had for the last two years, Spiri witnessed something that made the thought of continuing to work for KBR intolerable.
After watching a fallen soldier loaded onto a plane without the proper ceremony of honor, Spiri told me he "wrote an account of what I experienced that night." After this, "It was published, and ... all hell broke loose about 36 hours later."
Spiri was fired by KBR after writing an article detailing the event and criticizing Halliburton's policies in Iraq.
Now he wants to shine light on how KBR operates in Iraq. "What they don't want to let out is the type of workers they have over there, that it's the largest gravy train operation, it's the largest welfare system I've ever seen in my life. It's pathetic," Spiri said in a recent interview while adding that over half the people KBR employed in Iraq were "grossly under-qualified and highly over-paid."
His work entailed three people, but by the time he left there were 10 people on his team, most of whom "sat around listening to their iPods and DVD players."
Yet firing an employee for raising awareness about corruption and his questioning of policy is minor compared to the treatment of Iraqis meted out by the company.
When I was in Amman last May, I met Ahlam al-Hassan, a young Iraqi woman who had worked for KBR in Diwaniyah.
Two gunshots by assailants who attacked her for collaborating with occupation forces left her blind, and her former employers would not return her calls or requests for assistance.
For her three months of work for KBR she was paid $475, having taken the job to support her family. "My two bosses at KBR, Mr. Jeff and Mr. Mark, were very good and gentle with me," she explained to me in Jordan, "They told me it wasn't dangerous to work for them." But after spending months in hospitals for what happened to her on her way to work, "After this, they have made no attempts to contact me."
Note that on May 31, 2004, an Army Corps of Engineers email revealed that Cheney's office "coordinated" Halliburton's multi-billion dollar Iraq contract. Cheney, like most common criminals, denied having anything to do with the no-bid contract.
More recently, on January 26th of this year, Halliburton announced that its 2005 profits were the "Best in our 86-year history," as all six of its divisions posted record results. Halliburton stock price doubled in the last year, and Dick Cheney's tax returns indicate that he earned $194,862 from his Halliburton stock in just the last year.
Loot Dick, Loot!
Is that clear enough?
All of this begs the question: Do you approve of your tax dollars being used in this fashion?
If not, then what are you willing to do about it?
Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who spent over 8 months reporting from occupied Iraq. He presented evidence of US war crimes in Iraq at the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration in New York City this January. He writes regularly for TruthOut.org, Inter Press Service, Asia Times, TomDispatch, and maintains his own website dahrjamailiraq.com.