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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

10 more years in Iraq?

My usual source of morning news, the New York Times, has an article today about an Army "overseer" who was fired after he questioned more than $1 billion in questionable charges to "KBR, the Houston-based company that has provided food, housing and other services to American troops." The key information:

The official, Charles M. Smith, was the senior civilian overseeing the multibillion-dollar contract with KBR during the first two years of the war. Speaking out for the first time, Mr. Smith said that he was forced from his job in 2004 after informing KBR officials that the Army would impose escalating financial penalties if they failed to improve their chaotic Iraqi operations.

The article, by James Risen, is worth reading for its insights into how the war in Iraq has been a major boondoggle for American corporations. But buried in this article is the incredible information that KBR was recently awarded part of a 10-year, $150 billion contract to continue supplying the troops.

A contract for 10 years? I had not heard about this before, but here are more details in a Risen article from May 24:

Last month the Pentagon awarded the companies pieces of a new contract to provide food, shelter and basic services for American soldiers, a 10-year, $150 billion deal that stretches far beyond the final days of the Bush administration. KBR will still get a sizable chunk of the business, but now it will have to share the work with Fluor Corporation and DynCorp International.

The article also points out, as many of you already know:

KBR, previously a subsidiary of Halliburton, once headed by Mr. Cheney, has collected more than $24 billion since the war began. It has 40,000 employees in Iraq and 28,000 more in Afghanistan and Kuwait.

Now, it is always possible that I have not been paying attention, and that everyone knows about this but me. Yet somehow I doubt it. What sort of a contract is this? Can a new president cancel it, or are the taxpayers stuck with the bill no matter what? I don't know the answers, but I wonder why we have heard so little about it. Congressman Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is supposed to be looking into this sort of thing. In response to Smith's charges, Risen quotes Waxman as follows:

When told of Mr. Smith’s account, Representative Henry A. Waxman, the California Democrat who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said it “is startling, and it confirms the committee’s worst fears. KBR has repeatedly gouged the taxpayer, and the Bush administration has looked the other way every time.”

Fine words, and Waxman is one of our best representatives, but I wonder why Congress is allowing the lame-duck Bush administration to prop up these war profiteers for another 10 years. Perhaps I am just naive.

Appeasement Watch: The Times also reports today that Israel is talking with Hezbollah about a prisoner exchange, with Syrian representatives in Turkey, and with Hamas about a possible truce in Gaza. Israeli leaders obviously did not take Bush's recent comments before the Knesset (a thinly veiled attack on Obama) very seriously, even if some American politicians did. They must be some of those "self-hating Jews" you sometimes hear about.

Appeasement Update: The Times says tonight (June 17) that Israel and Hamas have agreed on a cease-fire, after, um, talking.

Racism Watch: University of Waterloo historian Andrew Hunt, who blogs at Andrew's Tiki Lounge, had a particularly perceptive post yesterday about a Barack Obama puppet in the form of a monkey. Andrew hits just the right notes on this controversy, and takes bloggers on both sides of the issue to task for their lack of communication skills.

Torture Watch: The Washington Post reports today the findings of a Senate investigation which concludes that top Pentagon officials began exploring torture methods in 2002 and then tried to make it look as though those initiatives came from lower down the military food chain. The first two grafs:

A Senate investigation has concluded that top Pentagon officials began assembling lists of harsh interrogation techniques in the summer of 2002 for use on detainees at Guantanamo Bay and that those officials later cited memos from field commanders to suggest that the proposals originated far down the chain of command, according to congressional sources briefed on the findings.

The sources said that memos and other evidence obtained during the inquiry show that officials in the office of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld started to research the use of waterboarding, stress positions, sensory deprivation and other practices in July 2002, months before memos from commanders at the detention facility in Cuba requested permission to use those measures on suspected terrorists.

Torture update (June 18): The Washington Post carries a report today that exams by human rights physicians have found evidence of torture and maltreatment of former prisoners from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. The first two grafs:

Medical examinations of former terrorism suspects held by the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, found evidence of torture and other abuse that resulted in serious injuries and mental disorders, according to a human rights group.

For the most extensive medical study of former U.S. detainees published so far, Physicians for Human Rights had doctors and mental health professionals examine 11 former prisoners. The group alleges finding evidence of U.S. torture and war crimes and accuses U.S. military health professionals of allowing the abuse of detainees, denying them medical care and providing confidential medical information to interrogators that they then exploited.

Cookie Watch: Oh no, looks like Cindy McCain is at it again. The Huffington Post reports that she has stolen another recipe and tried to pass it off as her own (or perhaps another "low-level" intern did it again.) This time it's oatmeal-butterscotch cookies apparently taken from Hershey's Web site. Doesn't someone as rich as Cindy have a cook she can steal her recipes from?

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