Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News
It’s hard to believe how many years we’ve been at war. I protested the invasion of Iraq for many reasons, one of them being “we can’t afford it.”
Friends of mine in the Alaska National Guard were deployed over and over. Clearly we spent more than borrowed money on the wars; we spent lives, and their time with families and friends. But they’d signed up, and they didn’t complain about their jobs. When they complained, it was about the contractors.
“How does the lady contracted to hand out towels at the base gym make three times what I am and I’m taking bullets in my plane?”
“Who do these cowboys answer to? Their actions confuse locals, and put us at risk. (The locals) don’t know the difference between contractors and military — we both have guns.”
For a decade I’ve opposed private companies profiting off our wars.
Here’s a horrifying tale involving one of the biggest profiteers. The story, though first reported in early November, resurfaced recently. What happened should offend every American, military or civilian.
The full chain of events was laid out in a lengthy and detailed piece by Ryan J. Reilly on the Huffington Post website this week. The following account is taken from his report:
When we invaded Iraq, under false pretenses, there were all sorts of nasty surprises waiting. One of them was a chemical compound called sodium dichromate. It’s a nasty carcinogen the Iraqis used to increase oil production.
It also helped to end the lives of some of our servicemen in a horrible, painful process of multiple organ failure.
In 2003, KBR, a contractor with Dick Cheney as a fairy godfather, was in charge of the water treatment center where this chemical had been stored. Cheney had been CEO of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000, before becoming vice president. KBR is the government contractor subsidiary of Halliburton. Because our military isn’t trained to get oil fields back into production, we hired KBR to do it. Active duty and National Guard members from
Indiana, West Virginia, South Carolina and Oregon guarded a facility at Qarmat Ali and contractors working there.
They were told the chemical was a mild irritant and not to fret.
In November, a jury found KBR guilty of negligence in the poisoning U.S. soldiers. Twelve members of the Oregon National Guard had brought the suit. Two months ago, PR Newswire reported, ”The soldiers testified they have health problems, including respiratory, skin, gastrointestinal, and lung issues because of the toxic exposure. The trial included videotape testimony of Indiana National Guard Lt. Col. James Gentry, who died in 2009 of lung cancer linked by the Veterans Administration to the sodium dichromate exposure at Qarmat Ali.”
The evidence showed KBR knew how toxic the chemical was and looked away. A fine of $85 million in damages was levied. More lawsuits are pending.
Our soldiers endured painful deaths because of the negligence of a company the government hired.
Can you imagine if “the terrorists” were using chemical weapons on our military? They didn’t have to, KBR beat them to it.
Here’s the perverse part. KBR wants American taxpayers to pay the $85 million award as well as the $15 million cost of their failed legal defense. As offensive as multi-billion-dollar, no-bid contracts have been to many, we now know just how cronied up the situation is.
An indemnity agreement protecting KBR from legal liability was included in the 2003 contract to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure. Its precise terms are secret because it’s considered “classified.” We don’t know what liabilities KBR may yet be able to flip to the American taxpayer.
I say any contracts the U.S. government still has with KBR should be pulled immediately. If “corporations are people, my friend,” as Mitt Romney put it, then how about we put some KBR executives in jail for manslaughter?
I find it remarkable that the “free market” champions who worship capitalism seem to be perpetually in line for one more government bailout.
KBR is just one.
I wonder what it takes for our lawmakers and citizens to say, “Enough!” We’ll invade a country that didn’t attack us, run up a deficit, borrow to pay for it, ignore our own crippled infrastructure, spend millions to set up single-payer health care in Iraq, wave our flags and argue about who loves America the most.
A court just decided that KBR doesn’t love America the most. Can we stop making them rich now?