When the Democrats took over congress in January 2007 there was a lot of Republican angst over whether they would immediately turn Capitol Hill into a three-ring circus in an effort to roll back all the tax cuts, impeach the President and rip us out of Iraq. But any Democratic effort to turn tables on the GOP this year has been of minimal impact and drama – primarily because the so-called “MSM” has met it all with a distracted yawn. Republicans need not get exercised, they don’t even have to show up – because the cameras ain’t rolling.
That’s why it’s really disappointing when a truly informative, possibly damning, hearing is engaged and it has all the effect of a tree falling in a forest. Yesterday, while the press corps was squirming and wincing to the sounds of Rev. Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club, Sen. Byron Dorgan, chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, heard from former Kellogg, Brown and Root employees about widespread contracting abuses in Iraq. The committee heard from two people who I’m sure White House supporters would deem “unpatriotic” for coming forward, but they sounded anything but. And what they had to say was disturbing.
Linda Warren, a 50-year-old Marine Corps veteran with three sons in the military, worked for KBR (then under Halliburton) in 2004. She was threatened with bodily harm, and then later fired, for speaking out about the abuses she saw. She testified before the committee yesterday:
From the first day I was in Baghdad, I noticed something happening which I felt to be very wrong. KBR employees who were contracted to perform construction duties inside the palaces and municipal buildings were looting. Not only were they looting, but they had a system in place to get the contraband out of the country so it could be sold on eBay. They stole art work, rugs, crystal and even melted down gold to make spurs for cowboy boots …
All of the camps were the same. There appeared to be widespread corruption and no system of checks and balances. For instance, KBR allowed employees to use military convoys to get to the Baghdad International Airport to purchase alcohol. Another practice commonly referred to as a “drug deal” was rampant. A drug deal was a trade between KBR employees for goods stolen from the military. KBR employees would break into a “connex” box, which is a trailer full of supplies, and steal items, including lumber, air conditioners and tools meant for the troops. So instead of the troops using these items, KBR employees took them for their own use. Sometimes the KBR employees would trade these items with Iraqis …
Then, with her voice nearly cracking:
The impact that year had on me has been profound, and there were many times when I was ashamed to be an American working in Iraq. I suffer from anxiety and depression as a result of my experience working for KBR. I was afraid to talk about these events and yet, when I returned to the states, I contacted Members of Congress
because our sons and daughters who are fighting over in Iraq, and dying in the sands, deserve better. My son, who was in Fallujah with me, serving in the Marines, deserves better. Every American must be ready to step up to the plate when called to serve our country, and not be afraid. Our men and women who have stepped up to the plate
deserve the best that we can give them. Please do something about contractor abuses.
Frank Cassady, a former contractor for KBR/Halliburton from 2004-2005 was also a witness.
I first served as an ice plant operator at Camp Webster at Al-Asad in Iraq and also worked in various locations on electrical projects, construction and laundry. I observed burn pits throughout my time in Iraq, which resulted in millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars being wasted. Burn pits were used by the military and others to dispose of still-useable equipment and items that were no longer needed for a particular project, might need minor repair, or were difficult to transport and find storage ..
These pits were burning 24 hours a day …
I saw large, ten foot deep trenches dug in the sand where computers, electronic
equipment, and military items that could not be burned were buried. I asked military personal, “Why not send the wood and equipment to other bases?” I was told that it is cheaper to destroy everything and mark it off as destroyed by “the war” than to pay for the truck transport and find adequate storage…
In Fallujah, I saw explosives in the burn pits. There were times when these explosives would go off while I or my co-workers were disposing of waste items. In Fallujah, I observed Iraqis scavenging in the burn pits for items that they could use. They would jump in the back of my truck and try to remove items I was not discarding. Sometimes I had to physically remove them from my truck.
At Al-Asad, a large waste dump and burn pit had many items that appeared to be in perfectly good condition, yet were discarded. I saw flack vests, black and green jungle style combat boots, olive drab field jackets, ammunition crates, tires, inner tubes, and a large volume of food items. These items were going to waste in the burn pits …
I came to testify before you today because I saw how the troops suffered and put at greater risk because of the shoddy work by KBR employees and the wasteful spending of KBR management. I would do anything to help the military and I hope that my testimony today will make a difference for the troops.
These two people seem to have no ax to grind other than they were bullied by their ex-bosses – who are still being fueled by billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars each year of this war – and that they feel compelled to get the truth out. And they did – to the deafening silence of the so-called liberal media. That liberal media was spending all of its energy Monday — not covering this hearing, or the death of four American soldiers in Baghdad or even in the hike in attacks on the Baghdad Green Zone – but over whether Sen. Barack Obama would be “hurt” by his pastor coming to town.
Meanwhile, Obama was the only presidential candidate to acknowledge his colleagues’ hearing Monday, and sent along a statement (pumping, in part, legislation he’s sponsoring to plug a loophole that allows companies like KBR to avoid paying taxes by creating offshore tax shelters):
“Whether it is the unaccountable actions of private security contractors accused of killing Iraqi civilians, the government’s overreliance on no-bid contracts, the alleged sexual assaults on the employees of major contractors, or contractor tax practices that exploit tax loopholes at the expense of ordinary taxpayers, the problems of military contracting – and all government contracting – must be addressed.
Addressed? Check. Action? Still waiting. Dorgan can’t even find enough senate support to get subpoena powers. After several attempts to create a separate committee to investigate contract abuses in a war that could go on for years and years and trillions of dollars, he still can’t get the 60 votes to move forward. Unless the Democrats really pummel the GOP in the congressional races next year – in fact, there’s potential there – expect more of the same next year, no matter who is president.