Sunday, October 21, 2007

Nice work if you can get it...

An article by Frank Rich in the New York Times today looks at what lay behind a US Air Force officer's suicide in Virginia, and finds a picture of big money and corruption thriving on the daily business of killings in Iraq.

Charles D.Reichers, 47, the US air force's second highest procurement officer, killed himself by running his car engine in the garage at his Virginia home.

Two weeks before this the Washington Post had reported that the Air Force had asked a defense contractor, Commonwealth Research Institute, to give Reichers a job with no known duties while he waited for official clearance for his new Pentagon assignment. Mr. Riechers, a decorated Air Force officer, told the Post: “I really didn’t do anything for C.R.I. I got a paycheck from them.”

He recieved $26,788 for two months in this position. I am sure we would all like that kind of money, but the US papers suggested that maybe besides the privilege of having an air force officer on board, the company might have been looking forward to returned favours when its airman landed at the Pentagon and there were contracts coming up.

As Frank Rich points out, mind you, Mr.Reichers' little earner would not show up as even a rounding error in the accounts of the Iraq-Afghanistan war.

"So far some $6 billion worth of contracts are being investigated for waste and fraud, however slowly, by the Pentagon and the Justice Department. That doesn’t include the unaccounted-for piles of cash, some $9 billion in Iraqi funds, that vanished during L. Paul Bremer’s short but disastrous reign in the Green Zone".

Instead of the values of "democratic governance" which the United States was supposed to be sending to Iraq, "wholesale corruption of government contracting sabotaged the crucial mission that might have enabled us to secure the country: the rebuilding of the Iraqi infrastructure, from electricity to hospitals. "

Eric Prince, who used to be media-shy and little-known, has been giving interviews allover the place in the past week. His company, Blackwater USA, stands accused of the deaths of 17 innocent Iraqis mowed down in on September 16 in Baghdad. Thanks to legal loopholes granted by Bremer when the occupation started, these contractors don't have much to worry about in the way of prosecutions.

No, Mr. Prince is moving on. "As he told The Wall Street Journal last week, Blackwater no longer cares much about its security business; it is expanding into a “full spectrum” defense contractor offering a “one-stop shop” for everything from remotely piloted blimps to armored trucks. The point of his P.R. offensive was to smooth his quest for more billions of Pentagon loot".

Charles D.Riechers' job at the Pentagon, managing a $30 billion Air Force procurement budget, had been previously held by an officer named Darleen Druyun, who in 2004 was sentenced to nine months in prison for securing jobs for herself, her daughter and her son-in-law at Boeing while favoring the company with billions of dollars of contracts. Ms. Druyun’s Pentagon post remained vacant until Mr. Riechers was appointed. He was brought in to clean up the corruption.

A Bush-appointed Pentagon inspector general delivered a report to Congress on Druyun's corruption in 2005. But large chunks of it were blacked out, as were the names of many White House officials. The inspector general also assured Congress that neither Donald Rumsfeld nor Paul Wolfowitz knew anything about the crimes. Senators on the Armed Services Committee were incredulous. John Warner, the Virginia Republican, could not believe that the Pentagon’s top two officials had no information about “the most significant defense procurement mismanagement in contemporary history.”

But the inspector general who vouched for their ignorance, Joseph Schmitz, was already heading for the exit, his next job being as the chief operating officer of the Prince Group, Blackwater’s parent company.

Eric Prince and his family have made six-figure contributions to Republican politicians, and have life-long connections to the religious Right in America. Blackwater also uses high-powered lobbyists whose other clients include the company building America's new embassy in Iraq, said to be Vatican sized, and already running $144 million over its $592 million budget.

America has spent twice as much so far "rebuilding" what it destroyed in Iraq than it did after World War II in Japan. But Iraqis still can't depend on electricity or clean water supplies. Where the money has gone is a story that some witnesses - Iraqi or American - don't live to tell. In the "home of the brave" itself, war veterans and their families may have to ask for welfare. But don't say the war was for nothing. For some people it has paid very well.

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