Friday, February 20, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, a US soldier is convicted in a murder case, Britian claims Iran made an offer (they could or couldn't refuse?), KBR has more problems (of their own making) and more.
Starting with one-time Halliburton subsidary Kellogg Brown & Root, US House Rep Carol Shea-Porter's office announced that a letter was sent to US Secretary of Defense "Robert Gates asking why defense contractor KBR, Inc. was recently awarded a new $35.4 million contract involving electrical work in Iraq. KBR is currently under investigation by the Department of Defense Inspector General for the deaths of 18 Americans, who were electrocuted in buildings that KBR held a contract to mainatin. Military criminal investigators have reopened five cases, and the Army Criminal Investigate Services has classified one of them as 'ngeligent homicide'." The letter, signed by 18 other members of the House, notes:
As you are aware, KBR has held a contract for building maintenance for U.S. military facilities in Iraq since 2003. During this time, there have been numerous investigations into the dangers KBR's faulty electrical work is creating for our military personnel. The Department of Defense Inspector General is currently investigating the electrocution deaths of 18 Americans (16 soldiers and 2 contractors) in KBR-maintained facilities. KBR is under criminal investigation for the electrocution deaths of several U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform conducted an in-depth investigation into the problem of electrocutions in U.S. facilities in Iraq and the death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, a decorated Green Beret electrocuted in his shower on January 2, 2008. The Committee's investigation showed that KBR was alerted to the deficiencies in this and other cases, but failed to take corrective action. In 2008, the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) issued a "Level III Corrective Action Request" to KBR, indicating that the contractor was in "serious non-compliance." This action request, the final warning before a contract is terminated, points to KBR's continuing failure to ensure electrical safety for our troops. With this history, it is not surprising that Capt. David J. Graff, commander of the DCMA's International Division, was quoted in an Associated Press article, stating that "many within DOD have lost or are losing all remaining confidence in KBR's ability to successfully and repeatedly perform the required electrical support services mission in Iraq."
Despite these serious, ongoing concerns, the Department of Defense has awarded KBR a new contract that includes the type of work that KBR failed to perform adequately for years. Threats to the safety and lives of soldiers or others because of known hazards and negligent performance of work are not acceptable.
US House Rep Betty McCollum is among the 18 signing the letter and she released this statement earlier this week, "Secretary Gates should immediately rescind any new awards to KBR. It is irresponsible and negligent for the Department of Defense to grant additional contracts to a company facing such serious allegations. We recently learned, after five years of scrutiny, that a Minnesota sailor was electrocuted to death by faulty wiring. Who can trust KBR's work? . . . We have a moral responsibility to esnure the safety for our troops at home and abroad -- not pad the pocket of a negligent military contractor." CorpWatch's Pratap Chatterjee (writing in Asia Times) explains that $35.4 million contract is "for the design and construction of a convoy support center at Camp Adder in Iraq. The center will include a power plant, an electrical distribution center, a water purification and distribution system, a waste-water colleciton system, and associated information systems, along with paved roads, all to be built by KBR." KBR is being entrusted with a project that has to do with electrocity? It should not be getting any contracts but you'd think that just the term "electricity" in a KBR contract would be more than enough to make one pause.
Those actions are on the House side of Congress. December 23rd, we last noted what the Senate was working on. KBR was involved in that as well. For an update, we'll note that Senator Evan Bayh's office issued the following statement last week:
Washington -- Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) are taking issue with the conclusions of an Army investigation into the exposure of hundreds of U.S. soldiers to a deadly carcinogen, sodium dichromate, at Qarmat Ali in Iraq in 2003. Since September 2008, Bayh has pushed to ensure the Army conducts a thorough investigation to ascertain whether every precaution was taken to protect Indiana National Guardsmen serving in Iraq.
"I am still unsatisfied with the information provided by the Army about their response to the exposure of U.S. service members to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali water injection facility in Iraq," Bayh said. "We are asking again for a complete account of how our service members were exposed to these conditions and what went wrong. If there's criminal negligence, people must be held accountable. If there was a lack of oversight by Army Corps of Engineers, people ought to be fired."
Senators Bayh and Dorgan released a letter Thursday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, saying the conclusions reached by the Army study the senators requested only raise new questions on the exposure of U.S. troops from Indiana, North Dakota, Oregon, West Virginia and South Carolina.
The senators say the Army's evidence and their own investigations indicate that exposure of the troops appears to be far more severe than the Army or KBR have acknowledged.
Bayh said he still has many unanswered questions about KBR's role in the original exposure and contamination.
"The company needs to be held to account for its behavior in this incident. We have a moral obligation to the men and women who were put in harm's way. We need to make sure to never find ourselves in this situation again," Bayh said.
They also asked Gates and Geren to explain how the Army could pronounce itself "satisfied" with its own oversight of contractor KBR, and with the response by KBR and the Army to the exposure, given that:
"It looks like conclusions were made, without regard to the facts," Dorgan said. "We owe our soldiers much more than that. Given the well documented and serious failures at the site, I don't understand how the Army can claim KBR acted appropriately.
"We have to identify those service members who were exposed to sodium dichromate and other lethal chemicals and make sure they get the kind of long-term care and treatment they deserve," Bayh concluded.
That is KBR, a corporation that Pratap Chatterjee points out has raked in "more than $25 billion" from the US government. KBR announced another contract this week. They're currently being sued by ten contract employees over the exposure to the carcinogen and AP notes of that lawsuit, "The KBR contractors' complaint in Houston is scheduled to be heard by an arbiter at a March hearing that will be closed at KBR's request. Contractors with complaints about work in Iraq generally have gone to arbitration as part of KBR's contract with the U.S. government in Iraq."
Despite the above, UPI reported that the corporation won a contract "from the Army Contracting Command" worth $`9.2 million to "provide bulk fuel farm support for the Army in Kuwait". Tom Fowler (Houston Chronicle) reported last week on KBR's guilty plea to bribing "Nigerian officials to win contracts to build a massive natural das project in that country". Zachary A. Goldfarb (Washington Post) reports the $579 million fines agreed to are "the biggest fines ever paid by U.S. companies in a foreign corruption case". We're not done with KBR. The February 10th snapshot included thi
Meanwhile Deborah Haynes and Sonai Verma (Times of London) report that "a British manager for the services company Kellogg Brown and Root" is accused of an inappropriate sexual relationship with an Iraqi women working for the British embassy and that the manager "was also accused of sexual harassment more than 18 months ago by an Iraqi cleaner and two cooks at the embassy." The reportes quote the cleaner who charged sexual harassment a year and a half ago stating today, "I was in the British Embassy and under the British flag and I was oppressed but nobody did anything about that."
Today Afif Sarhan (Islam Online) reports the woman described above "is locking herself home, refusing to meet anyone and sinking into despair over what she describes as sexual abuse and bullying at the British Embbassy and notes serious questions being raised as to why the British Embassy is allowing KBR to (again) investigate themselves? British attorney Anna Areen declares, "The UK has long been very serious on the law of conduct inside government and similar places. If they don't take on their hands the investigation in Baghdad, they will be saying that it is sllowed in Britain on the coming future. [Those] responsible should pay for what they did and it will be honorable if UK officials take head of the investigation and punishment." .
The January 9th snapshot highlighted Laurel Brubaker Calkins and Margaret Cronin Fisk (Bloomberg News) report that KBR and Halliburton decided that the an attack on a KBR truck in 2004 was not due to lack of security provided by the mega-rich corporations, the attack -- resulting in deaths and injuries -- was the fault of "the U.S. Army and Iraqi terrorists". Which was a low even for them. Throughout the illegal war, KRB has put the US military at risk -- not just by electrocuting them or exposing them to dangerous chemicals. When the KBR trucks would have a flat, get stuck or whatever, KBR employees would be able to leave the scene while US service members would have to stay there and wait for orders on what to do. Stay there and be sitting ducks. Kelly Dougherty (IVAW) has explained repeatedly, they would wait and wait and then finally be told to destroy the trucks and any cargo on it. Which would frequently anger the local populations. In March of last year, Iraq Veterans Against the War held their Winter Soldier Investigation. KPFA carried the hearings live for the bulk of the four days and Aaron Glantz and Aimee Allison were the on air moderators. One of the ways to hear the audio of the hearings is to go to Glatnz' War Comes Home site. [Allison is co-host of the station's The Morning Show and co-author with David Solnit of Army Of None.] March 14th was the first day of panels (the previous day was the opening of the hearings) and one of the afternoon panels was on corruption and war profiteering. Appearing on that panel was Doughtery and we'll note this from the March 14, 2008 snapshot:
KBR was the focus of Kelly Dougherty's testimony. She discussed how she and others serving in Iraq assigned to protect convoys were repeatedly put at risk when a KBR vehicle broke down, how they were told it was an asset to be protected even if that meant killing someone and then they would be told to forget it, to destroy the vehicle and move out. Iraqis desperate for fuel or the contents of the truck were not a concern and, if pressed, the US military command would instruct service members that distributing something in the trucks (before destroying them) could cause a riot. All of which goes to Doughtery's statement of Iraqis, "I'm looking at people I can't even look in the eye." Moving to Kuwait after serving in Iraq and while waiting to be sent back homes, service members were living in a KBR tent city. Doughtery explained, "When we were leaving . . . we were put in these tent cities. Our tents were completely covered with mold on the inside." The tents had bunk beds and not cots so service members were not allowed to (as some wanted) sleep outside the tents to avoid what appeared to be Black Mold. Instead, they suffered from respitory infections. Dougherty noted "this living condition where we couldn't even be in the place were we were supposed to live without getting sick." KBR made a big profit of the illegal war. KBR provided the troops with tents that made them sick. Where's the audit on that?
They were dealing with KBR trucks -- which were worth about $80,000, chump change to KBR. You may remember the stories of contractors abandoning trucks and cars and the cost for new ones (usually on a cost-plus contract) being passed back on to you and me the tax payers.
Doughtery noted that KBR's trucks "would break down a lot, would get in accidents a lot." They'd stop for flat tries or because they got stuck in the mud,things like that as well. The drivers were treated horribly by KBR and were from countries such as Pakistan, India, etc.
The truck would break down, the driver would hop out of the truck and get a ride with someone else in the convoy and the MPs would be called in to secure the abandoned trucks.
Doughtery explained, "For us as miltary police, we're told when we get into Iraq and when we're getting on these convoy missions" that KBR's trucks are United States assets and "need to be protected, with force, with deadly force if necessary."
The drill was always the same: secure the trucks and wait. Then came the call that they couldn't find anyone to come get the trucks so they should just leave it.
That didn't mean, "Hop in your vehicles and leave!"
That meant disable the vehicles (fire grenades into the engine blocks) and destroy whatever cargo it had. That meant setting fuel on fire in front of Iraqis who had no fuel. That meant burning produce in front of Iraqis who were hungry. That meant destroying a brand new ambulance in an area that had none and really needed one. Doughtery explained that even the local sheiks were out on the last one, trying to convince US soldiers that if they would leave the ambulance alone, they (Iraqis) would figure out how to get it off its side and out of the mud.
"That was pretty much a daily occurence," said Dougherty. "Where we were abandoning vehicles by KBR contractors on a daily basis."
And we'll use Kelly Dougherty's testimony as the transition to Iraq Veterans Against the War in order to note:
That is next month and World Can't Wait is another organization participating. Hopefully someone will ask President Barack Obama about the speech he gave in Danville, immediately after the 2004 DNC convention, where he declared, "I'd pick up arms right now to defend this country. But if I'm going to ask someone else's son and daughter to go to war, I want to make sure it's the right war." Did Iraq suddenly become "the right war"? And what makes Afghanistan the right one as well? (Barack's always said this is where the fight must be -- but aside from a lot of 9-11 spin, he's never said why. Yes, Barack is the new Bully Boy and, just like the other one, hides behind 9-11 to justify his actions. (Has everyone forgotten that Bush insisted some pages not be released to the public -- regarding the Saudis and 9-11 -- in the official report? If Barack's going to toss around 9-11, he might need to order those papers released -- as Congress had intended for them to be.)
While some pretend things are great or even good or even okay in Iraq, Dahr Jamail, back in Iraq, offers some realities:
"We only want a normal life," says Um Qasim, sitting in a bombed out building in Baghdad. She and others around have been saying that for years.
Um Qasim lives with 13 family members in a brick shanty on the edge of a former military intelligence building in the Mansoor district of Baghdad.
Five of her children are girls. Homelessness is not easy for anyone, but it is particularly challenging for women and girls.
"Me and my girls have to be extra careful living this way," Um Qasim told IPS. "We are tired of always being afraid, because any day, any time, strange men walk through our area, and there is no protection for us. Each day brings a new threat to us, and all the women here."
She rarely leaves her area, she says. Nor do her girls, for fear of being kidnapped or raped.
Meanwhile CBS Radio News' Tammy McCormick explained in this afternoon's newscast, "And anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is hailing the Iraqi election results as a new chapter. He now says religious leaders and others should work together to put the needs of the country first. al-Sadr has long backed rebellions against the invasion and occupation." AP quotes al-Sadr stating (through a spokesperson -- like when Michael Jackson was interviewed by Rolling Stone and he whispered all his answers to Janet), "Iraq has turned a new page after the elections, which I hope will be a gate for liberation, a gate to serve the Iraqis and not keep occupiers to divide Iraqis. Goals are unified between politicians and the resistance to push out the occupiers." I guess the press could pretend al-Sadr's statements meant something if they hadn't all spent the week leading up to the election and the days immediately after telling their news consumers that al-Sadr was nothing, that he had no pull and that he was a relic or at least, as Tanya Tucker once sang, a faded rose from days gone by. Of Anbar Province, AP notes, "The so-called Awakening Councils won eight of 29 provincial seats in Anbar - giving them a strong hand to form a governing coalition with smaller Sunni groups across a province that was once a major al Qaeda stronghold." Alsumaria reports, "While Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq (IHEC) was announcing the provincial elections final results a constitutional controversy was raised regarding the conditions of electing a new House Speaker. In fact, Accordance Front insists that its candidate Iyad Assamarrai won while some other blocs say that Saturday's session will decide who won the seat of Speaker of House." That's yesterday but they have video and it's worth nothing again that there is no Speaker all this time later.
In other news, Bridget Kendall (BBC) reports on the claims that Iran has floated a proposal to England: They will "stop attacking British troops in Iraq to try to get the West to drop objections to Tehran's uranium project, a UK official says." That is England's United Nations Ambassador John Sawers. Sawers claims, "There were various Iranians who would come to London and suggest we had tea in some hotel or other. They'd do the same in Paris, they'd do the same in Berlin, and then we'd compare notes among the three of us." Damien McElroy (Telegraph of London) adds, "As Iran marks the 30th anniversary of the revolution that turned out the Shah and installed a cleric-led regime, senior figures have openly discussed a series of secret deals with West. Iran had used its involvement in hostage taking during the Lebanese war to break its isolation in the 1980s."
In some of today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baquba sticky bombing that resulted in the death of 1 Iraqi soldier and a Kirkuk roadside bombing which left another injured.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 Iraqi soldier wounded in a Baghdad shooting. Reuters notes the US military announcement on 1 woman and 2 children killed in a bombing outside Baghdad last night.
In Germany a US soldier has been convicted. Seth Robson (Stars and Stripes) reports the US Army's Rose Barracks Courthouse court-martial saw the vidoe of Sgt Michael Leahy Jr "confessing an hour and 10 minutes into an interview with a Criminal Investigation Command special agent" found Leahy stating, "I shot one of them" -- Iraqi prisoners -- "I shot two shots. It was my decision. I always kenw this . . . would come back to me." In an update, Robson notes that Leahy was found guilty and "could face the death penalty after being found guilty . . . of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder in the deaths of four Iraqi detainees in March 2007." BBC notes that the 4 Iraqi prisoners' corpses were "dumped in a Baghdad canal" after they were shot. Leahy confessed to murdering one. AP notes this was not Leahy's first time being accused of murdering an Iraqi: "Leahy, 28, was acquitted of murder in a separate incident involving the death of another Iraqi in January 2007."
Staying with the Iraq War, libertarian Justin Raimondo (Antiwar.com) has a piece responding to Joan Walsh (Salon) and her review of Thomas E. Ricks' new book The Gamble. I wrote about the book last night, that's not the reason for bringing up Justin. If Justin quotes Walsh accurately (I have neither the time nor the inclination to read Walsh), then Walsh has reviewed a book she doesn't understand. Justin has her praising the 'surge' and saying it worked and she was wrong to doubt it. That can be her opinion. If so, I disagree. But that's not the opinion Ricks expresses in the book. You can't just read a few pages, Walsh, nor can you skim. The 'surge' was a failure -- Thomas E. Ricks is quite clear -- because it was supposed to allow that 'progress' to happen. Not on a military field, on the political field. If Joan Walsh is quoted accurately by Justin, then Walsh needs to re-read the book she reviewed because she missed one of its biggest points. (I have no reason to doubt Justin's honesty or accuracy. I am repeating the "if" because I haven't read Walsh and I have no interest in reading her.) The 'surge' was supposed to allow those now-forgotten benchmarks to be reached. That never happened. That is a part of the story Ricks tells in the book. Justin doesn't claim to have read the book so I'll just note that in quotes he attributes to Joan Walsh, she has some serious comprehension difficulties including an inclination to attribute to Thomas Ricks statements and opinions of others quoted in his book. As they might word it in Annie Hall, "How you ever got to review a book on anything is totally amazing."
Anthony Fenton (Asia Times via ZNet) explores Barack and the counterinsurgency:
Early signals indicate that United States President Barack Obama will continue driving the "counter-insurgency era" that began under his predecessor George W Bush.
Directive (DoDD) 3000.07, establishing the policy that "irregular warfare is as strategically important as traditional warfare". 
And finally -- LANGUAGE WARNING if you use the link to follow -- Bob Somerby (Daily Howler) addresses the clowns who live to lie to you:
By now, the governor was a "house of hypocrisy" -- though Olbermann still hadn't made the slightest attempt to explain the unflattering claim. In the world of Big Stupid Cable, it's all about handing the rubes preferred narratives, the ones they turn on your program to hear -- and Olbermann seems to love nothing more than beating up on Palin. He no longer gets to mock the young blondes, something he used to do every night, but Palin seems suitable as a replacement. And he doesn't waste much time explaining what's actually wrong with Palin's views -- or even what they are. It's all about calling the lady stupid -- and it's all about calling her a hypocrite, without quite explaining why. And of course, the tasteless insults fly. This is the way the chat began when he introduced the evening's tough moll, Flanders. Note: In his question, he's still pretending that Sarah Palin has somehow changed her stance on education, now that her own daughter's pregnant:
A Palin presidency would be "like a Nadya Suleman labor." Laura Flanders was keeping it classy -- and respectful feminist that she of course is, she was crawling up Suleman's sn**ch in pursuit of prime insults for Palin.
The two weren't bound by facts and, were Flanders not a lesbian (a self-loathing one) and Keith not already in a significant and longterm relationship with his own ego, she and Olbermann would be perfect for each other. Flanders can't keep it classy, Bob. And she's not a feminist. She claims she is. But a feminist doesn't repeatedly refer to Hillary's laugh as a "cackle" -- which Flanders did on KPFA at the end of February. It was that little fact-free stunt (which also included Flanders -- like all other 'expert' 'analysts' booked by KPFA for that two hour broadcst -- not revealing she had already endoresed Barack Obama -- real easy to call a debate for Barack when the only ones 'evaluating' have all endorsed Barack). That was when Ava and I began using the term Panhandle Media to describe the beggar media. Good for Bob Somerby for calling Flanders out and today's post has him explaining his use of the term that may be objectionable. I dispute his reasoning (Flanders reads everything written about her -- she's obsessive -- and she will love the term Somerby used, not be offended by it) but don't feel he was 'wrong' to use the term. Just as I don't feel there's any term that's off-limits when it comes to Arianna after she allowed (in 2007) her Aging Socialite's Cat Litter Box to be used to attack special-needs children.
Public TV notes, NOW on PBS begins airing on most PBS stations tonight (check local listings) and this week offers a look at sexual harassment: "This week, NOW collaborates with the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University to bring you an unprecedented broadcast investigation of teen sexual harassment in the workplace. In the program, abused teenagers share their own stories with Senior Correspondent Maria Hinojosa. We track their legal journeys to justic, and how the issue impacts hundreds of thousands of teenagers across the country -- many of whom don't know how to report workplace abuse, or to even recognize when their bosses cross the line. This is the first report in a new NOW on PBS beat on women and men in the twenty-first centurey we call 'Life Now'." Late Friday night, NOW should be available online for those who'd like to watch online. On Washington Week, Gwen continues to demonstrate how difficult it is for her -- despite PBS' mandate -- to offer up a panel with an equal number of men and women. Four slots open and yet again Gwen's only been able to find one woman. Jeanne Cummings stands by while Gwen and the boys have a measuring contest. NPR's Tom Gjelten, New York Times' David Sanger and the Associated Press' Charles Babington. (Though who knows what Gwen's packing, smart money is on Charlie as the winner.) This will be available online for streaming Monday afternoon and a transcript will be posted then as well. If you podcast, the show will be available either late tonight or Saturday morning -- podcasts for Washington Week are available at iTunes (for free) in audio or video form (audio downloads faster).
Moving over to broadcast TV (CBS) Sunday, on 60 Minutes:
The Drinking Age
Lesley Stahl examines the debate over lowering the drinking age to 18, a controversial idea embraced by some people and roundly criticized by groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. | Watch Video
Kidnapped In Basra
When the Iraqi army regained control of the city of Basra from warring religious militias, it meant peace for the city's war-torn residents and rescue for CBS News producer Richard Butler, who had been held captive there for three months. Lara Logan reports. | Watch Video
A young Jewish boy who fled into the forest after his family was killed by the Nazis was later captured by Nazi soldiers who, not knowing he was Jewish, gave him a little uniform and a gun and made him their mascot. Bob Simon reports. | Watch Video
60 Minutes, Sunday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
60 Minutes Update:
The Kanzius Machine
On Wednesday, Feb. 18, John Kanzius, a retired radio technician who invented a possible cancer fighting machine in his garage, died after a long battle with leukemia. In April 2008, Lesley Stahl reported on Kanzius and his machine, which had been dreamed up while he was battling the side effects of chemotherapy treatment. Experiments building on John Kanzius' research continue. | Video