Friday, November 13, 2009

The ethically challenged Galbraith

Melissa Block: Ambassador Galbraith, you've been on our program many times before, you've published many op-eds, you've written books. Why not disclose your business ties before this? Put this out in the open if it is so-so benign as you say.

Peter Galbraith: It's obviously quite common for people to be in government, to be in private business. And it is the nature of private business that the precise arrangements are often confidential. And, indeed, some of my arrangements were subject to confidentiality agreements. But I did disclose that I was in business and that I had corporate clients in Iraq. So I think that people did know that I had these interests.

I don't want to get too deep into this story [ADDED: And a sure sign of that is that I forgot to link to Melissa Block's interview which aired on yesterday's All Things Considered] which involves facts, speculation and things that courts will most likely be involved in sorting out. I know Galbraith and have called him out repeatedly here for his work re: Iraq. If you are able to listen to the interview, you will hear the stress in his voice. That means either he's very upset or he's lying (or both) and I really don't want to get into my opinions on that and why. Maybe I'll change my mind on that when the snapshot rolls around. But I will note a few basics.

(A) Conflict of interest is misunderstood and apparently the whole country needs an ethics lesson. You are not just supposed to avoid a conflict of interest, you are supposed to avoid the appearance of one. That is a point that is repeatedly missed when someone's conflict of interest or apparent conflict of interest emerges and they immediately respond, "Well no one needs to be concerned because . . ." No, the fact that anyone's concerned makes it an issue. It's not just a conflict, it's the appearance of one.

(B) Mixing the private sector into an explanation on a topic like this begs people to bring the public sector into it. Meaning were something similar done on Wall Street, Galbraith would be under investigation for insider training.

(C) Don't talk about disclosures when, in fact, you haven't been above board.

(1) As anyone who's called Galbraith out publicly or privately (I've done both) knows, he offers a multitude of excuses and has done so for many years. Point? The above 'defense' won't hold up for anyone who's received admonishments over the years from him -- some of which are public -- for commenting on his, at best, porous relationship with the Kurds.

(2) Probably not a good idea to claim you've done all the necessary disclosures on the same day that it's revealed you haven't. Noting that he's written columns on the Kurdistan issues for the New York Times since 2004 (when his relationship with DNO began), an "Editor's Note" in today's paper (published online yesterday) concludes:

Like other writers for the Op-Ed page, Mr. Galbraith signed a contract that obligated him to disclose his financial interests in the subjects of his articles. Had editors been aware of Mr. Galbraith's financial stake, the Op-Ed page would have insisted on disclosure or not published his articles.

Right there, you have a problem. Back to the NPR interview.

Melissa Block: Ambassador Galbraith, do you see how this business connection, your connection with the oil company, would fuel the anger that US interests in Iraq are purely about oil and about profit?

Peter Galbraith: I -- uh, well I can understand that there will be politicians that will want to use that as part of their debate with the Kurds but, uh, frankly, I was a private citizen at the time, I had no role in the US -- with the US government. The US government did not, in any way, facilitate any of my visits to Iraq. Uh, so, I was like many other former government officials who have become private citizens and who, uh, in -- generally the practice do not disclose what clients they may have in their business activities.

Melissa Block's done a strong (and fair) interview. We may or may not note in the snapshot.

Jake Armstrong (Pasadena Weekly) notes "lawsuits in 32 states have been filed against Halliburton, KBR and other military contractors over so-called 'burn pits' the companies allegedly used in Iraq to burn everything from human body parts to tires, the Associated Press reported Tuesday." Ed Treleven (Wisconsin State Journal) reports Iraq War veteran Michael Foth and Afghanistan War veteran Brett Mazzara have filed against KBR: "The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Madison, brings to 34 the number of similar lawsuits pending across the United States, said Susan Burke, a Washington, D.C., lawyer representing the soldiers, including Mazzara and Foth. A first wave of lawsuits filed earlier this year have been merged for pretrial proceedings in Greenbelt, MD., she said." Lisa Guerriero (MetroWest Daily News) reports on Iraq War veteran Jeffery Cox (we've noted his lawsuit against KBR already this week). O fthe KBR burn pit he was exposed to, Cox notes, "This is not your little leaf fire. This is 10 acres or greater." On the health issues relating from exposure to the burn pits, Cox observes, "It's widespread. A lot of people have some type pulmonary issue. It's the Agent Orange of the Iraq war." Meanwhile the Houston Chronicle offers the editorial "Invisible wounds: Returning soldiers with mental health problems are ill-served by their country" which includes this:

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And Ruth's "J.F.K.," Marcia's "ACORN embarrasses again," Trina's "The economy is speaking," Ann's "Carly's performance," Kat's "Carly Simon, Susanna Hoffs, Matthew Sweet" and Isaiah's "Got War?"

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