Shane Ratliff died on Monday. I met him in Ruby, South Carolina during the filming of Robert Greenwald's film Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers. Shane was one of the many people we interviewed for a documentary about how the likes of Halliburton/KBR, CACI, Blackwater, and other corporations stuck their snouts into the deep trough of the wasted and unaccounted-for-cash that now defines how the Iraq war quickly morphed from "mission accomplished" to fiasco, imperial hubris, and descent into chaos.
But Shane was a favorite of ours, a man with a off-beat sense of humor and a wry southern and, indeed, South Carolinian way of getting at the grit of reality. He was a truck driver by inclination and trade, with the hard rules of the road as his moral compass. On his many trips across the United States he thought he had seen everything. But he had not yet experienced the Alice-in-Wonderland world of Halliburton/KBR in the land of greed, grab, and grin that was Iraq as the CEOs that hired him descended upon this great opportunity to serve their country ... from a golf course in the tony suburbs of Houston.
What Shane saw while working as a driver for Halliburton was shocking at first, but approached the banal by the time his stay in Iraq ended. He saw $80,000 dollar trucks left to rot for lack of an oil filter or spare tire. He saw new commercial heaters and air conditioners, thousands of dollars at a shot, thrown into the "burn pit": "They [Halliburton/KBR] just took a lot of nice reusable stuff and just threw it away, is what they done." He saw padded time cards, people paid to do nothing, a usable car buried in the ground. Halliburton CEOs in Wonderland, slaphappy Mad Hatters with multi-million dollar smiles that conveniently disappeared when they spoke of their love and concern for the troops.
"That don't make sense either," Shane pointed out with complete sincerity, as if still perplexed by the absurdity of the acts, "just to take stuff that costs that much and bury it and do away with it. It don't make sense to me just wasting government money, but that's Halliburton." "But that's Halliburton". My mind's eye sees Shane the spokesperson for the big H in a the world's best anti-commercial: "And big companies will lie to you. Just like some individuals will lie to you. Anything that sounds too good to be true, usually is. Halliburton, Too Good To Be True," a five-million dollar thirty-second jingle on SuperBowl Sunday.
The Mad Hatters worked under a cost-plus contract that guaranteed a profit above what was spent. Spend more, waste more, well, they just got paid more. Compassionate conservatism was the mantra of the day indeed. Shane, a Republican all his life, didn't much care that his team was doing the stealing. The rules of the road dictate that laws must be obeyed, stated and expected obligations attended to, no matter what brand of car one drives, at the cost of lives if they are not.
I'd like to think that a bit of the legacy Shane left to his children and wife Rebbecca is in his courage, his audacity, his sense that it was time to step up and tell the honest-to-goodness truth about corporate waste and corruption in Iraq. His story sketched out the coordinates of greed that connected Houston to Baghdad, and ran through Washington D.C., during the Bush reign. But I know that Shane's wife and children, and the many friends who will attend his funeral services today, will remember him not on film but rather in the flesh, as a kind man, a "one-of-a-kind," as Rebbecca told me this morning, and as a guy who knew how the world worked and knew his place in it. He was a fine and generous person.
Shane, thank you for your commitment to honorable and honest rules of engagement during wartime, against the odds and against the powers that were arrayed to your flanks. Rest in peace, my friend.