The Bush Administration's war on America was exposed in full today at hearings here in Washington chaired by Senator Dorgan's Democratic Policy Committee, attended by Senators Reid, Durbin, Bingaman and Leahy. The hearings followed a press conference we held with Senator Dorgan and two of the truck drivers featured in "Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers."
The events took place in the Everett C. Dirksen Building, named for an elegant Republican statesman who died in 1969, having been the Minority Leader of the Senate for more than a decade. Senator Dirksen face none other than Lyndon Johnson who could have run rough shod over the Senator and his minority. In those days, minorities in the senate and in society were respected, but that was another time.
A standing room only crowd gathered beneath thirty foot ceilings capped by Zodiac-encrusted cameos, in turn supported by light-walnut paneled walls lit by Volkswagen-sized sconces emblazoned with Mercury's wings. In this imposing hall, we listened to the testimony of a few brave souls who would talk to an isolated Senate minority about corporate abuse in Iraq that may indeed be the worst in American war time history. Five witnesses - two truck drivers, one former Halliburton employee who had the audacity to tell the truth about waste and two lawyers - spoke in turn about their pieces of the shards that form the Halliburton looking glass in Iraq.
The irony, of course, was voiced by Senator Dorgan who said, "Nobody seems to give a damn," about the abuses ongoing in Iraq due to no bid, unsupervised contracts. Senator Dirksen, whose son in law and successor as Republican leader in the Senate, Howard H. Baker, Jr., used to be my business partner, would spin in his grave if he saw what was not happening under a roof named for him. Here was Julie McBride, formerly a KBR Morale, Welfare and Recreation Coordinator, who was put under armed guard and then flown out of Iraq by Halliburton for having the temerity to tell Army officials that Halliburton literally stole money from our troops and the tax payers.
Alan Grayson, a Harvard-educated lawyer, told of Halliburton's singular capacity to maintain under seal documents brought under the False Claims Act , effectively out of public view for not the sixty days mandated by law, but for as long as three and a half years and counting. In other words, Halliburton and friends have kept their scandals under an undoubtedly very expensive table somewhere. With more than fifty claims pending, not one has been litigated by the US Government. Not one.
Consider Ed Sanchez, who is featured in the film and on the website, telling of being sent out to drive a Halliburton truck on Good Friday, 9 April 2004, when Halliburton officials knew that the roads were closed to civilians due to severe terrorist activity. Mr. Sanchez lived; seven of his colleagues did not.
And so it went, until Scott Allen, an attorney representing the truck drivers and their families from that Good Friday massacre, showed the Senators a letter from Halliburton/KBR, that
"Authorizes me to share your medical records with the Pentagon Review Board for the purposes of awarding you the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom."
The series of documents includes a "Medical Release Form" that insulates Halliburton/KBR. In other words, Halliburton sent a letter to a truck driver that says if you release us of any potential guilt, we'll give you a US government medal. As Senator Durbin aptly put it, "If Halliburton is giving out medals from the Department of Defense, might we conclude that they have friends in high places in this government?" The line drew laughter, but it was the laughter of disgust. When in American history has a private US company dispersed medals from the US government?
Senator Dorgan then quickly pointed out that not only do these companies operate under no scrutiny, they operate in the Caribbean so that they do not pay taxes and are further distant from US law enforcement, should ever there be any.
I wish that I had been watching another Disney fantasy of history, but again the truth is far stranger than fiction. There in the Dirksen Senate Office Building beneath symbols of truth and democracy, sat five senators determined to get the story of corruption and harm to our troops out into the public eye. Their Republican colleagues refuse to hold even one hearing about these matters, refuse to allow for a bi-partisan committee with subpoena power to investigate the profiteering of people such as Halliburton CEO David Lesar or Blackwater founder Erik Prince, both of whom look very much like traitors today. For once, thanks to Iraq for Sale, which tells these human stories as only film can, the story is making its way beyond the silenced rooms of a city dominated by one party that has lost the capacity for reason and with it the conscience of American patriotism.
James Madison wrote in the Federalist papers that we must guard against the "tyranny of the majority." Everett Dirksen and Howard Baker and Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman all knew that. This time, we have to throw the bastards out in order for truth to prevail and for profiteering executives, of whom Senator Leahy said, "I'd like to see a few them in jail," to pay the price for killing our soldiers, their own employees and making out like true pirates of the Caribbean.
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