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Does a Senior Obama Official Have Unseemly Ties to Notorious Human-Rights Abuser Chevron?

The story of this slick oil company's romance with the government has recently taken a crude twist.

It is well known that under the Bush administration oil corporations were basically given a spare set of keys to the White House. Dick Cheney and the Bush family had ties to big oil as deep as an offshore drilling operation. Among those in bed with big oil was Bush's National Security Adviser/Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In 1993, after Rice helped Chevron negotiate deals in former Soviet republics, the company named a 129,000-ton supertanker after her, the SS Condoleezza Rice. Rice, who had long served as a director on Chevron's board when Bush took power in 2000, resigned from that position just six days before she was named to Bush's cabinet. The tanker, however, bore her name for months while she worked in the White House. Only after a ruckus raised by human-rights activists, and others over Chevron's human-rights abuses, did Rice's office suggest that the company rename the tanker, which Chevron quietly did.

Among the abuses in which Chevron was implicated at the time was the May 1998 killing of indigenous residents of Nigeria's oil-rich Niger River delta. In response to a nonviolent protest on one of its oil platforms, Chevron provided company helicopters to the notorious Nigerian Mobile Police, known as the "Kill 'n Go," who used the helicopters to conduct a deadly attack on nonviolent protesters. Chevron's head of security rode along as the the police opened fire on the delta residents, and Chevron paid the soldiers who carried out the attack. (Despite overwhelming evidence of Chevron's complicity, late last year a jury in San Francisco cleared the company of responsibility. The case is on appeal.)

During the 2008 presidential race, Barack Obama rightly painted John McCain as the candidate of Big Oil, saying he was "in the pocket" of the industry, and the Democrats ran ads portraying Exxon as McCain's running mate.

But the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics pointed out, "Tallying contributions by employees in the industry and their families ... Exxon, Chevron and BP have all contributed more money to Obama than to McCain." After his election, Obama followed in Bush's footsteps, appointing another former Chevron director, Gen. James Jones as his national security adviser. In 2008, Chevron paid Jones $290,000 for serving on its board for seven months -- from May until December.

Now, the story of this slick oil company's romance with the government has taken a particularly crude twist: Last month, Chevron was given the Richard C. Holbrooke Award for Business Leadership in "recognition of the company's global public health programs." (And, no, this is not a story from The Onion .) It was first reported by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff.

The award, from the Global Business Coalition, was bestowed upon Chevron at a June 24 ceremony in honor of its work "to eradicate HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria." In a world where war criminals such as Henry Kissinger receive the Nobel Peace Prize and murderous thugs such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Colombia President Alvaro Uribe are given the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, perhaps this award should not come as a surprise.

Other award recipients included Shell Oil (which just paid $15.5 million to settle a lawsuit over its alleged involvement in the killing of Nigerian playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists), Marathon Oil and Anglo Coal of South Africa. In giving Chevron the award, the GBC said Chevron "has long been a leader in the fight for global health." But those who have monitored the company's record for years beg to differ.

"Giving Chevron an award for its fight against malaria is like giving Phillip Morris an award for smoking-cessation programs," says Steve Kretzmann, a longtime environmental activist and executive director of Oil Change International. "Chevron is doing everything it can to lobby against climate-change legislation and produce more oil, which causes climate change. A changing climate will greatly increase the spread and range of malaria globally; and higher rates of HIV in oil-producing communities owing to the prevalence of prostitution is well documented."