Holding Halliburton Accountable

As the Halliburton corporation holds its annual shareholder's meeting in Houston beginning on May 19, it will do so amidst an avalanche of recent criticism over its relationship with the federal government and specifically Vice President Dick Cheney, the lucrative contracts it has been awarded to aid in rebuilding Iraq, and amid charges of kickbacks and rip-offs that have surrounded the company in recent months. It will also conduct this meeting, otherwise an opportunity to bask in the glow of soaring profits, to the din of hundreds of peace activists outside in the streets calling for an end to the company's war profiteering and to corporate cronyism.

Demonstrators will be pointing out the facts that the company, one of the largest and most well connected in the nation, is currently profiting from the war in Iraq to the tune of $8 billion; that its subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) is also the recipient of $2.3 billion in Iraq contracts; that these contracts are of the "cost-plus" variety; that the corporation continues to dole out to former company head Cheney $150,000+ annually while arrogantly dismissing conflict-of-interest charges; and that 95% of the company's political donations have gone to Republican candidates, among others. Bringing even greater urgency to the whole sordid affair, however, is the fact that Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root has a long history of well-lubed government connections and war profiteering.

During the Vietnam War, as has been well publicized, the company received contracts for a variety of jobs there to aid in the government's war. What is less well known perhaps is that Brown & Root (just then being purchased by Halliburton) was part of a four-company consortium that became the sole contractor for Vietnam's epic construction needs. The consortium, calling itself the Vietnam Builders, went about building bases, airfields, roads, bridges, ports, barracks, ammo and fuel depots and much, much more in the small undeveloped Southeast Asian nation. Cobbling together a workforce of over 40,000 Vietnamese, the Builders ultimately put in place in the southern half of Vietnam $1.9 billion in finished construction projects. Brown & Root earned around $385 million for its part. All the while, it did so courtesy of "no-bid," "cost-plus-award-fee" contracts that then-Congressman Donald Rumsfeld called "illegal by statute," as he boldly charged the administration of Lyndon Johnson with allowing considerable "waste and profiteering." To no avail, the buildup that allowed for greater war continued unabated and the southern half of Vietnam was transformed, much of it destroyed, on the way to a humiliating and ruinous defeat.

Perhaps part of the reason why nothing was done back then stemmed from the fact that no one knew much about any of this. That, we hope, has changed. Congress is now investigating actively, and publicly, the handing out of contracts as well as allegations of fleecing, kickbacks and outright fraud. The company has launched its own public relations counteroffensive to quell criticism. Industry insiders have even suggested that KBR might be sold off to avoid further controversy.

If ever there were a time to let the company executives know how the American people feel, that time is now. As the situation inside Iraq continues to spiral out of control, it is more important than ever to speak out. Halliburton, Kellogg, Brown & Root and other corporations beholden only to themselves should be held to account for their participation in this war.

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