Debating Halliburton

"I clearly have spent a lot of time in executive positions, running large organizations, both in private business as well as in government. And that's a set of qualifications that Governor Bush found attractive when he selected me," Dick Cheney said four years ago in his debate with Joe Lieberman when describing his readiness to serve as vice president.

But at the end of a full term, there are more questions than answers about Vice President Cheney's tenure as CEO of Halliburton and the favors he has since done for the company. Tuesday night's debate affords Cheney an opportunity to clarify matters.

Four years ago, Cheney bragged about his role in the private sector as Halliburton CEO; his tenure no longer looks so rosy. KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary purchased during Cheney's reign, is in bankruptcy. The company continues to be the target of multiple criminal investigations stemming from activities that occurred on Cheney's watch, including fraudulent billing associated with its work in the Balkans and a scheme to bribe officials in Nigeria. Is the vice president still proud of his role as Halliburton CEO? Does he have any knowledge of the alleged bribery scheme in Nigeria, involving contracts valued at hundreds of millions of dollars?

While Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, the company conducted business with the government of Iran, a member of the Bush administration's so-called "axis of evil." Halliburton still uses a Cayman Islands subsidiary to do business in Iran, a dubious circumvention of the restrictions that is being investigated by a grand jury in Houston. How are these activities compatible with efforts to isolate governments that sponsor terrorism?

On the campaign trail, Cheney has repeatedly referred to trial lawyers filing "frivolous lawsuits." But nearly half of the civil lawsuits that Cheney says are "clogging the courts" are filed by corporations like Halliburton, and the company filed at least 151 lawsuits against corporations and individuals while Cheney was CEO. If billion-dollar companies deserve their day in court, why not injured individuals?

The vice president's involvement with Halliburton continues, though in an interview on "Meet the Press," Cheney asserted that he has had "no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind and haven't had, now, for over three years." Cheney has received over $150,000 from the company in each of those years and still has over 433,000 stock options (which he says are irreversibly being held in a charitable trust), whose value can rise and fall as a result of government contracts and penalties. How is that not an ongoing financial interest?

Halliburton is the largest contractor in Iraq, with over $18 billion in contracts. Halliburton employees have returned with stories about $45 charges per case of soda, $100 per 15 pound bag of laundry, the ditching of $85,000 trucks because of flat tires and other minor repairs, and the use of five-star hotels in Kuwait while the troops sweat it out in tents in the desert. Criminal investigations are underway in association with kickbacks and tens of millions of dollars in excess charges for gas imported from Kuwait. Does Vice President Cheney – and the same should be asked of Senator Edwards – support legislation introduced by Sens. Durbin (D-IL) and Craig (R-ID) to establish a special committee modeled after Harry Truman's World War II committee, to root out corruption and save taxpayers the millions of dollars lost through the kind of waste, abuse and outright fraud seen at his old company?

Other questions about Halliburton could arise in the debate, including the company's accounting practices, treatment of its retired workers and history of doing business with Burma and even Saddam Hussein. These are all matters that should be openly debated by any candidate claiming to have the gravitas necessary for leadership.

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