Pratap Chatterjee

9 Things Obama Could Do Before Leaving Office to Slow Down Trump's Expansion of the Security State

In less than seven weeks, President Barack Obama will hand over the government to Donald Trump, including access to the White House, Air Force One, and Camp David. Trump will also, of course, inherit the infamous nuclear codes, as well as the latest in warfare technology, including the Central Intelligence Agency’s fleet of killer drones, the National Security Agency’s vast surveillance and data collection apparatus, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s enormous system of undercover informants.

Keep reading... Show less

Drone Wars Produce PTSD Victims on Both Sides

In a trio of recent action-packed movies, good guys watch terrorists mingling with innocent women and children via real-time video feeds from halfway across the world. A clock ticks and we, the audience, are let in on the secret that mayhem is going to break loose. After much agonized soul-searching about possible collateral damage, the good guys call in a missile strike from a U.S. drone to try to save the day by taking out a set of terrorists.

Keep reading... Show less

The Psychological Impact of Sending Robot Assassins, Halfway Around the World, to Inevitably Kill Both Terrorists and Innocents

In a trio of recent action-packed movies, good guys watch terrorists mingling with innocent women and children via real-time video feeds from halfway across the world. A clock ticks and we, the audience, are let in on the secret that mayhem is going to break loose. After much agonized soul-searching about possible collateral damage, the good guys call in a missile strike from a U.S. drone to try to save the day by taking out a set of terrorists.

Keep reading... Show less

Meet 11 of the Private Defense Contractors That Are Raking It in from the Drone War

Hundreds of private sector intelligence analysts are being paid to review surveillance footage from U.S. military drones in Central Asia and the Middle East, according to a new report from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Bureau reporters Crofton Black and Abigail Fielding-Smith name eleven companies that have won hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to plug a shortage in personnel needed to analyze the thousands of hours of streaming video gathered daily from the remotely piloted aircraft that hover over war zones around the world: Advanced Concepts Enterprises, BAE Systems, Booz Allen Hamilton, General Dynamics, Intrepid Solutions, L-3 Communications, MacAulay-Brown, SAIC, Transvoyant, Worldwide Language Resources and Zel Technologies. (see details below)

“Contractors are used to fill the gap to give enough manpower to provide flexibility necessary for military to do things like take leave,” one analyst who worked with the Air Force at Hurlburt Field airbase in Florida, told the Bureau.

Private companies have been providing support for military intelligence for many years. Ever since CACI’s role in supplying interrogators at Abu Ghraib came to light in 2004 (http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=10828), CorpWatch has regularly documented dozens of companies like BAE Systems, Booz Allen Hamilton, L-3 Communications and SAIC that have provided such services to the federal government ranging from surveillance equipment and weapons to propaganda experts and imagery analysts.

Today, these contractors are flocking to the drone business, which has become the linchpin of President Barack Obama’s military strategy, just as the ground war has wound down. Although the Central Intelligence Agency has garnered most of the media attention for targeted killing delivered by drones in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, the bulk of the so-called “War on Terror” is really conducted by U.S. Air Force pilots and support personnel who fly 65 round-the-clock “combat air patrols” of Global Hawk, Predator and Reaper drones around the world from faraway locations.

Each of these patrols, which involve three to four aircraft, require as many as 186 individuals who staff a complex and global system. Typically pilots and camera operators work out of bases like Creech in Nevada, while maintenance crews work in friendly countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Video analysts work out of military bases like California and Florida while military lawyers who are required to approve strike decisions are stationed at the Al-Udeid base in Qatar.

Imagery analysts who review video footage are among the lowest ranked among the personnel who work in the drone war hierarchy. Typically these are entry level “airmen” who only need a high school diploma and eleven months of military training. The drone pilots are officers with undergraduate degrees and more years of training.

Both airmen and officers become eligible to work as private contractors after they complete their military service, where they can be paid twice as much for the same work, and get the added bonus of picking their hours and work locations. (The Air Force Times estimates that drone maintenance pilots stationed overseas who work for companies like Raytheon can make as much as $225,000 a year) Since all the initial training and the security clearances are provided by the military, all the contractors are required to do is recruit Air Force veterans and then put them on their payrolls.

By all accounts, the private contractors do not take part in making decisions as to who to kill nor are they allowed to fire missiles.

But contractors do sometimes play a key role in military missions by the very nature of their analytical work. In 2010, Major General Timothy McHale identified an SAIC staffer who led a team of imagery analysts to track three vehicles in Daikundi province, Afghanistan. The information provided by these analysts led to some two dozen people being killed but later investigations would reveal that none of the people on board the vehicles were militants.

Keep reading... Show less

The Capricious Way America Conducts Drone Strikes

The myth of the lone drone warrior is now well established and threatens to become as enduring as that of the lone lawman with a white horse and a silver bullet who rode out into the Wild West to find the bad guys. In a similar fashion, the unsung hero of Washington’s modern War on Terror in the wild backlands of the planet is sometimes portrayed as a mysterious Central Intelligence Agency officer.  Via modern technology, he prowls Central Asian or Middle Eastern skies with his unmanned Predator drone, dispatching carefully placed Hellfire missiles to kill top al-Qaeda terrorists in their remote hideouts.

Keep reading... Show less

A New Kind of Mental Disturbance? Drone Pilots Are Quitting in Droves

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.

Keep reading... Show less

Pilots Come Clean: Drone Warfare Is Riddled with Tragic, Bloody Errors

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.

Keep reading... Show less

Selling Your Secrets: The Invisible World of Software Backdoors and Bounty Hunters

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  here.

Keep reading... Show less

CIA’s Disastrous “Bourne” Strategy

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  here.

Keep reading... Show less

How Private Tech Companies Are Collecting Data on You and Selling Them to the Feds for Huge Profits

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here

Keep reading... Show less

Want a Job Where You Can Fail and Still Get Paid Lavishly? Try Corporate CEO

Spare a thought this Labor Day holiday, when you fire up the barbecue for the last weekend of the summer and raise a beer for the workers in this country, for some of the notable men who have lost their jobs over the past 20 years. I’m thinking of Richard Fuld, Dennis Kozlowski and Eckhard Pfeiffer.

Keep reading... Show less

Investigate Booz Allen Hamilton, not Edward Snowden

Military contractor Booz Allen Hamilton of McLean, Virginia, has shot into the news recently over two of its former employees: Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who has just revealed the extent of US global spying on electronic data of ordinary citizens around the world, and James Clapper, US director of national intelligence.

Keep reading... Show less

Wikileaks Iraq War Logs Reveal Private Military Contractors Killing With Impunity

Shortly after 10am on 14 May 2005, a convoy of private security guards from Blackwater riding down "Route Irish" – the Baghdad airport road – shot up a civilian Iraqi vehicle. While they were at it, the Blackwater men fired shots over the heads of a group of soldiers from the 69th Regiment of the US Army before they sped away heading west in their white armoured truck. When the dust cleared, the Iraqi driver was dead and his wife and daughter were injured.

Keep reading... Show less

Pentagon Watchdog Misses Billion Dollar Audit

Military auditors failed to complete an audit of the business systems of an Ohio-based contractor even though it had billed for $1 billion worth of work over the last four years, largely done in Afghanistan. Immediately after this fact came to light at a public hearing of the bi-partisan Commission on Wartime Contracting, the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) scrambled to dispatch an extra 10 staff to catch up on the job.

Keep reading... Show less

How to Stay Out of Sight While Making Millions from the War in Iraq

The Houstonian Hotel is an elegant, secluded resort set on an 18-acre wooded oasis in the heart of downtown Houston. Two weeks ago, David Lesar, CEO of the once notorious energy services corporation Halliburton, spoke to some 100 shareholders and members of senior management gathered there at the company's annual meeting. All was remarkably staid as they celebrated Halliburton's $4 billion in operating profits in 2008, a striking 22% return at a time when many companies are announcing record losses. Analysts remain bullish on Halliburton's stock, reflecting a more general view that any company in the oil business is likely to have a profitable future in store.

Keep reading... Show less

Meeting of Global Titans Tainted by Tanking Economy

The CEOs of three-quarters of the world's 100 largest companies have just completed an uncomfortable weekend at the tiny Swiss ski resort of Davos, while their companies' share prices nosedived on global stock markets, amid concern that the U.S. economy was staggering towards recession.

The Alpine village, which is virtually inaccessible to anyone without a helicopter, is ringed with barbed wire and tight security arrangements for the World Economic Forum (WEF) in late January every year. This 37-year-old private gathering brings together dozens of heads of states, hundreds of government ministers and a smattering of activists and celebrities to join the chief executives for a series of discussions and workshops, as well as private parties thrown by companies such as Google with the help of the world's most famous disc jockeys.

The price of attendance isn't cheap: each CEO spends roughly $60,000 a year to attend. But once they have made it onto the invite list they can look forward to schmoozing with their peers in Davos and hobnobbing with celebrities. This year they had a chance to meet Tony Blair, the former British prime minister; Al Gore, the former US vice-president and Nobel Prize-winner; and Bono, the Irish rock star and debt campaigner. Past gatherings have also given CEOs the opportunity to play chess with Antoly Karpov, the former Soviet champion, and to take a twirl on the ice with Russian skating stars.

Some CEOs have occasionally delighted in doing the incongruous: Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire owner of News Corporation, did a stint as a waiter at one party this year.

Questioning Capitalism

But the 2008 gathering was fraught with irony for the CEOs and the bankers who have financed them. Wrote Bruce Nussbaum of Business Week: "Last year, an army of slick-haired, Wall Street private equity and hedge fund guys turned up to show the doubting Europeans the clever and kindly face of American market capitalism ... (t)o the Europeans who complained that private equity and hedge fund wheeling and dealing were distorting economic growth, they gently suggested that the Old Country was out of touch with the new reality of financial innovation."

This year the Wall Street whiz-kids had to eat humble pie. "Turns out the Europeans were right," wrote Nussbaum. "The subprime junk packaged and repackaged as top prime credit collapsed and is taking the rest of the U.S. economy (and perhaps the world economy) down with it ... (s)o if the slick-haired guys can still afford to hop their private jets to get to Davos this year, they're going to find a lot of really angry Euros armed with really strong euros."

Indeed, Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times, suggests the Davos tradition of celebrating globalization has come to an uncomfortable halt: "In the past few years, globalization has enjoyed virtually unqualified applause from the power-players inside the Davos conference rooms, whatever the noisy protests outside in the snow-clad streets -- the triumphalism has disappeared, replaced by a pervasive uncertainty."

One of the world's best-known CEOs, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, admitted to fellow participants that he had become skeptical of the very notion of capitalism. He told the Wall Street Journal that he had seen the failings of capitalism first-hand on visits to places such as the South African slum of Soweto, and had discussed them with dozens of experts on disease and poverty.

At one of the most widely attended events of the week, Gates called for a "creative capitalism" that uses market forces to address poor-country needs that he feels are being ignored. "We have to find a way to make the aspects of capitalism that serve wealthier people serve poorer people as well," Gates said. "I'm an optimist, but I'm an impatient optimist. The world is not getting better fast enough, and it's not getting better for everyone."

And billionaire George Soros, who made his fortune speculating on global currency exchange rates, took the opportunity of the WEF to call for major new regulations and oversight over financial markets. Soros said that the failure to restrain the free market has caused "not a normal crisis but the end of an era."

Not all CEOs agreed. "People have to keep in mind, throughout history we have always had cycles, people shouldn't be surprised," JP Morgan CEO James Dimon, co-chair of the WEF, told the closing debate.

Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris went further when he told Reuters: "What's going on now should not have a 'Chicken Little' atmosphere. The sky is not falling."

Public Eye on Davos

While the CEOs finally acknowledged that a rising tide might not lift all boats, and that capitalism could indeed have a downside, Swiss activists showed up outside the WEF to "name and shame" companies with particularly egregious records of violating environmental and human rights.

Oliver Classen, the spokesman of Berne Declaration, a non-governmental organization in Zurich, announced in a press release: "Our message is: Global players watch out. We're watching you. We are a threat to their reputations. They know that, and they should behave accordingly."

Together with Pro Natura, the Swiss branch of Friends of the Earth, Berne Declaration organizes an annual counter-event called the Public Eye on Davos where anyone can vote to rank companies with the worst reputations.

This year Public Eye voters singled out Areva, a French multinational that has mined uranium for 40 years in the African nation of Niger, a former French colony.

Areva subsidiaries Somair and Cominak were condemned by Almoustapha Alhacen, president of Aghirin'man, the organization representing affected workers. He reported numerous "suspicious deaths among the workers, caused by radioactive dust and contaminated groundwater" above internationally accepted safety levels.

Alhacen says that mine workers are given inadequate information about the health risks of open-air storage of radioactive materials. The activists allege that the company evades paying for workers' medical treatment. They claim the company hospital issues false diagnoses for sick workers, and signs death certificates blaming AIDS when workers die of cancer.

For The Love of Money

Yet despite the doom and gloom inside and accusations of abuse and hypocrisy from outside, the parties barely slowed in Davos.

Disc jockey Norman Jay (also known as the Minister of Sound) flew in from Australia to spin records at the biggest party of the weekend, thrown by Google. The invitation-only event was attended by Lauren Bush, niece of President Bush, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the crown prince of Bahrain, Jordan's Queen Rania and U.S. Congressman Tom Davis. A Wall Street Journal blogger announced that party-goers danced the night away to songs like "For The Love of Money" by the O'Jays.

Climate Change Fueling Boom in Corporate Greenwashing

On the Indonesian island of Bali, thousands of senior government officials are negotiating a plan to slow global warming. The meeting, which will focus on how to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, will run for the first two weeks of December and include 192 countries. This year's conclave is the 13th in a series launched by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that came into force in 1994.

The coal, gas and oil companies that are major producers of greenhouse gases are finally taking notice of these high-level political discussions, and many have mounted spirited public relations exercises to defend themselves, and even win endorsements of their products.

For example, the weekend before negotiations began, Neste Oil announced plans to build the world's largest bio-diesel facility a few hundred miles northeast of Bali, in the Tuas industrial zone on the island of Singapore. The Finnish company is betting that widespread concern, as well as mandatory limits on greenhouse gases generated by fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum, will increase demand for vegetable-based fuels.

Neste's proposed $800 million plant will use palm oil, which is readily available throughout the region. The company has pledged to buy palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and to use proprietary NExBTL technology that produces fuel with lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions 40 to 60 percent less than those of conventional diesel fuel.

"We have a very clear principle that we are aware of the source of all raw materials used in our biodiesel, including palm oil … and that it is produced by sustainable methods," Neste CEO Resto Rinne told reporters, explaining that he expected this market to expand substantially. "In Europe alone, [annual] production will be well over 10 million tons by the end of the decade, and our share of this production will be some 800,000 tons."

Some environmental groups charge that Neste's claims are "greenwash": misleading public relations masking unsustainable practices. Greenpeace, for example, explains that the new plant in Singapore is likely to cause more environmental problems, not fewer, by increasing demand for new palm oil plantations that displace environmentally sensitive forests or wetland areas. In addition to destroying endangered habitats, the scheme could exacerbate global warming.

"Certification does not stop the rainforests from disappearing, for there is no doubt that the increase in demand for palm oil will lead to further destruction of rainforest. There is absolutely no way to grow enough sustainable palm oil for all the producers," said Harri Lammi, the program director for Greenpeace Finland. The week before the climate meeting got underway in Bali, his group attempted to highlight Neste's environmental record by blockading its ships in waters off of Finland.

The clash between Neste and Greenpeace highlights one of the key ideological debates over climate change: Business and politicians believe that a "technological" fix such as alternative fuels can solve the problem and also generate profits; many environmental groups believe the real solution to global warming lies in reducing consumption.

Guaranteed Markets, But Are They Guaranteed Green?

The arguments of the alternative fuel lobby are finding significant political backing. Earlier this year the European Union agreed to binding targets: By 2020, ten percent of its transportation industry's annual 300 million ton fuel consumption must come from alternatives such as biodiesel. China has predicted that it can switch 15 percent of its transport fuel consumption to biofuels, and India has set an ambitious target of 20 percent by 2020.

Even U.S. President George Bush in his January 2007 State of the Union address pledged to "increase the supply of alternative fuels by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 -- and that is nearly five times the current target."

Palm oil is one of the three key biofuels that governments and corporations are promoting as alternatives to fossil fuels. (The others are soy and rapeseed.) An edible vegetable oil obtained from the fruit of the oil palm tree, palm oil has been used as a popular cooking oil in West Africa for centuries. In recent years, it has become a key component of processed foods ranging from KitKat candy bars to Pringles potato chips to Oreo cookies.

The biggest producers of palm oil are Indonesia and Malaysia, where the crop has been grown on plantations established by British colonists in 1917. It was first exported for use as an industrial lubricant and as a base for Sunlight and Palmolive soaps.

The new green boom in biofuels has accelerated the demand for plantations, which in turn has led to widespread forest and peatland clearing. Indeed, a 2007 United Nations Environment Program report earlier this year, found that oil palm plantations are now the leading cause of forest destruction in Indonesia and Malaysia. And more is to come: The Indonesian government wants to put 10 million hectares of land into oil palm cultivation by 2015, up from the current total of 6 million hectares. In Malaysia, palm oil producers are targeting the island province of Sarawak for major expansion.

Local groups have spoken out strongly against this new trend. Meena Raman, head of Friends of the Earth Malaysia, said "Agrofuels is a disaster in the making. Their production, development and trade largely stem from unsustainable energy demand in industrialized countries. We are strongly urging our government to reconsider its decision of turning Malaysia into a major agrofuel producing country, as it is leading to further destruction of our forests and violations of the customary rights of indigenous peoples."

A new Greenpeace report, "Cooking the Climate," points out that razing of forests to create the oil palm plantations is, in itself, a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions. The environmental organization calculates that the burning and drying of carbon-rich peatlands on the Indonesian island of Riau releases about 1.8 billion tons of greenhouse gases a year. The removal of the forests also eliminates one of the planet's crucial air-filtration systems.

A British government report estimated that clearing land for agro-fuel cultivation creates two to nine times more greenhouse gases than the cleaner-burning fuel saves.

Fossil Fuels in Green Packaging

Another company ratcheting up the green rhetoric on climate change is General Electric (GE). Its television advertisement for "clean coal" technologies [which you can view in the upper right corner of this page] portrays scantily-clad models working in a coal mine, while an announcer sums up the message: "Thanks to emissions reducing technology from GE Energy, harnessing the power of coal is looking more beautiful every day."

The ad is part of GE's "ecomagination" campaign to promote "green" products such as lower-energy houses, wind turbines, solar power and water-purification systems, as well as a range of new coal technologies.

The company has joined the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of industry and environmental groups that claim to be concerned about global warming. "The time has come for constructive action that draws strength equally from business, government, and non-governmental stakeholders," said Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of Connecticut-based GE, in a statement timed for the day before George Bush's backing of alternative technologies.

While some of the technologies GE sells -- such as wind and solar power -- are indeed carbon neutral, others -- such as its "clean coal" integrated gasification combined-cycle coal power plants -- are questionable.

The term "clean coal" refers to a variety of new technologies under development: chemically washing the fossil fuel of minerals and impurities, burning it at higher pressure and temperature, and increasing efficiency by trapping and burning waste gases that would otherwise have escaped out the smokestack. Another "clean coal" technology is "carbon capture and sequestration," or CCS, which captures coal plant emissions before they enter the atmosphere, and stores them underground.

Many environmental activists note that these "clean coal" technologies are only marginally more efficient and far more expensive. Others, such as CCS, are still on the drawing board and may never work. (In fact, GE has yet to convince any of its clients to buy these new "clean coal" plants, according to California-based Rainforest Action Network, or RAN.)

"Why waste billions of dollars to research an uncertain technology when safer, cleaner energy solutions already exist?" asks Matt Leonard of RAN. "Even if we could capture coal's dangerous emissions, why create such massive waste streams in the first place? All fossil fuels, including coal, are running out. The longer we keep relying on them, the worse off our environment, climate, and society will be."

Immelt has admitted that the new promotion campaign was based on tapping public opinion and profits. "I can't lay claim to be a big environmentalist or nature lover here," the GE head told NBC television this May. "I know that when society changes its mind, you'd better be in front of it, and not behind it. And this is an issue on which society has changed its mind. I came to the conclusion that technology that my company makes can help make it [the climate situation] better, and I can make money doing it, and I can do something good."

Do Nothing, Collect Praise

Other companies have managed to win environmental praise for effectively doing nothing. A case in point is the much heralded $45 billion purchase of Texas state utility TXU by private equity firm Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts and Texas Pacific Corporation. The buyers won backing from Washington DC-based environmental groups Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council in exchange for scrapping plans to build eight of 11 proposed coal plants.

Not everybody is convinced. RAN executive director Michael Brune is skeptical of the scheme, pointing out that TXU could easily shelve its concessions in the future. "The commitments by TXU's new owners should be binding, not voluntary, and the three Texas coal plants TXU still intends to build are three plants too many," he said.

Warning: Greenwash Ahead

The cases of TXU's non-binding concessions in Texas, GE's amorphous "clean coal" promises, and Neste's palm oil strategy in South Asia illustrate a widening trend: As the climate change issue becomes mainstream, more and more companies are jumping on the public relations bandwagon. If these examples serve as models, they will try to win endorsements for agreeing to do nothing, promise things that they cannot guarantee, and take advantage of the debate to profit from environmentally unfriendly technologies.

Activists attending the Bali gathering say that the real answer to climate change will not be generated by profit-motivated corporations, but by the concrete commitments of political leaders backed by the force of law. Raman of Friends of the Earth International, puts it simply: "We need Northern countries to develop stringent policies to reduce their energy consumption and attempt to find solutions to their energy needs locally."

How Much Iraqi Crude Oil is Being Stolen? Mystery of the Missing Meters

The line of ships at the Al Basra Oil Terminal (ABOT) stretches south to the horizon, patiently waiting in the searing heat of the Northern Arabian Gulf as four giant supertankers load up. Close by, two more tankers fill up at the smaller Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal (KAAOT). Guarding both terminals are dozens of heavily-armed U.S. Navy troops and Iraqi Marines who live on the platforms.

These two offshore terminals, a maze of pipes and precarious metal walkways, deliver some 1.6 million barrels of crude oil, at least 85 percent of Iraq's output, to buyers from all over the world. If the southern oil fields are the heart of Iraq's economy, its main arteries are three 40-plus inch pipelines that stretch some 52 miles from Iraq's wells to the ports.

Heavily armed soldiers spend their days at the oil terminals scanning the horizon looking for suicide bombers and stray fishing dhows (boats). Meanwhile, right under their noses, smugglers are suspected to be diverting an estimated billions of dollars worth of crude onto tankers because the oil metering system that is supposed monitor how much crude flows into and out of ABOT and KAAOT -- has not worked since the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Officials blame the four-year delay in repairing the relatively simple system on "security problems." Others point to the failed efforts of the two U.S. companies hired to repair the southern oil fields, fix the two terminals, and the meters: Halliburton of Houston, Texas, and Parsons of Pasadena, California.

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) is scheduled to publish a report this spring that is expected criticize the companies' failure to complete the work.

Rumors are rife among suspicious Iraqis about the failure to measure the oil flow. "Iraq is the victim of the biggest robbery of its oil production in modern history," blazed a March 2006 headline in Azzaman, Iraq's most widely read newspaper. A May 2006 study of oil production and export figures by Platt's Oilgram News, an industry magazine, showed that up to $3 billion a year is unaccounted for.

"Iraqi oil is regularly smuggled out of the country in many different ways," an oil merchant in Amman told the Nation (U.S.) magazine last month. "Emir al-Hakim [the head of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq] is spending all his time in Basra selling oil as if it were his own. People there call him Uday al-Hakim, meaning he is behaving the same way Uday Saddam Hussein was acting. Other merchants like myself have to work through him with the big deals or smuggle small quantities on our own. The petroleum is now divided among political parties in power."

The resource curse

The smuggling and black market operations bear striking parallels to Saddam Hussein's tactics for circumventing the UN embargo. Saddam was accused of selling some $5.7 billion worth of petroleum products on the black market over the six years of the Oil-for-Food program while United Nations inspectors turned a blind eye. Today, his successors stand accused of similar abuses.

Iraq sits on 115 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, the third largest in the world (behind Saudi Arabia and Canada). From a society that once used its oil revenue to create a social welfare state that provided education, health care and social services, the country has plummeted into the ranks of the poorest countries of the world.

Economists call this the "resource curse." Those blessed with non-renewable resources often benefit the least, because a few wealthy people control the resources, or war prevents almost anyone from the benefiting.

Iraq's main revenue source - earnings from the export sales of petroleum, petroleum products and natural gas - is currently managed by the Development Fund for Iraq. DFI's May 21, 2003 document, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483, assigns this money to benefit the Iraqi people. The resolution replaces the previous United Nations-run Oil-for-Food scheme that lasted from 1997 until the March 2003 invasion.

Almost four years after the DFI was created, officially logged crude sales have generated more than $80 billion. The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) managed the DFI from the immediate aftermath of Saddam's removal until June 28, 2004, when the CPA was disbanded. During those 14 months, the CPA spent $19.6 billion of Iraq's DFI funds. The three succeeding governments have been officially in charge of the DFI revenues, although the influence of the U.S. military and political advisors has remained significant throughout. In the 32 months after the CPA left, the three governments spent $47 billion more.

Halliburton & Parsons

U.S. contractors have played a key role in the repair and upgrading of Iraq's oil infrastructure and expected the industry to pay for reconstruction. In January 2004, under project Restore Iraqi Oil II (RIO II), the Bush administration contracted with Halliburton to fix southern Iraq's oil fields and with Parsons to handle the northern fields. The two companies were supposed to be supervised by yet another contractor, New Jersey-based Foster Wheeler. (The first RIO contract was the infamous, secret no-bid contract issued to Halliburton before the invasion of Iraq. Although RIO II was competitively bid, Sheryl Tappan, a former Bechtel employee wrote a book criticizing the award as unfair.)

Halliburton and Parsons have long histories in Iraq, going back more than 40 years. Brown & Root, which is now part of Halliburton , began work in Iraq in 1961, while Parsons dipped into Iraq's oil sector in the 1950s. Foster Wheeler dates its work in Iraq to the 1930s.

These companies have a lot of experience at the terminals where the black market now thrives. Indeed, Halliburton built the ABOT terminal, then known as Mina al-Bakr, in the early1970s. After it was damaged during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, Halliburton repaired the terminal, before it was bombed yet again during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The Khor al-Amaya oil terminal also saw a similar cycle of destruction and rebuilding. Built with Halliburton 's help in 1973, it was heavily damaged by Iranian commandos during the Iran-Iraq war, then again during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and most recently in May 2006 by a major fire that destroyed 70 percent of its facilities. During the sanctions, Ingersoll Dresser Pump Company, a Halliburton subsidiary, had a secret contract to sell Iraq spare parts, compressors, and firefighting equipment for the refurbishment.

( Halliburton also a long history near the Turkish port of Ceyhan, from where Iraq sells oil produced at Kirkuk in northern Iraq. Halliburton runs the nearby U.S. military base at Incirlik, which was the staging ground for Operation Northern Watch that provided air protection for the Kurds during the 1990s.)

Measuring the oil

With billions of dollars to spend and extensive experience with oil infrastructure and Iraqi ports, Haliburton and Parsons seem unable to deal with the routine problem of broken meters at the Southern Iraq terminals.

The kinds of meters they were supposed to repair or replace at ABOT are commonly found at hundreds of similar sites around the world. Because they are custom-built, shipped, then assembled and calibrated on site, the process can take up to a year. But the probelm has persisted for four years.

After the 2003 invasion, the meters appear to have been turned off and there have since been no reliable estimates of how much crude has been shipped from the southern oil fields. (The northern oil fields in Kirkuk, which supply the Beiji refinery in Iraq and export crude to the Turkish port of Adana, has reliable metering but little oil to measure since insurgent attacks largely shut down the facility.)

Lieutenant Aaron Bergman, the U.S. Navy officer in charge of Mobile Security Squadron 7 at ABOT, says export authorities have "guesstimated" how much is being sold, with a back-of-the-envelope formula: Every centimeter a tanker lowers into the water equals 6,000 barrels of oil cargo.

"So you can imagine," he said earlier this month to Stars & Stripes, a newspaper serving the U.S. military, the numbers could be off, "A couple of inches could equal 180,000 barrels of fuel."

"I would say probably between 200,000 and 500,000 barrels a day is probably unaccounted for in Iraq," Mikel Morris, who worked for the Iraq Reconstruction Management Organization (IRMO) at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, told KTVT, a Texas television station.

Neither US officials nor contractors have provided good reasons why, four years into the US occupation, the meters have not been calibrated, repaired, or replaced. One excuse is that the job of calibration requires special devices to assess the current meters and security issues make importing these devises problematic. Yet that and other security-related explanations fall apart given that the oil terminals are under 24 hour high security guard, lie more than 50 miles off-shore, and are accessible only by helicopter or ship.

There are two possible explanations: that the project has been delayed by bureaucracy or that vested interests benefiting from the lack of oil metering (such as smugglers or corrupt officials) have prevented the project from moving forward.

Skyrocketing Costs

The RIO II project, which includes the meter repair work, has come under much criticism, although specific details are scarce.

For example, the Bush administration issued Halliburton the RIO II order in January 2004 and gave detailed task orders in June. But despite not starting work until November 2004, the company charged the government millions of dollars for engineers who sat idle. Halliburton 's $296 million bill included at least 55 percent overhead. (In an estimate due later this month, SIGIR may predicts even higher overhead costs.)

A Parsons joint venture (with Worley of Australia), was also issued a contract in January 2004, given detailed task orders in June, and started work in July 2004. It has also been accused of charging high overhead costs while idle, although not as much as Halliburton . SIGIR estimate pegs its overhead at 43 percent.

In addition, in a series of scathing internal reports uncovered by Congressman Henry Waxman, supervisors Foster Wheeler criticized Halliburton 's cost. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a "cure" notice on January 29, 2005, ordering Halliburton to do a better job or else. After Halliburton did improve its cost controls, the military turned over the southern oil work to Parsons in mid 2005.

When Parsons took over the contracts, two years after the invasion, it hired a Saudi Arabian sub-contractor, Alaa for Industry, to help repair or replace the meters.

The turbine meters were shipped to Kuwait for repairs but do not appear to have been fixed in a timely manner, although some have been fixed and re-installed earlier this year. Unofficial sources suggest that the Kuwaiti bureaucracy delayed the repair work: "The real reason for the hindrance to work at the ABOT is because Kuwait has a vested interest in minimizing Iraqi oil exports," an anonymous source who worked on the project said. His claim could not be verified.

In mid-September 2006, the Iraqi oil ministry abruptly announced that it would pull the plug on the oil metering project, making future monitoring even less certain.

Asim Jihad, the oil ministry spokesman, told Al Hayat: "The American company had failed in keeping its promise to finish installing these meters; also, refusing to reveal the exact cost, except for saying that it is executing it within the American grant to Iraq and the sum of that grant is unknown to us too. This relieves the ministry from its obligation to it. Besides, many international companies presented good offers to implement the project in a record time due to its importance."

The oil ministry then invited British Petroleum and Shell to plan a comprehensive national metering project that would cover not only the oil terminals, but also the productions wells and the even the refineries.

A SIGIR team traveled to ABOT in November 2006 to check on progress. Its unpublished report suggests that the work was less than half complete.

Suddenly, in December 2006, a high-level U.S. team traveled out to ABOT to inspect the meters. In a little-noticed announcement issued on a Saturday just before Christmas, John Sickman, the resident oil expert at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said the meters had been fixed and were working fine.

"The measurement using the existing turbine meters and displacement meters at the offshore terminal at ABOT is transparent and the measurement devices are more than adequate," Sickman was quoted in the press release. "Furthermore, the crude oil vessels have measurement and quality samplers."

Indeed this is how the Dutch company Saybolt measured oil export under the United Nations Oil for Food program. The problem even today, according to experts consulted for this report, is that the meters have yet to be calibrated, so the data are basically useless.

Even if the meters are working properly, smuggling could still occur. "It's easy to steal crude if you knew what you were doing," Don Deaver, a petroleum metering expert who worked for Exxon for 33 years, said. "If you meaure too low or too high, someone will lose and some will one gain. It's why you need professionals who understand how the meters work to make sure that nothing is being lost or stolen."

U.S. government officials claim that little is being stolen. SGS (a British consultancy) "is providing independent third party loading certifications onsite for the customers. This, coupled with the recent installation of ultrasonic meter provides more than redundant measurement capability," said Sickman in December.

Days after the press release, in early January 2007, Parsons began work on the meters under a $57.8 million U.S. government-funded contract supervised by Major Dale Winger of the Joint Contracting Command in Basra. Almost as soon as work started, Winger was replaced by Lieutenant Commander Brian Schorn. Reached for this article, Schorn said he was not up to speed on what work had been done, and referred questions to his "front-office" in Baghdad at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Parsons Iraq Joint Venture spokesman Don Lassus also refused to comment. The contract with the military does not permit the release of "any unclassified information," he said, without prior approval of the military.

Today no government officials have been able to establish conclusively whether oil is being smuggled or not. Even the future of the oil metering remains unclear. The latest report issued by SIGIR in January 2007 notes that repair and rehabilitation work at ABOT is scheduled to be finished by May 2007, but "it is unclear whether this project will be completed because of de-obligation requirements" that is to say that the funding could be cut.

Health Care in Iraq Was Better Under Saddam Hussein

The convoy of flat-bed trucks picked up its cargo at Baghdad International Airport last spring and sped north-west, stacked-high with crates of expensive medical equipment. From bilirubinmeters and hematology analyzers to infant incubators and dental appliances, the equipment had been ordered to help Iraq shore up a disintegrating health care system. But instead of being delivered to 150 brand-new Primary Health Care centers (PHCs) as originally planned, the Eagle Global Logistics vehicles were directed to drop them off at a storage warehouse in Abu Ghraib.

Not only did some of the equipment arrive damaged at the warehouse owned by PWC of Kuwait, one in 14 crates was missing, according to the delivery documents. The shipment was fairly typical: Military auditors would later calculate that roughly 46 percent of some $70 million in medical equipment deliveries made to the Abu Ghraib warehouse last spring had missing or damaged crates or contained boxes that were mislabeled or not labeled at all.

Not that it really mattered. Just over three weeks before the April 27th delivery, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had canceled the construction of 130 of the 150 PHCs for which the materiel was intended. As a result, the equipment that could help diagnose and treat Iraqi illness (and escalating bomb or gun injuries) now sits idle waiting for someone to figure out what to do with it.

Even if the equipment finally makes it through the bureaucratic logjam, lack of trained personnel to operate it, especially outside major cities, will severely limit its utility. The Army Corps had written a 15-day training plan into the contract, but over time, this had been whittled it down to ten and then to just three days. Iraqi Ministry of Health officials have given up hope that any training at all will accompany the sophisticated equipment.

But if Iraqis have failed to benefit from the idle PHCs, the $70 million contract to supply them has been a shot in the arm for Parsons Global. The Pasadena, California-based engineering company reaped a $3.3 million profit according to an audit report issued by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), an independent U.S. government agency. And that is in addition to the $186 million that U.S. taxpayers shelled out to Parsons to build dozens of clinics that have yet to dispense a single aspirin.

While the new buildings remain uncompleted and millions of dollars worth of expensive equipment are stored under lock and key, a dwindling number of doctors at existing hospitals perform operations without basic supplies of disinfectant and anaesthesia. A severe shortage of nurses further imperils patient care.

This failed planning and wasted money has been a hallmark of the last three years of healthcare in Iraq. Today the country faces a medical crisis that many say exceeds conditions under sanctions. Compounding this crisis is the violence that creates a steady flow of seriously injured victims.

What we asked for, we did not get

Days before the equipment arrived in Abu Ghraib, Dr Lezgin Ahmed, general director of planning at the Kurdish health ministry offices, just below the ancient hilltop city of Erbil, northern Iraq, proclaimed his frustration with the U.S. plan to fix the Iraqi healthcare system to this reporter.

"They told us that they had money for seven PHCs in Erbil, three in Dohuk. We were asked where they should build them, that's all," said Dr Ahmed. "We didn't approve it but we accepted it without interference because it was part of the plan for all of Iraq. They simply asked us for the numbers and locations. What we asked for, we did not get," he said, noting that the ministry would have preferred repair of existing facilities.

Six of the 150 PHCs were slated for the western Kurdish region of northern Iraq. In the Brayati neighborhood of Erbil, just five miles from Ahmed's office, a partially constructed grey building topped with red water tanks, appeared abandoned. The windows and doors were sealed with cinder blocks to prevent intruders after work halted in late March. No construction workers or security guards were to be found. In other cities across northern Iraq, such as Koya and Sulamanya the story was the same: buildings, most lacking even paint, stood abandoned. In Halabja Taza, close to the eastern border with Iran, a security guard at an empty Parsons PHC agreed to talk. Nawshin Shakir Qasim explained that the contractors did a really bad job and the roof was leaking. "The Americans soldiers fired the contractor. Now there is no more money so all the work has stopped," he said.

Indeed, just two months before my visit, SIGIR inspectors traveled to five PHCs in Kirkuk, northern Iraq, and came to similar conclusions about the quality of the work. The auditors snapped pictures of poorly placed roof beams, honey-combed concrete, walls made of brick fragments held together with plaster, and staircases crumbling into dust even before they were finished.

The SIGIR auditors also questioned Parsons' progress reports. One building, declared 56 percent complete, was a shell of uneven bricks. Another floor that was balanced on wooden sticks was listed as half complete, according to the SIGIR report.

If health care is in short supply, blame is plentiful. The SIGIR report concludes that a wide range of factors contributed to the failures, ranging from disputes among Iraqi construction companies, poor quality of local materials, and lax oversight by the Army Corps, which conducted "windshield surveys" - hasty drive-by inspections.

The Army Corps blames Parsons. "They failed to adequately plan project schedules to include known issues, resulting in unrealistic, risky construction and purchasing schedules," wrote the division' commander, Brigadier General William H. McCoy Jr. "They failed to exercise adequate due diligence to control costs."

And predictably, Parsons blames the Army Corps. In a written reply to the military, the company says that it estimated the job would take two years, but the Army Corps. ordered it to finish the clinics in one year. (The contract was canceled after Parsons failed to complete the job in 25 months.) The company also says that it informed the military that did not have enough supervisory staff to oversee all 150 clinics simultaneously as the military demanded.

In a reply, included as an appendix to the SIGIR report, McCoy counters that Parsons "ignored, or failed to respond adequately to, numerous expressions of concern by the government over these issues, and in some cases failed or refused to provide the government with information that would have allowed the government to make decisions to assist Parsons in regaining control over subcontractor performance and cost," he added.

By the time the contract was canceled on April 3, 2006, Parsons had completed only six clinics. Project managers estimated that another 14 could eventually be completed and equipped.

Meanwhile, some 130 sets of medical equipment, partially damaged, are warehoused at Abu Ghraib, in the hope that someday the project might be completed.

The PHC program "was the most important program in the health sector," Stuart Bowen, the director of SIGIR, told the Los Angeles Times. "It sought to fulfill a strategy to get health services to rural and remote poor in Iraq."

In September 2006, four months after the contract was canceled, Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) questioned Ernest Robbins, the manager of Parson's Iraq project: "What is the recourse for the taxpayer under these circumstances? Don't you think that Parsons, given what has turned out to be a very shoddy job, should return some of its profits to the taxpayer"?

Robbins told the Congressional hearing: "No, sir, I will not."

Iraq's health care system

While some critics focused on the failure to deliver the PHC system, others questioned the whole U.S. approach. Iraq had developed a centralized free health care system in the 1970s using a hospital based, capital-intensive model of curative care. The country depended on large-scale imports of medicines, medical equipment and even nurses, paid for with oil export income, according to a "Watching Brief" report issued jointly by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in July 2003.

Unlike other poorer countries, which focused on mass health care using primary care practitioners, Iraq developed a Westernized system of sophisticated hospitals with advanced medical procedures, provided by specialist physicians. The UNICEF/WHO report noted that prior to 1990, 97 percent of the urban dwellers and 71 percent of the rural population had access to free primary health care; just 2 percent of hospital beds were privately managed.

Infant mortality rates fell from 80 per 1,000 live births in 1974, to 60 in 1982 and 40 in 1989, according to government statistics. A similar trend characterized under-five mortality rates which halved from 120 per 1,000 live births in 1974 to 60 in 1989. (Later studies have questioned these optimistic Iraqi government figures.)

With the 1991 Gulf War that followed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the situation changed dramatically. The war damaged hospitals, power generation, and water treatment facilities; foreign nurses left the country; and the health budget was slashed. From US$500 million in 1989, the import budget plummeted to US$50 million in 1991 and then to $22 million in 1995. Spending per capita fell from a minimum of US$86 to US$17 in 1996.

In the eight months following the 1991 war, mortality rates for children under five shot back up to 120 per 1,000 live births, the highest recorded increase for any country in the world in the 1990s, according to the UNICEF/WHO report. (Only 14 countries had an overall mortality increase among young children during the 1990s. Nine of them were in Africa, where HIV infection was the predominant cause of elevated mortality.)

For over-50 year olds, the mortality rate rose from 1,685 per month in 1989 to 6,731 in 1994 according to the UNICEF/WHO report. Iraq's health care system was accelerating fast in the wrong direction.

The war and the sanctions destroyed the capital-intensive model of free and sophisticated care. Water was often contaminated and the electricity supply erratic, making it difficult to operate the expensive medical equipment. Deaths from diarrhea rose fivefold and malnutrition-related diseases such as respiratory infections became widespread.

From 1996 to 2002, the UN-administered Oil-for-Food program allocated US$4.8 billion for medical supplies and related support. The program's emphasis on basic health care including vaccination caused a drop in infant mortality. But because the UN program barred cash transfers, Iraqi salaries stayed low and there was no money for training or recurring expenses.

In 1994, hoping to prevent doctors from emigrating, the Iraqi government encouraged private medical practices. Four years later it allowed hospitals to charge some fees. The government also encouraged organizations including the Red Cross and the Red Crescent to build PHCs and help support hospitals.

After the invasion, sanctions were lifted, and the government finally started to earn cash on its oil income, allowing it to raise medical salaries. But the damage to the health care system was hard to reverse. For example, according to the UNICEF/WHO report, Iraq now has more doctors than nurses -- an unusual predicament for a poor country -- and very few of them specialize in the community or social medicine the country needs.

Today Iraq needs either to initiate a major renovation program to resurrect its old medical system or it needs to switch to a preventative health care model based at primary health case clinics. In the last three years, owing to lack of money and security, it has done neither.

Post-invasion planning

The failure by the occupation forces to revitalize healthcare tracks back to immediately after the invasion, when U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) dispatched Fred "Skip" Burkle to run the Ministry of Health. A doctor with four post graduate degrees, the American had worked in Kosovo, Somalia and northern Iraq after the Gulf War.

He faced a health sector that-like the oil and electricity sectors -- was devastated by post-war looting and had lost much of its infrastructure to theft and violence. Some 12 percent of hospitals were damaged and 7 percent looted. Central records were destroyed along with the country's two major communicable disease laboratories and four out of seven of its central warehouses.

"I spent many months preparing for the invasion of Iraq, for what I expected to be a humanitarian crisis," Burkle told CorpWatch. "In the decade before the invasion, we saw a decline in every health indicator, which told me what to expect. I've been in a number of wars and humanitarian crises where we've developed systems over years, and we know how to do this, and how to do this on the run."

"So I spent my time planning a surveillance system and figuring out how to decentralize it, so that it was not Baghdad-centric. Remember, there were no communication systems between Baghdad and the provinces. I was also concerned about looting, as I had observed this first hand after the first Gulf War, as the first civilian to enter the country."

Burkle's suggestions were never implemented. Two weeks after arriving in Iraq, the White House informed him, he says, that it wanted a "loyalist" in the job and recalled him to the U.S.

More than two months passed before the new Republican appointee arrived. Unlike his predecessor, Jim Haveman was not a doctor, had never lived outside the U.S. and had never taken part in post-war or post-disaster reconstruction, He had a degree in social work, experience as director of community health in the state of Michigan, and was a former director for International Aid, a faith-based relief organization that promotes Christianity in the developing world. He also previously headed up Bethany Christian Services, a large adoption agency that urges pregnant women not to have abortions.

Haveman said that he arrived to find that the ministry was still a mess. "I walked into a situation with two empty 11 story towers, 120,000 employees, 240 hospitals and 1,200 clinics (but the) employees had not been paid for three months. The ministry had a $16 million dollar budget."

He says he is proud that he got the administrative staff back into the building within 45 days, get the ministry up and running, draw up a budget, completed large-scale immunizations successfully, and respond to disease outbreaks. He believes that he helped the ministry to switch from a prescription-based healthcare system to prevention and primary health care, wrote up a mental health code, implemented new training systems, supported professional groups and worked closely with NGOs and international agencies. (see box for Haveman email to CorpWatch)

Critics acknowledge that Haveman got the ministry building and payroll up and running but say that he focused on the wrong priorities such as rewriting the list of medicines that the state medical company should import. Asked what medicines they were able to buy, Dr Nasser Jabar Sheyal, an assistant to the health minister, told CorpWatch in spring 2004: "We make recommendations but we don't decide anything. This is an occupied country, not a democracy, and the Americans make all the decisions."

"The fact is that Kimadia, Saddam's medical supply bureaucracy created under the UN's failed oil-for-food program, was so riddled with corruption and bribery that little medication was available," Haveman wrote later to defend his decision to rewrite the list. "Suppliers received kickbacks and sent expired drugs that were exorbitantly overpriced. Half of the medications on hand were unusable, and some were 30 years old."

Meanwhile, under orders from Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, senior doctors and health administrators with decades of experience, were fired because they were members of the Ba'aath party. The ministry was handed over to the Da'wa party, a conservative Islamic group, with little experience in this field.

The party appointed Dr Khudair Abbas, a respected breast cancer surgeon to head the ministry. He started with a disadvantage: Abbas, who had studied in India and practiced in the UK, had not worked in the Iraqi health system since 1979. A year later, after Haveman left, Abbas also quit the ministry.

Some Da'wa officials struggled along bravely. Amar al-Saffar, the deputy minister in charge of finance for the health ministry, candidly confessed that he too, was out of his depth. "I was not planning to be a part of the crew at the ministry. I came to serve my party [Da'wa] and I don't know how I found myself in this ocean, but I have to swim. Unfortunately the current is very strong," he said. "My only experience is that for six years, I was the executive manager of an optical instruments business in Dubai."

While many top bureaucrats quit, he stayed on until he was kidnapped in November 2006 from his home in Adhamiya. His fate was unknown at the time of writing.

Meanwhile doctors in Iraq began to resent the expatriates who were given control of the system in which they had labored for so long. Dr Koresh Al Qaseer, president of the Iraqi Surgeons Association, explained that he had a lot of respect for Dr Abbas's medical expertise, but did not believe that his team knew Iraq's needs.

"Who are these people who left for 20 years and now think they can run our country? They don't know anything about it, and they don't care," he said angrily. "Believe me they did not leave because of Saddam, they left to pursue their careers and to make money. We have 35,000 doctors in Iraq, we don't need outsiders to come and run our hospitals but we do need training."

Richard Garfield, a professor of nursing from Columbia University in New York who has visited Iraq almost every year since 1996 as an advisor to UN health adviser, agreed that training was necessary, but he believed that that was just the first step - a fundamental overhaul of the system should have been conducted.

What Iraq needed, he said, was a focus on community health, health education, outreach for basic health promotion programs, and the elaboration of financial management, systems planning, and pharmaceutical administration systems appropriate to a middle-income developing country.

He summarizes the mistakes the CPA made:

Keep reading... Show less

Returning to Life

Editor's Note: This is an abridged version of an extensive interview with Moazzam Begg, who was released from Guantanamo Bay earlier this year. Full audio and text archive are available at Wakeup Call Radio.

DEEPA FERNANDES:You came out of prison six months ago back to Britain. You hadn't seen your family. You hadn't had much communication. I wonder if you can talk about how hard it has been to adjust back to life after being away for so long?

MOAZZAM BEGG: Well, it hasn't been that hard. I kept myself in a frame of mind, that if they had thrown me in a shopping mall after years of solitary confinement, I would be able to deal with it quite coherently. I don't see myself as a victim. I see myself as a survivor returning back to the life I have always known.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Like you, I was born in Birmingham. What was it like to grow up Muslim in England over the last 35 years before you went to Afghanistan. What was your life like and what are your perspectives?

MOAZZAM BEGG: I was born and raised in Birmingham. I originally went to a Jewish school and then to a secondary school, which including having friends from all different backgrounds. Sikh, Muslim, Hindus, Christians, white, blacks. All different categories and denominations of people. As I got older, I discovered a little bit more about my Islamic identity.

I was as a Muslim as any mainstream Muslim person. As I got older, I saw things that changed me and my perspective, particularly in relation to the Muslim world vis-à-vis the rest of the world. That happened first with the Gulf War but even more so by the conflict in former Yugoslavia with the attack by the Serbs on Bosnian Srebrenica. That was a crucial catalyst and I think a turning point in my life.

DEEPA FERNANDES: I wonder if you can talk us through what happened to you from when you were picked up from your house in Pakistan to your time in prison at Guantanmo Bay.

MOAZZAM BEGG: Yes. It was three years of my life, so it is very difficult to condense into a few minutes. But, I can try to highlight the most profound parts of my incarceration including being held by the Americans in Kandahar, in Bagram, and ultimately in Guantanamo for 2 years. During my time there, I witnessed things that I would have never perceived the United States would be capable of. With my own eyes, I witnessed the killing of at least two detainees by military police with their own hands.

DEEPA FERNANDES: That is a grave charge. What happened?

MOAZZAM BEGG: In the first instance, they claimed it was someone who was trying to escape from a cell that was a couple of cells away from me. They caught him, and after they'd beaten him, they dropped his body if front of my cell, near where the medical room was.

Shortly after that, he was pronounced dead. He was carried out on a stretcher, with his body covered. They stated at that time that he wasn't dead. I overhead the guards saying that he had been killed, and they were running around in bit of a frenzy worried about what had taken place.

A year or so later, someone confirmed to me that he was killed. The second person was beaten to death in the same cell as me. He was held with his hands tied above his head with a hood placed about it and suspended for several days. He had been on sleep deprivation, which was one of the forms of punishment there for those who seem to be non-cooperative.

Eventually, the guards came in to take him for interrogation. His body went limp. Rather then try to assist him, they punched and kicked him. They dragged him off afterwards, and we never saw him or heard from him again. Later, I was told he was killed.

I was moved to Guantanamo Bay shortly afterwards. After I'd been at Guantanamo about a year and a half, some officers of the CID, Criminal Investigation Department came and asked me if I was willing to point out the detainees that were killed.

They showed me some photographs and asked me afterwards if I was willing to point out the perpetrators, which I did.

Then, they asked me if I would be willing to testify in a trial as a witness, to prosecute these people, which I found very ironic, as they were trying to put me through some sort of military commission at that point.

To be fair to the Americans, there were some individuals soldiers, I came across who were some of the most humane individuals I have come across in my life, and I salute them, and consider them my friends.

DEEPA FERNANDES: You were first at Bagram Air Base and then taken to Guantanamo. Did you know where you were and where you were being taken?

MOAZZAM BEGG: I was told when I was kidnapped from my home at gunpoint in Pakistan, I wasn't told where I was. Though I found out soon enough that I was in Kandahar, After that, wherever I was moved, I was told where I was.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Do you think you were treated differently because you spoke English?

MOAZZAM BEGG: It was definitely a great advantage speaking English and coming from England. I grew up listening and watching American TV shows. There was so much I could relate to. The vast majority of the detainees couldn't communicate to the Americans coherently and found themselves in more difficult positions.

If a guard spoke once to me, I would understand it, but if he spoke to a person who spoke Pashtun or another language; the chances are that he would not be understood and if the [prisoner] would start shouting and screaming, that would be seen as a failure to comply. His hands would be tied and his head would be hooded as well as other forms of punishment.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Because you speak Urdu, Dari, and Arabic, did you find yourself acting as a translator for other detainees?

MOAZZAM BEGG: Yes, I've translated in Bagram and several times for detainees, with medical issues, and grievances to the Red Cross and others that they had.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: What did people say to you about their treatment?

MOAZZAM BEGG: One of the quotes I heard people tell the guards a lot is that they weren't terrorists before they came in, but they certainly will be when they leave. There we so many common rights that were being denied.

DEEPA FERNANDES: What were the rights being denied? What was the treatment like?

MOAZZAM BEGG: We were labeled as enemy combatants; we were told something about ourselves that wasn't true. We were initially told we were enemies of war, we were issued enemy of prisoners of war cards, which would give us some rights; Then they realized their mistake, so they labeled us enemy combatants, an amorphous category, because in history, there had never been this category.

We were denied the right to be free; the right to any legal recourse; regular and meaningful communication with our families; the right to mix with other people; the right to know why I was held in solitary confinement, the right to know why you were beaten and threatened with torture. We were held in tiny little cages that measured 8' by 6'.

DEEPA FERNANDES: When and how were you beaten?

MOAZZAM BEGG: During the month of May, I was severely questioned in Bagram. I had my hands tied behind my back, to my legs. I was hog-tied with my head covered with a hood, and the guards punched and kicked me while I was left in this position to be interrogated.

DEEPA FERNANDES: What kinds of questions did they ask you?

MOAZZAM BEGG: Ridiculous questions with no backing at all. It was based on assumptions. They said they came across somebody who said I was an instructor in an al-Qaeda camp. When I asked them, who told you this, when was I supposed to be there, they couldn't produce anything.

DEEPA FERNANDES: How did you answer those questions? Did they just go on endlessly? Were you able to get to anyone through to anyone there that you were innocent?

MOAZZAM BEGG: To be fair, there were several Americans there, that if it was known what they did for me, they would have been thrown out of the army. I think a lot of them saw the reason for what was taking place, and the irrational response of the United States military and government to what was taking place.

My simple statement is this: If America is the land of the free, believing in its own justice and legal system, then put me through it. You have your military code of justice. You have civil courts. Put me through either of those, if you think I committed a crime against you.

Representatives of the United States came to my house in Pakistan, where I was a resident at the time, held me at gunpoint in front of my family, and took me to their territory, and then say that I have no rights.

That is the most audacious thing they did to me, and they did it to 500 other people.

DEEPA FERNANDES: A lot of the excessive behavior at Guantanamo has been blamed on some "bad apples." Can you give us a sense of who was giving the orders and were people just doing what they were told?

MOAZZAM BEGG: There were several soldiers who were not like the other guards. Several soldiers said, "I am not like these people. I don't know what is wrong with them."

Cells were labeled in relation to encounters the US had in history at one point or other to Muslim groups. There were cells entitled Twin Towers, Pentagon, Somalia, Lebanon, Libya. So all these titles were based on incidents with the Muslim world. And what possibly could Lebanon have anything to do with us there? I know there was an attack in Beirut in 1982 on a United States marine barracks when I was six years old. What does that have anything to with me, and why I am being held in a cell labeled after that? So, this is the kind of mentality that was being propounded around soldiers, who obviously they didn't know better at all. My experience has been that sadly these soldiers didn't know about the rest of the world. America is a huge country.

DEEPA FERNANDES: So, were they following orders?

MOAZZAM BEGG: Some people were, but some people had the autonomy or authority, particularly in Afghanistan, to do what they wanted. I had worse experiences in Bagram and Kandahar than I did in Guantanamo, and perhaps that was because I was in solitary confinement, and that was very difficult in itself, but I didn't experience the harsh, really harsh things people experience at the times of Camp X Ray. I saw t-shirts that depicted detainees as banana wraps, and they were all around the island. That was a process of dehumanization of everyone there. If the generals all the way down did not reject this, then they were a part of it. We were treated as sub-human, as animals, and I think it was coming from all the way on top

DEEPA FERNANDES: You wrote a letter a year ago, on July 12, 2004, that said, unequivocally for the record, that anything you signed was signed under duress. I wonder if you can talk about the mental torture they inflicted on you, while you were there.

MOAZZAM BEGG: Two agents that I think were from the FBI were there when I was beaten and tortured in May. These two characters showed up in Guantanamo two days after I arrived. They turned up with a statement for me to sign. They asked the guards to leave, and they said here is a statement. Look through it. Sign and initial it. If you don't do it, the options you have don't look so good. They can include being here for the rest of your life, never seeing your family again. They can include going through a summary trial where you can face execution by a firing squad or by lethal injection or by a gas chamber. And even if someone does look at you case, it could be 6 or 7 years down the line before they look at the case. The British government has washed their hands of it.

My only choice [I was told] was to cooperate and to sign it. At the end of it, I tried to argue that I need legal representation, but I had nobody to communicate with. I was left with no choice, so I signed it. In the end, I thought this perhaps was my way to get into a court, and there was no way, any court would convict based on the evidence, wording, or terminology, and based on my own testimony, to convict me on anything like this.

DEEPA FERNANDES: Were you ever at a breaking point?

MOAZZAM BEGG: Yes, after I signed it, the feeling I got was that I signed my life away. The feeling I had was, I was reproaching myself, what have I done, what have I done? It had weighed on my mind for a long time, but then I asked for paper and pen. I asked for copies. I thought if I ever go to court, I could fight them. I thought at some point that my family would be done with me, but I did not know my father was launching a campaign. But I felt something must be going on back there even if I am unaware of it. Every now and then, I would hear something slight. A soldier told me, I heard your father on the radio. And I got a slight bit of hope.

DEEPA FERNANDES: One of the big controversies in the US media was over the apparent desecration of the Koran which was reported by Newsweek, a charge that they later retracted. Did you see it happen, or talk to someone who saw it happen?

MOAZZAM BEGG: In Kandahar, several detainees who spoke of this. One told me about a soldier from the US Marine Corps who tore up a part of the Koran and thrown it into a waste bucket that was used as a latrine. Why wouldn't they do that? If they treated human beings like that, the Koran is only a book.

I saw an incident also in Bagram, where soldiers would enter a cell where a detainee was reading the Koran. He threw the Koran on the ground and kicked it around. I saw them eliminate distribution from detainees, and they would say "Extra! Extra! Come get your Koran and learn how to kill Americans."

I am not saying that every single American soldier was doing this. It wasn't even the norm, but there were significant amounts of cases that took place. If you ask detainees who have come out from different cells from different places, and there were held in solitary confinement, who are saying the same things, then it means these things did happen. There is no doubt about it.

Again, if they can treat human beings in that manner, why not treat the Koran in that way?

DEEPA FERNANDES: What was the worst thing that happened to you while you were in Guantanamo?

MOAZZAM BEGG: In Guantanamo, it was being held in solitary confinement for such a long time without recourse to justice or family or contact with anyone. In Bagram, it was being beaten and hog-tied as I said and witnessing the death of other people and seeing children in custody.

DEEPA FERNANDES: Are you pursuing a lawsuit against the US Government? They did not charge you, and then they released you as a free man some three years later.

MOAZZAM BEGG: The only thing I have done so far is I have tried to campaign as best as I can to raise awareness of people about these plights. If I was to make a legal case, I wouldn't do it for pecuniary damages but as a point of principle for Americans to accept what they have done as completely wrong and to be instrumental in the closure that horrible place known as Guantanamo Bay.

DEEPA FERNANDES: Who were the people you were locked up with? Are they terrorists? Are they enemy combatants against the United States?

MOAZZAM BEGG: Statements are being made that these people were captured on a battlefield. I wasn't captured on a battlefield or anywhere near a battlefield. Neither were all these people or the majority of the people being held there. There weren't too many engagements by the US ground forces; most of them were Northern Alliance forces [on the battlefield.] Normally, the tribunals or Article 5 hearing according to the Geneva Convention is supposed to take place to determine if a man is an enemy combatant or prisoner of war or a non-combatant or civilian. None of these took place because there was not battlefield where it was done.

In the words of many interrogators I came across, and one in particular who said, and I quote, "I know that there is nobody being held here in Guantanamo Bay that has committed an act of belligerence against the United States, because if we did have somebody like that we would have processed them through our courts, punished them, and locked them up for a very long time."

DEEPA FERNANDES: Your own British government did very little to help you while you were inside. You were told they washed their hands of you. Tell a little bit of your father's struggle, in trying to make your case known, and what, if any assistance did he receive from your own government.

MOAZZAM BEGG: I think initially there was a shirking of responsibility from my own government, particularly when I was held in Afghanistan. There was initially in the early stages that the British stated that the Americans are giving no consulate access to the US base in Bagram. However, the MI5 did visit me for a couple days, and did make my complaints to them, and told them about the things I witnessed. I received my first official delegatory visit by the British in 2003, April, and by which time, my case has been going on quite strong on my father's side.

DEEPA FERNANDES: Finally, we can hear your family in the background. Tell me about the Moazzam Begg who is coming back to life as a father.

MOAZZAM BEGG: Moazzam Begg was always alive as a father. He never forgot his children. They were in my prayers and thoughts every single hour of the day. I came back to see them three years older than they were before. The one you heard in the background actually was my son, who I have never seen until the beginning of this year. My eldest daughter cried profusely because she remembered me the most out of all the children. The others did not have too much of a physical, living memory of me, although they did have a memory kept up by my wife who would show pictures of me and letters they got from me from time to time.

Driving into Danger

Tony Johnson died in a gun battle near Baghdad International Airport. But Johnson was not a soldier; he was a truck driver for Halliburton. His family claims he died because the company decided to endanger his life in its pursuit of profit.

On Tuesday, nearly one year after his death, Johnson's daughter has brought a federal lawsuit against Halliburton. It is just the first of what will be a string of lawsuits to be filed against the Houston-based company by families of the men who lost their lives on one fateful day in April, 2004.

Johnson was one of 19 truck drivers carrying fuel for the United States military from Camp Anaconda to the airport. The convoy soon drove straight into a major gun battle on what has become the world's most dangerous highway. Two hours later six drivers were dead, one had been kidnapped and one had disappeared. Only 11 made it to their destination alive.

Johnson's daughter April and her lawyers want the world to know that these men were willfully misled by Halliburton, both about the dangers of working in Iraq and their rights to protect their own lives.

"It is our opinion, based on our investigations, that Halliburton's management has systematically, intentionally, and fraudulently misrepresented the true nature of their civilian employees' duties," says Ramon Rossi Lopez, the trial lawyer representing April Johnson. "Simply put, Halliburton intentionally placed its employees in harm's way and received lucrative payment for a private, unarmed military force."

Halliburton has approximately 24,000 employees in Iraq, which includes thousands of poor Americans from small towns who are lured into these jobs by the promise of making up to $100,000 a year, tax-free. The company hires them through a Cayman Island-based subsidiary named Service Employees International, then flies them to Houston and Kuwait for training. Eventually, many – like Tony Johnson – end up working alongside the military in camps, providing various forms of logistical support – from digging toilets and cutting soldier's hair to preparing food and delivering mail. So far, about 61 have died in the line of corporate duty.

Convoy to Death

On the morning of April 9, 2004, Johnson was told to join a convoy – led by Thomas Hamill – to transport 125,000 gallons of jet fuel. It was a particularly dangerous time to travel in Iraq. Less than a week earlier, the Moqtada al Sadr-led Mahdi army had seized control of several cities in the south, just as the United States had started the first bombing of Fallujah. On the April 9 itself, the fiery young Shia leader had issued an order commanding his militia to attack everyone who left their homes. A Halliburton convoy had been attacked a day earlier, and on April 9, two other convoys had already turned back because of violence on the road.

Overnight, miles of razor-sharp concertina and barbed wire had been wrapped around every road intersection to block anyone from coming within half a mile of the hotels. Every half hour, a voice over the loudspeaker warned people to stay indoors. Numerous heavily armored tanks were deployed near the Palestine and Sheraton hotels, where many Halliburton employees stayed in Baghdad.

The coalition forces weren't taking any chances. The U.S. military had officially declared a "black" alert – the highest in the color-coded system of threat levels in Iraq, which ranges from "green," i.e., no threat, to "black," which bans all traffic on the roads.

On this day, Halliburton ordered 19 uneasy men to take to the road to deliver fuel to the airport. According to the plaintiff's lawyers, Halliburton knowingly failed to inform the drivers before their departure of the "black" status alert and instead told them that the road conditions were at a low "amber" status.

The truckers say that the company dispatched the men on an unfamiliar route, despite the fact that another company convoy traveling the same route had been hit earlier in the day, losing several vehicles. Worse, they were driving unarmored military vehicles rather than their normal white civilian trucks, which made an even more attractive target for insurgents.

The men left the base at about 10:40 a.m., and arrived in the vicinity of the infamous Abu Ghraib prison shortly after noon. Roy Stannard, a former Marine from El Paso, Texas, says that the drivers soon caught sight of the trucks from the previous convoy – they were still burning. But it was too late to turn back – they were already caught in the crossfire of a gun battle between U.S. forces and the insurgents.

Stannard ran into a group of soldiers who were furious that the convoy was driving through the area. A soldier yelled at him: "What the hell are you doing here? We have been under heavy attack for 48 hours!"

It was only a matter of time before the convoy was attacked by insurgents. Of 43 men on the convoy, including the military escorts, 25 were killed or injured, making it the deadliest incident involving American contractors in the war in Iraq. Only 11 of them, including Stannard, made it to the airport, where they were taken to a makeshift hospital. The best known survivor of this deadly incident is Thomas Hamill, the convoy leader, who was kidnapped but managed to escape and later wrote a book about his experience.

Soon after the incident, Halliburton quickly arranged for the surviving men to be flown out of the country, to the regional headquarters at the Khalifa Hilton in Kuwait. There the men were treated to a fancy private dinner and awarded specially inscribed gold coins for their bravery under fire by Tom Crum, the Middle East chief for Halliburton's Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) subsidiary.

Wrongdoing or Communication Failure?

Over the last ten months, the military has compiled its own report on the events. Written by Col. Gary Bunch – the commander of the 172nd Corps Support Group, which escorted the convoy – the 280-page document blames the tragedy on a breakdown in communications between the military and Halliburton failed. "If the information was properly sent to subordinate units, actions could have been taken to potentially minimize impact of hostile engagement, the report states.

It is clear that at least some of blame does likely lie with the military. For example, the U.S. soldier who approved the route is said to have changed his mind minutes later. He then sent an e-mail advising Halliburton that the road was closed, but accidentally sent the e-mail to himself. Moreover, the 19-truck convoy had just six soldiers as its military escort, even though a military order issued on the morning of its departure recommended a minimum ratio of one soldier to every two trucks.

For its part, Halliburton declined to comment on the the lawsuit itself, but its spokeswoman Beverly Scippa stated in an e-mail that the company "remains deeply saddened by this tragedy. KBR has cooperated fully as the Army has spent the past year investigating these attacks, and we will continue to do everything we can to help piece together the events of April 9."

Scippa claims that it is the U.S. military and not Halliburton that has ultimate command and control of all convoys in Iraq: It is not unusual for the military to change a route several times before a convoy departs, based on the best and most current information available from its own intelligence briefings and assessments.

Setting a Precedent

The Johnson lawsuit is just the second major wrongful death lawsuit against a U.S. company hired to spearhead the reconstruction of Iraq. The first was brought against Blackwater Security Services by the families of four contractors – Wesley Batalona, Scott Helvenston, Michael Teague and Jerry Zovko – killed in the now infamous ambush in Fallujah in March 2004. (Blackwater contractors were working on a subcontract that was ultimately controlled by Halliburton.)

Filed in North Carolina – where Blackwater is based – by California attorney Dan Callahan, it may set an important precedent for the Halliburton families. But in many respects, the Johnsons have a much stronger case.

The Blackwater employees – all military veterans – were paid to provide security from hostile fire. Indeed their contract spelled out the dangers to their lives in graphic detail, and included "being shot, permanently maimed and/or killed by a firearm or munitions, falling aircraft or helicopters, sniper fire, land mine, artillery fire, rocket-propelled grenade, truck or car bomb, poisoning, civil uprising, terrorist activity, hand-to-hand combat, etc." These men had also signed a release that ceded most of their rights (as well as those of their families and estates) to sue Blackwater if something were to go wrong.

The Halliburton workers, on the other hand, did not sign any such waiver even though their contract requires them to enter arbitration rather than sue the company. Under normal circumstances, contractors are also eligible for compensation under the Defense Bases Act, the military equivalent of workers' compensation insurance.

The key aspect of the Halliburton case, however, is the fact that employees were not informed of the risks to their lives. They were instead assured that all employees would receive military protection on the job. "What Halliburton did was criminal and the public needs to know," Kim Johnson says. "They took good, honest Americans and didn't tell them that if they didn't do a mission, they would lose their job. They were told that at the slightest hint of danger, they could leave and come home."

Moreover, as Halliburton spokeswoman Scippa confirms, "KBR can refuse a mission if a convoy is improperly constructed, if the security provided by the military does not meet the established criteria, or if route conditions are not within guidelines." Several truckers, who worked for Halliburton in Iraq at the time, told AlterNet that company recruiters informed them that the few civilians who had died in Iraq had been victims off "their own tomfoolery." The drivers assumed that the military would quickly rescue them from any potentially dangerous situation.

According to Scippa, after the attack, Halliburton and the army jointly agreed to suspend convoy movements until the security requirements could be reassessed and additional security measures enacted. She says that the company "continues to work closely with the military to ensure the safety and security of our employees."

The Johnson lawsuit marks an important moment in the war in Iraq. A successful outcome in this case could trigger dozens of new lawsuits from families of deceased contractors and those injured in Iraq, including Iraqi nationals caught in the crossfire. Thus far, Halliburton has made over $10 billion because of the war in Iraq. If April Johnson has her way, at least some of that money will end up in the pockets of the employees who earned Halliburton that money with their lives.

An Interrogator Speaks Out

Torin Nelson has worked in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. An expert interrogator, he was hired by the Virginia-based company CACI International Inc., to work at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, at the time when prisoners there were subjected to abuse and torture.

Trained in interrogation techniques at Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona, Nelson has spoken out against this abuse, but believes firmly that interrogation is a military necessity and can be conducted in a humane manner.

"I wanted to defend my profession because what I saw in the media was a lot of mistaken conjecture, erroneous stuff," Nelson said in a phone interview from his home in Salt Lake City, Utah. "The abuses in Abu Ghraib were anathema to mission accomplishment."

After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, many officers in Nelson's position were activated. In August 2002 he was sent to Guantanamo Bay where he spent six months. He was a sergeant working in Camp X Ray and in October of that year, he heard of government plans to use harsher techniques such as "sleep management" and "meal management" on the base's Camp Delta.

"The FBI told them it wouldn't work, but they got permission from the Secretary of Defense," says Nelson. "They created a Special Projects team drawn from different battalions, and used techniques like 20 hours of interrogation [followed by] 20 hours of sleep, and playing loud rock music." He says he thought these approaches were "a waste of time" but felt he was too low on the chain of command to speak critically about the techniques.

"Today, there are two schools of thought: the new school which believes that the ends justify the means. I believe the means justify the ends," Nelson says. "I believe that you should build up trust to the point where your subjects believe that you will go to bat for them. Whether or not higher-ups grant your requests is up to them and good interrogators should never promise what they cannot deliver. So you say you will go to bat for them, but no more."

In February 2003, he returned to the States to get ready for the Iraq war and was deployed during the March 2003 invasion. Nelson left Iraq in July and quit the military because he felt disillusioned by the way the war was developing. "Higher-ups with less experience were making piss-poor decisions instead of listening to lower-ranking, more experienced people," he says.

Soon he got a job with a private contractor, CACI, and he was posted to Abu Ghraib, which had been made into a prison, when all the other sites were overflowing. Nelson explains that half of the 30 interrogators in Abu Ghraib were civilian and the rest were military. "Perhaps a third had no formal training, some had related training — like Stephen Stephanowicz who trained as an analyst but not as an interrogator," he says.

Nelson was one of many prison officials who testified for Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba's 53-page classified internal report on the conduct of civilian and military interrogators. This was later made public by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker in May 2004, creating an international uproar.

According to the Taguba report, Stephanowicz, a CACI interrogator, "made a false statement to the investigation team regarding the locations of his interrogations, the activities during his interrogations, and his knowledge of abuses." Further, investigators found Stephanowicz encouraged military police to terrorize inmates, and "clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse."

Another report, written by the Red Cross, revealed that investigators had found naked prisoners covering themselves with packages from ready-to-eat military rations, and being subjected to "deliberate physical violence and verbal abuse." Prisoners were found to be incoherent, anxious, and even suicidal, with abnormal symptoms "provoked by the interrogation period and methods." The document stated that prison authorities "could not explain" the lack of clothing for prisoners and "could not provide clarification" about other mistreatment of prisoners.

Nelson decided to leave at the end of January 2004 when other CACI staff became hostile to him when it became obvious he had told the truth to Taguba. One co-worker told him that he was effectively dead to him and that he "better watch his back."

By this time, Nelson had also realized the American interrogators were interviewing the wrong people. "I told [the CACI project manager] that the country was going to hell in a handbasket and the American military was not doing a damn thing about it," says Nelson.

Since his return, Nelson has written a book called "American Interrogator," about what he considers proper interrogation techniques, but he has yet to find a publisher. He also spent time in Washington D.C. trying to drum up interest in a Congress-sponsored committee of experienced professionals like himself (but not generals or politicians) to critique and overhaul the system of military training, recruitment and management of operations.

The bible of interrogation techniques, Nelson explains, is Army manual FM 34/52, although a new manual is now in the works. This manual lists 17 methods of interrogation, which include "Direct Approach," "Silence," "Rapid Fire," "Pride and Ego Up," "Pride and Ego Down," "Fear Up Mild" and "Fear Up Harsh."

"Fear Up Harsh" is the most heavy-handed technique, says Nelson. It involves yelling, accusing the subject of lying and banging one's fist on the table. "Fear Up Mild" might involve pulling out a file and reciting the information in a calm voice — where they were caught, the charges being brought against them, such as carrying a weapon while not in uniform, and the possible consequences.

"'Pride and Ego Down' is revealing that you know they were caught in an embarrassing situation," says Nelson. This technique might involve divulging knowledge that the subject was caught dressed in women's clothing to get across a checkpoint, or that he had failed to save the life of a colleague. According to the former interrogator, "you might make fun of them or you might promise to erase it from the record. More often that not, you use "Pride & Ego Up," because your subject is [already] shattered emotionally, so you build up their morale, say they've acted like a hero."

The "Rapid Fire" technique, he adds, involves two or three interrogators asking questions simultaneously. Despite all this, Nelson says, "It was pounded into our heads that you never abuse a prisoner. We had to learn the Geneva Conventions, it was part of our manual."

"At no time are we allowed to have physical contact," he continues. "And I personally believe that 'Fear Up Harsh' does not really work. Good interrogation is not about bright lights, 'tell us where you were!' techniques. No, that's from a B-grade spy novel. Good interrogation is about professional questioning and proper reporting up the chain of command. It is all about building rapport, and if you do it well, you never have to use abusive techniques. We need to be viewed as the solution, not as a source of problems. If you play it right, you should never be the bad guy. We manipulate people but we do not coerce them."

The Thief of Baghdad

Missing: One giant generator owned by the United States military. Estimated cost: $734,863
Last seen: Somewhere in Iraq.

While much of the media is focused on the pitched battle over the control of the holy shrine in Najaf, a bigger scandal is brewing in Iraq that may well have an equally important effect on the future of the U.S. occupation.

A team of auditors was dispatched to Iraq in late January this year after a string of internal reports showed that the military was wasting billions of dollars of taxpayer money. They have issued eleven reports since June 25, almost all of which have pointed to the misuse of the money allocated for reconstruction, be it Iraqi or Congress-appropriated funds.

According to two of these reports issued in late July by Stuart Bowen, the auditor-inspector general of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), not only have a full one-third of the items purchased by the Pentagon gone MIA (including the pricey generator), but a whopping. $1.9 billion or more of Iraqi oil revenue has also mysteriously disappeared.

Embarrassed military authorities did eventually track down the missing generator and much of the money, both of which seemed to have ended up with none other than Halliburton. As it turns out they weren't missing after all; it's just that Dick Cheney's former employer had misplaced or conveniently forgotten to turn in the receipts to the correct people.

But the Pentagon was not able to explain just how Halliburton gained possession of Iraqi funds when neither the United States Congress nor the Iraqi government authorized their transfer to Halliburton in the first place. Worse yet, the man who authorized the allocation – CPA chief Paul Bremer – had already quietly left Iraq just as the reports were being released.

Yet days after the much-touted "transfer of sovereignty," the White House revealed an even more startling detail about the reconstruction effort: In over a year, the CPA had managed to spend just 2 percent of the $18.4 billion earmarked for the immediate reconstruction of Iraq. And not a penny was spent on the two areas where the Iraqi people were suffering the most: healthcare or water and sanitation.

So what is really going on? Is the United States spending too much or too little money in Iraq?

To answer that question, we need to separate the apples from the pears and the oranges.

Other People's Money

There are three treasure chests that the Occupation authorities are allowed to dip their hands into. The $87 billion appropriation that Congress granted to the Bush administration in September 2003 was divided into two funds: the bigger chunk, some $65 billion, for military operations and $18.4 billion for reconstruction. The Development Fund of Iraq (a.k.a. the revenues accrued from the sale of Iraqi oil) is the third treasure chest.

Treasure Chest No. 1 was quickly spent after the invasion on hiring Halliburton to supply the soldiers. In fact, the Pentagon has reportedly exceeded this allotment by an estimated $12 billion. This appropriation has been the source of most of the money spent in Iraq. It is also the money that has been subjected to a series of careful audits by the Defense Contract Audit Agency, the General Accounting Office (the investigative arm of Congress), and Stuart Bowen's team of auditors in Baghdad – all of whom have fiercely criticized Halliburton for its pricing and spending practices.

The CPA barely touched the $18.4 billion allocated by Congress for reconstruction (Treasure Chest No. 2)because of stringent bidding and oversight requirements to prevent fraud or waste. Many of the reconstruction bills were instead paid for with revenue from the sale of Iraqi oil (Treasure Chest No. 3). Some of this money was spent on Halliburton for the repair of the oil infrastructure; some was simply handed out in cash to local people by soldiers in return for favors such as rebuilding offices or building football fields.

A New York Times article in late June 2004, described the lax oversight of this money thus:

Keep reading... Show less

Democracy by the Dollars

What can a North Carolina firm teach Iraqis about democracy? Not much, as it turns out – not when it spends millions of dollars making life comfortable for its own staff rather than the Iraqis.

In March 2003, the U.S. Agency for International Development awarded the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International of North Carolina a $167 million contract to help 180 Iraqi cities and towns "foster efficient, transparent, and accountable sub-national government that supports the country's transition to sovereignty."

More specifically, the RTI staff in Iraq were charged with setting up local neighborhood councils, providing technical advice for municipal services such as garbage collection and water supply, and funding new local community organizations and initiatives.

Little of the above was achieved in reality, however.

Three former RTI employees who worked on the project say that the company instead spent 90 percent of the money on expensive expatriate staff, gave out lots of advice and held lots of meetings, but did little to provide support for local community organizations or councils.

Services Not Elections

According to RTI Iraq chief Ronald Johnson, his company's mission was to teach Iraqis how to establish local governments that would eventually provide basic services to citizens. In an interview with Canadian reporter Naomi Klein, he explained that holding elections too early often lead to violence. Basic services were instead safer ground encourage civic participation.

"There really is not a Sunni way to pick up the garbage vs. a Shiite way vs. a Syrian way to pick up the garbage," said Johnson. "There's a lot of politics about how much you do, and there's certainly politics about picking up the garbage in one neighborhood and not picking it up in another neighborhood," he said.

To account for this, RTI held neighborhood meetings. According to Johnson, "Announcements are distributed, people are invited, they're urged to bring people and you have kind of a town meeting – only it's a town meeting that in a lot of cases covers a small geographic area. But its potential is for a lot of the adult residents of that neighborhood to actually physically come together in a meeting, in person."

According to RTI press releases, these initiatives were a tremendous success: "Throughout the first year, our in-country team of roughly 2,000 Iraqis and 200 international development specialists worked in 18 governorates on a wide range of locally selected priorities ranging from increasing access to basic utilities and healthcare to establishing and training local governing councils,"

Spending on the Good Life

But former RTI employees paint a very different picture of the institute's operations, which they say spent over 90 percent of its allocated funding on its own staff rather than the Iraqis. Despite all the meetings, there was little real funding for the local programs.

Three former RTI employees – Jabir Algarawi, an Iraqi-American from Arizona; Jerry Kuhaida, a former Tennessee mayor; and Jim Beaulieu, a former provincial deputy minister from Canada – all went to work with hopes of building democracy in Iraq.

Algarawi, a Shiite from Diwaniya, had fled Iraq in 1991 after taking part in an uprising to overthrow Saddam Hussein as called for by the first President Bush. Last December, Algarawi, who supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, quit his job as executive director of the Arizona Refugee Community Center in Phoenix, and took a position with RTI, which flew him to Al Amarah, the capital of Maysan province in southeastern Iraq, to help Iraqis establish local governance.

At first, he says, "almost 95 percent of the people [in the south] supported us. Now there are only a few, and those who do don't have the courage to say it." He believes that the lack of tangible support for local communities is one of the principal reasons for the withdrawal of popular support.

Algarawi says that the only project he was able to finish was the creation of a women's organization, for which RTI allocated $90,000 in spending money.

"We spent more than that on entertainment for our staff alone, bringing in satellite television," he said. "Many of the expatriate staff individually earned twice or three times as much money as the annual budget of this organization. Probably we spent 90 percent of our money on RTI staff and very little on the community."

Algarawi also said that the RTI expatriate staff spent most of their time at their protected compound. "Some of my colleagues never left the compound; they spent all their time filling out forms for the United States government. It seemed like our main objective was satisfy our funders not to help people in Iraq," he said.

"Those of us who did go outside, were told we could not go anywhere without our four Australian bodyguards, but that made the local people afraid of us. Many people said we were CIA and especially since we were not supposed to speak to the media, this did nothing to dispel the rumors," Algarawi says.

He added that the company, whose supervisors stayed at the posh Sheraton Hotel in Kuwait, bought supplies, from food to televisions, from Kuwait, not Iraq. "[We] gave no money to Iraqi organizations, [so] local people started to say that they needed to get Saddam to get the Iraqi money back from Kuwait," Algarawi says.

In early April, Algarawi and all the other expatriate staff were told to evacuate Iraq because of the escalating violence. Then in late May, he heard that what little he had achieved might soon be undone. Dr. Kifaya Hussein, a staff member of the women's organization he had helped establish, was gunned down in front of the office. "When she was killed, RTI didn't pay out the money they had promised, so now all the women are just volunteers," he said.

The paucity of resources for actual community initiatives was confirmed by Jerry Kuhaida, the former mayor of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who had also resigned from his job in the United States to work for RTI in late 2003. He was assigned to Karbala, a city of 500,000 people about 60 miles south of Baghdad.

Kuhaida was put in charge of determining how money had been spent in the south central region, which covers four of Iraq's 18 governorates. He calculated that RTI had given away eight to 10 grants of between $5,000 and $50,000 each. "It was all fluff," Kuhaida said. "We weren't really doing anything for the local organizations."

But Patrick Gibbons, a spokesperson for RTI in Baghdad, disagreed with Algarawi and Kuhaida, arguing that the local grant-making program was successful: "The original LGP (local governance program) budget had $10 million allocated for grants to support local projects. The grant program was so successful that LGP, with USAID approval, reallocated budgeted funds to administer more grants. To date, nearly $15 million worth of grant-funded projects have been approved, and almost all are completed or nearing completion."

Statistically speaking, the $15 million was slightly less than 10 percent of the total $154 million paid out to RTI for the first year of work, which suggests that 90 percent was spent on company staff and administration expenses.

What's the Plan?

Kuhaida also complained that RTI lacked a serious plan for delivering democracy. "We can't even get our own people in the United States to vote, how are we going to do that in Iraq?" he wondered. "We needed to at least do some strategizing and thinking, but I saw no evidence that we were doing that."

"There was no plan at all after the war," he added. "The whole thing was running on a whim, basically. There wasn't even a bad plan out there. I am totally disturbed by my government and the lies that were told to me. I take them personally."

In response, Gibbons told CorpWatch that the situation was "challenging for everyone involved."

"Our efforts to date have been successful by any reasonable standard, and we are looking forward to continuing to improve municipal government's service delivery, to ensure that councils are representative, to promote the role of local government in sovereign Iraq, and to promote public participation in national and local political processes," he said. "Is it easy? No."

Not all the former employees who spoke with CorpWatch blame RTI. Jim Beaulieu, a former deputy minister of urban affairs in the Canadian province of Manitoba, was hired by RTI in September 2003 to help the governor of Najaf, the highest-ranked politician in the region.

Beaulieu said this work was more challenging than that of the military contractor Bechtel, which was charged with helping rebuild and protect Iraq's infrastructure. "RTI had to deal with people, ordinary Iraqis, who had no fundamental concept of democracy," he said. "We needed expatriates to teach these concepts."

The problem, he believed, lay with the American occupation authorities in Baghdad, who had given the governor and the governing council "no money, no authority over anything other than their own offices, and no support staff. They were just a shell. They were trying hard to do things, but how can you do anything without money or authority?"

Gibbons countered that the councils did have some power. "It is not true that the roles and responsibilities of councils have been largely advisory during (the occupation)," he said. "Local councils across the country have been planning and developing priorities for their constituents and communities, and funding flows exceeding $2 million per province that are spent only on projects selected by the council have enabled councils to choose and then implement important projects. The system, of course, is not fully developed, but councils to date have played critical roles in conflict resolution, selecting governors/mayors, and implementing projects."

But by spring, disenchanted with the company and frustrated by the little work being done, all three men quit their jobs and returned to North America. Beaulieu explained his motives: "I resigned because it became obvious we could not do what we were hired to do," he explained. "There was simply no credible evidence that the United States had a plan of what they want to do."

Gibbons claims that the three men do not represent the views of all RTI staff. "A lot of people have come out to Iraq to accomplish important personal missions," he said. "In the face of (difficult) circumstances, some have left earlier than they originally planned, in frustration. Others have extended well beyond their original commitment and feel they are accomplishing critical tasks."

Algarawi, however, does not blame the realities on the ground for his disenchantment with RTI: "They went there to make a profit, not to help the people."

Halliburton Makes a Killing on Iraq War

As the first bombs rain down on Baghdad, thousands of employees of Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney's former company, are working alongside US troops in Kuwait and Turkey under a package deal worth close to a billion dollars. According to US Army sources, they are building tent cities and providing logistical support for the war in Iraq in addition to other hot spots in the "war on terrorism."

While recent news coverage has speculated on the post-war reconstruction gravy train that corporations like Halliburton stand to gain from, this latest information indicates that Halliburton is already profiting from war time contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Cheney served as chief executive of Halliburton until he stepped down to become George W. Bush's running mate in the 2000 presidential race. Today he still draws compensation of up to a million dollars a year from the company, although his spokesperson denies that the White House helped the company win the contract.

In December 2001, Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, secured a 10-year deal known as the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), from the Pentagon. The contract is a "cost-plus-award-fee, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity service" which basically means that the federal government has an open-ended mandate and budget to send Brown and Root anywhere in the world to run military operations for a profit.

Linda Theis, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Field Support Command in Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, confirmed that Brown and Root is also supporting operations in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Georgia, Jordan and Uzbekistan.

"Specific locations along with military units, number of personnel assigned, and dates of duration are considered classified," she said. "The overall anticipated cost of task orders awarded since contract award in December 2001 is approximately $830 million."

Local Labor in Kuwait

The current contract in Kuwait began in September 2002 when Joyce Taylor of the U.S. Army Materiel Command's Program Management Office, arrived to supervise approximately 1,800 Brown and Root employees to set up tent cities that would provide accommodation for tens of thousands of soldiers and officials. Army officials working with Brown and Root say the collaboration is helping cut costs by hiring local labor at a fraction of regular Army salaries.

"We can quickly purchase building materials and hire third-country nationals to perform the work. This means a small number of combat-service-support soldiers are needed to support this logistic aspect of building up an area," says Lt. Col. Rod Cutright, the senior LOGCAP planner for all of Southwest Asia.

During the past few weeks, these Brown and Root employees have helped transform Kuwait into an armed camp, to support some 80,000 foreign troops, roughly the equivalent of 10 percent of Kuwait's native-born population.

Most of these troops are now living in the tent cities in the rugged desert north of Kuwait City, poised to invade Iraq. Some of the encampments are named after the states associated with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- Camp New York, Camp Virginia and Camp Pennsylvania.

The headquarters for this effort is Camp Arifjan, where civilian and military employees have built a gravel terrace with plastic picnic tables and chairs, surrounded by a gymnasium in a tent, a PX and newly arrived fast food outlets such as Burger King, Subway and Baskin-Robbins, set up in trailers or shipping containers. Basketball hoops and volleyball nets are set up outside the mess hall.

Meanwhile, In Turkey ...

North of Iraq approximately 1,500 civilians are working for Brown and Root and the United States military near the city of Adana, about an hour's drive inland from the Mediterranean coast of central Turkey, where they support approximately 1,400 US soldiers staffing Operation Northern Watch's Air Force F-15 Strike Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons monitoring the no-fly zone above the 36th parallel in Iraq.

The jet pilots are catered and housed at the Incirlik military base seven miles outside the city by a company named Vinnell, Brown and Root (VBR), a joint venture between Brown and Root and Vinnell corporation of Fairfax, Virginia, under a contract that was signed on Oct. 1, 1988, which also includes two more minor military sites in Turkey: Ankara and Izmir.

The joint venture's latest contract, which started July 1, 1999 and will expire in September 2003, was initially valued at $118 million. US Army officials confirm that Brown and Root has been awarded new and additional contracts in Turkey in the last year to support the "war on terrorism" although they refused to give any details.

"We provide support services for the United States Air Force in areas of civil engineering, motor vehicles transportation, in the services arena here -- that includes food service operations, lodging, and maintenance of a golf course. We also do US customs inspection," explained VBR site manager Alex Daniels, who has worked at Incirlik for almost 15 years.

Cheap labor is also the primary reason for outsourcing services, says Major Toni Kemper, head of public affairs at the base. "The reason that the military goes to contracting is largely because it's more cost effective in certain areas. I mean there was a lot of studies years ago as to what services can be provided via contractor versus military personnel. Because when we go contract, we don't have to pay health care and all the another things for the employees, that's up to the employer."

Soon after the contract was signed, Incirlik provided a major staging post for thousands of sorties flown against Iraq and occupied Kuwait during the Gulf war in January 1991 dropping over 3,000 tons of bombs on military and civilian targets.

Still ongoing is the first LOGCAP contract in the "war on terrorism," which began in June 2002, when Brown and Root was awarded a $22 million deal to run support services at Camp Stronghold Freedom, located at the Khanabad air base in central Uzbekistan. Khanabade is one of the main US bases in the Afghanistan war that houses some 1,000 US soldiers from the Green Berets and the 10th Mountain Division.

In November 2002 Brown and Root began a one-year contract, estimated at $42.5 million, to cover services for troops at bases in both Bagram and Khandahar. Brown and Root employees were first set to work running laundry services, showers, mess halls and installing heaters in soldiers' tents.

Future Contracts in Iraq

Halliburton is also one of five large US corporations invited to bid for contracts in what may turn out to be the biggest reconstruction project since the Second World War. The others are the Bechtel Group, Fluor Corp, Parsons Corp and the Louis Berger Group.

The Iraq reconstruction plan will require contractors to fulfill various tasks, including reopening at least half of the "economically important roads and bridges" -- about 1,500 miles of roadway within 18 months, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The contractors will also be asked to repair 15 percent of high-voltage electricity grid, renovate several thousand schools and deliver 550 emergency generators within two months. The contract is estimated to be worth up to $900 million for the preliminary work alone.

The Pentagon has also awarded a contract to Brown and Root to control oil fires if Saddam Hussein sets the well heads ablaze. Iraq has oil reserves second only to those of Saudi Arabia. This makes Brown and Root a leading candidate to win the role of top contractor in any petroleum field rehabilitation effort in Iraq that industry analysts say could be as much as $1.5 billion in contracts to jump start Iraq's petroleum sector following a war.

Wartime Profiteering

Meanwhile Dick Cheney's 2001 financial disclosure statement, states that Halliburton is paying him a "deferred compensation" of up to $1million a year following his resignation as chief executive in 2000. At the time Cheney opted not to receive his severance package in a lump sum, but instead to have it paid to him over five years, possibly for tax reasons.

The company would not say how much the payments are. The obligatory disclosure statement filed by all top government officials says only that they are in the range of $100,000 and $1 million. Nor is it clear how they are calculated.

Critics say that the apparent conflict of interest is deplorable.

"The Bush-Cheney team have turned the United States into a family business," says Harvey Wasserman, author of "The Last Energy War" (Seven Stories Press, 2000). "That's why we haven't seen Cheney --he's cutting deals with his old buddies who gave him a multimillion-dollar golden handshake. Have they no grace, no shame, no common sense? Why don't they just have Enron run America? Or have Zapata Petroleum (George W. Bush's failed oil-exploration venture) build a pipeline across Afghanistan?"

Army officials disagree. Major Bill Bigelow, public relations officer for the US Army in Western Europe, says: "If you're going to ask a specific question--like, do you think it's right that contractors profit in wartime--I would think that they might be better [asked] at a higher level, to people who set the policy. We don't set the policy, we work within the framework that's been established.

"Those questions have been asked forever, because they go back to World War Two when Chrysler and Ford and Chevy stopped making cars and started making guns and tanks," he added. "Obviously it's a question that's been around for quite some time. But it's true that nowadays there are very few defense contractors, but go back 60 years to the World War Two era, almost everybody was manufacturing something that either directly or indirectly had something to do with defense."

Sasha Lilley and Aaron Glantz helped conduct interviews for this article.

Pratap Chatterjee is an investigative journalist based in Berkeley, Calif. He traveled to Afghanistan and Uzbekistan in January 2002 and to Incirlik, Turkey, in January 2003 to research this article.

Afghan Pipe Dreams

A proposed natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan has governments jockeying for political control as well as a share in the billions of dollars that would come with it.

So far, however, international oil and gas corporations are sniffing around the region and the World Bank has hinted it might give it's blessing to the plan, but none has committed to a pipeline project.

Many political observers and critics of the US war in Afghanistan have voiced suspicions that the true aim of the fossil fuel friendly Bush administration's "war on terrorism" is to clear the way for such a pipeline. Others, like John Pike, Director of GlobalSecurity.org, say that while oil and gas are never far off U.S. policy makers' radar screen, they also have other objectives.

"The people who peddle fossil fuels are the most interested and most active in seeking to influence the United States government," notes Pike. "But right now I think the US policy is to keep a new pipeline out of Iran at any costs," adds the former military analyst for the Federation of American Scientists.

Meanwhile, human rights and environmental activists are keeping an eye on a potential pipeline in the volatile region.

Central Asia Jockeys for Position

On May 30th President Hamid Karzai, then chairman of Afghanistan's interim administration, Pakistan's president General Pervez Musharraf, and Saparmurat Niyazov, the president of Turkmenistan, signed a memorandum of understanding, laying out plans to build a 900 mile pipeline that would snake across southern Afghanistan, from Turkmenistan's Daulatabad gas fields to the Pakistani port city of Gwadar.

Two weeks earlier, World Bank president James Wolfensohn told reporters in Kabul that the international lending institution might be interested in such a project.

"We are not taking the entrepreneurial role, but were it to come up we would certainly take a look at it. There are a number of entrepreneurs already in the exercise so we will wait and see," he said.

Western governments are also taking a keen interest. "The pipeline is one of those things out there in the future," a United States State Department official told the Far Eastern Economic Review estimating that Afghanistan could earn $100 million-$150 million a year in transit fees.

Current estimates of natural gas reserves in four former Soviet republics: Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan equaled more than 236 trillion cubic feet while total oil reserves might reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil.

At current consumption levels, the region holds enough fossil fuels to service Europe's oil needs for 11 years: a prize that has many oil companies salivating, especially because labor costs in the region are low and environmental standards practically non-existent.

The high stakes have generated strong interest in tapping these reserves and piping them south through Afghanistan over the last decade or so, especially from Unocal, a California-based oil corporation. Among the other companies sniffing around for partners is Gazprom, a Russian oil behemoth.

Power Politics

Despite the institutional backing from financiers and local governments, analysts say that pipeline is still years from being built and the current discussions are really just an attempt to consolidate power in the region.

Julia Nanay, director of Caspian Services for the Petroleum Finance Corporation, an energy consulting group in Washington DC, told CorpWatch: "The United States is supporting this talk of a pipeline in an effort to isolate Iran and aggravate the situation. And the Russians want to make sure that oil and gas flows north not south."

Indeed, the two former superpower rivals are more interested in making sure that they have a place at the table, says Nanay, than in actual funding for such a pipeline. "What we are talking about is an effort to control any future venture. But right now it would be pretty foolish to build a pipeline while the various warlords are still feuding with each other in Afghanistan."

Alastair McKechnie, the Afghanistan country director for the World Bank, says that the Bank is also simply keeping tabs on the situation. "Any revenue whatsoever from apples to oil would be welcome in Afghanistan today. But I would not advise support for a pipeline right now because there are far more pressing needs. Even if someone were to approach us, we would look very hard at such a proposal," he told CorpWatch.

The Entrepreneurs Arrive

However, entrepreneurs are already setting up shop. Earlier this year Robert Mojave and Fariborz Shafei, two Iranian born businessmen, traveled to Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, to look into the possibility of setting up a Afghan branch office for Los Angeles-based Dynatek Corporation, a small supplier of industrial pumps. Their potential customers are the oil multinationals looking to build a pipeline from Central Asia through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean.

"We want to be the first American company to set up an office in Kabul and we want to get the exclusive right to supply industrial pumps to whoever wants to build a pipeline," Mojave says.

Over the course of last few months, the two men have traveled to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Baku in Azerbaijan and Teheran in Iran, to seek out potential partners. In April Mojave was back in Kabul setting up his office.

"We are not betting on a company, we are betting on a strategy. Remember all that American aid money has to be spent on American companies and there aren't any other American companies there. We are the first," he told Corpwatch just before returning to Afghanistan.

Unocal

But US interest in a pipeline is not new. In 1997 a consortium led by Unocal drew up plans to build a four foot wide pipeline that would snake 875 miles from the Dauletabad Field in southeastern Turkmenistan, passing near the cities of Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan, crossing into Pakistan near Quetta and linking with existing pipelines at Multan. An additional $600 million extension to India was also under consideration.

But in August 1998 Unocal halted development of the project after U.S. forces fired missiles at guerrilla camps in Afghanistan in the wake of bomb attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa.

One of their consultants in the company's 1997 conversations with the Taliban was Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, who was appointed special envoy from President George Bush to Afghanistan on December 31, 2001. As an adviser for Unocal, Khalilzad drew up a risk analysis of a proposed gas pipeline from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean.

Today Unocal says it has no more interest in a Central Asian pipeline through Afghanistan and has closed its offices in Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan retaining operations only in Azerbaijan. "We have exited the region because we have long term commitments on other places and our plate is full," says Teresa Covington, a spokeswoman for the company.

Covington noted that other members of the original consortium such as Crescent of Pakistan and Delta of Saudia Arabia were still pondering their role in future joint ventures.

The biggest player still in the game is Gazprom, the world's largest natural gas company, which is 38% owned by the Russian government.

Dictators and Dollars

A few years ago the yellow bumper sticker on the car of Elizabeth Jones, then United States ambassador to Kazakhstan, read, "Happiness is Multiple Pipelines."

In reality the billion dollar pipeline investments have brought great wealth to the Central Asian political bosses, all former senior Communist party leaders from Soviet days, but not to their citizenry whose average monthly wage is around $20.

Recently Kazakhstan's foreign minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev acknowledged that in 1996 President Nursultan Nazarbayev moved $1 billion of oil funds into a secret Swiss bank account without telling his parliament.

And although substantial oil money has yet to flow into Turkmenistan's coffers, President Niyazov has spent millions building marble hotels to attract the multinationals to the region in addition to a gold statue of himself in the center of town that rotates to reflect the sun.

Others say that the venture will not help the common people. Keith Griffin, an economics professor at the University of California, expressed skepticism that the money will ever flow to the local people. "We cannot expect to re-float society on a pool of oil," he told a conference in Kazakhstan's financial center.

Environmental and human rights activists say that the oil pipelines have often brought more poverty and environmental destruction than wealth.

"Look at Nigeria and Colombia. Pipelines have only brought misery to local people in those countries such as massive pollution of rivers and farmland from spills and gas flaring and major human rights abuses by the military that guards these operations" explains Gopal Dayaneni, oil campaigner for Project Underground, a California-based activist group.

Indeed if Gazprom, the current front-runner for building the pipeline succeeds, the Afghan population does not have much of a track record to draw comfort from -- every month the company is reported to spill one million gallons of oil, 25 times the amount of oil that Exxon spilled in Valdez, Alaska. Activists like Dayaneni say they will keep a watchful eye on developments in the region.

Pratap Chatterjee is a freelance journalist based in Berkeley, California. Earlier this year he was on assignment in Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Dubya in Bed with Environmental Outlaw

Early last October, every member of a ninth grade girls track team and the freshman football team at suburban Houston's Deer Park High School's north campus returned from practice reporting severe breathing problems. That day Deer Park registered 251 parts of ozone per billion, more than twice the federal standard, and Houston surpassed Los Angeles as the smoggiest city in the United States.

One of the biggest contributors to Deer Park's pollution is a plant owned by Enron, Houston's wealthiest company. Enron is also the single largest contributor ($555,000 and counting) to the political ambitions of Texas Governor George W. Bush, Republican Candidate for President of the United States. Kenneth Lay, the chief executive of Enron, has personally given over $100,000 to Bush's political campaigns, more than any other individual. He is also one of the "Pioneers" -- a Bush supporter who has collected at least $100,000 in direct contributions of $1,000 or less.

Enron is best known as the largest buyer and seller of natural gas in the country. Its 1999 revenues of $40 billion have made it the 18th largest company in the United States. Enron is invested in energy projects around the world including the UK, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, the Philippines, Indonesia, China, India and Mozambique.

The company has recently expanded from energy to "bandwidth" capacity for the Internet, making it one of the world's largest Internet-based trading companies, buying and selling a dizzying array of products ranging from pulp and paper to petrochemicals and plastics, as well as esoteric products like clean air credits that utilities purchase to meet emission limits.

Texas activists say that this tight connection between Bush and Lay bodes ill for the country, if Bush is elected. Andrew Wheat, from Texans for Public Justice, a campaign finance advocacy group in Austin, compared the symbiotic relationship between Enron and the Governor to "cogeneration" -- a process used by utilities to harness waste heat vented by their generators to produce more power. "In a more sinister form of cogeneration, corporations are converting economic into political power. A Bush election fueled by Enron dollars could fill the White House with dangerous levels of Enron gas. When that gas ignites in the public-policy arena, consumers will get burned," he said.

Indeed Bush campaign spokesman Ray Sullivan said that, if elected president, the governor is keen to promote the kind of policies that he has crafted with companies like Enron for the state of Texas. "The governor believes in competition, free enterprise, better service and technology improvements. He has promoted sweeping and effective reforms in education and has been the first governor in Texas to seriously address limits on emissions. He will carry his agenda to Washington to do what he believes is best for the country."

But is what Bush believes is good for Texas, good for the United States? Texas has one of the worst environmental records in the country, particularly in the field of air pollution. And its education record is not much better. Unfortunately, the Bush platform for the country is very similar to the kinds of programs that he has worked on with Enron, cutting corporate taxes, deregulating industry and replacing social programs with private sector volunteerism.

In addition Enron is invested in energy projects around the globe -- some of which have been tainted by charges of human rights abuses. For example, in India construction of it's controversial Dhabol power plant has brought charges by international groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International of complicity with police brutality in rural communities. It is also accused of human rights violations in Bolivia, where it is building a major gas pipeline threatening indigenous communities and the rainforest environment, according to California-based Amazon Watch.

Houston, We Have a Problem

The Enron Methanol plant in Pasadena, Texas lies in the Houston Ship Channel area, the nation's largest concentration of petrochemical plants, just east of the city. The Enron Methanol plant has won special concessions from Governor Bush allowing the company to pollute without a permit, as well as giving the company immunity from prosecution for violating the law. Indeed, plants like this in Texas actually emit twice as many nitrogen oxides, a key ingredient of smog, as do all the nine million cars in Texas put together.

Only seven percent of the more than 3,500 tons of nitrogen oxide emitted by the Enron Methanol plant in 1997 were permitted. Enron got away with this under the "grandfather clause" of the 1971 Texas Clean Air Act which allows plants built before 1971 to continue their polluting practices. Governor Bush extended this clause under the 1999 Clean Air Responsibility Enterprise (CARE) program that his office drew up in a series of secret meetings with representatives of the top polluters in the state. CARE waives permit requirements for plants that volunteer to cut emissions.

The CARE program is backed up by an act that Bush signed in May 1995 giving sweeping protections to polluters who perform internal environmental or safety audits. The law makes these audit documents confidential from the public and allows polluters to escape responsibility for environmental violations. To date Enron has conducted five such audits and filed for immunity from prosecution for violations of the law, according to the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC), the state equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Tamara Maschini, who lives about five miles from the Enron plant is one of the founders of a local environmental group called Clean Air Clear Lake. "Whole families in this neighborhood have asthma because of the pollution from plants like Enron," she says. "It's gotten so bad that NASA has a problem recruiting people to work here at Mission Control which is just down the road. Houston is in trouble and George Bush is the reason -- he has allowed the situation to deteriorate over the past several years," according to Maschini.

Mark Palmer, head of public relations for Enron, says that the company's contribution to local pollution is minimal. "If the grandfather clause was canceled right now, we would benefit the most of any of the companies in Texas because our nitrogen oxide emissions add up to less than half a percent of the total," he said.

Neil Carman, a former employee of the Texas Air Control Board, who now works for the Sierra Club, agrees that Enron's grandfathered nitrogen emissions add up to less than one percent of the total for all of Texas. However, he points out that Enron Methanol plant alone contributes 3.6 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions from the nearly 250 stationary sources of pollution for the city of Houston -- the equivalent of 152,500 cars.

What's more, he says that Enron is simply paying lip service to the Bush proposal to cut pollution at grand fathered plants. "Enron showed up at the governor's press conference to volunteer for the CARE program but they have been missing in action ever since. They haven't even bothered to file their voluntary plan."

Enron's Field Of Dreams

If environmental regulators wanted to speak to Enron's senior officials about the missing voluntary program, they would be well advised to follow the presidential candidate around as he is often chaperoned by Enron officials.

On April 7, 2000, Ken Lay, Enron's chief executive, played host to Bush junior and his father, former president George Bush, at the Houston Astros' first home game of the season at the baseball team's brand new stadium -- Enron Field -- which was built with the help of a $100 million donation from Enron. (The company got free advertising, a tax break and a $200 million dollar contract to supply power to the stadium in return.)

Less than three weeks later Lay joined Bush in Washington DC for a Republican fund-raiser that topped all previous records by bringing in a staggering $21.3 million, easily the biggest one-night haul for any political party in history.

That's not all. Lay makes sure that the Bush presidential campaign has access to other Enron facilities. For example last year the Bush campaign borrowed Enron's corporate jets eight times to fly aides around the country, more times than any of the 34 other companies that made their company aircraft available to the presidential hopeful. (Under federal law, campaigns must reimburse companies for transportation, typically at the cost of a first-class ticket so Enron received $25,000 from the Bush campaign for this favor).

Lay's ties to Bush junior begin with his father, former President George Bush, who was also a recipient of Enron/Lay's financial largesse. Like his son now, Bush senior was also happy to return the favor: from 1991 to 1993 Bush appointed Lay to the President's Export Council.

When we asked Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, about the relationship between the two men, he chose his words carefully. "Ken Lay is a noted business leader in Texas who has long been active in Republican politics. He is chair of the Governor's Business Council. But the governor has his own agenda based on what he believes is best for Texas and for the country."

Lay towed a similar line when recently interviewed by the New York Times. "When I make contributions to a candidate, it is not for some special favor, it's not even for access -- although I'll be the first to admit it probably helps access. It is because I'm supporting candidates I strongly believe in personally." Indeed both Lay and Enron are generous contributors to local and national politicians wherever they do business, often following the long standing corporate practice of funding candidates on both sides of the election.

According to campaign records, Enron and Lay have contributed to Democrats as diverse as Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis. In 1984, Lay was Harris County chairman of a $1,000-a-plate Reagan-Bush fund-raiser, while at the same time co-chairing a fund-raiser for U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, the vice presidential candidate on the opposing ticket.

Industry Volunteers

Bush delivers just the kind of results that Lay wants. Candidate Bush says he will "work with local jurisdictions using market-based solutions and not try to sue our way or regulate our way to clean air and water." He proposes allowing industries to voluntarily police themselves, just like he did for Enron and the other polluters in Texas.

Texas has regularly ranked as the most environmentally polluted state for years. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, Texas has the worst record of all 50 states in air pollution, water pollution, overall toxic releases, recognized carcinogens in the air, suspected carcinogens in the air, developmental toxins in the air (affecting brain and nervous-system development in children) and cancer risk.

While it is true that Texas was the most polluted state in the country long before George W. Bush became governor, the reason it has stayed that way is simple: Bush's policies have effectively allowed these industries to continue to pollute through a system of voluntary compliance.

Read His Lips?

Ken Lay and Enron's political beliefs overlap with candidate Bush in other arenas, such as education. For example on August 20, 2000 the Houston Astros will host a book drive at Enron Field to promote one of George W Bush and Enron's favorite charities -- the Reach Out And Read (ROAR) literacy program.

Launched in 1998, by Laura Welch Bush, the governor's wife, the program calls for physicians and nurse practitioners to give free culturally appropriate books to their pre-school age patients at every checkup. Enron also regularly volunteers its employees to read to children in area clinics and conducts book drives. The cost to Enron for this five year publicity program was $400,000.

"Along with good nutrition, exercise, care and love, doctors agree that children need a daily dose of parent-child reading. This program will serve as a model for clinics across Texas." said Laura Bush in a press release.

Susan Cooley, the director of Texas ROAR, was gushing in her support for the company, the governor and his wife. "I've been a nurse for 25 years. I don't know anything about sponsorship or advertising. But at Enron they have whole departments to do this, so finding a corporate sponsor has been a godsend," she said.

However Enron is less than supportive of schools that do not provide similar public relations opportunities. And its political reach goes beyond the governor's mansion. Some 20 miles north of the company's headquarters in Houston Enron has effectively cut approximately $225,000 from the annual budget of the Spring school district, one of Houston's ethnically diverse, poorer suburbs. Spring, Texas, sits on top of Bammel Field, a huge underground salt cave, where Enron stores large quantities of natural gas. As the largest business in Spring, Enron was required to pay taxes based on the value of its property and mineral holdings on January 1st of each year.

But under a special 1989 provision Enron and other large business property owners were allowed to choose September 1st as their tax assessment date, when the company has less gas stored in Bammel field. Enron was able to reduce its property taxes by $15 million in 1990, blowing a hole in the school districts budget, said Katherine Trumbull, a tax accountant with the school district.

The Spring school district went to court to challenge the new tax provision as unconstitutional and won at the appeals court level. Enron appealed this decision to the Texas Supreme Court. While the case was pending Enron's Political Action Committee (PAC) and senior executives contributed heavily to the election campaigns of every Republican judge vying for seats (all the members of the Texas Supreme Court are elected and may take money from contributors for the campaign expenses). Enron's employees and PAC doled out $78,700 between the seven of the winning justices in the 1996 campaign including more than $24,000 from Ken Lay personally. The Supreme Court justices ruled unanimously in Enron's favor on May 6, 1996, a month after Lay gave Chief Justice Thomas Phillips $5,000 for his campaign.

"I have nothing against Enron, after all they are our biggest taxpayer. They can afford to pay for good lawyers and lobbyists and we can't," says Trumbull simply. Enron's Palmer had no comment about the tax lawsuit brought by the Spring Independent School District.

Enron's Global Reach

Enron has also courted Bush's help for its business abroad. For example, in March 1997 Lay wrote a letter to Bush, that was subsequently released to the press under Texas open records laws, asking him to explain that "export credit agencies of the United States are critical to U.S. developers like Enron, who are pursuing international projects in developing countries."

These agencies include the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), a federal agency which provides political risk coverage and financial support to United States companies investing abroad including hundreds of millions of dollars for Enron projects in countries from Brazil to India. Unfortunately for communities in these countries Enron's investments have had devastating impact.

In India where Enron received $200 million in political risk insurance for the Dabhol offshore oil and gas development project in 1996, the company has been blamed by both Human Rights Watch as well as Amnesty International, for financing local police brutality.

For example, just before dawn on June 3, 1997, police stormed the home of several women in Veldur, a fishing village in western state of Maharashtra, India.

"The policemen forcibly opened the door and dragged me out of the house into the police van parked on the road. (While dragging me) the police kept beating me on my back with batons. The humiliation meted out to the other members of my family was similar to the way I was humiliated... my one and a half year old daughter held on to me but the police kicked her away," says Sugandha Vasudev Bhalekar -- a 24 year old housewife who was three months pregnant at the time of her arrest, according to Amnesty International documentation.

The only "crime" committed by these women was to lead a peaceful protest against a massive new Enron natural gas plant. An investigative team from Amnesty International found that a number of the women subsequently sustained injuries, including bruising, abrasions and lacerations on arms and legs. Several hundred other peaceful protestors have been arrested and temporarily detained by Indian police since December 1996, according to the report. Meanwhile, a January 1999 investigation by Human Rights revealed that the police were directly on the Enron payroll.

Likewise, Enron has been severely criticized for the Cuiaba Integrated Energy Project in Bolivia and Brazil, for which it received $200 million (US dollars) in insurance from OPIC in 1999.

On February 4, 2000 an oil pipeline operated by Transredes, a joint venture between Enron and Shell in the Cuiaba Integrated Energy Project, erupted in the Bolivian altiplano and dumped an estimated 10,000 barrels of refined crude oil and gasoline into the Desaguadero River, which supports indigenous communities like the Uru Moratos. Facing starvation from the loss of their life-sustaining waterfowl and fish, the Uru Moratos left their ancestral lands at the southern shores of Lake Poopo in April and marched 85 miles to the city of Oruro to ask for government help.

White House Hopes

In January 1999 Enron pitched in $50,000 to help pay for Bush's inaugural bash in Austin, Texas, when he was re-elected governor. Today the polls show that George W. Bush currently has a better than even chance of winning the November presidential elections and moving from Austin to Washington DC.

If he does, it is very likely Ken Lay will be on hand when Bush is inaugurated as the next president of the United States, hoping that in return for generously supporting his campaign, Bush will be equally generous in his support for Enron's businesses at home and abroad in the future.

Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, says that the relationship is bound to pay off. "Those two have a mutual self-interest in being buddies. Bush has always delivered on Ken Lay's political pitches. Enron depends upon government policies to enhance their bottom line in lots of ways. The company relies upon this kind of access to government," he recently told an Associated Press reporter. It is people from the Uru Moratas of Bolivia to the school children of Deer Park and Spring, Texas, who will ultimately pay the price through the continued destruction of their communities and environment.

This story was made possible by the Corporate Watch Fund for Investigative Journalism.

BRAND NEW STORIES