According to a recent report from MSNBC, government audits into funding from the U.S. Congress to rebuild Iraq show that of the $30 billion given, $8.8 billion has disappeared. So how do you show your appreciation to the men and women who report corruption in the rebuilding of Iraq? If you’re the U.S. Government, you demote, fire, vilify them, or worse.
Donald Vance, a Navy veteran and his colleague, Nathan Ertel were imprisoned by the Amerian military (the same one Vance served) in a security compound outside of Baghdad, classified as security detainees and subjected to physical and mental interrogation tactics “reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants” when they reported illegal arms sales.
Thinking he was doing the right thing, Vance told the FBI about guns, land mines and rocket-launchers being sold for cash by Shield Group Security Co., the Iraqi-owned company he worked for. No receipts necessary. He told a federal agent Iraqi insurgents, American soldiers, State Department workers and Iraqi embassy and ministry employees were buying them.
Vance supplied photos, documents and other intelligence to an FBI agent in Chicago since he didn’t know who to trust in Iraq. In return he got to spend 97 days in Camp Cropper, an American military prison that once held Saddam Hussein outside of Baghdad. Ertel helped gather the evidence. For his trouble, he got to spend a little over a month being detained.
Other Examples of Misplaced Priorities
Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse was the highest-ranking civilian contracting officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when she testified to a congressional committee in 2005 about the widespread fraud in multibillion-dollar rebuilding contracts awarded by the U.S. to former Halliburton subsidiary KBR.
How was she rewarded? After a 20-year exemplary career, she was demoted to a tiny cubicle in another department with almost nothing to do and no decision-making authority. People she’s known for year don’t talk to her any more. “It’s just amazing how we say we want to remove fraud from our government, then we gag people who are just trying to stand up and do the right thing,” she says.
Robert Isakson and co-plaintiff William Baldwin filed a whistleblower suit against contractor Custer Battles in 2004. The suit alleged that Custer Battles was bilking the U.S. government out of tens of millions of dollars with fraudulent invoicing.
For two year Isakson and Baldwin gathered evidence on their own. A federal jury ended up awarding a $10 million judgment against the now-desolved firm which denied all wrongdoing. In 2006, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III overturned the award. So ends the very first trial case in an Iraq whistleblower case. None have been filed since.
Isakson is a former FBI agent who owns an international contracting company in Alabama. “It’s a sad, heartbreaking comment on the system. I tried to help the government, and the government didn’t seem to care.”
Still No Action by Congress
Some people have testified before Congressional committees, providing examples of fraud they witnessed and the retaliaton they faced after speaking up and doing the right thing. Still nothing gets done.
One who testified was Julie McBride. She was a “morale, welfare and recreation coordinator” at Camp Fallujah when she saw KBR padding costs by estimating two to three times the number of soldiers using recreational facilities. She also testified that KBR took supplies destined for a Super Bowl party for U.S. troops and used them to have a party themselves.
“After I voiced my concerns about what I believed to be accounting fraud, Halliburton placed me under guard and kept me in seclusion. My property was searched, and I was specifically told that I was not allowed to speak to any member of the U.S. military. I remained under guard until I was flown out of the country” she told the committee. Naturally, Halliburton and KBR denied everything.
Military Justice Pentagon Style
After all the Abu Ghraib prison scandals and all the enlisted military personnel serving prison sentences for their involvement (for following orders), what happens to the commanding officers and other high-ranking political civilians who ordered the abuses at the military prison? According to a report by the Washington Post, nothing.
Part of the Abu Ghraib scandal that violated Geneva Conventions and U.S. military codes involved using dogs to terrorize detainees. Then Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded more aggressive steps collecting “intelligence” from prisoners. Col. Thomas M. Pappas oversaw interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Others such as Maj. Gen. Goeffrey D. Miller, a former commander of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib invoked his fifth-amendment rights—the right to avoid testifying under oath against yourself because of self-incrimination. All three have been blatantly excused from criminal charges by the Pentagon.
Col. Pappas confessed to approving the usage of dogs in interrogations. He was granted immunity from prosecution when he testified against the soldiers who handled the dogs. Gen. Miller also recommended that dogs be used and sent special teams of interrogators to train the Abu Ghraib personnel. He was allowed to retire a year ago. Despite recommendations from a Pentagon Investigator that Miller be sanctioned, they were rejected by another general in the Pentagon, causing clear evidence of illegal wrongdoing and lies to be turned aside.
Over a year ago Senators from the Armed Services Committee charged in a letter that “the Army appears to be protecting MG Miller from being held accountable for his actions,” and called for yet another useless hearing to have Gen. Miller answer questions about his behavior. Still no hearing has been held. Why Congress continues to do nothing is still a mystery. It’s time for our elected officials to overcome their cranial-rectumitis, pull their heads out and start doing the right thing.