Deadly KBR Showers Came With $80M Bonuses

From Jeremy Scahill at The Nation today, a synopsis of explosive testimony before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee regarding contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root (former Halliburton subsidiary and by far the largest beneficiary of federal wartime funding, ever). According to the story, KBR received more than $80 million in bonuses for installing electrical writing in military facilities in Iraq — $30 million of that was paid after a soldier was killed by faulty wiring in one of the showers on base. According to Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J, 18 soldiers have perished under similar circumstances.

The take-home passage:

James Childs, a master electrician hired by the Army to review electrical work in Iraq during 2008, testified that KBR’s work in Iraq was the “most hazardous, worst quality work” he’d ever seen. He said his investigation found improper wiring in “every” building KBR wired in Iraq (of which there are thousands) and that KBR’s rewiring work in buildings that were previously safely wired resulted in the electrical system becoming unsafe. Childs said that KBR did not do any work “according to code.” He also testified that the same risks exist in Afghanistan, which he recently visited. “While doing inspections in Afghanistan, I found the exact same code violations,” Childs said.

For its part, KBR denies any culpability for the electrocution deaths.

Scahill quotes a former military official once in charge of such contracts, saying the bonuses were paid out of fear KBR would cease work, that they became  “too big to fail.” That’s a big reason why hearings like these — as informative and cathartic they are — never result in any real action. Behemoths like KBR  have too many friends in Washington, and  have become utterly indispensable to Long War operations in the two-front theater.

The corporate war industry — first conceived by Republicans, long acquiesced to by Democrats — now full in its glory. These lawmakers, now twisted in frustration over electrocuted soldiers, have no one to blame but themselves.

Onward, Christian Soldiers

Does finding out that a top military intelligence official was sending Donald Rumsfeld briefings emblazoned with religious crusader talk about the invasion of Iraq, like “open the gates so that the righteous may enter” fit “the left’s narrative that the Iraq war must have been conceived with an ulterior motive — war for oil, war for Israel, war because Bush heard God’s voice in his head”?

uh, yeah.

Robert Draper of GQ has a searing profile of ex-Sec Def Rumsfeld and how he botched the 2003 war of choice against Iraq. It includes a description of Gen. Glen Shaffer’s daily briefings to Rumsfeld:

on the morning of Thursday, April 10, 2003, Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon prepared a top-secret briefing for George W. Bush. This document, known as the Worldwide Intelligence Update, was a daily digest of critical military intelligence so classified that it circulated among only a handful of Pentagon leaders and the president; Rumsfeld himself often delivered it, by hand, to the White House. The briefing’s cover sheet generally featured triumphant, color images from the previous days’ war efforts: On this particular morning, it showed the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down in Firdos Square, a grateful Iraqi child kissing an American soldier, and jubilant crowds thronging the streets of newly liberated Baghdad. And above these images, and just below the headline secretary of defense, was a quote that may have raised some eyebrows. It came from the Bible, from the book of Psalms: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him…To deliver their soul from death.”

This mixing of Crusades-like messaging with war imagery, which until now has not been revealed, had become routine. On March 31, a U.S. tank roared through the desert beneath a quote from Ephesians: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” On April 7, Saddam Hussein struck a dictatorial pose, under this passage from the First Epistle of Peter: “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”(snip)

These cover sheets were the brainchild of Major General Glen Shaffer, a director for intelligence serving both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense. In the days before the Iraq war, Shaffer’s staff had created humorous covers in an attempt to alleviate the stress of preparing for battle. Then, as the body counting began, Shaffer, a Christian, deemed the biblical passages more suitable. Several others in the Pentagon disagreed. At least one Muslim analyst in the building had been greatly offended; others privately worried that if these covers were leaked during a war conducted in an Islamic nation, the fallout—as one Pentagon staffer would later say—“would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.”

But the Pentagon’s top officials were apparently unconcerned about the effect such a disclosure might have on the conduct of the war or on Bush’s public standing. When colleagues complained to Shaffer that including a religious message with an intelligence briefing seemed inappropriate, Shaffer politely informed them that the practice would continue, because “my seniors”—JCS chairman Richard Myers, Rumsfeld, and the commander in chief himself—appreciated the cover pages…

No matter how you parse it — this is creepy. On one level it calls into question judgment. Why spend millions of dollars on cultural and religious sensitivity training and anthropologists to game out the war, if you are going to spit in everyone’s eye anyway? But even darker, it calls into question, again, the motivation behind the invasion and subsequent occupation of  Mesopotamia.

And yes, Hot Air, it does call into question the very sanity of the operation. Bloggers there would prefer we pretend it was all about indulging the chief :  “Proof that Don Rumsfeld was actually a closet crusader?” quips Allapundit. ” No, more like proof that Rumsfeld tried to speak Bush’s language in the early days of the war to give him strength as the first casualties were taken.”

We all have our crosses to bear.

UPDATE: Former aide to Rumsfeld said his boss disputes he “appreciated” religiously tinged briefing papers

Tom Ricks to Get Off of My Cloud!

Anointed Washington Surge scribe Thomas Ricks takes to task for writing “about an area about which they know absolutely freaking nothing,” referring to my current piece on Gian Gentile: Exposing Counterfeit COIN. To his mind and of the COIN clique he runs with online, writing about the war should be left to practitioners and military theorists, and of course, Washington Post special war correspondents and senior fellows at the Center for a New American Security.

Certainly not any operation calling itself “Antiwar.” (Note to Ricks: Try to take more than two minutes to check out the site, then you’d find out how we feel about “predatory strikes” and “protecting the population.”)

Like many Washington types who ride a singular moment — say a war, a Surge, the rising stars of generals named Petraeus and Odierno –to such breathless heights of Washington success and sycophancy, there is a tendency towards peevishness when any of it is questioned. It’s territorial, and I can understand that. Thus Ricks reacts by reminding us of his bonefides in Iraq, and is so quick to defend the Washington think tank where he now hangs his hat. Don’t worry, we’ll get off of your cloud.

Journo Deemed A U.S. Terror Threat

Apparently, the pen is so mighty, that we can’t even risk certain foreign journalists flying in our airspace.

According to reports over the weekend, an Air France flight to Mexico was diverted because of one passenger, Franco-Colombian writer Hernando Calvo Ospina, who works for the Le Monde Diplomatique, a left-wing French-based newspaper. Apparently, Ospina has written extensive critiques of the current Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the U.S.-fed drug war in Latin America. According to his publisher, he was on his way to Nicaragua, to research his current project, a book about the Central Intelligence Agency.

A spokesman for Mr Ospina’s French publisher, Le Temps des Cerises, said: “Hernando, who was heading to Nicaragua to research a report, thus found out that he is on a ‘no-fly list’ that bans a number of people from flying to or even over the United States.” (snip)

The publisher accused the Central Intelligence Agency of being behind Mr Ospina’s blacklisting, pointing out that the journalist was currently researching a book about the spy agency. “It shows to what degree its paranoia (has reached),” it said.

Air France said that as the flight was not due to stop in a US airport, it had not sent US authorities the passenger manifest. However, it sent one to Mexico, which apparently sent the list on. The crew were informed of the ban as they approached US airspace.

Mr Ospina, who has written several books and contributes to Le Monde Diplomatique, the left-wing French political monthly, said that he was informed of the order to divert the flight by its co-pilot.

“I was speechless and my first reaction was to ask, ‘Do you think I’m a terrorist?’,” he said. “He replied ‘no’ and said that was why he told me about it, adding that it was extraordinary and the first time it had happened on an Air France plane.”

Due to the secrecy of the Department of Homeland Security’s “no-fly list,” no one really knows how many names are on it, or who.  Fliers snagged up in the list have limited recourse for appealing their situation under current laws. Legislation has been introduced in Congress — but so far not moved –  to make the process more transparent.

According to reports and public statements, there are approximately 400,000 unique individuals on the FBI’s consolidated terror watch list, and more than one million names. In October 2008, then-DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff told reporters there were 2,500 individuals on the no-fly list and 16,000 on the “selectee list,” which directs airlines to send someone to secondary screening at airport checkpoints.

Media Elite Fall Down Again, and Again and …

For all of their gasbaggery about the virtue and necessity of the Fourth Estate, the glittering mainstream media elite (big names, big money, very little gumshoe) is simply allergic to breaking news, and intelligently reporting about anything that implicates the power structure beyond the isolated criminal doings of one man or woman, i.e, senators and congressmen who terrorize airport bathrooms and congressional pages, or cheesy Midwest governors with small mind/big hair complexes. Those stories are safe, and therefore deserve the exhaustion of every pitiful analysis and resource.

But when it comes to serious stuff — preemptive war, torture, spying on Americans without warrant, the upending of the U.S constitution — these mainstream mavens (who are ever-so-fond of waxing nostalgic about their weaning during the Woodward & Bernstein glory years of the 70’s)  quickly “close ranks” and reframe the context of these stories to ensure the teeniest impact possible on the status quo. This typically means protecting their establishment friends in government, not rattling the corporate sponsors, and skittering off  to perceivably more ratings-grabbing news, like what really happened to Anna Nicole Smith, and what are the ladies on The View dishing about today? This is all done of course, in that gratingly condescending way (think and picture Chris Matthews)  that has all the subtle effect of nails filing down on a chalkboard.

The worst is when they completely ignore stories that put their “profession” in the most garish of lights, those little slivers of truth that peek out from time to time thanks to real reporters in the business. David Barstow won a Pulitzer Prize this week for his expose on the media using generals planted by the Pentagon to sell the war , but I bet most Americans haven’t heard of “message force multipliers” and wouldn’t know why they should care, since the story never made it to the nightly news.

As for the current torture scandal, of which we have hardly heard the full extent, Glenn Greenwald has an excellent analysis on his site today regarding the corporate media’s complicity in playing down the story throughout the Bush years and its ongoing attempts to frame it in the most self-serving way possible. A taste:

For years, media stars ignored the fact that our Government was chronically breaking the law and systematically torturing detainees (look at this extremely detailed exposé by The Washington Post‘s Dana Priest and Barton Gellman from December, 2002 to get a sense for how much we’ve known about all of this and for how long we’ve known it).  Now that the sheer criminality of this conduct, really for the first time, has exploded into mainstream political debates as a result of the OLC memos, media stars are forced to address it.  Exactly as one would expect, they are closing ranks, demanding (as always) that their big powerful political-official-friends and their elite institutions not be subject to the dirty instruments that are meant only for the masses — things like the rule of law, investigations, prosecutions, and accountability when they abuse their power.

Read more here.