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

Hersh Details JSOC Killings

GulfNews.com has a fantastic interview with Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, in which he discusses (among other things) former Vice President Dick Cheney’s secret assassination unit, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

Hersh had previously revealed details about JSOC’s assassinations in March during a talk at the University of Minnesota. The group reportedly went to countries across the world, assassinating people suspected of planning anti-American activities.

Reports about JSOC’s activities had been floating around in the media for quite some time, but the issue is being revived by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ decision to recommend Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal as the new commander of American troops in Afghanistan. Lt. Gen. McChrystal was the JSOC commander for the vast majority of the Bush era.