HANANIA: Controversy-plagued war contract firms continue to benefit under Bush, For Immediate Release, April 21, 2008

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Controversy-plagued war contract firms continue to benefit under Bush
By Ray Hanania —
As long as the Bush administration continues to focus on allegations of individual corruption related to Iraq war contracts, the real corruption will continue to go unchallenged. This past week was an eye-opening one for American taxpayers.In a federal courtroom in Rock Island, Illinois, far from the scrutinizing bright lights of the national media in Washington D.C., an obscure former sub-contractor for Halliburton affiliate Kellogg, Brown and Root Inc., (KBR), Anthony Martin, laid out the real corruption that the Bush administration doesn’t want the public to see.

Martin admitted he received A $50,240 bribe from Wadih Al-Absi, the founder of First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co., a major Kuwait contractor favored by the Bush administration.

It’s almost incestuous and it is easy to understand why this complex story has not received more attention from the national media. One of the only newspapers reporting on the story is the Quad-Cities Online (QCO) which is reporting testimony from government witnesses that seemingly support Mazon’s defense. 

According to the QCO, the testimony so far supports the defense’s argument that Mazon was overworked and simply made a mistake in calculating the contract costs, increasing the “alleged bribe” precisely by the exact conversion between the U.S. Dollar and the Kuwaiti Dinar.

The same week Martin made his disclosures, First Kuwaiti completed the construction on the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, millions over budget and plagued with allegations of bribery, corruption, contract overruns and even the enslavement of Filipino workers.

First Kuwaiti, with the backing of the Bush administration, will build more embassies and sign more contracts, including soon with Saudi Arabia.

Changing hands will be hundreds of millions and even billions of American taxpayer’s dollars. Yet meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney is busy prosecuting Martin’s former co-worker, Jeff Mazon, for allegedly taking a $1 million bribe from another Kuwaiti contractor who is not on the Bush Administration’s most favored status political list.

It’s just unbelievable.

Martin’s testimony came during Mazon’s corruption trial which is taking place out of the news media’s careful scrutiny in, of all places, Rock Island, Illinois.

The Bush administration is busy prosecuting Mazon while turning a blind eye to Halliburton, KBR and First Kuwaiti.

The construction costs for the 104 acre, 27-building U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad supervised by First Kuwaiti had been projected originally to be $474 million. But with lengthy delays and cost increases, the price tag of the construction project grew rapidly to $736 million according to numerous published media reports.

Oh, First Kuwaiti officials have insisted, according to media reports, that the price tag has remained on target. on.

There is no doubt that the Bush Administration was aware of the alleged bribes by First Kuwaiti. Martin has in fact plead guilty and is being prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Rodger Heaton and Jeff Lang from the Central Illinois District, who are prosecuting the Mazon trial. He is due to be sentenced in June by Judge McDade the same judge presiding over the Mazon trial.

Heaton was also aware that First Kuwaiti has also been hounded by accusations that it smuggled foreign laborers into Iraq from the Philipines tricking them into working on the U.S. Embassy project, “mistreating them,” according to media reports. And he is also aware that First Kuwaiti is accused of paying $200,000 in kickbacks, in return for two other, unrelated Iraq war contracts with the
U.S. Army.

KBR, meanwhile, has just been confirmed by the U.S. Army to receive a huge new contract worth more than $5 billion a year in the coming decade and Halliburton will probably see its former chief, Dick Cheney, return to his perch once he retires as the vice president of the United States. This happens despite allegations of overcharging and poor record-keeping by KBR and lax oversight by the government.

Government auditors turned up more than $1 billion in questionable costs. Whistle-blowers have said the company charged $45 per case of soda, allowed troops to bathe in contaminated water and double-billed on meals — all allegations Halliburton denied

Even after the charges of bribes, hijackings of slave-labor and the hundreds of millions of dollars in construction project cost-overruns, First Kuwaiti, like KBR and Halliburton, continue to enjoy the largesse of the Bush administration.

But we Americans are supposed to believe that everything is being done to ferret out corruption in the contracts, which directly impact the safety of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Government officials acknowledged, according to several media reports, that First Kuwaiti was the least experienced of bidders and not the lowest bidder, proposing a bid that was $80 million more than the lowest bidder. But First Kuwaiti had the advantage of support from KBR and Halliburton allies like Cheney. On top of all these problems, the government has done a good job ofseparating the individual cases of contract corruption from the bigger picture of favoritism, partisan politics, and insider sweetheart deals.

If the parent company involved in these past dealings had been any other company than Cheney’s Halliburton, it is safe to assume that the U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey himself would have spearheaded a press conference to stoke up national news media coverage. Mukasey could have easily shifted the media spotlight not on the dozen or more individual managers so far indicted, but on the parent company and it’s sub-contractors.

Ironically, companies with lesser clout have been the target of zealous prosecution and contract blacklisting. According to a December 1, 2006 Department of Justice Press Release, Mohammad Shabbir Khan, the former Director of Operations in Kuwait and Iraq for Tamimi Global Company, a Saudi Arabian company, was sentenced to 51 months in prison for paying kickbacks to KBR employees in exchange for subcontracts valued at $21.8 million. Stephen Seamans, one of those employees who was also sentenced in a separate trial to 12 months and one day in prison, is scheduled to testify against Mazon later this week.

According to a February 2008 report by the Chicago Tribune, five months before the March 19, 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Khan threw a birthday party for Seamans at a Tamimi “party house” near the Kuwait base known as Camp Arifjan. The party, reportedly, crossed the line of propriety. Khan reportedly offered Seamans kickbacks of up to $130,000. This was not an exception and may have been the norm when it came to how many other KBR managers and companies engaged in the same type of conduct.

Why the double standard?

The Bush administration doesn’t want to answer any of these questions. I’ve tried to get comments from Bush, the U.S. Attorney and even from First Kuwaiti, but to no avail.

And why should they answer any questions?

As it is, by prosecuting the cases through federal court outside of the media coverage glare, the trials have only received a smattering of coverage. Only a few reporters are actually covering the trial of Mazon, for example, most through local regional news media and blog sites.

Even the Associated Press, which feeds stories to thousands of newspapers and media outlets around the country, has based much of its own reporting on news reports from the Quad Cities Online.

As always, American taxpayers will be left in the dark and the hook for the bribes, the corruption and the millions of dollars in contract waste and overruns while other continue to enjoy the profit.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and radio talk show based in Chicago. He can be reached at 

www.hanania.com. Distributed by the Arab American Writers Group Syndicate, www.ArabWritersGroup.com.)

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This post has already been read 1743 times!

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.

The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.

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His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania

Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com ArabNews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
Ray Hanania