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Playing politics with alleged abuses in war-linked contracts
By Ray Hanania — As the public demands answers to why billions of dollars in war related contracts have been abused and mismanaged, the response from the Bush administration has been to target individual employees while ignoring the clout-heavy corporations that employ them. Several individual employees tied to Halliburton and a sub-contractor, Kellogg Brown & Root Inc., (KBR), have been indicted, charged and convicted of corruption. Halliburton and KBR, on the other hand, remain the Bush administrations most favored contractors, even though they have admitted to under-balling cost estimates and despite the unending circus of alleged corruption in their rank and file management. Why?
Some of those charged appear to be political targets and scapegoats targeted to take pressure off Halliburton and KBR. If these cases are so important, why are they being handled out of the low-visibility courtrooms in Illinois rather than on a high-profile stages in Washington D.C.?
This week, one of the indictees is being brought to trial, not in Washington DC, but in Rockford via Springfield. (The regional U.S. Attorney’s office based in Springfield leading the case has declined to return calls.) Jeff Mazon, a former KBR employee, is accused of defrauding the U.S. Government of $3.5 million. A second indictee is Ali Hijazi, who legally is out of reach of American prosecution.
The Mazon and Hijazi indictments were politically timed, announced two days before the two year anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. The indictments were announced March 17, 2005 by then U.S. Attorney Jan Paul Miller of the Central Illinois District. A Bush appointee, Miller joined a prestigious law firm a few months later and was replaced by Rodger Heaton.
Hijazi is a Lebanese citizen living in Kuwait. Although American law does not allow prosecutors even in downstate markets to prosecute foreign citizens living in foreign countries, Miller has refused to drop the indictment, as is common practice. The prosecution is a violation of Federal Law. There is no extradition agreement.
Three years later, Hijazi lives in a virtual imprisonment, according to filings by his Washington DC attorneys. Hijazi’s life and reputation have been nearly destroyed and his travel rights have been restricted.
There have been numerous examples of wasteful spending by employees of Halliburton, yet Halliburton continues to enjoy billions more in American military contracts. Headlines, like those generated by the case against Mazon and Hijazi, give the public the false impression that war related corruption is aggressively being pursued.
But are they?
In other Halliburton/KBR related cases, many people have pled guilty and pointed fingers at others, including, allegedly, at individuals at First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting, another sub-contractor. But there hasn’t been any followup.
First Kuwaiti has clout and was awarded the contract to build the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The embassy promises to be one of the most expensive ($592 million) and most fortified American embassy in the world.
In September 2007, the Associated Press reported the director of First Kuwaiti, Wadih al-Absi, also a manager for KBR, was named in grand jury testimony by another former KBR manager, Anthony J. Martin. Martin pled guilty in July to taking kickbacks in 2003 and is a witness against Mazon. Al-Absi has not been charged with any crimes and First Kuwaiti is continuing with the embassy contract.
Luck, not justice, spared First Kuwaiti.
According to the AP story, “Although the government has tried to keep First Kuwaiti’s name out of public records related to Martin’s case, details from his grand jury testimony were found by a defense lawyer, J. Scott Arthur of Orland Park, Ill., who included a summary in a six-page document filed last Friday in an unrelated federal court case in Rock Island, Ill. The AP downloaded a copy of the document from the court’s Web site shortly before a judge ordered the document sealed and removed from the public record.”
AP reported Martin told the grand jury he engaged in the kickback scheme with al-Absi. First Kuwaiti is not accused of any crimes and details of individuals involved in corruption remain under seal. Although several congressmen have already challenged millions of dollars in cost overruns in the project, First Kuwaiti officials told AP “Martin’s allegations are ‘without merit’.”
Some observers believe that politics is behind the embassy contract. Is the Bush Administration concerned about what Hijazi may or may not know about cost overruns and other criticism involving the new embassy?
We’ll never know these answers even as Mazon’s trial proceeds.
But what we will have are headlines that give the public the false impression that there is a serious effort by the Bush administration to reign in corruption and wasteful spending on war related contracts.
What we won’t have, though, is an end to the corruption. That may have to wait until Bush and Cheney finally leave office and a new prosecutor takes over.
But, can the American taxpayers afford it?
This post has already been read 52 times!
Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.
Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.
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, he 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. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.
Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
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