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Truth starts to leak out in Iraq war contract-abuse case
By Ray Hanania — The U.S. Attorney is prosecuting what should be a high profile case involving corrupt practices in Iraq-war related contracts in the backyards of the Midwest apparently to protect Halliburton, the company formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney. But instead, the case is being handled like a petty crime in a middle America suburb. That decision has resulted in suppressing the shocking headlines, and silencing any talk about the clear ties that the Iraq war-related corruption has to the administration of President George W. Bush. Now we know why.
In testimony Thursday, a witnesses confirmed that he was offered a bribe by Wadih al-Absi, a Bush and Cheney Kuwaiti pal who was given the no-bid contract to build America’s new embassy in Baghdad.
The trial is being held in Rock Island, Illinois and involves Jeff Mazon, a low-level manager for Kellog, Brown & Root Inc., (KBR) one of Halliburton’s primary subcontractors. Mazon allegedly was given a $1 million bribe to inflate contract payments for Iraq-war gasoline procurements.
Buried in the slow-moving muddle of the case, and only surfacing this week, is the testimony of another former Halliburton sub-contractor, Anthony Martin, who admitted for the first time in public that al-Absi’s company, favored by the Bush administration, gave him a $50,240 bribe.
The Bush administration has long favored Kuwaiti firms in the Iraq war contracts as a political slap against Iraq and as a reward for Kuwait’s support, support dating back to the 1990 invasion of that country by the late dictator Saddam Hussein.
Imagine the political significance of giving a Kuwait firm the contract to build the Baghdad embassy? Who cares if the contract is corrupt?
First Kuwaiti and al-Absi were awarded the contract to build the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq at a cost of under $500 million, still making it one of the largest contracts for any U.S. Embassy anywhere. That has steadily grown since 2003. And on Tuesday, court testimony confirmed the costs of the embassy billed by al-Absi and First Kuwaiti have skyrocketed, along with all the talk of the bribes, to $736 million.
The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Rock Island, Illinois, rather than in Washington D.C. and has only received a smattering of media coverage from two local newspapers there, the Quad City Times, in Iowa, and the Quad Cities Online (The Dispatch, Argus and Leader community newspapers). Occasionally, the headlines are picked up from the Quad Cities Online by the Associated Press.
Although the U.S. Attorney keeps saying the case is in Rock Island because the contracts are managed out of a military procurement center based in Illinois, the fact is it involves a criminal act embedded in the foundation of the reasons (lies) used to justify the Iraq war.
Whether Mazon is convicted or freed is besides the point. The real issue is that the Bush administration has made a calculated effort to snowball the public and to protect First Kuwaiti.
Bush had no choice but to crack down on the corruption cases which have involved faulty contracts that exposed our American soldiers to harm. Some of the contracts and services provided were faulty and our soldiers fighting in Iraq have been given military equipment that hasn’t worked properly or that was ineffective in protecting of serving them.
The American public has been angered by that consistent problem that has been endemic to the entire Iraq-war contract process and the non-bid contract award by Bush to Cheney’’ former firm, Halliburton.
Halliburton claims it has helped ID contract fraud, but some critics believe they have only offered up as sacrifices low-level administrators and managers in order to permit the Bush administration to continue to feed them billions and billions in more contracts.
In 2003, for example, Halliburton was given a no-bid and non-compete $7 billion contract to repair Iraq’s oil fields, but was quietly also given the power to oversee and control Iraq’s entire oil production.
What began as a few billion dollars has since exploded into more than $130 billion in contract awards to Halliburton.
What Bush doesn’t want to happen is to have the public start asking questions about Halliburton, or about the First Kuwaiti Contract and their alleged corruption in the building of the super high-tech embassy in Baghdad, which coincidentally was completed this week.
The judge in the case instructed Mazon’s attorneys that they would not be allowed to use the fraud case to put the corruption of the Iraq War on trial, insuring that explosive disclosures like the alleged First Kuwaiti corruption would not get major coverage.
Mazon’s attorneys want to force Halliburton CEO David Lesar to testify, but with so little media coverage or pressure to keep the trial on the square, the likelihood of that happening might be remote.
How convenient for the Bush administration?
All this news coming too late to stop anything. Too late to ask real questions. Only a handful of newspapers covering the First Kuwait disclosure involving the corruption of the huge Baghdad embassy contract. Only a handful of newspapers are even covering the trial.
The U.S. Attorney in charge of the case, Rodger Heaton, will probably win his case and then get a big promotion to the very place the Bush administratuon doesn’t want this Iraq-war-related contract abuse story to lead, Washington D.C.
Good work U.S. Attorney Heaton. You’ve done your job.
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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 for TheArabDailyNews.com, and TheDailyHookah.com.
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, 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.
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
Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com ArabNews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
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