As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Getting a Handle on Unaccountable Military Contractors

Funny story - it turns out that lots of the Iraq reconstruction contracts were terminated or left unfinished, and a bunch of them were only claimed to be finished at variance with the facts.

The special IG's review of 47,321 reconstruction projects worth billions of dollars found that at least 855 contracts were terminated by U.S. officials before their completion, primarily because of unforeseen factors such as violence and excessive costs. About 112 of those agreements were ended specifically because of the contractors' actual or anticipated poor performance.

In addition, the audit said many reconstruction projects were being described as complete or otherwise successful when they were not. In one case, the U.S. Agency for International Development contracted with Bechtel Corp. in 2004 to construct a $50 million children's hospital in Basra, only to "essentially terminate" the project in 2006 because of monthslong delays.

But rather than terminate the project, U.S. officials modified the contract to change the scope of the work. As a result, a U.S. database of Iraq reconstruction contracts shows the project as complete "when in fact the hospital was only 35 percent complete when work was stopped," said investigators in describing the practice of "descoping" as frequent.

This is some of the first attempts at accountability in the contracting process, and it comes after the contractors have received all of their money for their crappy workmanship. Iraqi oil money is indeed growing, but who pays for garbage work is really besides the point. Hell, the US military is charged with building barracks stateside AFAIK, and here's what they managed to produce in Fayettevillle, NC:

A Fort Bragg soldier's father uploaded a YouTube video of photos he took of his son's barracks earlier this month. The video shows the deplorable living conditions to which his son and the other soldiers of his unit in the 82nd Airborne Division returned after a 15-month-long deployment to Afghanistan.

The most shocking photo, in my opinion, is the one of the soldier standing in the latrine sink, trying to unstop a drain, while human excrement and urine fills the floor below him. This is the video:

The problem is a process where the provision of services in war zones and for the benefit of American soldiers comes without any accountability whatsoever. We have a supplemental war funding bill coming up in Congress where the Democratic leadership is about to give ANOTHER blank check to the President, actually exceeding the billions of dollars he's asked for the war. To do that without any manner of accountability is a crime. Darcy Burner is absoutely right. The least we could do is end the use of these private military contractors, who waste our tax dollars and help give the American military a bad name around the globe.

Blackwater's contract was just renewed by the State Department. The supplemental appropriation that's about to be brought up before the House includes ongoing funding for Blackwater's activities in Iraq. If we're going to fight this, we need to fight it now.
It is not just that too many of Blackwater's employees in Iraq conduct themselves in ways that are counterproductive and deeply immoral. It is not just that there is no accountability for the company or its employees either in Iraq or here. And it is not just that the Iraqis have clearly and unambiguously called for Blackwater to leave.

Blackwater is a threat to the core underpinnings of our democracy. Who is this private army loyal to? Because they aren't ours. They don't wear our flags on their clothing -- they wear the symbol of Blackwater.

In October 2007, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the work of these contractors in Iraq was `at cross-purposes to our larger mission in Iraq', and that `right now those missions are in conflict ...'.

If ever there was a core government function that should not be contracted out, it is the right to use deadly force in our names.

There's a bill in the House (that was identified in the Responsible Plan) which would phase out the use of military security contractors. H.R. 4102, the Stop Outsourcing Security Act, currently has 27 sponsors. The Senate equivalent, S. 2398, currently has 2 sponsors. I've listed them below. If your representative or senators aren't on these lists, it's probably time you asked them to be.

At a time when Blackwater is trying to sneak into San Diego and build a base a couple miles from the Mexican border, and at a time when the company is shredding evidence about the September shooting of Iraqi civilians, it is unacceptable to continue funding a war where the chief benefactors are allowed to spend our money and represent out interests without oversight. The list of sponsors is at the link. Check it out.

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