Sunday, September 17, 2006

Iraq For Sale, a movie about war profiteering

Mercenary soldiers and other kinds of military "contractors" have been with us for centuries. Mercenaries are rarely well thought of, and are widely regarded as without loyalties. One aspect of this War on Terror is the outsourcing of so much to corporate interests. The most obvious is the "no-bid contracts" awarded to Halliburton, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Iraq For Sale is a new documentary by Robert Greenwald about this situation. In it he covers the major companies contracting military services in the current War on Terror, and he dives into some of the stories of atrocities coming from these contractors. The thrust of the movie is a matter of loyalty. Supposedly military personell who have sworn oaths of allegience to the country have loyalty to the U.S. while contractors working for a corporation have loyalty to that corporation. The two loyalties produce very different results, with the corporation not being incentivized to provide services which would end the war, but instead being incentivized to make sure conditions keep happening which keep the war going. If the war were to stop then these military contractor corporations would see their contracts dry up.

The is hauntingly like Eisenhower's Farewell Address to the American People and the discussion of it in the recent movie, "Why we Fight". Like Why we Fight I suggest you simply must see Iraq For Sale. I got to attend a premeire screening last week at which Robert Greenwald was present and took questions afterward.

It is a horrific story that Robert Greenwald is telling. My question coming out was if the conduct of this war is compatible with what America stands for? Is this a country by the people, of the people, and for the people, or is it for the corporations? If we want America to return to being for the people, then we need to free our government from corporate control.

America has strayed from our purpose, and the conduct of this war is example of that misalignment between America's purpose and what we're currently doing.

How it works is ... In the early 1990's Cheney, as Defense Secretary, awarded a contract to Kellog-Brown-Root (KBR) to study whether it was a good idea to award military contracts to contractors. KBR said, that's a great idea. Cheney then went to work as Halliburton's CEO, oversaw the merger with KBR, and KBR was awarded hundreds of contracts during the 1990's. Then Cheney becomes Vice President, does not get rid of his Halliburton stock, and Halliburton and KBR are awarded over $15 Billion in contracts (most on a no-bid basis) during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Hmm...

The services? It ranges from food service, to water purification, to building housing, all the way to military services such as interrogating prisoners or protecting political leaders.

What was horrendous in this story is the conduct of military interrogations. If you remember the Abu Ghraib story, it involved horrendous treatment of prisoners by U.S. forces. A few low level soldiers were accused and have gone to trial over the situation. But a minor part of the story, which was covered but not very prominently, was the presence of military contractors as part of the interrogation system.

Some of the interrogation has been outsourced to private contractors. Private contractors are not subject to the military code of justice, they do not have the same military law training, they are not clearly loyal to the country, and it seems in many cases they simply were not American citizens at all. Because they did not have military training, they did not have drilled into them the limits of legal treatment of prisoners and the conduct of war.

The movie Iraq For Sale claims that in prisoner interrogations, these private contractors are sometimes calling the shots, and the horrendous abuses may have been instigated by these private contractors. In some cases these private contractors are "linguists" whose job is translating questions and answers in the interrogation. One would hope these people are highly trained in the languages, and would have high ethics standards in searching for truth. But the movie claims these contractors are instead cutting corners, hiring unqualified people, who then are unable to help the investigators, and are often making up stories or misinterpreting what the prisoners say. The result is then that the U.S. military goes out in the field to arrest people based on bogus information gotten from these interrogations.

It's not just interrogators and food service, the story goes on and on. Another example covered at length is the truck drivers delivering supplies across Iraq. Instead of these deliveries being done by military personell, it's being done by private contractors. The contractors often are going out with little protection through dangerous zones, and the truck drivers are being killed etc. The case covered in the movie happened on April 4, 2004, the one-year anniversary of the fall of the Iraq government. A convoy was sent out unprotected on a day the military knew was extremely dangerous, through a zone marked Red, which the military knew was extremely "hot" with a firefight and into which civilians were not supposed to be sent. But they sent a convoy of private military contractors through that zone, truck drivers really, and their trucks were shot up, several died, others were wounded.

The system is corrupt. The contractors do not have any incentive to keep costs low. The contracts are primarily on a cost-plus basis, meaning the government gets billed for the cost plus a gauranteed profit. This means the contractors routinely buy the most expensive stuff, or mistreat their equipment, or buy the wrong equipment, etc, so they will be reimbursed under the cost-plus contract.

Another effect is the truck drivers will often make runs of empty trucks driving up and down the highway, the military has to spend their resources protecting these empty trucks, and because the contractors ran their trucks down the highway it fulfilled the contract and they get paid some money.

Here are some videos:

Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers - Trailer

Halliburton lies about 'Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers'

'Iraq for Sale' bonus scene: Soldiers outsourced to KBR

What is The PMC(Private Military Company)s ? (warning: the voices are in Japanese)

'Iraq for Sale' bonus scene: Blackwater

(TheBlueState.com) Military contractors shoot civilians

How The Military Industrial Complex Makes Money Off 9/11