Thursday, April 03, 2008

Playing politics with alleged abuses in war-linked contracts

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 and ignore the clout heavy corporations themselves.

Several individual employees mostly 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?

Halliburton was run by Dick Cheney before he became vice president. Many believe Cheney will benefit from the war profiteering from Halliburton’s success when Cheney retires from in January.

All of the corruption cases bristle with questions of political hypocrisy involving American foreign policy, double standards in selective prosecutions, and the apparently intentional snubbing of Federal Laws by the prosecutor.

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 of Springfield, Illinois rather than on a high profile stage in Washington D.C.?

Later this month, one of the indictees will be brought to trial, not in Washington DC, but in Springfield. Jeff Mazon, a former KBR employee, is accused of defrauding the U.S. Government of $3.5 million.

The 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.

And there is so much more.

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. But there hasn’t been 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 if Mazon’s trial proceeds.

But what we will have are headlines that give the public the false impression that there is a serious focused 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?

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