Monday, August 29, 2005

Whistle for It 

Via our indefatigable colleagues at Cursor: You will certainly remember the heroic compliance officer Bunnatine Greenhouse, the subject last spring of a Vanity Fair profile describing how the Halliburton subsidiary KBR sucked up and then misspent twelve billion of the taxpayers' dollars through sweetheart deals -- exclusive, usually non-competitive, contracts, often awarded in violation of standard military bidding procedure -- for work in Iraq. Although the job description called for her to provide the illusion of oversight, Ms. Greenhouse (who happens to be the sister of Elvin Hayes) had been providing the real thing, and got caught at it; when the article first appeared she had barely managed to stave off a retaliatory demotion by hiring a lawyer and claiming protection under the whistleblower law of 1989. That move, of course, only delayed the inevitable, and now the Bush administration has finally made Ms. Greenhouse pay for her egregious failure to understand A) the noble cause for which we went to war, and B) the nature of crony capitalism:
A high-level contracting official who has been a vocal critic of the Pentagon's decision to give Halliburton Co. a multibillion-dollar, no-bid contract for work in Iraq, was removed from her job by the Army Corps of Engineers, effective Saturday.

Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, commander of the Army Corps, told Bunnatine H. Greenhouse last month that she was being removed from the senior executive service, the top rank of civilian government employees, because of poor performance reviews. Greenhouse's attorney, Michael D. Kohn, appealed the decision Friday in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, saying it broke an earlier commitment to suspend the demotion until a "sufficient record" was available to address her allegations.

The Army said last October that it would refer her complaints to the Defense Department's inspector general. The failure to abide by the agreement and the circumstances of the removal "are the hallmark of illegal retaliation," Kohn wrote to Rumsfeld. He said the review Strock cited to justify his action "was conducted by the very subjects" of Greenhouse's allegations, including the general . . . .

Greenhouse came to prominence last year when she went public with her concerns over the volume of Iraq-related work given to Halliburton by the Corps without competition. The Houston-based oil services giant already had a competitively awarded contract to provide logistics support for the military in the Middle East and was awarded a no-bid contract to repair Iraq oil fields on the eve of the war there in 2003.

Greenhouse complained internally about that contract. Last fall she started giving interviews to national publications. And in June she testified before a Democrat-sponsored Capitol Hill event on contracting in Iraq.

"I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR represents the most blatant and improper abuse I have witnessed" in 20 years working on government contracts, Greenhouse said at the Democratic forum.

She said the independence of the Corps' contracting process was compromised in the handling of the contact. "I observed, first hand, that essentially every aspect of the [Restore Iraqi Oil] contract remained under the control of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. This troubled me and was wrong."
Please note that, just as Ms. Greenhouse's review was conducted by the targets of her allegations, her lawyer's letter of appeal was addressed to Mr. Rumsfeld, the selfsame fox in charge of the Iraqi henhouse.
Bill Katovsky, the author of the upcoming Patriots Act: Voices of Dissent, an Oral History, believes that whistleblowers "embody what is best about our national character . . . [repudiating] the false suffocating claims by those who have hijacked American democracy through gross distortion and partisan misrepresentation." But the costs can be steep, as in the case of Staff Sgt. Lorenzo Dominguez, who mouthed off to the LA Times about morale, equipment, and training problems in his California National Guard unit:
I decided to speak out because it's the difference between life or death. I'm very in touch with my mortality. It's the difference of being prepared and not being prepared. At 45, I don't feel like bullets can bounce off my chest anymore like I did when I was 18, 19. That's why the military really loves the teenagers who think that nothing bad can happen to them.

The quality of the training was so poor and so pathetic. But do you know how much money we wasted in this dumb boot-camp environment? Mexico has better equipment, and in certain instances, our Humvees were worse than the Mexican army's. They were breaking down all the time . . . .

The base's upper command accused me of endangering the military and possibly aiding the enemy. I was told by the public affairs officer that the Times article would probably be grabbed on by al Qaeda and Al-Jazeera, and that we would be shown that we don't want to fight. That just cannot be further from the truth.

After the article came out, a phone call was made to my wife that was threatening in nature. The person -- it was a woman who was a family support coordinator for our company -- had called on behalf of my first sergeant. She said there would be retaliation from "up." I lost command of my squad and my men.

Some of them stopped talking to me. Several of them would give me the evil eye. Some of the men who understood the reasons behind what I had said felt intimidated because they saw what was happening to me publicly. So they immediately quieted down. These are kids . . . .

After arriving in Kuwait, we trained at Camp Buehring for another two weeks before going over the berm into Iraq. I still didn't have my gear, not even a weapon. I was given basically menial tasks to perform. I really didn't have a job. I was not given any particular duties which would be commensurate to my rank as a staff sergeant. I was soon transferred to brigade headquarters. I was finally issued a weapon. The entire time I was there, I fired six bullets from my M4 carbine and that was the extent of my training in Kuwait. That's how many bullets it took for me to hit the target, also known as zeroing your weapon.

We never received the armored Humvees either. What we were given are what's known throughout the army as Mad Max armor and, basically, they are these ill-fitting rusting steel plates that we were required to install on our vehicles. They afford you limited protection against small arms fire, meaning bullets -- small caliber bullets -- but they will not protect you against IEDs, or improvised explosive devices. They will not protect you against any RPGs (rocket-powered grenades). On the floorboards, we were given a directive to just put sandbags. Those things are just a stopgap measure to sort of deflect an explosion in the event that you run over a mine or some other form of explosive device.

I can't get these injured young men I saw on the hospital planes out of my mind. I saw horrible, devastating things on my flights back from Kuwait to Germany and then to the United States. I saw guys who were missing limbs. All the catastrophic injuries were due to IEDs, or improvised explosive devices. I saw a young man from my flight back to the United States with everything basically gone from his nose all the way down to his throat. All gone.
Sgt. Dominguez's published remarks have not, alas, shamed the military into addressing the problems he described; it seems that no amount of bad press (or needless death) can. The following (courtesy of Zemblan patriot K.Z.) is a letter, dated August 10, 2005, from Sgt. Ben K. to an aide in the office of his senator, Olympia Snowe of Maine:
Dear Mr. C

We have not received all the 1114 HMMWV's that are required for our mission.

I still head out of the gate in a 1025 Humvee that doesn't have floor armor, basically all you have is armored windows and sub par armored doors. As evident by the bullet holes and shrapnel cuts that you can look directly through I would say they aren't very effective.

Most of these trucks have been through two tours here taking numerous poundings and are starting on their third. We have inadequate maintenance manpower to maintain these vehicles having much less maintenance staff, and when I mean much less that is a gross understatement.

It is being felt at all levels, many vehicles have to be hot started which means a switching of the crews leaving no time for proper maintenance. Our maintenance guys are champions working there butts off to keep us going.

The command structure at the highly levels has grossly mismanaged this brigade.

The only thing we had going for us through the 6 months at Camp Shelby was that we were training together. At the last moment most of the groups have been re-task organized splitting us up. It amazes me that the command could not have foreseen this earlier since they could have talked and consulted with the group in this area.

Shelby taught us nothing and was a waste of the tax payers dollars, a tremendous misallocation of resources. Nothing we learned there is applicable here and I learned more in our "right seat ride" with the 1/9th than the whole time at Shelby.

General Honare (Sp) made the statement at our deployment ceremony we are the best trained, best equipped soldiers, ever sent from Camp Shelby. If that is true the Army is broken which it is and is quite evident.

My vehicle constantly breaks down, my turret which is the main weapons platform hardly spins and some don't spin, and our tanks which have had problems since Shelby are now breaking down. I think the tankers would want me to tell you of their woes since no one else seems to care.

When I asked about my trucks condition to one officer his only comment was fix it, I am not a mechanic and spend 12 hrs preparing and working on my mission am I to spend the other 12 hrs fixing my vehicle.

The higher command leadership is gutless and appalling. They all seem to have 1114's and I haven't seen one of them outside the wire.

This is just the equipment issues.

The people here hate us and will always hate us until we go home.

Some officer might blow smoke up the proverbial ass and say that people like us but I work with them everyday.

They hate our interference in their government which only serves as a recruitment drive for the enemy and makes life miserable for the moderates.

I was talking to a friend of the 1/9th, the group we replaced, and he said when he first arrived the market was open and the economy was puttering along after the war, now the economy is gone and the lure of hard currency to become and support insurgent activities is more common place.

On top of things you cannot win a hearts and mind campaign here so every time we play that game people get hurt because it looks like weakness on our part and they take advantage of it.

We fight for survival my men and I. There is not greater or ethereal agenda, it is to survive. They have sent a National Guard unit in the worse place in the world according to the state department . . . .

I most likely will be reprimanded and or punished for telling you about the inadequacies of the Army and its run down nature right now but the truth needs to be heard and that is something that not one here or at home seems to want to face . . . .

I thank you for your concern and help and look forward to returning to the shores of Maine.

Take care, sincerely, SGT B K

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