Saturday, April 4, 2009

"Halliburton’s Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War”

AMY GOODMAN: The private military contractor KBR was awarded a $35 million contract for electrical work in Iraq by the Army Corps of Engineers last week. The former Halliburton subsidiary got the Pentagon contract even though it’s under criminal investigation for the deaths of at least two American soldiers in Iraq caused by improperly installed or maintained electrical equipment.

Separately, the US government charged KBR on Friday with criminal bribery charges for promising and paying tens of millions of dollars to Nigerian officials in exchange for four lucrative contracts between 1995 and 2004. Last month, Halliburton said it would pay $559 million to end the investigation if the government approved a settlement.

Another lawsuit filed last week accused Halliburton and KBR of the wrongful death of a truck driver they had employed. He was killed two years ago by US soldiers who allegedly mistook him for an insurgent at a checkpoint near Baghdad. The lawsuit accuses Halliburton and KBR of negligence.

As the allegations against Halliburton and its former subsidiary KBR, Kellogg Brown & Root, continue to grow, we turn to the award-winning investigative journalist Pratap Chatterjee, who has traced their record in Iraq for years. His latest book releases today. It’s called Halliburton’s Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War. Pratap Chatterjee joins us now in our firehouse studio.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Thank you for having me on, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. As the US government says that the troops will draw down over the next year, year and a half, in Iraq, what’s happening with Halliburton and, as you call it, Halliburton’s Army?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Well, the US military is completely dependent on Halliburton. Despite all the news that you read of, you know, soldiers being electrocuted, drivers being shot, the company continues to get contracts. And it’s because half the people in Iraq are contractors, and a large number of them are KBR employees. You know, they’re South Asian workers, they’re Indians, Pakistanis, they’re Southeast Asian Filipinos. They are Halliburton’s Army, and they make this military tick. They make this army—allow this army to march forward on its stomach. It’s because they feed that stomach.

So, you had Peter Singer on last week talking about the jobs that are dirty, dull or dangerous and, you know, how they use robots to kill from the sky. Well, they still need to launch those robots, those drones, and they need to have people in place to feed them. And that’s what the Indians who—Indian—

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to P.W. Singer for a minute. We’ll play a clip of our interview. You know, he wrote the book Wired for War, about the robotics revolution in this country.

P.W. SINGER: Now, the problem is, what are the implications of that for our democracy? So, for example, if you are sending less and less Americans into harm’s way, does it make you more cavalier about the use of force? And one of the people that was fascinating that I interviewed was a former assistant secretary of Defense for Ronald Reagan, who actually had this to say about these systems. He worried that they would create more marketization of war, as he put it. We might have more shock and awe talk to defray discussion of the true costs of war.

You know, my grandfather served in the Pacific fleet in World War II. When he went to war, you know, he went to a place where danger took place, and the family didn’t know if he was ever coming back. And that’s very different than the experience of, for example, a Predator drone pilot that I met with who described that basically his experience of fighting in the Iraq war was getting in his Toyota Corolla, driving to work—he’s doing this in Nevada—driving into work, for twelve hours he puts missiles on targets, then gets back in the Toyota, commutes back home, and within twenty minutes he’s talking to his son at the dinner table.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s P.W. Singer, Wired for War. Pratap Chatterjee?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Well, my great-uncle actually served in Iraq under the British, and his job was to accompany the British troops. He was a doctor. Today, Indians are still serving in the war, and just as the French film that came out last year called Days of Glory, where they showed that half of Charles de Gaulle’s army was actually North African soldiers. So war has always used, you know, people from other countries to support and do the dirty, dull and dangerous work.

Today, some of that most dangerous work is done by robots, and the dirty and dull stuff that Peter Singer talks about is done by South Asians, Southeast Asians, and they comprise, you know, Halliburton’s Army. So companies like KBR, a former—Kellogg Brown & Root, a former subsidiary of Halliburton, are now able to make money by providing—my book opens with Donald Rumsfeld saying, “Why should we, you know, Americans, be doing these things like cleaning toilets? We can outsource that. We need our soldiers to be able to do, you know, the important things in war.” And really, this is only possible, because with a volunteer army, as opposed to a draft army, you can recruit people from other countries.

I talked to drivers. They’re Fijian truck drivers. I think you might even have an interview that I did with this Fijian truck driver, who—ironically, Peter Singer’s, you know, grandfather was a soldier in the South Pacific; now you have truck drivers being flown from Fiji, you know, and people being flown from Sri Lanka, to come to fight in somebody else’s war, the American war. And their job, you know, for $300 a month, is to make sure that American troops can fight in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to that clip that you describe. You can set it up for us, the clip of the Fijian driver.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: The clip—the driver’s name is Titoko Savuwati, and he’s from Fiji, from Totoya Lau, and he basically was lured to Iraq with promise of a $3,000 salary. Once he actually got there, he discovered he’s going to be paid 50 KD a trip, which is about—


PRATAP CHATTERJEE: A KD is a Kuwaiti dinar, so that’s about $170.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the clip.

TITOKO SAVUWATI: They never gave us any insurance. Most of our friends were shooting. Some was very badly shot, accident. But company never paid me anything. No single money. Like myself, I was fall down. My truck was tumbled, fall down. Yeah. So now, see my leg? I’m not going good now. I complained, but the company never gave me any money. Most of our trip to Iraq, we were only paid with 50 KDs allowance for trip. That’s all. Yeah. For 175 in one trip, they pay us 50 KD only for cross the border.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: There and back?

TITOKO SAVUWATI: Yeah. Go, come back. Yeah. I think that 50 KD is filter for the drivers to go to Iraq, come back. I was asking, if anything happened to my life, I’m shooting from the Iraq people, maybe I die, is that 50 KD can send to my family to make my family survive by that 50 KD?

AMY GOODMAN: Pratap Chatterjee?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: I mean, this is $180 he’s talking about. Now, actually, it’s $170, because of the exchange rates, that he’s getting paid. And the irony of Titoko, one day he dropped me off, and he said, “Hey, listen. Can I borrow one KD”—that was $3.50—“so I can go get some lunch?” Here’s this man driving, you know, twice—he’s driven a hundred trips into Iraq, you know, each time being paid $180 from this company, Agility. It’s a subcontractor to KBR. And at the end of the day, he’s bringing food, he’s bringing ice cream and bagels and turkey and—you know, to American soldiers. But his life, when he gets injured, nobody pays him. If he dies, you know, who’s going to take care of his family?

But that is Halliburton’s Army. It is an army of cheap labor, you know, working for big contractors in Houston that keeps the US Army—the US Army will not shut this operation down. Obama is not going to kick these guys out, because how does he ship back the equipment from Iraq to the United States? He’s going to have to use these contractors. Everything went in with the contractors. It’s like shutting down a nuclear power station. Who knows the system best, you know, to shut down a nuclear power station? You go back to the Bechtels who built it to shut it down. Same thing here. When Obama—if he moves soldiers out of that theater, he’s either going to use more contractors, or he’s going to use those contractors to bring them back. So, they’ve made $25 billion in contracts so far. They’re going to make another $10 billion, at least.

AMY GOODMAN: The title of your book is Halliburton’s Army; the subtitle, How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War. Very quickly, the history, how did this happen?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Well, this actually goes back many years. Most people think, you know, well, Halliburton was brought in by Dick Cheney. Not true at all. Kellogg Brown, & Root, or Brown & Root at the time, was building warships during the Second World War. In Vietnam, they built almost all the bases there. You can go to Cam Ranh Bay in Southeast Asia. I talk about Donald Rumsfeld actually arriving in 1966. He visits the bases, and then he comes back to the US Congress, and he speaks in the House of Representatives, and he says, “This company, you know, they don’t have receipts. They are wasting money, and they’re paying off the President.” This, you know—

AMY GOODMAN: And they were paying…?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: They were paying off the President.

AMY GOODMAN: Lyndon Baines Johnson.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: In this case, Lyndon B. Johnson. So, fast-forward thirty-seven years, and he is the man who’s giving them a contract. And actually, it’s Rumsfeld really; it’s not even Cheney. It’s Rumsfeld who’s looking to this system of outsourcing war, of finding Indians to clean toilets and that sort of thing, so that Americans, you know, can invade Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: But it’s Cheney who was head of Halliburton.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Cheney was the head of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000, and he made out well. He was actually a very bad CEO in some ways and a very good CEO in other ways. I mean, he took the company from making $100 million in US contracts to $2.3 billion in the five years he was there, so a large increase for the company. In fact, he made some very bad business decisions. He bought up a company that had a billion dollars in asbestos liability.

People often ask me, did Cheney get the contract—did he give the contract to Halliburton? I really think the question should be reversed: why did Halliburton hire Cheney, as opposed to why did Cheney hire Halliburton? Well, Cheney hired—Halliburton hired Cheney because of the revolving door, because they knew he could bring business to them. And once he actually became Vice President, Halliburton’s lobbying budget actually dropped by half. They stopped having to recruit—you know, having to lobby, because they already knew they were in.

They had these contracts set up from so many years ago. I mean, starting in Vietnam, building Diego Garcia. You know, I talk about them in Turkey in Adana. You know, Operation Northern Watch was supported by people working for a consortium called VBR, which was partly Brown & Root, Halliburton. So this has gone on for a long time. In Bosnia, you know, in Kosovo, under Clinton, Kellogg Brown & Root, then just Brown & Root, subsidiary of Halliburton, was, you know, cooking for the soldiers, building Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. And today that continues. So this is not something that’s new. It is, in fact, you know, par for the course that Cheney would come in and work for them.

AMY GOODMAN: Pratap Chatterjee, we are seeing a huge discussion right now on this global economic meltdown and dealing with what is the solution to it. But rarely, in the concerns about the amount of taxpayer money that’s going out, are—is there a discussion about US taxpayer money going to corporations like Halliburton.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Well, $25 billion in the last five years has gone to Halliburton, now Kellogg Brown & Root, their subsidiary, in Iraq, to be able to build the bases for American soldiers and to do this war. They get a guaranteed profit; these contracts are cost plus. So whatever Halliburton, or now Kellogg Brown & Root, do in Iraq, they are going to get two percent. In Bosnia, it was seven percent, nine percent. Doesn’t matter how much they charge, they are guaranteed—how much is spent, they’re guaranteed to get a profit. They never make a loss. And so, for them, this is—you know, it’s gravy, in some ways, because whether Obama withdraws from Iraq or continues there, they’re going to get the contract to supply the military.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, I asked Obama at Cooper Union, when he was running for office, if he’s going to support a ban on the military contractors, but he said no.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: No. His point is, I will make them more accountable. I mean, in his legislation he’s promoted, he has never said that he’s going to withdraw the contractors. And in a sense, this is actually quite important, making them accountable, because this has not happened. I mean, the Iraq war, is—you know, there’s so much waste, so much incompetence there, and—

AMY GOODMAN: Afghanistan?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: In Afghanistan it’s exactly the same thing. I was just there in November for three weeks, and you have the same thing. You have, you know, troops who sit behind tanks, living on bases like Bagram, where you have, once again, workers from KBR who supply them with food and clean the toilets and that sort of thing. And nobody’s watching them, partly because—when I was in Kuwait, I asked one of the commanders there, I said, “I can prove to you that this particular subcontract by this company PWC was awarded—you know, should never have been awarded, because they lied on the paperwork. The drivers they hired from Fiji didn’t know how to drive these big reefers. You know, why are they here?” He said, “It doesn’t matter to me. It matters to me now that the soldiers are being fed.” I said, “Will you question this contract? Will you question?” He says, “No, not at all, because in order for me to send my troops into battle, I need to feed them, and I need to make sure that they’re taken care of, and KBR provides that service.”

AMY GOODMAN: Pratap Chatterjee, we just have two minutes, and I want to go to that top story, reading the introduction, how it was just awarded KBR $35 million for electrical work, despite the fact that it’s under criminal investigation for the deaths of at least two Americans, and separately, the US government has just charged KBR with criminal bribery charges for promising and paying tens of millions of dollars to Nigerian officials in exchange for lucrative contracts. Explain both of those quickly.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Well, the contract in Nigeria, which was a contract with a consortium called TSKJ, Albert “Jack” Stanley, who was the head of KBR at the time, worked for Cheney, paid tens of millions of dollars to Nigerian officials. So they’re paying a half-billion-dollar fine to the US government for what happened at those times. So, this is a huge—I mean, this should be a much bigger story.

AMY GOODMAN: This is money that comes from taxpayers, US taxpayers. So US taxpayers are bribing Nigerian officials, or they’re doing it in our name.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Absolutely, that is exactly how—

AMY GOODMAN: And the Americans?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: So, now, when KBR works in a place like Iraq, they are able to get away with a lot of shoddy work. And my book covers the fact that a lot of the work that was done, you know, because people weren’t watching, there wasn’t oversight, there wasn’t accountability, they were able to get away with shoddy electrical work, often bad food, overpriced items. A lot of times, there’s also a lot of detail of how, you know, people walked away with—the book opens with this guy Jeff Alex Mazon walking away with a $1 million check. And he’s paid that by a subcontractor to Halliburton. When the case came up at the Rock Island Arsenal, he said, “Look,” he says, “what’s wrong with this, getting this money? You know, this is money that is owed to me, because I did this work for Halliburton.”

AMY GOODMAN: The two Americans who died? We have twenty seconds.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Well, the Americans who died—Donald Tolfree was killed by the US Army when he was driving a truck. It’s extremely dangerous for the contractors who live there, because, you know, they don’t—they are effectively fighting in somebody else’s war, and they don’t wear a uniform. So when they go to work for Halliburton, many truck drivers have been killed, because they are actually civilians in a war zone fighting a war, you know, with—where, you know, uniforms don’t count for anything.

AMY GOODMAN: Pratap Chatterjee’s book is Halliburton’s Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War.

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