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Taking on Reconstruction Corruption | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Taking on Reconstruction Corruption

In presenting his plan for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq this week, current Representative and now Presidential candidate, Dennis Kucinich, noted that "after the first Gulf War, Iraqis reestablished electricity within three months, despite sanctions. Four years into the US occupation there is no water, nor reliable electricity in Baghdad." He also pointed out that Iraqis receive a paltry 5 percent of subcontracts while US contractors make billions of dollars and "millions of Iraqis do not have a means of financial support, nor substantive employment."

Kucinich's example cuts to the heart of the gross corruption, waste and profiteering that marks the failed Iraqi Reconstruction effort – over $50 billion spent on private contractors with little return and billions unaccounted for. Not only did the Republican Congress turn its back on its Constitutional responsibility for oversight, it even attempted to surreptitiously oust the one individual who was uncovering some of the corruption – Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen.

So what did President Bush offer on Wednesday night as a solution to rein in the waste and fraud of the Iraqi Reconstruction effort? "A reconstruction coordinator in Baghdad to ensure better results for economic assistance being spent in Iraq." Seriously.

That favorite standby non-solution solution for Inside-the-Beltway types – like a Drug Czar, only with a less sexy title (perhaps because the Administration knows the public has grown weary of no-results Czars). Now the President just needs to appoint a Blue Ribbon Panel and we will know he really means business.

The tragedy is that the "new" reconstruction policy amounts simply to more money for "an increased number of the State Department's Provisional Reconstruction Teams" and other "preexisting efforts." Sound familiar? Kind of like more money for more troops – stay the course reconstruction disaster to go hand-in-hand with a stay the course military disaster now human catastrophe. No substantive change to an existing profiteering-based system that enriches US contractors with no-bid contracts while providing little oversight, few results, and no equity for Iraqis.

Contrast the Bush administration's empty proposal with the latest efforts of Senator Patrick Leahy. The new Chair of the Judiciary Committee has his set his sights on a real crack-down on the fraudulent reconstruction program. His War Profiteering Prevention Act of 2007 would create "criminal penalties for war profiteers and cheats who would exploit taxpayer-funded efforts in Iraq and elsewhere around the world."

This bill – which the Republican-controlled Senate failed to act on last year despite evidence of rampant contractor fraud – would make "materially overvaluing any good or service with the specific intent to excessively profit" a felony punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment and fines of $1 million or twice the gross profits of the crime, or both. Furthermore, any person "making a false statement in any matter involving a contract for the provision of any goods or services in connection with a war, military action, or relief or reconstruction activities" could be sentenced to 10 years in prison and the same aforementioned fines.

Leahy cited many allegations of fraud and abuse by contractors previously noted here, including Custer Battles bilking the government out of $50 million; overcharges and fraud by Halliburton and subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (and here); and Northrop Grumman and Bechtel's continuing to win sweetheart deals despite recent massive fines and corruption. And, of course, the billions of dollars that has simply gone missing.

Kudos to Senator Leahy for staying on top of this issue since 2003. Let's hope his colleagues show the same grit and determination in ending the human catastrophe in Iraq while a Bush administration continues to call for the sacrifice of more blood, more treasure, and more lives – with no end in sight.

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