Columnist

War contract corruption just heightens distrust

 
 
Published: 4/7/2008 12:04 AM

The growing rift between the Arab World and Western world has to do with perception. Arabs just don't believe Americans live by a single standard of principle and the rule of law. They believe, according to polls, that Americans have two standards, one for themselves and one for the Middle East.

And it's not just about America's double standards when it comes to Israel. A good example is the Bush administration's prosecution of individuals accused of engaging in corrupt practices involving war-related contracts, while giving their corporate hosts a pass. Some people, mostly tied to Halliburton and its subcontractor Kellogg Brown & Root Inc., (KBR), have been indicted, charged or convicted of corruption. Halliburton and KBR, on the other hand, remain unscathed and continue to enjoy multi-billion-dollar contracts from the Bush administration in the wake of unending corruption charges. 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 he leaves office in January.

All of the corruption cases bristle with questions of political hypocrisy involving American foreign policy and double standards in selective prosecutions. 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 federal courtrooms of Springfield, Illinois rather than on a high profile stage in Washington D.C.?

Later this month, one of those indicted will be brought to trial, not in Washington but in Springfield. Jeff Mazon, a former KBR employee, is accused of defrauding the U.S. government of $3.5 million. He has pleaded innocent. Another person indicted in the same case is a Kuwait national, Ali Hijazi, who legally is out of reach of American prosecution. American law does not allow prosecutors to prosecute foreign citizens living in foreign countries. There is no extradition agreement with Kuwait. The Mazon and Hijazi indictments were politically timed. They were announced March 17, 2005 by the U.S. Attorney's office in Springfield, two days before the second anniversary of the Iraq invasion.

There have been numerous examples of wasteful spending by Halliburton, yet it 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. There is so much more. Last September, the Associated Press reported that 29 people have been charged or convicted in procurement fraud cases involving Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait.

But there hasn't been follow up. Some observers believe politics is behind the awarding of a contract to build the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Why only focus on individual employees but not on the larger corporate structure which has been plagued by corruption allegations? Bush has given the public the false impression that there is a serious effort to reign in corruption and wasteful spending involving war-related contracts. What we won't have, though, is an end to corruption, or adequate answers from the source of the clout, the companies who employed those who now face corruption charges.