From burn pits to gang rapes to crashing planes into mountains during joy rides, there seems to be absolutely no limit to the unlawful behavior of military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention the Gulf of Mexico).
Now, thanks to Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, we’ve learned something else. These companies have somehow gotten the Pentagon to pick up the tab for all of this wrongdoing. So, while it’s “get out of jail free” for them, it’s “pay up” for you, U.S. taxpayer. (Deficit reduction commission, are you paying attention to this??)
More than 120 military contracts include indemnification clauses -- essentially, promises that the Pentagon will pick up the tab if contractors are sued the total cost of soldiers' claims against the contractor could exceed $150 million. The information was disclosed on Thursday in response to an inquiry by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who was concerned that contractor Kellogg Brown Root was granted indemnity amid a lawsuit claiming that the Halliburton subsidiary knowingly exposed soldiers to cancer-causing chemicals in Iraq, as previously reported by The Huffington Post.
The list of contractors include major airlines American, Continental and United, as well as military contractors Raytheon Missile Systems, General Dynamics, L3, Lockheed Martin, BAE, and Boeing. Other indemnified companies include Mason and Hanger, a company which stores and transports containers of the nerve agent VX, and several firms that maintain facilities to destroy chemical agents.
The Oregonian reports,
A deposition filed last summer in U.S. District Court in Portland revealed that on the eve of the Iraq invasion, a KBR attorney won a secret clause ensuring that U.S. taxpayers, and not KBR, would pay in the event of any death or injury. In September, Democratic Reps. Blumenauer and Kurt Schrader, and Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced a bill in both houses to boost congressional oversight of defense contracts.
Blumenauer said he remained concerned that "KBR's contract may be much more loosely drawn, removing incentives for the contractor to behave responsibly and exposing taxpayers to enormous liability. Taxpayers should not be on the hook for KBR's reckless actions that exposed our National Guard troops to harm."
About 82 percent of the Pentagon's current budget goes to contractors and grants, along with 83 percent of the State Department's and 99 percent of USAID's net operation costs. Every federal contract and grant needs to be managed, she said, yet the government currently lacks the capacity for appropriate oversight.
Allison Stanger, a political science professor at Middlebury College in Vermont and author of "One Nation Under Contract, the Outsourcing of American Power and the Future of Foreign Policy," said most Americans don't realize the transformation that has taken place in their government.
"Contractors are doing the functions government used to do but are not bound by the same rules and ethics," Stanger said. "When you privatize government functions and you don't talk about the unintended consequences, you're in very dangerous and uncharted territory."
(Photo courtesy of Halliburton Watch.)