We get a report from Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill on Halliburton’s role in reconstruction in the Gulf area, plus a survey of the current situation in New Orleans. [includes rush transcript]
Vice President Dick Cheney is the former CEO of Halliburton. Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root was just awarded $12 million dollars to repair the naval station in Gulfport, Mississippi where Cheney was speaking, along with several other facilities. Democracy Now correspondent, Jeremy Scahill is in the Gulf where he too has been surveying the destruction in New Orleans and other areas. He joins us on the line from Baton Rouge.
- Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! producer and correspondent.
AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, flew into Gulfport, Mississippi, Thursday. While he was speaking to reporters, his news conference was interrupted.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I was talking to the mayor in those areas —
BYSTANDER: Go f*** yourself, Mr. Cheney.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We have got to figure out what to do with all of the debris.
BYSTANDER: Go f*** yourself.
REPORTER: Are you getting a lot of that, Mr. Vice President?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: That’s the first time I’ve heard it. He referring to John — oh, never mind.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Dick Cheney in Gulfport, Mississippi, Gulfport, the home of a naval base that, it, along with a few other military facilities, is just about to be revamped, rebuilt, with a $12 million fund that has been given to — a $12 million award to Halliburton Corporation. Dick Cheney, the former C.E.O. of Halliburton. Joining us on the line right now is Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! correspondent, has made his way down to the New Orleans, Baton Rouge area, and in the long drive has been researching Halliburton and Dick Cheney in Gulfport. Welcome, Jeremy.
JEREMY SCAHILL: It’s good to be with you, Amy and Juan, and I sort of was on the same travel schedule as Dick Cheney. I was in Mississippi at the same time he was, and then arrived in Louisiana around the same time he was here, and then I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon traveling around New Orleans, and on the issue of Dick Cheney, you know, it’s very difficult with what we have seen in the past five years or so with this administration and the sort of blatant cronyism and corporate handouts to friends of the administration, in some cases directly to members of the administration. It’s sort of hard to be surprised at the appearance of fixing policies or profiteering from crises at the expense of the poor.
The big question that all of us need to ask ourselves is: Would this have happened and would the aftermath have been so bad if New Orleans was actually New England? And it’s pretty clear that the answer to that is “no.” In fact, we know how the administration responded to these kinds of disasters when we look at how Bush handled Florida and the hurricane there when his brother was governor. And we know that the occupation of Iraq would look very different if the children of the Bushes and the Cheneys and the Senators and the C.E.O.s had to serve in the military there. There simply would be no occupation. So what we are seeing here is a matter of priorities and how you choose to respond to things and the kinds of policies that you implement.
As for Cheney, I think it could be, on the one hand, a sort of sick symbolic coincidence that he kicked off his tour down here in this utterly devastated region in Gulfport, Mississippi, because that’s one of the main areas where his so-called former company, Halliburton, where its subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root has a lucrative contract to rebuild the damaged and destroyed military facilities. As you said, KBR is going to receive about $12 million for work at one naval station and is going to get roughly another $5 million at another station. But what’s more significant and what people are not focusing on is that Kellogg Brown & Root is also now traveling throughout the region assessing damage to, for instance, the pumps in New Orleans and the infrastructure of the city. They have already begun providing services for some five hundred Department of Homeland Security personnel. They have set up a camp for the Mississippi Power Company. And so they’re setting up these same kinds of camps that we see in Guantanamo and Iraq and elsewhere to service the rebuilding of the Gulf area here of the South.
And there’s a real sick irony here, as well, as Dick Cheney comes to these areas now where his company, Halliburton and KBR are getting these lucrative contracts. And that is that there are hundreds of Halliburton workers missing, that are unaccounted for, as Halliburton stocks are hitting a 52-week high, because of Hurricane Katrina. And it’s interesting that after Dick Cheney was told twice to go f*** himself, by that angry person behind him, you hear him asked if he has been hearing those sentiments a lot. Of course, Cheney says that was the first time that he has heard it. Well, that’s probably true for Dick Cheney to be on the receiving end of that, but as we know and as you pointed out in the news headlines today, he said almost the exact same thing to Vermont Democratic Senator, Patrick Leahy.
So I think on the one hand, you could view Cheney’s choice of areas. And some residents charge that he went only to rich, white Republican areas that were hit by Katrina. You could look at it as a sick coincidence that he ends up going where Halliburton has its contract, or you could view it as part of the bigger picture of Halliburton receiving no-bid contracts in Iraq and being one of the chief profiteers of the occupation of Iraq, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill talking to us from Baton Rouge right now, talking about Dick Cheney, Halliburton, the connections, and Gulfport, as well. Jeremy, can you describe your trip down and what it has looked like as you have made your way through the states into New Orleans?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you really start to see, when you get into Mississippi and cross over to Louisiana, you start to see the sort of outside of the damage of Hurricane Katrina, you will see twisted roadsigns, etc., but even here in Baton Rouge, where I am right now — actually, a supporter who is trying to get Democracy Now! on the air, she had her home destroyed. A tree fell on top of it, and so they have lost their home, and that’s — this is about an hour north of New Orleans. But right when you start to drive toward New Orleans, you see — you start to see the massive flooding of the city. And I yesterday was in Jefferson parish where people were getting their last opportunity to go by boat into their homes and take out what things they could, and then retrieve them, because now Jefferson parish is going to be locked down for the next three weeks, and people are being told that they won’t be allowed to go back in. This is happening as they’re doing forced evictions in other parts of the city.
But one of the things, Amy, that is not being talked about a lot is the fact that the East of New Orleans, of the city of New Orleans has largely been untouched by anyone. Rescue workers haven’t made it there, journalists haven’t made it there. I was talking to a Louisiana state trooper yesterday who said that he flew over the area in a helicopter, and he said that there are bodies and animals floating everywhere and that the military is guarding the area, preventing people from coming in on boats, that they have M-16s and that they’re preventing people from coming in. There are reports that in one school, for instance, in that area, that there could be upwards of hundreds of bodies in the east of New Orleans, and people are not able to get in there, as well.
You know, right now, the official death toll of hurricane Katrina stands at something like 294, but as with we hear those numbers we have to understand that in St. Gabriel’s, which is not far from Baton Rouge, where I am now, they have set up a massive warehouse that is going to serve as the main morgue. They have brought in more than 25,000 body bags into the area. So we’re just now at the beginning of what is going to be a very, very horrifying aftermath as the city itself dries up.