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Battle Brewing in Congress as Bush Admin Seeks Closure of Iraq Reconstruction Corruption Monitor

StoryNovember 15, 2006
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A new battle is brewing in Congress over how the US government monitors the billions of dollars it spends on the reconstruction of Iraq. Leading Congressional Republicans recently passed legislation that would close the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The special agency has uncovered several cases of waste and abuse, and has helped indict several American officials on charges of corruption. [includes rush transcript]

A new battle is brewing in Congress over how the US government monitors the billions of dollars it spends on the reconstruction of Iraq. The Bush administration and leading Congressional Republicans are trying to close the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The special agency has uncovered several cases of waste and abuse, and has helped indict several American officials on charges of corruption.

The termination order comes in an obscure provision attached to last month’s defense authorization bill. It says the Inspector General’s office must close on October 1st of next year. The language was inserted by Congressmember Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who currently leads the House Armed Services Committee. Starting next week, Democrats say they will introduce new legislation to restore the agency’s authority and keep its investigations on track.

  • Antonia Juhasz, author of "The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia Juhasz is with us now. She’s author of The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time. She joins us from a studio in San Francisco. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Antonia.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Good morning. Thanks for having me, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Congress passed a bill that would close the one monitor of reconstruction in Iraq.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yes, unfortunately. But on the other side, quite fortunately, because of the Democrats taking the House and the Senate, I think the Special Inspector General has been saved. There’s been a wonderful public outroar and resistance to this move by the Republicans. As you said, essentially snuck into a bill was this early termination date, just as the Special Inspector General was really ramping up his investigations finally, finally naming corporations, canceling contracts, as you say, actually achieving convictions for fraud, waste and abuse, naming Halliburton, Bechtel, Parsons. The list goes on and on. I guess not surprising that the Republicans then chose to try and shut down this office. But I think the Democrats have saved it.

As you say, the bill will be introduced next week. It has broad, actually bipartisan, support. But it’s only, at this point, to extend the office through potentially 2008. And just to put in really quickly, while the amount of money the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund, US taxpayer money for reconstruction, has been obligated — that’s about $34 billon — many, many of the contracts that are on the ground being done by US companies actually carry end dates in 2007, 2008, some even longer. I certainly advocate ending those contracts sooner. But in any case, the Special Inspector General has to be able to stay working on the ground until all of this money is accounted for and all of the companies are held to account.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia, you’ve just written a piece, "Bechtel Bails on Iraq." They left Iraq. Talk about the significance.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, and actually, I didn’t choose the title. So I would want to fix that. I have been part of movements of people, since before the war began, who have been calling for Bechtel to leave Iraq. So we’re quite glad that last Tuesday they finally announced that they were leaving Iraq, after receiving $2.4 billion of work, after receiving, before the war began, a quiet secret request for their proposal to do their work in Iraq. And now, they’re finally leaving. Thank goodness. That’s good.

The bad news is that they’re leaving with their money, and they have not remotely accomplished the work that they were given. And it was vitally critical work. Bechtel had one of the early most broad contracts for the basic services, the one thing that actually the US government was supposed to do as an occupier, rebuild basic services: water, electricity, healthcare, roads. All of this fell into Bechtel’s rubric of their contract. None of this is done. None of this has been done even close to how it was contractually obligated to be done, nor morally what we should have accomplished. And yet, Bechtel is leaving with their cash in hand.

AMY GOODMAN: What did they do, though, some of their claims? And do you think that they should be investigated, held accountable, and in what way? One of the things you write about is even the limited oversight allowing us to debunk claims by Bechtel. For example, the company reporting it rebuilt war-damaged bridges on key highways, but the Inspector General’s October report to Congress finds no bridge or expressway projects have been completed in Iraq.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, unfortunately, the Special Inspector General is finally focusing on Bechtel more comprehensively, but at this moment, it’s almost impossible to assess what, project by project, Bechtel has done on the ground. It’s actually almost impossible to assess that for any company, any US company, because the Special Inspector General, for all the great work that it’s starting to do, of over 1,300 projects that the US has begun in Iraq, only 65 have been assessed in a very close way by the Special Inspector General.

Because of the failures that the Special Inspector General found last quarter, in particular on a Bechtel project for a critical maternal and child health hospital that was supposed to be built by Bechtel and wasn’t built — and to get back to what they claimed and what the Special Inspector General claimed, Bechtel — actually, Bechtel hasn’t said anything publicly themselves. I’m basing all of my assessment on what Bechtel is saying, based on a San Francisco Chronicle article, where the reporter got to interview Bechtel. Bechtel hasn’t come forward with what they have or haven’t done. But they said that, for example, they did not complete this Basra hospital, because of, quote, "security concerns," where the Special Inspector General was quite clear that Bechtel was dropped from their contract, because, one, they had misrepresented their progress to the US government; two, they had gone a year and a half over schedule and $90 million over budget. So they were dropped. We know that that took place.

We know, as you say, that they didn’t finish projects that they said they did in fact finish. So, hopefully, this new audit that the Special Inspector General has begun of Bechtel, all of its contracts, will expose all of their failure. And we can get some sense of that by the fact that, as I said, the areas that they were contracted to work on —- for example, electricity. The most recent report shows that -—

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia, we just have 20 seconds, but I want to ask: Congressmember Henry Waxman has said that they will be investigating the amount of money that’s gone into Iraq, war profiteering. Nancy Pelosi has said the power that the Democrats will now have is called subpoena power. In ten seconds, $2.5-almost billion Bechtel has had, Halliburton — what do you think has to happen for the accounting to take place?

ANTONIA JUHASZ: There has to be a full audit, but then the demand has to be made that they must return all of their misspent funds, period. Existing contracts have to be cancelled, period. And third, the money must immediately go to Iraqi companies and Iraqi workers to end the US corporate occupation of Iraq, as well as the military occupation.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia Juhasz, I want to thank you for being with us. Her book is The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time.

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