Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Frida Berrigan: Military Industrial Complex 2.0; Craig Kielburger, Marc Kielburger and Chris Mallinos: Cheated into Working in a War Zone

(Courtesy of Danny Mayer and Smirking Chimp. Essential reading!)

Military Industrial Complex 2.0: Cubicle Mercenaries, Subcontracting Warriors, and Other Phenomena of a Privatizing Pentagon
By Frida Berrigan

Seven years into George W. Bush's Global War on Terror, the Pentagon is embroiled in two big wars, a potentially explosive war of words with Tehran, and numerous smaller conflicts – and it is leaning ever more heavily on private military contractors to get by.

Once upon a time, soldiers did more than pick up a gun. They picked up trash. They cut hair and delivered mail. They fixed airplanes and inflated truck tires.

Not anymore. All of those tasks are now the responsibility of private military corporations. In the service of the Pentagon, their employees also man computers, write software code, create integrating systems, train technicians, manufacture and service high-tech weapons, market munitions, and interpret satellite images.

People in ties or heels, not berets or fatigues, today translate documents, collect intelligence, interpret for soldiers and interrogators, approve contracts, draft reports to Congress, and provide oversight for other private contractors. They also fill prescriptions, fit prosthetics, and arrange for physical therapy and psychiatric care. Top to bottom, the Pentagon's war machine is no longer just driven by, but staffed by, corporations.

Consider the following: In fiscal year 2005 (the last year for which full data is available), the Pentagon spent more contracting for services with private companies than on supplies and equipment -- including major weapons systems. This figure has been steadily rising over the past 10 years. According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, in the last decade the amount the Pentagon has paid out to private companies for services has increased by 78% in real terms. In fiscal year 2006, those services contracts totaled more than $151 billion.

Ever more frequently, we hear generals and politicians alike bemoan the state of the military. Their conclusion: The wear and tear of the President's Global War on Terror has pushed the military to the breaking point. But private contractors are playing a different tune. Think of it this way: While the military cannot stay properly supplied, its suppliers are racking up contracts in the multi-billions. For them, it's a matter of letting the good times roll.

What a Difference a War Makes

As we prepare to close the book on the Bush presidency, it is worth exploring just how, in the last seven-plus years, the long War on Terror has actually helped build a new, privatized version of the Pentagon. Call it Military Industrial Complex 2.0.

Consider fiscal year 2001, which conveniently ended in September of that year. It serves as a good, pre-War on Terror baseline for grasping just how the Pentagon expanded ever since -- and how much more it is paying out to private contractors today.

Back then, the Pentagon's top 10 suppliers shared $58.7 billion in Department of Defense (DoD) contracts, out of a total of $144 billion that went to the top 100 Pentagon contractors. Number 100 on the list was The Carlyle Group with $145 million in contracts. Keep in mind, of course, that this was the price of "defense" for a nation with no superpower rival.

Fast forward to 2007 and the top 10 companies on the Pentagon's list of private contractors were sharing $125 billion in DoD contracts, out of a total of $239 billion being shared among the top 100 contractors. The smallest contract among those 100 was awarded to ARINC and came in at $495 million.

In those seven years, in other words, contracts to the top 10 more than doubled, the size of the total pay-out pie increased by two-thirds, and the lowest contract among the top 100 went up almost four-fold.

Just as revealing, almost half the companies on the Pentagon's Top 100 list in 2007 were not even on it seven years earlier, including McKesson, which took in a hefty $4.6 billion in contracts and MacAndrews and Forbes which garnered $3.3 billion.

And here's a fact that makes sense of all of the above: Given the spectrum of services offered and the level of integration that has already taken place between the Pentagon and these private companies, the United States can no longer wage a war or even run payroll without them.

These have been the good times for defense contractors, if not for the military itself. Since September 2001, many companies have made a quantum leap from receiving either no Pentagon contracts or just contracts in the low hundred millions to awards in the billion-dollar range. Here are just a few portraits of companies that are booming, even as the military goes bust.

To read the rest of the article and get the facts on these companies


Cheated into Working in a War Zone: Thousands of impoverished Asians are tricked into driving supply trucks through Iraq's sniper fire and mortar bombs
By Craig Kielburger, Marc Kielburger and Chris Mallinos
The Epoch Times

Tenison Perera frantically ducks his head behind the dashboard of his truck, mimicking how he narrowly averted death. Gripping the wheel, he explains nervously how a sniper's bullet recently pierced through his truck's cabin and zipped by his head before exiting out the front window.

Close calls like that are all in a day's work for this 44-year-old from Sri Lanka. Perera is a truck driver in war-torn Iraq and has made dozens of trips into the insurgent-filled Iraqi desert, driving supplies to American troops stationed throughout the country. Each drive is a perilous journey, as his convoys are regularly attacked by snipers and mortar bombs. Insurgents know trucks like his support the war effort, making them an easy target.

Despite the constant threat, Perera's 18-wheeler is fraught with glaring safety omissions. The glass is not bulletproof, the doors and cabin are made of flimsy metal and the large gas tank is fully exposed, a ticking time bomb should it be hit by a bullet. It's the kind of truck you'd expect to see on a highway in North America, not in a war zone.

"Many times snipers have fired at me," he says to us as he prepares to cross once again from Kuwait into Iraq with construction supplies for the mammoth new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. "Thank God I've had no problems."

Dodging snipers in Iraq is not what Perera had expected when he answered an employment recruiter's ad back in Sri Lanka, one that offered a decent salary and good benefits in the safety of Kuwait. The job seemed like a perfect opportunity to raise some much-needed money for his family, so the father of three took out an $800 loan to pay the required recruitment fee and was promptly sent to the Middle East.

When he arrived, though, a Kuwaiti firm confiscated Perera's passport and told him he would have to drive trucks into Iraq to support the American war effort. They said if he didn't, he would be abandoned in the city. Alone in a strange land a long way from home, in debt, and without his passport, he didn't have a choice.

That was more than two years ago. He hasn't seen his family since.

A Pattern of Abuse

Perera's plight is one shared by thousands of other impoverished South Asian men. On a series of trips to Kuwait, we met with dozens of these men who, along with their colleagues, were recruited to the Middle East with the promise of good jobs, only to be hired by Kuwaiti transport companies driving into Iraq. For their efforts they've been poorly paid, discriminated against, denied medical insurance and many of the other benefits promised to them, and sent into the line of fire with barely any protective gear.

What's more, their exploitation is being funded by unwitting American taxpayers. Since 2001, the Houston-based construction firm KBR has had an exclusive contract with the Defense Department, called LOGCAP 3, to provide food, laundry, and other services to troops in Iraq. It's a deal the army says is worth more than $20 billion in public money.

But KBR does not use all this money itself. It has poured much of it into the elaborate series of subcontracts that now exists in Iraq, hiring hundreds of local Kuwaiti firms. Among them are those that openly flout U.S. labor laws by using cheap imported labor, withholding employee passports, and housing workers in decrepit conditions—all funded by those tax dollars.

KBR's tactics have long raised eyebrows in Washington. The Pentagon has accused the former Halliburton subsidiary of more than $1 billion in "unsupported" and "questioned" charges, and the company made headlines in December when an employee working in Iraq was allegedly raped by co-workers. But these latest allegations are among the most egregious.

According to the Department of Labor's 2007 statistics, in the first four months of last year nine civilian contractors were dying every week. For every American contractor killed, four non-Americans were dying. Since the war began, the department says more than 1,000 contractors have lost their lives in Iraq.

To Read the Rest of the Article

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