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William Fisher: Where Are You Harry?

Where Are You, Harry?

By William Fisher
t r u t h o u t | Report

Monday 06 November 2006

A couple of weeks ago, superhawk congressman Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, announced he would be seeking the Republican Party's nomination for president in 2008.

What he didn't announce is that he had one of his staffers insert in the Defense Department's funding bill, literally in the middle of the night, a provision to shut down the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, known as SEGIR, next October. SEGIR was originally established by Congress in 2004 and was set to expire only when Congress felt its work was completed.

Without this secret provision, Congress would have extended Mr. Bowen's work until well into 2008 - or longer.

Another thing the San Diego congressman neglected to announce was that this quaint provision was tucked into the mammoth bill after a House-Senate conference committee had already completed its work reconciling the two chambers' different versions of the legislation. Which meant that virtually no representative or senator, save a few Republican members of the Armed Services Committee, had any idea this provision was in the bill they signed.

The third thing Congressman Hunter forgot to mention is his cozy relationship with big-name defense contractors, from whom Hunter receives more than half his campaign funds.

Because the mission of the SEGIR office is precisely to root out corruption, fraud, waste, and mismanagement among the kinds of companies whose money helps keep Hunter in office.

And it has done a superb job - evidently too superb.

SEGIR is headed by Stuart Bowen, a Texas lawyer who is a loyal Republican (he spent weeks in Florida working on behalf of George W. Bush after the contentious 2000 election). Bowen's office, which began operation in January 2004 to examine reconstruction money spent in Iraq, began his Congressionally-mandated work in Iraq under L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority, the CPA, but could find few who were interested in what he was finding.

Since the dissolution of the CPA and Bremer's departure from Iraq, Bowen has found and reported to Congress evidence of millions of "missing" dollars, arrant over-charging and substandard performance - or non-performance - by contractors, dazzling lack of oversight by American authorities both in Iraq and in the US, and pervasive corruption among Iraqi leaders. Many of his findings have been referred to the Justice Department and will likely result in criminal charges.

As a result, American occupation officials have been sent to jail on bribery and conspiracy charges, and SEGIR has exposed disastrously poor construction work by well-connected companies, and discovered that the military did not properly track hundreds of thousands of weapons it shipped to Iraqi security forces.

One of Bowen's main targets has been the Development Fund for Iraq, the successor to the United Nations' oil-for-food program. The multibillion-dollar fund, which is composed of Iraqi oil revenue and other Iraqi assets, was run by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority until last year. That fund is separate from the $18 billion that Congress earmarked in late 2003 for rebuilding Iraq. Bowen's conclusion: The CPA failed to implement adequate controls over $8.8 billion in DFI money.

He has also gone after Iraq contractors who have by now become household names - Custer-Battles, Halliburton, Parsons, and Bechtel. The companies have denied lobbying for SEGIR's demise.

But before Duncan Hunter has even a remote a hope of winning support for the GOP nomination for president in 2008, he is going to have to convince some other powerful Republicans that SEGIR should shut down.

For example, Senator Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who has detailed knowledge of the bill in her role as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, says that she has no idea how the shutdown provision got included in the final legislation. "It's truly a mystery to me," Ms. Collins said, adding, "I looked at what I thought was the final version of the conference report and that provision was not in at that time. The one thing I can confirm is that this was a last-minute insertion," she said.

Senator Collins says she is already working on legislation with several Democratic and Republican senators to reverse the termination.

One of her collaborators is John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who is chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee. Warner says, "Given that his office has performed important work and that much remains to be done." He added, "I intend to join Senator Collins in consulting with our colleagues to extend his charter."

While the assassination of SEGIR was accomplished by stealth, Mr. Hunter has been outspokenly up-front about some other issues. He almost scuttled the Detainee Treatment Act because he thought it too lenient.

Then there was the issue of Guantanamo Bay, about which he embarrassed even some of his most hawkish colleagues by calling a press conference to extol Gitmo's five-star cuisine.

Delivered to the press conference were samples of the daily Gitmo menu - fresh fruits, salad, two kinds of entrees, and a yummy-looking dessert. Before a room full of reporters, he consumed these delicacies, and said they were an example of how well America is treating its detainees.

It was an Oscar-class performance altogether worthy of the administration's pitchman for our luxurious Caribbean Riviera Hotel and Spa.

As President Eisenhower was about to leave office, he cautioned the nation to be wary of what he called the military-industrial complex. Fast forward a generation and he might well have had Congressman Hunter in mind.

Before Ike, Harry Truman learned a lot about this subject. During World War II, when Truman was still a senator, he led a special investigative committee to go after war profiteers. Two years later, Truman's team discovered that aerospace firm Curtiss-Wright was delivering defective motors to the Air Force. While military officials denied the accusations, Truman took testimony from company employees and military officials confirming that the company was selling leaky motors to the government and covering it up with forged inspection reports.

This is exactly the kind of work Stuart Bowen has been doing. And he should be allowed to continue it, because he has merely uncovered the tip of a disgraceful iceberg.


William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and in many other parts of the world for the US State Department and USAID for the past thirty years. He began his work life as a journalist for newspapers and for the Associated Press in Florida. Go to The World According to Bill Fisher for more.

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