How Two Vets Took on KBR

Two men and a woman in a suit with shiny brass buttons walked into the Hays County Courthouse in central Texas on March 24. They were there to sign a contract between Hays County and KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton and one of the corporations that has been a major war profiteer in Iraq.

The three executives sat patiently through the daily business of veterans’ affairs, needs of the local police department, burn bans and drawing lines for a subdivision until it was their turn to discuss the $617,000 county contract that would make KBR a road builder in our community.

What they didn’t count on were two unsatisfied customers and members of Iraq Veterans Against the War–Gregory Foster and myself.

Greg and I brought to the attention of the county commissioners the company’s history of scandals, including bribery, the negligent homicide of 11 soldiers and five Marines, rape and gang rape cover-ups, tax evasion and more.

Greg read the top results for a Google search that contained a multitude of shady business dealings and crimes to demonstrate that the commissioners had not done adequate research. He then read a letter from Spec. Jude Prather, a Hays County resident and infantryman in Iraq.

Jude’s letter outlined his concerns about KBR being a daily fixture in his community, stating that his convoy escort team’s opinions of KBR were “too colorful to be read in court.” Greg recalled a saying of his father: “Son, your dollar votes. If you don’t like how a company does business, don’t do business with them.”

I brought to the commissioners’ attention the siphoning by KBR of tens of billions of dollars out of our treasury in exchange for the delivery of substandard service and even unacceptable “disservices” to U.S. troops in Iraq.

Some soldiers suffered illnesses from contaminated drinking water, others were exposed to carcinogens such as sodium dichromate, and some died as a result of faulty electrical wiring and air-conditioning units placed so close to showers that water splashed on them.

“Hays County has a laudable record of supporting its service members and veterans,” I said. “I do not think we could in good conscience accept that reputation and hire a company responsible for killing U.S. soldiers and Marines, then attempting to cover it up and deny compensation to the families.”

I also attested to how KBR fattened its bottom line by shipping empty trucks around Iraq–while putting soldiers and civilians lives on the line to escort them.

A KBR executive stepped up and boldly (as well as untruthfully) said that all of these allegations were totally untrue and that KBR was not for or against the war. But the judge presiding over the hearing interrupted her to ask if it was true that a KBR employee had been convicted of bribery, and she was compelled to say that a KBR executive is indeed in federal prison for bribing Nigerian officials for $60 million in contracts.

She then tried to discredit me, Greg and our supporters by noting our antiwar attire, but she was forced to show respect for our service in the military and acknowledge our direct experiences with KBR.

In the same breath that she denied KBR profiting from the Iraq war, she also said that KBR wasn’t the only corporation to profit from the war effort. She added that the employees who committed the crimes were just “a few bad apples.”

I had no choice but to apologize. “I didn’t mean to pick on your poor, innocent, multibillion-dollar corporation,” I said, adding that if any of the other war profiteers tried to do business in Hays County, I would speak against them as well.

Her claim that actions of KBR employees don’t reflect company policy in any way was simply absurd.

After our testimony, the commissioners and the judge moved to postpone a final decision until March 31 in order to conduct more research, and there was a lot of talk about why other companies hadn’t been considered. Of the four commissioners and one judge responsible for the decision on the contract, only one made a comment in defense of KBR. “The Brown family seems very nice,” said the official.

It seems likely that we succeeded in blocking KBR from getting this contract. Let this serve as a lesson that people have power, and we should not make the mistake of disempowering ourselves by believing we are powerless. Get out and be heard!

Bryan Hannah writes for Socialist Worker where this article first appeared. Read other articles by Bryan, or visit Bryan's website.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. mary said on April 3rd, 2009 at 11:21pm #

    I am full of admiration for you and your colleague for standing up against this relic of the savage Bushco regime. Well done.

    Blackwater has been rebranded as Xe I heard and yesterday I was reading about another new brand of mercenary operating out of Jerusalem that Obama has contracted, Triple Canopy. They take over from Blackwater in Iraq in May.

    Obama’s Blackwater? Chicago Mercenary Firm Gets Millions for Private “Security” in Israel and Iraq

    Jeremy Scahill, AlterNet

    Federal records obtained by AlterNet reveal a multi-million dollar contract for a private U.S. paramilitary force operating out of Jerusalem.

    April 2, 2009

    On the campaign trail, Barack Obama’s advisers said he “can’t rule out [and] won’t rule out” using mercenary forces, like Blackwater. Now, it appears that the Obama administration has decided on its hired guns of choice: Triple Canopy, a Chicago company now based in Virginia. It may not have Blackwater’s thuggish reputation, but Triple Canopy has its own bloody history in Iraq and a record of hiring mercenaries from countries with atrocious human rights records. What’s more, Obama is not just using the company in Iraq, but also as a U.S.-government funded private security force in Israel/Palestine, operating out of Jerusalem.

    Beginning May 7th, Triple Canopy will officially take over Xe/Blackwater’s mega-contract with the U.S. State Department for guarding occupation officials in Iraq. It’s sure to be a lucrative deal: Obama’s Iraq plan will inevitably rely on an increased use of private contractors, including an army of mercenaries to protect his surge of diplomats operating out of the monstrous U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

    The Iraq contract may come as no surprise. But according to federal contract records obtained by AlterNet, the Obama administration has also paid Triple Canopy millions of dollars to provide “security services” in Israel. In February and March, the Obama administration awarded a “delivery order” to Triple Canopy worth $5.5 million under State Department contract SAQMPD05F5528, which is labeled “PROTECTIVE SERVICES–ISRAEL.” According to one government document, the contract is scheduled to run until September 2012. (Another document says September 2009.) The contract is classified as “SECURITY GUARDS AND PATROL SERVICES” in Israel. The total value of the contract was listed at $41,556,969.72. According to a January 2009 State Department document obtained by AlterNet labeled “Sensitive But Unclassified,” the Triple Canopy contract is based out of Jerusalem.

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  2. jenner said on April 4th, 2009 at 3:56am #

    I just wanted to thank you for your continuing service to the country, we would all be lesser people were it not for efforts like yours.

    Thank you for standing up to the goliath named KBR.