Monday, June 12, 2006

Show Me The Money

In 1960, part of his farewell address to the nation, President Eisenhower warned of the growing relationship between business and the military. The term that everyone is familiar with is military industrial complex. Ironic that such a warning would come from the most popular military general in this country since George Washington, who consequently warned in his own presidential farewell address about entangling alliances with foreign nations. Through forces and events that either could have foreseen as well as the sheer willpower of successive president’s, generals, and businessmen, both Washington and Eisenhower have been ignored.

It should not be surprising then to read or hear about Halliburton receiving large military contracts in Iraq, but still the playfully ignorant American citizenry shows dismay. The simple fact is that private military contractors are earning billions of dollars in Iraq -- much of it from U.S. taxpayers. Business is booming for those willing to tackle one of the most dangerous jobs on Earth. Lucrative U.S. government contracts go to firms called on to provide security for projects and personnel -- jobs that in previous conflicts have been done by the military.

A single contract awarded to Britain's AEGIS Specialist Risk Management company by the Pentagon was worth $293 million, and while the government says it cannot provide a total amount for the contracts -- many of which are secret (surprise)-- industry experts estimate Iraq's security business costs tens of billions of dollars.

These contractors have not been without controversy. A US based company, Blackwater, one of the larger companies and perhaps the best known, because tragedy befell its employees in Falluja March 31, 2004. Four employees were killed -- two of their bodies hung from a bridge. It should be stated that Blackwater also looks for opportunities beyond war zones to disaster areas, such as the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, or places where peacekeepers could be stationed, like the crisis-hit region of Darfur in Sudan (there is an idea for the ineffectual UN).

But where there is money, there is also danger. And this is the point of my post today. No official totals exist of how many private contractors have been killed in Iraq. Many analysts believe the death rate among the 25,000 or so contractors higher than among U.S. military forces. This is something the public has a right to know. I challenge my American readers to contact your representatives. Raise this issue in letters to the editor and amongst friends. If our tax dollars go to these firms then Congress should be informed as to how much money is actually spent and for what. Here is an issue that our representatives should become impassioned about. Sadly, they seem too preoccupied.

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