Sunday, September 04, 2011

Alan Grayson-- Still Kicking The War Profiteers' Asses


Long before he stood up on the floor of the House and defined the Republican health care plan as Don't Get Sick! And if you do get sick, die quickly, and, in fact, long before he bucked the Democratic and the Republican Establishments to win a House seat from Orlando, Florida, some people had gotten to know Alan Grayson through a compelling feature in Vanity Fair about how he, a successful but little-known crusading attorney, took on Halliburton, KBR and other powerful Iraq war profiteers... and beat them.
“In my mind, one of the basic reasons, maybe even the basic reason, why the war has gone badly is war profiteering,” says Grayson. “You could say that the only people who have benefited from the invasion of Iraq are al-Qaeda, Iran, and Halliburton. America has spent so much money that we literally could have hired every single adult Iraqi and it would have cost less than what it has cost to conduct this war through U.S. military forces and contractors.”

In Grayson’s view, a nightmare combination of jacked-up bids, waste, kickbacks, and inflated subcontracts means that as much as half the value of every contract he has seen “ends up being fraudulent in one way or another.” He adds, “Cumulatively, the amount that’s been spent on contractors in the four-plus years of the war is now over $100 billion. Pick any number between 10 percent and 50 percent-- I don’t think you can seriously argue that the scale of the fraud is less than 10 percent. Either way, you’re talking cumulatively about something between $10 and $50 billion.”

Indeed, in February, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform got the news from Pentagon auditors that contractors in Iraq had claimed at least $10 billion-- three times more than previous official estimates—in expenditures that were either unreasonably high or unsupported by proper documentation. Of this amount, $2.7 billion had been billed to the government by KBR.

...In the early years of his career, Alan Grayson spent most of his time representing military contractors. “It was the most heavily regulated business in existence anywhere in the world, and the result of that was that it was clean,” he says. “There was a tremendous bureaucracy that existed to make sure that contractors stuck to the rules, and also to punish those who did not stick to the rules very severely.” In one famous case, he recalls, a uniform manufacturer that had made hundreds of thousands of military garments was investigated because he asked his workers to sew one dress as a gift for his daughter.

Today, such stringency is unthinkable. “What has happened is a systematic dismantling of the protections that kept the system honest,” says Grayson. Between 1991 and 2005, the size of the staff responsible for managing and auditing Pentagon contracts was cut in half. “What we have seen in recent years is an explosion in contracting, while at the same point in time we have seen a contraction of those engaged in oversight of contracting matters,” says Comptroller General David M. Walker, the head of the G.A.O. This, he says, serves “to exacerbate the systemic problems that have existed for years.”

...There are a few encouraging signs that a day of reckoning is drawing near. Committees in both the House and the Senate have held hearings on contracting in Iraq, and several plan to hold more. Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, has introduced a War Profiteering Prevention Act, which would make it much easier to investigate corrupt contractors and call them to account. And in August, the news that tens of thousands of weapons intended for Iraqi security forces had vanished or been stolen prompted the Pentagon to announce that its inspector general, Claude M. Kicklighter, would lead an 18-person team to investigate “contracting practices” in Iraq.

In the more distant future, a Democratic administration might open up the vaults and expose the American public to the scale of what has been looted. “What we have seen up to now is the worst of the worst in terms of a deliberate cover-up,” Grayson says. But if and when it comes to an end, he thinks it’s entirely possible that Congress will appoint a special prosecutor-- one whose targets might one day reach “an extremely high level.”

But, obviously not this Democratic administration and certainly not this Republican-controlled Congress. The single biggest tragedy of the 2010 midterms was how the DCCC completely abandoned Grayson and spent tens of millions of dollars defending worthless Blue Dogs almost all of whom lost their seats anyway. Grayson was one of only 5 progressives to lose in the midst of dozens of Blue Dogs and their conservative brethren. Many of the war profiteers he had pursued helped underwrite the Republican efforts against his reelection. Now they may be sorry they did.

Since leaving Congress in January, Grayson has been fighting war profiteers again-- as a private attorney. And last month he scored-- for the American taxpayers who have been cheated out of billions of dollars by Cheney, Bush, the Republican war establishment and their corrupt cronies. When the Commission on Wartime Contracting released its final report last week they reported that between $31 billion and $62 billion of the tax money spent on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan has been wasted. It also said that between $10 billion and $19 billion of what contractors billed and received was fraudulent. $360 million of our tax dollars went straight to the Taliban! "Wow," wrote Grayson. "Who could have imagined that? Well... me."
When I saw that the Bush Administration was doing nothing about fraud in Iraq, I revived a law going back to the Civil War that allowed whistleblowers to bring lawsuits in the name of the U.S. Government. I filed case after case, which were promptly greeted by the Bush Administration with gag orders-- gag orders that they kept in place for years. They didn’t want any more bad news coming out of Iraq.

So I went on CNN, spoke to the New York Times and the Washington Post, and told America whatever I could say without violating those gag orders. And when the Bush Administration finally let one case out from under those gag orders-- and declined to prosecute it-- I took that case to trial, and won a $14 million judgment. It was the third-largest judgment for whistleblowers in the 143-year history of that law.

Those contractors built bases without hooking up the plumbing. A general testified that when he went there, he felt like throwing up.

The Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page article that I was “waging a one-man war against contractor fraud in Iraq.” The national organization Taxpayers Against Fraud named me “Lawyer of the Year.” And people started to think, “what is going on over there?”

In Congress, I spoke out against the wars, [see video above] and I voted against the wars. I wrote and introduced The War is Making You Poor Act, HR 5353. My bill pointed out that you could:

1. Require the Pentagon to fund the wars from its own budget of over $500 billion, not supplemental appropriations;

2. Take all the money that would save and eliminate taxes on everyone’s first $35,000 of income, $70,000 for married couples; and

3. Still have over $10 billion a year left over, to cut the federal deficit.

OpenCongress’s unscientific poll showed 91% in favor of HR 5353.

After I left Congress in January, I took up the work against contractor fraud in Iraq again. And I won an $8.7 million settlement from DynCorp and the Sandi Group.The defendants paid our attorney’s fees last Friday.

Here’s some simple arithmetic. We’ve budgeted $159.3 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, through next month. (The true cost is much more, but let’s leave that aside.)  That’s: $159,300,000,000.00.

You could take all that money and create 5,310,000 jobs here in America paying $30,000 a year, rebuilding our bridges, our roads, our schools, instead of the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. That would immediately lower the unemployment rate from 9 percent to 5.5 percent, and get money flowing in our communities again.

Now, that’s a job program. I’ll put that up against whatever President Obama proposes next week.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have killed more than 8,000 Americans, and who-knows-how-many Iraqis and Afghans. War has destroyed our economy, just as the war in Afghanistan destroyed the Soviet economy. According to the calculations of Nobel Prize-winner Professor Joseph Stiglitz, the war in Iraq alone has cost us around 8% of our $50 trillion national net worth, all of the wealth that America built up over two centuries. Over $13,000 for every single American, young and old.

We’ve taken our inheritance, and dumped it into a wood chipper.

My father served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He told me once that one of the most common questions that men of his generation heard was, “what did you do in the war?” Maybe our children will ask us, “what did you do against the war?”

That’s a question I can answer.

WE HAVE TO GET GRAYSON BACK INTO CONGRESS. Blue American has endorsed him and you can contribute here if you'd like to help. I left the country and lived abroad during the Vietnam War, not to avoid the draft-- my lottery number was high enough so that I had no worries about that-- but to avoid financing it by paying any U.S. taxes. When I visited Vietnam recently and met men and women my own age, I wanted to apologize for not having done more to stop what my country did to theirs and to them and their families. Alan Grayson can very very proud of what he's done in fighting against the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Like I said, we HAVE to get him back into Congress!

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