Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The stench of 15 rotting corpses

Maybe this isn't the post you want to read right before Thanksgiving, but it is important to highlight the corruption and fraud and waste that's going on in Iraq.

Vanity Fair has a very disturbing story about massive fraud and war profiteering by Kellogg, Brown & Root, a former Halliburton subsidiary, including the nauseating tale of a container with rotting corpses being used to store ice for our soldiers. Read the whole story, if you dare.

Consider the case of Grayson's client Bud Conyers, a big, bearded 43-year-old who lives with his ex-wife and her nine children, four of them his, in Enid, Oklahoma. Conyers worked in Iraq as a driver for Kellogg, Brown & Root. Spun off by Halliburton as an independent concern in April, KBR is the world's fifth-largest construction company. Before the war started, the Pentagon awarded it two huge contracts: one, now terminated, to restore the Iraqi oil industry, and another, still in effect, to provide a wide array of logistical-support services to the U.S. military.

In the midday heat of June 16, 2003, Conyers was summoned to fix a broken refrigerated truck—a "reefer," in contractor parlance—at Log Base Seitz, on the edge of Baghdad's airport. He and his colleagues had barely begun to inspect the sealed trailer when they found themselves reeling from a nauseating stench. The freezer was powered by the engine, and only after they got it running again, several hours later, did they dare open the doors.

The trailer, unit number R-89, had been lying idle for two weeks, Conyers says, in temperatures that daily reached 120 degrees. "Inside, there were 15 human bodies," he recalls. "A lot of liquid stuff had just seeped out. There were body parts on the floor: eyes, fingers. The goo started seeping toward us. Boom! We shut the doors again." The corpses were Iraqis, who had been placed in the truck by a U.S. Army mortuary unit that was operating in the area. That evening, Conyers's colleague Wallace R. Wynia filed an official report: "On account of the heat the bodies were decomposing rapidly.... The inside of the trailer was awful."

It is not unheard of for trucks in a war zone to perform hearse duty. But both civilian and U.S.-military regulations state that once a trailer has been used to store corpses it can never again be loaded with food or drink intended for human consumption. According to the U.S. Army's Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, "Contact with whole or part human remains carries potential risks associated with pathogenic microbiological organisms that may be present in human blood and tissue." The diseases that may be communicated include aids,hepatitis, tuberculosis, septicemia, meningitis, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human variant of mad cow.

But when Bud Conyers next caught sight of trailer R-89, about a month later, it was packed not with human casualties but with bags of ice—ice that was going into drinks served to American troops. He took photographs, showing the ice bags, the trailer number, and the wooden decking, which appeared to be stained red. Another former KBR employee, James Logsdon, who now works as a police officer near Enid, says he first saw R-89 about a week after Conyers's grisly discovery. "You could still see a little bit of matter from the bodies, stuff that looked kind of pearly, and blood from the stomachs. It hadn't even been hosed down. Afterwards, I saw that truck in the P.W.C.—the public warehouse center—several times. There's nothing there except food and ice. It was backed up to a dock, being loaded."

As late as August 31, 11 weeks after trailer R-89 was emptied of the putrefying bodies, a KBR convoy commander named Jeff Allen filed a mission log stating that it had carried 5,000 pounds of ice that day. This ice, Allen wrote, was "bio-contaminated." But to his horror, on that day alone, "approx 1,800 pounds [were] used."

Conyers and Logsdon say that R-89 was not the only truck that was loaded with ice after being used as a mortuary. They attribute this state of affairs to a chronic shortage of trucks brought about by systemic failures in KBR's operation. The firm had purchased some 200 reefers in Iraq, but only a quarter of them worked. "We had crap-assed trucks they'd bought from local dealers," Logsdon says. "Often you'd be driving one they'd pieced together from several just to get it on the road." He and other former KBR workers say that even new vehicles, some of which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, often broke down because of an absence of affordable spare parts. Instead of paying to repair them, the company often burned disabled trucks in pits or by the side of the road. Conyers tried repeatedly to draw his superiors' attention to these and other alleged abuses, but to no avail. (In an e-mailed statement, KBR denied that it "did or does" order defective vehicles, adding that it disposes of equipment only with "the approval of designated Army personnel.")

Even more disgusting is that the Department of Justice would be trying to stonewall Grayson's investigations.


Anonymous said...

This is a tragedy as is the entire Iraq War. How degrading for the soldiers stationed there to be treated worse than animals! Thank you for sharing this story. Please continue to keep us informed.
Angela Wittman, media coordinator
Larry Kilgore for US Senate

Kyle said...

*rolls eyes*

The Union of these States is perpetual - the U.S. is a free country, for all religions - deal with it.

BruinKid said...

Oh wow... just checked Kilgore's site. The wingnuts are really coming out of the woodwork, aren't they?

Sorry, ma'am, but for your candidate to equate abortion to the Holocaust.... "despicable" is the nicest word I can think of to say about that.