Saturday, July 26, 2008

FL-08: "We'll put people in prison."

In Florida's 8th Congressional District, attorney Alan Grayson is running to unseat incumbent Ric Keller (R), who has just broken his term limits pledge of four terms (he first won election to Congress in 2000).

Grayson is known for prosecuting Iraq contractors like Halliburton and KBR for war profiteering on behalf of their whistleblowers. In March 2006 he won a $10 million jury verdict against Custer Battles LLC for defrauding the government. As a result, Taxpayers Against Fraud named him their Lawyer of the Year for 2006.

Vanity Fair did a powerful story last year about his battle with KBR called The People vs. the Profiteers. It's a horrendous look at what KBR did to our troops. Warning: Do NOT read the following if you've just eaten.

His obvious adversaries are the contracting corporations themselves—especially Halliburton, the giant oil-services conglomerate where Vice President Dick Cheney spent the latter half of the 1990s as C.E.O., and its former subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root, now known simply as KBR. But he says his efforts to take on those organizations have earned him another enemy: the United States Department of Justice.

Over the past 16 years, Grayson has litigated dozens of cases of contractor fraud. In many of these, he has found the Justice Department to be an ally in exposing wrongdoing. But in cases that involve the Iraq war, the D.O.J. has taken extraordinary steps to stand in his way. Behind its machinations, he believes, is a scandal of epic proportions—one that may come to haunt the legacy of the Bush administration long after it is gone.

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. ....

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."


Like many of KBR's employees, Conyers was risking his life on the job, which paid about $7,000 a month. He had already lost half a leg in an accident—coincidentally, while working for Halliburton—in 1990. Twice, in August and October 2003, his convoy was hit by roadside bombs, and although he was not seriously injured, his prosthetic leg was damaged. A third attack caused swelling and infection, making it impossible to wear the prosthesis. Then, three days after Christmas of 2003, about three months after he'd reported the contaminated ice, he was fired. His superiors accused him of refusing to work, an allegation he denies. Conyers says he had already been warned by KBR management that he was "not a team player," and he believes that the real reason for his dismissal was his refusal to keep quiet. Along with his job went his health insurance. Now confined to a wheelchair, he is still unable to work.

This is what Grayson is up against. He was also featured in Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone cover story The Great Iraq Swindle last year on war profiteering.

Open Left's Matt Stoller got a good interview with Grayson at last week's Netroots Nation (which was AWESOME, by the way).

Now, check this out. This is Grayson's new TV ad that's making waves across the Internet.

Grayson is also, of course, one of the good Democratic challengers when it comes to FISA and the Fourth Amendment. You know Grayson is going to stand up for the rule of law in Congress. If you want to see him in Congress, you can help contribute to his campaign.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008