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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Corporatizing the Pentagon

Remarkable what digital cameras can do. The photos of low level prisoners being abused and humiliated by both U.S. troops and private contractors in an Iraqi prison are the beginning of what Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) called “the worst is yet to come.” The Senator warned Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, at a Senate Hearing on May 7, 2004, that he doesn’t want to see just Sergeants and Privates punished with the higher-ups getting away.

The higher-ups are not just military brass; they include private corporate contractors who are so embedded in the military operations in Iraq that it is increasingly difficult to tell the difference. Contractors were involved in the interrogation of the prisoners in that notorious Saddam-era jail near Baghdad.

About twenty thousand employees of the Halliburtons and hundreds of other companies are feeding the troops, guarding installations, managing logistics, and in some cases even doing the fighting. Blackwater Security Consulting, for example, was engaged in full-scale battle in Najaf, with its helicopters involved in a firefight while resupplying its own commandos.

These growing military theatre contractors are now forming their own lobby to represent their interests before Congress. Their interests are clearly not Peace. The profits are in War and the more War, the more profits.

What’s wrong with corporatizing more and more of the Pentagon’s functions? Don’t the corporate members of the military-industrial complex, as President Eisenhower called them in his famous farewell warning to Americans, already have plenty of power? Yes, they do, as illustrated in halfof our federal government’s operating budget going for military expenditures in a world where we no longer have a major state enemy. But this encroachment (another Eisenhower description) moves deeply into an operational dimension without adequate laws or disclosure for accountability. Nobody elected these mercenaries to perform governmental missions.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 called the control of government by private power “fascism.” He probably never envisioned such control would be so embedded as to constitute a virtual merger of corporate power over government power.

Here is what is happening. Without letting the American people know what is going on in recent years, the corporatists, who fund both major Parties, have been turning more and more essential governmental functions into business deals. More and more, the corporations are not just controlling our government, they literally are running it. Years ago, it was disclosed that even the speeches for the Secretary of Energy were being written by private consulting firms.

In addition to secrecy and lack of accountability, these corporate contractors are costing you taxpayers a bundle, while some of these companies move to tax havens like Bermuda. Pentagon contractors have told me that it cost you $120,000 for a corporate cook to do a six month tour of duty in Iraq to feed the Army troops. Some of you old army hands know how much less Army cooks used to make to give you the nutrition.

How about one corporate dog handler and a team of dogs to sniff out road mines — a dangerous mission to be sure? Well, that goes for $666,000 for a six month tour of duty with the trained dog handler making $200,000 of that sum.

We read about these tens of millions and billion dollar corporate contracts being announced in the press. We almost never read about howthese contracts break down. Why the secrecy? Well the disclosure in the Eighties of the $435 claw hammer sparked public outrage about the waste when such a hammer cost $10 or $12 in a hardware store. (For obvious reasons, the Pentagon contractor felt the need to describe this simple claw hammer as a “uni-directional impact generator”). That’s why the secrecy. These companies and their Washington buddies don’t want the people to know.

There is another consequence to contracting out Pentagon operators to private corporations. It is causing a brain drain and a skills drain from the Department of Defense. Why stay in the Army, Navy, Airforce and Marines when you can double, triple or quadruple your pay by moving over to these companies and do the same job.

It is way overdue for a major Congressional hearing on what Peter Singer called his new book “Corporate Warriors.” It is time for the media to become specifically interested in the details of these deals and these policy implications, and demand more disclosure of these government contracts.

Even George W. Bush’s first director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mitchell Daniels, favored suitably redacted placement of all government contracts on the government’s Internet. The Pentagon developed the Internet. It is time they used it for the taxpayers who are funding this increasingly outsourced Department.