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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, November 03, 2006

GOP Congress secretly eliminates anti-corruption investigative agency in Iraq

(updated below)

Matt Taibbi's superb cover article in this month's Rolling Stone is entitled "The Worst Congress Ever," and it details the corruption, sleaze, bloated hubris, and undemocratic power structure which drives every crevice of that tragically worthless institution. The article is so well-documented and the abuses it chronicles are so severe that it will astonish even the most cynical and hardened critic of corrupt one-party Republican rule.

As Taibbi documents, even the most significant bills are voted on with no debate or even time to read the bills. Worse, after the bills are approved by both houses, even their most central provisions are drastically changed and agreed to in secret "conference" by a small handful of Republican Congressional leaders, with no input from anyone other than their favored industry lobbyists. They go out of their way to avoid any oversight of any kind of the activities of the executive branch, and most of the time, they literally have no idea what they're voting on. It is difficult to summarize how broken and corrupt the Congress has become.

Anyone who has read Taibbi's exposé will not be surprised in the slightest by this astounding article in The New York Times today, concerning a relatively aggressive fraud-prevention agency in Iraq designed to uncover corruption in how U.S. government contracts are being obtained and how American money is spent over there. The agency, headed by a conscientious Republican lawyer who seems to take his job seriously, has had some real success in uncovering serious fraud:

Investigations led by a Republican lawyer named Stuart W. Bowen Jr. in Iraq sent American occupation officials to jail on bribery and conspiracy charges, exposed disastrously poor construction work by well-connected companies like Halliburton and Parsons, and discovered that the military did not properly track hundreds of thousands of weapons it shipped to Iraqi security forces.

But unbeknownst to virtually everyone outside of a tiny number of Congressional Republicans, a provision was surreptitiously inserted into the sprawling military authorization bill signed into law two weeks ago by the President that simply abolished Bowen's office:

And tucked away in a huge military authorization bill that President Bush signed two weeks ago is what some of Mr. Bowen’s supporters believe is his reward for repeatedly embarrassing the administration: a pink slip.

The order comes in the form of an obscure provision that terminates his federal oversight agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, on Oct. 1, 2007. The clause was inserted by the Republican side of the House Armed Services Committee over the objections of Democratic counterparts during a closed-door conference, and it has generated surprise and some outrage among lawmakers who say they had no idea it was in the final legislation.

This is how the Congress works. They prepare huge bills that nobody has time to read before voting on, they allow virtually no debate on these bills, and they have no idea what is even in the bills when they vote. Even when the House and Senate vote on bills, they are often dramatically changed by a handful of Republicans who secretly meet in "conference." As a result, not only was this provision totally unknown to most of the members who voted on it, even now they can't figure out who is responsible for its insertion. Nobody knows how it got put in:

Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who followed the bill closely as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, says that she still does not know how the provision made its way into what is called the conference report, which reconciles differences between House and Senate versions of a bill.

Neither the House nor the Senate version contained such a termination clause before the conference, all involved agree.

“It’s truly a mystery to me,” Ms. Collins said. “I looked at what I thought was the final version of the conference report and that provision was not in at that time.”

“The one thing I can confirm is that this was a last-minute insertion,” she said.

Whoever was responsible for the magic appearance of this provision was obviously interested in blocking further investigations into how contracts in Iraq have been awarded, what has been done with the $8 billion per month we are spending of American' money to stay there, and who has their hands in all of those decisions. That has long been one of the festering sores the administration (with the active help of its compliant Congress) has desperately concealed.

A Democratic takeover of the House is the one thing that can ensure that Americans will learn of what has been done. I have no doubt that Henry Waxman has his subpoenas ready and dreams at night of the hearings he wants to hold on this issue:

“It appears to me that the administration wants to silence the messenger that is giving us information about waste and fraud in Iraq,” said Representative Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat who is the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Government Reform.

“I just can’t see how one can look at this change without believing it’s political,” he said.

One of the very few things that has worked in Iraq is this office to uncover at least a tiny fraction of the fraud and theft perpetrated against this country by stealing corporations and their lobbyists and Congressional enablers. Thus, Republicans in Congress eliminated the office. And they did it deceitfully and in secret, by inserting it into a huge bill that was voted on with no time to detect it. And now none of them will admit responsibility for what they've done.

That is as good a snapshot as any of the incomparably destructive one-party Republican rule to which we have been subjected. This small story has virtually every element of how they function.

UPDATE: As KagroX points out in Comments, the Times article says that even though "Senators Collins and [John] Warner said they had nothing more than hunches on where the impetus for setting a termination date had originated," it seems that "the termination language was inserted into the bill by Congressional staff members working for Duncan Hunter, the California Republican who is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and who declared on Monday that he plans to run for president in 2008."

As Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Hunter is one of the largest beneficiaries of contributions from the very defense contractors who are the target of the investigative agency his staff secretly caused to be abolished. As the Times reports: "Three of the companies that have been a particular focus of Mr. Bowen’s investigations [are] Halliburton, Parsons and Bechtel . . . ."

That may seem incriminating at first glance, but it's really all just a big coincidence: "Mr. Holly, who is the House Armed Services spokesman as well as a member of Mr. Hunter’s staff, said that politics played no role and that there had been no direction from the administration or lobbying from the companies whose work in Iraq Mr. Bowen’s office has severely critiqued."

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