Sunday, February 25, 2007

A federal indictment hits home

"A grand jury indicted three Army Reserve officers and two civilians Wednesday on charges they steered more than $8.6 million in Iraqi reconstruction funds to a contractor in exchange for kickbacks that included vehicles, jewelry and real estate."


I knew the three Army officers and one of the civilians named in an indictment issued in a federal court in New Jersey earlier this month. The Army officers worked with me at the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) South Central Office in south central Iraq from October 2003 until my departure in February 2004. The indictment alleges that Phillip Bloom, an American civilian contractor, paid money to the three officers in return for lucrative reconstruction contracts received and incomplete work overlooked.

The officers indicted were Colonel Curtis Whiteford, the Chief of Staff for the CPA office, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Wheeler and Major (now Lieutenant Colonel) Debra Harrison. All three officers are Army Reservists. Debra Harrison was in my Army Reserve unit, the 358th Civil Affairs Brigade, out of Norristown, Pa. Debra worked directly for me during this period and volunteered to stay behind in Al Hilla until June 2004. Since I departed at the end of February 2004, I was not present during much of the activities alleged in the indictment.

Two other members of the conspiracy who worked at the CPA office in Hilla have already plead guilty to charges and one has been sentenced to jail. Former Army reserve Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Hopfengardner plead guilty to the conspiracy last August and has yet to be sentenced. Robert Stein, who was a civilian employee of CPA, plead guilty and was sentenced last months to nine years in a federal prison.

I worked closely with all these individuals during the five months that I was at CPA Hilla. Not everyone there was a criminal. Not all of the Iraq reconstruction money was misspent. I am terribly saddened that I have to make these disclaimers but the information about Iraq and about this specific situation has been terribly distorted in the media. Kellogg, Brown and Root, better known in the New York Times and Washington Post as the scandal plagued, Cheney-supported KBR, kept me fed, watered and fueled in a combat zone for ten months, a not-inconsiderable feat.

I met a lot of KBR employees when I was in Iraq and they weren't thieves and criminals, like they are portrayed in any news report you can read when you Google "KBR" and "Iraq". They had tough jobs in Iraq, like we all did, and they don't deserve to be tainted by an association with KBR. But they will be.

I don't deserve to be tainted by my association with the criminals who inhabited the offices of the CPA South Central Office. The commissioned officers in the Army and other Americans who abused their good offices for personal gain. For an expensive watch or a car or an automatic weapon. They sold themselves so cheaply. I don't deserve to be associated with such people.

But I will be. And I can't do anything about it.

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