Rancho Notorious Meets the Pentagon: Halliburton Shoots U. S. Army in the Face

Unnamed Pentagon officials (wonder who?) rode roughshod over Army auditors and paid Halliburton for charges that were initially rejected by auditors as gross overbilling and mismanagement. I guess it's time for the U.S. Army to apologize to the Vice President, isn't it? [note UPDATES below]

The New York Times and others report that although "questionable business practices ... had in some cases driven up the company's costs," unspecified Army officials had determined that "it had largely done as well as could be expected" and it would be paid nearly all the disputed amount.

For example, the Times reports that "the fuel transportation costs that the company was charging the Army were in some cases nearly triple what others were charging to do the same job." This is war profiteering, and it takes money away from where it's needed: to protect our soldiers in the field and heal them when they're wounded.

This is the same military, you will recall, that is trying to reject post-traumatic medical claims to lower its health expenses, has failed to provide adequate body armor, and is planning to give our troops the lowest salary increase since 1994.

Once again, the rules were bent for Cheney's friends. The co-director of the postconflict reconstruction project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington called the decision "ridiculous," and the Times reports that other Pentagon audits were handled very differently. In cases that do not involve companies formerly owned by the Vice President, the military withheld fees for Iraq contacts at annual averages that ranged from 56% to 72% since 2003.

And make no mistake about it: Cheney will profit personally. He was lying to the American public on "Meet The Press" in 2003 when he said:

"And since I left Halliburton to become George Bush's vice president, I've severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interest. I have no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind and haven't had, now, for over three years."

He continues to receive "deferred salary" from the company and, more importantly, holds extensive unexercised stock options - 433,000 shares that have increased in value now that the company has evaded major penalty or prosecution.

(NOTE: I am willing to retract the above statement based on additional information provided by a commenter. See UPDATE, below.)

Katherine Armstrong's mother Anne was on the Board of Directors of Halliburton when they decided to appoint Cheney to be CEO. It is highly possible that the Armstrong family still holds Halliburton shares. That might explain why Katherine was willing to file a police statement that now looks like it might be false - "there was no alcohol involved," she says in the report - based on her (and Cheney's) subsequent admissions that drinking had in fact taken place.

(And by the way - the police reports released last week did not include a statement from Cheney. If he also gave a statement indicating there had been no drinking, isn't it possible that an impeachable offense occurred? Not slandering, just asking: Where's the Cheney police statement?)

There should be an immediate investigation into whether Dick Cheney was involved in the decision to over-ride Army auditors, and into whether Halliburton committed any crimes in its handling of Iraq contracts. A special prosecutor would be appropriate, perhaps one with a broad enough mandate to investigate other possible Cheney acts.

But, of course, Cheney is absolutely innocent in this whole matter. Those Army auditors who discovered Halliburton's malfeasance forgot to "announce their presence" as they approached the scene of the crime. They should've kept their heads low.

UPDATE: I followed the link to FactCheck.org provided below. While their work has not always been flawless, their analysis of Cheney's financial interests regarding Halliburton seems precise and thorough. I am therefore willing to withdraw my statement that Cheney was lying and will benefit personally from Halliburton's financial performance.

Factcheck.org also cites a Congressional Research Office study which says that it is "unclear" whether an official in Cheney's position would, in Factcheck's words, "theoretically remove a potential conflict," although they take issue with that finding.

Based on the above, I am willing to stand corrected, although I would still like to see an investigation into the irregular manner in which the Halliburton contract was handled. Am I embarrassed? No. On the contrary, I hope this will be an example for the commentators and journalists who are too often willing to let mis-statements of fact go uncorrected rather than expose themselves to mild criticism or embarrassment. Errata used to be an accepted part of the public discourse, and should be again.

Mr. Russert, Mr. Matthews - are you listening?