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  The Case of the Missing $21 Billion
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COMMENTARY:

The Case of the Missing $21 Billion

Who's Following the Iraq Money?

By DAVE LINDORFF
...more than $9 billion that has gone missing without a trace in Iraq--as well as $12 billion in cash that the Pentagon flew into Iraq straight from Federal Reserve vaults via military transports
During the days of the Nixon Watergate scandal investigation, reporter Bob Woodword was famously advised by his mysterious source, Deep Throat, to "follow the money" as a way of cracking the story.

Well, there is a lot of money to follow in the current scandal that can be best described as the Bush/Cheney administration, and so far, nobody's doing it.

My bet for the place that needs the most following is the more than $9 billion that has gone missing without a trace in Iraq--as well as $12 billion in cash that the Pentagon flew into Iraq straight from Federal Reserve vaults via military transports, and for which there has been little or no accounting.

As word of massive corruption began to surface in 2003, Congress passed legislation creating an office of Inspector General, assuming that this new agency would monitor the spending on the occupation and reconstruction, and figure why all so much taxpayer money was disappearing, and why only minimal reconstruction was going on in destroyed Iraq, instead of a massive rebuilding program as intended. Bush named an old friend and supporter, Stuart Bowen, to the post--a move that should have put Congress on alert, given this administration's long history of putting cronies in positions of authority.

When the Coalition Provisional Authority was terminated in late 2004, with corruption still rampant and growing, Congress redefined Bowen's position as Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

Bowen, went to work. He uncovered some corruption in a report in early 2006 that sounded scathing enough. Bowen found cases of double billing by contractors, of payments for work that was never done, and other scandals. But he never came up with more than $1 billion or so worth of problems--a small fraction of the total amount of money that was vanishing.

Now we know why so little was done.

It turns out that Bowen was never really looking very hard.

One of the laws the president chose to ignore with a 'signing statement' was the one establishing the inspector general post for Iraq, saying that the new inspector general would have no authority to investigate any contracts or corruption issues involving the Pentagon.
When the Boston Globe, this past April, broke the story that President Bush has been quietly setting aside over 750 acts passed by Congress, claiming he has the authority as "unitary executive" and as commander in chief to ignore such laws, it turned out that one of the laws the president chose to ignore was the one establishing the inspector general post for Iraq. What the president did was write a so-called signing statement on the side (unpublicized of course--though it was quietly posted on the White House website), saying that the new inspector general would have no authority to investigate any contracts or corruption issues involving the Pentagon.

As the signing statement puts it:
Title III of the Act creates an Inspector General (IG) of the CPA. Title III shall be construed in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authorities to conduct the Nation's foreign affairs, to supervise the unitary executive branch, and as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. The CPA IG shall refrain from initiating, carrying out, or completing an audit or investigation, or from issuing a subpoena, which requires access to sensitive operation plans, intelligence matters, counterintelligence matters, ongoing criminal investigations by other administrative units of the Department of Defense related to national security, or other matters the disclosure of which would constitute a serious threat to national security.
Well, since most of the missing money has been going to or through the military in Iraq, and since the president can define just about anything having to do with Iraq as "national security," that pretty much meant nothing of consequence would be discovered by the inspector general in Iraq.

Bowen simply never mentioned to anyone that he was not doing the job that Congress had intended.
You might think that the inspector general himself would have complained about such a restriction on his authority to do the job that Congress had intended, but this is a man who has a long history of working as a loyal manservant to the president. Bowen was a deputy general counsel for Governor Bush (meaning he was an assistant to the ever solicitous solicitor Alberto Gonzales). He did yeoman service to Bush as a member of the team that handled the famous vote count atrocity in Florida in the November 2000 election, making sure every vote wasn't counted, and then worked under Gonzales again in the White House during Bush's first term, before returning briefly to private practice.

Bowen simply never mentioned to anyone that, courtesy of an unconstitutional order from the president, he was not doing the job that Congress had intended.

...when the inspector general of the Pentagon was asked why the Pentagon had no audit team in Iraq to look for fraud he cleverly replied that such a team was "not needed" because Congress had set up the special inspector general unit (Bowen) to do that.
The deception was far-reaching. When Thomas Gimble, the acting inspector general of the Pentagon, was asked in 2005 during a congressional hearing by Christopher Shays (R-CT), chair of the House government reform subcommittee, why the Pentagon had no audit team in Iraq to look for fraud, the facile Gimble replied that such a team was "not needed" because Congress had set up the special inspector general unit to do that. He conveniently didn't mention that the president had barred the special inspector general from investigating Pentagon scandals.

This would all be pretty funny except for two things.

First of all, Americans and Iraqis are dying in droves because of the chaos that the U.S. invasion and occupation have created in Iraq--a problem that that $9 billion in missing Congressionally allocated funds, and the bales of US dollars, were supposed to have solved.

Second, and I admit this is pretty speculative on my part, money being like water, it tends to flow to the lowest level, which, from a moral and ethical standpoint, would be the Bush/Cheney administration and the Republican Party machine that put them, and the do-nothing Congress that covers up for them, into office.

My guess is that a fair piece of those many billions of dollars is sloshing around back in the U.S. paying for things like Republican Party electoral dirty tricks, vote theft, bribing of Democratic members of Congress, and god knows what else.

If this seems far-fetched to anyone, remember that this administration has included a number of people who were linked to the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal, when the creative--and criminal--idea was conceived of secretly selling Pentagon stocks of shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, and using the proceeds to secretly fund the U.S.-trained and organized Contra fighters who were fighting to topple the Sandinista government in Nicaragua (Congress had inconveniently banned any U.S. aid to the Contras).

It seems to me inconceivable that this corrupt and obsessively power-mad administration would have passed up an opportunity to get its hands on some of the easy money flowing into Iraq over the course of the last three years.

Given all this, it seems almost unfathomable that Democratic Party leaders would be insisting that there would be no impeachment hearings in Congress if Democrats were to succeed in winning back Congress this November.
Given all this, it seems almost unfathomable that Democratic Party leaders would be insisting, as have Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, that there would be no impeachment hearings in Congress if Democrats were to succeed in winning back Congress this November.

What better way to follow that money than an old-fashioned impeachment hearing into why the president unconstitutionally subverted the intent of Congress in establishing an office of special inspector general for corruption in Iraq?
Republished in the Chronicle with permission of the author.

Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled This Can't be Happening! is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff's new book is The Case for Impeachment, co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.


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This story was published on June 8, 2006.
 

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