Fear of Clowns

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."
- H. L. Mencken
gozz@gozz.com

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Baghdad embassy slop job: way beyond poetic justice 

If only a fraction of this yarn holds weight it is enough to send anyone's head spinning regardless of what they think of the grand Iraq adventure. Allegedly, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, scheduled to be finished next month, has been built in the manner of a soundstage for a B-movie spaghetti western,

Ralph McNamara, the former [U.S. State Department] deputy assistant inspector general for investigations, said in an Associated Press interview Tuesday that he came forward with the allegations against his former boss because he was concerned that State Department employees would be at risk when working in the new embassy.

"A rocket - an unexploded munition - went through a portion of a cement ceiling there, and it was supposed to be an area able to withstand a direct hit from a missile that did explode," said McNamara. He said investigators wanted to look into charges that the walls were not built to the required thickness or concrete consistency, but they were blocked from pursuing it.

And, the story goes, the structure has been built in part by slave labor imported from the Philippines by a contractor, First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Co,

"I was given my flight information to Baghdad. At this time, First Kuwaiti managers asked me to escort 51 Filipino nationals to the Kuwaiti airport and make sure they got on the same flight that I was taking to Baghdad. Many of these Filipinos did not speak any English," [Rory James Mayberry, a former employee of First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Co] told US congressmen. "I wanted to help them make sure they got on their flight OK, just as my managers had asked. We were all employees of the same company after all.

"But when we got to the Kuwait airport, I noticed that all of our tickets said we were going to Dubai. I asked why? The Kuwaiti manager told me that because Filipino passports do not allow Filipinos to fly to Iraq, they must be marked as going to Dubai,"
Mayberry said.

Howard J. Krongard, the State Department's inspector general in charge of investigating the project, said that he conducted a "limited review" on the conditions of foreign laborers at the construction site in Baghdad and did not find reasons to substantiate the claims.

The Filipinos worked at the embassy construction site with laborers from India, Pakistan and Sierra Leone. Mayberry, who read Krongard's report. "It's not worth the paper it’s printed on. This is a cover-up. I'm glad that I have this opportunity to set the record straight," he told the committee. Mayberry said the workers were told they would be working in hotels in Dubai, not in Baghdad. According to him, the First Kuwaiti managers even instructed him specifically not to tell the Filipinos they were being taken to Baghdad. "As I found out later, these men thought they had signed up to work in Dubai hotels. One fellow I met told me in broken English that he was excited to start his new job as a telephone repair man. They had no idea they were being sent to do construction work on the US embassy," Mayberry said.

"Mr. Chairman, when the airplane took off and the captain announced that we were headed for Baghdad, all you-know-what broke lose on that airplane. People started shouting. It wasn't until a security guy working for First Kuwaiti waved an MP-5 in the air that people settled down," he said, addressing Rep. Henry A. Waxman, chairman of the oversight committee.

And what's a scandal these days without a healthy dose of Bush-loyalist political cronyism,

[U.S. State Department Inspector General Howard J.] Krongard looked into it.

Only he had a peculiar method, according to Waxman's investigation. First, he insisted on doing the report entirely by himself and shut out his staff. And instead of seeking out the source of the allegations, he allowed the contractor to choose the employees that he'd interview. He ultimately interviewed six employees.

The result? Krongard declared that he found no evidence of human trafficking.

But when Waxman sought the investigative materials that Krongard had generated in the course of his probing investigation, Krongard only turned over 20 pages total (after a subpoena from Waxman). Of those 20 pages, only six of them were Krongard's own work product -- sketchy handwritten notes from his interviews with the contractor's handpicked witnesses.

The Justice Department has since launched an investigation.

Anticipated wing-nut response: That we didn't build our embassy to last is proof we have no long-term intentions to stay in Iraq.

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