War Profiteering and Corruption

A businesswoman in my home county of Lexington, South Carolina, pleaded guilty on August 16, 2007 to defrauding U.S. taxpayers of $20.5 million in shipping costs for Pentagon supplies. According to a front page story in The State newspaper, “Charlene Corley, 46, pleaded guilty to a nine-year fraud that included charging the Pentagon $998,798.38 for shipping two 19 cent bolt washers.”

The State reported Pentagon records showed that C&D Distributors, co-owned by Ms Corley and her sister Darlene Wooten, received $455,000 to ship three machine screws costing $1.31 each to Marines in Habbaniyah, Iraq. Ms. Wooten committed suicide in October, 2007 and Ms. Corley’s attorney contended Corley was a victim of her deceased sister’s activities, but federal prosecutors said Corley “knew the shipping costs, worked with local suppliers to get equipment for the Pentagon, corresponded with the Defense Department and was a contact on the computerized forms used to bid on the contracts.” Federal prosecutor Kevin McDonald said, “These twin sisters split the assets. Charlene Corley and Darlene Wooten equally shared in the proceeds of this fraud.” With the proceeds the sisters bought 4 beach houses; 3 Mercedes S and SL models; a 2007 BMW 550i; 5 slightly older Lexus models; a 23 foot outboard Suntracker boat; a 10 foot inboard Kawaski jet, and a vacation to Alaska.

The sisters followed a long tradition of war profiteering that has existed in human history and myth since biblical times. As children in Sunday school we studied Joshua and the battle of Jericho. God told Joshua to totally destroy the enemy. Joshua 6: 21 says, “…they [the forces of God led by Joshua] utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox, sheep and donkey, with the edge of a sword.” Then God’s forces burned the city and took the silver, gold, bronze and iron and put it in the “treasury of the house of the Lord”.

But Ms. Wooten have Corley and Ms. a present day role model for war profiteering. The booty of a war that put treasure in the pockets of Charlene Corley and Darlene Wooten has also enriched Vice-President Cheney, who, in his reelection win with George W. Bush in 2004, received better than 72% of the vote here in Lexington County.

Cheney personifies war profiteering. He slid through the revolving door connecting the public and private sectors of the defense establishment on two occasions in a career that has served his relentless quest for power and profits.

As Defense Secretary, Mr. Cheney commissioned a study for the U.S. Department of Defense by Brown and Root Services (now Kellogg, Brown and Root), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Halliburton. The study recommended that private firms like Halliburton take over logistical support programs for U.S. military operations around the world. Just two years after he was Secretary of Defense, Cheney stepped through the revolving door linking the Department of Defense with defense contractors and became CEO of Halliburton. Halliburton was the principal beneficiary of Cheney’s privatization efforts for our military’s logistical support and Cheney was paid $44 million for five year’s work before he slipped back through the revolving door of war profiteering to become Vice-President of the United States. When asked about the money he received from Halliburton, Cheney said. “I tell you that the government had absolutely nothing to do with it”

Before the Iraq War began, Halliburton was 19th on the U.S. Army’s list of top contractors and zoomed to number 1 in 2003. Cheney stated he had, “severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interests.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said that Cheney’s stock options in 2004 were worth $241,498 and were valued at more than $8 million in 2005– for an increase of 3,281%. Cheney has pledged to give the proceeds to charity. Cheney continues to receive a deferred salary from the company. He was paid $205,298 in 2001; $162,392 in 2002; $178,437 in 2003; and $194,852 in 2004.

I’ve lived in Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina where much of the economy depends on military bases and businesses that thrive on military activities. Since I was a child , I’ve heard folks say that when the economy gets shaky and unemployment rises, a war can put people back to work and make others rich.

Media have always abetted war profiteering with their tradition of romanticizing war because it sells papers, raises ratings, and makes profits for war-related businesses who advertise with them. Peace doesn’t make news for long. There are innumerable examples of media efforts to sell war. A well known one is newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, whose “Remember the Maine” jingoism manipulated public opinion to support the Spanish American War.

War profiteering causes corruption from Lexington County to the White House.

TOM TURNIPSEED is an attorney, writer and peace activist in Columbia, South Carolina www.turnipseed.net