Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Here's Why We Need a Truman Committee

I hate to write about something that's going to upset people so early in the morning, but how can anyone stomach the incompetence and the greed and the corruption of the political appointees of the Bush Administration?

A House investigative committee has learned that the American ambassador to Albania knew evidence of Chinese origins was being removed last year from an ammunition shipment before a U.S. contractor sent the material to Afghanistan, said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the panel.

This month, Maj. Larry Harrison, a Pentagon official at the U.S. Embassy in Albania, told staff members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Ambassador John L. Withers II held a late-night meeting with Albania's defense minister. After the Nov. 19 meeting, the order was given to Albanian officers "to remove all evidence of Chinese packaging" from the ammunition, Waxman said in a letter sent yesterday to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In a June 9 appearance, Harrison told the committee that "the ambassador agreed that this would alleviate the suspicion of wrongdoing," Waxman wrote. Harrison also said "that he did not agree with the decision to remove the Chinese markings," Waxman said.

A federal grand jury on Friday indicted Efraim E. Diveroli, president of AEY Inc., the U.S. company involved, on 71 counts, including conspiracy to defraud the government on a $298 million U.S. Army contract to provide various types of ammunition to the government of Afghanistan.

Where do you start with something like that?

I hope Major Harrison's career doesn't come to an end because of this incident. Rarely does the person who speaks up and blows the whistle on the Bush Administration and their political appointees emerge unscathed from the act of thwarting their political goals and their rampant greed. Someone will likely take action against Harrison's career, and that's why we are seeing a military that is hollowed out, staffed with yes-men, and overrun by the God-boys who invite crazies to come to the Pentagon and give them briefings.

No matter how you look at this story, what emerges is a troubling incident of corruption and greed:

On March 27, The New York Times published an article that said Albanian documents showed that the Miami company had bought more than 100 million Chinese cartridges that were stored for decades in former cold war stockpiles.

Mr. Diveroli arranged to have them repacked in cardboard boxes, many of which split or decomposed after shipment to the war zones, according to the article. Different lots or types of ammunition were mixed. In some cases the ammunition was dirty, corroded or covered with a film.

The repackaging operation, carried out by an AEY subcontractor at the Rinas Airport in Tirana, has become the focus of the Congressional investigation.

According to the transcript excerpts released by the committee, Major Harrison told investigators that he did not agree with the decision to hide the boxes from the reporter, and said that he felt “very uncomfortable” during the meeting.

Major Harrison, who as the chief of the embassy’s office of defense cooperation was responsible for helping American efforts to train, equip and modernize Albania’s military, said that his suggestion to bar the reporter from visiting the Albania base was rejected.

In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the committee’s chairman, Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, said Monday that there were signs that embassy officials in Tirana tried to cover up the November meeting once Mr. Waxman’s staff began an investigation into the arms company. The letter said the committee would seek to interview Mr. Withers and other embassy personnel.

This is the kind of thing that sets off warning bells. When Major Harrison realized what sort of ground he was standing on, he immediately took steps to protect himself--perhaps he already was savvy to how the Bush Administration treats people who get between them and their money:

After his hour-long interview, Harrison "expressed an interest in seeking advice of counsel" and a Pentagon attorney terminated the session, Waxman wrote. Three days later, Harrison's lawyer told the committee he needed at least two weeks to prepare for continuing the interview.

Waxman charged in his letter that "it appears" embassy officials kept from the committee information related to the ambassador's meeting in Albania. Harrison told the panel that he had "urged embassy officials to inform the committee," Waxman wrote, but embassy officials did not mention it in response to a prior request for information.

All this, so a few corrupt officials in Albania could dump Cold War-era ammunition into the hands of some Club-hopping trash from Florida, who could then make millions re-packaging it and sending it to the Middle East.

Perhaps the death penalty for war profiteers isn't harsh enough.

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