Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers Brave New Films
Directed by Robert Greenwald
Reviewed by Susan Brooks
Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers is a documentary by Robert Greenwald (previously known for his retail exposé Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices). The film chronicles the impacts of war profiteering in Iraq by private companies on employees and their families, United States taxpayers and soldiers, and Iraqi citizens. Innovatively distributed, this movie is getting only a limited theatrical release but is also being provided in DVD format for nominal fees to those interested in hosting their own screenings. The documentary is being shown so far mostly by religious groups and political action organizations, and this reviewer attended a screening at St. Michael and All Angels, a socially progressive Episcopal church in Studio City, California.
The film opens with the carnage in Fallujah in 2004, when employees of US private security firm Blackwater were killed by Iraqi insurgents and their bodies horrifically displayed by hanging on a bridge. Their armed but unarmored convoy was attacked with rocket launchers and the men were burned and mutilated when mobs dragged them from their vehicles. The families of the victims have sued Blackwater, alleging that the employer failed to provide proper equipment, maps and staffing reportedly there were two fewer personnel in the party than required by the safety regulations specified in the contract, leaving the vital spot of machine gun operator unmanned. Another company called on the carpet here by accusations of impropriety is CACI, the firm which supplied interrogation ‘support’ to the Abu Ghraib prison where acts of torture were well-documented. The soldiers involved went to jail but CACI walked off with no charges because contractor oversight rules rendered them completely unaccountable.
Besides the morally indefensible acts of putting employees, and clients, in harm’s way by allocating insufficient resources to protect them in order to preserve profits, and the torturing of military prisoners by civilian contractors, there is the issue of misappropriation of public money. Whether one is liberal or conservative, the misuse of taxpayer funds to enrich private interests at the expense of citizens should anger everyone who is taxed, because it is their money. The film makes the excellent point that especially those of a politically conservative bent should be outraged by the wasteful awarding of no-bid contracts by the government. Such larded deals guarantee the circumvention of the conservative cornerstone of free market competition. Human nature being what it is, the motivation of rivalry for spoils is necessary for many to perform work at all, let alone of an acceptable level of professionalism to deserve multimillions in compensation. Halliburton stands accused of dire negligence in their sole-provider contract to purify water used by the GI’s in Iraq their own employees alleged that water systems set up by the firm for the armed forces were unchlorinated and contaminated. The company also reportedly overcharged the government by at least $1 billion US by means of fantastical billing, and in a war at least partly about control of dwindling oil reserves, Halliburton executives in Iraq drove gas-guzzling Hummers. Halliburton was once helmed by Vice President Dick Cheney (who insists he has no conflict of interest) and the corporation has continued to be awarded sweet deals in Iraq even while under investigation.
In a spirited discussion after the film, attendees touched on related issues including siphoning of cash to an unpopular war when Americans desperately need the money (witness last year’s hurricane devastation as only one pressing domestic problem), the power of corporate America in general, and the escalating lack of accountability at the highest levels of influence. This film got people talking about what’s going wrong and what to do about it. That’s democracy in action, grown from ethical conscience and political consciousness in a country that is one of the first great social experiments. Debate and discussion are the first steps of political will, the impetus to action. Voting is a right, but moral responsibility is a duty owed not just to one country but to the world, and it requires the examination of personal motives and those of national representatives, whether elected or appointed by contract. The world is too small now for rampant exploitation not to have global consequences. Allowing self-interested crazies to reap obscene profits by creating and prolonging conflict in an unstable region is not a sane or sustainable public policy.
More information about the film can be found here: http://iraqforsale.org/