The Naked Truth

Stopping the world’s spin.

Making a Killing

Companies that operate internationally may say that peace is conducive to prosperity, that people don’t go shopping in a war zone. But, according to journalist Thomas Friedman, “McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15.’s” While Iraq waits for fighter jets to make way for fast food chains, private armies police a fortified ‘green zone’ where corporations meet to seal the lucrative deals made possible because of the war. Transport, health, education and other services central to building a solid sustainable democracy are up for grabs to the highest bidder, predominantly businesses from countries who took part in the war.

NYSE

Most of the contract awarded to international companies operating within Iraq have been given on a ‘cost-plus’ basis, in its simplest form this means profits are calculated as a percentage of expenses. The more money a contractor spends on the contract, the more profit they make, leaving the contracts open to massive abuse.

The company that has profited most from the invasion of Iraq is U.S. vice president Dick Cheney’s former firm, Halliburton, now with contracts worth over $10 billion. The company is currently the subject of multiple criminal investigations into overcharging and kickbacks, much of which is related to their abuse of cost-plus contracts. Overcharging by the company has run from ordering specially embroidered towels to charging extortionate prices for petrol.

The demand for security services to protect foreign corporations operating in Iraq, and the growing trend for outsourcing of military services to private contractors, has provided a bonanza for private military companies, this has seen UK private security companies annual revenue increasefrom £200 million before the war to over £1.8 billion now. Unlike military personnel, civilian contractors are not subject to military justice. Yet one of the most controversial measures introduced by the occupying forces in Iraq was Order 17, which granted all foreign contractors immunity from Iraqi law. This is now been challenged by the Iraqi parliament following the Blackwater scandal .

Blackwater

A US government review of operations in Iraq concluded that approximately 35% of the interrogation personnel provided by private contractors were not properly trained, and that a lack of sufficient oversight resulted in contractors believing that the techniques used in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal were acceptable. While the US soldiers involved in the Abu Ghraib abuse were quickly court marshalled, civilian contractors implicated in the abuse have not yet been subject to any government prosecution.

Iraq is only the beginning of a worldwide corporate carve-up. Whether it’s diamonds in Sierra Leone, oil in Angola, copper in Papua New Guinea, gold, coltan and diamonds in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or timber in Liberia, natural resources from conflict zones are being fed into international supply chains dominated by multinational corporations. The money the corporations spend is in turn fuelling the conflicts.

Multinationals operate in conflict zones alongside enormous poverty and suffering and do very nicely from it. Issues of human rights are largely ignored.

In Colombia, BP p.l.c. operates the country’s largest oil reserves in the war-torn region of Casanare. Media reports in the 1990s highlighted BP’s involvement with Colombian military units accused of human rights violations. More recently, human rights groups from around the world have interviewed hundreds of Colombians that had been involved in protests against BP and found many too scared to leave their homes.

In Palestine, Israel’s military forces use specially armoured bulldozers made by Caterpillar to demolish Palestinian homes and to build the Separation Wall declared illegal by the International Court of Justice. Jim Owens, Caterpillar’s CEO, reckons that his firm are “doing well by ‘doing good’ all around the world”. UN Special Rapporteur Jean Zeigler has called Caterpillar to account over the role played by their machines in the violation of Palestinians’ rights.

source: Jason Brown, cerebralblackhole.com

Update

British firms have also been operating in Iraq. After courting controversy in the Nineties, Tim Spicer – whose previous company, Sandline International, was accused of breaking a United Nations embargo by selling arms to Sierra Leone – has re-emerged as a powerful player with his latest venture, Aegis Defence Services. Aegis won a $293m Pentagon contract in 2004, which has since been extended, and employs more than 1,000 contractors in the country. Another British company, Global Strategies, which calls itself a “political and security risk-management company”, employs cheaper Fijian contractors for its Iraq operations. And another firm, ArmorGroup, chaired by the former British foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, was getting half its revenues from Iraq. It carried out convoy protection at rates estimated at between $8,000 and $12,000 a day, and helped to guard polling stations during the country’s elections.

The connections between Halliburton and the Bush administration helped to generate $16 billion in contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan in the three years from the start of 2004 – nine times as much as any other company. Halliburton decided last year to spin off the division operating in Iraq. That business, KBR, has generated half its revenues there each year since the invasion, providing private security to the military and infrastructure projects and advising on the rebuilding of the country’s oil industry.

(via indepentent.co.uk)

March 17, 2008 Posted by | Profits | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US drops China from worst human rights list

The United States has dropped China from its list of the world’s worst human rights violators, offering the communist giant a propaganda coup ahead of the Beijing Olympics. The US State Department’s Human Rights Report for 2007 removed China from the same category as countries such as North Korea, Iran and Burma.

tibetprotest.jpg

No reason was given, but China has been a partner in talks with Washington to remove nuclear plant from North Korea. Beijing’s staging of this summer’s Games has raised hopes that it will improve its human rights record.

The government is concerned that the event will be used by activists, and athletes, to criticise China over its treatment of Tibet, its support for the Sudan regime and other areas of concern.

However, the report acknowledged that China’s “overall human rights record remained poor”. It described alleged torture, including the use of electric shocks and beatings. There is an account of a prisoner strapped to a “tiger bench”, which forces the legs to bend, sometimes until they break. It also notes claims that people were forced from their homes to make way for Olympic projects in Beijing.

Syria, Uzbekistan and Sudan have been added to the list, with Zimbabwe, Cuba, Belarus and Eritrea completing the top 10.

March 17, 2008 Posted by | china | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why the U.S. is in Afghanistan, the Hidden Agenda

The media and the Bush administration states that this is a war on terror, to capture Osama bin Laden, destroy al-Qaeda, and remove the Taliban regime. Is this the complete truth?

Bin Laden opened the way for the military might of the U.S. to be committed to make the Caspian Sea and Central Asian region safe for the U.S. led oil and gas pipelines. There is a great battle between Russia, the United States, China, Iran and the European companies, for control of the vast oil and gas resources, estimated at $4 trillion by US News and World Report. Afghanistan’s significance stems from its geographic position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes proposed U.S. led multi-billion dollar oil and gas export pipelines through Afghanistan to Pakistan and down to the Arabian Sea. The problem with existing and proposed routes, across northern Russia, or to ports on the Black Sea, or under the Caspian Sea and down to Turkey, is that they all lead to European markets. Further, the facilities are by and large under the control of Russia. Of course, the corporate-controlled U.S. media giants don’t ever report any of this.

Caspian Sea pipelines

The advantages of the Afghanistan route is that it would terminate in the Arabian Sea, which is much closer than the Persian Gulf or northern China to key Asian markets, where demand is high. The proposed pipeline would be beneficial to Central Asian countries because it would allow them to sell their oil in expanding and highly prospective Asian markets. The pipeline would benefit Afghanistan, which would receive revenues from transport tariffs. On a regional level, the pipeline would promote stability and encourage trade and economic development between South Asia and Central Asia. Finally, because of the combination of short pipeline distance and the relatively low cost of tankerage, this southern route will result in the most competitive export route to the Asian market.

The construction of this route can only begin if and when an internationally recognized government is formed in Afghanistan. The U.S. is determined to make this happen. Some have even suggested that the entrance of the U.S. into Central Asia serves as a springboard from which to prevent China from expanding its influence in the region.

Central Asia map

March 16, 2008 Posted by | war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dueling Human Rights Reports

Every year, the U.S.-China exchange of human rights reports is one of my favorite events to observe. Not only does it invariably produce some amusing bureaucratic sniping, but of late, it’s also become one of the best front seats from which to witness the increasingly awkward dance that ensues when the U.S. tries to take on the role of human rights cop abroad.

This week, the countries traded their usual flurry of barbs: the United States censured at China for being repressive, while China, indignant, hammered back against the U.S.’s own record with gusto. While the exchanges are always testy, in recent years, with the persistence of secret prisons and Guantanamo, as well as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, China’s had an especially rich vein of cases to mine. (It didn’t help that the White House formally endorsed torture as a form of official U.S. policy just days before releasing its China report.)

I’m no apologist for the Chinese regime, but whatever moral currency the U.S. could once claim on human rights has long since been squandered. (Or as the French foreign minister put it yesterday: “The magic is over.”) When a PRC bureaucrat looks at America and sees a country that incarcerates 1 out of 100 people and accounts for two-thirds of child executions worldwide, it’s no wonder the force of U.S. scrutiny seems somewhat misplaced.

source:  thenation.com

March 15, 2008 Posted by | Human Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment