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Contract that spawned Guantanamo prisons awarded to Halliburton during Cheney's tenure as CEO

John Byrne

Experts say firm may have built secret camps

A contract awarded to a Halliburton subsidiary in June 2000 while Vice President Dick Cheney was still at the helm of the firm spawned the detention centers at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, RAW STORY has discovered.

The contract, which allocated funds for “emergency construction capabilities” at “worldwide locations,” authorized the Defense Department to award Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root any number of specific naval construction deals abroad.


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Pegged at an “estimated maximum” of $75 million in 2000, the deal mushroomed to $236 million by 2004. Some $58 million was dedicated to detention centers at Guantanamo Bay alone, with another $30 million in a second contract.

Specific contracts for the Guantanamo facilities were not inked until February of 2002. Cheney served as chief executive of the company from 1995 until July 2000, leaving shortly thereafter to join the Bush campaign.

The original deal, signed under Clinton, was also used for typhoon damage and breakwater repair of military bases abroad. After the invasion of Afghanistan, the Administration drew upon the open-ended agreement to construct detention centers at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay naval base for suspected members of Al Qaeda.

In 2002, the Pentagon said that additional options might reach $300 million. Security experts believe the Bush Administration may have carved out funding from the original agreement to build other secret detention facilities sprinkled across the globe.

Other facilities?

The Pentagon has tacitly acknowledged the existence of clandestine detention facilities, but details are scarce. The press office did not return repeated requests for comment.

In 2004, Human Rights First, a renowned human rights legal group, suggested the likelihood of facilities at Diego Garcia, a British island in the Indian Ocean. Other suspected facilities include prisons in northwest Pakistan; a Central Intelligence Agency prison in Jordan; additional unacknowledged holding centers in Afghanistan and Iraq; and brigs on two U.S. naval ships, the U.S.S. Bataan and the U.S.S. Peleliu (Read the report).

Kellogg, Brown and Root was awarded another contract in 2004 when their original deal expired, capped at $500 million. Under this new agreement, another $30 million Guantanamo contract was awarded to the firm last week.

John Pike, director of defense watchdog and analysis group GlobalSecurity.org, said KBR is uniquely qualified for building other detention facilities, having been pre-qualified for emergency naval construction projects in 2000.

“KBR was pre-qualified to do that work,” he added. “If the Navy needed something built quickly, they could get them on the phone and just do it.”

“Somebody had to build them,” Pike told RAW STORY. “If it was Diego Garcia for instance, it was quite probable that it would have been built under that contract. I think Diego Garcia would be an excellent location for a detention facility.”

Pike said its location made it an ideal choice for another prison.

“It’s in the middle of the Indian Ocean,” he continued. “Nobody visits there.”

A KBR spokeswoman declined to comment.

Concerns about secret prisons

Priti Patel, a staff attorney for Human Rights First, the group that produced the report on suspected secret U.S. facilities, says the number of known detainees held has risen dramatically since their report last year.

“I know when we were looking at the numbers in March, in Iraq, and Afghanistan, the numbers were skyrocketing,” Patel said.

The group says the number of acknowledged foreign suspects held in U.S. detention totals about 11,000. Many are held in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, but the location of some “high-value” suspects, like alleged Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has never been disclosed.

“The United States government is holding prisoners in a secret system of off-shore prisons beyond the reach of adequate supervision, accountability, or law,” the Human Rights First Director of U.S. Law and Security program Deborah Pearlstein told reporters last year.

Pike suspects that the Pentagon has quietly paid defense firms to build clandestine detention facilities abroad. He cited the CIA as an example, saying many items in the CIA budget are secretly siphoned off from other Defense Department allocations.

“It’s called a carve-out contract, and it’s an unacknowledged contract inside an overtly acknowledged contract,” he said. “They might say that it was for one thing and it was for something else.”

The awarding of Defense Department contracts—like those for hidden detention centers—can be disguised legally.

“They’re not under oath,” Pike explained. “They’re not sworn to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth when they put out these contract announcements. The CIA hires people to do all kinds of things and they don’t announce any of their contracts.”

GlobalSecurity.org uses satellite imagery to track military installations. Pike spent nearly two decades at the Federation of American Scientists, studying the use of satellite imagery to monitor weapons worldwide.

During the Cold War, the U.S. used a system calling FROS (functionally related observable differences) for arms control inspections. Differences between one building and another could give clues to their purpose. But because secret facilities likely hold several dozen detainees instead of thousands, they are easily masked among existing military installations.

“Lorton is obviously a detention facility,” Pike said, speaking of the former District of Columbia jail that held as many as seven thousand inmates in its heyday. “But the D.C. [city] jail downtown, you can’t pick it out.”

Other Halliburton contracts questioned

Halliburton, a punching bag in the 2004 presidential campaign, has taken flak for other contracts relating to the “war on terror.” It was awarded a $7 billion no-bid contract to rebuild Iraqi oil fields, and has been criticized for a fuel transportation contract which critics say was grossly inflated.

The firm purchased gasoline in Kuwait for $2.20 per gallon while other contractors were paying $2.18 in Turkey. Pentagon auditors have questioned $212 million that the firm billed the U.S. to deliver fuel to Iraq; documents released in November also reveal the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait intervened to ensure Halliburton got the fuel transport deal.

Pentagon auditors have also suggested KBR overcharged the Army by as much as 40 percent for dining facilities.

Formerly Brown & Root, the firm has a long and checkered history in military contracting. It was among a consortium of firms charged with building hospitals in Vietnam during the U.S. engagement there, and was accused of pilfering millions from Pentagon coffers.

In 1967, the General Accounting Office faulted the firm for massive accounting lapses and for allowing thefts of materials. The company earned a nickname--Burn & Loot—and drew anti-war protesters who bemoaned the contracts as the embodiment of what President Dwight Eisenhower had called the military-industrial complex.

KBR received $5.5 billion in Iraq contracts for fiscal year 2004, and has billed the U.S. $20.5 billion so far to provide logistical support for the military in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Army awarded the firm a $72 million bonus in May for work in Iraq. They gave the firm the top ratings of "excellent" and "very good."

Halliburton said earlier this year it will seek to spin off KBR in a sale, spinoff or public offering.

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KBR's Guantanamo Bay contracts include the following:

408 unit detention camp: $26 million (Feb. 2002) Radio Range Phase II: $7 million (April 2002) Radio Range Phase III: $9.7 million (July 2002) Radio Range construction: $22.5 million (June 2003) Radio Range (various): $22.9 million (June 2003) Detention camp #6 and various: $30mill (June 2005)

Originally published on Tuesday June 21, 2005.

 


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