May 25, 2016
During the Iraq War, several corporations made billions in government contracts, as more and more of the military's operations relied on private contractors. And while the public is told that these wars will protect us, all too many American service members have faced unspeakable abuses over seas at the hands of these careless war profiteers.
In his book The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America's Soldiers, former US Marine and Army sergeant, Joseph Hickman reveals a toxic scandal that the military and their corporate partners want concealed. Throughout Iraq and Afghanistan Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR), a former subsidiary of Halliburton, operated more than 250 burn pits at US military bases. They are large, acres-wide open-air pits burning 24 hours built to cheaply dispose of thousands of pounds of waste daily, including batteries, asbestos, plastics, pesticides, mustard gas, and even human corpses, to name a few of the toxic products burned.
Instead of building incinerators to safely dispose of the waste, Halliburton, the company where Dick Cheney was CEO before ascending to the White House, cut corners and used this deadly--and cheap--method of industrial, hospital, and general waste disposal in burn pits; helping them to profit "nearly $40 billion" from government contracts during the Iraq War. The result? The mistreatment of soldiers in deadly operating environments.
Independent studies conducted on local civilian populations exposed to the burn pits revealed large increases in cancer, leukemia, birth defects, and other carcinogenic diseases. Veterans exposed to the pits are reporting the same health consequences, and according to the book, the rate of having a child with birth defects is three times higher for exposed service members. It is estimated that tens of thousands of soldiers were exposed to this toxic environmental hazard during the wars.
What's worse, the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and other agencies continue to deny any connection between the burn pits and the veterans' medical conditions. They claim that there is insufficient scientific data to conclusively link them. Yet, in 2015 Congress removed burn pits research from the DoD's research list, even as more veterans exposed to the pits come forward with rare respiratory illnesses, high blood pressure, and other ailments. The VA is denying medical treatment to the thousands of service members claiming illnesses related to burn pits. And like in the all too similar case of Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam veterans, the soldiers and their families are coming together to create a burn pit registry to demand justice when rightful care is being denied. But for some veterans, like 1st Sgt. William Krawczyk, it is already too late.
With his book, Joseph Hickman brings into light a powerful topic that has yet to be brought up by any presidential candidate or Obama's administration. In his Interview with Salon, Hickman reveals how the government protects these corporate criminals:
"There's a lawsuit against KBR out there right now, and the biggest hurdle for the KBR lawsuit is [that] DoD will not speak against KBR for their misuse of the burn pits. And you can't sue the government under the Feres Doctrine. A soldier can't sue the government for his injuries, but he can sue a private contractor. But as long as the U.S. government stays solid on the issue and won't speak out against KBR, it kind of creates a legal limbo where it's their word against this massive corporation. The best testimony they could have is DoD saying, "Yes, you [were] mistreated [by] these burn pits."
But really, can the DoD even do that? Because they didn't have any regulation in place for seven years on what they could burn or where they should be located or anything else. The DoD staying solidly aligned with KBR while soldiers are suffering is criminal."
It is clear that our government cares more about protecting its corporate military contractors and is intent on squashing the story while the VA denies medical coverage to veterans seeking treatment.
This issue involves multiple departments and corporations, and our government officials must take responsibility for holding these corporations accountable. The VA is under-budgeted and can't take care of the veterans that have suffered under wartime conditions and what's worse for these veterans is that the DoD won't speak out against KBR in this issue.
"They've have grown to the point where they feel that the government can't operate without them. These companies have that arrogance."
Because corporations like KBR are protected by the presidential administration and the congress members who take their money, and because they can claim "corporate constitutional rights", they are more easily absolved of responsibility and can get around laws designed to protect the environment and the people living in it.
When a major multi-national corporation like Halliburton and its former subsidiary KBR with its obviously close links to powerful officials (former Vice President Dick Cheney) and the military is allowed to run roughshod over deployed troops and veterans, it really is time to examine and understand the system propping up this highly officious and harmful behavior.
It isn't hard to follow the money that goes into a politician's (re)election treasury and the policy that comes out of Congress, but it's harder to understand the connection to corporate constitutional rights. It is necessary to remember that all corporations are constitutionally shielded from liability, which is clearly an advantage that human beings just don't have. In addition, corporations have assumed additional rights--through the courts--intended for natural persons. Corporations began their march towards personhood in 1886 when they secured 14th amendment equal protection rights. In addition, they maintain Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights and the same First Amendment rights to free speech humans do, along with the right to not speak.
The Buckley vs. Vallejo case in which the Supreme Court equated money with free speech enabled corporations to speak through the use of their treasuries. More recent decisions like Citizens United and the McCutcheon case have literally opened a floodgate of corporate speech, drowning out the voices of We the People. Veterans, their children and children's grandchildren, and most definitely the innocents caught up in War, simply cannot be heard over the billions of dollars spent during election cycles.
The problem can only be fixed through the amendment process. A number of bills supporting an amendment to overturn Citizens United are currently before Congress, but only one of them addresses the underlying issue of corporate personhood. As long as the 1886 decision stands, corporations can use the Courts to regain any rights lost. The We the People Amendment abolishes all corporate constitutional rights and the doctrine that money is speech. With its passage, We the People will regain our authority to govern and make laws that protect people and the planet, including inside war zones.
Renee Babcock is a California native and recent UC Davis graduate where she earned a BA in Evolutionary Anthropology and a minor in Philosophy. Through her work as a law professor's research assistant, Renee became interested in our current legal structures and how they are unjust and rooted in systemic oppression. She serves as a senior intern at Move to Amend and serves on the Media and Communications committee.
Grace Novak is in her last semester as an undergraduate student at George Mason University studying Communications and Computer Science. Grace is an intern with the Move to amend Media and Communications Committee.