Two headlines, appearing next to each other on the front page of the August 28th edition of the Washington Post prompted me to write this article. In just eleven words they spoke volumes about the contradictions that define the politics of my country and the challenges we are facing as a nation.
The first headline read "D.C. Guardsman Killed in Iraq" and was followed by the sub-headline "For Father, Pride and Grief". It told the story of a young Washingtonian, Darryl Dent, who was killed in action in Iraq last week. Darryl was 21.
I was especially moved by this death because Darryl’s father, Vernon, was a friend of mine. For many years he worked as the doorman in my downtown Washington office building. Though his life had been filled with hardship, Vernon could be witty and wise. Like all proud fathers, he had high hopes for his son.
In a city where too many young African American males are victims of a poor educational system, chronic unemployment and a culture of violence, success is a blessing. Each year hundreds die, victims of gunfire and crime, and thousands become ensnared in the criminal justice system from which they rarely escape. Darryl was different.
He was a serious student, a "book lover" and an articulate spokesperson for the military service he loved and which he believed would provide him the opportunity for educational and social advancement.
For many young African Americans military service provides a way to advancement. After graduation from high school, Darryl worked as a security guard and joined the National Guard in hopes of earning enough money to attend medical school.
When duty called, Darryl went to fulfill his assignment in Iraq. From all accounts he was a good soldier and a young man with a bright future. He was proud of his service to his country and his family and his community was proud of him.
The war ended Darryl’s life. And for Vernon and all who knew him, Darryl will forever be only a memory. His death, like the deaths of so many others, combatants and non-combatants on all sides, represent a tragic end of hopes and dreams. Their families and their nations have a right to be proud of them. Each of these young men and women fought in the service of their countries and did so selflessly.
Which brings me to the story that appeared right next to the tragic account of the death of Darryl Dent. This headline read "Halliburton’s Deals Greater than Thought". This story reports on how recently revealed documents establish that Halliburton, the company recently headed by Vice President Richard Cheney, will earn far more than was previously known as a result of almost $2 billion in Iraq war related contracts it has secured from the U.S. government.
According the documents, Halliburton and a few other major U.S. corporations have been the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts-far more than was previously reported. In fact, according to the story "as much as one-third of the monthly $3.9 billion cost of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq is going to independent contractors" like Halliburton.
The amounts of these contracts are staggering. For example, Halliburton has been awarded $710 million for "combating oil fires and rehabilitating" Iraq’s oil wells. They have made almost $800 million for setting up housing, providing logistics and transport operations for U.S. troops in Iraq and six other Middle East and Central Asian countries. This same company was given $40 million to provide logistics support for teams investigating weapons of mass destruction and another $28 million for setting up prisoner of war camps in Iraq.
Not only does this entire affair raise serious questions about how "political connections" may play a role in helping companies secure "sweet-heart" no-bid deals. But it also reveals the extent to which this Administration has "privatized" military contracts and other government activities, resulting in a few select private companies making huge profits at the expense of U.S taxpayers.
In this context, I am reminded of my mother’s wise words of caution, "It’s not enough to do the right thing, if what you are doing appears to be the wrong thing." And in this case, the appearance smells of being very wrong.
It simply can not be right that Darryl Dent died in the service of his country leaving a hole in the heart of his family, while Halliburton stock shares increased by 50 percent and the company reported tens of millions of dollars in profits during the past three months-all from the war.
Some members of Congress have already begun to demand answers in an effort to resolve this glaring and disturbing contradiction. Darryl’s father, family and friends are waiting for those answers. The rest of America and the Iraqi people and all those who lost loved ones in this war are also waiting.