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Cheney at the Helm.

At Halliburton, oil and human rights did not mix

Dick Cheney, George W. Bush's running mate, is a far cry from the "ow, shucks" kind of Wyoming cowboy-politician painted by Republican strategists. When he was at the helm of the Dallas-based oil services giant Halliburton, Inc., from 1995 until his nomination, the company and its subsidiaries--Brown & Root and Dresser Industries--were deeply enmeshed in the military-intelligence complex.

After serving as Secretary of Defense in Bush the Elder's Administration and making Kuwait safe once again for U.S. oil companies, Cheney went around the country making speeches. But when the CEO spot opened up at Halliburton, the board of directors tapped him, knowing that his connections would come in handy. They just didn't know how handy.

For instance, after Halliburton acquired Dresser in 1998, it helped rebuild Iraq's petroleum industry, which Cheney and the Pentagon had decimated during Desert Storm.

During a 1998 speech in Corpus Christi, Texas, Cheney conceded that his top job at the Pentagon stood him in good stead at Halliburton. "In the oil and gas business, I deal with many of the same people," he told the convention of the Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies.

"Cheney delivered fast, embarking on months of globe-trotting that got Halliburton top-level attention from prime ministers and oil sheikhs from Riyadh and Baku to Lagos and Caracas," The Washington Post reported. "Soon he was on a first-name basis with oil ministers all over the world, building on the ties he had developed in the Middle East during his Pentagon days."

The Pentagon itself has been a huge boon to the company. "Halliburton eats at the trough of government contracts," says Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy & Environment Program, noting that the company's two largest government contracts are with the Pentagon and the British Ministry of Defense.

Cheney's links to defense contractors and the intelligence community have made him suspect among human rights activists. Halliburton and Brown & Root have played a role in some of the world's most volatile trouble spots. These include Algeria, Angola, Bosnia, Burma, Croatia, Haiti, Kuwait, Nigeria, Russia, Rwanda, and Somalia.

In 1998, while I was in Rwanda conducting research for my book, Genocide and Covert Operations in Africa 1993-1999 (Edwin Mellen, 1999), a number of U.S. military personnel assigned to that country raised questions about Brown & Root's activities. "Brown & Root is into some real bad shit," one told me. The U.S. Army Materiel Command has confirmed that Brown & Root was in Rwanda under contract with the Pentagon. One U.S. Navy demining expert told me that Brown & Root helped Rwanda's U.S.-backed government fight a guerrilla war. Brown & Root's official task was to help clear mines. However, my research showed it was more involved in providing covert military support to the Tutsi-led Rwanda Patriotic Army in putting down a Hutu insurgency and assisting its invasion of the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (Cheney and Halliburton declined numerous opportunities to comment on this story.)

Cheney was no stranger to covert activities in Rwanda. In 1990, during his tenure as Secretary of Defense, Rwandan strongman Major General Paul Kagame, then a colonel in the Ugandan People's Democratic Force, attended the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Kagame, with the likely knowledge of the U.S. Army and Cheney, suddenly dropped out of the school to assume command of the nascent Rwanda Patriotic Army, which later that year launched a full-scale invasion of Rwanda from rear bases inside Uganda. U.S. military advisers were present in Uganda at the time of the invasion, another fact that would have been known to Cheney and his Pentagon advisers.

While three separate commissions appointed by Belgium, France, and the Organization of African Unity have charged their own officials with complicity in central Africa's turmoil, no American panel has ever probed the involvement of the U.S. government, military, and defense contractors in central Africa's woes. If there were such a panel, Dick Cheney, the man in charge of both the Pentagon and Halliburton during various invasions of Rwanda and the Congo, would certainly have to be called and asked, "What did you know about covert U.S. military operations in central Africa and when did you know about them?"

But that's not all of Halliburton's questionable involvements. The other most serious charge against Halliburton comes from a group called Environmental Rights Action based in Harcourt, Nigeria. "In September of 1997, eighteen Mobile Police officers ... shot and killed one Gidikumo Sule at the Opuama flow station at Egbema in Warri.... Several other youths were injured during a protest," said the group in a report dated October 16, 1998. It implicated Halliburton in this repression, saying that the company was in collaboration with the police. Cheney was at the helm of Halliburton at the time.

Halliburton has worked with Chevron and Shell in Nigeria, which have been implicated in gross human rights violations and environmental devastation there.

Leaders like Equatorial Guinea's Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and Congo (Brazzaville) President Denis Sassou-Nguesso also use the revenues generated from Halliburton-built offshore oil platforms to enrich themselves and their families while ruthlessly suppressing ethnic and political opposition.

In Burma, Halliburton began work in the oil sector a decade ago. Oil company ties to the repressive government there have drawn criticism from human rights groups around the world.

Halliburton also has some unsavory ties in Russia. "Halliburton was a beneficiary of $292 million in loan guarantees extended earlier this year by the U.S. Export-Import Bank for a Russian company's development of a Siberian oilfield," The Washington Post reported. "The deal was a major embarrassment for Halliburton because the Russian company that is Halliburton's partner, Tyumen Oil, has been accused of committing a massive fraud to gain control of the oilfield."

What's more, Halliburton has been involved with so-called private military companies. Brown & Root has acted in concert with U.S. mercenary companies like AirScan and MPRI (recently acquired by L-3 Communications) from Angola to Croatia.

Halliburton's environmental record is nothing to be proud of, either. "They've had a lot of problems," says Hauter. Even the company admits that. "Regrettably, in 1998, reported environmental incidents increased," Halliburton says on its web site. "An environmental incident is any unplanned event regardless of magnitude that could potentially damage the environment." The company's annual financial statements say: "Our accrued liabilities for environmental matters were $30 million as of December 31, 1999."

Cheney's role at Halliburton and Bush's background in the oil industry suggest that the interests of this sector will be paramount in a Bush Administration. "With a Bush-Cheney team running the Executive Branch, Big Oil will be in the driver's seat," says Hauter.

A Bush-Cheney Administration would mark a return to yester-year. Their ties to oil companies and the intelligence community should worry indigenous, environmental, and human rights activists the world over.

Wayne Madsen is a journalist based in Washington, D.C., and a Senior Fellow of the Electronic Privacy Information Center there. He wrote "Mercenaries in Kosovo" in our August 1999 issue.
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Author:Madsen, Wayne
Publication:The Progressive
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2000
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