Iraq Watch

By:  Jay Inslee
Date: May 5, 2004
Location: Washington, DC

IRAQ WATCH -- (House of Representatives - May 05, 2004)


Mr. INSLEE. Mr. Speaker, it is difficult, while our proud men and women are serving in the field in Iraq, to tell some very unfortunate truths about the failure of the executive branch of this government to live up to their service in Iraq. It is difficult to say the truth, which is there has been gross incompetence, deception, manipulation of the truth, failure to recognize reality in Iraq which has got us in such an unholy mess by the executive branch of the Federal Government. That is not pleasant to say given what our troops face in Iraq tonight. But it is necessary to say it.

And the reason it brought hope to me when I was visiting a family that lost a son and a husband in Iraq while serving in an incident where he earned the Bronze Star posthumously, a man who will not be coming home to his children, when I talked to his widow, the one thing she impressed upon me that she wanted me to do is to not fail to blow the whistle on executive branch incompetence which has created such problems in Iraq or at least not responded to them the way they should. And this body, the people's House, has an obligation to blow the whistle on these multiple failures, and they are multiple. And tonight I think we are going to talk about 10 failures of the executive branch of the government, which has been responsible in part for some of the difficulties that we face in Iraq.

And the first one I would like to mention is the one that leads in part to some of the problems we face with handling prisoners of war. The public is well aware of what happened here. I heard a conservative commentator yesterday just describe this as the soldiers just having a good time, just blowing off steam. It is that kind of attitude that apparently permeated our command and control structure in our prisoner of war camps, and that kind of attitude has the potential to inflame the Arab world and create more enemies of the war we are fighting against al Qaeda right now. It is a gross mistake.

[Time: 23:00]

It is a failure of a command and control structure.

One of the problems this Congress needs to get right to the bottom of is this scandal regarding private contractors in Iraq. We have heard of multiple scandals involving overpayments to the Halliburton Corporation, multiple scandals involving mispayments and overpayments for oil to these corporations, many of whom are great political donors, I might add, in the United States political system.

But there is another one we need to get at, and that is why we have private contractors doing interrogation of prisoners of war in Iraq, who are outside the command and control structure, who are not subject to military discipline, and who apparently were instrumental in this debacle in our prisoner of war system. There is an error and failure that we need to get to the bottom of.

Mr. DELAHUNT. Mr. Speaker, reclaiming my time, I do not know if my friend was aware, but the second largest army in Iraq today is not the army of the United Kingdom, but it is this army of private contractors. Let us call them what they really are, they are mercenaries.

I dare say, to privatize a war without the command and control of American generals and American officers is a very, very dangerous precedent that is being established.

I think what we are seeing here tonight, what we are talking about tonight, rather, is an example of where it can lead. We all have to acknowledge and remember that the entire world is now viewing, not just simply the photographs, but the realities of the war on the ground and the fact that the United States of America is privatizing its military, privatizing its war, delegating to those who are not necessarily responsible and accountable to American military command absolutely significant duties.

Mr. INSLEE. If the gentleman will yield further, this is starting to permeate our whole system. We are finding that contractors are going to leave when the temperature gets too hot. We have got these private contractors doing interrogation and involved in this scandal in our prisoner of war camp.

Let me suggest this is part and parcel of the second failure. The first problem we talked about is a failure of command and control. But the second failure of this executive branch is the failure to be honest with the American people as to what this war is costing and their desire to fight a war on the cheap. While our people are losing their lives in Iraq, this administration refuses to be honest with the American people about the real cost of this war.

Let me suggest two reasons that I know that is true. Number one, instead of having a military system that is capable of fighting this war and putting the troops on the ground that were really needed, they tried to do it with these private contractors, many of whom are, again, engaged in the political process in this system and are political allies of those making executive decisions about this war. Number one.

Number two, as of this moment, in the middle of this war, while our soldiers, men and women are putting their lives on the line, this President has not shown how to pay for this war, and today I am told now proposed another $25 billion of deficit spending to pay for this war.

If our soldiers can put their lives on the line, this executive branch ought to say what this war is really going to cost us and how long we are going to be there and how we are going to pay for this war. And just adding it open to the backs of our children just will not wash. Maybe that is the politically expedient thing to do. Maybe when you start a war based on false information, and we now learned it is false, maybe you want to kind of sweep it under the rug, how many billions of dollars it is going to cost the American taxpayers. But it is the wrong thing to do, like it is the wrong thing to do to fight this war on the cheap, to have contractors in there instead of folks in your command and control system. We need to get to the bottom of that failure number two.


Mr. INSLEE. Mr. Speaker, if it was one failure, wars are tough, some things go wrong; and if it was one failure, maybe we would be in the excusing mode. But it is interesting. Of all of the failures that have happened in Iraq from day one, not one single person has lost their job, except maybe recently in this POW camp situation.

Mr. ABERCROMBIE. Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman would just yield on that point, yes, somebody has lost their job: the people who published the pictures of the coffins coming home.

Mr. INSLEE. Who is my constituent, by the way, and we will talk about that in a few minutes. But let me suggest that there is not one failure, there are 10 failures. And before the night is out, I want to list the 10 failures of this executive branch which are significant which have gotten us into this mess.

Failure number 1. They told us and the world that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The President of the United States said on August 26, 2002, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." That statement was false.

Number 2. They told us they had clear and convincing evidence of the connection between Saddam Hussein and the attack of September 11 and al Qaeda. No matter how many times that is said, that statement is false. We have now seen the intelligence briefing. There was no such evidence. That statement was false.

Third: they told the American people that we would be greeted as liberators, rose petals strewn at our feet, happy convocations of democracy-seeking Iraqis greeting our personnel carriers. As a result of that failure, Americans died, because they refused to send armor that would have protected our soldiers from these improvised explosive devices along our roadways, and they sent them with thin skin, sheet metal Humvees not as thick as your washing machine that did not protect our soldiers.

Now, why did they make that such fundamental error? Why did they not send our armored personnel carriers that we have 11,000 of them sitting in warehouses around this country, why did they not send those? Well, there is a reason. It is because they were so, and I have no other word to put it but arrogant, to believe that their wisdom would be accepted by the entire Mideast when they came into Iraq, and they were wrong, and our people died.

Issue number 4: they ignored clear evidence that we needed more troops on the ground after the collapse of the Iraqi Army. General Shinseki, General Zinni, many people told them, when the Iraqi Army collapses, there is going to be massive looting and chaos and you are going to need hundreds of thousands of troops to protect us and the Iraqis, and they ignored it. Why? Because of arrogance.

Issue number 5: they refused to say we needed the U.N. Now the President is now saying we needed the U.N., now. Well, it is a little late now when the rest of the world is refusing to become involved.

Number 6: they refused to have elections. I am told Jay Garner, the first provost they had, suggested they needed elections. That is kind of what democracy is about. Now, proposedly, the President is going to turn over sovereignty on June 30. What a joke. The only thing these people are going to control in Iraq after we hand-pick these people are who gets library cards. Every single thing else is going to be run by us, and Iraq knows it. I will go quickly.

Number 7: No command and control and adequate training in handling these POWs with a massive black eye to the United States of America. When we have tens of thousands of people doing a great job in Iraq, our reputation has been soiled.

Number 8: no armor. We talked about that.

Number 9: no plan to pay for Iraq. We have over $130 billion of payment of Iraqi expenses, and this President has not suggested one single dollar except deficit spending to pay for this war.

Number 10, and this is the one maybe that is the most no-brainer to me I can think of. They sent 130,000 troops into Iraq without body armor, knowing that you are sending them into the war and into the dens of modern combat without modern flap jackets. That is 10, and that is enough.


Mr. INSLEE. I just want to offer a brief suggestion why that is. How could the Assistant Secretary of Defense not know our casualties? How could you possibly explain that? Well, there is an explanation.

This administration has got us into a war and is pursuing a war based on wishful thinking rather than hard reality. Now, wishful thinking is fine in Hollywood. It makes some great dramas, but it is a lousy way to win a war; and it costs people's lives, and that is what is happening tonight. They have wishful thinking: if we just stay the course, the Iraqis will accept the government we are trying to force down their throats. It is wishful thinking that the ID are going to stop and the Humvees are going to stop the attacks on our soldiers. It is wishful thinking that somehow we will find $150 billion a year to pay for this war.

They refuse to recognize the hard cold reality that our soldiers are facing every day in Iraq. It is morally, ethically, and democratically wrong; and that is why we are here tonight.


Mr. INSLEE. Mr. Speaker, will the gentleman yield.

Mr. DELAHUNT. I yield to the gentleman from Washington.

[Time: 23:40]

Mr. INSLEE. Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to say what is happening in Iraq due to the deception and falsehood by this administration is not only a threat to our soldiers, it is a threat to democracy itself. There is no greater violation of the democratic principle than an administration that does not tell the truth to the American people, and we are not getting the truth. We know we did not get the truth about WMD or a connection to 9/11, but now we find it was months and months before we got to the truth because somebody leaked pictures about this scandalous situation in our POW camps.

This is a direct threat to the democratic principle. If you want to know how bad things are going to go, when the government does not tell the truth to the American people, I want to quote something I read today. I was with the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Strickland) at the Library of Congress this evening, and they have an exhibit about Winston Churchill. On page 42 of this pamphlet, it has a picture of Winston Churchill and Lawrence of Arabia taken in 1921 at the Cairo Conference. It says, "During this meeting, Churchill helped establish the government ethnic composition and political boundaries of Iraq and other portions of the Middle East."

When the British did that, they told their people they would be there for a year or two and they would help bring democracy to Iraq. Lawrence of Arabia told them they were crazy because they did not understand the ethnic composition of that part of the world.

Do Members know the year they left Iraq after getting in in 1922, the British Empire, 1953; 31 years. What is 31 years, that is 2035 if we have a similar misunderstanding as to what is going on in Iraq.

The sad situation is this administration has demonstrated repeated failures to understand the challenges we have in Iraq. I want to offer one idea. We have offered a lot of criticism and we have called for accountability of people which is a democratic principle. We have called for accountability of people in this administration who should be removed because of their repeated failures, misjudgment and deception.

There is only one way we are going to get out of Iraq, and that is allow the Iraqi people to seize their own destiny, and that destiny may not be perfect according to what the Oval Office wants it to be, but this President has to recognize he cannot run Iraq from the Oval Office. The Iraqi people are going to have to fashion their own destiny.

That is why I believe we should call for early elections this summer if possible, as was done in the town of Tar and the village of Shatra, a town of 250,000. They have had elections. They have done it using their ration cards. In these towns, they have already had elections. You bring in your ration card, you stamp it when there is a vote, and you pick who you think should be in charge of your destiny.

The Iraqis need to get involved in their country's future. Right now they are dependent on us for everything. They are dependent on us to do all of the dying and spending. We need Iraqis to grasp their own destiny, and the best way to do it is through elections. Those elections may not be as good as the one in Florida in 2000, but it would be a lot better than us picking the people that we are going to shove down the Iraqi's throats in this bizarre situation.

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