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Business motives driven by profit, not patriotism

In his `Iraq for Sale,' Robert Greenwald slams U.S. companies for endangering lives while making millions.

September 08, 2006|Kenneth Turan | Times Staff Writer

Producer-director Robert Greenwald has the soul of an 18th century political pamphleteer. An issue burns a hole in his pocket, and he just has to take it on, the sooner the better. But although someone like Thomas Paine wrote pamphlets such as "Common Sense," Greenwald makes films. As hard-hitting and as fast as he can.

"Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers" is the sixth of these films Greenwald has produced since 2002. It's also the fourth he's directed, after "Uncovered: The War on Iraq," "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" and "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price." This is a man who knows how to turn the colon into a weapon of political warfare.

Like Greenwald's previous films, "Iraq for Sale" is made from a progressive political point of view but spends considerable time talking to regular people who likely voted Republican. And this time he's focused on one of those issues that might unite viewers across all political spectra: unconscionable war profiteering coupled with catastrophic decisions by major American companies.

Using as its key advertising image a picture of a tank as covered by as many corporate logos as a NASCAR racer, "Iraq for Sale" starts by detailing just how much income the Iraq war has produced for corporations. Halliburton heads the list with $18.5 billion, two other companies top $5 billion and the security firm Blackwater earned $21 million just guarding former U.S. ambassador L. Paul Bremer III.

Because of a philosophical predisposition that favors the private sector over the government as well as a belief (which this film pretty much destroys) that the private sector is more efficient and does things more economically, the current administration has contracted out a long line of military-related activities to for-profit entities.

Many of the people interviewed in "Iraq for Sale" are not troubled by the concept of businesses earning a profit. The problem they have is the marked lack of accountability for the actions of corporate folks in Iraq, a lack that results in money wasted and civilians placed in harm's way to beef profits.

As clips from network newscasts and CNN indicate, much of the information here has been in the media before. What "Iraq for Sale" does is connect all the dots, laying out in a fairly straightforward way what we've been vaguely aware has been going on, including stories behind incidents that made major headlines when they happened.

No story was bigger than the deaths in Fallouja of four Americans working for Blackwater when their vehicle was attacked and burned and their bodies mutilated. The families of two of the men accuse the company of sending them out into "the most dangerous city on Earth" undermanned and without appropriate armor or weaponry or even a map. "They skimped on the mission," says the brother of one victim. "The almighty dollar is all they cared about."

Two private companies, Titan and CACI, are implicated in the fiasco at Abu Ghraib prison. We're told that translators hired by the first company often barely knew the English language and that the second company's employees were involved in some of the most questionable interrogation techniques without any kind of supervision, a situation that Janis Karpinski, the former brigadier general at the prison, strongly deplores.

It's Halliburton and its KBR subsidiary that figure in some of the most troubling incidents. "Iraq for Sale" interviews truck drivers from the American heartland, survivors of a convoy attacked in what has come to be known as the Good Friday Massacre, men who were sent down a road that should have been closed to civilians, all in the name of fulfilling a contract.

Just as troubling are the implications of Halliburton's cost-plus contracts, which means the more the company spends, the more it gets back. Stories of $100 laundry loads and expensive equipment destroyed rather than repaired are enough to make you agree with the sentiment that the situation in Iraq has become "a legal way of stealing from American citizens."

Because the firms involved are well-connected in Congress, no one ever has to answer hard questions of accountability, which even the president waffled on when questioned on camera by a student. Also choosing not to comment are the various firms this film indicts, who refused to come on camera to answer the charges. Whatever you might think about the centrality of the profit motive to our society, what's going on in Iraq is going to give you pause.


`Iraq for Sale'

MPAA rating: Unrated

A Brave New Films release. Director Robert Greenwald. Producers Greenwald, Jim Gilliam, Devin Smith, Sarah Feeley. Director of photography Nick Higgins. Editors Carla Gutierrez, Sally Rubin. Running time: 1 hour, 3 minutes.

Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills (310) 274-6869.

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