- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

In Tuesday night’s debate, Sen. John Edwards mentioned the role of the oil services corporation Halliburton — which Vice President Dick Cheney served as CEO from 1995 to 2000 — but only in the context of recycling specious charges that the Bush administration has shown favoritism toward the company. It’s too bad that Mr. Edwards confined himself to merely scoring points against Mr. Cheney and neglected to acknowledge the supreme sacrifices some Halliburton employees and members of their families have made in the war effort. Forty-eight Halliburton employees have died in Iraq since the start of the war last year.

The Kerry-Edwards campaign has tried repeatedly to make Mr. Cheney’s Halliburton connection a campaign issue. In an advertisement on Sept. 17, for example, the campaign asserted: “As vice president, Dick Cheney received $2 million from Halliburton. Halliburton got billions in no-bid contracts in Iraq.” But the Internet site FactCheck.org reports that based on pay statements it reviewed “nearly $1.6 million of that total was paid before Cheney actually took office on Jan. 20, 2001. Saying Cheney got that much ‘as vice president’ is simply false.” The balance paid to Mr. Cheney is based on a deferred-salary arrangement negotiated in 1998, which, “legally, Halliburton can’t increase or reduce … no matter what Cheney does as vice president.” It’s worth noting that in 2000, as the vice-presidential nominee, Mr. Cheney voluntarily forfeited more than $3 million in Halliburton stock options, which were part of his retirement package.

Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), the construction and engineering subsidiary of Halliburton, received a “sole-source contract” in March 2003, the month the war against Iraq began. The contract required KBR to restore and operate Iraq’s oil wells, which the United States and its allies feared Saddam Hussein would sabotage as he did at the end of the Gulf war. Under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, KBR has accomplished these goals, having quickly restored oil output to prewar levels. Halliburton was selected in part because it had a long history in Iraq, having built one of its largest refineries, and its principal oil-services competitor was Schlumberger, a French-based company.

In a report in June, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress, concluded that KBR was the only company “in a position to provide the services within the required time.” Comptroller General David Walker told a House committee that KBR’s no-bid contract was appropriate “given the war in Iraq and the urgent need for reconstruction efforts.”

Yet to score a cheap debating point, Mr. Edwards maligned the ultimate sacrifices made by scores of Halliburton workers and their loved ones.

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