WASHINGTON — None of the 26 buildings in the new $740 million U.S. Embassy complex in Baghdad is ready to be occupied. Fire alarms intended to safeguard more than 1,000 U.S. government employees aren't working. Kitchens in some of the buildings are fire hazards.
A senior State Department official in December certified that embassy construction was "substantially complete," but department inspectors found "major deficiencies" at the unoccupied embassy, according to their inspection report, which Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., released Friday.
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The documents Waxman released Friday cited a number of specific problems:
• Fire alarms in three of six apartment buildings that will house U.S. diplomats didn't operate properly during tests.
• There are problems with a diesel engine fire pump that sends water to fire hydrants and sprinklers.
• The fire alarm network, which alerts firefighters and security personnel to a fire, doesn't operate properly.
You can read Waxman’s letter to Secretary Rice here .
The company making money off of the U.S. taxpayers here is First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co. How’d they get this lucrative contract? Funny you should ask:
The State Department's Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) then waived a law that requires open and competitive bidding. It awarded a sole-source contract for the unclassified portions of the new embassy complex to a Kuwait-based firm, First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co.
The waiver described First Kuwaiti as "capable of completing the design and construction in accordance with the required schedule, budget and performance parameters."
Instead, the embassy construction has missed several deadlines; numerous problems have emerged, including faulty firefighting and electrical systems; and the project is the subject of a criminal investigation.
Criminal investigation, you say? It seems First Kuwaiti has been accused of gross human rights abuses:
First Kuwaiti's labor practices are under investigation by the Justice Department, which is looking into allegations that foreign employees were brought into Iraq under false pretenses and were unable to leave because the company had confiscated their passports.
The contract for the U.S. embassy “was political,” said one competitor. Why political? Because Kuwait was the only country bordering Iraq that was willing to allow the staging of land troops for the 2003 invasion, whisper other disgruntled contractors. The State Department intervened before on behalf of other Kuwaiti firms. After the invasion, the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait, Richard Jones, pressured Halliburton to buy overpriced fuel from the unknown Kuwaiti firm Altanmia Commercial Marketing Company, according to official documents. That fuel, intended for domestic use in Iraq, resulted in ongoing disputes about overcharges of possibly several hundred million dollars. Jones then returned to Washington to serve as the senior adviser and coordinator for Iraq at the State Department. He was in that position when First Kuwaiti was awarded the embassy contract.
Anything to make sure we got our war. Forced slavery of foreign workesr? No problem. Raiding America's treasury? Sure! The richest nation in the world is also acting like the stupidest.
Okay, America: are you proud of what we’ve bought with our $740 million? (And by the way: the cost was originally supposed to be $592 million.) Are we happy with these priorities?
It’s time people woke up and paid attention to these important stories, not trivialities about flag pins or partisan name-calling.