Corrupting Ourselves

THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Corrupting Ourselves
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, November 21, 2009

This week Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). Unsurprisingly the report concluded that public sector corruption in Afghanistan has worsened over the past two years. Afghanistan is now considered to be more corrupt than any other country in the world except for Somalia.

“Examples of corruption range from public posts for sale and justice for a price to daily bribing for basic services,” the watchdog group said of Afghanistan. “This, along with the exploding opium trade–which is also linked to corruption–contributes to the downward trend in the country’s CPI score.”

The CPI scores countries on a scale of zero to 10, with zero indicating high levels of corruption, and 10 indicating low ones. Over the last three years of the 180 countries ranked, Somalia has come in last, this time with a score of 1.1.

Afghanistan had the second worst ranking at 1.3. Over the last three years Afghanistan’s scores have been worsening. In 2007 it rated at 1.8 and in 2008 at 1.5.

In assessing the levels of corruption around the world the report notes “Fragile, unstable states that are scarred by war and ongoing conflict linger at the bottom of the index.”

The widely respected Transparency International report brings additional pressure on the Afghan government. On Monday President Karzai announced he would form a new anti-corruption unit to investigate high-level graft. However, Karzai has formed such committees before, with no effect. This time, under intense pressure from the U.S., the new anti-corruption unit will be part of the Attorney General’s department and would be able to prosecute public corruption cases involving government officials and other major crimes. Prosecutors would be trained by EU police as well as by Britain and U.S. forces.

Much of the corruption is associated with the opium trade, a business that Karzai and his top allies are fully engaged in supporting. President Karzai and his Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhilawal refuse to acknowledge any responsibility for the corruption, saying that Western countries must share much of the blame because of their mismanagement of billions of dollars in aid.

While much of this is posturing by President Karzai to protect himself, he raises an often overlooked reality. War not only corrupts those “fragile, unstable states that are scarred by war.” War corrupts those who wage it.

On the same day that Transparency International released its CPI, major news sources reported on a Kuwaiti company accused of defrauding the U.S. of tens of millions of dollars by exaggerating the cost of providing food to troops in Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan. Prosecutors charged the Public Warehouse Company with six counts of fraud, saying it had “grossly overcharged” the military.

Last week Blackwater, now Xe, the US security company implicated in some of the deadliest killings in Iraq, was accused of paying $1 million in bribes to buy the silence of Iraqi officials in order to protect its contracts. KBR, the largest contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan, improperly billed the Pentagon $103 million for armed security guards and is currently resisting paying back the money owed.

War has always made money for a few.

But there is a deeper corruption that affects all of us. War becomes a way to justify, endure, ignore and ultimately accept brutality towards one another. Under phrases like “acceptable costs” and “collateral damage,” we hide from ourselves the actions we engage in that reflect the worst human beings are capable of doing to one another. There is no easy index to the corruption of our own souls as we allow such wars to continue.

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