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A Former President Warns of 'Endangered Values'

Blurring the line between church and state threatens civil liberties and privacy, says former president Jimmy Carter. That's the case he makes in his new book, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis.

32:05

Other segments from the episode on November 2, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 2, 2005: Interview with Jimmy Carter; Interview with Stuart Brown.

Transcript

DATE November 2, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Jimmy Carter discusses his new book, "Our Endangered
Values," and the role of religion in politics
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Jimmy Carter was the first American president to tell the public that he was
born again, but he believes in the separation of church and state and is
worried that the wall is eroding. In his new book, "Our Endangered Values,"
he draws on his experiences as president and as a Baptist to explain his
concerns about the intertwining of politics and religion.

President Carter, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Do you think the line between
church and state has shifted since you were president?

Former President JIMMY CARTER: Well, this separation of church and state,
which Thomas Jefferson ordained as a wall between the two, has been severely
breached in the last 15 or 20 years and particularly in the last five years,
so the answer's yes. When I was president, and I think all my predecessors
and most of my successors have been meticulous in trying to separate church
and state and not inject religious aspects into policy and not let the
churches or any religion dominate or heavily influence the political decisions
made by this government. So this is a radical departure from what we've seen
in our country since its founding.

GROSS: Are there times when you feel President Bush has eroded the line
between church and state?

Mr. CARTER: Well, yes. I don't think there's any doubt that the nation knows
that President Bush, as president, strongly favors the religious right,
Protestant Christians in our country. There's no doubt about this in my
opinion. But the religious part is not the most important. I think that's
the background or the foundation for a lot of changes, but the major changes
that concern me are more secular in nature. For instance, we have always had
a policy in our country of peace. That is that our country would not go to
war and attack another country, bomb its people, invade that nation unless our
own security was directly threatened. That's been abandoned under this
administration, and now the new policy is preemptive war, which the president
declared at West Point, as you know, a couple years ago.

Our country now, because of its tremendous military might, preserves the
right, publicly declared, to invade another country, to attack another
country, to kill its citizens, not if our nation is--security is in danger,
but if we want to change the regime there for some reason.

We've also abandoned our long-standing and admirable commitment to civil
liberties and personal privacy of Americans and the protection of human rights
around the world. This has not only been a matter of great pride to America,
but it's also compatible with international law, and we now see a struggle
within the Congress at this moment to permit the CIA, for instance, to torture
prisoners. This is in direct violation of long-standing principles of our
country, moral values and also in direct violation of international
agreements.

So the radical change in America's domestic and international policies are
what I'm trying to cover in saying that our endangered values are America's
moral crisis, and around the world.

GROSS: You were the first president to say that you were born again. This
was--and you said that during the election when you were asked by a reporter.

Mr. CARTER: Yes.

GROSS: After you proclaimed that you were born again, how did that change
perceptions of you?

Mr. CARTER: It was a very serious mistake for me to make. I was actually in
the backyard of a friend in North Carolina and I was asked, `Are you a
born-again Christian?' and I answered truthfully, `Yes, I am.' I had always
assumed that that phrase was completely acceptable, at least among Christians.
And there were news reporters there. It was kind of late in the '76 campaign,
and it was reported, and the reaction was very severe and negative, because
the people who were not familiar with that phrase assumed that I was claiming
to have some special endowment from God in visions, and that I also tended to
elevate myself above all other human beings in my moral standards, which was
not the case at all.

Being a born-again Christian has been a phrase I used since I was probably
three or four years old. Is used regularly in Christian churches in my area.
So it was a very negative reaction to what I had to say, and I was very
careful from then on to separate openly and ostentatiously my religious faith
from any responsibilities that I assumed when I became president.

GROSS: How active do you think the Christian right was in 1976 when you were
running?

Mr. CARTER: They were non-existent. They were really non-existent then.
There were a few statements made from some people that would now be called the
Christian right, but they were insignificant. I think it was probably three
or four years later before I think Time or Newsweek magazine--I've
forgotten--had a front cover story on the birth of the Christian right. And
in my own denomination--I was a Southern Baptist--it was the election of a
president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979 that brought about a
change in our own denomination. It took 10 years or so to completely
implement what they espoused as fundamentalist, but it was not culminated
until the year 2000 and at that time a new doctrine was established, was
adopted in the Southern Baptist Convention like a creed, and that creed has
now been imposed on Baptists and, of course, Baptists have been non-credo
people since the founding of our faith many, many years ago. But those were
the changes that have taken place.

GROSS: When you were president, did you ever find that your political
position and your religious views ever came into conflict?

Mr. CARTER: Yes. There was one issue in particular that was a very serious
problem for me, and that was abortion. I have never believed that Jesus
Christ, whom I worship, would approve abortions, unless the mother's health or
life was threatened or perhaps if the pregnancy was from rape or incest. This
is hard for me to accept, and at the same time I was sworn by oath to uphold
the laws and Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the Supreme
Court, and the Supreme Court had ruled that abortions in the first trimester
of pregnancy were completely acceptable.

So I tried to do everything I could within the bounds of the law to minimize
and discourage abortions. As a matter of fact, one of the easily understood
principles is that two-thirds of the women who have abortions claim, at least,
that the reason is that they cannot financially support another child, so I
developed what's known as Women, Infants, Children program, WIC program, to
give special benefits to women and infant--and pregnant women and infant
children. Also I promoted the proposition that adoption should be easier, and
I tried to promulgate training for--in high school on ways to avoid unwanted
pregnancy. But I had to uphold the law, so that particular one was
troublesome for me.

Another that was legally troublesome for me that didn't really ever come into
effect was the Supreme Court's ruling shortly before I became president that
authorized the death penalty. That had been prohibited as unfair. But when
the Supreme Court ruled, luckily I went through my entire term as governor and
my entire term as president and no one was executed under my administrations,
and I have never felt that Jesus Christ, again, would approve the death
penalty as it's presently supported so strongly by some of the conservative
Christians and others in this country. Those are the two issues.

GROSS: With abortion, since you personally oppose abortion but upheld a
woman's right to abortion because the Supreme Court ensured that right, did
you ever state your views on abortion? Did you feel like you should speak out
against abortion as you continued to uphold the right to abortion?

Mr. CARTER: Yes, I did frequently. As a matter of fact, I cover this in the
book. On one occasion, I was questioned at one of my fairly frequent White
House press conferences about the fact that rich women could buy abortions and
that poor women didn't have a right to an abortion unless the federal
government paid for them, and I made the remark that was--there was some
criticizing, and I can see why--that sometimes life is unfair. That's not a
very good statement for a president to make, but that was the way I felt. I
didn't think it was right for our country to support abortions by paying for
abortions if it was just to end a pregnancy when the mother's life or safety
was not endangered.

GROSS: My guest is former President Jimmy Carter. His new book is called
"Our Endangered Values." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is President Jimmy Carter, and
he's written a new book called "Our Endangered Values: America's Moral
Crisis."

Now you mentioned that when you publicly stated that you were born again when
you were running for president, that it worked against you, people
misunderstood what you meant by that, and you thought it hurt you in the
election. It's funny 'cause, you know, President Bush is born again. He
discussed that when he was running for office and, you know, it seemed to help
him very much in his campaign. So would you reflect a little bit about what's
changed?

Mr. CARTER: Well, what's changed is what I described earlier; that is, the
rise of fundamentalism has affected both politics, including national policy
in domestic and foreign affairs, and also has affected the religious community
much more than it ever did when I was in politics. And the two have now
merged, so there is an ostentatious and very aggressive effort among the--you
might say the religious right leaders--and I don't criticize them because of
their beliefs--publicly to align themselves with the Republican Party,
provided the Republican Party members who may support are adequately
conservative. So that marriage is--has been a radical departure, in my
opinion, from the ancient values of our country.

At the same time through various means, some of them not well-publicized,
there has been a tremendous amount of taxpayers' money that is being sent
directly to churches in our country, and the argument has been can the
churches be discriminatory against people who receive services through them
from taxpayers' money, and the present administration's policy is that we
should not make the churches declare non-discrimination. Let them
discriminate. So these two factors are unprecedented in our country, and I
think they contravene the basic premises on which our country was founded, as
espoused most clearly by Thomas Jefferson, who advocated a wall between church
and state.

GROSS: You're a Baptist, and you say in your book that Southern Baptists had
been committed to the separation of church and state, and that the church
abhorred the concept of churches becoming involved in the partisan world, and
this is when you were growing up. Why was that--there that rejection of
getting involved in the political partisan world?

Mr. CARTER: Well, when I was a little child, my father was a Sunday school
teacher, and it was inculcated in me and the other students then that the
basic origins of the Baptist Church in this country was independence from
government and that we would not abide by government ordaining a particular
denomination, a particular faith, a particular church to be dominant, as had
happened in Europe. That's why a lot of people came over. Roger Williams
founded our church in this particular country.

Also, the Baptists, though, have always been a non-credo organization, and
that means that not only is every individual church congregation autonomous or
sovereign, but that every individual human being or--is--has a right to go
directly to God through prayer and to relate directly with God. So we avoided
any sort of creed to be imposed on us by an outside power, and the Southern
Baptist Convention itself has now departed from that, and in the year 2000, as
I mentioned earlier, adopted a very severe creed that is now--must be adopted
officially by anyone who serves as a pastor in a church, who serves as a
missionary overseas, who has a job as administrator or teacher in one of the
Southern Baptist Conventions or seminaries to teach students and so forth. So
we have departed, I'm afraid, in many ways from those religious policies.

GROSS: You and Rosalynn left the Southern Baptist Conference. Is it because
of this new creed?

Mr. CARTER: Yes, because of the new creed and some of the elements of it.
Two things that I didn't mention that caused me concern was that in the old
statements that Baptists used to use very lax, it said that the interpretation
of biblical verses--there are about more than 30,000 of them--would be for
Christians the words and actions of Jesus Christ. That statement was deleted
from the new creed, and instead and obviously in effect, the elected leaders
of the Southern Baptist Convention would then be the interpreters of the
Scripture, and that all subordinates, all people that adhere to that had to
agree.

The other thing was their declaration concerning the subservience of women,
that women have to be subservient to their husbands, and there now is a
prohibition against any woman occupying a position of authority or
responsibility within the Southern Baptist Convention. Our most famous and
revered heroes when I was a child were people like Lottie Moon, who was a
missionary to China. We still give a Lottie Moon Christmas offering
throughout the Southern Baptist Convention. Now a woman can't be the lead
missionary. A woman can't even be a chaplain, for instance, now in the
military forces if she's a Southern Baptist. They have disavowed those
policies, and a woman can't speak with authority or teach men in a church.

Those are just a couple of the new ordained principles that all Southern
Baptists now have to accept in order to be a member of the convention. I
can't and couldn't agree to that.

GROSS: And what about the church that you've belonged to in Plains, Georgia,
for so long? The church in which you've taught Sunday school for so many
years? Are the members of that church still members of the Southern Baptist
Convention?

Mr. CARTER: I think, if I'm not mistaken, almost all of the members of our
church agree with me and what I've just described to you as basic religious
principles. What we call the sainthood of the believer. That is that each
individual has a right to worship God directly, that each church has to be
autonomous. We have women deacons and next month we will ordain a woman
minister in our church. She'll be the associate member of that church. And
we believe that we shouldn't be bound by a creed imposed on us by outside, so
the members of my church, still a Baptist Church, have these same beliefs that
I do in effect. I can't say that everybody's 100 percent in agreements with
me, but we have open discussions when our congregation gets together, and I
think I'm accurately expressing the overwhelming beliefs.

GROSS: My guest is President Jimmy Carter. He's written a new book called
"Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis."

Let me ask you about evolution since, you know, intelligent design is before
the courts now. How do you deal with the fact that science tells us different
things than the Bible does about the creation of men and women and the Earth?

Mr. CARTER: Well, in our "Endangered Values" book, I describe my feelings
about this quite thoroughly. I studied nuclear physics when I was a young
man. I was one of the originators of the nuclear submarine program. I worked
under Admiral Hyman Rickover. At the same time, as you've already mentioned,
I'm a devout Christian. I don't see any incompatibility at all between the
two. My belief is that God created the universe. My belief is that God
permits us to understand the new developments that we can witness in universal
matters. When the Bible was written, we didn't have the Hubble Telescope. We
didn't have microscopes so we could look at small items. We didn't have a way
to test the age of rocks and so forth. Now we have these scientific
capabilities, and so I think that science or--is just a revelation of God's
creation, and so the two are completely separate. And we can't prove the
existence of things in our faith.

As a matter of fact, the definition of faith in the Bible is that we know
things that cannot be proven. Well, we don't have to have faith to believe
that the moon is out there. That's something that we can see for ourselves.
And we can't have science prove the existence of God or all of the things that
we know about Jesus Christ as a Christian. So the two are separate.

I don't believe there's any place in a scientific classroom to teach--to try
to prove to the students that God exists. I think the two ought to be
completely separate. So I believe in both of them, the science and religion.
The two are completely separate. One should not be imposed on the other.

GROSS: Jimmy Carter's new book is called "Our Endangered Values." We'll talk
more in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, investigating fraud, waste and financial corruption in
Iraq. We talk with Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq
reconstruction. And we continue our discussion with former President Jimmy
Carter.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with former President Jimmy
Carter. He's written a new book called "Our Endangered Values." He says the
intertwining of politics and religion is breaching the wall between church and
state.

You write in your book that one of the most--you think one of the most bizarre
mixtures of religion and government is the strong influence of some Christian
fundamentalists on US policy in the Middle East, and you're referring there to
Christians who believe in the rapture, that the second...

Mr. CARTER: Yes.

GROSS: ...coming of Jesus is imminent, and that those who are born again will
ascend to heaven when the second coming arrives, and everyone else will be
left behind to face the tribulation. And Israel is important in this formula.
What is Israel's place in this?

Mr. CARTER: Well, what the people believe that you just described is that we
must--that Israel must take over the complete Holy Land, that is Gaza and all
the West Bank, so that the Temple on the Mount, for instance, can be destroyed
and the Temple of Israel be--replace it, and other matters of that kind. And
then in the end, when the rapture occurs and the chosen people by God have
been taken miraculously and instantaneously to heaven and all the rest of us
are then--will be condemned to Hades, at that time all the Jews, according to
this principle, will either be converted to Christianity or burned, and so the
ultimate goal of these people, the ultimate belief of these people--I'm sure
they're very sincere and devout--is that Judaism will be terminated
completely, and that every Jew will have to be a Christian or have to die.

Well, I think that some of the Jewish leaders are willing to accept the
proposition that Jews take over the West Bank and colonize the entire area of
Palestinian land, but they don't look at the final premise on which this
philosophy is based.

GROSS: So you're surprised that there are Israelis and Jewish-American
supporters who are forming alliances with the Christian right inso...

Mr. CARTER: No, I'm not surprised.

GROSS: OK.

Mr. CARTER: I'm not surprised. I think that they're willing to take this
financial help and this encouragement for some of the more conservative Jewish
leaders to colonize the West Bank, and I think they just ignore as a fallacy
an unproven premise that ultimately they will suffer either death or have to
become a Christian. I think they're ignoring the ultimate consequence under
the belief that it's probably not gonna happen. But they're willing to take
the immediate benefits.

GROSS: After Hurricane Katrina destroyed some of the oil infrastructure along
the Gulf Coast, President Bush made a speech in which he asked Americans to
turn down their thermostats and car pool and do other things to conserve
energy. Now when you made your `time to conserve energy' speech when you were
president...

Mr. CARTER: Yes.

GROSS: ...people mocked you for it.

Mr. CARTER: Yes.

GROSS: And, in fact, some people thought it contributed to your losing your
re-election campaign. Can you talk a little bit about that speech and what
went--what was--what you were hoping to accomplish by giving it and what your
reaction was to the reaction you got after you gave it?

Mr. CARTER: Well, I had to fight the oil crisis throughout my four years as
president, and even when I was a governor and President Richard Nixon was
president we had boycotts against the sale of oil to us because we were
friendly toward Israel. And under President Nixon and under me again, there
were long lines at service stations waiting for gasoline. The last 12 months
of my term, the price of oil skyrocketed, much, much greater increase than it
has been in the last 12 months or so, because Iraq invaded Iran, and all the
oil from Iraq and Iran was terminated from the world supply.

So I was very seriously and adversely effected, as an incumbent president, and
so was our nation, by a sustained crisis concerning oil. My main thrust was
to conserve oil, to conserve energy, and I worked out just--I'll give you one
example to save time--with the Congress and with the oil companies and
primarily with automobile manufacturers to require the increase of the
efficiency of automobiles from 12 miles per gallon when I became president,
and we established in the law an increase to 27 1/2 miles per gallon.

When I went out of office inadvertently and against my will, as you know,
because of the 1980 election, that policy was basically terminated and under
President Reagan and his successors, the requirement for efficient automobiles
has been lost. Now, of course, the big SUVs and Hummers and so forth don't
come under any sort of restraints at all, and American motor vehicles use
about 40 percent of our total oil, and we've become heavily dependant again on
foreign oil.

So that's what I had to struggle with and that's what President Bush is
addressing now. President Bush has not been willing to impose any kind of
restraints on the efficiency of automobiles.

GROSS: Let me get back to the speech. You wore a cardigan. Everybody always
mentions that when they mention the speech, `He was wearing a cardigan.' You
talked about the importance of turning down the thermostat and conserving
energy.

Mr. CARTER: Exactly.

GROSS: What did you think the reaction of the American public was gonna be?

Mr. CARTER: Well, as a matter of fact, if you look at the record, which I've
done fairly often, they--in the four years we were able to impose into law a
profoundly important set of standards for efficiency, for insulation of homes,
for the efficiency of stoves and refrigerators and other appliances, for
electric motors used by--in industry, as well as the motor vehicles that I've
described already to you. So despite the constant altercation about it, both
Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate approved my basic proposals,
and we did implement those issues.

So my hope and my expectations when I made this speech in my cardigan sweater
were realized, and when I left office there was a profoundly important set of
laws imposed and rules imposed, and most of them have survived. The
efficiency requirements for electric motors and refrigerator, stoves and
houses still exist without any attenuation. The basic change has been in
motor vehicles, and that's where the present administration has backed away,
as well as some of the predecessors.

GROSS: Well, President Carter, I thank you for talking with us today. Thank
you very much.

Mr. CARTER: Terry, it's been a pleasure to be with you on FRESH AIR again.
It means a lot to me.

GROSS: Jimmy Carter's new book is called "Our Endangered Values." You can
hear an excerpt of the audio book version on our Web site, fresh.npr.org.

Coming up, auditing the Iraq reconstruction and investigating fraud, bribery
and corruption. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Stuart Bowen discusses his work as special inspector
general for Iraqi reconstruction
TERRY GROSS, host:

It's not easy to do audits in a war zone, but that's the job of my guest,
Stuart Bowen. As the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, he
oversees the auditing of the reconstruction and investigates American
involvement in fraud, waste, bribery and kickbacks in Iraq. He's based in
Washington and is about to make his 10th trip to Iraq. Bowen was also the
inspector general for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. He's
worked in the gubernatorial and presidential administrations of George W.
Bush. Earlier this week, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq
Reconstruction, also known as SIGIR, released its seventh report to Congress.
Bowen says $5 billion of reconstruction money has had to be redirected to
security.

So one of the reasons why there isn't enough money to complete all the
projects that were planned is that we have to spend a lot of money on security
because of the insurgency. Are insurgents also blowing up or in other ways
destroying projects that have either been completed or been partially
completed?

Mr. STUART BOWEN (Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction): Yes,
it's been a continuing problem for over a year. A good example is the
northern pipeline. We have a couple of inspections that we completed--or
three in this last--latest report about that pipeline, but it has been beset
with attacks over the last 12 months, and that has naturally impeded both the
flow of oil, affected income--the national income for Iraq, and made the cost
of reconstruction higher.

GROSS: Before reconstruction started, before the actual invasion of Iraq,
projections were that oil revenues would be able to pay for a lot of the
post-war reconstruction. Have there been any oil revenues yet that can help
pay for reconstruction?

Mr. BOWEN: Yes, there have. I mean, there is a steady pace of oil exporting,
but it's been hampered by a number of problems. First, smuggling. The fact
that there are substantial subsidies for fuel in Iraq has caused a black
market for the illegal smuggling of oil products out of Iraq. Second, the
attacks on the pipeline have impeded exports, and although the price of oil
has gone up and added revenue to Iraq, the attacks on the pipelines have
reduced export, and so essentially the total income in oil for Iraq has
remained steady over the last quarter.

GROSS: Now your office is investigating theft, corruption, bribery,
kickbacks. Can you give us an overview of how that picture looks right now?

Mr. BOWEN: Yes. We've made substantial progress over this last quarter on a
variety of cases. I can't go into their details because there's a grand jury
impaneled and the information from that grand jury is confidential. But what
I can tell you Is that we have an organization called the Special
Investigative Task Force for Iraq Reconstruction, SPITFIRE, that is composed
of immigrations and customs enforcement from the Department of Homeland
Security, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of State inspector
general and the Department of Justice. And in pooling our resources, we have
made substantial progress in accumulating evidence on a variety of cases
involving fraud and bribery. I expect very soon to be prepared to make some
announcements on specifics about those cases.

GROSS: Now is this investigating fraud and bribery on the part of contractors
in Iraq? Like who are you looking at?

Mr. BOWEN: Yes, US personnel in Iraq, contractors and government.

GROSS: Are there things about Iraq that make it a kind of fertile climate for
bribery and corruption and fraud?

Mr. BOWEN: Yes. There wa--it's a cash environment. There was simply
millions--hundreds of millions of dollars in cash being transferred in Iraq
since CPA took over. The Coalition Provisional Authority was in charge of
managing a development fund for Iraq. After the war, there was simply no
electronic funds transfer capacity, and that means virtually every
transaction, all payment of salaries, the payment on governmental budgets was
done in cash, and simply having that much cash around, I think, led to some
wrongful conduct, and we are charged with identifying those who engaged in
criminal conduct and bringing them to justice.

GROSS: I think there was one business transaction involving $120 million in
cash and 96 million of those dollars actually went missing? How do you track
down...

Mr. BOWEN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...amounts of cash like volumes? How do you track down that much
cash?

Mr. BOWEN: Yes. Well, actually you're referring to our audit of the
south-central CPA regional office in Hillah, and that has certainly been a
financial disaster zone, if you will. We've done five audits in that area.
In that particular audit we concluded that there was 96 million for which
there was inadequate documentation for the use of the funds. Actual lost
dollars was 7 million, but we have investigations going on related to that.

And in our latest report we looked at two projects that were supposed to be
funded with that money. The deputy secretary of Defense said, `Well, I
understand that, you know, there was no accountability on this money, but go
out and see if we got anything for the dollars that were actually spent,'
notwithstanding the lack of proper paperwork, and we did. We looked at the
Karbala library and we looked at the Babylon police academy, and they were
both severely deficient, failed to meet specifications, and grant dollars and
contract dollars were missing.

GROSS: Now in--I think it was in your July report, you urged the government
to withhold almost $90 million in payments to Halliburton because of problems
with Halliburton's cost reporting. You said that the cost reporting was so
problematic your office couldn't perform a credible audit. What were the
problems you were running into?

Mr. BOWEN: Well, it has been a problem that Kellogg, Brown & Root had, you
know, for over a year.

GROSS: And I should say Kellogg, Brown & Root is a subsidiary of Halliburton,
and they are the subcontractor to the military to provide certain services
like--What?--food and cleaning?

Mr. BOWEN: That's right. They have what's called the LOGCAP contract, and
that's to provide life support to the military. We are not looking at those
issues. We've been looking at Kellogg, Brown & Root for a while, and we've
had concerns about them. We've done several audits. We did an audit of how
they managed property, both in Baghdad and Kuwait, during the Coalition
Provisional Authority's period. We've looked at how they managed the task
order that supported--provided life support to the Coalition Provisional
Authority. And in each of those audits, we found serious deficiencies. The
Project and Contracting Office, which is in charge of the oversight of the oil
contracts that Kellogg, Brown & Root has, also had serious problems with the
cost accounting, simply how KBR kept their books, and put them under a cure
notice last December. That simply means that they were severely deficient.
They needed to bring their cost accounting up to minimum standards or they
were in danger of losing the contract. That cure notice stayed in place until
June when it was finally lifted.

During my eighth trip to--or my ninth trip to Baghdad in August, I addressed
this issue with the managers of the Project and Contracting Office and they
said that those issues had mostly been resolved, but there were still some
other problems with respect to Kellogg, Brown & Root.

GROSS: Are the problems that you're finding with Kellogg, Brown & Root pretty
standard problems that you might find in a situation like this, or does it
seem exceptional to you?

Mr. BOWEN: Well, I think this is an extremely difficult environment to
operate in, so it's hard to say in a case like this. This is sui generis.
This is a situation of trying to rebuild an oil industry in a war zone, and so
that is an obstacle that is simply--we haven't experienced elsewhere. But
nevertheless, I'm concerned that certain required standards of cost reporting
and execution are not being met by Kellogg, Brown & Root, and that they need
to bring their performance up, and it's not just me. It's me visiting with
the managers, the US managers at the Project and Contracting Office in
Baghdad. They've had these concerns for most of this year as well.

GROSS: I recently interviewed a reporter from the Chicago Tribune named Cam
Simpson who wrote an investigative series in the Tribune saying that KBR
is--Kellogg, Brown & Root--is leaving the hiring of foreign workers in--this
is mostly unskilled foreign workers--to Middle Eastern subcontractors who use
fraud and coercion to lure unsuspecting workers to Iraq, and that these
workers are sometimes told they're gonna work in a swank hotel in Jordan, but
instead they end up in Iraq, and several of the workers from Nepal who were
executed in Iraq by terrorists were in this position. And also these workers,
in order to get the job, have to pay a middle man, a broker, and they ended up
going deep into debt just to pay the broker to get the job, and then they
become the equivalent of an indentured worker. They have to work just to pay
back the debt that they have, and they can't leave the job even if they want
to. Have you heard anything like this?

Mr. BOWEN: Yes, I have, and I addressed it last year with the Defense
Contract Management Agency which is in charge of overseeing Kellogg, Brown &
Root's operations under the LOGCAP contract. LOGCAP is the life support
contract that the US government issues to support overseas logistics for the
military. We had similar complaints come in over our hot line, and I went
with my inspectors to meet with the DCMA head and urged him to address them
with KBR, and he said he would. We did see some responsiveness, some
agreement to change the way of doing business, but I still think that the
issue is there and that more work needs to be done.

GROSS: My guest is Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq
reconstruction. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq
reconstruction. He oversees the auditing of the reconstruction and
investigates American involvement in fraud, waste, bribery and kickbacks in
Iraq.

What are some of the projects that have been completed and that are
functioning in Iraq that you think are making significant improvements in the
life of Iraqis?

Mr. BOWEN: Good question. We have been out across Iraq, my inspectors have,
over the last six months visiting projects, and we visited five electrical
substations down in Basra, and they are very well-constructed. They're not
fully integrated into the grid yet, and we identified that problem and it's
being solved. But it's quality workmanship. There's a health-care facility
that we looked at this last quarter that is in quite good shape. There were
some minor problems with the concrete beams, but overall it's a good project.
We've done three inspections of the al-Fatah pipeline crossing in northern
Iraq, and while it's still early in construction, it looks like that that
integrated oil pipeline system is going to greatly benefit Iraq, and is an
example of how SIGIR has been able to help program success. Our engineers
looked at the river crossing tie-in and made a suggestion of a modification
that will perhaps increase the flow of oil from that location by over 50
percent, resulting in millions of dollars in additional revenue for Iraq.

GROSS: You've made how many trips to Iraq?

Mr. BOWEN: I'll be leaving on my 10th trip at the end of this week.

GROSS: Can you share with us one of the most interesting experiences that
you've had in Iraq?

Mr. BOWEN: Yes. Well, in December when I was leaving, it was--it's very cold
there and I was sitting in the back of a C-130 strapped into the hanging jump
seats. It was night, and we took off around 8:00, and normally when you
leave, you spiral out. What that means is that the pilot will corkscrew his
ascent in order to avoid any ground fire. Well, we started to go into our
corkscrew and suddenly I realized this was different. He went into a left
bank that was pulling at least 2 Gs, and suddenly out the rear of the aircraft
I saw this bright light, and I realized he'd fired all of his flares, and I
could see out the back window for miles, it was so bright, and I knew that
something wrong had happened and that we perhaps were--had taken a shot. And
indeed, when we landed, I had talked to the load master, and he confirmed that
there had been a discharge of a handheld SAM in our direction, but it had
followed the flares.

So that--you know, it is a--I've called what we do extreme auditing because it
is a dangerous place to work and, you know, it's not just that experience,
it's also been we've had rockets that with some regularity fall in the
vicinity of where we work, and we work right there on the Tigris in the
Republican Palace. It's a massive structure filled with Italian marble
designs, beautiful artwork, but it is also exposed to rocket attacks, and
indeed in January a rocket came through the roof and impacted the room
immediately adjacent to where my auditors were working, and tragically two
project and contracting office employees were killed.

GROSS: Has being in this job meant, you know, like losing certain friends?
Because you had to give the facts and sometimes the facts don't look that
appealing in terms of projects that aren't getting completed, the amount of
money that we have to spend on security, insurgents destroying projects that
are completed or half-completed and you have to start them all over again. I
mean, the news isn't always good news, and...

Mr. BOWEN: Mm-hmm. Well, you're right. Being an inspector general is not a
great way to win friends and influence people per se. I wouldn't say I've
lost friends in the course of this. It's simply carrying out a mission that
I've been assigned to do, and as I said when I started this job that I would
let my audits and investigations speak for themselves and we would tell the
good and the bad news just as we found it, and that's what we've done. And
there's been a lot of both, and I think as we move in then to the next phase
of supporting Iraqis as they rebuild the rest of their infrastructure, that we
can look for a continuation of the steady progress that I've begun to see over
the last two quarters.

GROSS: When reconstruction efforts were projected, I don't think anyone
thought that the reconstruction would be taking place while Iraq was still a
war zone, while there was a powerful insurgency. But that, in fact, is what's
happened. Are there instances in which there's a level of almost futility in
reconstructing in the middle of a war zone knowing that insurgents are gonna
target some of the reconstruction efforts?

Mr. BOWEN: Perhaps with some projects there has been a frustration. The
northern pipeline that I've talked about several times is one of those. But
also let me say that Iraq has 18 provinces. It's really--the insurgency is
concentrated in four. There are large sections of the country that are
relatively peaceful and where reconstruction has progressed unimpeded. But at
the same time, there is danger--the threat of danger everywhere, and that
pushes costs up and leads to delays.

GROSS: Stuart Bowen, I want to thank you very much, and I wish you safe
travels on your next trip to Iraq.

Mr. BOWEN: Terry, thank you. It's been a pleasure to be with you.

GROSS: Stuart Bowen is the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.
His office released their seventh report to Congress earlier this week. You
can find a link to that report on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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