Dayton wants panel hearing into claims about tainted water

Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) is calling for Armed Services Committee hearings into allegations that Halliburton supplied contaminated water to the U.S. military in Iraq.

Dayton, after participating in a hearing of the Democratic Policy Committee chaired by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), said that he is planning to send a letter in the next few days to Armed Services Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), chairman of the Government Affairs Committee’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

In the letter, Dayton will ask Warner and Coleman to schedule hearings investigating the allegations.

“It should be criminal, and it is certainly immoral,” Dayton said about the charges against Halliburton in a brief interview.

A spokesman for Warner said that the Armed Services Committee is working to schedule a hearing on Iraq reconstruction contracting in the coming weeks. The hearing will cover all aspects of the reconstruction efforts, he said.

Although, he has not yet seen the letter from Dayton, Coleman has directed staffers for his committee to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the allegations that Halliburton failed to notify military authorities of contaminated water at a U.S. military base in Iraq, said his spokeswoman Andrea Wuebker.

The Democratic Policy Council has been holding a series of hearings related to contracting abuses in Iraq.

Dayton was the only other member besides Dorgan at the Policy Committee hearing Monday. The hearing was devoted to allegations by former Halliburton employees that the company delivered untreated water to a base near Ramadi, Iraq, from the polluted Euphrates River at Camp Junction City.

Former Halliburton employees Ben Carter and Ken May testified about the practice yesterday. Their evidence was corroborated by internal Halliburton e-mails.

“The level of contamination was roughly two times the normal contamination of untreated water from the Euphrates River,” William Granger, an employee of Halliburton subsidiary KBR, said in an e-mail July 15. Granger also said that untreated water had been supplied to the camp in Ramadi for about a year.

Carter, a former water specialist with the company, said that when he first started working on the Iraq base he was told that the water was being treated. However, he said that after larvae were discovered in a Ramadi base toilet bowl in March 2005 he tested the water and realized it was untreated.

Water out of the Euphrates was pumped for both potable and non-potable purposes. Potable water is used for cooking and drinking and requires a high level of purification. Non-potable water at the Ar Ramadi base was used for bathing, showering, shaving, laundry, cleaning and other purposes.

“Even non-potable water must meet certain minimum safety standards widely accepted in the water purification industry and adopted by the Army in their operations manual,” Carter said in his testimony. Otherwise, people risk being exposed to contaminants in the water. According to Carter, KBR never chlorinated the non-potable water tanks.

He recalled Granger telling him that waste water from the water purification process that should have been dumped in the river was used as the non-potable water supply.

Halliburton, a company formerly run by Vice President Cheney, has denied its former workers’ claims, according to the Associated Press. Also, the Marine Corps said that the water records for last year showed no problems.

Dorgan said that the Democratic Policy Committee has requested additional information from the Department of Defense and that he would turn over any information arising from the hearing to the Pentagon.

Several of the committee’s previous hearings have involved whistle-blowers from Halliburton.

“That is not because we are seeking to cast Halliburton in a bad light,” Dorgan said. “Rather, it is because Halliburton has obtained the lion’s share of contracts in Iraq and a number of whistle-blowers have come forward to report problems.”

The committee previously has heard testimony about a company called Custer Battles, which the Bush administration awarded more than $100 million in contracts to provide security in Iraq. Custer Battles allegedly went on to defraud the Pentagon, overbilling it through sham companies in the Cayman Islands.