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Disinformation presents
Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers (2006)

"There wasn't anything great or glorious about the whole obscene ordeal."
- Bill Peterson, former KBR/Halliburton truck driver

Review By: Ross Johnson   
Published: October 05, 2006

Director: Robert Greenwald

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violent news footage)
Run Time: 01h:23m:00s
Release Date: September 26, 2006
UPC: 893890001994
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+B-B- B

DVD Review

The Iraq War has been the most "contracted" war in history. Billions of dollars of taxpayer money have been given to private companies to provide services ranging from food prep to water treatment to detainee interrogation. If we include contractors among the countries with a presence in Iraq, they come in just behind the US in number. Robert Greenwald, creator of the anti-war documentary Uncovered: The War on Iraq is back to take on war profiteering. The subtitle says it all: "Who's Getting Killed. Who's Making a Killing."

Greenwald begins with the families of two young men, Jerry Zovko and Scott Helvenston, both killed in Iraq. They weren't soldiers, though, but private citizens contracted by Blackwater Security to escort Coalition Provisional Authority Chief L. Paul Bremer. Their deaths and subsequent mutilations led to a very brief public call for investigations into the conditions under which they worked, and whether or not their company had provided them with proper and contractually stipulated precautions. Within 48 hours, Blackwater's powerful lobbying firm had met with top Republican leaders from both houses. CEO and founder Eric Prince had previously, along with his family, contributed over two million dollars to conservative causes. Not only were no investigations carried out, but within the following year Blackwater had received an additional 200-ish million in government contracts.

The first, most striking thing about Iraq for Sale is that I really hadn't considered the stories of these private contractors. Later in the film, we meet the families of civilian truck drivers who die in similarly tragic circumstances, and I was struck by the fact that we don't hear much about them. There has been at least some outcry that U.S. soldiers have been shortchanged in terms of armor and provisions while in Iraq, but almost none over the fact that civilian contractors have apparently been equally shortchanged while working for companies getting paid almost obscene sums of money. Seeing the families of these guys, it's hard to make much of an emotional distinction between the soldiers' deaths and those of the contractors. And just as an emphasis on a "faster, lighter, cheaper" military has likely endangered the troops, corporate cost-cutting measures pose an equal danger to civilian workers. The profit motivation to cut corners in order to increase profit has an equally disturbing opposite in Halliburton, though, which works under what is called a "cost-plus" arrangement: any justifiable expense is reimbursed with profit added on top. As a result, there's very little motive to save money. The company, in fact, receives a premium for everything it buys, leading to lavish spending.

Since there has been almost no oversight or investigation of these companies, it's difficult to draw direct conclusions, which is a bit of a problem for Greenwald's movie. It feels awkwardly assembled and edited, compared to some of his previous films, and there's not always direct proof for what is being alleged. There are also about a thousand problems with these incestuous congress/corporate relationships, and there's just not enough time in this one doc to cover them all. The issue of civilian interrogators at Abu Ghraib, entirely unaccountable to the military chain of command, could easily be a documentary on its own. What Greenwald does make perfectly clear is that the profit motive (coupled with sweetheart deal-making) is almost entirely incompatible with the kinds of work being done in Iraq. In a true free-market set-up, companies like Halliburton might feel pressure to not, for example, deliver water contaminated with deadly pathogens to US soldiers since that could endanger their contracts. Since, however, the often non-competitive contracts are based at least as much on connections and fundraising prowess as on qualifications, there's very little motivation to provide top-tier service. Congressmen are rewarded with lavish contributions for voting for war and looking the other way on profiteering, while private companies are paid back with interest. There's just too much money changing hands to not be cynical about the whole business of the Iraq War.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: There's a bit of haloing in the nonanamorphic image, and a great deal of news footage of varying quality. Considering that this isn't the type of thing that you pick up for the image quality, it's absolutely fine, but hardly spectacular.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: There's not much going on with the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, so I'm not entirely sure why it was necessary. Like the image, the audio gets the job done, but doesn't wow.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 0 cues
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Robert Greenwald
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: First, there's a commentary track by director Robert Greenwald, who takes us behind the scenes of the process of building a documentary with relatively little money in a very short amount of time. There's a four-minute making-of as well, which covers some of the same ground.

Next, there's a highlight version of the main feature, that runs about 23 minutes. It's exactly what it sounds like, an abbreviated version for "organizing purposes." Or perhaps just for those with really short attention spans. Open Door Training Program is a four-minute promotional bit about interning at Brave New Films. The Invisible Workforce is a roughly five-minute bit about Pakistanis and Indians doing subcontracting drudge work in Iraq. Interesting, but brief.

Finally, Important Votes is 28 minutes of footage from key votes in congress on war profiteering. In clip after clip, efforts to introduce amendments or bills to toughen restrictions on contractors or punish profiteering are shot down, on mostly party-line votes. It's a wee bit depressing.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

While I might have appreciated a little more focus, the film coveres a lot of ground in roughly 75 minutes, which can be seen as a strength or a liability. Still, producer/director Robert Greenwald reminds us that, disturbingly, there's a great deal of money to be made in war. Even if it's not perfect, it's pretty essential as an investigation of a little-discussed topic. Most of the people who pick this up are probably going to be on Greenwald's side from the beginning, but there's plenty of food for thought here for others, as well.


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