The Slick One Tonight Is Cheney

Some Kazakh oil-field workers, if they're still living, would testify to that

If ever anyone needed an aggressive ambulance-chaser like John Edwards to argue on his behalf against Dick Cheney, it's Bisen Zhekenov, a former Halliburton oil-field worker in Kazakhstan.

Permanently damaged by toxic gas in a 1998 oil-field accident, Zhekenov was later fired because he was too ill to work—all of this during Cheney's watch as CEO—and has been futilely fighting the company in court ever since.

The sad story of this Kazakh worker—and others, as well—was reported on the other side of the planet by the Associated Press and The Moscow Times, but it barely got any play at all in America, of course. Read all about Zhekenov, whose lungs were ruined by hydrogen sulfide (the dangerous gas that smells like rotten eggs), and Halliburton (whose dealings with American taxpayers emit a similar odor) in this July 2004 story re-posted here by the trade journal Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections.

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But first, imagine tonight's Cheney-Edwards debate in a different format. It's a courtroom. Cue up the theme music from Perry Mason (one of the TV shows that Edwards says helped inspire him to a career).

Cheney's on the witness stand, being cross-examined by Edwards about how Halliburton is still paying the U.S. vice president a salary and how Cheney was a member of Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev's Oil Advisory Board. Edwards then grills Cheney about Halliburton's refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the toxic-gas leak at the huge Tengiz oil field in Kazakhstan and thus won't shell out anything to workers who may have been harmed by it. Just then, Paul Drake hurries into the courtroom and whispers into his boss Edwards's ear, and the lawyer begs the court's indulgence while Bisem Zhekenov is wheeled in.

This drama is shot, of course, in Smell-O-Vision.

During tonight's debate, the grim story of Bisen Zhekenov won't come up. The stench of corruption may not even be directly discussed, but it should emanate from your TV set anyway. It could be interesting to see how a dynamic trial lawyer tackles a shrewd pol.

Cheney's the fearless draft dodger who's all about oil, no matter how dangerous the risk—to others. As he told a gathering of Texas oilmen in 1998, speaking of that risk, "You've got to go where the oil is. I don't worry about it a lot." (See this August 13 Bush Beat item.)

So many questions for Cheney: What exactly was talked about at those secretive meetings of your energy task force early in the Bush Error? For that matter, what about your role, before you led the search committee to find Dubya a running mate and chose yourself, as a member of Nazarbayev's cozy cluster of oil advisers? Ever talk to Jim Giffen, the central figure in the Kazakhgate scandal? The guy who's going on trial in January? And what about Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root and its juicy Iraq "reconstruction" contracts?

See this page on KBR from the Center for Public Integrity, plus other pieces of the center's mammoth Windfalls of War project. And search out the numerous references to Kazakhgate below in previous Bush Beat items. Perhaps the best recent piece on this is Ken Silverstein's "Oil Adds Sheen to the Kazakh Regime," published last May in the Los Angeles Times and re-posted here.

But be sure to read Seymour Hersh's July 2001 New Yorker piece, "The Price of Oil," which peers into U.S. oil companies' bidness in Central Asia. (The International Eurasian Institute for Economic and Political Research re-posted the Hersh piece here.) Also check out the exhaustive links compiled by George Draffan for his Oil War News.


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