From January 2003, when he took control of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter seemed like a man in the right place at the perfect time. "This century is going to be a very dangerous century," Hunter told reporters after he was selected by acclamation as committee chair. Hunter pledged to give President George W. Bush "the resources he needs to win the nation's wars." He pooh-poohed the ability of United Nations inspectors to ferret out Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqis, he said, had demonstrated they were "extremely skilled at hiding this stuff."
"Our nation must manage significant national security challenges over the next several years," Hunter said. "We are already facing a potential conflict with Iraq, new challenges on the Korean peninsula, and key decisions in the president's plans to transform the military." All this was going to cost money, he added, especially for military modernization and the high-tech weaponry that would be needed to win wars of the future. "I want to see us get to $90 billion," Hunter said. "There's a very strong case to be made for more money."
The era of the U.S. foot soldier fighting from house to house was a thing of the past, Hunter believed. Certainly Saddam would be beaten by America's technological might. Aerial drones would spy on the enemy, and smart bombs dropped by stealth bombers from 35,000 feet would wipe out the inept Iraqi legions, to be followed by an American advance into Baghdad -- all made possible by miracles wrought by U.S. defense contractors, many based in San Diego and with close ties to Hunter.
They included the Titan Corporation, founded and run by Gene Ray, a donor to Hunter and other Republican causes. The company started as a computer and electronics contractor to the Pentagon but had expanded into providing translation services for the Central Intelligence Agency. Other San Diego-area defense contractors who were friends of Hunter included Cubic Corp., Science Applications International Corp., and General Atomics. All were creatures of what President Eisenhower once labeled the military-industrial complex. Between them, they held billions of dollars in defense contracts, and they were regular campaign contributors to Hunter.
Though Hunter cultivated their support at fundraisers held at country clubs and hunting lodges throughout the country, he never acknowledged that the contractors' money influenced his vote or his actions on their behalf. An admirer of gadgetry, Hunter had called for more spending on "R&D," short for "research and development," to stock military arsenals.
"I like the idea of following weapon systems seamlessly from R&D to procurement," Hunter told a reporter for Aerospace Daily in January 2003. Speedy procurement was needed, the congressman said, because the smaller "force structure" favored by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld would make it more dangerous for U.S. troops to fight more than one war at a time. Hunter said he "would like to see a force structure larger than we have now" but averred that more and faster spending on precision weaponry would counterbalance risking troops' lives.
When war came that March 19, the Armed Services chairman released a 167-word statement: "Saddam Hussein was given 12 years to disarm as a condition of ending the first Gulf War. He chose another path. Our armed forces will meet him at the end of this path. I believe we will win this conflict in overwhelming fashion. I also believe this must be our guiding principle for the future. America's mothers and fathers demand no less from us than providing all the tools and training necessary to win our wars with the fewest American casualties possible.
"Since the last Gulf War, we have had major advances in our war- fighting capabilities, from precision-guided munitions to deep-strike stealth aircraft. These capabilities will be exhibited in the coming hours. Our troops are well-trained, well-equipped, and well-led, from noncommissioned officers and small-unit leaders up through the commander in chief.
"We in Congress must stand behind our troops at all times. We also must continue to rebuild our military to ensure future victories in the continuing war on terror and other potential conflicts."
On May 27, little more than a month after America's victory over Saddam, Hunter led an eight-member congressional delegation on a tour of the conquered land. "Contrary to the impression of a general state of lawlessness in Iraq, our brief visit to the heart of Baghdad found a city bustling with activity and evidence of a return to normal life," he told reporters upon his return to Washington.
In the year since then, Hunter has maintained his faith in the success of America's foray into the land of Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis. When word broke this month about prisoner abuse at the hands of U.S. National Guard troops serving as guards in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, Hunter insisted to reporters that it was an isolated incident, not, as some alleged, a systematic breakdown rooted in the Pentagon, Central Intelligence Agency, and their civilian contractors. "Remember six individuals out of 135,000 people serving honorably in Iraq -- six individuals are now at this point the targets of investigation for criminal prosecution."
Hunter left unspoken the fact that an investigation in January 2004 by Army major general Antonio Taguba had implicated employees of one of the congressman's biggest campaign contributors, Titan Corp., in the Abu Ghraib affair. "In general, U.S. civilian contract personnel [Titan Corporation, CACI, etc.], third-country nationals, and local contractors do not appear to be properly supervised within the detention facility at Abu Ghraib," reported Taguba. "During our onsite inspection, they wandered about with too much unsupervised free access in the detainee area. Having civilians in various outfits [civilian and DCUs] in and about the detainee area causes confusion and may have contributed to the difficulties in the accountability process and with detecting escapes."
The report cited the testimony of Adel Nakhla, one of the Titan-employed translators working at the prison: "They [detainees] were all naked, a bunch of people from MI, the MP were there that night, and the inmates were ordered by SGT Granier and SGT Frederick ordered the guys while questioning them to admit what they did. They made them do strange exercises by sliding on their stomach, jump up and down, throw water on them and made them wet, called them all kinds of names such as 'gays' do they like to make love to guys, then they handcuffed their hands together and their legs with shackles and started to stack them on top of each other by insuring that the bottom guy's penis will touch the guy on top's butt."