A retired Army general who last year sued a Colorado Springs man over allegations of contract fraud in the U.S. missile-defense program is now at the center of international controversy over his appointment to head the reconstruction of Iraq.
Jay Garner, 64, who left the Army in 1997 to become president of California-based defense contractor SY Coleman, has been appointed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to head the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid, created by the Pentagon to administer Iraq after Saddam Hussein is ousted.
Garner was chosen for his experience during the first Gulf War, in which he headed the military's efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the Kurds in northern Iraq. He later became a top missile-defense official and ultimately assistant vice chief of staff for the Army, and also served with Rumsfeld on a commission advising Congress on space-based weapons.
But the appointment is drawing fire from critics who say Garner's post-military career as an arms trader, as well as a statement he once made in support of Israel, make him a poor choice for the job of bringing peace to a Muslim nation.
"This guy is exactly the guy you want, if you want to stir up anti-U.S. sentiment in the Middle East," said Michael Shellenberger, spokesman for a coalition of organizations that wants Garner's appointment reversed. The coalition has established a Web site, www.StopJayGarner.com.
Shellenberger and others have also noted that last year, Biff Baker, a retired officer at Army Space Command in Colorado Springs, claimed Garner's company had improperly received contracts on the U.S. missile-defense program without competitive bids. A Huntsville, Ala. attorney representing one of SY Coleman's competitors has suggested in court that Garner used his influence as a former missile-defense official to land such contracts.
"I think it should raise the concern of Congress," Shellenberger said.
Garner and his company, then called SY Technology, denied the accusations and sued Baker last year for defamation and libel. The lawsuit was settled out of court. [Bakers allegations were reported in the June 13, 2002, issue of the Independent, which can be read online at www.csindy.com.]
Under the radar
In recent weeks, numerous U.S. and international news outlets -- some of which have contacted the Indy for information on the Biff Baker story -- have raised questions about Garner's latest appointment.
Garner, who was in Kuwait as of press time, has rejected interview requests and abruptly canceled a news conference there that was scheduled for Monday.
U.S. allies and international aid organizations say that first and foremost, the United Nations -- not the Pentagon -- should rule Iraq until the Iraqis themselves can take over.
News organizations have also reported that Garner's company, SY Coleman, worked on missile systems used by the Pentagon in the attacks on Iraq. Not only does that pose a conflict of interest, but Iraqis are likely to distrust a ruler who just made millions of dollars developing weapons that were used to kill them, Shellenberger says.
And Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, notes that Garner in 2000 signed a statement placing the blame for Israeli-Palestinian violence squarely on the Palestinians. Further cementing the ties between Garner and Israel is the fact that SY Coleman has worked on the Arrow defense system that protects Israel against missile attacks.
"It's just completely inappropriate to have a person who is so closely aligned with Israel, govern a Muslim, Arab country," Hooper said. "It just sends a signal to the Muslim and Arab world that America has some kind of agenda going here, and many people suspect that the agenda is reordering the Middle East to benefit the state of Israel."
Baker, who is restricted from discussing the matter under the settlement he reached with Garner and SY Coleman, issued a one-sentence statement by e-mail when asked for his comment.
"I think Garner will do a good job for the President and his buddy, Secretary Rumsfeld," Baker wrote.
-- Terje Langeland