War profiteering has always ranked as the most obscene form of capitalist appropriation, soaked in the gore of the dead and wounded.

Financier J.P. Morgan purchased defective rifles from a U.S. arsenal for $3.50 apiece and sold them back to the Union Army for $22 each during the Civil War. Many soldiers lost fingers or hands when these rifles blew up, but a judge upheld the legality of Morgan’s “free market” capitalism. Today, contractors are selling defective body armor, blamed in the death of many soldiers in Iraq.

The war profiteering orgy unleashed by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney make Morgan’s swindling look like child’s play. Congress is now weighing Bush’s request for another $70 billion for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Some experts predict that the ultimate cost of the Iraq war will be in the trillions. Of that, billions are disappearing into the coffers of Pentagon contractors.

CEOs shuttle back and forth between corporate boardrooms and the Pentagon in a steady stream. Former Halliburton CEO Cheney is Exhibit No. 1. Halliburton is the single largest recipient of Pentagon contracts to “rebuild” Iraq. Two years ago, the Defense Contract Audit Agency identified $263 million in Halliburton overcharges for various Iraq tasks. Earlier this month, the Pentagon quietly announced that it will pay Halliburton all but $10 million of those overcharges. The Pentagon also approved bonuses that brought Halliburton’s profits for these contracts to $100 million.

Congress is a key player in this corrupt system. It votes to approve nearly half a trillion dollars each year for weapons and other military expenditures, most of them “cost-plus” contracts with guaranteed profits, many larded with bonuses.

Republican Randall “Duke” Cunningham resigned his California congressional seat in disgrace last fall after pleading guilty to accepting bribes from defense contractors. He was sentenced to eight years in prison and fined $1.8 million for favors he performed for San Diego-based MZM, Inc. MZM CEO Mitchell Wade permitted Cunningham to live aboard his yacht moored on the Potomac, where he entertained call girls. Wade gave Cunningham free use of a Rolls Royce, jewelry and costly Oriental rugs. Cunningham was a member of the House Defense Appropriations Committee. These favors were just part of the cost of doing business with the Republican-majority Senate and House.

Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and other neo-conservatives started agitating for their doctrine of unilateralism and pre-emptive war in the 1980s with the “Project for a New American Century.” When Bush-Cheney took office in 2000, this crew took over the Pentagon’s highest positions, including the Defense Policy Board (DPB) with Perle as chairman. He was forced to step down when his corrupt ties to Global Crossing were revealed, but he continues as a member of the DPB, which reports to Feith, defense undersecretary for policy.

“Windfalls of War,” a Center for Public Integrity report, reveals that 10 out of 30 members of the DPB “are executives or lobbyists with corporations that have tens of billions of dollars worth of contracts with the Defense Department.” They have served as high-powered agents of the world’s biggest war profiteers, steering hugely lucrative no-bid contracts to military corporations with crony ties to the Republican ultra-right. The 10 largest Pentagon contractors have poured $49 million into candidates’ campaign coffers, favoring the Republicans two to one, another CPI report charges.

War profits involve more than just weapons contracts. For example, oil and gas corporations have reaped billions in profits in part from the Bush-Cheney war policy.

Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill in 2003 to impose a “corporate tax surcharge to fund the war in Iraq.” The bill warned that the costs of the war and occupation were “growing rapidly and uncontrollably” and said corporations that reap billions in windfall profits should pay part of the costs. “A special tax on the profits of the nation’s largest corporations would be in accordance with previous precedents: World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam,” the bill declared. It was buried by the GOP leadership.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and 25 other senators have introduced the “Honest Leadership and Accountability in Contracting Act of 2006.” It would outlaw no-bid contracts doled out by the Bush administration based on crony ties and back room deals by requiring multiple, open bids on all contracts. The bill applies both to military and civilian contracts, thus covering Halliburton’s no-bid contracts in Iraq and for rebuilding the U.S. Gulf Coast. It would make war profiteering a crime punishable by 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

No one seriously expects the current Congress would enact a law criminalizing war profiteers. We need to elect a new House and Senate next Nov. 7 that will enact such a law and oversee its enforcement. U.S. imperialism loves war because it is so profitable. It’s time to take the profits out of war.

Tim Wheeler (greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com) is a member of the World’s

editorial board.