Thursday, September 20, 2007

Blackwater and the draft.

In yet another article about Blackwater today at the WaPo, the notion that rogue, unchecked American hired guns running around Iraq making our military more enemies might not be such a great idea is explored.

An Interior Ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety (dosen't every Iraqi?) told the Post: "They are part of the reason for all the hatred that is directed at Americans, because people don't know them as Blackwater, they know them only as Americans. They are planting hatred, because of these irresponsible acts."

And he said this before the incident on Sunday.

Not that this should come as any great surprise. Gen. Patraeus's Ex-O, Col. Peter Mansoor, recently told Jane's Defense Weekly that the US military needs to take "a real hard look at security contractors on future battlefields and figure out a way to get a handle on them so that they can be better integrated -- if we're going to allow them to be used in the first place. If they push traffic off the roads or if they shoot up a car that looks suspicious, whatever it may be, they may be operating within their contract (but) to the detriment of the mission, which is to bring the people over to your side. I would much rather see basically all armed entities in a counter-insurgency operation fall under a military chain of command." [dangerroom]

Well, duh!

Allowing several tens of thousands of loose cannons to roam around blasting away at civilians, just for the hell of it, while you're supposedly trying to counter an insurgency by winning hearts and minds is lunacy. And the worst part is they're making ten times what our lowly grunts are and they're not even necessarily fighting on our side. They're working for whoever is signing their pay-check, which isn't always the American tax-payer.

As I understand it, we need all these contractors in Iraq to feed our troops, deliver supplies and provide security for our diplomats and politicians because we don't have a big enough army to do it any more. Back in the day, the Army could build a road through a swamp in South Carolina or mount an invasion of Europe, but now we can't even fill up canteens with water. Oh no, now the thing is bottled water. A zillion tons of bottled water glogging up the supply routes, but Pepsi and Coke are loving it.

I digress, though, the point is if this war in Iraq is all about our facing "a radical ideology with an unalterable objective, to enslave whole nations and intimidate the whole world," as W. claims, and we just can't lose there - - then we'd better think about starting the draft back up.

Here we have just last night John Warner and his Republican warmongers defeating a bill that would have returning troops to get longer leave at home, for at least as long as their last deployment. But even that modest attempt to stop this war went down in flames when the Republicans decided supporting their man in the White House was more important than taking care of our troops.

How long exactly do Bush's War Sentaors think the military can keep sending the same people back to Iraq over and over again?

And there doesn't seem to be any end in sight.

The WaPo reports:

"After the measure's defeat, senators predicted that other Iraq amendments in the queue, including several with bipartisan sponsorship, would meet a similar fate. 'I don't think there's going to be any meaningful change of votes or switching until we get into next year,' [Chuck] Hagel said."

We're just going to stick with the surge and count on David Petraeus' master generalship and W.'s keen political skills to get the Iraqis to defend themselves and become a thriving democracy by next summer. Then everyone will be able to come home, or we'll be at war with Iran and there will be a draft and Blackwater employees will be patrolling the streets of America.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

More bad news for Blackwater

AP reports:

"A congressional committee has begun an investigation of the State Department's inspector general, alleging that he blocked fraud investigations in Afghanistan and Iraq, including potential security lapses at the newly built U.S. Embassy in Baghdad."

That congressional committee is the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and its chairman Henry Waxman (D.Cal.) has sent a letter to the State Department's Inspector General outlining a number of issues related to his handling, or mishandling, of investigations into security lapses at the American embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone and various other allegations of contractors engaging in fraudulent behavior. One contractor's name that jumps right out is Blackwater USA. Weren't they just in the news for something?

Oh right, that little misunderstanding about the killing of perhaps up to 28 Iraqi civilians on a Baghdad street this past Sunday.

The WaPo reports on an eyewitness account by Sarhan Dhia, 34, a Baghdadi traffic cop who, contrary to Blackwater's official version of what happened -- which is that they were only firing in self-defense -- says: "There was no bombing. They were shooting everywhere."

"A man in a white sedan near Dhia was shot in the head,' he recalled. 'His mother was sitting right next to him. I heard her screaming. She was hugging her son and screaming,' he said.
After the driver had been shot, the car kept rolling forward, he said. 'We tried to stop the car and save it. He was dead but the car was heading towards them,' he recalled. 'Within seconds they opened fire on the woman.' The car burst into flames and the woman died, he said."

Now, because of the pulling of Blackwater's licence to operate in Iraq, the State Department has forbidden State Department employees from traveling outside the Green Zone. That's the problem you run into when you hire of bunch of mercenaries who are answerable to no one.

But thanks to L. Paul Bremer's CPA Order #17, no American contractor can be prosecuted by an Iraqi court. Jeremy Scahill told Terry Gross the order, "Effectively immunized private contractors from any kind of prosecution in Iraq. It said that Iraqis can't seek justice for any crimes committed by private contractors in Iraq and it's the responsibility of the government to prosecute these guys."

There also seems to be no way for the Federal Government back here at home to prosecute these guys, either. According to Human Rights Watch, civilians working for the DoD can be prosecuted for war crimes under the "Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-778), known as MEJA."

The probelm here is that these Blackwater folks are working for the State Department. In the case of David Passaro, who is the only security contractor to ever be prosecuted, Human Rights Watch says, "As MEJA does not provide jurisdiction over non-Defense Department contractors, the government asserted jurisdiction on the basis of Title 18, section 7(9)(A) of the U.S. code, which extends federal jurisdiction to U.S. diplomatic, consular, military or other U.S. government missions or entities in foreign states, including the buildings, parts of buildings, and land appurtenant or ancillary thereto or used for purposes of those missions or entities, irrespective of ownership was prosecuted."

Of course, there is no chance in hell any of these Blackwater Christian Jihadis will ever see the inside of a court room. [See Chris Hedges "America's Holy Warriors"]

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh says that gunslinging American civilians "should not have immunity" from Iraqi law. "We are a sovereign country and there is no country in the world where security companies could move so freely without being subjected to local laws."

That's what he thinks!

Jeremy Scahill says:

"Blackwater has essentially declared its forces above any effective law while resisting attempts to have its private forces subjected to the Pentagon's court martial system. Blackwater also claims this immunity from civilian litigation. In fact the only law Blackwater wants applied to its forces is one that has no teeth and has not been enforced in Iraq or elsewhere. The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000, which is a law that says contractors operating in the war zone should be subjected to the US criminal court system."

Getting back to Howard J. Krigard:

One of the most persistent pursuers of Blackwater over the years and what they're up to and how much they're bilking the American taxpayer for, has been Henry Waxman, who just happens this week to be looking into the allegations that Blackwater smuggled weapons into Iraq.

In the letter to Howard J. Krongard, the IG now under investigation, Waxman writes:

"You impeded efforts by your investigators to cooperate with a Justice Department probe into allegations that a large private security contractor [Blackwater USA] was smuggling weapons into Iraq.

According to several sources, after weeks of delay, a briefing was arranged at which the Assistant U.S. Attorneys overseeing the investigation made a personal request for assistance. In response to their request, you asked an official on your congressional and media relations staff not a professional investigator, to take the lead in seeking evidence from the State Department to assist the federal prosecutors. This unorthodox arrangement has reportedly impeded the investigation."

Along with the looking the way other way on Blackwater's misdeed, Krongard also gave a pass to a Kuwaiti contractor screwed up construction of the new embassy and who also imported slave labor to build it. Now that's freedom on the march!

Something interesting I noticed in an article about the VA is this: Outgoing VA administrator James Nicholson told Congress he can't do anything about the delays vets home from Iraq are experiencing trying to get medical care and as far as VA facilities for returning troops go:

"On average, VA buildings are 57 years old, and the price of purchasing land, design, and construction of a hospital costs about $750 million." [AP]

It's costing us $600 million to build this "non permanent" embassy in Baghdad and we're wasting untold zillions on corrupt contractors in Iraq. Just think how many hospitals we could build here at home for our troops, who, by the by, aren't mercenaries. They actually fight for love of their country, not the for the Almighty and the almighty buck!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Syrian-North Korean bomb. More neocon fantasies? Are facts being fitted for the policy?

There is something very fishy about this NYT story in today's edition about the reasons behind Israel's Sep. 6 incursion into Syria airspace.

The NYT:

"The Sept. 6 attack by Israeli warplanes inside Syria struck what Israeli intelligence believes was a nuclear-related facility that North Korea was helping to equip, according to current and former American and Israeli officials."

["The American and Israeli officials said the Israeli government notified the Bush administration about the planned attack just before the raid. It is not clear whether administration officials expressed support for the action or counseled against it." Ha, what do you think?]

North Korea is helping Syria with a nuclear bomb project? Give me a break. Why would the North Koreans at this late date risk all they've achieved in negotiations with us and the Chinese and South Koreans to start proliferating again? And how would the Syrians get away with inporting nuclear fuel? You just don't set up a nuclear bomb making facility over night. The whole notion is ludicrous.

As the last paragraph in the NYT article states:

"'It would almost defy credibility that the North Koreans would be willing to risk so much to engage in a nuclear weapons-related proliferation,'” said Evans Revere, the president of the Korea Society in New York and a former senior American diplomat in Seoul. "

I agree. has this intreguing tidbit about the North Korean angle, which was intitially floated by Iranian dissident groups outside of Iran:

"An interesting report by the Paris based 'Iran Press Service' revealed a story claiming that the Israeli attack targeted the village of Tal Abyadh, near Deir az Zohr, 160 Kilometers north of Raqqa, but without indicating the nature of this target area. IPS claimed, though, that Israel completely destroyed a long-range missile base and that Israeli leaders suspected Syria and Iran building nuclear arms with the help of North Korea."

Although the writer of that piece seems to think there might be some fire where that smoke is, I don't. What seems more likely is that the Israelis were making a dry run along Syria's northern border to see how far they could get on the way to Iran. The references to Israeli planes having dropped their fuel tanks on Syria - - and Turkish - - soil during the incursions tends to indicate they were either trying to avoid AA from the ground or experimenting with going for a longer range mission.

A Time article by Nicholas Blanford has this quote from Mohammed Raad, a senior Hizballah official, who Blanford writes, "Suggested that the overflight was an attempt to 'identify an aggressive aerial passage' for an air strike against Iran."

Sounds reasonable. And, along the way, the mission looks like it was intended to test out Syria's new Russian made Pantsyr S1E short-range air defense systems, which are planned to make their way to Iran eventually.

Jane's reported on this Russian missile deal last May.

"While most of the Pantsyr’s are earmarked for the Syrian Air Defence Command, 'the end user for 10 of the systems is Iran,' said the source, adding that these should reach Tehran via Syria, in late 2008. The contract signed by Syria and Russia is valued at USD730 million and according to the source, Iran will part finance the Syrian acquisition along with payment for its own 10 systems, to recompense Damascus for its compliance in the deal. While Tehran has indicated the urgency of the requirement to Damascus, the source says the 10 systems to be transferred to Iran will not be taken from the first systems delivered to Syria, but rather from later deliveries."

Banford reports that the capabilities of this AA system is keeping US and Israeli planners up at nights.

"The recently developed Pantsyr, which its Russian manufacturers claim is immune to jamming, includes surface-to-air missiles and 30mm Gatling guns, providing complete defensive coverage for a range of 11 to 12 miles and 6 miles in altitude. Pantsyr batteries could pose a serious challenge to either an Israeli or a U.S. air strike on Iran."

The Neocons have found a new group to get suckered by:

The North Korean/Syrian nuclear angle is really something Cheney & Co. could really put their teeth into and it's coming from the so-called National Council of Resistance of Iran, an organization on the US government's Specially Designated Global Terrorist List. The NCRI is the political wing of the militant People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), also known as Mujehadin el-Khalq (MEK) according to Sourcewatch.

Scott Ritter says of this group:

"The MEK also has the support of the state of Israel. It has the support of the powerful pro-Israeli lobby here in the United States. It has the support of many members of congress, whether they have arrived at their position independently or as a result of intensive lobbying. The MEK does have a base of support among the anti-Tehran groups in Washington."

Jim Lobe wrote of the MEK over two years ago at, that:

"It has been backed in this quest by right-wing lawmakers, a group of hardline neoconservatives and retired military officers called the Iran Policy Committee (IPC), and some U.S. officials – particularly in the Pentagon – who believe that the MEK could be used to help destabilize the Iranian regime, if not eventually overthrow it in conjunction with U.S. military strikes against selected targets. . .

While the group's supporters in the Pentagon so far have succeeded in protecting the several thousand MEK militants based at Camp Ashraf near the Iranian border from being dispersed or deported, they have failed to persuade the U.S. State Department to take the group off its terrorist list, to which it was added in 1997 based on its attacks during the 1970s against U.S. military contractors and its participation in the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran."

Nice bunch, but their the good terrorists now, right? My God, this is the Iraqi National Congress all over again.

And it doesn't hurt their cause that Cheney's daughter, Elizabeth, is the State Department's "democracy czar" in charge of regime change in Tehran. [TIME]

The testing-air-defenses-theory confirmed?

Dan Ephron and Mark Hosenball report in the latest edition of NEWSWEEK that the Israelis are taking heart in the fact that the response to their little overflight was so muted. Yossi Alpher, a former Israeli intelligence official says, "You can learn something from it as to how the Arab world might react to an Israeli or American attack against strategic targets in Iran."

The Israelis are really eager for us to do something about Iran and its supossed nukes before Bush leaves office.

"Earlier this year, according to a well-placed Israeli source, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked President Bush for assurances that if economic and political sanctions failed to get Iran to shut down its nuclear facilities, Bush would order the U.S. military to destroy them before he leaves office. Bush has yet to provide the assurances, according to the source, who refused to be quoted because he is not authorized to speak for the government. . . from Israel's perspective, there might never be a more supportive White House. 'It makes sense that if Israel has to do it alone, it would want to do it on Bush's watch and not wait to see what the political attitude of the next administration will be," says Alpher.'"

Avner Cohen, a nuclear expert and a senior fellow at the United States Institute for Peace, is quoted saying, "It's [Isreal's incursion] a tacit reminder to Europe and to Washington that if they don't take a tougher action against Iran, Israel may have to do it alone."

Remember what Cheney told Don Imus back in Jan. of '05?

". . . One of the concerns people have is that Israel might do it without being asked. If, in fact, the Israelis became convinced the Iranians had a significant nuclear capability, given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards." [From the NYT, thoughtfully reprinted by our friends at]

So now, the theory is that based on the muted Arab response to the attack on Iran's ally, the Saudis and the rest of them will give Israel and the US a pass on a larger strike against Iran, their Persian nemesis. No muss, no fuss? I wouldn't count on it.

Sounds to me like a whole bunch of paranoia based on flawed evidence provided by exiles with an agenda not our own and a heaping helping of best-casing the eventual outcome. Where have we seen all this before?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Blackwater: Bad news.

The WaPo reports:

"The Iraqi government said today it has revoked the license of Blackwater USA, a private security company that guards U.S. Embassy personnel in Iraq following a shootout in downtown Baghdad on Sunday that left at least nine people dead."

This is really no big surprise, Blackwater mercenaries are pretty well known for blasting down Iraqi streets running people off the road and sometimes opening fire when feeling the least bit threatened. The problem with them is that they really make Iraqis see red when they see any Americans, private contractors or our soldiers.

If you listened to ATC tonight report this story, you'd think Blackwater was just this normal company that just happens to be in the business of providing security to our State Department personnel. The "expert" they picked to interview on Blackwater was Mark Hemingway who isn't exactly too over critical of their mission. His article in the Weekly Standard about Blackwater is informative but it's kind of gushing and doesn't really get into the whole Christian Right agenda of the corporation.

Jeremy Scahill in his book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army is a little more in depth. Terry Gross interviewed him recently on Fresh Air and it almost blew my mind. Read a transcript thoughtfully provided by The Scribe.

What's really interesting about this case in Iraq is that it has highlighted how lawless the firm is. Jeremy Scahill points out the firm has hired such legal eagles as Fred Fielding, Bush's lawyer, and Kenneth Starr to help them worm their way out of law suits and Congressional oversight.


"Blackwater has essentially declared its forces above any effective law while resisting attempts to have its private forces subjected to the Pentagon's court martial system. Blackwater also claims this immunity from civilian litigation. In fact the only law Blackwater wants applied to its forces is one that has no teeth and has not been enforced in Iraq or elsewhere. The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000, which is a law that says contractors operating in the war zone should be subjected to the US criminal court system. The fact is that there are 100,000 contractors in Iraq and only one has been indicted on any kind of charges."

Good luck to al-Maliki trying to get these guys out of Iraq.

And if you think they're just a bunch of mercenaries that operate in foreign countries, think again. Read Scahill's article in the Nation about their stint in New Orleans after Katrina. Very scary.

[Previous posts about Blackwater.]
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