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Assange Speaks: Two Years of Cablegate and Bradley Manning Still Awaits Trial November 30, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Environment, Human Rights, Media, Pakistan, War on Terror.
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Published on Friday, November 30, 2012 by Wikileaks

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On the two-year anniversary of the start of Cablegate, the Wikileaks founder highlights some of the stories that have emerged. (Screenshot via firedoglake.com)

Thursday, November 29th, Bradley Manning testified for the first time since his arrest two and a half years ago in Baghdad. Today also marks the two-year anniversary of the first front pages around the world from Cablegate, an archive of 251,287 U.S. State Department diplomatic cables — messages sent between the State Department and its embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions around the world. In collaboration with a network of more than 100 press outlets we revealed the full spectrum of techniques used by the United States to exert itself around the world. The young intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was detained as an alleged source.

WikiLeaks came under attack, with American politicians and right-wing pundits calling for all of us to be designated as terrorists, some even calling for my assassination and the kidnapping of our staff. Speaking on Meet The Press, Vice President Joe Biden referred to me as a “high-tech terrorist,” while Senator Joe Lieberman demanded that we be prosecuted under the U.S. Espionage Act. The Department of Justice spokesperson Dean Boyd admitted as recently as July 2012 that the Department of Justice investigation into WikiLeaks is ongoing, and the Pentagon renewed its threats against us on September 28th, declaring our work an “ongoing crime.” As a result, I have been granted political asylum and now live in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, surrounded by armed police while the FBI portion of the “whole of government” investigation against us, according to court testimony, had reached 42,135 pages as of December last year.

Earlier this week, WikiLeaks released European Commission documents showing that Senator Lieberman and Congressman Peter T. King directly influenced decisions by PayPal, Visa and MasterCard to block donations to WikiLeaks, which has blocked 95 percent of our donors since December of 2010. Last week the European Parliament expressed its will that the Commission should prevent the arbitrary blockade of WikiLeaks.

Bradley Manning, who is alleged to be a source of the cables, started testifying on Thursday about his pre-trial treatment, which UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez said was “at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the Convention against Torture.” Captain William Hoctor, the government psychiatrist with 24 years of experience who evaluated Manning at Quantico base in Virginia, testified that brig commanders had ignored his recommendations for Manning’s detention, something he had not even experienced in his work at Guantánamo bay prison.

Bradley Manning has been detained without trial for 921 days. This is the longest pre-trial detention of a U.S. military soldier since at least the Vietnam War. U.S. military law says the maximum is 120 days.

The material that Bradley Manning is alleged to have leaked has highlighted astonishing examples of U.S. subversion of the democratic process around the world, systematic evasion of accountability for atrocities and killings, and many other abuses. Our archive of State Department cables have appeared in tens of thousands of articles, books and scholarly works, illustrating the nature of U.S. foreign policy and the instruments of U.S. national power. On the two-year anniversary of the start of Cablegate, I want to highlight some of the stories that have emerged.

A War of Terror

The United States’ War on Terror has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, inflamed sectarian violence, and made a mockery of international law. Victims and their families struggle to have their stories acknowledged, and the U.S.’ systematic avoidance of accountability for war crimes implicitly denies their right to be considered human beings. Moreover, as the U.S. increasingly relies on clandestine military operations conducted outside the scrutiny of government oversight, the execution of this expanding War on Terror becomes increasingly uncoupled from the democratic process. While President Obama had promised the American people in 2008 that he would end the Iraq War, U.S. troops were only withdrawn when information from a cable revived international scrutiny of abuse occurring in Iraq, resulting in a refusal to grant continued immunity to U.S. troops in 2012 or beyond.

In 2007 the U.S. embassy in Baghdad obtained a copy of the Iraqi government’s final investigation report on the massacre of 17 civilians on September 16th, 2007 in Nisour Square. The report concluded that the incident was an unprovoked attack on unarmed civilians, asked for $8 million in compensation for each death and $4 million for each injury, and demanded that the private security firm Blackwater be replaced within six months. Blackwater continued to operate in Iraq for two years afterwards, and the U.S. Embassy compensated victims with $10,000 for each death and $5,000 for each injury. Five years later, the offending Blackwater mercenaries have escaped from accountability to Iraq, and attempts to bring them to justice in the U.S. have resulted in a long chain of dismissed cases and one undisclosed settlement. WikiLeaks’ Iraq War Logs release of 391,832 U.S. Army field reports uncovered 14 additional cases where Blackwater opened fire on civilians, along with numerous other incidents of abuse. The Iraq War Logs also showed how the United States handed over prisoners to be tortured in gruesome detail — stories of electrocution, mutilation and of victims being attacked with drills.

The fact that, five years on, the victims of the have seen no meaningful accountability is an atrocity. But it is unfortunately no surprise that the U.S. claims immunity for its forces in other countries, then fails to administer justice at home.

These events — and in particular one cable detailing the summary execution of 10 Iraqi civilians, including four women and five children — by U.S. soldiers and a subsequent airstrike to cover up the evidence, forced the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. The story of handcuffed execution and cover-up sparked outrage around the world in the midst of negotiations to extend U.S. troop presence into 2012 and, in response to international coverage, Iraq revived its investigation into the incident. Iraq ultimately refused to grant immunity to U.S. troops in 2012, forcing the U.S. to withdraw in December 2011.

This systemic violence and cover-up extends to the war in Afghanistan. When news emerged that a midnight bombing campaign on the Afghan village of Granai in 2009 had possibly resulted in the death of up to 100 civilians, U.S. officials publicly asserted that most of the dead had been Taliban fighters. A State Department cable written shortly after the event summarizes a meeting between the Red Cross’ Afghanistan chief Reto Stocker and U.S. Ambassador Carl Eikenberry in which they discussed findings from an investigation of the event. In the cable, Stocker is referred to as “one of the most credible sources for unbiased and objective information in Afghanistan.” The Red Cross report estimated that 89 of the dead and 13 injured were in fact civilians. Neither the U.S. government nor the Red Cross publicly revealed these figures.

WikiLeaks and the Arab Spring

The Tunisian cables describe the extreme corruption and lack of transparency of the Ben Ali regime. The Ben Ali extended family are described as the worst offenders, their lavish life accompanied by “a wide-range of corrupt schemes,” including “property expropriation and extortion of bribes.” We also learned that Ben Ali family assets included an airline, several hotels and a radio station. One cable describes state censorship of Tunisia’s only private broadcast satellite TV station, and a surprise tax judgment against the station of almost $1.5 million.

In its 2011 annual report, Amnesty International praised WikiLeaks and its media partners for catalyzing the revolution in Tunisia:

“While the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in Tunisia would not have happened without the long struggle of brave human rights defenders over the last two decades, support for activists from outside the country may have been strengthened as people scrutinized the WikiLeaks documents on Tunisia and understood the roots of the anger. In particular, some of the documents made clear that countries around the world were aware of both the political repression and the lack of economic opportunity, but for the most part were not taking action to urge change.”

When Tunisia’s president Moncef Marzouki spoke with me on The World Tomorrow, he thanked WikiLeaks for its work, saying, “I am very grateful for all that you have done for promoting human rights, truth, and I admire and support your efforts.”

Shortly following Tunisia’s revolution, protests erupted in Libya, and a new batch of cables revealed the strategic calculations behind U.S. support of the Gaddafi regime. In Egypt, cables revealed that Mubarak would rather die in office than step down and that his son would likely succeed him. Then, just as evidence emerged that Vice President Suleiman was tipped to replace Mubarak, cables were released detailing his former role as intelligence chief, as well as his close ties to Israel. Such elements became a crucial part of the ongoing Egyptian uprising.

A Global Death Squad Consulting Firm?

For years, WikiLeaks faced a chorus of accusations by U.S. officials and right-wing pundits of making the world a less-safe place, and of having potentially caused harm through publication of embarrassing secrets. In reality, the cables show that torture and killing are not isolated events, but the violent manifestations of an aggressive policy of coercion used by the United States in the pursuit of its strategic commercial and political goals around the world.

While U.S. law bans the training of military units with a history of human rights violations, in practice the law is easily and often circumvented. The Indonesian army’s elite special forces unit KOPASSUS has brutally repressed the West Papuans’ freedom movement (West Papua has been occupied by Indonesia since 1963), as has been extensively documented by Human Rights Watch. Despite this, U.S. diplomats in Jakarta judged in 2007 that the time had come to resume collaboration with KOPASSUS, for the sake of “commercial interest” and “the protection of U.S. officials.”

A diplomatic cable from November 2009 mentions as a side note that right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia were responsible for the death of 257,089 victims, a figure well above the estimations of local human rights activists. The U.S. has nonetheless offered generous support to the Colombian military; Amnesty International, which has called for a complete cut-off of U.S. military aid to Colombia, has estimated that total U.S. aid in 2006 amounted to $728 million, of which 80 percent was given to military and police assistance. As of 2012, U.S. military support to Colombia is ongoing.

Such examples illustrate the United States’ liberal interpretation of the laws banning the training of military units with a history of human rights violations. In another cable from August 2008, U.S. officials acknowledge that the Bangladeshi death squad, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), has been involved in obvious human rights violations, making support for the RAB difficult — U.S. officials hoped, however, to improve the RAB’s record and polish its public image. U.S. officials praised the RAB for having “succeeded in reducing crime and fighting terrorism, making it in many ways Bangladesh’s most respected police unit.” In a diplomatic cable from 2009, it was also revealed that the UK had been training the RAB for the previous 18 months “in areas such as investigative interviewing techniques and rules of engagement.”

Foreign Service Spies

In 2009, Hillary Clinton sent an intelligence gathering directive to 33 embassies and consulates around the world. The directive asked diplomats to gather intelligence on UN officials, including credit card numbers and online handles. A similar cable requested intelligence on officials from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundy, Rwanda and Uganda, and specifically mentioned the collection of DNA samples, iris scans and computer passwords.

Another state department cable revealed that a mole within the German government was spying for the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, frequently updating U.S. officials on negotiations between Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and Westerwelle’s FDP on the formation of a new coalition government in 2009. Helmut Metzner, formerly chief of staff to Germany’s foreign minister, admitted to being the mole mentioned in these cables when this story broke in the press, and was subsequently fired.

Lobbying for Unaccountability — Manipulation of Judicial Process in Other Countries

Abuse that occurs in war, as it did in Iraq, is often dismissed by its perpetrators as exceptional, and we are often assured that when abuse has occurred, the accountability mechanisms in place will bring justice. The diplomatic cables have given us numerous concrete examples of the coercion used by the U.S. to manipulate and undermine judicial processes in other countries, and they establish a clear policy for the evasion of accountability in any form.

During the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, two journalists — including the Spanish journalist José Couso — were killed and three others were wounded when a U.S. tank fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. An investigation into the event was subsequently launched in Spain, and an international arrest warrant was issued for three U.S. soldiers involved. Cables showed that the U.S. aggressively fought to have Spanish officials drop the case. Writing about the case in one cable, U.S. Ambassador Eduardo Aguirre emphasizes: “While we are careful to show our respect for the tragic death of Couso and for the independence of the Spanish judicial system, behind the scenes we have fought tooth and nail to make the charges disappear.” Shamefully, this quote was redacted in the original reporting on the subject from El Pais and Le Monde.

In another example from 2003, a German citizen of Lebanese origins, Kalid el-Masri, was kidnapped while on vacation in Macedonia, renditioned to Afghanistan by the CIA, and tortured for four months. When his captors finally decided he was innocent, he was flown to Albania and dumped on a country road without so much as an apology. In a cable from 2007, we learn that when a German prosecutor issued arrest warrants for agents involved in el-Masri’s kidnapping, the U.S. ambassador in Berlin warned German officials that there would be repercussions. No arrests have yet been made and el-Masri is still seeking justice.

The U.S.’ manipulation extended to the UK, where a cable shows that during a British public inquiry led by Sir John Chilcot into the UK role in the Iraq War, the Ministry of Defence had “put measures in place” to protect U.S. interests.

Global Powers Work to Break Environmental Solidarity, and to Exploit “Opportunities” of Climate Change

On environmental issues, cables show that the U.S. routinely makes symbolic gestures rather than initiating substantial practices to combat climate change, and works aggressively to tailor international agreements to its own commercial interests.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked embassies to gather intelligence on the preparations for the Copenhagen UN Convention on Climate Change Meeting in December 2009, asking for biographical details of representatives from China, France, Japan, Mexico, Russia and the European Union. Cables show that in Copenhagen the U.S. manipulated the accord talks by offering “gifts” to poorer countries to derail opposition to the accord proposed by first world powers. Another cable from the Secretary of State revealed that in 2010, a Maldives ambassador designate had stressed the importance of “tangible assistance” from larger economies to smaller ones. As a consequence of this meeting, the accord offered financial compensation to poor countries suffering from the effects of global warming.

In a visit to Canada in 2009 David Goldwyn, the State Department’s Coordinator for International Energy Affairs discussed public relations assistance to be offered to the oil sands industry. Goldwyn proposed consulting experts, scholars and think tanks to “increase visibility and accessibility of more positive news stories.” The cable was later used by environmentalists in their battle against the Keystone XL pipeline, which ships crude oil across the U.S.-Canada border. In early 2012, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, but recently publicly announced support for another proposal. It also turns out that Goldwyn eventually went on to work for Sutherland, a lobbying group in favor of Keystone XL.

The cables also reveal that the U.S. is carefully positioning itself to take advantage of new opportunities for harvesting hydrocarbons and minerals from the Arctic as climate change melts polar ice. U.S. diplomats were hoping to offer Greenland support for its independence from Denmark in exchange for access by American gas and oil companies to exploit the country’s resources. The U.S. has been closely watching Russia, America’s main competitor for Arctic resources, but American officials also showed concern over Canada’s potential territorial claim to the Arctic’s Northwest passage.

Secret Agreements — Circumvention of the Democratic Process

The State Department cables revealed that the United States and its allies systematically make secret arrangements with various governments, hiding details not only from the country’s public, but sometimes even from the country’s representatives, ministers and oversight bodies.
In 2009, Jeremy Scahill and Seymour Hersh broke a story in The Nation on secret U.S. special operations forces combat missions and drone strikes in Pakistan. When questioned about the story, Department of Defense spokesperson Geoff Morrell dismissed the claims as “conspiratorial theories.” Only one year later, cables released by WikiLeaks confirmed their story. In addition, cables quoted Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani telling U.S. officials: “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people — we’ll protest about it in the National Assembly and then ignore it.” Stories based on State Department cables also revealed agreements between the U.S. and Yemen in which the Yemeni government would claim responsibility for attacks launched by the U.S. on local militia groups. The release of State Department cables resulted in total transparency with respect to certain aspects of the War on Terror.

State Department cables also revealed that the U.S. worked with Australia to weaken the text of an international agreement banning the use of cluster munitions — bombs which spray thousands of smaller bomblets over a large area. Out of more than 13,000 casualties of cluster munitions registered by Handicap International, over 98 percent are civilian and one-third of those are children. Despite this, cables also revealed that the UK’s then-Foreign Minister David Miliband secretly approved the use of a legal loophole to allow the United States to store cluster munitions on UK territory, despite the fact that the UK is a signatory to a convention banning them. The United States is not a signatory to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and even attempted in 2011 to have the ban lifted by the UN.

In 2007, former Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley asked U.S. officials for predator drones to help shore up liberal support for a sustained Canadian presence in the war in Afghanistan. At the time, Manley was leading a government-appointed panel charged with investigating Canada’s interests in a future role in Afghanistan. In August 2012, the Ottawa Citizen reported that the Canadian government is seeking to spend up to $1 billion on a state-of-the-art armed drone fleet.

The cables also revealed that Canada’s conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper secretly promised NATO in January 2010 that Canada would remain in Afghanistan to conduct army training even after the end of its mission in 2011. The Canadian public was shocked when the government announced that it would be extending its mission in November of that year. Harper expressed concern to U.S. diplomats that an early departure of Canadian troops from Aghanistan would seem like a “withdrawal,” reflecting the low public support for Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.

In 2008, the U.S. proposed an “informal agreement” to Swedish government officials for the exchange of information on terrorism watch-lists. U.S. officials explained that they feared scrutiny by the Swedish parliament would jeopardize “law enforcement and anti-terrorism cooperation.” Cables also revealed that in 2009, the U.S. resumed full intelligence-sharing with New Zealand after it had been restricted in retaliation for the country’s ban against nuclear-powered or armed vessels in its ports. Both governments agreed that the newly resumed cooperation should be kept hidden from the public.

The Realpolitik of Commercial Lobbying

State Department cables illustrate that U.S. officials and their commercial partners take a default position of having an intrinsic right to resources and market dominance around the world.

In a 2007 cable to the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. Ambassador Craig Stapleton suggested taking a hard-line approach towards the European Union over its resistance to American genetically modified products and foods. France’s refusal to embrace GMOs and agricultural biotechnology, according to Ambassador Stapleton, would lead to a general European rejection of GMOs, and he suggested retaliation to help the French see things differently:

“Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits. The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory.”

The cables also showed that the U.S. revoked visas of then-Ecuadoran presidential candidate Xavier Neira and seven others due to their involvement in a legal case against the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer for unfair competition. The timing of the decision to revoke their visas coincided with the upcoming presidential elections and an impending court decision on the case. In its explanation of the revocation, officials cite “corruption” and the case against Pfizer.

The U.S.-based Shell Oil company has a long and sordid history in Nigeria, and its representatives spoke openly about activities in the country. In a 2009 meeting, Shell representatives told U.S. officials that they would be able to influence the Nigerian government’s 2009 Petroleum Industry Bill to suit their interests.

Cables from 2005 highlight U.S. determination to “improve the investment climate” for mining companies in Peru. Representatives from Canada, UK, Australia, Switzerland and South Africa met to strategize ways of circumventing anti-mining protests coming from a diverse group of NGOs, the Catholic Church and indigenous Peruvians. Once protests had turned violent, the U.S. used this as an excuse for monitoring NGO groups such as Oxfam and Friends of the Earth, and asked the Peruvian government to enhance security by taking control of roadways and transit areas.

In other cases, officials in the U.S. Embassy assisted in lobbying for or against particular pieces of legislation according to U.S. commercial interests. U.S. officials lobbied on behalf of Visa and MasterCard against a bill in Russia which would have created a national card payment system, taking away Visa and MasterCard’s market share.

Strategic Duplicity on Human Rights and Press Freedom

A cable summarizing a meeting with a director of Al Jazeera shows that U.S. officials expected a special report with graphic images of injured Iraqis to be changed and its images removed. In another cable, the director is asked to explain Al Jazeera’s lack of coverage of the Iran elections and protests as opposed to their “heavy” coverage of Gaza.

The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in the kingdom of Bahrain, and the U.S. has maintained a mutually beneficial relationship with the country’s leaders over the past years. In one cable, the U.S. ambassador to Bahrain praised the country and its king, pointing out that U.S. companies had won major contracts there. This same regime brutally cracked down on protesters during the Arab Spring, and Bahraini authorities shut down dissident websites and publications. While the U.S. State Department harshly condemned the crackdown on protests after Iran’s 2009 elections, it remained silent on the killings in Bahrain.

Thailand’s Monarchy Exposed

Thailand’s lèse majesté law prevents anyone in the country from speaking openly about the monarchy without risk of severe punishment. As such, any reports about political developments in the country are censored, and there is a huge gap in public knowledge about the country’s political environment. WikiLeaks’ release of State Department cables gives an unprecedented view of not only the monarchy’s deep impact on the politics of the country, but also the close relationship that Thailand had with the U.S. Journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall quit his job at Reuters to write his book Thailand’s Moment of Truth, using the Thai cables exposing obscured and taboo aspects of Thailand’s politics, history and international relations for the first time.

U.S. Aims to Reshape Global Views and Law on Intellectual Property and Copyright

U.S.-based lobbying groups work hand in hand with U.S. State Department officials around the world to aggressively lobby for legislation and trade agreements that favor American companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, or large film studios such as Disney, Paramount, Sony and Warner.

A 2006 cable from Japan describes the first draft proposals for a “gold standard” in intellectual property rights enforcement, called ACTA. This standard was meant to give intellectual property owners much stronger powers, even at the expense of citizen privacy and due process. ACTA was subsequently negotiated in secret, unknown to the general public, until WikiLeaks leaked the first draft in 2008. In the film industry, the lobbyist group for motion picture studios conspired with their Australian counterpart to establish a legal precedent for holding an Internet service provider accountable for copyright infringement in Australia. What is the effect of this push and pull? It is a global environment where legislation and legal precedents are set to benefit intellectual property owners who are rich, powerful and influential — even at the expense of public good.

Breaking the Monopoly on Influence

The examples I present above represent only a small fraction of what has been revealed by WikiLeaks material. Since 2010, Western governments have tried to portray WikiLeaks as a terrorist organization, enabling a disproportionate response from both political figures and private institutions. It is the case that WikiLeaks’ publications can and have changed the world, but that change has clearly been for the better. Two years on, no claim of individual harm has been presented, and the examples above clearly show precisely who has blood on their hands.

In large Western democracies, the political discourse has been so highly controlled for so long, that it is no longer shocking when Western experts fill in to speak for third world victims, or when an American president stands up at a podium to accept his Nobel Peace Prize, and makes the case for war. It is, in fact, no longer safe to presume that a media outlet such as The New York Times would perform the same act today as they did in 1971 when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers.

In a panel discussion with Daniel Ellsberg and New York Times editor Jill Abramson discussing the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg voiced his dissent over the Times‘ acquiescence to the Bush administration’s request to delay James Risen’s story on warrantless NSA wiretapping until after the 2004 elections. Abramson equivocated:

“The thing is when the government says — you know — by publishing a story you’re harming the national security, you’re helping the terrorists. I mean, there are still people today who argue that the NSA program was the crown jewel, the most valuable anti-terrorism program that the Bush administration had going, and that it was terribly wrong of the Times to publish.”

On the same panel, Daniel Ellsberg said of the Pentagon Papers:

“The secrecy of these documents has so far condemned over 30,000 Americans to death and several million Vietnamese. And the continued secrecy of them will undoubtedly contribute to the death of tens of thousands more Americans, and so forth. I think that’s true. But that comes up in the WikiLeaks case, right now.”

Since the release of the diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks has continued its operations despite the financial blockade, publishing leaked documents from companies selling mass interception units to state spy agencies around the world; detainee profiles for almost all of the people detained at Guantánamo Bay prison; U.S. policy manuals for detention of military prisoners in the War on Terror; intelligence databases from the private intelligence firm Stratfor; and millions of documents from inside the Syrian government. The information we’ve disclosed frustrates the controlled political discourse that is trumpeted by establishment media and Western governments to shape public perception.

We will continue our fight against the financial blockade, and we will continue to publish. The Pentagon’s threats against us do the United States a disservice and will not be heeded.

© 2012 Julian Assange

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Julian Assange

Julian Assange is an Australian editor, activist, journalist, and founder of Wikileaks.

Over Two Thousand Six Hundred Activists Arrested in US Protests May 24, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Nuclear weapons/power, Torture, War.
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Roger’s note: Just prior to posting the article below about those arrested for protesting various areas of injustice, I had posted an article entitled “Too Big to Jail,” an article decrying the fact that no one has been arrested or jailed for the economic crimes committed by various sectors of the banking and finance community, which lead to thousands of Americans losing their homes.  This juxtaposition (justaposition?) was not planned, it just happened.

Published on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

  by  Bill Quigley

Since President Obama was inaugurated, there have been over two thousand six hundred arrests of activists protesting in the US.   Research shows over 670 people have been arrested in protests inside the US already in 2011, over 1290 were arrested in 2010, and 665 arrested in 2009.   These figures are certainly underestimate the number actually arrested as arrests in US protests are rarely covered by the mainstream media outlets which focus so intently on arrests of protestors in other countries.

Daniel Ellsberg flashes a pair of peace signs as he’s led away by capitol police on December 16, 2010.

One hundred thirty one protestors, including numerous veterans, gathered in the snow outside the White House challenging the war in Afghanistan. (CommonDreams)

Arrests at protest have been increasing each year since 2009.  Those arrested include people protesting US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Guantanamo, strip mining, home foreclosures, nuclear weapons, immigration policies, police brutality, mistreatment of hotel workers, budget cutbacks, Blackwater, the mistreatment of Bradley Manning, and right wing efforts to cut back collective bargaining.

These arrests illustrate that resistance to the injustices in and committed by the US is alive and well.  Certainly there could and should be more, but it is important to recognize that people are fighting back against injustice.

Information on these arrests has been taken primarily from the newsletter The Nuclear Resister, which has been publishing reports of anti-nuclear resistance arrests since 1980, and anti-war actions since 1990.

Jack Cohen-Joppa, who with his partner Felice, edits The Nuclear Resister, told me “Over the last three decades, in the course of chronicling more than 100,000 arrests for nonviolent protest and resistance to nuclear power, nuclear weapons, torture, and war, we’ve noted a quadrennial decline as support for protest and resistance gets swallowed up by Presidential politicking. It has taken a couple of years, but the Hopeium addicts of 2008 are finally getting into recovery. We’re again reporting a steady if slow rise in the numbers willing to risk arrest and imprisonment for acts of civil resistance. Today, for instance, there are more Americans serving time in prison for nuclear weapons protest than at any time in more than a decade.”

In the list below I give the date of the protest arrest and a brief summary of the reason for the protest.   After each date I have included the name of the organization which sponsored the protest. Check them out.  Remember, they can jail the resisters but they cannot jail the resistance!

2011

January 1, 2011.  Nine women, ages 40 to 91, who brought solar panels to the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor were arrested for blocking the driveway at Entergy Corporation.  Shut It Down.

January 5, 2011 and February 2, 2011.  Five arrests were made of peace activists protesting at Vandenberg Air Force base, including a veteran of WWII.  Vandenberg Witness.

January 11, 2011.  Ten people protesting against the continued human rights violation of Guantanamo prison trying to deliver a letter to a federal judge were arrested at the federal building in Chicago, Illinois.

January 11, 2011.  A sixty one year old grandmother protesting against excessive radiation was arrested for blocking the path of a utility truck in Sonoma County, California.

January 15, 2011.  Twelve people protesting against Trident nuclear weapons at the Kitsap-Bangor naval base outside of Seattle, Washington were arrested – six on state charges of blocking the highway and six others on federal charges of trespass for crossing onto the base.  Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.

January 17, 2011.  Marking the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, people protested outside the Lockheed Martin Valley Forge Pennsylvania office where eight people were arrested.  Brandywine Peace Community.

January 17, 2011.  Three people protesting the US use of armed drones and depleted uranium were arrested at the Davis-Monthan air force base near Tucson Arizona.

January 29, 2011.  Eight peace activists marking the 60th anniversary of the testing of the atom bomb were arrested at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site.   Nevada Desert Experience.

February 10, 2011.  Twenty three hotel workers were arrested after protesting management abuses at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco.  UNITE Here Local 2.

February 15, 2011.  A former CIA agent turned whistleblower was arrested and battered by police for standing silently and turning his back during a speech on the need for human rights in Egypt delivered by the US Secretary of State.   Veterans for Peace.

February 17, 2011.  Nine people protesting against the attack on collective bargaining in Wisconsin were arrested at the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison.

February 25, 2011.  Eleven people protesting federal budget cuts against the poor, including one person in a wheelchair were arrested charged with blocking traffic in Chicago.

March 4, 2011.  Three people were arrested in Seattle after a protest against police abuse.

March 4, 2011.  Sixteen people were arrested at a protest against tuition increases at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.

March 10, 2011.  Fifty people protesting the removal of collective bargaining rights were arrested after being carried out of the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison.

March 16, 2011.  Seven union supporters protesting proposals to strip collective bargaining from teachers were arrested in Nashville Tennessee.

March 19, 2011.  One hundred thirteen people protesting the eighth anniversary of the war in Iraq, lead by Veterans for Peace, were arrested at White House. Veterans for Peace.

March 19, 2011.  Eleven military family members and veterans were arrested in Hollywood California after staging a sit protesting the 8th anniversary of the war in Iraq.  Veterans for Peace.

March 20, 2011.  Thirty five people were arrested protesting outside the Quantico brig where Bradley Manning was being held.  Bradley Manning Support Network.

March 28, 2011. Seven people defending a family against eviction and protesting home foreclosures were arrested in Rochester, NY, including a 70 year old neighbor in her pajamas.  Take Back the Land.

April 4, 2011.  Seven people protesting against unjust immigration legislation barring undocumented immigrants from Georgia colleges were arrested for blocking traffic in Atlanta Georgia.

April 7, 2011. Seventeen people were arrested protesting budget cuts in assistance for the poor and elderly and calling for an end to corporate tax exemptions in Olympia Washington.

April 10, 2011.  Twenty seven people calling attention to the thousands of murders of people in Latin America by graduates of the US Army School of the Americas/WHINSEC were arrested outside the White House. School of Americas Watch.

April 11, 2011.  Forty one people, including the Mayor and many of the members of the District of Columbia city council, protesting Congressional action limiting how the District of Columbia could spend its own money were arrested in Washington DC.

April 15, 2011.  Eight teenage girl students, some as young as fourteen, were arrested after they refused to leave their public school Catherine Ferguson Academy, which is specially designated for pregnant and mothering teens in Detroit.  Also with the young women were children and teachers.  The school is targeted for closure due to budget cutbacks.

April 22, 2011.  Thirty seven people were arrested protesting the use of drones outside the Hancock Air Force base near Syracuse New York.  Syracuse Peace Council.  Ithaca Catholic Worker.

April 22, 2011.  Eleven women chained and locked the gate at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon Vermont before being arrested.

April 22, 2011.  Thirty three people protesting at the Livermore Lab which designs nuclear weapons at an interfaith peace service were arrested for trespassing in California.

April 22, 2011.  Four people were arrested at the Pentagon after they held up a banner and read from a leaflet outside of the designated protest zone.  Dorothy Day Catholic Worker.

April 24, 2011.  Sixteen protestors against nuclear weapons at the Nevada National Security Site were arrested after a sixty mile sacred walk from Las Vegas.  Nevada Desert Experience.  Pace e Bene.

May 2, 2011.  Fifty two protestors against a nuclear weapons plant in Kansas City Missouri were arrested after blocking a gate to the construction site.  Holy Family Catholic Worker.

May 9, 2011.  Five people protesting against draconian immigration laws were arrested in the governor’s office in Indianapolis, Indiana.

May 7, 2011.  Seven people celebrating Mothers Day and protesting nuclear weapons were arrested outside the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor twenty miles from Seattle.  Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.

May 9, 2011.  Sixty five people protesting cutbacks in education funding were arrested in Sacramento California.

2010

January 6, 2010.  Over one hundred people protesting for union recognition of hotel workers at Hyatt San Francisco were arrested.  UNITE Here Local 2.

January 15, 2010.  A man who served nearly six months in jail and who was still on probation for hammering windows at a military recruiting center in Lancaster Pennsylvania was arrested at the recruiting center after insisting that recruiters and recruits to leave the army.

January 18, 2010.  Seven people commemorating Martin Luther King’s birthday wore sandwich board messages saying “Make War No More,” “It’s about Justice,”  and “its About Peace,” outside of Lockheed Martin’s main entrance in Merion Pennsylvania until they were arrested.  Brandywine Peace Community.

January 21, 2010.  Forty-two people protesting the ongoing human rights violations of Guantanamo prison were arrested at the US Capitol building.  Twenty-eight were arrested on the steps of the Capitol and fourteen inside the rotunda.  Witness Against Torture.

January 26, 2010.  Thirteen people from Minnesota lobbying to stop funding for war were arrested after holding a die-in on the sidewalk in front of the White House.  Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

January 31, 2010.  Eight people were arrested trying to protest at Vandenberg Air Force base in California, one of those arrested, an octogenarian, was brought to the hospital for injuries suffered in the arrest.  A few days later, seven protestors were arrested at the same spot.   A month later, four more protestors were arrested.  Vandenberg Witness.

February 22, 2010.  Five people protesting against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were arrested inside US Senators’ offices in the Des Moines Iowa federal building.  Voices for Creative Nonviolence.  Des Moines Catholic Worker.

March 4, 2010.  Four students protesting against rape were arrested after they refused to leave the administration building at Michigan State University in East Lansing Michigan.

March 20, 2010.  Nine peace activists were arrested in Washington DC for lying down beside mock coffins outside the White House.

March 21, 2010.  Two people protesting at the Aerospace and Arizona Days air show at Monthan Air Force base held a banner declaring “War is not a Show” in front of a Predator Unmanned Air Vehicle (drone) were arrested.

March 30, 2010.  Eight protestors were arrested during a march against police brutality in Portland Oregon.

April 2, 2010.  Eleven people on a Good Friday walk for peace and justice were arrested outside the USS Intrepid in New York city after they began reading the names of 250 Iraqi, American and Afghan war dead.  Pax Christi New York.

April 2, 2010. Nine people carrying a banner “Lockheed Martin Weapons + War = The Crucifixion Today” in the 34th annual Good Friday protest at Lockheed Martin were arrested in Valley Forge Pennsylvania.  Brandywine Peace Community.

April 4, 2010. Twenty two people protesting against nuclear weapons after the Sacred Walk from Las Vegas to the Nevada Nuclear Test Site were arrested after the Western Shoshone sunrise ceremony and Easter Mass.  Nevada Desert Experience.

April 7, 2010.  Three people, including a 12 year old girl, were arrested inside a US Senators office in Des Moines, Iowa with a banner “No More $$$ For War.”  The mother of the 12 year old girl was called into the police station and issued a citation the next day for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.  Voices for Creative Nonviolence and Des Moines Catholic Worker.

April 15, 2010.  A man protesting nuclear weapons was arrested inside the security fence of a nuclear missile silo near Parshall, North Dakota.

April 16, 2010.  Twelve people protesting against Sodexho mistreatment of workers were arrested in Montgomery County Maryland.  Service Employees International Union.

April 20, 2010.  A woman was arrested for standing in the path of a bulldozer to try to prevent mining in Marquette County, Michigan.

April 26, 2010.  Seventeen people protesting war and poverty inside and outside the federal building in Chicago were arrested.  Midwest Catholic Worker.

April 26, 2010.  Boulder Colorado police arrested five people protesting at Valmont coal power plant.

May 3, 2010.  Three people protesting nuclear weapons were arrested at Bangor Naval Base outside of Seattle Washington.  Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.

May 3, 2010.  Twenty two people protesting nuclear weapons were arrested at Grand Central Station in New York city after unfurling banners saying “Nuclear Weapons = Terrorism,” and “Talk Less, Disarm More.” War Resisters League.

May 9, 2010.  Seven people trying to stop a foreclosure-driven eviction were arrested in Toledo Ohio.  Take Back the Land.

May 15, 2010.  Thirty four people protesting against Arizona’s draconian immigration laws were arrested outside the White House.

May 17, 2010.  Sixteen people were arrested in NYC protesting against unjust immigration policies.

May 20, 2010.  A woman US Army specialist who served as a Military Police applied for conscientious objector status while serving in Iraq and who later left her unit was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

May 24, 2010.  Thirty seven people protesting against unjust immigration policies were arrests in New York City.

June 1, 2010.  Fifty six people protesting against unjust immigration policies were arrested in NYC.

June 8, 2010.  Six peace advocates were arraigned in federal court in Des Moines, Iowa for numerous actions protesting in US Senators offices for the previous several months.  One activist, a grandmother and hog farmer, held weekly die-ins in Senators’  offices and was arrested frequently.  Once, when police asked her to leave, she replied that she was dead and couldn’t leave.  Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

June 15, 2010.  Several people protesting against evictions caused by bank foreclosure were arrested in Miami Florida.  Take Back the Land.

June 23, 2010.  Twenty two people protesting in favor of immigration reform singing “America the Beautiful” and “This Land is Your Land,” were arrested and charged with blocking traffic in Seattle.

July 5, 2010.  Thirty six people protesting for a nuclear free future were arrested at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee – thirteen of federal trespass charges and twenty-three on state charges for blocking a highway.  Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance.

July 6, 2010.  Seventy eight people protesting against police brutality in Oakland California and the trial involving a shooting by a BART police office.

July 23, 2010.  One hundred fifty two hotel workers protesting against management at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco were arrested.  UNITE Here Local 2.

July 29, 2010.  Thirteen people were arrested in Tucson Arizona protesting against the state’s illegal immigration laws.

August 9, 2010.  On Nagasaki day, three people protesting against the US commitment to nuclear weapons were arrested outside the US Strategic Air Command in Omaha Nebraska.  Omaha Catholic Worker.

August 15, 2010.   A twenty two year old female student at Michigan State University who pitched an apple pie at a US Senator during an anti-war protest was arrested and charged with federal felony charges of forcible assault on a federal officer.  Another anti-war activist was also arrested and charged with the same crime.

September 9, 2010.  Twelve people protesting for equality for gay people in the workplace were arrested in San Francisco.

September 27, 2010.  One hundred fourteen people protesting mountaintop removal coal mining were arrested at the White House after a conference of people from West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.  Prior to this protest, forty-nine activists in the Climate Ground Zero Campaign have served jail time for taking action against strip-mining in Appalachia.  Climate Ground Zero.

November 5, 2010.  One hundred fifty two people protesting police killings were arrested in Oakland, California.

November 8, 2010.  Five people protesting wind turbines in Lincoln, Maine were arrested including an 82 year old native of Maine.

November 21, 2010.  Three people were arrested on federal charges and twenty-four more on state charges at the School of Americas/WHINSEC protest in Columbus Georgia outside the gates of Fort Benning. Six others were arrested at a protest against a private prison housing immigrants in rural Georgia. School of Americas Watch. ACLU Immigrant Rights Project.

December 1, 2010.  Three people protesting against unjust immigration policies were arrested at the office of a Congress rep in Racine Wisconsin.  Voces de la Frontera.

December 16, 2010.  One hundred thirty one protestors, including numerous veterans, gathered in the snow outside the White House challenging the war in Afghanistan, the cover-up of war crimes and the prosecution of Bradley Manning and Wikileaks were arrested for failing to clear the sidewalk.  In a parallel New York City protest, several others were also arrested.  Veterans for Peace.

December 17, 2010.  Twenty two people protesting against unfair home foreclosures were arrested when they blocked an entrance to a Chase bank branch in Los Angeles.   Alliance Californians for Community Empowerment.

December 20, 2010.  Six people were arrested after protesting at Bank of America against the foreclosure of an elderly couple in South Saint Louis.  Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment.

December 28, 2010.  Three parents asking for the abolition of all nuclear weapons were arrested for leafleting at the Pentagon.  Dorothy Day Catholic Worker.

2009

January 2009, seventeen people, clad in black mourning clothes and white masks, were arrested in the US Senate Building for reading the names of the dead in ongoing US wars and unfurling banners stating “The Audacity of War Crimes,”  “Iraq,” “Afghanistan,” “Palestine,” and “We Will Not Be Silent.”

January 26, 2009, six human rights advocates were sentenced to two to six months of federal prison or home arrest in federal court in Columbus Georgia for challenging training of Latin American human rights abusers at the US Army School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC) by walking onto Fort Benning. School of Americas Watch.

January 2009, a former Army specialist who refused to graduate with his Airborne Division because he realized he could not kill anybody was arrested and jailed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  The former soldier had been ordered home in May 2002 to await discharge papers.  Courage to Resist.

February 2009.  There were fifteen arrests of activists protesting mountain top removal by Massey in West Virginia.  Climate Ground Zero.

February 2009, five peace activists in Salem Oregon fasting on the steps of the state capitol building so that National Guard soldiers would not be sent to Iraq and Afghanistan were cited for trespass by state police.

March 1, 2009, six anti-nuclear activists protesting the 55th anniversary of the US nuclear  bomb detonation at Bikini Atoll were arrested at the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in Kitsap, Washington after they knelt in the roadway.  Ground Zero Community and Pacific Life Community.

March 4, 2009, nine people seeking to present a letter to CEO of Alliant Technologies outlining how weapons manufacturers were prosecuted as war criminals at the end of WWII were arrested in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.  Alliant Action.

March 12, 2009, four people who were arrested during a protest at Vandenberg Air Force base were fined between $500 and $2500 by federal authorities.  California Peace Action.

March 17, 2009, seven people seeking a meeting with US Defense Secretary to challenge the legality of the war in Iraq were arrested at the Pentagon.  National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance.

March 18, 2009, seven women, ranging in ages from 65 to 89, some in wheelchairs and walkers, were arrested protesting the war in Iraq after wrapping yellow crime scene tape around a military recruiting center and blocking the entrance for an hour in New York City.  Grannie Peace Brigade.

March 19, 2009, three people protesting the war in Iraq were arrested in Washington DC.  In one instance a US Army veteran scaled the front of the Veterans Administration building and unfurled a banner saying “Veterans Say NO to War and Occupation.”  Protests against the war in Iraq in Chicago resulted in an arrest there after banner drop.

March 19-21, 2009, protests against the war in Iraq in San Francisco resulted in twenty-two arrests at a die-in in the financial district, eleven more for blocking a street outside the Civic Center, and ten more at the Saturday march when Palestinian marchers were confronted by pro-Israel counter protestors resulting in police using batons and tear gas.

March 31, 2009, four people were arrested in Brattleboro, Vermont, for standing in silent opposition to the Vermont Yankee nuclear power reactor.

March 31, 2009, an anti-nuclear protestor was convicted of trespassing at the Los Alamos nuclear weapons facility and sentenced to two days in jail, community service and probation.  Trinity House Catholic Worker.

April 3, 2009, four people protesting injustices on Wall Street and in Afghanistan and Iraq were arrested in New York, NY, for marching down the center of the street.  Bail Out the People Movement.

April 9, 2009, fourteen people were arrested at Creech Air Force outside Las Vegas Nevada base protesting against the US use of drones in lethal attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.  Nevada Desert Experience.

April 10, 2009, eight people were arrested while kneeling and praying for peace at the Pentagon.  Another, clad in an orange jumpsuit and black hood, was arrested at the White House where he was chained to the fence protesting the human rights abuses of Guantanamo.   Jonah House.

April 10, 2009, sixteen people were arrested while protesting the war profiteer Lockheed Martin in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  Brandywine Peace Community.

April 12, 2009, twenty one people were arrested while protesting the use of nuclear weapons at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site on Western Shoshone tribal lands.  Nevada Desert Experience.

April 17, 2009.  A man protesting US polices of violence, racism and poverty-production was sentenced to six months in prison for hammering out some windows in the US Military Recruiting Center in Lancaster Pennsylvania.

April 23, 2009, four people protesting lies by military recruiters were arrested after locking themselves to the door at the military recruiting center in Minnesota.  Three others were arrested at the Knollwood Plaza  after disrupting the recruitment center so much it had to be closed.  Another woman was arrested near a recruiting center after placing a “Don’t Enlist”  sticker on a police car.  Antiwar committee.

April 24, 2009, a woman calling for the return of the National Guard from Iraq was arrested in the US House Appropriations during testimony by US Generals in Washington DC. Code Pink.

April 28, 2009, a US Army veteran who refused to fight in Iraq was court-martialed in Fort Stewart, Georgia and sentenced to one year in prison.  Courage to Resist.

April 29, 2009, twenty-two people were arrested after trying to serve a Notice of Foreclosure for Moral Bankruptcy on Blackwater/Xe, the mercenary company responsible for so many deaths in Iraq, at its compound in Mount Carmel, Illinois.  Des Moines Catholic Worker Community.

April 30, 2009, sixty three people were arrested at the White House protesting against illegal detention and torture at Guantanamo prison.   Witness Against Torture.

May 20, 2009.  Twenty one people protesting against the war in Iraq were arrested outside a military recruiting center in Milwaukee Wisconsin.

July 22, 2009, four people protesting against Boeing’s role in the production of drones, which have killed more than 700 people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, were arrested inside the Boeing lobby in Chicago, Illinois.  Christian Peacemaker Teams.

August 4, 2009, four shareholders who sought to speak at the shareholders meeting of depleted uranium munitions producer Alliant Techsystems were arrested when they approached the microphone in Eden Prairie Minnesota.  Alliant Action.

August 5, 2009, a US Army specialist who refused to deploy to Afghanistan was sentenced to 30 days in jail and given a less than honorable discharge in Killeen Texas.  Courage to Resist.

August 6, 2009, a 75 year old priest, protesting the 64th anniversary of the US dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima, was arrested outside of Greeley Colorado where he cut the fence around a nuclear missile silo, hung peace banners, prayed and tried to break open the hatch on the silo.

August 6, 2009, nine antiwar activists were arrested at Fort McCoy Wisconsin after a three day peace walk protesting against US nuclear weapons and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Nuke Watch.

August 6, 2009, two people were arrested at the Pentagon entrance on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing carrying a banner stating “Remember the Pain, Remember the Sin, Reclaim the Future.” Jonah House.

August 6, 2009, twenty two people protesting the horror of Hiroshima were arrested in Livermore California when they blocked the entrance to the Lawrence Livermore weapons lab. Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment.

August 6, 2009, nine people at a vigil for peace and nonviolence were arrested for walking onto Lockheed Martin property at Valley Forge Pennsylvania and spreading sunflower seeds, an international symbol for the abolition of nuclear weapons.  Brandywine Peace Community.

August 6, 2009, two people were arrested when they refused to stop praying at the gates of the Davis-Monthan Air Force base in Tucson Arizona.  Rose of the Desert Catholic Worker.

August 10, 2009, nine persons calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons were arrested at Bangor Naval base, home to the Trident submarine, twenty miles from Seattle Washington.  Ground Zero Community.

August 14, 2009, a US Army Sergeant who refused to go to Afghanistan and who asked for conscientious objector status was found guilty of disobeying lawful orders and going AWOL at a trial in Fort Hood.  He was sentenced to one year in prison and given a bad conduct discharge.

August 17, 2009.  Four people were arrested outside the Boalt Hall classroom where they were protesting John Yoo, who coauthored the memos authorizing torture on people in Guantanamo during the Bush administration.

August 22, 2009, two people protesting against nuclear missile testing were arrested at Vandenberg Air Force base and cited for trespass.

September 9, 2009.  Four people protesting against Massey Energy mountain top removal were arrested in Madison West Virginia.  Climate Ground Zero.

September 12, 2009, seven people who were protesting against the use of the high-tech bloodless arcade Army Experience Center in Philadelphia were arrested.  Seven other protestors were arrested there earlier in the year.  Shut Down the AEC.

September 24, 2009, ninety two people protesting management disregard for union rights of hotel workers were arrested at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Francisco.  UNITE Here Local 2.

September 27, 2009, twenty one people protesting against the Nevada Test Site were arrested at the Mercury gate.  At an action to “Ground the Drones”  protesting the increasing use of lethal drones in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, another eleven people were arrested.  Code Pink.  Pace e Bene.  Nevada Desert Experience.

September 28, 2009, four women, ages 66 to 90, walked past security guards at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant protesting inadequate safety at the plant.  Carrying signs saying “Yom Kippur, September 28, Time to Atone, Shut Down Vermont Yankee,” this was the seventh set of arrests at the nuclear plant or its corporate headquarters since 2005.

September, 2009, the US Army accepted the resignation of Lieutenant, who refused to fight in Iraq because he believed the war violates international law, and gave him a discharge under other than honorable conditions.   Courage to Resist.

October 1, 2009.  A well known mixed martial arts fighter was sentenced to 90 days of work release and a fine of $28,000 for spraying symbols on an Army recruiting center and the Washington State Capitol building to help raise consciousness about the illegal war in Iraq.

October 2, 2009.  Four people trying to deliver a document titled “Employee Liabilities of Weapons Manufacturers under International Law” to the weapons manufacturer Alliant Technologies were arrested in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.  Alliant Action.

October 5, 2009, a couple, who married the day before and who were carrying a banner saying “Just Married; Love Disarms,” were arrested during a peace protest at Lockheed-Martin in Sunnyvale California.  A priest was also arrested as the three gave out leaflets to workers entering the war contractor work site.  Albuquerque New Mexico Catholic Worker.

October 5, 2009, sixty one people were arrested while protesting the ninth year of the US war in Afghanistan in front of the White House.  Some of the arrested were in orange jumpsuits and chained to the fence.  Secret Service officers assaulted other protestors, pushing and pulling them away from the protest site, bruising some.  No Good War and Jonah House.

October 7, 2009, twelve protestors against the war in Afghanistan were arrested in Rochester, NY.  Some of the arrested were treated at the hospital after being struck by police.  Rochester Students for a Democratic Society.

October 7, 2009.  Two people were arrested in Grand Central Station after unfurling banners which said “Afghanistan Enough!”  War Resisters League.

October 11, 2009.  Two women who held up banners when Tiger Woods was ready to putt, saying “President Obama – End Bush’s War,” and “End the Afghan Quagmire,” were handcuffed and escorted away from the President’s Cup golf tournament in San Francisco.

November 2, 2009.  Five people calling for nuclear disarmament cut through the fence around the Naval Base Kitsap which houses the Trident nuclear submarines and nuclear warheads outside of Seattle Washington.  The five walked through the base until they found the storage area for nuclear weapons and cut two more fences to get inside where they put up banners and spread sunflower seeds until they were arrested.  Disarm Now Plowshares.

November 4, 2009.  Two people were arrested while protesting outside Vandenberg Air Force base in California.  Vandenberg Witness.

November 4, 2009.  Eight protestors, including one who was 91 years old, were arrested at the Strategic Space Symposium in Omaha Nebraska while holding a “Space Weapons=Death” banner.  Des Moines and Omaha Catholic Worker.

November 15, 2009.  Five people protesting against US torture practices at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where military interrogators are trained were arrested.  Torture on Trial.

November 22, 2009.  Four people protesting the training of human rights abusers by the US Army at their School of Americas/WHINSEC were arrested in Columbus, Georgia.  School of Americas Watch.

November 23, 2009.  A longtime war tax resister pled guilty to avoiding paying taxes for war at court in Bangor Maine.  National War Tax Resistance Coordination Committee.

December 1, 2009.  Protestors at 100 cities across the country challenged President Obama’s talk at West Point to escalate the war in Afghanistan.  Six were arrested at West Point, eleven in Minneapolis, and three in Madison Wisconsin.

December 9, 2009.  Six people protesting that President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize were arrested outside the federal building in Los Angeles.  Los Angeles Catholic Worker.

December 10, 2009.  Six people protesting the use of lethal drones were forcibly escorted out of the 11th Annual Unmanned Aerial Systems Conference outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Trinity Nuclear Abolition and Code Pink.

More information about many of these arrests can be found at www.nukeresister.org.

Bill Quigley

Bill Quigley is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans.  He is a Katrina survivor and has been active in human rights in Haiti for years with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Contact Bill at quigley77@gmail.com

Stunning Statistics About the War Every American Should Know December 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Published on Friday, December 18, 2009 by Rebel Reports

Contrary to popular belief, the US actually has 189,000 personnel on the ground in Afghanistan right now—and that number is quickly rising.

by Jeremy Scahill

A hearing in Sen. Claire McCaskill’s Contract Oversight subcommittee on contracting in Afghanistan has highlighted some important statistics that provide a window into the extent to which the Obama administration has picked up the Bush-era war privatization baton and sprinted with it. Overall, contractors now comprise a whopping 69% of the Department of Defense’s total workforce, “the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in US history.” That’s not in one war zone-that’s the Pentagon in its entirety.

[DynCorp instructor with police recruits in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, June 2008. In Afghanistan, the Obama administration blows the Bush administration out of the privatized water. (File image via TPM)]
DynCorp instructor with police recruits in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, June 2008. In Afghanistan, the Obama administration blows the Bush administration out of the privatized water. (File image via TPM)

In Afghanistan, the Obama administration blows the Bush administration out of the privatized water. According to a memo [PDF] released by McCaskill’s staff, “From June 2009 to September 2009, there was a 40% increase in Defense Department contractors in Afghanistan.  During the same period, the number of armed private security contractors working for the Defense Department in Afghanistan doubled, increasing from approximately 5,000 to more than 10,000.” 

At present, there are 104,000 Department of Defense contractors in Afghanistan. According to a report this week from the Congressional Research Service, as a result of the coming surge of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, there may be up to 56,000 additional contractors deployed. But here is another group of contractors that often goes unmentioned: 3,600 State Department contractors and 14,000 USAID contractors. That means that the current total US force in Afghanistan is approximately 189,000 personnel (68,000 US troops and 121,000 contractors). And remember, that’s right now. And that, according to McCaskill, is a conservative estimate. A year from now, we will likely see more than 220,000 US-funded personnel on the ground in Afghanistan.

The US has spent more than $23 billion on contracts in Afghanistan since 2002. By next year, the number of contractors will have doubled since 2008 when taxpayers funded over $8 billion in Afghanistan-related contracts.

Despite the massive number of contracts and contractors in Afghanistan, oversight is utterly lacking. “The increase in Afghanistan contracts has not seen a corresponding increase in contract management and oversight,” according to McCaskill’s briefing paper. “In May 2009, DCMA [Defense Contract Management Agency] Director Charlie Williams told the Commission on Wartime Contracting that as many as 362 positions for Contracting Officer’s Representatives (CORs) in Afghanistan were currently vacant.”

A former USAID official, Michael Walsh, the former director of USAID’s Office of Acquisition and Assistance and Chief Acquisition Officer, told the Commission that many USAID staff are “administering huge awards with limited knowledge of or experience with the rules and regulations.” According to one USAID official, the agency is “sending too much money, too fast with too few people looking over how it is spent.” As a result, the agency does not “know … where the money is going.”

The Obama administration is continuing the Bush-era policy of hiring contractors to oversee contractors. According to the McCaskill memo:

In Afghanistan, USAID is relying on contractors to provide oversight of its large reconstruction and development projects.  According to information provided to the Subcommittee, International Relief and Development (IRD) was awarded a five-year contract in 2006 to oversee the $1.4 billion infrastructure contract awarded to a joint venture of the Louis Berger Group and Black and Veatch Special Projects.  USAID has also awarded a contract Checci and Company to provide support for contracts in Afghanistan.

The private security industry and the US government have pointed to the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker(SPOT) as evidence of greater government oversight of contractor activities. But McCaskill’s subcommittee found that system utterly lacking, stating: “The Subcommittee obtained current SPOT data showing that there are currently 1,123 State Department contractors and no USAID contractors working in Afghanistan.” Remember, there are officially 14,000 USAID contractors and the official monitoring and tracking system found none of these people and less than half of the State Department contractors.

As for waste and abuse, the subcommittee says that the Defense Contract Audit Agency identified more than $950 million in questioned and unsupported costs submitted by Defense Department contracts for work in Afghanistan. That’s 16% of the total contract dollars reviewed.

© 2009 Jeremy Scahill

Blackwater Founder Tells of Extensive Government-Contracted Assassinations December 4, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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by: Yana Kunichoff, t r u t h o u t | Report

December 4, 2009

The head of Blackwater revealed the details of his collaboration with the CIA to locate and assassinate top al Qaeda operatives as part of a covert antiterror operation Tuesday, and blamed Democrats for the leak that ended the program.

In an article published in Vanity Fair, Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, spoke about the extent of his involvement with the CIA, which ranged from putting together, funding and executing operations to bring personnel into “denied areas” to targeting specific people for assassination who were deemed enemies by the US government.

Prince was one of a secret network of American citizens with special skills or access chosen to help the CIA access targets of interest. The program was kept secret for nearly eight years until it was revealed to lawmakers in a closed session with the House and Senate Intelligence Committee. During this meeting, CIA director Leon E. Panetta named both Prince and Blackwater as major players.

Prince blames Congressional Democrats for the leak. “[W]hen it became politically expedient to do so, someone threw me under the bus,” he said. “The left complained about how [CIA operative] Valerie Plame’s identity was compromised for political reasons. Well, what happened to me was worse. People acting for political reasons disclosed not only the existence of a very sensitive program but my name along with it.”

According to current and former government officials, former Vice President Dick Cheney told CIA officers in 2002 that they did not need to inform Congress about the program because they were already legally authorized to kill al Qaeda leaders. Under an executive order signed by President Gerald Ford in 1976, the CIA was barred from carrying out assassinations. But President George W. Bush took the position shortly after 9/11 that killing al Qaeda members was comparable to killing enemy soldiers in battle, and therefore assassinations were permissible. Prince was hired in 2004.

A former Navy Seal, Prince said, “I’ve been overtly and covertly serving America since I started in the armed services.” In his role as a contractor for the covert CIA program, according to The New York Times, Prince’s Blackwater employees assembled and loaded Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs onto remotely piloted aircraft – work previously performed by authorized and trained CIA employees.

Prince says he and a team of foreign nationals located a target for assassination in October 2008, but did not complete the job. He alleges two of these trips brought him and his team into Germany and Dubai – without the knowledge of their governments.

He further said that Blackwater resources were never used, but that he used his personal finances and was later reimbursed by the government. Prince has personally spent $45 million to finance a fleet of armored personnel carriers, and according to The Wall Street Journal, Blackwater itself had revenues of more than $600 million in 2008.

Blackwater, now renamed Xe Services for Xenon, the noncombustible gas, was founded in 1997 and has been in Afghanistan since 2002 and Iraq since 2003. In 2004, coalition forces in Baghdad declared private contractors, which included Blackwater employees, immune from Iraqi law.

Largely assigned to act as bodyguards for American diplomats and provide security for military and intelligence stations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Prince’s employees have on more than one occasion been accused of wanton force, which has resulted in civilian deaths.

A shooting by Blackwater bodyguards in Baghdad in September 2009 resulted in the death of 17 civilians, and the Justice Department has since charged six people with voluntary manslaughter, among other offenses, calling the use of force both unjustified and unprovoked.

A contractor also shot and killed a man standing on a roadside, who later turned out to be a father of six, and a bodyguard who was assigned to protect Iraq’s vice president. In both cases, the contractors were fired but not prosecuted.

Following these incidents, Iraqi officials have refused to give Blackwater an operating license. As a result of this, its revenue dropped 40 percent, and Prince says he is now paying more than $2 million a month in legal fees.

“We used to spend money on R&D to develop better capabilities to serve the US government,” says Prince. “Now we pay lawyers.”

The company is also facing a grand jury investigation and bribery accusations along with the voluntary-manslaughter trial of five ex-employees for Iraqis killed in September 2007.

American agencies have in the past outsourced interrogations , but many worry that the contracting out of the authority to kill brings a new set of problems.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said. “It is too easy to contract out work that you don’t want to accept responsibility for.”

Blackwater, which received more than $1.5 billion in government contracts between 2001 and 2009, regularly offers its training area in North Carolina to CIA operatives and continues to help fly killer drones along the border between and Afghanistan and Pakistan – President Obama is said to have authorized more than three dozen of these hits.

Philip Alston, an Australian human-rights lawyer who has served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, said  that drone attacks also operate in “an accountability void.”

Prince said that until two months ago, he was still working on intelligence-gathering operations from an undisclosed location in America and coordinating the movements of spies who were working undercover in the Axis of Evil countries. However, Prince, who was rejected by the CIA when he applied for a position, now plans to curtail his work with Blackwater and teach economics and history in high school.

Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan November 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War.
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Jeremy Scahill

The Nation, November 23, 2009

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, “snatch and grabs” of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

The source, who has worked on covert US military programs for years, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has direct knowledge of Blackwater’s involvement. He spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. The source said that the program is so “compartmentalized” that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence.

The White House did not return calls or email messages seeking comment for this story. Capt. John Kirby, the spokesperson for Adm. Michael Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Nation, “We do not discuss current operations one way or the other, regardless of their nature.” A defense official, on background, specifically denied that Blackwater performs work on drone strikes or intelligence for JSOC in Pakistan. “We don’t have any contracts to do that work for us. We don’t contract that kind of work out, period,” the official said. “There has not been, and is not now, contracts between JSOC and that organization for these types of services.”

The previously unreported program, the military intelligence source said, is distinct from the CIA assassination program that the agency’s director, Leon Panetta, announced he had canceled in June 2009. “This is a parallel operation to the CIA,” said the source. “They are two separate beasts.” The program puts Blackwater at the epicenter of a US military operation within the borders of a nation against which the United States has not declared war–knowledge that could further strain the already tense relations between the United States and Pakistan. In 2006, the United States and Pakistan struck a deal that authorized JSOC to enter Pakistan to hunt Osama bin Laden with the understanding that Pakistan would deny it had given permission. Officially, the United States is not supposed to have any active military operations in the country.

Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Xe Services and US Training Center, denies the company is operating in Pakistan. “Xe Services has only one employee in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the U.S. Government,” Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo said in a statement to The Nation, adding that the company has “no other operations of any kind in Pakistan.”

A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source’s claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan. The former executive spoke on condition of anonymity.

His account and that of the military intelligence source were borne out by a US military source who has knowledge of Special Forces actions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. When asked about Blackwater’s covert work for JSOC in Pakistan, this source, who also asked for anonymity, told The Nation, “From my information that I have, that is absolutely correct,” adding, “There’s no question that’s occurring.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me because we’ve outsourced nearly everything,” said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, when told of Blackwater’s role in Pakistan. Wilkerson said that during his time in the Bush administration, he saw the beginnings of Blackwater’s involvement with the sensitive operations of the military and CIA. “Part of this, of course, is an attempt to get around the constraints the Congress has placed on DoD. If you don’t have sufficient soldiers to do it, you hire civilians to do it. I mean, it’s that simple. It would not surprise me.”

The Counterterrorism Tag Team in Karachi

The covert JSOC program with Blackwater in Pakistan dates back to at least 2007, according to the military intelligence source. The current head of JSOC is Vice Adm. William McRaven, who took over the post from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC from 2003 to 2008 before being named the top US commander in Afghanistan. Blackwater’s presence in Pakistan is “not really visible, and that’s why nobody has cracked down on it,” said the source. Blackwater’s operations in Pakistan, he said, are not done through State Department contracts or publicly identified Defense contracts. “It’s Blackwater via JSOC, and it’s a classified no-bid [contract] approved on a rolling basis.” The main JSOC/Blackwater facility in Karachi, according to the source, is nondescript: three trailers with various generators, satellite phones and computer systems are used as a makeshift operations center. “It’s a very rudimentary operation,” says the source. “I would compare it to [CIA] outposts in Kurdistan or any of the Special Forces outposts. It’s very bare bones, and that’s the point.”

Blackwater’s work for JSOC in Karachi is coordinated out of a Task Force based at Bagram Air Base in neighboring Afghanistan, according to the military intelligence source. While JSOC technically runs the operations in Karachi, he said, it is largely staffed by former US special operations soldiers working for a division of Blackwater, once known as Blackwater SELECT, and intelligence analysts working for a Blackwater affiliate, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS), which is owned by Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince. The military source said that the name Blackwater SELECT may have been changed recently. Total Intelligence, which is run out of an office on the ninth floor of a building in the Ballston area of Arlington, Virginia, is staffed by former analysts and operatives from the CIA, DIA, FBI and other agencies. It is modeled after the CIA’s counterterrorism center. In Karachi, TIS runs a “media-scouring/open-source network,” according to the source. Until recently, Total Intelligence was run by two former top CIA officials, Cofer Black and Robert Richer, both of whom have left the company. In Pakistan, Blackwater is not using either its original name or its new moniker, Xe Services, according to the former Blackwater executive. “They are running most of their work through TIS because the other two [names] have such a stain on them,” he said. Corallo, the Blackwater spokesperson, denied that TIS or any other division or affiliate of Blackwater has any personnel in Pakistan.

The US military intelligence source said that Blackwater’s classified contracts keep getting renewed at the request of JSOC. Blackwater, he said, is already so deeply entrenched that it has become a staple of the US military operations in Pakistan. According to the former Blackwater executive, “The politics that go with the brand of BW is somewhat set aside because what you’re doing is really one military guy to another.” Blackwater’s first known contract with the CIA for operations in Afghanistan was awarded in 2002 and was for work along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

One of the concerns raised by the military intelligence source is that some Blackwater personnel are being given rolling security clearances above their approved clearances. Using Alternative Compartmentalized Control Measures (ACCMs), he said, the Blackwater personnel are granted clearance to a Special Access Program, the bureaucratic term used to describe highly classified “black” operations. “With an ACCM, the security manager can grant access to you to be exposed to and operate within compartmentalized programs far above ‘secret’–even though you have no business doing so,” said the source. It allows Blackwater personnel that “do not have the requisite security clearance or do not hold a security clearance whatsoever to participate in classified operations by virtue of trust,” he added. “Think of it as an ultra-exclusive level above top secret. That’s exactly what it is: a circle of love.” Blackwater, therefore, has access to “all source” reports that are culled in part from JSOC units in the field. “That’s how a lot of things over the years have been conducted with contractors,” said the source. “We have contractors that regularly see things that top policy-makers don’t unless they ask.”

According to the source, Blackwater has effectively marketed itself as a company whose operatives have “conducted lethal direct action missions and now, for a price, you can have your own planning cell. JSOC just ate that up,” he said, adding, “They have a sizable force in Pakistan–not for any nefarious purpose if you really want to look at it that way–but to support a legitimate contract that’s classified for JSOC.” Blackwater’s Pakistan JSOC contracts are secret and are therefore shielded from public oversight, he said. The source is not sure when the arrangement with JSOC began, but he says that a spin-off of Blackwater SELECT “was issued a no-bid contract for support to shooters for a JSOC Task Force and they kept extending it.” Some of the Blackwater personnel, he said, work undercover as aid workers. “Nobody even gives them a second thought.”

The military intelligence source said that the Blackwater/JSOC Karachi operation is referred to as “Qatar cubed,” in reference to the US forward operating base in Qatar that served as the hub for the planning and implementation of the US invasion of Iraq. “This is supposed to be the brave new world,” he says. “This is the Jamestown of the new millennium and it’s meant to be a lily pad. You can jump off to Uzbekistan, you can jump back over the border, you can jump sideways, you can jump northwest. It’s strategically located so that they can get their people wherever they have to without having to wrangle with the military chain of command in Afghanistan, which is convoluted. They don’t have to deal with that because they’re operating under a classified mandate.”

In addition to planning drone strikes and operations against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan for both JSOC and the CIA, the Blackwater team in Karachi also helps plan missions for JSOC inside Uzbekistan against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, according to the military intelligence source. Blackwater does not actually carry out the operations, he said, which are executed on the ground by JSOC forces. “That piqued my curiosity and really worries me because I don’t know if you noticed but I was never told we are at war with Uzbekistan,” he said. “So, did I miss something, did Rumsfeld come back into power?”

Pakistan’s Military Contracting Maze

Blackwater, according to the military intelligence source, is not doing the actual killing as part of its work in Pakistan. “The SELECT personnel are not going into places with private aircraft and going after targets,” he said. “It’s not like Blackwater SELECT people are running around assassinating people.” Instead, US Special Forces teams carry out the plans developed in part by Blackwater. The military intelligence source drew a distinction between the Blackwater operatives who work for the State Department, which he calls “Blackwater Vanilla,” and the seasoned Special Forces veterans who work on the JSOC program. “Good or bad, there’s a small number of people who know how to pull off an operation like that. That’s probably a good thing,” said the source. “It’s the Blackwater SELECT people that have and continue to plan these types of operations because they’re the only people that know how and they went where the money was. It’s not trigger-happy fucks, like some of the PSD [Personal Security Detail] guys. These are not people that believe that Barack Obama is a socialist, these are not people that kill innocent civilians. They’re very good at what they do.”

The former Blackwater executive, when asked for confirmation that Blackwater forces were not actively killing people in Pakistan, said, “that’s not entirely accurate.” While he concurred with the military intelligence source’s description of the JSOC and CIA programs, he pointed to another role Blackwater is allegedly playing in Pakistan, not for the US government but for Islamabad. According to the executive, Blackwater works on a subcontract for Kestral Logistics, a powerful Pakistani firm, which specializes in military logistical support, private security and intelligence consulting. It is staffed with former high-ranking Pakistani army and government officials. While Kestral’s main offices are in Pakistan, it also has branches in several other countries.

A spokesperson for the US State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), which is responsible for issuing licenses to US corporations to provide defense-related services to foreign governments or entities, would neither confirm nor deny for The Nation that Blackwater has a license to work in Pakistan or to work with Kestral. “We cannot help you,” said department spokesperson David McKeeby after checking with the relevant DDTC officials. “You’ll have to contact the companies directly.” Blackwater’s Corallo said the company has “no operations of any kind” in Pakistan other than the one employee working for the DoD. Kestral did not respond to inquiries from The Nation.

According to federal lobbying records, Kestral recently hired former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, who served in that post from 2003 to 2005, to lobby the US government, including the State Department, USAID and Congress, on foreign affairs issues “regarding [Kestral's] capabilities to carry out activities of interest to the United States.” Noriega was hired through his firm, Vision Americas, which he runs with Christina Rocca, a former CIA operations official who served as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 2001 to 2006 and was deeply involved in shaping US policy toward Pakistan. In October 2009, Kestral paid Vision Americas $15,000 and paid a Vision Americas-affiliated firm, Firecreek Ltd., an equal amount to lobby on defense and foreign policy issues.

For years, Kestral has done a robust business in defense logistics with the Pakistani government and other nations, as well as top US defense companies. Blackwater owner Erik Prince is close with Kestral CEO Liaquat Ali Baig, according to the former Blackwater executive. “Ali and Erik have a pretty close relationship,” he said. “They’ve met many times and struck a deal, and they [offer] mutual support for one another.” Working with Kestral, he said, Blackwater has provided convoy security for Defense Department shipments destined for Afghanistan that would arrive in the port at Karachi. Blackwater, according to the former executive, would guard the supplies as they were transported overland from Karachi to Peshawar and then west through the Torkham border crossing, the most important supply route for the US military in Afghanistan.

According to the former executive, Blackwater operatives also integrate with Kestral’s forces in sensitive counterterrorism operations in the North-West Frontier Province, where they work in conjunction with the Pakistani Interior Ministry’s paramilitary force, known as the Frontier Corps (alternately referred to as “frontier scouts”). The Blackwater personnel are technically advisers, but the former executive said that the line often gets blurred in the field. Blackwater “is providing the actual guidance on how to do [counterterrorism operations] and Kestral’s folks are carrying a lot of them out, but they’re having the guidance and the overwatch from some BW guys that will actually go out with the teams when they’re executing the job,” he said. “You can see how that can lead to other things in the border areas.” He said that when Blackwater personnel are out with the Pakistani teams, sometimes its men engage in operations against suspected terrorists. “You’ve got BW guys that are assisting… and they’re all going to want to go on the jobs–so they’re going to go with them,” he said. “So, the things that you’re seeing in the news about how this Pakistani military group came in and raided this house or did this or did that–in some of those cases, you’re going to have Western folks that are right there at the house, if not in the house.” Blackwater, he said, is paid by the Pakistani government through Kestral for consulting services. “That gives the Pakistani government the cover to say, ‘Hey, no, we don’t have any Westerners doing this. It’s all local and our people are doing it.’ But it gets them the expertise that Westerners provide for [counterterrorism]-related work.”

The military intelligence source confirmed Blackwater works with the Frontier Corps, saying, “There’s no real oversight. It’s not really on people’s radar screen.”

In October, in response to Pakistani news reports that a Kestral warehouse in Islamabad was being used to store heavy weapons for Blackwater, the US Embassy in Pakistan released a statement denying the weapons were being used by “a private American security contractor.” The statement said, “Kestral Logistics is a private logistics company that handles the importation of equipment and supplies provided by the United States to the Government of Pakistan. All of the equipment and supplies were imported at the request of the Government of Pakistan, which also certified the shipments.”

Who is Behind the Drone Attacks?

Since President Barack Obama was inaugurated, the United States has expanded drone bombing raids in Pakistan. Obama first ordered a drone strike against targets in North and South Waziristan on January 23, and the strikes have been conducted consistently ever since. The Obama administration has now surpassed the number of Bush-era strikes in Pakistan and has faced fierce criticism from Pakistan and some US lawmakers over civilian deaths. A drone attack in June killed as many as sixty people attending a Taliban funeral.

In August, the New York Times reported that Blackwater works for the CIA at “hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the company’s contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft.” In February, The Times of London obtained a satellite image of a secret CIA airbase in Shamsi, in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan, showing three drone aircraft. The New York Times also reported that the agency uses a secret base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, to strike in Pakistan.

The military intelligence source says that the drone strike that reportedly killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, his wife and his bodyguards in Waziristan in August was a CIA strike, but that many others attributed in media reports to the CIA are actually JSOC strikes. “Some of these strikes are attributed to OGA [Other Government Agency, intelligence parlance for the CIA], but in reality it’s JSOC and their parallel program of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] because they also have access to UAVs. So when you see some of these hits, especially the ones with high civilian casualties, those are almost always JSOC strikes.” The Pentagon has stated bluntly, “There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan.”

The military intelligence source also confirmed that Blackwater continues to work for the CIA on its drone bombing program in Pakistan, as previously reported in the New York Times, but added that Blackwater is working on JSOC’s drone bombings as well. “It’s Blackwater running the program for both CIA and JSOC,” said the source. When civilians are killed, “people go, ‘Oh, it’s the CIA doing crazy shit again unchecked.’ Well, at least 50 percent of the time, that’s JSOC [hitting] somebody they’ve identified through HUMINT [human intelligence] or they’ve culled the intelligence themselves or it’s been shared with them and they take that person out and that’s how it works.”

The military intelligence source says that the CIA operations are subject to Congressional oversight, unlike the parallel JSOC bombings. “Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now and the CIA knows that,” he says. “Contractors and especially JSOC personnel working under a classified mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so they just don’t care. If there’s one person they’re going after and there’s thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die. That’s the mentality.” He added, “They’re not accountable to anybody and they know that. It’s an open secret, but what are you going to do, shut down JSOC?”

In addition to working on covert action planning and drone strikes, Blackwater SELECT also provides private guards to perform the sensitive task of security for secret US drone bases, JSOC camps and Defense Intelligence Agency camps inside Pakistan, according to the military intelligence source.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a well-known Pakistani journalist who has served as a consultant for the UN and European Union in Pakistan and Afghanistan, says that the Blackwater/JSOC program raises serious questions about the norms of international relations. “The immediate question is, How do you define the active pursuit of military objectives in a country with which not only have you not declared war but that is supposedly a front-line non-NATO ally in the US struggle to contain extremist violence coming out of Afghanistan and the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan?” asks Zaidi, who is currently a columnist for The News, the biggest English-language daily in Pakistan. “Let’s forget Blackwater for a second. What this is confirming is that there are US military operations in Pakistan that aren’t about logistics or getting food to Bagram; that are actually about the exercise of physical violence, physical force inside of Pakistani territory.”

JSOC: Rumsfeld and Cheney’s Extra Special Force

Colonel Wilkerson said that he is concerned that with General McChrystal’s elevation as the military commander of the Afghan war–which is increasingly seeping into Pakistan–there is a concomitant rise in JSOC’s power and influence within the military structure. “I don’t see how you can escape that; it’s just a matter of the way the authority flows and the power flows, and it’s inevitable, I think,” Wilkerson told The Nation. He added, “I’m alarmed when I see execute orders and combat orders that go out saying that the supporting force is Central Command and the supported force is Special Operations Command,” under which JSOC operates. “That’s backward. But that’s essentially what we have today.”

From 2003 to 2008 McChrystal headed JSOC, which is headquartered at Pope Air Force Base and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where Blackwater’s 7,000-acre operating base is also situated. JSOC controls the Army’s Delta Force, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, as well as the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron. JSOC performs strike operations, reconnaissance in denied areas and special intelligence missions. Blackwater, which was founded by former Navy SEALs, employs scores of veteran Special Forces operators–which several former military officials pointed to as the basis for Blackwater’s alleged contracts with JSOC.

Since 9/11, many top-level Special Forces veterans have taken up employment with private firms, where they can make more money doing the highly specialized work they did in uniform. “The Blackwater individuals have the experience. A lot of these individuals are retired military, and they’ve been around twenty to thirty years and have experience that the younger Green Beret guys don’t,” said retired Army Lieut. Col. Jeffrey Addicott, a well-connected military lawyer who served as senior legal counsel for US Army Special Forces. “They’re known entities. Everybody knows who they are, what their capabilities are, and they’ve got the experience. They’re very valuable.”

“They make much more money being the smarts of these operations, planning hits in various countries and basing it off their experience in Chechnya, Bosnia, Somalia, Ethiopia,” said the military intelligence source. “They were there for all of these things, they know what the hell they’re talking about. And JSOC has unfortunately lost the institutional capability to plan within, so they hire back people that used to work for them and had already planned and executed these [types of] operations. They hired back people that jumped over to Blackwater SELECT and then pay them exorbitant amounts of money to plan future operations. It’s a ridiculous revolving door.”

While JSOC has long played a central role in US counterterrorism and covert operations, military and civilian officials who worked at the Defense and State Departments during the Bush administration described in interviews with The Nation an extremely cozy relationship that developed between the executive branch (primarily through Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and JSOC. During the Bush era, Special Forces turned into a virtual stand-alone operation that acted outside the military chain of command and in direct coordination with the White House. Throughout the Bush years, it was largely General McChrystal who ran JSOC. “What I was seeing was the development of what I would later see in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Special Operations forces would operate in both theaters without the conventional commander even knowing what they were doing,” said Colonel Wilkerson. “That’s dangerous, that’s very dangerous. You have all kinds of mess when you don’t tell the theater commander what you’re doing.”

Wilkerson said that almost immediately after assuming his role at the State Department under Colin Powell, he saw JSOC being politicized and developing a close relationship with the executive branch. He saw this begin, he said, after his first Delta Force briefing at Fort Bragg. “I think Cheney and Rumsfeld went directly into JSOC. I think they went into JSOC at times, perhaps most frequently, without the SOCOM [Special Operations] commander at the time even knowing it. The receptivity in JSOC was quite good,” says Wilkerson. “I think Cheney was actually giving McChrystal instructions, and McChrystal was asking him for instructions.” He said the relationship between JSOC and Cheney and Rumsfeld “built up initially because Rumsfeld didn’t get the responsiveness. He didn’t get the can-do kind of attitude out of the SOCOM commander, and so as Rumsfeld was wont to do, he cut him out and went straight to the horse’s mouth. At that point you had JSOC operating as an extension of the [administration] doing things the executive branch–read: Cheney and Rumsfeld–wanted it to do. This would be more or less carte blanche. You need to do it, do it. It was very alarming for me as a conventional soldier.”

Wilkerson said the JSOC teams caused diplomatic problems for the United States across the globe. “When these teams started hitting capital cities and other places all around the world, [Rumsfeld] didn’t tell the State Department either. The only way we found out about it is our ambassadors started to call us and say, ‘Who the hell are these six-foot-four white males with eighteen-inch biceps walking around our capital cities?’ So we discovered this, we discovered one in South America, for example, because he actually murdered a taxi driver, and we had to get him out of there real quick. We rendered him–we rendered him home.”

As part of their strategy, Rumsfeld and Cheney also created the Strategic Support Branch (SSB), which pulled intelligence resources from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA for use in sensitive JSOC operations. The SSB was created using “reprogrammed” funds “without explicit congressional authority or appropriation,” according to the Washington Post. The SSB operated outside the military chain of command and circumvented the CIA’s authority on clandestine operations. Rumsfeld created it as part of his war to end “near total dependence on CIA.” Under US law, the Defense Department is required to report all deployment orders to Congress. But guidelines issued in January 2005 by former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone stated that Special Operations forces may “conduct clandestine HUMINT operations…before publication” of a deployment order. This effectively gave Rumsfeld unilateral control over clandestine operations.

The military intelligence source said that when Rumsfeld was defense secretary, JSOC was deployed to commit some of the “darkest acts” in part to keep them concealed from Congress. “Everything can be justified as a military operation versus a clandestine intelligence performed by the CIA, which has to be informed to Congress,” said the source. “They were aware of that and they knew that, and they would exploit it at every turn and they took full advantage of it. They knew they could act extra-legally and nothing would happen because A, it was sanctioned by DoD at the highest levels, and B, who was going to stop them? They were preparing the battlefield, which was on all of the PowerPoints: ‘Preparing the Battlefield.'”

The significance of the flexibility of JSOC’s operations inside Pakistan versus the CIA’s is best summed up by Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Every single intelligence operation and covert action must be briefed to the Congress,” she said. “If they are not, that is a violation of the law.”

Blackwater: Company Non Grata in Pakistan

For months, the Pakistani media has been flooded with stories about Blackwater’s alleged growing presence in the country. For the most part, these stories have been ignored by the US press and denounced as lies or propaganda by US officials in Pakistan. But the reality is that, although many of the stories appear to be wildly exaggerated, Pakistanis have good reason to be concerned about Blackwater’s operations in their country. It is no secret in Washington or Islamabad that Blackwater has been a central part of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that the company has been involved–almost from the beginning of the “war on terror”–with clandestine US operations. Indeed, Blackwater is accepting applications for contractors fluent in Urdu and Punjabi. The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, has denied Blackwater’s presence in the country, stating bluntly in September, “Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan.” In her trip to Pakistan in October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dodged questions from the Pakistani press about Blackwater’s rumored Pakistani operations. Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, said on November 21 he will resign if Blackwater is found operating anywhere in Pakistan.

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that Blackwater “provides security for a US-backed aid project” in Peshawar, suggesting the company may be based out of the Pearl Continental, a luxury hotel the United States reportedly is considering purchasing to use as a consulate in the city. “We have no contracts in Pakistan,” Blackwater spokesperson Stacey DeLuke said recently. “We’ve been blamed for all that has gone wrong in Peshawar, none of which is true, since we have absolutely no presence there.”

Reports of Blackwater’s alleged presence in Karachi and elsewhere in the country have been floating around the Pakistani press for months. Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist who rose to fame after his 1997 interview with Osama bin Laden, claimed in a recent interview that Blackwater is in Karachi. “The US [intelligence] agencies think that a number of Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are hiding in Karachi and Peshawar,” he said. “That is why [Blackwater] agents are operating in these two cities.” Ambassador Patterson has said that the claims of Mir and other Pakistani journalists are “wildly incorrect,” saying they had compromised the security of US personnel in Pakistan. On November 20 the Washington Times, citing three current and former US intelligence officials, reported that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, has “found refuge from potential U.S. attacks” in Karachi “with the assistance of Pakistan’s intelligence service.”

In September, the Pakistani press covered a report on Blackwater allegedly submitted by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies to the federal interior ministry. In the report, the intelligence agencies reportedly allege that Blackwater was provided houses by a federal minister who is also helping them clear shipments of weapons and vehicles through Karachi’s Port Qasim on the coast of the Arabian Sea. The military intelligence source did not confirm this but did say, “The port jives because they have a lot of [former] SEALs and they would revert to what they know: the ocean, instead of flying stuff in.”

The Nation cannot independently confirm these allegations and has not seen the Pakistani intelligence report. But according to Pakistani press coverage, the intelligence report also said Blackwater has acquired “bungalows” in the Defense Housing Authority in the city. According to the DHA website, it is a large residential estate originally established “for the welfare of the serving and retired officers of the Armed Forces of Pakistan.” Its motto is: “Home for Defenders.” The report alleges Blackwater is receiving help from local government officials in Karachi and is using vehicles with license plates traditionally assigned to members of the national and provincial assemblies, meaning local law enforcement will not stop them.

The use of private companies like Blackwater for sensitive operations such as drone strikes or other covert work undoubtedly comes with the benefit of plausible deniability that places an additional barrier in an already deeply flawed system of accountability. When things go wrong, it’s the contractors’ fault, not the government’s. But the widespread use of contractors also raises serious legal questions, particularly when they are a part of lethal, covert actions. “We are using contractors for things that in the past might have been considered to be a violation of the Geneva Convention,” said Lt. Col. Addicott, who now runs the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. “In my opinion, we have pressed the envelope to the breaking limit, and it’s almost a fiction that these guys are not in offensive military operations.” Addicott added, “If we were subjected to the International Criminal Court, some of these guys could easily be picked up, charged with war crimes and put on trial. That’s one of the reasons we’re not members of the International Criminal Court.”

If there is one quality that has defined Blackwater over the past decade, it is the ability to survive against the odds while simultaneously reinventing and rebranding itself. That is most evident in Afghanistan, where the company continues to work for the US military, the CIA and the State Department despite intense criticism and almost weekly scandals. Blackwater’s alleged Pakistan operations, said the military intelligence source, are indicative of its new frontier. “Having learned its lessons after the private security contracting fiasco in Iraq, Blackwater has shifted its operational focus to two venues: protecting things that are in danger and anticipating other places we’re going to go as a nation that are dangerous,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, published by Nation Books. He is an award-winning investigative journalist and correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!. more…

The Privatization of “Obama’s War” June 7, 2009

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Published on Saturday, June 6, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Michael Winship

The sudden reappearance of former Vice President Dick Cheney over the last few months — seeming to emerge from his famous undisclosed location more frequently now than he ever did when he was in office — does not mean six more weeks of winter. But it does bring to mind that classic country and western song, “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?”

Or, maybe, “If You Won’t Leave Me, I’ll Find Someone Who Will.”

In his self-appointed role as voice of the opposition, Mr. Cheney has been playing Nostradamus, gloomily predicting doom if the Obama White House continues to set aside Bush administration policy, setting the stage for recrimination and finger-pointing should there be another terrorist attack on America.

Cheney’s grouchy legacy is the gift that keeps on giving. Just this week, The Washington Post reported for the first time that while vice president, Cheney oversaw “at least” four of those briefings given to senior members of Congress about enhanced interrogation techniques; “part of a secretive and forceful defense he mounted throughout 2005 in an effort to maintain support for the harsh techniques used on detainees…

“An official who witnessed one of Cheney’s briefing sessions with lawmakers said the vice president’s presence appeared to be calculated to give additional heft to the CIA’s case for maintaining the program.”

And remember Halliburton, the international energy services company of which Cheney used to be the CEO? After the fall of Baghdad, Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR were the happy recipients of billions of dollars in outside contracts to take care of the military and rebuild Iraq’s petroleum industry. Waste, shoddy workmanship (like faulty wiring that caused fatal electric shocks) and corruption ran wild, Pentagon investigators allege, even as Vice President Cheney was still receiving deferred compensation and stock options.

Reporting for TomDispatch.com, Pratap Chatterjee, author of the book, Halliburton’s Army, writes, “In early May, at a hearing on Capitol Hill, DCAA [Defense Contract Audit Agency] director April G. Stephenson told the independent, bipartisan, congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan that, since 2004, her staff had sent 32 cases of suspected overbilling, bribery and other possible violations of the law to the Pentagon inspector general. The ‘vast majority’ of these cases, she testified, were linked to KBR, which accounts for a staggering 43 percent of the dollars the Pentagon has spent in Iraq.”

In one instance, KBR was charging an average $38,000 apiece for “prefabricated living units” on bases in Iraq; another contractor offered to provide them for $18,000. But of a questionable $553 million in payments to KBR that the DCAA blocked or suspended, the Pentagon has gone ahead and agreed to pay $439 million, accepting KBR’s explanations.

KBR, Halliburton and the private security firm Blackwater have come to symbolize the excesses of outsourcing warfare. So you’d think that with a new sheriff like Barack Obama in town, such practices would be on the “Things Not to Do” list. Not so.

According to new Pentagon statistics, in the second quarter of this year, there has been a 23% increase in the number of private security contractors working for the Pentagon in Iraq and a 29% hike in Afghanistan. In fact, outside contractors now make up approximately half of our forces fighting in the two countries. “This means,” according to Jeremy Scahill, author of the book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, “there are a whopping 242,647 contractors working on these two U.S. wars.”

Scahill, who runs an excellent new website called “Rebel Reports,” spoke with my colleague Bill Moyers on the current edition of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. “What we have seen happen, as a result of this incredible reliance on private military contractors, is that the United States has created a new system for waging war,” he said. By hiring foreign nationals as mercenaries, “You turn the entire world into your recruiting ground. You intricately link corporate profits to an escalation of warfare and make it profitable for companies to participate in your wars.

“In the process of doing that you undermine US democratic policies. And you also violate the sovereignty of other nations, because you’re making their citizens combatants in a war to which their country is not a party.

“I feel that the end game of all of this could well be the disintegration of the nation-state apparatus in the world. And it could be replaced by a scenario where you have corporations with their own private armies. To me, that would be a devastating development. But it’s happening on a micro level. And I fear it will start to happen on a much bigger scale.”

Jeremy Scahill’s comments come just as Lt. General Stanley McChrystal, the man slated to be the new commander of our troops in Afghanistan says the cost of our strategy there is going to cost America and its NATO allies billions of additional dollars for years to come. In fact, according to budget documents released by the Pentagon last month, as of next year, the cost of the war in Afghanistan — more and more known as “Obama’s War” — will exceed the cost of the war in Iraq.

The President asserted in his Cairo speech on Thursday that he has no desire to keep troops or establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan. But according to Jeremy Scahill, “I think what we’re seeing, under President Barack Obama, is sort of old wine in a new bottle. Obama is sending one message to the world,” he told Moyers, “but the reality on the ground, particularly when it comes to private military contractors, is that the status quo remains from the Bush era.”

Maybe that’s one more reason Dick Cheney, private contractor emeritus, won’t go away.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program “Bill Moyers Journal,” which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.

Obama Has 250,000 ‘Contractors’ in Iraq and Afghan Wars, Increases Number of Mercenaries June 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Published on Monday, June 1, 2009 by RebelReports

Newly released Pentagon statistics show that in both Iraq and Afghanistan the number of armed contractors is rising. The DoD says it sees “similar dependence on contractors in future.”

by Jeremy Scahill

A couple of years ago, Blackwater executive Joseph Schmitz seemed to see a silver lining for mercenary companies with the prospect of US forces being withdrawn or reduced in Iraq. “There is a scenario where we could as a government, the United States, could pull back the military footprint,” Schmitz said. “And there would then be more of a need for private contractors to go in.”

When it comes to armed contractors, it seems that Schmitz was right.

According to new statistics released by the Pentagon, with Barack Obama as commander in chief, there has been a 23% increase in the number of “Private Security Contractors” working for the Department of Defense in Iraq in the second quarter of 2009 and a 29% increase in Afghanistan, which “correlates to the build up of forces” in the country. These numbers relate explicitly to DoD security contractors. Companies like Blackwater and its successor Triple Canopy work on State Department contracts and it is unclear if these contractors are included in the over-all statistics. This means, the number of individual “security” contractors could be quite higher, as could the scope of their expansion.

Overall, contractors (armed and unarmed) now make up approximately 50% of  the “total force in Centcom AOR [Area of Responsibility].” This means there are a whopping 242,657 contractors working on these two US wars. These statistics come from two reports just released by Gary J. Motsek, the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Program Support): “Contractor Support of U.S. Operations in USCENTCOM AOR, IRAQ, and Afghanistan and “Operational Contract Support, ‘State of the Union.'”

“We expect similar dependence on contractors in future contingency operations,” according to the contractor “State of the Union.” It notes that the deployment size of both military personnel and DoD civilians are “fixed by law,” but points out that the number of contractors is “size unfixed,” meaning there is virtually no limit (other than funds) to the number of contractors that can be deployed in the war zone.

At present there are 132,610 in Iraq and 68,197 in Afghanistan. The report notes that while the deployment of security contractors in Iraq is increasing, there was an 11% decrease in overall contractors in Iraq from the first quarter of 2009 due to the “ongoing efforts to reduce the contractor footprint in Iraq.”

Both Pentagon reports can be downloaded here.

© 2009 Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill on Iraq and Mercenaries April 2, 2009

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(Roger’s note: these are excerpts from Amy Goodman’s interview with investigative journalist, Jeremy Scahill, on DemocracyNow!, April 2, 2009)

AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration has confirmed it’s hired the mercenary firm Triple Canopy to take over Blackwater’s contract to protect US diplomats in Iraq. Part of the firm’s job will be to protect the “monstrous” US embassy in Baghdad. Blackwater, now known as Xe, that’s “zee,” lost its State Department contract in Iraq after the Iraqi government refused to grant the company a new license because of the September 2007 Nisoor Square massacre, when Blackwater guards killed seventeen Iraqi civilians.

 

Meanwhile, independent journalist Jeremy Scahill has just revealed that the Obama administration is also using Triple Canopy to protect US diplomats in Israel. Jeremy’s article, called “Obama’s Blackwater?” appears on alternet.org. He’s the author of the bestselling book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Democracy Now! correspondent, here in our firehouse studio.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: So, what have you learned, Jeremy?

 

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I’m starting to call a series of pieces I’m doing “Operation Rebranded,” because what we’re seeing unfold with the Obama administration’s foreign policy is basically continuing many of the worst parts of Bush’s foreign policy and sort of repackaging these policies. So, for instance, the Obama administration has dropped the use of the term “global war on terrorism” and uses phrases like “contingency operations” to describe the US occupation of Iraq. The latest news we have is that the Obama’s administration has decided on its mercenary firm of choice. Clearly, Obama did not want to continue at least a public relationship with Blackwater.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what have you learned, Jeremy?

 

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I’m starting to call a series of pieces I’m doing “Operation Rebranded,” because what we’re seeing unfold with the Obama administration’s foreign policy is basically continuing many of the worst parts of Bush’s foreign policy and sort of repackaging these policies. So, for instance, the Obama administration has dropped the use of the term “global war on terrorism” and uses phrases like “contingency operations” to describe the US occupation of Iraq. The latest news we have is that the Obama’s administration has decided on its mercenary firm of choice. Clearly, Obama did not want to continue at least a public relationship with Blackwater…

Triple Canopy also, though, did a very lucrative business servicing other war contractors like KBR, and Triple Canopy was also known for being the company that brought in the largest number of so-called third country nationals, non-Iraqis, non-Americans. They hired, for instance, former Salvadoran commandos who were veterans of the bloody counterinsurgency war in El Salvador that took the lives of 75,000 Salvadorans, minimum. Chileans—they used the same recruiter, Jose Miguel Pizarro Ovalle, that Blackwater used when they hired Chileans. This was a former Pinochet military officer.

 

And this company has been around, you know, for five or six years. The Obama administration has hired them in Iraq, and many of the Blackwater guys are believed to be jumping over to Triple Canopy to continue working on in Iraq. Obama, though, is keeping Blackwater on, and the State Department has not ruled out that they’re going to stay on for much longer, the aviation division of Blackwater in Iraq, and also Blackwater is on the US government payroll in Afghanistan, also working for the Drug Enforcement Agency…

I think that the Obama administration should be required to explain to US taxpayers, particularly with the atrocious human rights abuses that we’ve been seeing in Israel, why he’s using a US mercenary company to protect US officials when they potentially come in contact with civilians. And we’ve seen how deadly that’s been in Iraq. And before May 7th, his administration should be required to explain to the American people why he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are continuing the Bush administration’s policy of using deadly paramilitary forces in Iraq.

 

AMY GOODMAN: The alternative?

 

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, the alternative, as Representative Jan Schakowsky has said, is to not use these companies, to ban their use in the war zone and to scale down the scope of what you classify as civilians or diplomats in Iraq. I have long said that I think the Obama administration should destroy that monstrous US embassy that was built in part on slave labor in Iraq. I think that they should pitch a tent in the backyard of the Polish embassy and call it a day and pay reparations to the Iraqi people. Now, call me naive or call me silly, but the fact of the matter is, this is a—it remains an illegal occupation of Iraq, that’s destroyed the lives of millions of Iraqis, and the Obama administration should not have a policy that necessitates using mercenaries.

 

AMY GOODMAN: I was quoting you with the term you used, the “monstrous” US embassy in Baghdad. How big is it? Why do you say “monstrous”?

 

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, this is the size of Vatican City. And the Vatican has embassies in other countries around the world. I mean, this is a massive small city within Baghdad itself.

 

AMY GOODMAN: The largest US embassy in the world?

 

JEREMY SCAHILL: It’s the largest US embassy in world history, and there are already some 1,200 employees that are operating out of this embassy. And according to a recent Government Accountability Office report that I reviewed, the Obama administration is very likely to increase its use of private military companies like Triple Canopy. This is going to be a very lucrative arrangement for these companies. So concerned is the Government Accountability Office with this trend, that they’re actually asking Congress to inquire with the Obama administration as to what they intend to if five years from now they have not reduced their reliance on mercenary companies.

 

Obama has now made Afghanistan and the occupation there, where there are maybe 78,000 troops, US troops, by next year, along with all the contractors, and the occupation of Iraq—he’s made these two wars his war. And so, the honeymoon should be over now. Barack Obama needs to be held accountable for wars that he is continuing and aggressively escalating.

 

AMY GOODMAN: We don’t have much time, but I wanted to ask you about this latest lawsuit.

 

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right, well, Blackwater has been sued repeatedly over the course of the past couple of years, But really, over the past month by Susan Burke of the law firm Burke O’Neil, who works for the Center for Constitutional Rights, she’s sued them for the killing of an Iraqi bodyguard to the vice president of Iraq, Adil Abdul-Mahdi. She’s suing them over the Nisoor Square massacre. And just yesterday, she filed a lawsuit against Blackwater for an incident in February of 2007 that you’ve reported on on this show, where three Iraqi security guards working for an Iraqi media network were allegedly killed by Blackwater snipers. She filed the lawsuit on behalf of their estates, their families. And really, Susan Burke has said that the Blackwater empire is responsible for so much death and destruction in Iraq that she’s looking to sue them in any way she can.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jeremy, I want to thank you for being with us. We’ll link to your article on our website at democracynow.org. Your article appeared at alternet.org. Jeremy Scahill, award-winning investigative journalist, author of the New York Times bestseller, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

Obama’s Blackwater? Chicago Mercenary Firm Gets Millions for Private “Security” in Israel and Iraq April 2, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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By Jeremy Scahill, AlterNet. Posted April 2, 2009.

Federal records obtained by AlterNet reveal a multi-million dollar contract for a private U.S. paramilitary force operating out of Jerusalem.

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama’s advisers said he “can’t rule out [and] won’t rule out” using mercenary forces, like Blackwater. Now, it appears that the Obama administration has decided on its hired guns of choice: Triple Canopy, a Chicago company now based in Virginia. It may not have Blackwater’s thuggish reputation, but Triple Canopy has its own bloody history in Iraq and a record of hiring mercenaries from countries with atrocious human rights records. What’s more, Obama is not just using the company in Iraq, but also as a U.S.-government funded private security force in Israel/Palestine, operating out of Jerusalem.

Beginning May 7th, Triple Canopy will officially take over Xe/Blackwater’s mega-contract with the U.S. State Department for guarding occupation officials in Iraq. It’s sure to be a lucrative deal: Obama’s Iraq plan will inevitably rely on an increased use of private contractors, including an army of mercenaries to protect his surge of diplomats operating out of the monstrous U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

The Iraq contract may come as no surprise. But according to federal contract records obtained by AlterNet, the Obama administration has also paid Triple Canopy millions of dollars to provide “security services” in Israel. In February and March, the Obama administration awarded a “delivery order” to Triple Canopy worth $5.5 million under State Department contract SAQMPD05F5528, which is labeled “PROTECTIVE SERVICES–ISRAEL.” According to one government document, the contract is scheduled to run until September 2012. (Another document says September 2009.) The contract is classified as “SECURITY GUARDS AND PATROL SERVICES” in Israel. The total value of the contract was listed at $41,556,969.72. According to a January 2009 State Department document obtained by AlterNet labeled “Sensitive But Unclassified,” the Triple Canopy contract is based out of Jerusalem.

According to federal records, the original arrangement with Triple Canopy in Israel appears to date back to at least September 2005 and has been renewed every year since. The company is operating under the State Department’s Worldwide Personal Protection Program (WPPS), which provides for private security/military companies to operate on the U.S. government payroll in countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, and Israel. Triple Canopy, according to an internal State Department report, also worked under the program in Haiti, though that task order is now listed as “closed.” In State Department documents the WPPS program is described as a government initiative to protect U.S. officials as well as “certain foreign government high level officials whenever the need arises.” The State Department spent some $2 billion on the WPPS program from 2005-2008.

Triple Canopy’s Growing Footprint in Iraq

Triple Canopy is hardly new to the Iraq occupation. Founded in Chicago in 2003 by “U.S. Army Special Forces veterans,” the company won its first Iraq contract in 2004. In 2005, with its business expanding, Triple Canopy relocated its corporate headquarters from Obama’s home state to Herndon, Virginia, placing it much closer to the center of U.S. war contracting. (On several U.S. government contracts, however, including the Israel security contracts, its Lincolnshire, Illinois address is still used.) 

Along with Blackwater and DynCorp, Triple Canopy has had armed operatives deployed in Iraq on a major U.S. government contract since the early stages of the occupation. At one point during this arrangement, Blackwater was responsible for Baghdad (the largest share of the work), DynCorp covered northern Iraq and Triple Canopy southern Iraq. Triple Canopy also worked for KBR and other corporations. As of 2007, Triple Canopy had about 2,000 operatives in Iraq, but only 257 on the State Department contract. However, its new contract, which takes effect May 7, will greatly expand Triple Canopy’s government presence in Iraq. (Meanwhile, Blackwater is scheduled to continue to work in Iraq under Obama through its aviation division and in Afghanistan, where it has security and counter-narcotics contracts. It also holds millions of dollars in other U.S. government contracts around the world and in the U.S. In February alone, the Obama administration paid Blackwater nearly $70 million in security contracts.) The Obama administration may have traded Blackwater for Triple Canopy in Iraq, but it is likely that some of Blackwater’s operatives, too, will simply jump over to Triple Canopy to keep working as armed security guards for occupation officials.

Like Blackwater, Triple Canopy has had its share of bloody incidents, among them  allegations that operatives have gone on missions where they shot at civilian vehicles, including one after a briefing where a team leader cocked his M-4 and said to his men, “I want to kill somebody today. … Because I’m going on vacation tomorrow.” (The man in question denied any wrongdoing). While Triple Canopy fired some employees for not reporting shooting incidents in Iraq, none have been criminally prosecuted in Iraq or the U.S. (For a full report on this and other incidents involving Triple Canopy, check out the great work of Washington Post foreign correspondent Steve Fainaru, author of Big Boy Rules.)

Also like Blackwater, Triple Canopy has hired mercenaries from countries with atrocious human rights records and histories of violent counter-insurgencies. Among them: Peru, Chile, Colombia and El Salvador. In fact, in Iraq, Triple Canopy hired far more “Third Country Nationals” than Blackwater and DynCorp and has used more TCNs than US citizens or Iraqis. As I reported in my book, Triple Canopy used the same Chilean recruiter (who served in Augusto Pinochet’s military) Blackwater used when it hired Chilean forces, including some “seasoned veterans” of the Pinochet era. In El Salvador, the company reportedly used “a U.S.-trained former paratrooper and officer of the Salvadoran special forces during the country’s civil war” where the U.S. backed a brutal right wing dictatorship in a war that took the lives of some 75,000 Salvadorans. A Triple Canopy spokesperson reportedly said of the Salvadorans, “They’ve got the right background for the type of work we are doing.” A Triple Canopy subsidiary in Latin America has also reportedly used a former CIA base in Lepaterique, Honduras as a training center. In the 1980s, the facility was used by the CIA and Argentinian military intelligence in training Contra death squads to attack Nicaragua. The base also served as the headquarters for the notorious Battalion 316, a CIA-trained Honduran military unit responsible for torture and disappearances.

There is also cause for concern about Triple Canopy’s attitude towards accountability for its forces in Iraq, particularly in light of new rules which, on paper, give Iraqi courts jurisdiction over contractor crimes. Blackwater has, at times, conspired with the U.S. State Department to whisk its forces out of Iraq when they are facing potential prosecution for alleged crimes committed in the country, as in the case of a drunken Blackwater operative who was alleged to have shot and killed a bodyguard to Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdel-Mahdi on Christmas Eve 2006.

According to one Triple Canopy operative, “We were always told, from the very beginning, if for some reason something happened and the Iraqis were trying to prosecute us, they would put you in the back of a car and sneak you out of the country in the middle of the night.” Another Triple Canopy operative said U.S. contractors had their own motto: “What happens here today, stays here today.”

The use of mercenaries by Hillary Clinton’s State Department stands in stark contrast to her co-sponsorship as a Senator of a bill last year that sought to ban the use of such companies in U.S. war zones, specifically Iraq. Last February Clinton said, “The time to show these contractors the door is long past due.” Now, Clinton will be relying on these hired guns for protecting her and her staff in various countries.

It’s hardly a surprise that Obama is continuing the use of mercenaries in Iraq and beyond (Triple Canopy itself maintains offices in Abu Dhabi, Nigeria, Peru, Jordan and Uganda); nevertheless, members of Congress — whose actions when Bush deployed these private armies were too little, too late — have a responsibility to investigate his use of companies whose profits are intimately linked to a continuation of war. Moreover, Obama’s choice of this particular company should be investigated, both by the House and Senate, before May 7th when Obama’s mercenaries become the official paramilitary force in Iraq. As for Triple Canopy’s role in Israel, Obama’s administration should explain exactly what these forces are doing on the U.S. government payroll.

283 Bases, 170,000 Pieces of Equipment, 140,000 Troops, and an Army of Mercenaries: The Logistical Nightmare in Iraq March 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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By Jeremy Scahill, AlterNet. Posted March 30, 2009.

Why you’ll be paying for the occupation for years to come, withdrawal or not.

With last week’s announced escalation of the war in Afghanistan, including an Iraq-like “surge” replete with 4,000 more U.S. troops and a sizable increase in private contractors, President Barack Obama blew the lid off of any lingering perceptions that he somehow represents a significant change in how the U.S. conducts its foreign policy.

In the meantime, more reports have emerged that bolster suspicions that Obama’s Iraq policy is but a downsized version of Bush’s and that a total withdrawal of U.S. forces is not on the horizon.

In the latest episode of Occupation Rebranded, it was revealed that the administration intends to reclassify some combat forces as “advisory and assistance brigades.” While Obama’s administration is officially shunning the use of the term “global war on terror,” the labels du jour, unfortunately, seem to be the biggest changes we will see for some time.

Underscoring this point is a report just released by the War Resisters League, which for decades has closely monitored the military budget, revealing how many tax dollars are actually going to the war machine. The WRL puts out its famous pie chart annually just before tax time as a reminder of what we are doing exactly when we file our returns. Noting that 51 percent of the federal budget goes to military spending, the WRL said it does “not expect the military percentage to change much” under Obama.

While Obama — and public attention — shifted foreign policy focus last week to Afghanistan, lost in the media blitz was another important report that examines how taxpayers will continue to pay for the Iraq occupation for years to come, withdrawal or not. This report, released in March by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, provides a sobering look at Obama’s “massive and expensive” Iraq plan, identifying several crucial questions that have yet to be addressed.

Whether or not the Obama administration actually intends to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq in numbers large enough to claim to be “ending the war” as many believe, this kind of official review of the U.S. reality in Iraq — and the congressional oversight to which Obama will (or will not) be subjected in the coming months — bears intense scrutiny.

First, there’s the money. “Although reducing troops would appear to lower costs, GAO has seen from previous operations … that costs could rise in the near term,” according to the 56-page report, which is titled “Iraq: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight.”

In addition to the massive funds required to move tens of thousands of troops, the GAO points out that the Army estimates “it would cost $12 billion to $13 billion a year for at least two years after the operation ends to repair, replace and rebuild the equipment used in Iraq.”

The cost of closing U.S. bases will also “likely be significant;” even after military units leave Iraq, the Pentagon will need to invest in training and equipment to return these units to levels capable of performing “full spectrum operations.” (The GAO report does not even mention the costs of providing much-needed medical and mental health services to veterans.)

The Obama administration is likely to portray the costs of “withdrawing” from Iraq as a painful necessity made inevitable by the Bush administration. But there are already calls for Obama to not allocate any new funds for such an operation. Retired Army Col. Ann Wright, a veteran diplomat who reopened the U.S. embassy in Kabul after Sept. 11 (and, while in the military, worked on plans for an Iraq invasion), says, “Everyone in the Department of Defense — military and civilian — knows well the expense of going to war and the expense of bringing troops back to the United States.

“DOD has plenty of money to withdraw equipment and personnel and no doubt has had monies specifically for that purpose built into its budgets for years. The Congress should not provide additional funding for withdrawal, but instead require DOD to use existing allocations.”

In fact, the GAO characterizes the Pentagon’s monthly reports on financial obligations under the global war on terrorism as being of “questionable reliability,” adding that it “found numerous problems with DOD’s processes for recording and reporting its war-related costs.”

“Without transparent and accurate cost information,” the GAO warns, “Congress and DOD will not have reliable information on how much the war is costing, sufficient details on how appropriated funds are spent, or the reliable historical data needed to develop and provide oversight of future funding needs.”

Dollars aside, the new GAO report report raises serious questions about how Obama will handle key challenges that will ultimately determine Iraq’s future and the extent of the U.S. presence in the country. Among the questions the Obama administration has yet to answer: How to dismantle or hand over the 283 U.S. installations in Iraq (including more than 50 large military bases); What to do with the 160,000-plus private U.S. contractors in Iraq; Who will provide security for the massive — and likely expanding — army of diplomats deployed in the country at the monstrous U.S. embassy in Baghdad?

Iraqis Could Vote the U.S. Out: Would Obama Listen?

Obama, of course, has always said that his Iraq policy is not set in stone and that he will adjust it according to “conditions on the ground” — a sweeping disclaimer that could mean a 180-degree shift on a dime.

The GAO report acknowledges that under the Status of Forces Agreement, Iraq and the U.S. can “extend the draw-down time frame” if necessary, adding, “Either government can unilaterally terminate the security agreement by providing 12 months advance notice.” In the absence of clearly identified conditions for the stability of the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, one scenario that could result in Obama extending the U.S. occupation is if the Washington-backed Baghdad regime is threatened by an uprising.

Statistics presented by the GAO are worth considering: “[T]he number of Iraqi army and police forces nearly doubled from about 320,000 in January 2007 to just over 600,000 in October 2008. However, according to the Department of Defense, over the same period, the number of Iraqi army units capable of conducting operations independently remained at about 10 percent of total units.”

Iraq is scheduled to have a national referendum on the SOFA this summer, and the GAO report notes that “the Iraqi government has said it would abide by the results.” This means that if Iraqis reject it, “U.S. forces would have to leave Iraq by as early as July 2010.” At this point, it seems impossible to imagine Obama having all U.S. forces out of Iraq a year from now — and certainly not his residual force of up to 50,000 troops. The GAO report suggests that Congress ask the Obama administration, “What are the U.S. contingency plans in the event that Iraqis vote against the security agreement in July 2009?”

More broadly, the GAO asks, “To what extent will the United States attempt to renegotiate provisions of the security agreement if security conditions deteriorate or other conditions are deemed insufficient to draw down responsibly?”

These questions will prove crucial in determining the sincerity of Obama’s campaign pledge to end the war.

Will the U.S. Walk Away From its 283 Bases in Iraq?

In a dramatic understatement, the GAO notes that the U.S. “has an extensive basing footprint in Iraq. … Closing or handing over U.S. installations in Iraq will be time consuming and costly.” With no fewer than 283 such installations throughout Iraq — 51 large bases and 232 smaller bases — the Obama administration has not said how it will approach this formidable task.

This is no minor detail. “According to U.S. Army officials, experience has shown that it takes one to two months to close the smallest platoon — or company —  size installations, which contain between 16 and 200 combat soldiers or Marines.”

However, the U.S. “has never closed large, complex installations — such as Balad Air Force Base, which contains about 24,000 inhabitants and has matured over five years. U.S. Army officials estimate it could take longer than 18 months to close a base of that size.” Obama should explain clearly how he intends to dismantle these bases or to what forces he is going to give control over them.

It is very hard to imagine that the U.S. will simply walk away from large bases it spent years building. So, will they be turned over to Iraq? If so, to whom? What guarantee is there that they would not be used as operating bases for death squads? Will some be destroyed? What about the environmental impact?

In addition to the bases, the GAO reveals that, as of of March 2008, “the United States had in place about 170,000 pieces of equipment worth about $16.5 billion that would need to be removed from Iraq.” Erik Leaver, a senior analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies, says,”An example of a tough question: What to do with MRAPs [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles]?”

“The MRAPs are so heavy, transport back to the U.S., plus the rehab charges may make it cost-effective to actually destroy them,” says Leaver. “Plus, if you need to move 120,000 soldiers in a rapid time frame, do you even have the space to bring them back if you take the MRAPs?”

Then there are the facilities in Iraq currently being run by U.S. contractors. According to the GAO, Defense Contract Management Agency officials estimate “there is at least $3.5 billion worth of contractor-managed government-owned property in Iraq.”

Troops Withdrawal, Contractor Surge?

Despite his much-celebrated troop withdrawal announcement, Obama has said nothing publicly about what he intends to do with the 163,000 “security contractors” deployed in Iraq, whose ranks outnumber U.S. troops. This is most likely because, as the GAO reports, there is no plan.

“From late 2007 through July 2008, planning for the redeployment of U.S. forces did not include a theaterwide plan for redeploying contractors,” the GAO report reveals.

In fact, the GAO raises the prospect that Obama will actually increase reliance on private contractors — including armed contractors like those who work for Blackwater — particularly given the Obama administration’s stated intention to increase diplomatic and reconstruction work in Iraq, which will create a greater need for “diplomatic security.”

According to the GAO, the State Department spent about $1.1 billion from 2006 to 2008 on 1,400 private security contractors in Iraq. As of January 2009, the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (the main employer of Blackwater and other armed contractors responsible for guarding U.S. diplomats and occupation officials), has already experienced a drastic increase in workload.

“State’s reliance on contractors may increase as the department currently depends on DOD to provide some services,” says the GAO, citing the examples of Bosnia and Kosovo, where “contractors assumed responsibility for certain support functions that had been previously performed by military personnel.”

Of course, executives at private security companies have long suggested that a U.S. military draw down could mean a greater role for private forces in Iraq.

“To what extent does State have contingency plans in place if Embassy Baghdad is unable to decrease its reliance on U.S. civilian government personnel over the next 5 years?” asks the GAO report.

The report also addresses question of accountability for contractors, noting that they are no longer officially immune from prosecution under Iraq’s legal system. Indeed, after the suspension of the Paul Bremer-era Order 17 and the signing of the SOFA, contractors are now ostensibly bound by Iraqi law — but not one has been prosecuted in Iraq for any crime, and it seems doubtful that any U.S. president would allow this to happen.

According to the GAO, “a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee is working to establish procedures and guidelines for exercising Iraqi jurisdiction for private contractors operating in Iraq, including those covered by the security agreement.” In other words, believe it when it happens.

No More Bailouts Until Iraq Has Clean Drinking Water

The GAO report is a pretty dry read, but seasoned observers of the Iraq occupation might find humor in one of the report’s graphs. It maps the drastic decline in the number of nations participating in the Iraq occupation, the so-called coalition of the willing, from 2004 to the present.

“As of March 2009, only three coalition partners remain in Iraq — Australia, Romania and the United Kingdom,” the GAO reports, illustrating the point with a sharp, steep slope. “These coalition partners have an agreement with Iraq to remove their troops by July 2009. At that time, the United States will be the sole remaining nation with troops stationed in Iraq.”

Another important figure included in the report that is anything but humorous — and rarely talked about — is the huge number of people imprisoned or detained by the U.S. in Iraq: 15,000. Many of these prisoners are being held without charge or access to due process. Under existing agreements between Iraq and the U.S., they are slated to either be turned over to Iraq’s legal system or released.

Interestingly, the GAO report does raise concerns about the dismal shape of Iraq’s legal system, citing a December 2008 Human Rights Watch report that “concluded Iraq’s central criminal court ‘seriously’ failed to meet international standards of due process and fair trials.” The GAO cites “concerns that detainees in Iraqi custody may be tortured or mistreated because Iraqi officials often rely on coerced confessions instead of physical evidence, particularly in criminal cases.”

It is telling that the GAO raised this concern in a section about the prospect of U.S. contractors being stripped of immunity and subjected to the Iraqi justice system, not Iraqis handed over to the Baghdad regime by the U.S. Regarding the fate of the Iraqi prisoners, the GAO report dryly notes, “many implementing details for this process must be resolved.”

Perhaps the saddest portion of the GAO report relates to what should be done to address the massive suffering in Iraq and what the U.S. responsibility should be for paying for the tremendous devastation of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure over the past 20 years.

Just take the issue of water. As of now, according to the report, “many Iraqis are without water or have access to water that puts them at risk of diseases such as cholera and dysentery, as evidenced by outbreaks in 2007 and 2008. According to the United Nations, only 40 percent of children have reliable access to safe drinking water; with water-treatment plants operating at only 17 percent capacity, large volumes of untreated waste are discharged into Iraq’s waterways. The health risks associated with a lack of access to potable water and proper sewage treatment are compounded by the shortage of medical professionals in Iraq’s health care system.”

According to the World Bank, it would cost $14.4 billion to rebuild the Iraqi public works and water system. In other words, about five weeks of the overall cost of the U.S. occupation.

Instead of discussing U.S. reparations or restitution, as groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War have demanded, the report asks the Obama administration what more the Iraqi government can do to fund reconstruction projects. “We’ve just spent $700 billion to bail out Wall Street,” says IPS’ Erik Leaver. “While the report notes that the U.S. spent $9.5 billion and Iraq budgeted for $17.2 billion for reconstruction of a war torn society. The scale of what we’ve done on the civilian end is absurd.”

Before one more cent is spent on bailing out corrupt corporations that destroyed the U.S. economy, Iraqis should have clean drinking water. After all, it was the illegal U.S. wars that took it from them in the first place. And that is not logic based on lies.

 

Jeremy Scahill, an independent journalistwho reports frequently for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now, has spent extensive time reporting from Iraq and Yugoslavia. He is currently a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. Scahill is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

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