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

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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.

Huge rise in birth defects in Falluja November 15, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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fallujahdeform_300

Fatima Ahmed, born after the assault in Fallujah, has deformities that include two heads.

 

Iraqi former battle zone sees abnormal clusters of infant tumours and deformities

Fallujah, an Iraqi city forever marked by the U.S. assault there, is dealing with another claim to infamy—infant deformities running up to 15 times higher than normal and a spike in cases of early-life cancers that may be linked to toxic materials from the fighting.  —JCL

 

Doctors in Iraq‘s war-ravaged enclave of Falluja are dealing with up to 15 times as many chronic deformities in infants and a spike in early life cancers that may be linked to toxic materials left over from the fighting.

The extraordinary rise in birth defects has crystallised over recent months as specialists working in Falluja’s over-stretched health system have started compiling detailed clinical records of all babies born.

Neurologists and obstetricians in the city interviewed by the Guardian say the rise in birth defects – which include a baby born with two heads, babies with multiple tumours, and others with nervous system problems – are unprecedented and at present unexplainable.

A group of Iraqi and British officials, including the former Iraqi minister for women’s affairs, Dr Nawal Majeed a-Sammarai, and the British doctors David Halpin and Chris Burns-Cox, have petitioned the UN general assembly to ask that an independent committee fully investigate the defects and help clean up toxic materials left over decades of war – including the six years since Saddam Hussein was ousted.

“We are seeing a very significant increase in central nervous system anomalies,” said Falluja general hospital’s director and senior specialist, Dr Ayman Qais. “Before 2003 [the start of the war] I was seeing sporadic numbers of deformities in babies. Now the frequency of deformities has increased dramatically.”

The rise in frequency is stark – from two admissions a fortnight a year ago to two a day now. “Most are in the head and spinal cord, but there are also many deficiencies in lower limbs,” he said. “There is also a very marked increase in the number of cases of less than two years [old] with brain tumours. This is now a focus area of multiple tumours.”

After several years of speculation and anecdotal evidence, a picture of a highly disturbing phenomenon in one of Iraq’s most battered areas has now taken shape. Previously all miscarried babies, including those with birth defects or infants who were not given ongoing care, were not listed as abnormal cases.

The Guardian asked a paediatrician, Samira Abdul Ghani, to keep precise records over a three-week period. Her records reveal that 37 babies with anomalies, many of them neural tube defects, were born during that period at Falluja general hospital alone.

Dr Bassam Allah, the head of the hospital’s children’s ward, this week urged international experts to take soil samples across Falluja and for scientists to mount an investigation into the causes of so many ailments, most of which he said had been “acquired” by mothers before or during pregnancy.

Other health officials are also starting to focus on possible reasons, chief among them potential chemical or radiation poisonings. Abnormal clusters of infant tumours have also been repeatedly cited in Basra and Najaf – areas that have in the past also been intense battle zones where modern munitions have been heavily used.

Falluja’s frontline doctors are reluctant to draw a direct link with the fighting. They instead cite multiple factors that could be contributors.

“These include air pollution, radiation, chemicals, drug use during pregnancy, malnutrition, or the psychological status of the mother,” said Dr Qais. “We simply don’t have the answers yet.”

The anomalies are evident all through Falluja’s newly opened general hospital and in centres for disabled people across the city. On 2 November alone, there were four cases of neuro-tube defects in the neo-natal ward and several more were in the intensive care ward and an outpatient clinic.

Falluja was the scene of the only two setpiece battles that followed the US-led invasion. Twice in 2004, US marines and infantry units were engaged in heavy fighting with Sunni militia groups who had aligned with former Ba’athists and Iraqi army elements.

The first battle was fought to find those responsible for the deaths of four Blackwater private security contractors working for the US. The city was bombarded heavily by American artillery and fighter jets. Controversial weaponry was used, including white phosphorus, which the US government admitted deploying.

Statistics on infant tumours are not considered as reliable as new data about nervous system anomalies, which are usually evident immediately after birth. Dr Abdul Wahid Salah, a neurosurgeon, said: “With neuro-tube defects, their heads are often larger than normal, they can have deficiencies in hearts and eyes and their lower limbs are often listless. There has been no orderly registration here in the period after the war and we have suffered from that. But [in relation to the rise in tumours] I can say with certainty that we have noticed a sharp rise in malignancy of the blood and this is not a congenital anomaly – it is an acquired disease.”

Despite fully funding the construction of the new hospital, a well-equipped facility that opened in August, Iraq’s health ministry remains largely disfunctional and unable to co-ordinate a response to the city’s pressing needs.

The government’s lack of capacity has led Falluja officials, who have historically been wary of foreign intervention, to ask for help from the international community. “Even in the scientific field, there has been a reluctance to reach out to the exterior countries,” said Dr Salah. “But we have passed that point now. I am doing multiple surgeries every day. I have one assistant and I am obliged to do everything myself.”

Additional reporting: Enas Ibrahim.

(Roger’s Note: We read about Falluja [Fallujah] when it was big news, we read about the US military destroying a city and terrorizing its residents in order to bring them Democracy.  Then we forgot about Falluja.  Now it comes back to haunt, not to haunt us but rather the ungrateful Iraqi residents of Falluja, sort of a gift that keeps on giving.  The amount of human suffering and damage caused by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq is probably beyond our comprehension, we think about it when it is brought to attention in articles like that I have posted above.   My point: make no mistake about it, the Iraq holocuast was not a “mistake” or a political miscalculation; it is a criminal act of the highest order, and if there were justice the entire Bush neo-Fascist cabal would be tried and convicted.)


Our War-Loving Foreign Policy Community Hasn’t Gone Anywhere September 22, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Published on Monday, September 21, 2009 by Salon.comby Glenn Greenwald

Advocates of escalation in Afghanistan chose Bob Woodward to “reprise his role as warmonger hagiagropher” by publishing Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s “confidential” memo to the President arguing for increased troops.  As Digby notes, the vague case for continuing to occupy that country is virtually identical to every instance where America’s war-loving Foreign Policy Community advocates the need for new and continued wars.  It’s nothing more than America’s standard, generic “war-is-necessary” rationale.  That is not at all surprising, given that, as Foreign Policy‘s Marc Lynch notes:

The “strategic review” brought together a dozen smart (mostly) think-tankers with little expertise in Afghanistan but a general track record of supporting calls for more troops and a new counter-insurgency strategy.  They set up shop in Afghanistan for a month working in close coordination with Gen. McChrystal, and emerged with a well-written, closely argued warning that the situation is dire and a call for more troops and a new counter-insurgency strategy. Shocking.

The link he provides is to this list of think tank “experts” who worked on McChrystal’s review, including the standard group of America’s war-justifying theorists:  the Kagans, a Brookings representative, Anthony Cordesman, someone from Rand, etc. etc.  What would a group of people like that ever recommend other than continued and escalated war?  It’s what they do.  You wind them up and they spout theories to justify war.  That’s the function of America’s Foreign Policy Community.  As one of their leading members — Leslie Gelb, President of the Council on Foreign Relations — recently wrote in re-examining the causes of his enthusiastic support for the attack on Iraq:

Coming from Gelb, of all people, that observation speaks volumes.  As I wrote in 2007:

The Foreign Policy Community — a term which excludes those in primarily academic positions — is not some apolitical pool of dispassionate experts examining objective evidence and engaging in academic debates. Rather, it is a highly ideological and politicized establishment, and its dominant bipartisan ideology is defined by extreme hawkishness, the casual use of military force as a foreign policy tool, the belief that war is justified not only in self-defense but for any “good result,” and most of all, the view that the U.S. is inherently good and therefore ought to rule the world through superior military force.

That “experts” from the “Foreign Policy Community” endorse more war is about as surprising — and as relevant — as former CIA Directors banding together to decide that they oppose the prosecution of CIA agents.  The only event that would be news is if a group of people drawn from that “community” ever did anything other than endorse more war [and in the few instances where one hears war hesitation from them, it’s always on strategic grounds (“we may not be able to achieve our mission”) and never on legal, moral or humanitarian grounds (“it’s really not morally or legally justified to slaughter enormous numbers of innocent human beings under these circumstances or bomb, invade and occupy a country that isn’t attacking us or even able to”).

* * * * *

We’re not even out of Iraq yet — not really close — and there is already an intense competition underway to determine where we should wage war next.  Escalation in Afghanistan is just one option on the menu.  Iran, of course, is the other (although Venezuela has replaced Syria as a nice dark horse contestant).  In October, 2008, The Washington Post published an Op-Ed from former Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.) and Dan Coats (R-In.) urging the next President “to begin building up military assets in the region from day one” towards “launching a devastating strike on Iran’s nuclear and military infrastructure.”  That October, 2008 Op-Ed was based on a new report they co-authored for the so-called (and aptly named) “Bipartisan Policy Center,” which I analyzed here.

Today, they have a new Post Op-Ed breathlessly warning that “we have little time left to expend on Iranian stalling tactics” because “Iran will be able to produce a nuclear weapon by 2010″ and therefore, if there is no quick diplomatic resolution, “in early 2010, the White House should elevate consideration of the military option.”  Today’s Op-Ed is based an updated report they issued which shrieks in its title that “Time is Running Out” (a phrase melodramatically super-imposed on the cover over an Iranian flag and an almost-expired hourglass).  The report itself repeatedly demands that the U.S. threaten Iran with severe military action, beginning with a naval blockade (the Report’s advocacy for that action begins by noting, with a dismissive yawn:  “Although technically an act of war . . . .” – “technically an act of war”:  whatever).

The arguments for attacking Iran are so similar to the ones used for Iraq that it’s striking how little effort they make to pretend it’s different (Iran will get nukes, give them to Terrorists, we’ll lose a city, etc.)  The Bipartisan Policy Center Report never takes note of the irony that it “justifies” a threat of attack against Iran by pointing to that country’s violations of U.N. Resolutions, even as Article 2 of the U.N. Charter explicitly provides that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” — a prohibition they demand the U.S. violate over and over.  As always, we’re exempt from everything.  Just imagine what our elite class would say if Iran’s leading newspapers routinely published articles from leaders of its two largest political parties explicitly advocating a detailed plan to attack, invade, blockade and bomb the U.S.

Also today in The Post, Fred Hiatt’s Deputy Editor, Jackson Diehl, argues that Israel’s so-called “success” in its attack on Gaza and the lack of bad outcomes from that attack may/should create the view that “even a partial and short-term reversal of the Iranian nuclear program may look to Israelis like a reasonable benefit.”  When examining the costs and benefits, Diehl does not weigh or even mention the more than 700 civilians killed in Gaza (252 of them children, according to an Israeli human rights group), nor the fact that, according a U.N. Report, Israeli (and Hamas) engaged in war crimes so serious that they may constitute “crimes against humanity” warranting a war crimes tribunal.  When I interviewed one of the “expert consultants” on the Robb/Coats Attack-Iran report, Kenneth Katzman, he explicitly acknowledged that, when formulating its recommendations for attacking Iran,  the “Bipartisan Center” never considered the number of Iranian civilians we would slaughter (you remember Iranian civilians:  the ones whom Bomb-Iran cheerleaders recently pretended to care so much about).  “Number of civilian deaths” never enters the war-justifying equation because the people doing the weighing aren’t the ones who will will be killed.

* * * * *

It’s hard to overstate how aberrational — one might say “rogue” — the U.S. is when it comes to war.  No other country sits around debating, as a routine and permanent feature of its political discussions, whether we should bomb this country or that one next, or for how many more years we should occupy our conquered targets.  And none use war as a casual tool for advancing foreign policy interests, at least nowhere close to the way we do (the demand that Iran not possess nuclear weapons is clearly part of an overall, stated strategy of ensuring that other countries remain incapable of deterring us from attacking them whenever we want to).  Committing to a withdrawal from Iraq appears to be acceptable, but only as long as have our escalations and new wars lined up to replace it (and that’s to say nothing of the virtually invisible wars we’re fighting).  For the U.S., war is the opposite of a “last resort”:  it’s the more or less permanent state of affairs, and few people who matter want it to be any different.

Indeed, the factions that exert the most dominant influence on our foreign policy have only one principle:  ongoing wars are good (the public and private military industry embraces that because wars are what bestow purpose, power and profits, and the Foreign Policy Community does so because — as Gelb says — it bestows “political and professional credibility”).  In his 1790 Political Observation, James Madison warned:  “Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded. . . . No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”  Can anyone doubt that “continual warfare” is exactly what the U.S. does and, by all appearances, will continue to do for the foreseeable future (at least until we not only run out of money to pay for these wars — as we already have — but also the ability to finance these wars with more debt)?  Doesn’t turning ourselves into a permanent war-fighting state have some rather serious repercussions that ought to be weighed when deciding if that’s something we want to keep doing?

* * * * *

On an unrelated note: Tomorrow at roughly 10:30 a.m., I’ll be on NPR’s On Point with the ACORN-obsessed John Fund of The Wall St. Journal to talk about the ACORN “scandal.”  I have many things to say to/about John Fund (some based on this post); along those lines, note this amazing report that 25 of the GOP Senators who just voted to cut off funding to ACORN opposed, in 2006, legislation to curb abuse and fraud by federal contractors, including the ones eating up billions up billions of dollars in taxpayer funds in Iraq.   Local listings and live audio feed for On Point are here.

© 2009 Salon.com

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

Colonizing Iraq: The Obama Doctrine? July 9, 2009

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Published on Thursday, July 9, 2009 by TomDispatch.com by Michael Schwartz
Here’s how reporters Steven Lee Myers and Marc Santora of the New York Times described the highly touted American withdrawal from Iraq’s cities last week:

“Much of the complicated work of dismantling and removing millions of dollars of equipment from the combat outposts in the city has been done during the dark of night. Gen. Ray Odierno, the overall American commander in Iraq, has ordered that an increasing number of basic operations — transport and re-supply convoys, for example — take place at night, when fewer Iraqis are likely to see that the American withdrawal is not total.”

Acting in the dark of night, in fact, seems to catch the nature of American plans for Iraq in a particularly striking way. Last week, despite the death of Michael Jackson, Iraq made it back into the TV news as Iraqis celebrated a highly publicized American military withdrawal from their cities. Fireworks went off; some Iraqis gathered to dance and cheer; the first military parade since Saddam Hussein’s day took place (in the fortified Green Zone, the country’s ordinary streets still being too dangerous for such things); the U.S. handed back many small bases and outposts; and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki proclaimed a national holiday — “sovereignty day,” he called it.

All of this fit with a script promisingly laid out by President Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign. More recently, in his much praised speech to the students of Egypt’s Cairo University, he promised that the U.S. would keep no bases in Iraq, and would indeed withdraw its military forces from the country by the end of 2011.

Unfortunately, not just for the Iraqis, but for the American public, it’s what’s happening in “the dark” — beyond the glare of lights and TV cameras — that counts. While many critics of the Iraq War have been willing to cut the Obama administration some slack as its foreign policy team and the U.S. military gear up for that definitive withdrawal, something else — something more unsettling — appears to be going on.

And it wasn’t just the president’s hedging over withdrawing American “combat” troops from Iraq – which, in any case, make up as few as one-third of the 130,000 U.S. forces still in the country — now extended from 16 to 19 months. Nor was it the re-labeling of some of them as “advisors” so they could, in fact, stay in the vacated cities, or the redrawing of the boundary lines of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, to exclude a couple of key bases the Americans weren’t about to give up.

After all, there can be no question that the Obama administration’s policy is indeed to reduce what the Pentagon might call the U.S. military “footprint” in Iraq. To put it another way, Obama’s key officials seem to be opting not for blunt-edged, Bush-style militarism, but for what might be thought of as an administrative push in Iraq, what Vice President Joe Biden has called “a much more aggressive program vis-à-vis the Iraqi government to push it to political reconciliation.”

An anonymous senior State Department official described this new “dark of night” policy recently to Christian Science Monitor reporter Jane Arraf this way: “One of the challenges of that new relationship is how the U.S. can continue to wield influence on key decisions without being seen to do so.”

Without being seen to do so. On this General Odierno and the unnamed official are in agreement. And so, it seems, is Washington. As a result, the crucial thing you can say about the Obama administration’s military and civilian planning so far is this: ignore the headlines, the fireworks, and the briefly cheering crowds of Iraqis on your TV screen. Put all that talk of withdrawal aside for a moment and — if you take a closer look, letting your eyes adjust to the darkness — what is vaguely visible is the silhouette of a new American posture in Iraq. Think of it as the Obama Doctrine. And what it doesn’t look like is the posture of an occupying power preparing to close up shop and head for home.

As your eyes grow accustomed to the darkness, you begin to identify a deepening effort to ensure that Iraq remains a U.S. client state, or, as General Odierno described it to the press on June 30th, “a long-term partner with the United States in the Middle East.” Whether Obama’s national security team can succeed in this is certainly an open question, but, on a first hard look, what seems to be coming into focus shouldn’t be too unfamiliar to students of history. Once upon a time, it used to have a name: colonialism.

Colonialism in Iraq

Traditional colonialism was characterized by three features: ultimate decision-making rested with the occupying power instead of the indigenous client government; the personnel of the colonial administration were governed by different laws and institutions than the colonial population; and the local political economy was shaped to serve the interests of the occupying power. All the features of classic colonialism took shape in the Bush years in Iraq and are now, as far as we can tell, being continued, in some cases even strengthened, in the early months of the Obama era.

The U.S. embassy in Iraq, built by the Bush administration to the tune of $740 million, is by far the largest in the world. It is now populated by more than 1,000 administrators, technicians, and professionals — diplomatic, military, intelligence, and otherwise — though all are regularly, if euphemistically, referred to as “diplomats” in official statements and in the media. This level of staffing — 1,000 administrators for a country of perhaps 30 million — is well above the classic norm for imperial control. Back in the early twentieth century, for instance, Great Britain utilized fewer officials to rule a population of 300 million in its Indian Raj.

Such a concentration of foreign officialdom in such a gigantic regional command center — and no downsizing or withdrawals are yet apparent there — certainly signals Washington’s larger imperial design: to have sufficient administrative labor power on hand to ensure that American advisors remain significantly embedded in Iraqi political decision-making, in its military, and in the key ministries of its (oil-dominated) economy.

From the first moments of the occupation of Iraq, U.S. officials have been sitting in the offices of Iraqi politicians and bureaucrats, providing guidelines, training decision-makers, and brokering domestic disputes. As a consequence, Americans have been involved, directly or indirectly, in virtually all significant government decision-making.

In a recent article, for example, the New York Times reported that U.S. officials are “quietly lobbying” to cancel a mandated nationwide referendum on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated between the United States and Iraq — a referendum that, if defeated, would at least theoretically force the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the country. In another article, the Times reported that embassy officials have “sometimes stepped in to broker peace between warring blocs” in the Iraqi Parliament. In yet another, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes mentioned in passing that an embassy official “advises Iraqis running the $100 million airport” just completed in Najaf. And so it goes.

Segregated Living

Most colonial regimes erect systems in which foreigners involved in occupation duties are served (and disciplined) by an institutional structure separate from the one that governs the indigenous population. In Iraq, the U.S. has been building such a structure since 2003, and the Obama administration shows every sign of extending it.

As in all embassies around the world, U.S. embassy officials are not subject to the laws of the host country. The difference is that, in Iraq, they are not simply stamping visas and the like, but engaged in crucial projects involving them in myriad aspects of daily life and governance, although as an essentially separate caste within Iraqi society. Military personnel are part of this segregated structure: the recently signed SOFA insures that American soldiers will remain virtually untouchable by Iraqi law, even if they kill innocent civilians.

Versions of this immunity extend to everyone associated with the occupation. Private security, construction, and commercial contractors employed by occupation forces are not protected by the SOFA agreement, but are nonetheless shielded from the laws and regulations that apply to normal Iraqi residents. As an Iraq-based FBI official told the New York Times, the obligations of contractors are defined by “new arrangements between Iraq and the United States governing contractors’ legal status.” In a recent case in which five employees of one U.S. contractor were charged with killing another contractor, the case was jointly investigated by Iraqi police and “local representatives of the FBI,” with ultimate jurisdiction negotiated by Iraqi and U.S. embassy officials. The FBI has established a substantial presence in Iraq to carry out these “new arrangements.”

This special handling extends to enterprises servicing the billions of dollars spent every month in Iraq on U.S. contracts. A contractor’s prime responsibility is to follow “guidelines the U.S. military handed down in 2006.” In all this, Iraqi law has a distinctly secondary role. In one apparently typical case, a Kuwaiti contractor hired to feed U.S. soldiers was accused of imprisoning its foreign workers and then, when they protested, sending them home without pay. This case was handled by U.S. officials, not the Iraqi government.

Beyond this legal segregation, the U.S. has also been erecting a segregated infrastructure within Iraq. Most embassies and military bases around the world rely on the host country for food, electricity, water, communications, and daily supplies. Not the U.S. embassy or the five major bases that are at the heart of the American military presence in that country. They all have their own electrical generating and water purification systems, their own dedicated communications, and imported food from outside the country. None, naturally, offer indigenous Iraqi cuisine; the embassy imports ingredients suitable for reasonably upscale American restaurants, and the military bases feature American fast food and chain restaurant fare.

The United States has even created the rudiments of its own transportation system. Iraqis often are delayed when traveling within or between cities, thanks to an occupation-created (and now often Iraqi-manned) maze of checkpoints, cement barriers, and bombed-out streets and roads; on the other hand, U.S. soldiers and officials in certain areas can move around more quickly, thanks to special privileges and segregated facilities.

In the early years of the occupation, large military convoys transporting supplies or soldiers simply took temporary possession of Iraqi highways and streets. Iraqis who didn’t quickly get out of the way were threatened with lethal firepower. To negotiate sometimes hours-long lines at checkpoints, Americans were given special ID cards that “guaranteed swift passage… in a separate lane past waiting Iraqis.” Though the guaranteed “swift passage” was supposed to end with the signing of the SOFA, the system is still operating at many checkpoints, and convoys continue to roar through Iraqi communities with “Iraqi drivers still pulling over en masse.”

Recently, the occupation has also been appropriating various streets and roads for its exclusive use (an idea that may have been borrowed from Israel’s 40-year-old occupation of the West Bank). This innovation has made unconvoyed transportation safer for embassy officials, contractors, and military personnel, while degrading further the Iraqi road system, already in a state of disrepair, by closing useable thoroughfares. Paradoxically, it has also allowed insurgents to plant roadside bombs with the assurance of targeting only foreigners. Such an incident outside Falluja illustrates what have now become Obama-era policies in Iraq:

 

“The Americans were driving along a road used exclusively by the American military and reconstruction teams when a bomb, which local Iraqi security officials described as an improvised explosive device, went off. No Iraqi vehicles, even those of the army and the police, are allowed to use the road where the attack occurred, according to residents. There is a checkpoint only 200 yards from the site of the attack to prevent unauthorized vehicles, the residents said.”

It is unclear whether this road will be handed back to the Iraqis, if and when the base it services is shuttered. Either way, the larger policy appears to be well established — the designation of segregated roads to accommodate the 1,000 diplomats and tens of thousands of soldiers and contractors who implement their policies. And this is only one aspect of a dedicated infrastructure designed to facilitate ongoing U.S. involvement in developing, implementing, and administering political-economic policies in Iraq.

Whose Military Is It?

One way to “free up” the American military for withdrawal would, of course, be if the Iraqi military could manage the pacification mission alone. But don’t expect that any time soon. According to media reports, if all goes well, this isn’t likely to occur for at least a decade. One telltale sign of this is the pervasive presence of American military advisors still embedded in Iraqi combat units. First Lt. Matthew Liebal, for example, “sits every day beside Lt. Col Mohammed Hadi,” the commander of the Iraqi 43rd Army Brigade that patrols eastern Baghdad.

When it comes to the Iraqi military, this sort of supervision won’t be temporary. After all, the military the U.S. helped create in Iraq still lacks, among other things, significant logistical capability, heavy artillery, and an air force. Consequently, U.S. forces transport and re-supply Iraqi troops, position and fire high-caliber ordnance, and supply air support when needed. Since the U.S. military is unwilling to allow Iraqi officers to command American soldiers, they obviously can’t make decisions about firing artillery, launching and directing U.S. Air Force planes, or sending U.S. logistical personnel into war zones. All major Iraqi missions are, then, fated to be accompanied by U.S. advisors and support personnel for an unknown period to come.

The Iraqi military is not expected to get a wing of modern jet fighters (or have the trained pilots to fly them) until at least 2015. This means that, wherever U.S. air power might be stationed, including the massive air base at Balad north of Baghdad, it will, in effect, be the Iraqi air force for the foreseeable future.

Even the simplest policing functions of the military might prove problematic without the American presence. Typically, when an Iraqi battalion commander was asked by New York Times reporter Steven Lee Myers “whether he needed American backup for a criminal arrest, he replied simply, ‘Of course.'” John Snell, an Australian advisor to the U.S. military, was just as blunt, telling an Agence France Presse reporter that, if the United States withdrew its troops, the Iraqi military “would rapidly disintegrate.”

In a World Policy Journal article last winter, John A. Nagl, a military expert and former advisor to General David Petraeus, expressed a commonly held opinion that an independent Iraqi military is likely to be at least a decade away.

Whose Economy Is It?

Terry Barnich, a victim of the previously discussed Falluja roadside bombing, personified the economic embeddedness of the occupation. As the U.S. State Department’s Deputy Director of the Iraq Transition Assistance Office and the top adviser to Iraq’s Electricity Minister, when he died he was “returning from an inspection of a wastewater treatment plant being built in Falluja.”

His dual role as a high official in the policy-making process and the “top advisor” to one of Iraq’s major infrastructural ministries catches the continuing U.S. posture toward Iraq in the early months of the Obama era. Iraq remains, however reluctantly, a client government; significant aspects of ultimate decision-making power still reside with the occupation forces. Note, by the way, that Barnich was evidently not even traveling with Iraqi officials.

The intrusive presence of the Baghdad embassy extends to the all-important oil industry, which today provides 95% of the government’s funds. When it comes to energy, the occupation has long sought to shape policy and transfer operational responsibility from Iraqi state-owned enterprises of the Saddam Hussein years to major international oil companies. In one of its most successful efforts, in 2004, the U.S. delivered an exclusive $1.2 billion contract to reconstruct Iraq’s decrepit southern oil transport facilities (which handle 80% of its oil flow) to KBR, the notorious former subsidiary of Halliburton. Supervision of that famously mismanaged contract, still uncompleted five years later, was allocated to the U.S. Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

The Iraqi government, in fact, still exerts remarkably little control over “Iraqi” oil revenues. The Development Fund for Iraq (whose revenues are deposited in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) was established under U.N. auspices just after the invasion and receives 95% of the proceeds from Iraq’s oil sales. All government withdrawals are then overseen by the U.N.-sanctioned International Advisory and Monitoring Board, a U.S.-appointed panel of experts drawn mainly from the global oil and financial industries. The transfer of this oversight function to an Iraqi-appointed body, which was supposed to take place in this January, has been delayed by the Obama administration, which claims that the Iraqi government is not yet ready to take on such a responsibility.

In the meantime, the campaign to transfer administration of core oil operations to the major oil companies continues. Despite the resistance of Iraqi oil workers, the administrators of the two national oil companies, a majority bloc in parliament, and public opinion, the U.S. has continued to pressure the al-Maliki administration to enact an oil law that would mandate licensing devices called production-sharing agreements (PSAs).

If enacted, these PSAs would, without transferring permanent ownership, grant oil companies effective control over Iraq’s oil fields, giving them full discretion to exploit the country’s oil reserves from exploration to sales. U.S. pressure has ranged from ongoing “advice” delivered by American officials stationed in relevant Iraqi ministries to threats to confiscate some or all of the oil monies deposited in the Development Fund.

At the moment, the Iraqi government is attempting to take a more limited step: auctioning management contracts to international oil companies in an effort to increase production at eight existing oil and natural gas fields. While the winning companies would not gain the full discretion to explore, produce, and sell in some of the world’s potentially richest fields, they would at least gain some administrative control over upgrading equipment and extracting oil, possibly for as long as 20 years.

If the auction proves ultimately successful (not at all a certainty, since the first round produced only one as-yet-unsigned agreement), the Iraqi oil industry would become more deeply embedded in the occupation apparatus, no matter what officially happens to American forces in that country. Among other things, the American embassy would almost certainly be responsible for inspecting and guiding the work of the contract-winners, while the U.S. military and private contractors would become guarantors of their on-the-ground security. Fayed al-Nema, the CEO of the South Oil Company, spoke for most of the opponents of such deals when he told Reuters reporter Ahmed Rasheed that the contracts, if approved, would “put the Iraqi economy in chains and shackle its independence for the next 20 years.”

Who Owns Iraq?

In 2007, Alan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve, told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that “taking Saddam out was essential” — a point he made in his book The Age of Turbulence — because the United States could not afford to be “beholden to potentially unfriendly sources of oil and gas” in Iraq. It’s exactly that sort of thinking that’s still operating in U.S. policy circles: the 2008 National Defense Strategy, for example, calls for the use of American military power to maintain “access to and flow of energy resources vital to the world economy.”

After only five months in office, the Obama administration has already provided significant evidence that, like its predecessor, it remains committed to maintaining that “access to and flow of energy resources” in Iraq, even as it places its major military bet on winning the expanding war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There can be no question that Washington is now engaged in an effort to significantly reduce its military footprint in Iraq, but without, if all goes well for Washington, reducing its influence.

What this looks like is an attempted twenty-first-century version of colonial domination, possibly on the cheap, as resources are transferred to the Eastern wing of the Greater Middle East. There is, of course, no more a guarantee that this new strategy — perhaps best thought of as colonialism lite or the Obama Doctrine — will succeed than there was for the many failed military-first offensives undertaken by the Bush administration. After all, in the unsettled, still violent atmosphere of Iraq, even the major oil companies have hesitated to rush in and the auctioning of oil contracts has begun to look uncertain, even as other “civilian” initiatives remain, at best, incomplete.

As the Obama administration comes face-to-face with the reality of trying fulfill General Odierno’s ambition of making Iraq into “a long-term partner with the United States in the Middle East” while fighting a major counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, it may also encounter a familiar dilemma faced by nineteenth-century colonial powers: that without the application of overwhelming military force, the intended colony may drift away toward sovereign independence. If so, then the dreary prediction of Pulitzer Prize-winning military correspondent Thomas Ricks — that the United States is only “halfway through this war” — may prove all too accurate.

Copyright 2009 Michael Schwartz

A professor of sociology at Stony Brook State University, Michael Schwartz is the author of War Without End: The Iraq War in Context (Haymarket Books), which explains how the militarized geopolitics of oil led the U.S. to dismantle the Iraqi state and economy while fueling a sectarian civil war. Schwartz’s work on Iraq has appeared in numerous academic and popular outlets. He is a regular at TomDispatch.com. (An audio interview with him on the situation in Iraq is available by clicking here.) His email address is ms42@optonline.net.

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

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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

Iraq Faces the Mother of all Corruption Scandals May 29, 2009

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Published on Friday, May 29, 2009 by the Independent/UK

Allegations of kickbacks rock key government department as 1,000 officials face arrest and Trade Minister is forced to resign

by Patrick Cockburn

BAGHDAD – Iraq plans to arrest 1,000 officials for corruption after a scandal which has forced the resignation of the Trade Minister and is threatening the food supply of millions of Iraqis.

 

[People clamour for food in Baghdad - around 25 per cent of Iraqis live below the poverty line (Photo: the Independent)]People clamour for food in Baghdad – around 25 per cent of Iraqis live below the poverty line (Photo: the Independent)

Corruption at the Trade Ministry is an important issue in Iraq because the ministry is in charge of the food rationing system on which 60 per cent of Iraqis depend. Officials at the ministry, which spends billions of dollars buying rice, sugar, flour and other items, are notorious among Iraqis for importing food that is unfit for human consumption, for which they charge the state the full international price.The scandal first erupted in April when police, entering the Trade Ministry in Baghdad to arrest 10 senior officials accused of corruption and embezzlement, were greeted with gunfire by the ministry’s own guards. The shoot-out allowed several officials, including two brothers of the Trade Minister, Abdul Falah al-Sudany, time to escape out the back gate.

The political crisis over corruption has escalated after a video surfaced showing Trade Ministry officials at a party, apparently drinking alcohol, cavorting with prostitutes, and deriding the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

The voice of the man shooting the video, widely viewed and sent from phone to phone in Baghdad, is heard shouting to the dancing girls: “You before Maliki”. Guests at the party who were captured on the video are said to include one of Mr Sudany’s brothers and the ministry’s spokesman.

“We have the video of Trade Ministry officials hosting a party that is unethical and out of control,” said Sabah al-Saadi, the chairman of the Commission for Public Integrity. “This party represents the impact of nepotism on the government and wasting of funds by senior officials’ family members.”

Mr Sudany, who has not been charged and denies all wrongdoing, resigned on Sunday soon after his brother and aide Sabah Mohammed, who had earlier escaped from the police, was arrested with his bodyguards when his car was stopped at Samawa, 140 miles south of Baghdad. Security and police officials said cash, gold and identity cards were found in the car.

Iraq is deemed the third most corrupt country in the world after Burma and Somalia, out of 180 countries, according to the corruption index compiled by Transparency International.

Although it is an important oil producer, many Iraqis are on the edge of starvation; 20-25 per cent of Iraq’s 27 million people live below the poverty line on less than $66 (£41) a month.

Amid claims that Mr Sudany’s relatives had made millions out of kickbacks from sugar purchases, Mr Maliki visited the leaderless Trade Ministry this week saying that his office would take over its functions. A committee is to take charge of Iraq’s large import programme for grain and foodstuffs. “We will not keep silent about corruption after this day and we will chase all the corrupt and bring them before the judiciary,” Mr Maliki said.

The Integrity Commission says it issued 387 arrest warrants in April, including warrants for 51 officials who are department heads. In addition, it has 997 arrest warrants not yet issued and Mr Maliki has told the security forces to arrest all those named.

The committee in charge of food purchases will draw its members from the Prime Minister’s office, the cabinet secretariat, the corruption watchdog and the audit department. “It will buy foodstuffs in a swift and proper manner and sign agreements with the world’s big companies to buy essential foodstuffs without the use of intermediaries,” Mr Maliki said.

Iraqis will be sceptical about the anti-corruption campaign until they see senior officials convicted and punished. It is not only the Trade Ministry which is corrupt but the entire government system. Officials have often purchased their jobs, which they see as a way of making money through bribery or payment for awarding jobs and contracts. The last anti-corruption boss in Iraq was forced to flee the country.

And supply of tainted goods is not confined to the Trade Ministry. Refugees living in Sadr City, the great Shia slum with a population of two million in east Baghdad, were expecting food and clothing from the Ministry of Displacement and Migration but when the shipment arrived, the refugees were enraged to discover that it consisted of scratchy thin grey woollen blankets smelling of mould which were useless in the torrid heat of the Iraqi summer. There were also an assortment of children’s shoes and 25 boxes of canned tuna. Locals suspect that officials had pocketed most of the money intended to help them.

The breakdown of the rationing system, started in 1995 under Saddam Hussein, threatens millions of Iraqis with malnourishment. The rations consist of items sold for a small sum of money at retail outlets on production of a ration card. They include rice (3kg a person), sugar (2kg), flour (9kg), cooking oil (1.25kg), milk for adults (250 grams), tea (200g), beans, children’s milk, soap, detergents and tomato paste.

A survey by the Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation found that 18 per cent of people had not received the full food ration for 13 months and 32 per cent had not received it for seven to 12 months. When rations do come, they are often of poor quality and Iraqis say that the tea supplied tastes disgusting.

© independent.co.uk

US Army Prepared to Stay in Iraq for a Decade May 27, 2009

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The Pentagon is prepared to remain in Iraq for as long as a decade despite an agreement between Washington and Baghdad that would bring all American troops home by 2012, according to the US army chief of staff.

by Alex Spillius and agencies in Washington

Gen George Casey said the world remained “dangerous and unpredictable”, and the Pentagon must plan for extended US combat and stability operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan that could deploy 50,000 US military personnel for a decade.

“Global trends are pushing in the wrong direction,” Gen Casey said. “They fundamentally will change how the army works.”

His planning envisioned combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade as part of a sustained American commitment to fighting extremism and terrorism in the Middle East.

Gen Casey’s calculations about force levels are related to his attempt to ease the brutal deployment calendar that he said would “bring the Army to its knees”. His goal was, he explained, to move rotations by 2011 to one year in the battlefield and two years out for regular army troops, and one year in the battlefield and three years out for reserves. He called the current one-year-in-one-year-out cycle “unsustainable”.

Emphasising he was not a policy maker, he was adamant he did not intend to contradict Obama administration policy, which is to bring US combat forces home from Iraq in 2010. The US and Iraq have agreed that all American forces would leave by 2012.

Although several senior US officials have suggested Iraq could request an extension, the legal agreement the two countries signed last year would have to be amended for any significant presence to remain.

The US currently has about 139,000 troops in Iraq and 52,000 in Afghanistan, with a further 16,000 to arrive by the end of this year.

He said his could foresee ten combat brigades plus command and support forces committed to the two wars. Brigades tend to number three to five thousand.

He also said the US had to be careful about what assets get deployed to Afghanistan. “Anything you put in there would be in there for a decade,” he said.

The general’s duties include main responsibility for assembling the manpower and determining assignments. He insisted the army’s size of 1.1 million was sufficient even to handle the extended Mideast conflicts.

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2009

What Was I Fighting For? May 19, 2009

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by Rick Reyes

Editor’s Note from The Nation: The following commentary is based on an interview by Z.P. Heller, editorial director of Brave New Films.

I was on liberty in Australia, dancing at a club I can’t remember sometime around midnight, when it happened. The music shut off and an announcement came on: “America is under attack. Head back to your ships.” This was the worst–the impossible. This was September 11, 2001.

Back at my ship, ambulance sirens blared. Hundreds of Marines stood on deck, anxiously awaiting word. Someone said the Pentagon had been attacked. My platoon sergeant stood up and delivered a fiery speech filled with “No one [expletive] with America!” and “We’re going to kick some ass!” Later that night, the same sergeant turned to me asked me if I was ready.

Without giving it a second thought, I replied, “This is what I joined for.”

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, as I recalled those words testifying before Senator John Kerry and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I sat where a young Kerry was once seated as he awoke the nation to the grim realities of war in Vietnam. I explained to the committee that I always desired to serve my country, ensure basic freedoms and fight for justice and the American way. This had been my dream since childhood, a way to honor my Mexican immigrant parents who worked tirelessly to give my family a better life, a way out of an East Los Angeles neighborhood plagued by gang violence. Yet what I witnessed and experienced during a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan followed by another in Iraq has forever shattered this once noble ambition.

As an infantry rifleman in the Marines Corps, I saw so much of these wars through nightly patrols. We were trained to approach a point of interest on foot, coordinating with translators whose sole vested interest in supplying us intelligence was to earn money and aid. We would gather information that often proved faulty, and question locals to the point we felt comfortable conducting a raid. After receiving an order, we would ransack homes, destroying windows and doors, chairs and tables, families and lives–detaining and arresting anyone who seemed suspicious. The problem, of course, was that it was impossible to distinguish militant Taliban members or Al Qaeda from innocent civilians. Everyone became a suspect.

In one instance, my squad leader gave me orders to pursue possible terrorists leaving the scene in which we had established a perimeter. My four-man fire team and I followed these suspects undetected for about 100 yards along an exposed ravine. When we were four feet from them, I drew my M-16 and pointed it directly at their faces, yelling, “Get down on the ground!” We beat them in search of nonexistent weapons, breaking limbs in the process. Later that day, I learned these men were innocent. Another time, my squad and I detained, beat and nearly killed a man, only to realize he was merely trying to deliver milk to his children. These raids compelled me to tell Congress we have been chasing ghosts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Amazingly, these patrols were all the same, whether I was in the desolate desert near Camp Rhino–the US-led coalition’s first strategic foothold in Afghanistan–or stationed outside Basra in Iraq. The terrain was different, but what remained the same was the manner in which we carried out missions, the unconscionable acts of violence and collateral damage that followed, and the ever-present paranoia that every Muslim could be a terrorist. These raids even ended the same way. We would compensate the family whose home we had invaded, offering to fix or pay for broken furniture before moving on to the next village, where kids would throw rocks at us and give us the finger. To my knowledge, I never detained or arrested anyone guilty of a crime.

I witnessed firsthand the ineffectiveness of US military strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, I didn’t fully grasp the extent of these failed foreign policies or our government’s deception until I returned home from war. Realizing there never were weapons of mass destruction, and that we would have difficulty tracking terrorists even if we had committed all the troops in our military, I felt as though my patriotism had been exploited for political gain. A select few were profiting from these wars, while the majority of Americans shouldered the enormous tax burden.

To me, the lesson learned in Afghanistan and Iraq was that the US flexed way too much muscle. We have ships, planes, helicopters, tanks, hovercrafts, trucks, Humvees–everything imaginable. But how effective is such military might against extremists who blend in with innocent civilians and fight guerrilla warfare? Moreover, how effective can it be when we leave civilians little alternative but to support extremists?

That is why the proposed $94.2 billion supplemental war-funding bill will be a complete waste of taxpayer dollars, as we continue to pursue a military solution for a political problem. Similarly, the 21,000 additional more troops will be a “drop in the bucket” in Afghanistan, as my esteemed colleague Andrew Bacevich has said. Bacevich, a retired colonel who served in Vietnam and lost a son in Iraq, sat next to me at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. He urged Congress to question the effectiveness and immense cost of fighting the “Long War” in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Congress must hear more voices like ours before escalating the war in Afghanistan any further. More veterans need to speak out, and as a society we must get beyond the public perception that veterans are a product of war. We are not a product. We took an oath to serve and protect, to make sacrifices for the greater good. It’s an oath everyone ought to honor, and not just by thanking us for our service. In my mind, we are not seeing more veterans speak out because there is a sense that if they do, they will be letting go of something they truly believe in; they will be going back on their oath and their sacrifices will have been in vain. That is not the case.

A number of veterans and I are forming a group called Vets for Rethinking Afghanistan. We will voice our dissent in Congress, testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and meet with any Representatives willing to listen. We will raise awareness about how our military occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq have been counterproductive. We will express the dire need for the Obama administration to provide both an exit strategy and a more clearly defined mission and we will explain how dangerous it is for the US to use humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip to advance a flawed military agenda without giving diplomacy a real chance. Please join me in this cause.

Rick Reyes, a retired corporal in the US Marine Corps, served in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003. He is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and is now a businessman in Los Angeles.

Stanford Anti-War Alumni, Students Call for Condi War Crimes Probe May 6, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Education, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
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ricebush1



 







by Marjorie Cohn


During the Vietnam War, Stanford students succeeded in banning secret military research from campus. Last weekend, 150 activist alumni and present Stanford students targeted Condoleezza Rice for authorizing torture and misleading Americans into the illegal Iraq War.
 
Veterans of the Stanford anti-Vietnam War movement had gathered for a 40th anniversary reunion during the weekend. The gathering featured panels on foreign policy, the economy, political and social movements, science and technology, media, energy and the environment, and strategies for aging activists.
 
On Sunday, surrounded by alumni and students, Lenny Siegel and I nailed a petition to the University President’s office door. The petition, circulated by Stanford Say No to War, reads:
 
“We the undersigned students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other concerned members of the Stanford community, believe that high officials of the U.S. Government, including our former Provost, current Political Science Professor, and Hoover Institution Senior Fellow, Condoleezza Rice, should be held accountable for any serious violations of the Law (included ratified treaties, statutes, and/or the U.S. Constitution) through investigation and, if the facts warrant, prosecution, by appropriate legal authorities.”
 
I stated, “By nailing this petition to the door of the President’s office, we are telling Stanford that the university should not have war criminals on its faculty. There is prima facie evidence that Rice approved torture and misled the country into the Iraq War. Stanford has an obligation to investigate those charges.”
 
After the petition nailing, I cited the law and evidence of Condoleezza Rice’s responsibility for war crimes – including torture – and for selling the illegal Iraq War:
 


As National Security Advisor, Rice authorized waterboarding in July 2002, according to a newly released report of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Less than two months later, she hyped the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, saying, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Her ominous warning was part of the Bush administration’s campaign to sell the Iraq war, in spite of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency’s assurances that Saddam Hussein did not possess nuclear weapons.
 
A week before the nailing of the petition, Rice made some Nixonian admissions in response to questions from Stanford students during a campus dinner designed to burnish Rice’s image on campus.   
 
In October 1968, Stanford anti-war activists had nailed a document to the door of the trustees’ office which demanded that Stanford “halt all military and economic projects concerned with Southeast Asia.”

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and President of the National Lawyers Guild.  She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd).  Her articles are archived at www.marjoriecohn.com

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