The Obamas Do Africa June 27, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Kenya, South Africa.
Tags: Africa, africa trade, afrocom, dirty war, foreign policy, jeremy scahill, kenya, obama africa, obama visit, obamas, roger hollander, senegal, somalia, South Africa, tanzania, uhuru kenyatta
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Tue, 06/25/2013 – 22:57 — Glen Ford
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
President Obama claims he’s off to Africa in search of trade. But the Chinese have eclipsed the U.S. in that arena by offering “far better terms of trade and investment than the Americans.” Obama talks trade for public consumption, while the U.S. military locks Africa in a cage of steel.
“The U.S. is not in the business of fair and mutually beneficial trade – it’s about the business of imperialism.”
The President and his family are spending a week in sub-Saharan Africa, with Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa on the itinerary. The focus of the trip, if you believe the White House, is trade, an arena in which the United States has been eclipsed by China since 2009. China, by some measurements, now does nearly twice as much business with Africa as the U.S., and the gap is growing. It is now commonly accepted that the Chinese offer far better terms of trade and investment than the Americans, that they create more jobs for Africans, and their investments leave behind infrastructure that can enrich their African trading partners in the long haul.
No one expects Obama to offer anything on this trip that will reverse America’s declining share of the African market. That’s because the U.S. is not in the business of fair and mutually beneficial trade – it’s about the business of imperialism, which is another matter, entirely. The Americans ensure their access to African natural resources through the barrel of a gun.
So, while the Chinese and Indians and Brazilians and other economic powerhouses play by the rules of give and take, the U.S. tightens its military grip on the continent through its ever-expanding military command, AFRICOM.
To justify its rapid militarization of Africa, Washington plunges whole regions of the continent into chaos. U.S. policies, under presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, have utterly destroyed Somalia, made the Horn of Africa a theater of war, drawn the northern tier of the continent into America’s cauldron of terror, and killed six million people in the eastern Congo.
“The Americans ensure their access to African natural resources through the barrel of a gun.”
The face of America in Africa is war, not trade; extraction of minerals by military intimidation, not conventional commerce. Washington’s priority is to embed AFRICOM ever deeper into the militaries of African states – rather than configuring more favorable trade relationships on the continent. But you won’t learn that from the U.S. corporate media, which chooses to focus on the $100 million cost of Obama’s African trip, or to look for human interest angles on Obama’s decision not to touch down in his father’s homeland, Kenya. However, even that angle is too sinister for deeper exploration by the corporate press, because Kenya’s absence from the itinerary is meant as a threat.
The United States is angry because Washington wanted the Kenyan people to elect a different president, one more acceptable to U.S. policymakers. The Americans expected the whole of Kenyan civil society to bend to Washington’s will, and reject the candidacy of Uhuru Kenyatta, simply to please the superpower. When that didn’t happen, it was decided that Kenya must be shunned, despite its past services to U.S. imperialism.
Skipping Kenya was a warning that more serious repercussions may lurk in the future – which is a potent threat, because the U.S. controls most of the guns of Africa. As the U.S.-backed warlord in Somalia said in Jeremy Scahill’s excellent film The Dirty War, “The Americans are masters of war.” War, and the threat of war, is the reality behind every U.S. presidential visit, to Africa and everywhere else. Whether the terms of trade are good or bad, the declining U.S. empire will get access to the resources it needs, or thousands – millions! – will die.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Listen to us on the Black Talk Radio Network at http://www.blacktalkradionetwork.com
Obama’s Dirty Wars Exposed at Sundance January 24, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, War, War on Terror.
Tags: amy goodman, civilian casualties, david riker, dirty wars, drone missiles, jeremy scahill, jsoc, rick rowley, roger hollander, sundance, Taliban
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PARK CITY, Utah—As President Barack Obama prepared to be sworn in for his second term as the 44th president of the United States, two courageous journalists premiered a documentary at the annual Sundance Film Festival. “Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield” reaffirms the critical role played by independent journalists like the film’s director, Rick Rowley, and its narrator and central figure, Jeremy Scahill. The increasing pace of U.S. drone strikes, and the Obama administration’s reliance on shadowy special forces to conduct military raids beyond the reach of oversight and accountability, were summarily missed over the inaugural weekend by a U.S. press corps obsessed with first lady Michelle Obama’s new bangs. “Dirty Wars,” along with Scahill’s forthcoming book of the same title, is on target to break that silence … with a bang that matters.
Scahill and Rowley, no strangers to war zones, ventured beyond Kabul, Afghanistan, south to Gardez, in Paktia province, a region dense with armed Taliban and their allies in the Haqqani network, to investigate one of the thousands of night raids that typically go unreported.
Scahill told me: “In Gardez, U.S. special operations forces had intelligence that a Taliban cell was having some sort of a meeting to prepare a suicide bomber. And they raid the house in the middle of the night, and they end up killing five people, including three women, two of whom were pregnant, and … Mohammed Daoud, a senior Afghan police commander who had been trained by the U.S.”
Scahill and Rowley went to the heart of the story, to hear from people who live at the target end of U.S. foreign policy. In Gardez, they interviewed survivors of that violent raid on the night of Feb. 12, 2010. After watching his brother and his wife, his sister and his niece killed by U.S. special forces, Mohammed Sabir was handcuffed on the ground. He watched, helpless, as the U.S. soldiers dug the bullets out of his wife’s corpse with a knife. He and the other surviving men were then flown off by helicopter to another province.
Sabir recounted his ordeal for Rowley’s camera: “My hands and clothes were caked with blood. They didn’t give us water to wash the blood away. The American interrogators had beards and didn’t wear uniforms. They had big muscles and would fly into sudden rages. By the time I got home, all our dead had already been buried. Only my father and my brother were left at home. I didn’t want to live anymore. I wanted to wear a suicide jacket and blow myself up among the Americans. But my brother and my father wouldn’t let me. I wanted a jihad against the Americans.”
Before leaving, Scahill and Rowley made copies of videos from the cellphones of survivors. One demonstrated that it was not a Taliban meeting, but a lively celebration of the birth of a child that the raid interrupted. Rowley described another video: “You can hear voices come over it, and they’re American-accented voices speaking about piecing together their version of the night’s killings, getting their story straight. You hear them trying to concoct a story about how this was something other than a massacre.”
The film shows an image captured in Gardez, by photographer Jeremy Kelly, sometime after the massacre. It showed a U.S. admiral named McRaven, surrounded by Afghan soldiers, offering a sheep as a traditional gesture seeking forgiveness for the massacre. The cover-up had failed.
William McRaven headed the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC. Following the thread of JSOC, painstakingly probing scarcely reported night raids, traveling from Afghanistan to Yemen to Somalia, Scahill’s reporting, along with Rowley’s incredible camerawork, constructs for the first time a true, comprehensive picture of JSOC and Commander in Chief Obama’s not-so-brave new world.
The Inauguration Day drone strike in Yemen was the fourth in as many days, along with a similar increase in strikes in Pakistan. The Washington Post reported that Obama has a “playbook” that details when drone strikes are authorized, but it reportedly exempts those conducted by the CIA in Afghanistan and Pakistan. On Inauguration Day, Obama officially nominated John Brennan, a strong advocate for the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that many call torture, and architect of the drone program, to head the CIA.
With the film “Dirty Wars,” co-written with David Riker and directed by Rowley, Jeremy Scahill is pulling back the curtain on JSOC, which has lately exploded into the public eye with the torture-endorsing movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the killing of Osama bin Laden. When “Dirty Wars” comes to a theater near you, see it. Sadly, it proves the theater of war is everywhere, or, as its subtitle puts it: “The World Is a Battlefield.” As Scahill told me, “You’re going to see a very different reality, and you’re going to see the hellscape that has been built by a decade of covert war.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
All in a day’s (or night’s) work for the agents of empire!
Good report from Amy; good work from Scahill & co. Let’s hope this film opens some eyes. I, and many of us, already know this sort of stuff is going on, but maybe the folks in Anytown, USA, will get a glimpse of the awful reality of what our government does across the world.
Kill anything that moves. It has always been the way of empires. How these killers can live with themselves is really the big question. Right up there with that is how do those who make policies leading to this kind of slaughter sleep at night. Callous uncaring killers with no accountability and, in fact, glorified when they return as “HEROES”. It is a sick perversion. Is it surprising then when we turn this violence onto ourselves?
“Kill anything that moves”.
Indeed as writer Nick Turse brings out that that was pretty much the tacit, if not the official, policy of the U.S. military in Vietnam in his incredibly powerful and extremely well written book which bears the title of his tome. What happened so often in Vietnam is now occurring once again overseas as the article notes that:
“You hear them [U.S. soldiers] trying to concoct a story about how this was something other than a massacre.”
It would seem that the U.S. military is continuing on in the less than admirable tradition of what took place in Vietnam when the military there, from Colin Powell on down, tried and succeeded for the most part in covering up the many atrocities that the United States military committed against the Vietnamese. We now have our brave men and women in uniform doing the same thing only it is now taking place in the Middle East instead of Southeast Asia.
Now the Drones are the CIA’s baby no less than the U-2 was their child in the 1950’s. How can we tell if elected officials are calling any shots at all? Amy your show is great but it’s gaping bald spot is growing more apparent every day: a complete failure to integrate the most recent scholarship of the National Security State with other politics. Increasingly, in the word of the Alternative media it seems as if there is a quid pro quo: great stuff on the sculpting of our corporate now in exchange for selling a hollow ahistorical two dimensionalism re the history of our National Security State. Ray McGovern has had some very, very interesting things to say about when the CIA was in it’s teeny bopper years, 13-16. This coincided with some guy who–according to all academic scholarship published since 2000 was a president who was getting out of Vietnam, resisting CIA policies in Brazil, Israel, Indonesia, Cuba, Laos, Congo and towards the Soviet Union over the very basis of the Cold War which served as the ostensible raison d’etre of the emerging US Garrison State. Isn’t it time we take a closer look at the Coup of 1963 in this its 50th anniversary? Isn’t it time we look at the MEDIA IMPLICATIONS of that coup?
Hows bout asking Ray on to talk about this topic? Or are we ONLY allowed to hear Noam’s completely decontexturalized drive by assertions in which he quotes Richard Helms’ top aid. Again.
There was a time when the US left was different. There was a time when this comment could not be so easily put in the ash tray so conveniently labelled “Alex Jones”. The US left now recognizes that shows such as those on MSNBC play a strategic niching role in fragmenting US political communication. Create a channel for the would-be-critics of the Corporate Democrats and the corporations can lower the volume of dissent that the full spectrum hears. Do you think that strategy might be going on … elsewhere on the political spectrum? Mere speculation? Try history. See the history of Encounter Magazine 1950-64. See the great book by Frances Saunders called The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. In England it was called Who Paid The Piper?
Good post, Nathaniel. I’ve always been mystified by Noam’s blind spot as per the JFK assassination as well as the policies of that administration.
As for Alex Jones, his politics may be screwy, but he’s been a pretty good guerilla journalist over the years covering police abuses and secret ops and seems to have some good contacts inside the security-spook establishment, so the left dismisses him at its peril. He certainly didn’t help his credibility with his televised meltdown.
Klovis, as of 7:55 AM I am still deeply suspicious of Alex Jones and why he has so much money to do what he does. Has he often had some great guests? Yes. However, I call this strategy Ashtraying it. In other words put him on Alex Jones, then later when there are mass viewing moments like the incredible circus that MILLIONS SAW not just tens of thousands, it all gets thrown out baby and bathwater style. That is SPECUlation on my part about Alex Jones, but it is informed speculation on account of I have read a fair amount on Cold War Communications history.
I could well be mistaken.
How the heck would I know?
When one speculates like this it is important to label it as such , but that does not mean that historically relavent tributaries should not flow into the river of discussion. Man.
I must say I’ve wondered the same thing at times, even before his blowup. He also seems to play more and more to the peanut gallery of his rightwing audience. I only follow him sporadically, through links at other sites, but I seemed to notice a shift in his rhetoric after the formation of the Tea Party.
“Obama’s Dirty Wars Exposed at Sundance”
That’s all fine documentation – by Scahill/Rowley – and followup article by Amy Goodman. Well done there.
But it’s all well known facts and conditions of the post-911 wars to anyone following with a modicum of independent interest. Though this followup documents closer what’s previously established, it’s no new exposure.
That only goes to show how denied the reality of wars and exploitation and other conditions of the populace is in the USA these days.
Over and over again climate extreming is “exposed” as real. The wars of aggression are “exposed” as counterproductive and horribly unfair and destructive. The corporate sweatshops of Bangladesh, India, China and other poor countries are “exposed” as substandard and in breach of international laws. The activities of capitalism and financial institutions are “exposed” as grossly exploitative, fraudulent and unsustainable. And the obvious existence of the human inner world with compassion as a central trait, is “exposed” as denied by the official, competitive paradigm.
All these “exposures” – fine as they are in themselves – regrettably and paradoxically also serve to reinforce the denials, as they imply that these conditions are “news”.
It’s weird to behold how self-evident facts are “exposed” and established over and over again in the public sphere by the corporate media.
What needs to be “exposed” better is the deliberately induced public amnesia in the corporately hijacked main media.
We in the western-dominated global human tribe need a revolution that dispels with the unecological, disharmonious exploitations of most of the human tribe and all of the biosphere that now have been forced to dominate.
There are lots of approaches to do this: anything that increases harmony between people and people, and people and planet is part of the needed revolution. Any action that reduces artificially contrived tensions contributes.
One good place of attack would be to abolish Compound Interest in financial transactions, and use the natural human growth-decline rate of 1.3 % annually as a target for increase in “growth”/change in human activities to offset natural decline.
The Tobin tax introduced in parts of EU now is also a good development.
When corporations aren’t allowed to run rampant, less wars and more peace follows.
All war is dirty. – That’s another of those denials often “exposed” and claimed as news – over and over again. The interests denying that fact and glorifying war, even as “necessary”, are those that need to be “exposed” and stopped.
The MSM wasn’t there because this is pretty much old news. Kudos for the film as it probably serves a purpose for documentation purposes, but it’s a bit too late for anything else.
I’d like to see something on today’s big story: Women now having “opportunities” to serve as murderers for the army. Yes, you too have “opportunities” to murder, maim and destroy for the asshole in the White House. Another notch in the belt of The Man.
Growing up, I distinctly remember seeing films at school showing asian females marching & carrying guns, the narrator saying how communists countries would stoop so low as to make their women fight.
Our nation, using illegal immigration, unemployment, gangs and decades of violence/conditioning through broadcast and film has, finally, turned the female of our species (at least the American ones) into killing machines. Indeed…”Opportunities” but for whom? The State and its awful Empire, or the naive individual who is about to be used.
This is truly evil.
as i understand it from the military’s pov any person who enlists signs a contract making that person ‘government issue’ as in dehumanized property of the military branch. “our is not to reason why, our is but to do and die.” in my opinion that’s entrapment! during the nam police action, however, a gi speaking up about wanton brutality could choose to protect the truth even if the truth damaged the “good guy” reputation. manning attempted to go the chain-of-command route, but his efforts were rebuffed. what a sad,sad state of affairs!
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Stunning Statistics About the War Every American Should Know December 18, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan troops, Afghanistan War, Blackwater, defense department, dod, dyncorp, jeremy scahill, mccaskill, mercenaries, obama administration, private contractors, private security, privatization, roger hollander, surge, USAID, war, war cost
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.
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’s Secret War in Pakistan November 24, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War.
Tags: al-Qaeda, bagram, bagram air base, bin Laden, Blackwater, christina rocca, cia, counterterrorism, Dick Cheney, drone missiles, erik prince, geneva convention, jeremy scahill, jsoc, kestral, kestral logistics, lawrence wilkerson, leon paneta, mcchrystal, mercenaries, military contractors, military intelligence, mullah mohammed omar, pakistan, pakistan war, pakistani government, paramilitaries, paramilitary, predator missiles, roger hollander, roger noriega, rumsfeld, secret war, select, Taliban, the nation, tis, total inteligence, vision americas, xe, xe services
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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.”
Tags: al-Qaeda, bagram, cheney, cia assassination, cia jails, cia prisons, CIA rendition, dianne feinstein, drone, drone missiles, executive assassination ring, house intelligence, jeremy scahill, leon panetta, obama administration, pakistan airstrikes, pakistan war, predator drones, roger hollander, Seymour Hersh, sy hersh, torture
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Congress is outraged that Cheney concealed a CIA program to assassinate al Qaeda leaders, but they should also be investigating why Obama is continuing—and expanding—U.S. assassinations.
by Jeremy Scahill
In June, CIA Director Leon Panetta allegedly informed members of the House Intelligence Committee of the existence of a secret Bush era program implemented in the days after 9-11 that, until last month, had been hidden from lawmakers. The concealment of the plan, Panetta alleged, happened at the orders of then-Vice President Dick Cheney.
Now, The New York Times is reporting that this secret program that had “been hidden from lawmakers” by Cheney was a plan “to dispatch small teams overseas to kill senior Qaeda terrorists.” The Wall Street Journal, which originally reported on the plan, reported that the paramilitary teams were to implement a “2001 presidential legal pronouncement, known as a finding, which authorized the CIA to pursue such efforts.”
The plan, the Times says, never was carried out because “Officials at the spy agency over the years ran into myriad logistical, legal and diplomatic obstacles.” Instead, the Bush administration “sought an alternative to killing terror suspects with missiles fired from drone aircraft or seizing them overseas and imprisoning them in secret C.I.A. jails.”
The House Intelligence Committee is now reportedly preparing an investigation into this program and the Senate may follow suit. “We were kept in the dark. That’s something that should never, ever happen again,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein. Withholding this information from Congress “is a big problem, because the law is very clear.”
There are several important issues raised by this unfolding story. First, while the Times claims the program was never implemented, the program sounds very similar to what Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sy Hersh described in March as an “executive assassination ring” run by Dick Cheney that operated throughout the Bush years:
“Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.”Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.
Hersh’s description sounds remarkably similar to that offered by the Times and the Wall Street Journal. While the House and Senate should certainly investigate this program-and lying to Congress, misleading it or concealing from it such programs is likely illegal-it is also important to guarantee that it has actually stopped. But another pressing issue for the Congress is investigating the Obama administration’s adoption of this secret program’s central components. As the Times noted, the major reason-beyond logistical hurdles-that the program was not implemented (if that is even true) was that the Bush administration began increasing its use of weaponized drones to conduct Israeli-style targeted assassinations (often, these drones kill many more civilians than so-called “targets”). These drone attacks, coupled with the use of extraordinary rendition and secret prisons, became the official program for “eliminating” specific individuals labeled “high value” targets by the administration.
The Obama administration has not only continued the Bush policy of using drones to carry out targeted assassinations, but has also continued the use of prisons where people are held indefinitely without charge or access to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Under Obama, Bagram air base in Afghanistan is expanding and, at present, hundreds of prisoners are held there without charges. In essence, the Obama administration is doing exactly what this secret CIA program sought to do, albeit out in the open.
Beyond the Cheney assassination program, what is really worthy of Congressional investigation right now is the legality of Obama’s current policy of assassination. In 1976, President Gerald Ford issued an executive order banning assassinations. “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination,” states Executive Order 11905.
White House lawyers–with their seemingly infinite legal creativity–would likely say that the drone strikes are not assassinations, but rather part of war. That putting poison in a cigar of a foreign leader is different than launching missiles at a funeral where an “enemy” is believed to be among the mourners. While the implications of the U.S. assassinating heads of state or foreign officials are grave, it could be argued that, on some levels, the drone attacks are worse in the sense that they kill many more civilians. Moreover, these drone attacks largely take place is Pakistan, which is a sovereign nation. There is no legal or Congressional declaration of war against Pakistan.
It is long past due that the Congress investigate this U.S. government assassination program. The politically inconvenient truth, however, is this: An actual investigation would require the Democrats pounding Cheney over his concealment of an assassination program (that allegedly was not implemented) to focus their investigation on how President Obama actually implemented and expanded that very program.
© 2009 Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.
Tags: al-Qaeda, civilian casualties, collateral damage, drone missiles, drone strikes, high value targets, jeremy scahill, Media, media war, pakistan, pakistan bombing, pakistan taliban, pakistan war, predator drones, roger hollander, Taliban, unmanned bombs, wall street journal
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The paper’s editors attack unembedded journalists who report the Pakistani deaths. Instead, they say, we should all just shut up and listen to U.S. intelligence agencies.
by Jeremy Scahill
The Wall Street Journal is officially in love with President Obama’s undeclared air war inside of Pakistan’s borders. In an unsigned editorial, the paper enthusiastically endorses Obama’s use of predator drones to bomb areas throughout Pakistan. The WSJ editors praise the administration, saying “to its credit, [the White House] has stepped up the use of Predators.” The editors declare: “When Pakistan’s government can exercise sovereignty over all its territory, there will be no need for Predator strikes. In the meantime, unmanned bombs away.”
The paper accurately notes some of the reasons for opposing drone strikes: “the belief that the attacks cause wide-scale casualties among noncombatants, thereby embittering local populations and losing hearts and minds.” The WSJ also accurately reports:
Lord Bingham, until recently Britain’s senior law lord, has recently said UAV strikes may be “beyond the pale” and potentially on a par with cluster bombs and landmines. Australian counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen says “the Predator [drone] strikes have an entirely negative effect on Pakistani stability.” He adds, “We should be cutting strikes back pretty substantially.”
But Bingham and Kilcullen are naive fools, according to the WSJ editors. Moreover, they are fools who have been suckered by evil un-embedded reporters. “If you glean your information from wire reports – which depend on stringers who are rarely eyewitnesses,” the editors quip, “the argument [against drone attacks] seems almost plausible.” Right, these “stringers” who often risk their lives to reveal the human toll of U.S. bombings are far less credible than the fat cat editors of the WSJ (some of whom are probably in the Hamptons having servants clip their toe nails or mix their Martinis as I write this).
The WSJ editors descend from their thrones to mingle among the mortals and teach us the error of our ways:
Yet anyone familiar with Predator technology knows how misleading those reports can be. Unlike fighter jets or cruise missiles, Predators can loiter over their targets for more than 20 hours, take photos in which men, women and children can be clearly distinguished (burqas can be visible from 20,000 feet) and deliver laser-guided munitions with low explosive yields. This minimizes the risks of the “collateral damage” that often comes from 500-pound bombs. Far from being “beyond the pale,” drones have made war-fighting more humane.
Ah, yes, that famous humane war we have all been waiting for. Finally!
The WSJ editors then reveal the highly independent, impeccable source for their information: “A U.S. intelligence summary we’ve seen corrects the record of various media reports claiming high casualties from the Predator strikes.” Wow. Remember when the Bush administration was correcting all those errors about Saddam’s WMDs? Not surprisingly, the WSJ states that “In each of the strikes in 2009 that are described by the intelligence summary, the report says no women or children were killed. Moreover, we know of planned drone attacks that were aborted when Predator cameras spied their presence.”
The WSJ wants this U.S. “intelligence” shared with the American public and the world, arguing, “We understand there will always be issues concerning sources and methods. But critics of the drone attacks, especially Pakistani critics, have become increasingly vocal in their opposition. They deserve to know about the terrorist calamities they’ve been spared thanks to these unmanned flights over their territory.”
It is very telling that the WSJ editorial-with no apparent shame-fails to mention the U.S. drone attacks last month that may have killed more than 80 people in Pakistan, including as many as 70 people in a U.S. bombing of a funeral procession in a tribal area. The WSJ editors defend the attacks, saying they are killing “high value targets,” saying of those killed by U.S. drone strikes, “Is the world better off with these people dead? We think so.” But the fact is that some statistics from the Pakistani government suggested that of the 700+ people killed in these U.S. drone strikes since 2006, 14 were “high value targets” or “al Qaeda” leaders and the vast majority were civilians. In this case, the real question is: “What does it say about the U.S. that its government authorizes the killing of these civilians?”
© 2009 Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.
A Few Thoughts on the Coup in Honduras June 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: central america, central america politics, free trade honduras, honduran congress, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras government, honduras military, honduras politics, jeremy scahill, Latin America, Latin America military, latin america politics, manuel zelaya, roger hollander, romeo vasquez, school of the amerias, soa, soa watch
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There is a lot of great analysis circulating on the military coup against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. I do not see a need to re-invent the wheel. (See here here here and here). However, a few key things jump out at me. First, we know that the coup was led by Gen. Romeo Vasquez, a graduate of the US Army School of the Americas. As we know very well from history, these “graduates” maintain ties to the US military as they climb the military career ladders in their respective countries. That is a major reason why the US trains these individuals.
Secondly, the US has a fairly significant military presence in Honduras. Joint Task Force-Bravo is located at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras. The base is home to some 550 US military personnel and more than 650 US and Honduran civilians:
They work in six different areas including the Joint Staff, Air Force Forces (612th Air Base Squadron), Army Forces, Joint Security Forces and the Medical Element. 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment, a US Army South asset, is a tenant unit also based at Soto Cano. The J-Staff provides command and control for JTF-B.
The New York Times reports that “The unit focuses on training Honduran military forces, counternarcotics operations, search and rescue, and disaster relief missions throughout Central America.”
Significantly, according to GlobalSecurity, “Soto Cano is a Honduran military installation and home of the Honduran Air Force.”
This connection to the Air Force is particularly significant given this report in NarcoNews:
The head of the Air Force, Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, studied in the School of the Americas in 1996. The Air Force has been a central protagonist in the Honduran crisis. When the military refused to distribute the ballot boxes for the opinion poll, the ballot boxes were stored on an Air Force base until citizens accompanied by Zelaya rescued them. Zelaya reports that after soldiers kidnapped him, they took him to an Air Force base, where he was put on a plane and sent to Costa Rica.
It is impossible to imagine that the US was not aware that the coup was in the works. In fact, this was basically confirmed by The New York Times in Monday’s paper:
As the crisis escalated, American officials began in the last few days to talk with Honduran government and military officials in an effort to head off a possible coup. A senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the military broke off those discussions on Sunday.
While the US has issued heavily-qualified statements critical of the coup—in the aftermath of the events in Honduras—the US could have flexed its tremendous economic muscle before the coup and told the military coup plotters to stand down. The US ties to the Honduran military and political establishment run far too deep for all of this to have gone down without at least tacit support or the turning of a blind eye by some US political or military official(s).
Here are some facts to consider: the US is the top trading partner for Honduras. The coup plotters/supporters in the Honduran Congress are supporters of the “free trade agreements” Washington has imposed on the region. The coup leaders view their actions, in part, as a rejection of Hugo Chavez’s influence in Honduras and with Zelaya and an embrace of the United States and Washington’s “vision” for the region. Obama and the US military could likely have halted this coup with a simple series of phone calls. For an interesting take on all of this, make sure to check out Nikolas Kozloff’s piece on Counterpunch, where he writes:
In November, Zelaya hailed Obama’s election in the U.S. as “a hope for the world,” but just two months later tensions began to emerge. In an audacious letter sent personally to Obama, Zelaya accused the U.S. of “interventionism” and called on the new administration in Washington to respect the principle of non-interference in the political affairs of other nations.
Here are some independent news sources on this story:
Eva Golinger’s Postcards from the Revolution
© 2009 Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.
Tags: Bush Doctrine, civilian casualties, drone missiles, jeremy scahill, Obama, obama's war, Osama bin laden, pakistan, pakistan covert war, pakistan drone, pakistan mercenaries, pakistan sovereignty, pakistan war, permanent war, roger hollander, Taliban, undeclared war, us aid pakistan, us embassy pakistan
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In a new interview, Obama said he has “no intention” of sending US troops into Pakistan. But US troops are already in the country and US drones attack Pakistan regularly.
by Jeremy Scahill
Three days after his inauguration, on January 23, 2009, President Barack Obama ordered US predator drones to attack sites inside of Pakistan, reportedly killing 15 people. It was the first documented attack ordered by the new US Commander in Chief inside of Pakistan. Since that first Obama-authorized attack, the US has regularly bombed Pakistan, killing scores of civilians. The New York Times reported that the attacks were clear evidence Obama “is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy.” In the first 99 days of 2009, more than 150 people were reportedly killed in these drone attacks. The most recent documented attack was reportedly last Thursday in Waziristan. Since 2006, the US drone strikes have killed 687 people (as of April). That amounts to about 38 deaths a month just from drone attacks.
The use of these attack drones by Obama should not come as a surprise to anyone who followed his presidential campaign closely. As a candidate, Obama made clear that Pakistan’s sovereignty was subservient to US interests, saying he would attack with or without the approval of the Pakistani government. Obama said if the US had “actionable intelligence” that “high value” targets were in Pakistan, the US would attack. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, echoed those sentiments on the campaign trail and “did not rule out U.S. attacks inside Pakistan, citing the missile attacks her husband, then-President Bill Clinton, ordered against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998. ‘If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured,’ she said.”
Last weekend, Obama granted his first extended interview with a Pakistani media outlet, the newspaper Dawn:
Responding to a question about drone attacks inside Pakistan’s tribal zone, Mr Obama said he did not comment on specific operations.‘But I will tell you that we have no intention of sending US troops into Pakistan. Pakistan and its military are dealing with their security issues.’
There are a number of issues raised by this brief response offered by Obama. First, the only difference between using these attack drones and using actual US soldiers on the ground is that the soldiers are living beings. These drones sanitize war and reduce the US death toll while still unleashing military hell disproportionately on civilians. The bottom line is that the use of drones inside the borders of Pakistan amounts to the same violation of sovereignty that would result from sending US soldiers inside the country. Obama defended the attacks in the Dawn interview, saying:
“Our primary goal is to be a partner and a friend to Pakistan and to allow Pakistan to thrive on its own terms, respecting its own traditions, respecting its own culture. We simply want to make sure that our common enemies, which are extremists who would kill innocent civilians, that that kind of activity is stopped, and we believe that it has to be stopped whether it’s in the United States or in Pakistan or anywhere in the world.”
Despite Obama’s comments about respecting Pakistan “on its own terms,” this is how Reuters recently described the arrangement between Pakistan and the US regarding drone attacks:
U.S. ally Pakistan objects to the U.S. missile strikes, saying they violate its sovereignty and undermine efforts to deal with militancy because they inflame public anger and bolster support for the militants.Washington says the missile strikes are carried out under an agreement with Islamabad that allows Pakistani leaders to publicly criticise the attacks. Pakistan denies any such agreement.
Pakistan is now the biggest recipient of US aid with the House of Representatives recently approving a tripling of money to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion a year for five years. Moreover, US special forces are already operating inside of Pakistan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Baluchistan. According to the Wall Street Journal, US Special Forces are:
training Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force responsible for battling the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, who cross freely between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the officials said. The U.S. trainers aren’t meant to fight alongside the Pakistanis or accompany them into battle, in part because there will be so few Special Forces personnel in the two training camps.A senior American military officer said he hoped Islamabad would gradually allow the U.S. to expand its training footprint inside Pakistan’s borders.
In February, The New York Times reported that US forces are also engaged in other activities inside of Pakistan:
American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a number of operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas since early September, when a commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence.
It is clear-and has been for a long time- that the Obama administration is radically expanding the US war in Afghanistan deeply into Pakistan. Whether it is through US military trainers (that’s what they were called in Vietnam too), drone attacks or commando raids inside the country, the US is militarily entrenched in Pakistan. It makes Obama’s comment that “[W]e have no intention of sending US troops into Pakistan” simply unbelievable.
For a sense of how significant US operations are and will continue to be for years and years to come, just look at the US plan to build an almost $1 billion massive US “embassy” in Islamabad, which is reportedly modeled after the imperial city they call a US embassy in Baghdad. As we know very clearly from Iraq, such a complex will result in an immediate surge in the deployment of US soldiers, mercenaries and other contractors.
© 2009 Jeremy Scahill
‘The Responsible Left': Funding Obama’s Expanding Wars June 18, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan War, anthony weiner, anti-war democrats, barney frank, democrats, Doris Matsui, Edolphus Towns, Edward Markey, george miller, Grace Napolitano, hypocrisy, Iraq war, James Oberstar, jan schakowsky, Jay Inslee, jeremy scahill, Jerry Costello, Jim Cooper, jim mcdermott, Luis Gutierrez, Mike Thompson, Nydia Velázquez, pakistan war, politics, pro-war democrats, Richard Neal (MA), roger hollander, Steve Cohen, Steve Kagen, war, war funding, Yvette Clarke
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The cowardly Democrats who checked their spines at the door to Congress when they voted Tuesday try to defend their flip-flop on war funding. Frankly, it is embarrassing.
by Jeremy Scahill
New York Democrat Anthony Weiner, who voted against the war funding in May—when it didn’t matter—only to vote Tuesday with the pro-war Dems, sounded like an imbecile when he made this statement after the vote: “We are in the process of wrapping up the wars. The president needed our support.” What planet is Weiner living on? “Wrapping up the wars?” Last time I checked, there are 21,000 more US troops heading to Afghanistan alongside a surge in contractors there, including a 29% increase in armed contractors. Does Weiner think the $106 billion in war funding he voted for is going to pay for one way tickets home for the troops? What he voted for was certainly not the “Demolition of the 80 Football-field-size US Embassy in Baghdad Act of 2009.” To cap off this idiocy, Weiner basically admitted he is a fraud when he said the bill he voted in favor of “still sucks.”
Jan Schakowsky, who has done some incredibly important work on Blackwater and the privatized war machine, also voted against the supplemental in May, but switched her vote on Tuesday. “I do believe my president is a peacemaker,” Schakowsky said. “I’m going to give him what he wants.” A peacemaker who is expanding war? Moreover, what happened to the system of “checks and balances?” If Congressmembers, especially anti-war ones like Schakowsky, start just giving the president “what he wants,” then where is the peoples’ voice?
How are these people sleeping at night?Obviously these folks are partisans or else they wouldn’t be Democrats, but this “Dear Leader knows best” mentality is cultish. Republican Rep. Ron Paul, who, whatever one thinks of him, has been consistently opposed to these wars, put it best when he rose on the floor Tuesday to speak against the war funding: “I wonder what happened to all of my colleagues who said they were opposed to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wonder what happened to my colleagues who voted with me as I opposed every war supplemental request under the previous administration. It seems, with very few exceptions, they have changed their position on the war now that the White House has changed hands.”
One “anonymous” Massachusetts lawmaker told Politico that those Democrats who voted for the war funding and IMF credits are “what we call the responsible left.” Barney Frank, another flip-flopper on war funding, compared the anti-war left to the Rush Limbaugh right-wing, saying, “They have no sense of reality.” Perhaps Rep. Frank should ask the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who lobbied intensely against the war funding he supported if they have “no sense of reality.”
As previously discussed, this vote was a crucial test—because the White House and pro-war Democrats actually needed to get some ‘anti-war’ legislators to vote with them or the bill would have failed—in determining which Democrats have a spine when it comes to standing up to the war and which are just party operatives with their principles and votes up for political bidding.
While the White House reportedly told some Democrats who voted against the war, “you’ll never hear from us again,” Obama has made it a point this week to intervene to defend those hypocritical “anti-war” legislators who voted with him. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn was one of the 51 Democrats who voted against the funding in May and then consciously misplaced his principles Tuesday. Cohen was targeted for his hypocrisy by activists, spurring President Obama to issue a statement to local media in his district praising Cohen:
The White House Press Office called the Washington bureau of The Commercial Appeal late Wednesday afternoon offering the statement after anti-war liberals across the country derided Cohen as a “fraud” and one who deserved a place in the “Hall of Shame.”
“Congressman Cohen is a leader in the United States Congress and a strong voice for the people of Tennessee,” Obama’s statement declared, adding that Cohen’s vote will “ensure our men and women in uniform have the resources they need to protect our country.”
What is particularly telling is how Cohen doesn’t even pretend his vote had anything to do with principle or representing his constituents. It was simple partisanship. “Maybe [Obama] just wanted to respond to people who helped him,” Cohen said. “Yes, I was surprised but I’ve been in the president’s corner on several occasions and it’s good to have him in my corner.”
All of this sounds, frankly, corrupt. Instead of using cold hard cash, the White House threatens to pull the rug from under dissenting legislators and offers its support to those who cede their conscience to the president’s agenda. So much for change.
This spending bill is likely to sail through the Senate where there is no group even vaguely resembling the ever-shrinking anti-war crowd in the House. Once again, here are the Democrats who turned their backs on their pledges to vote against this war funding:
Yvette Clarke, Steve Cohen, Jim Cooper, Jerry Costello, Barney Frank, Luis Gutierrez, Jay Inslee, Steve Kagen, Edward Markey, Doris Matsui, Jim McDermott, George Miller, Grace Napolitano, Richard Neal (MA), James Oberstar, Jan Schakowsky, Mike Thompson, Edolphus Towns, Nydia Velázquez, and Anthony Weiner.
© 2009 Jeremy Scahill
Will 39 Democrats Stand Up to Stop the War Funding? June 15, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
Tags: Afghanistan escalation, Afghanistan War, anti-war, defense department, democratic leadership, democrats, dod, graham, harry reid, IMF, imf funding, Iraq war, jeremy scahill, lieberman, lynn woolsey, military spending, Obama, pelosi, prisoner abuse, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander, torture photos, U.S. militarism, war funding, war spending
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The White House and the Democratic Congressional Leadership are playing a very dirty game in their effort to ram through supplemental funding for the escalating US war in Afghanistan and continued occupation of Iraq. In the crosshairs of the big guns at the White House and on Capitol Hill are anti-war freshmen legislators and the movement to hold those responsible for torture accountable.
In funding the wars, the White House has been able to rely on strong GOP support to marginalize the anti-war Democrats who have pledged to vote against continued funding (as 51 Democrats did in May when the supplemental was first voted on). But the White House is running into trouble now because of Republican opposition to some of the provisions added to the bill (and one removed), meaning the pro-war Democrats actually need a fair number of anti-war Democrats to switch sides. In short, the current battle will clearly reveal exactly how many Democrats actually oppose these wars. And, according to reports, the White House and Democratic Leadership have the gloves off in the fight:
Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California, a leader of the antiwar Democrats, said the White House is threatening to withdraw support from freshmen who oppose the bill, saying “you’ll never hear from us again.”She said the House leadership also is targeting the freshmen.
“It’s really hard for the freshmen,” she said. “Nancy’s pretty powerful.”
On June 11, the relevant committees in the House and Senate approved the $105.9 billion spending package. According to an analysis by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation:
The bill includes $79.9 billion for the Department of Defense, primarily to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, roughly $4.4 billion more than the amount sought by the Administration. This funding is in addition to the $65.9 billion “bridge fund” in war funding for FY’09 that Congress approved last June. To date Congress has approved over $814 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, not including the $80 billion recommended by the Conference Committee, In addition, the Obama Administration is seeking $130 billion in for fiscal year 2010. Both the House and Senate could take up the conference agreement as early as this week.In addition to funding combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bill provides $10.4 billion for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and $7.7 billion for Pandemic Flu Response.
The current battle over war funding has brought with it a couple of high-stakes actions, which have threatened passage of the bill. Many Democrats were up in arms about an amendment sponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham that would have blocked the release of photos depicting US abuse of prisoners (which the White House “actively” supported. Facing warnings that the provision could derail the funding package, the White House stepped in, deploying Rahm Emanuel to the Hill to convince legislators to drop the amendment, while at the same time pledging that Obama would use his authority to continue to fight the release of more photos:
White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel ‘rushed’ to Capitol Hill and prevailed upon Senate Democrats to remove the torture photo measure in exchange for an explicit White House promise that it would use all means at its disposal to block the photos’ release. Obama also issued a letter to Congress assuring it he would support separate legislation to suppress the photos, if necessary, and imploring it to speed passage of the war-spending bill. The rider would “unnecessarily complicate the essential objective of supporting the troops,” Obama wrote.
In other words, Obama took a position that amounted to providing political cover to Democrats to support the war funding, while pledging to implement, through other means, the very policy they supposedly found objectionable.
Secondly, the White House and Congressional leadership added a provision to the bill that extends up to $100 billion in credits to the International Monetary Fund. While this sent many Republicans to the microphones to denounce the funding, the Democratic leadership portrayed the IMF funding as a progressive policy:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is trying to paint the IMF provision as a “very important national security initiative.” The IMF, she said, “can be a force for alleviating the fury of despair among people, poor people throughout the world.”
It is a pathetic symbol of just how bankrupt the Congressional Democratic leadership is when it comes to US foreign policy that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are trying to use funding for the IMF to convince other Democrats to support war funding. The IMF has been a destabilizing force in many countries across the globe through its austerity measures and structural adjustment schemes. Remember, it was the policies of the IMF and its cohorts at the World Bank and World Trade Organizations that sparked global uprisings in the 1990s.
To support the IMF funding scam, the Center for American Progress, which has passionately supported Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, released a position paper today called, “Bailing Out the Bailer-Outer: Five Reasons Congress Should Agree to Fund the IMF.”
Thankfully, some anti-war Democrats seem to understand the atrocious role the IMF has played and have tried to impose rules on the funding that would attempt to confront the IMF’s austerity measures by requiring that “the funds allocated by Congress for global stimulus are used for stimulatory, and not contractionary, purposes.”
By adding the IMF provision to this bill, the White House is making a bold statement about the intimate relationship of the hidden hand of US neoliberal economic policy to the iron fist of US militarism.
At the end of the day, the real issue here is: How many Democrats will actually stand up on principle to the funding of the wars, regardless of the bells and whistles the White House and Democratic Leadership attach or the threats they need to endure from their own party?
In order to block passage, 39 Democrats need to vote against it in the House. As of this writing, 34 reportedly are committed to voting against it. Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake has been doing great coverage of this issue, much of which can be found here. So too has David Swanson at AfterDowningStreet. This does seem to be one issue where phone calls and letters matter-tremendously. See where your representative stands here. As of this writing, these are the legislators who are reportedly leaning toward a “No” vote, but have not yet committed. They are the people most likely to be convinced by hearing from constituents:
- Steve Cohen
- Keith Ellison
- Chakah Fattah
- Mike Honda
- Doris Matsui
- Ed Markey
- Jim McDermott
- Gwen Moore
- Jared Polis
- Jan Schakowsky
- Jackie Speier
- Mike Thompson
- John Tierney
- Mel Watt
- Anthony Weiner
UPDATE: I just spoke to Trevor Kincaid, Jan Schakowsky’s communications director and he told me that Schakowsky will not release a statement on her position on the supplemental “until after the vote.” I asked him if she was concerned about going back on her 2007 pledge never to vote for war funding that did not call for troop withdrawal. He said, “She is currently reviewing the pros and cons of the bill.” He would provide no further comment.
Also, Jane Hamsher reports that it now appears Keith Ellison is voting no.
© 2009 Jeremy Scahill