jump to navigation

The Crime of Truth: Obama’s Persecution of the Peacemaker March 11, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

By
(about the author)

opednews.com

If any one person can be said to have ended the direct involvement of the United States military in Iraq, it is not the man whose champions  claim this deed as one of his glorious accomplishments: Barack Obama. As we all know (and 99 percent of us have forgotten), Obama fought  doggedly to extend the murderous occupation of Iraq into the indefinite  future.
No, if you had to choose one person whose actions were  the most instrumental in ending the overt phase of the war, it would not the commander-in-chief of the most powerful war machine in world  history, but a lowly foot-soldier — mocked, shackled, tortured,  defenseless — Bradley Manning

William Blum points this out in his latest “Anti-Empire Report,” as he recaps the impact of the revelations made by Manning and  Wikileaks. He begins by noting a painful irony: Manning’s own defense  team is playing down the heroic nature of this act and instead insisting that such a “sexually troubled” young man should never have been sent  to the homophobic environment of the American occupation force in the  first place. He was under too much stress, acting irrationally, they  say, and thus should not be held accountable for his actions.

 

As Blum  notes, this defense — though doubtless well-intentioned, a desperate  bid to keep Obama’s massive war machine from crushing Manning completely under its wheels — partakes of the same deceitful twisting of reality  that has characterized the entire war crime from the beginning. Blum:

“It’s unfortunate and disturbing that  Bradley Manning’s attorneys have chosen to consistently base his legal  defense upon the premise that personal problems and shortcomings are  what motivated the young man to turn over hundreds of thousands of  classified government files to Wikileaks. They should not be presenting  him that way any more than Bradley should be tried as a criminal or  traitor. He should be hailed as a national hero. Yes, even when the  lawyers are talking to the military mind. May as well try to penetrate  that mind and find the freest and best person living there. Bradley also wears a military uniform.

“Here are Manning’s own words from an  online chat: ‘If you had free reign over classified networks … and you saw incredible things, awful things … things that belonged in the  public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in  Washington DC … what would you do? … God knows what happens now.  Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms. … I want people  to see the truth … because without information, you cannot make  informed decisions as a public.’
Is the world to believe that  these are the words of a disturbed and irrational person? Do not the  Nuremberg Tribunal and the Geneva Conventions speak of a higher duty  than blind loyalty to one’s government, a duty to report the war crimes  of that government?”

Every scrap of evidence presented about Manning’s alleged crimes  makes it clear that he was acting from rational, well-considered  motives, based on the highest ideals. Indeed, wasn’t Manning simply  following the words of Jesus Christ — words carved in stone, with the  most bitter irony, in the entranceway of the original headquarters of  the CIA: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you  free.”
In any case, as Blum points out, the effects of Manning’s actions were far-reaching:

“It was after seeing American war crimes  such as those depicted in the video ‘Collateral Murder’ and documented  in the ‘Iraq War Logs,’ made public by Manning and Wikileaks, that the  Iraqis refused to exempt US forces from prosecution for future crimes.  The video depicts an American helicopter indiscriminately murdering  several non-combatants in addition to two Reuters journalists, and the  wounding of two little children, while the helicopter pilots cheer the  attacks in a Baghdad suburb like it was the Army-Navy game in  Philadelphia.
“The insistence of the Iraqi government on legal  jurisdiction over American soldiers for violations of Iraqi law —  something the United States rarely, if ever, accepts in any of the many  countries where its military is stationed — forced the Obama  administration to pull the remaining American troops from the country.
“If Manning had committed war crimes in Iraq instead of exposing them, he would be a free man today …”

But he is not a free man, of course. It is very likely that he will  never be free again. He will spend the rest of his life in a federal  prison for the unforgivable crime of telling the truth to people who  don’t want to hear it.

 
NOTE: A tribute to Bradley and his fellow truth-tellers can be found here: The Good Corporal: To the Exposers of Power and the Troublers of Dreams.

 

This one goes out to Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Daniel Ellsberg, Sibel Edmonds, and “all those who speak the hard truth to the state.”

 

The Good Corporal

Good corporal, good corporal, now what have you done?

You’ve laid out the dead in the light of the sun.

 You’ve opened the door where the dark deeds go on,

Where the fine words of freedom are broken like bones.

Good corporal, good corporal, you tell us of crime

Done in the name of your country and mine.

Of torture and murder, corruption and lies,

In a land where no echo will carry the cries.

Good corporal, good corporal, now who do we blame

For the horrors you bring us, for this undying shame?

Should we lay all the guilt on the grunts with no name,

Or the high and the mighty who rigged up this game?
Good corporal, good corporal, don’t you know the fate

Of all those who speak the hard truth to the State

And all who trouble the people’s sweet dreams?

They’re mocked into scorn and torn apart at the seams.

Good corporal, good corporal, what have you done?

You’ve laid out the dead in the light of the sun.

  © 2010 by Chris Floyd

Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many (more…)

The Anti-Empire Report

March 5th, 2012   by William Blum www.killinghope.org

The Saga of Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and Wikileaks, to be put to ballad and film

“Defense lawyers say Manning was clearly a troubled young soldier whom the Army should never have deployed to Iraq or given access to classified material while he was stationed there … They say he was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay soldier at a time when homosexuals were barred from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces.” (Associated Press, February 3)

It’s unfortunate and disturbing that Bradley Manning’s attorneys have chosen to consistently base his legal defense upon the premise that personal problems and shortcomings are what motivated the young man to turn over hundreds of thousands of classified government files to Wikileaks.  They should not be presenting him that way any more than Bradley should be tried as a criminal or traitor.  He should be hailed as a national hero.  Yes, even when the lawyers are talking to the military mind.  May as well try to penetrate that mind and find the freest and best person living there.  Bradley also wears a military uniform.

Here are Manning’s own words from an online chat: “If you had free reign over classified networks … and you saw incredible things, awful things … things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC … what would you do? … God knows what happens now.  Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms. … I want people to see the truth … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

Is the world to believe that these are the words of a disturbed and irrational person?  Do not the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Geneva Conventions speak of a higher duty than blind loyalty to one’s government, a duty to report the war crimes of that government?

Below is a listing of some of the things revealed in the State Department cables and Defense Department files and videos.  For exposing such embarrassing and less-than-honorable behavior, Bradley Manning of the United States Army and Julian Assange of Wikileaks may spend most of their remaining days in a modern dungeon, much of it while undergoing that particular form of torture known as “solitary confinement”.  Indeed, it has been suggested that the mistreatment of Manning has been for the purpose of making him testify against and implicating Assange.  Dozens of members of the American media and public officials have called for Julian Assange’s execution or assassination.  Under the new National Defense Authorization Act, Assange could well be kidnaped or assassinated.  What century are we living in?  What world?

It was after seeing American war crimes such as those depicted in the video “Collateral Murder” and documented in the “Iraq War Logs,” made public by Manning and Wikileaks, that the Iraqis refused to exempt US forces from prosecution for future crimes.  The video depicts an American helicopter indiscriminately murdering several non-combatants in addition to two Reuters journalists, and the wounding of two little children, while the helicopter pilots cheer the attacks in a Baghdad suburb like it was the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.

The insistence of the Iraqi government on legal jurisdiction over American soldiers for violations of Iraqi law — something the United States rarely, if ever, accepts in any of the many countries where its military is stationed — forced the Obama administration to pull the remaining American troops from the country.

If Manning had committed war crimes in Iraq instead of exposing them, he would be a free man today, as are the many hundreds/thousands of American soldiers guilty of truly loathsome crimes in cities like Haditha, Fallujah, and other places whose names will live in infamy in the land of ancient Mesopotamia.

Besides playing a role in writing finis to the awful Iraq war, the Wikileaks disclosures helped to spark the Arab Spring, beginning in Tunisia.

When people in Tunisia read or heard of US Embassy cables revealing the extensive corruption and decadence of the extended ruling family there — one long and detailed cable being titled: “CORRUPTION IN TUNISIA: WHAT’S YOURS IS MINE” — how Washington’s support of Tunisian President Ben Ali was not really strong, and that the US would not support the regime in the event of a popular uprising, they took to the streets.

Here is a sample of some of the other Wikileaks revelations that make the people of the world wiser:

      • In 2009 Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano became the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which plays the leading role in the investigation of whether Iran is developing nuclear weapons or is working only on peaceful civilian nuclear energy projects.  A US embassy cable of October 2009 said Amano “took pains to emphasize his support for U.S. strategic objectives for the Agency.  Amano reminded the [American] ambassador on several occasions that … he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”
      • Russia refuted US claims that Iran has missiles that could target Europe.
      • The British government’s official inquiry into how it got involved in the Iraq War was deeply compromised by the government’s pledge to protect the Bush administration in the course of the inquiry.
      • A discussion between Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and American Gen. David H. Petraeus in which Saleh indicated he would cover up the US role in missile strikes against al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen.  “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Saleh told Petraeus.
      • The US embassy in Madrid has had serious points of friction with the Spanish government and civil society: a) trying to get the criminal case dropped against three US soldiers accused of killing a Spanish television cameraman in Baghdad during a 2003 unprovoked US tank shelling of the hotel where he and other journalists were staying; b )torture cases brought by a Spanish NGO against six senior Bush administration officials, including former attorney general Alberto Gonzales; c) a Spanish government investigation into the torture of Spanish subjects held at Guantánamo; d) a probe by a Spanish court into the use of Spanish bases and airfields for American extraordinary rendition (= torture) flights; e )continual criticism of the Iraq war by Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero, who eventually withdrew Spanish troops.
      • State Department officials at the United Nations, as well as US diplomats in various embassies, were assigned to gather as much of the following information as possible about UN officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, permanent security council representatives, senior UN staff, and foreign diplomats: e-mail and website addresses, internet user names and passwords,  personal encryption keys, credit card numbers, frequent flyer account numbers, work schedules, and biometric data.  US diplomats at the embassy in Asunción, Paraguay were asked to obtain dates, times and telephone numbers of calls received and placed by foreign diplomats from China, Iran and the Latin American leftist states of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia.  US diplomats in Romania, Hungary and Slovenia were instructed to provide biometric information on “current and emerging leaders and advisers” as well as information about “corruption” and information about leaders’ health and “vulnerability”.  The UN directive also specifically asked for “biometric information on ranking North Korean diplomats”. A similar cable to embassies in the Great Lakes region of Africa said biometric data included DNA, as well as iris scans and fingerprints.
      • A special “Iran observer” in the Azerbaijan capital of Baku reported on a dispute that played out during a meeting of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.  An enraged Revolutionary Guard Chief of Staff, Mohammed Ali Jafari, allegedly got into a heated argument with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and slapped him in the face because the generally conservative president had, surprisingly, advocated freedom of the press.
      • The State Department, virtually alone in the Western Hemisphere, did not unequivocally condemn a June 28, 2009 military coup in Honduras, even though an embassy cable declared: “there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch”.  US support of the coup government has been unwavering ever since.
      • The leadership of the Swedish Social Democratic Party — neutral, pacifist, and liberal Sweden, so the long-standing myth goes — visited the US embassy in Stockholm and asked for advice on how best to sell the war in Afghanistan to a skeptical Swedish public, asking if the US could arrange for a member of the Afghan government to come visit Sweden and talk up NATO’s humanitarian efforts on behalf of Afghan children, and so forth.  [For some years now Sweden has been, in all but name, a member of NATO and the persecutor of Julian Assange, the latter to please a certain Western power.]
      • The US pushed to influence Swedish wiretapping laws so communication passing through the Scandinavian country could be intercepted.  The American interest was clear: Eighty per cent of all the internet traffic from Russia travels through Sweden.
      • President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy told US embassy officials in Brussels in January 2010 that no one in Europe believed in Afghanistan anymore.  He said Europe was going along in deference to the United States and that there must be results in 2010, or “Afghanistan is over for Europe.”
      • Iraqi officials saw Saudi Arabia, not Iran, as the biggest threat to the integrity and cohesion of their fledgling democratic state.  The Iraqi leaders were keen to assure their American patrons that they could easily “manage” the Iranians, who wanted stability; but that the Saudis wanted a “weak and fractured” Iraq, and were even “fomenting terrorism that would destabilize the government”.  The Saudi King, moreover, wanted a US military strike on Iran.
      • Saudi Arabia in 2007 threatened to pull out of a Texas oil refinery investment unless the US government intervened to stop Saudi Aramco from being sued in US courts for alleged oil price fixing.  The deputy Saudi oil minister said that he wanted the US to grant Saudi Arabia sovereign immunity from lawsuits
      • Saudi donors were the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Taiba,  which carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
      • Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, hired investigators to unearth evidence of corruption against the Nigerian attorney general in order to persuade him to drop legal action over a controversial 1996 drug trial involving children with meningitis.
      • Oil giant Shell claimed to have “inserted staff” and fully infiltrated Nigeria’s government.
      • The Obama administration renewed military ties with Indonesia in spite of serious concerns expressed by American diplomats about the Indonesian military’s activities in the province of West Papua, expressing fears that the Indonesian government’s neglect, rampant corruption and human rights abuses were stoking unrest in the region.
      • US officials collaborated with Lebanon’s defense minister to spy on, and allow Israel to potentially attack, Hezbollah in the weeks that preceded a violent May 2008 military confrontation in Beirut.
      • Gabon president Omar Bongo allegedly pocketed millions in embezzled funds from central African states, channeling some of it to French political parties in support of Nicolas Sarkozy.
      • Cables from the US embassy in Caracas in 2006 asked the US Secretary of State to warn President Hugo Chávez against a Venezuelan military intervention to defend the Cuban revolution in the eventuality of an American invasion after Castro’s death.
      • The United States was concerned that the leftist Latin American television network, Telesur, headquartered in Venezuela, would collaborate with al Jazeera of Qatar, whose coverage of the Iraq War had gotten under the skin of the Bush administration.
      • The Vatican told the United States it wanted to undermine the influence of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez in Latin America because of concerns about the deterioration of Catholic power there.  It feared that Chávez was seriously damaging relations between the Catholic church and the state by identifying the church hierarchy in Venezuela as part of the privileged class.
      • The Holy See welcomed President Obama’s new outreach to Cuba and hoped for further steps soon, perhaps to include prison visits for the wives of the Cuban Five.  Better US-Cuba ties would deprive Hugo Chávez of one of his favorite screeds and could help restrain him in the region.
      • The wonderful world of diplomats: In 2010, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown raised with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the question of visas for two wives of members of the “Cuban Five”.  “Brown requested that the wives (who have previously been refused visas to visit the U.S.) be granted visas so that they could visit their husbands in prison. … Our subsequent queries to Number 10 indicate that Brown made this request as a result of a commitment that he had made to UK trade unionists, who form part of the Labour Party’s core constituency.  Now that the request has been made, Brown does not intend to pursue this matter further.  There is no USG action required.”
      • UK Officials concealed from Parliament how the US was allowed to bring cluster bombs onto British soil in defiance of a treaty banning the housing of such weapons.
      • A cable was sent by an official at the US Interests Section in Havana in July 2006, during the runup to the Non-Aligned Movement conference.  He noted that he was actively looking for “human interest stories and other news that shatters the myth of Cuban medical prowess”.  [Presumably to be used to weaken support for Cuba amongst the member nations at the conference.]
      • Most of the men sent to Guantánamo prison were innocent people or low-level operatives; many of the innocent individuals were sold to the US for bounty.
      • DynCorp, a powerful American defense contracting firm that claims almost $2 billion per year in revenue from US tax dollars, threw a “boy-play” party for Afghan police recruits.  (Yes, it’s what you think.)
      • Even though the Bush and Obama Administrations repeatedly maintained publicly that there was no official count of civilian casualties, the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs showed that this claim was untrue.
      • Known Egyptian torturers received training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
      • The United States put great pressure on the Haitian government to not go ahead with various projects, with no regard for the welfare of the Haitian people.  A 2005 cable stressed continued US insistence that all efforts must be made to keep former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom the United States had overthrown the previous year, from returning to Haiti or influencing the political process.  In 2006, Washington’s target was President René Préval for his agreeing to a deal with Venezuela to join Caracas’s Caribbean oil alliance, PetroCaribe, under which Haiti would buy oil from Venezuela, paying only 60 percent up front with the remainder payable over twenty-five years at 1 percent interest.  And in 2009, the State Department backed American corporate opposition to an increase in the minimum wage for Haitian workers, the poorest paid in the Western Hemisphere.
      • The United States used threats, spying, and more to try to get its way at the crucial 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen.
      • Mahmoud Abbas, president of The Palestinian National Authority, and head of the Fatah movement, turned to Israel for help in attacking Hamas in Gaza in 2007.
      • The British government trained a Bangladeshi paramilitary force condemned by human rights organisations as a “government death squad”.
      • A US military order directed American forces not to investigate cases of torture of detainees by Iraqis.
      • The US was involved in the Australian government’s 2006 campaign to oust Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
      • A 2009 US cable said that police brutality in Egypt against common criminals was routine and pervasive, the police using force to extract confessions from criminals on a daily basis.
      • US diplomats pressured the German government to stifle the prosecution of CIA operatives who abducted and tortured Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen.  [El-Masri was kidnaped by the CIA while on vacation in Macedonia on December 31, 2003.  He was flown to a torture center in Afghanistan, where he was beaten, starved, and sodomized.  The US government released him on a hilltop in Albania five months later without money or the means to go home.]
      • 2005 cable re “widespread severe torture” by India, the widely-renowned “world’s largest democracy”: The International Committee of the Red Cross reported: “The continued ill-treatment of detainees, despite longstanding ICRC-GOI [Government of India] dialogue, have led the ICRC to conclude that New Delhi condones torture.”  Washington was briefed on this matter by the ICRC years ago.  What did the United States, one of the world’s leading practitioners and teachers of torture in the past century, do about it?  American leaders, including the present ones, continued to speak warmly of “the world’s largest democracy”; as if torture and one of the worst rates of poverty and child malnutrition in the world do not contradict the very idea of democracy.
      • The United States overturned a ban on training the Indonesian Kopassus army special forces — despite the Kopassus’s long history of arbitrary detention, torture and murder — after the Indonesian President threatened to derail President Obama’s trip to the country in November 2010.
      • Since at least 2006 the United States has been funding political opposition groups in Syria, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country.

William Blum is the author of:

      • Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2
      • Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower
      • West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir
      • Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire

Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at www.killinghope.org

Advertisements

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

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

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

by Jeremy Scahill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2009 Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill on Iraq and Mercenaries April 2, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

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

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

 

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

Welcome to Democracy Now!

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

AMY GOODMAN: The alternative?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

AMY GOODMAN: The largest US embassy in the world?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Obama to Bring More Mercenaries to Afghanistan — Sound Familiar? March 28, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Excuse me for saying it, but Obama is about to sink us — and his presidency — into a mess.”

Jim Hightower, Creators Syndicate. Posted March 28, 2009.

As Obama begins winding down the war in Iraq, he is building up his own war farther east. Like Bush, he will depend on private military contractors.

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to war we go!

As President Barack Obama begins winding down the Bush war in Iraq, he is building up his own war farther east. We’re told that it will be a new, expanded, extra-special American adventure in Afghanistan, involving a vigorous surge strategy to “stabilize” this perpetually unstable land.

The initial surge will add 17,000 troops to the 36,000 already there. Then, later this year, there is to be a second troop surge of another 17,000 or so. This mass of soldiers is expected to be deployed to a series of new garrisons to be built in far-flung regions of this impoverished, rural, mostly illiterate warlord state that is ruled by hundreds of fractious, heavily armed tribal leaders. We’re not told how much this escalation will cost, but it will at least double the $2 billion a month that American taxpayers are already shelling out for the Afghan war.

The extra-special part of this effort is to come from a simultaneous “civilian surge” of hundreds of U.S. economic development experts. “What we can’t do,” said Obama in an interview last Sunday, “is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going to be able to solve our problems.” To win the hearts (and cooperation) of the Afghan people, this development leg of the operation will try to build infrastructure (roads, schools, etc.), create new crop alternatives to lure hardscrabble farmers out of poppy production and generally lift the country’s bare-subsistence living standard.

What Obama has not mentioned is that, in addition to soldiers and civilians, there is a third surge in his plan: private military contractors. Yes, another privatized army, such as the one in Iraq. There, the Halliburtons, Blackwaters and other war profiteers ran rampant, shortchanging our troops, ripping off taxpayers, killing civilians and doing deep damage to America’s good name.

Already, there are 71,000 private contractors operating in Afghanistan, and many more are preparing to deploy as Pentagon spending ramps up for Obama’s war. The military is now offering new contracts to security firms to provide armed employees (aka, mercenaries) to guard U.S. bases and convoys. Despite the widespread contractor abuses in Iraq, Pentagon chief Robert Gates defends the ongoing privatization push: “The use of contractor security personnel is vital to supporting the forward-operating bases in certain parts of the country,” he declared in a February letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

What the gentle war secretary is really saying is this: “We don’t have a draft, and I don’t see a lot of senators’ kinfolks volunteering to put their butts on the line in Afghanistan, so I’ve gotta pay through the nose to find enough privateers to guard America’s Army in this forbidding place.”

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting twist to Obama’s contractor surge: the for-hire guards protecting our bases and convoys will not likely be Americans. The Associated Press has reported that of the 3,847 security contractors in Afghanistan, only nine are U.S. firms.

Actually, being an American contractor is not a plus in the eyes of the Afghan people, for they’ve had bitter experiences with them. They point to DynCorp, a Virginia-based contractor that got nearly a billion dollars in 2006 to train Afghan police. The bumbling “Inspector Clouseau” of comic fame could’ve done a better job. At least he might have amused the people.

What they got from DynCorp was a bunch of highly paid American “advisors” who were unqualified and knew nothing about the country. Some 70,000 police were to be trained, but less than half that number actually went through the ridiculous eight-week program, which included no field training.

A 2006 U.S. report on the DynCorp trainees deemed them to be “incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work.” Meanwhile, no one knows how many of the trainees ever reported for duty, or what happened to thousands of missing trucks and other pieces of police equipment that had been issued for the training.

The punch line of this joke is that DynCorp got another contract ($317 million) last August to “continue training civilian police forces in Afghanistan.”

Excuse me for saying it, but Obama is about to sink us — and his presidency — into a mess.

COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

President Obama, Why Did You Pay Blackwater $70 Million in February? March 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

For those already outraged at the AIG bonus scandal, here is a fact that should add more fuel to the fire: The Obama administration has paid the mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater nearly $70 million to operate in Iraq and, according to the Washington Times, may keep the company on the payroll months past the official expiration of its Iraq contract in May. I reviewed Blackwater’s recent transactions with the Obama State Department and discovered a $45 million payment to Blackwater on February 4, 2009 for “protective services-Iraq.” It is described as a “funding action only.” Here is the interesting part: The estimated “Ultimate Completion Date” is 5/07/2011.

The Washington Times (as described below) reported on a $22 million payment to Blackwater on February 2. Combined with the $45 million payment I discovered, that’s nearly $67 million in 72 hours. Not bad for a company supposedly going down in flames.

With the US economy in shambles and millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet and keep their homes, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton need to explain to US taxpayers how they justify these mega-payments to a scandal-plagued mercenary company. (At the very least, someone should ask Robert Gibbs about it).

It has been widely reported that the Bush administration’s preferred mercenary company, which recently renamed itself Xe, will soon be leaving Iraq. That news came early this year after the State Department, under immense public pressure, announced it would not renew the company’s lucrative deal to act as the private paramilitary force for senior US occupation officials. The Iraqi government has said it wants the company to leave Iraq and says it has revoked the company’s operating license. The Obama administration continues to use Blackwater in Afghanistan and the company has extensive domestic training contracts with the military and law enforcement agencies inside the borders of the US.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that some of Blackwater’s armed operatives may simply be rehired by two other US mercenary firms that are expected to take over Blackwater’s work in Iraq under the Obama administration: Triple Canopy and DynCorp. Now, The Washington Times reports that the State Department has signed contracts with Blackwater that appear to extend the company’s presence in Iraq at least until September 2009.

According to the paper:

“On Feb. 2, a department spokesman was asked whether officials planned to renew one of Blackwater’s contracts past May. The spokesman, Robert Wood, said the department had told Blackwater ‘we did not plan to renew the company’s existing task force orders for protective security details in Iraq.’

“But records available through a federal procurement database show that on that same day, the State Department approved a $22.2 million contract modification for Blackwater ‘security personnel’ in Iraq, with a job completion date of Sept. 3, 2009.”

“Why would you continue to use Blackwater when the Iraqi government has banned the highly controversial company and there are other choices?” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the nonpartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

State Department spokesman Noel Clay told the Washington Times the contract modification involves aviation services. “The place of performance is Iraq, but it is totally different than the Baghdad one that expires in May,” he said. Sloan called the State Department’s explanation of the Feb. 2 deal a “parsing of words” and said “they should just be straight with us.” Xe spokeswoman Anne Tyrell declined to comment on the status of the company’s work in Iraq or the Feb. 2 contract modification. She said the company was aware that the State Department had indicated that it did not plan to renew its contracts in Iraq but that Xe officials had not received specific information about leaving the country. “We’re following their direction,” she said.

Blackwater recently renamed itself Xe and its owner Erik Prince “resigned” as CEO, though he remains its sole owner and chairman.

UPDATE: Could Arlen Specter’s Logic on AIG Bonuses Be Applied to Blackwater?

Several people have written me asking what the Obama administration SHOULD do with Blackwater, following the reports last night that the State Department paid the company some $70 million over a 72 hour period in February.

Many people take the position that Obama is dealing with remnants of the Bush administration’s disastrous policies and that it will take time to unravel. Fair enough. But, with the US economy in shambles, is it really a priority to make good on payments to a company like Blackwater?

I have long written that the Obama Iraq policy will necessitate using mercenary forces. This is true for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Obama’s refusal to scrap that monstrous US fortress they are calling an embassy. If it’s not going to be Blackwater guarding Obama’s occupation officials, it will be Triple Canopy and DynCorp (who will in turn hire a bunch of the “fired” Blackwater guys anyway). The point here is this: I disagree that the reality is simply that Obama needs time to phase out Blackwater and his hands are tied when it comes to paying them on existing contracts. I believe Obama needs them to sustain his bad Iraq policy, which will continue the occupation, albeit with a softer face. If Obama wanted to, he could outright fire Blackwater. Henry Waxman and others have called for that. He certainly would have the support of the American people, particularly given how much money Blackwater has milked from the US treasury.

All of this brings me to Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, former chair of the Judiciary Committee. Yesterday, he was interviewed on MSNBC by Andrea Mitchell about the AIG bonuses. Read what he says about the AIG contracts not having to be honored and then apply the logic to Obama’s Blackwater situation:

MITCHELL: What say you when it comes to these bonuses? Should they be taxed back? Should the AIG executives who approved the bonuses have to commit hari-kari? With whom do you side?

SPECTER: Andrea, they’re not enforceable under the law. They are against public policy. It is obviously against public policy to pay bonuses to people who caused the problem. If you have, for example, a contract for the sale of heroin, that’s not enforceable. You take those cases to court, they won’t be enforced. It’s just that plain. It’s set out very simply in the restatement of the law on contracts

(…..)

MITCHELL: Well, you know, there’s been a lot ventilating on all sides, but you’re a former district attorney, a former prosecutor, experienced lawyer and we tend to trust your judgment on this, former Judiciary Chairman. So let me hear you out on when you say they’re not enforceable, the top economic adviser and the Treasury Secretary said that these were contracts that if the government broke the contracts, there would be greater expense in going to court and suing to get the money back.

What would the next steps be in a practical way to get the money back and break the contracts?

SEN. SPECTER: The top economic adviser and the Secretary of the Treasury are wrong again. It happens too often to be excusable. I’d like to argue this as a legal matter. If you have a contract, which is against public policy, it is not enforceable. I gave you an extreme example. If you have a contract for the delivery of heroin, the use of heroin, the delivery of heroin is against the law, you can’t enforce it.

Let those individuals who claim that they’re entitled to bonuses go to court and the government will defend the case and will say these are against public policy. How can you pay a bonus to this individual in this company, which raised the problem and caused this $180 billion bailout and now they want bonuses on top? It is simply unenforceable.

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.

Obama to Announce Iraq Troop Withdrawal: Occupation Lite? February 28, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

 Phyllis Bennis | February 27, 2009

Foreign Policy in Focus: http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5910

 

President Barack Obama said directly that he would be announcing “a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.” As far as it goes, that sounds good. This is an indication that President Obama is largely keeping to his campaign promises, and that’s a hopeful sign, reflecting the power of the anti-war consensus in this country.

If this plan were actually a first step towards the unequivocal goal of a complete end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, it would be better than good, it would be fabulous. But that would mean this withdrawal would be the first step towards a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops, pulling out of all the 150,000+ U.S.-paid foreign mercenaries and contractors, closing all the U.S. military bases, and ending all U.S. efforts to control Iraqi oil.

So far that is not on Obama’s agenda.

The troop withdrawal as planned would leave behind as many as 50,000 U.S. troops. That’s an awful lot. Even Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi thinks that may be too much. She told Rachel Maddow, “I don’t know what the justification is for 50,000, at the present…I would think a third of that, maybe 20,000, a little more than a third, 15,000 or 20,000.”

Those troops won’t include officially designated “combat” troops. But those tens of thousands of troops will still be occupying Iraq. Doing what? Very likely, just what combat troops do — they would walk and talk and bomb and shoot like combat troops, but they’d be called something else. The New York Times spelled it out last December: describing how military planners believe Obama’s goal of pulling out combat troops “could be accomplished at least in part by re-labeling some units, so that those currently counted as combat troops could be ‘re-missioned,’ their efforts redefined as training and support for the Iraqis.” That would mean a retreat to the lies and deception that characterized this war during Bush years — something President Obama promised to leave behind. It would also mean military resistance in Iraq would continue, leading to more Iraqi and U.S. casualties.

Further, the U.S. agreement with Iraq calls for all U.S. forces to be out of Iraq by the end of December 2011. President Obama’s announcement later this week may even reflect something like this goal too. But. The agreement can be changed. Retired General Barry McCaffrey wrote an internal report for the Pentagon after a trip to Iraq last year, saying, “We should assume that the Iraqi government will eventually ask us to stay beyond 2011 with a residual force of trainers, counterterrorist capabilities, logistics, and air power.” My estimate? Perhaps a force of 20,000 to 40,000 troops.

And what if the reduction in ground troops is answered with an escalation of U.S. air power? The U.S. appears to be planning to control the skies over Iraq for years to come. That means even more Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military. We need the withdraw all air and naval forces too — something the SOFA agreement mentions, but we have yet to hear anything from the Obama administration. The U.S. has been conducting continuous overflights and regular bombing of Iraq since January 1991 – isn’t 18 years of air war enough?

The U.S.-Iraq agreement (which was ratified by the Iraqi parliament but never brought to the U.S. Senate for ratification, as mandated by the Constitution) also requires that a national referendum be held in Iraq during the summer of 2009 to approve or reject the timetable. It is certainly possible that — if the referendum is held at all — a vast majority of Iraqis would call for an even earlier timeline, saying that two-and-a-half more years of occupation is too long. And it seems a real long-shot to imagine that the U.S. — despite the Obama administration’s commitment to diplomacy over force — would agree to abide by the popular will of the Iraqi people and pull out the troops immediately.

The military hasn’t been transformed with the election of President Obama. He is the commander in chief, but he has made clear his intention to listen to his military advisers (they pushed for the 19-month rather than 16-month withdrawal timeline). The oil companies and powerful contractors whose CEOs and stockholders have made billion dollar killings on Iraq contracts have not been transformed. Obama is president and has promised transparency in the contracting process, but he hasn’t promised to bring home all the mercenaries and contractors.

Mercenaries and Contractors

Ending the U.S. occupation means ending all U.S. funding for the giant contractors — Dyncorp, Bechtel, Blackwater — that serve as out-sourced private unaccountable components of the U.S. military. The contractor companies — and the mercenaries they hire — were part of what led to Abu Ghraib. (Blackwater’s recent name change to “Xe” should not allow its role in killing Iraqi civilians to be forgotten.) Even as some troops may be withdrawn, we will need to mobilize for congressional hearings, independent investigations, and more on the human rights violations and misuse of taxpayer funds by the war profiteers who run these companies. President Obama’s decision to close the Guantanamo prison shows his awareness of severity of the crimes committed there. Ending the funding of the contractors who carried out so many of those crimes should be a logical next step.

U.S. Military Bases

We’ve heard how long it will likely take to evacuate each of the 50+ U.S. military bases in Iraq (6 weeks for the small ones, 18 months for the biggest) but we haven’t heard any indication, let alone a promise, that they will actually be turned over to the Iraqis. The issue of bases places Iraq at the centerpiece of the broad global movement challenging the network of U.S. military bases all over the world. Opposition to the impact of those bases — environmental, social and women’s rights, economic and more — is rising in countries as diverse as Korea, Italy, Ecuador, Kyrgyzstan and more. In fact in some countries governments are joining with civil society to reject Washington’s global crusade. Kyrgyzstan decided to close the U.S. air base there, indicating they prefer Russian bribes to U.S. warplanes. (That decision may present the Obama administration with the unsavory prospect of renewing the U.S. alliance with Uzbekistan, whose government is characterized by some of the most egregious human rights violations in the world.) Ecuador has recently passed a new constitution prohibiting the presence of foreign military bases on their soil, and is in the process of ending its hosting of the U.S. airbase at Manta.

As the Obama administration seeks new ways to cut military spending, closing the 50+ Iraqi bases, particularly the five mega-bases becomes an urgent necessity. And the giant embassy-on-steroids that the Bush administration built to house up to 5,000 U.S. diplomats and officials should be closed down as a relic of an illegal war launched to maintain control of the country, people and resources of Iraq.

Ending Occupation?

Certainly almost three more years of acknowledged occupation is way too long. That’s almost half again as long as the U.S. occupation of Iraq has been going today. But even so, if this 19-month partial withdrawal really was a first step towards a complete end of the Iraq war and occupation, if this really meant that the troops in Iraq would be brought home instead of redeployed to another failing war in Afghanistan, if this really meant that President Obama’s promise that “I will end the war” was about to be made real — then 19 months wouldn’t be so bad.

Then, at last, we could begin making good on our real debt to the people of Iraq. Make good on the U.S. obligations for compensation (money to Iraqis themselves, not to overpaid U.S. contractors), for reparations (including for the years of society-destroying economic sanctions), for support for Iraqi-led international help in peacekeeping and in demilitarizing Iraq after so many years of occupation and war.

So far, though, we’re not seeing any of that. So far, there are too many “buts.” We know there is no military solution in Iraq — and continuing an “occupation lite” to muscle out competitors in oil contracts, or to maintain a power-expansion presence in the region, or to create the illusion of “peace with honor” — none of these things justify continuing an illegal U.S. occupation. Pulling out any troops from Iraq is a good thing. But so far, our job hasn’t ended — to mobilize, to pressure, to continue to educate and advocate and agitate for a real end to the war. We have a lot of work to do.

Phyllis Bennis is director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, a senior analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus, and a fellow at the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam.

The Afghan Scam: The Untold Story of Why the US Is Bound to Fail in Afghanistan January 12, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

 11 January 2009

by: Ann Jones, TomDispatch.com

    The first of 20,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. troops are scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan next month to re-win the war George W. Bush neglected to finish in his eagerness to start another one. However, “winning” the military campaign against the Taliban is the lesser half of the story.

    Going into Afghanistan, the Bush administration called for a political campaign to reconstruct the country and thereby establish the authority of a stable, democratic Afghan central government. It was understood that the two campaigns – military and political/economic – had to go forward together; the success of each depended on the other. But the vision of a reconstructed, peaceful, stable, democratically governed Afghanistan faded fast. Most Afghans now believe that it was nothing but a cover story for the Bush administration’s real goal – to set up permanent bases in Afghanistan and occupy the country forever.

    Whatever the truth of the matter, in the long run, it’s not soldiers but services that count – electricity, water, food, health care, justice, and jobs. Had the U.S. delivered the promised services on time, while employing Afghans to rebuild their own country according to their own priorities and under the supervision of their own government – a mini-Marshall Plan – they would now be in charge of their own defense. The forces on the other side, which we loosely call the Taliban, would also have lost much of their grounds for complaint.

    Instead, the Bush administration perpetrated a scam. It used the system it set up to dispense reconstruction aid to both the countries it “liberated,” Afghanistan and Iraq, to transfer American taxpayer dollars from the national treasury directly into the pockets of private war profiteers. Think of Halliburton, Bechtel, and Blackwater in Iraq; Louis Berger Group, Bearing Point, and DynCorp International in Afghanistan. They’re all in it together. So far, the Bush administration has bamboozled Americans about its shady aid program. Nobody talks about it. Yet the aid scam, which would be a scandal if it weren’t so profitable for so many, explains far more than does troop strength about why, today, we are on the verge of watching the whole Afghan enterprise go belly up.

    What’s worse, there’s no reason to expect that things will change significantly on Barack Obama’s watch. During the election campaign, he called repeatedly for more troops for “the right war” in Afghanistan (while pledging to draw-down U.S. forces in Iraq), but he has yet to say a significant word about the reconstruction mission. While many aid workers in that country remain full of good intentions, the delivery systems for and uses of U.S. aid have been so thoroughly corrupted that we can only expect more of the same – unless Obama cleans house fast. But given the monumental problems on his plate, how likely is that?

    The Jolly Privateers

    It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of the failure of American reconstruction in Afghanistan. While the U.S. has occupied the country – for seven years and counting – and efficiently set up a network of bases and prisons, it has yet to restore to Kabul, the capital, a mud brick city slightly more populous than Houston, a single one of the public services its citizens used to enjoy. When the Soviets occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s, they modernized the education system and built power plants, dams, factories, and apartment blocs, still the most coveted in the country. If, in the last seven years, George W. Bush did not get the lights back on in the capital, or the water flowing, or dispose of the sewage or trash, how can we assume Barack Obama will do any better with the corrupt system he’s about to inherit?

    Between 2002 and 2008, the U.S. pledged $10.4 billion dollars in “development” (reconstruction) aid to Afghanistan, but actually delivered only $5 billion of that amount. Considering that the U.S. is spending $36 billion a year on the war in Afghanistan and about $8 billion a month on the war in Iraq, that $5 billion in development aid looks paltry indeed. But keep in mind that, in a country as poor as Afghanistan, a little well spent money can make a big difference.

    The problem is not simply that the Bush administration skimped on aid, but that it handed it over to for-profit contractors. Privatization, as is now abundantly clear, enriches only the privateers and serves only their private interests.

    Take one pertinent example. When the inspectors general of the Pentagon and State Department investigated the U.S. program to train the Afghan police in 2006, they found the number of men trained (about 30,000) to be less than half the number reported by the administration (70,000). The training had lasted eight weeks at most, with no in-the-field experience whatsoever. Only about half the equipment assigned to the police – including thousands of trucks – could be accounted for, and the men trained were then deemed “incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work.”

    The American privateer training the police – DynCorp – went on to win no-bid contracts to train police in Iraq with similar results. The total bill for American taxpayers from 2004 to 2006: $1.6 billion. It’s unclear whether that money came from the military or the development budget, but in either case it was wasted. The inspectors general reported that police incompetence contributed directly to increased opium production, the reinvigoration of the Taliban, and government corruption in general, thoroughly subverting much ballyhooed U.S. goals, both military and political.

    In the does-no-one-ever-learn category: the latest American victory plan, announced in December, calls for recruiting and rearming local militias to combat the Taliban. Keep in mind that hundreds of millions of dollars, mostly donated by Japan, have already been spent to disarm local militias. A proposal to rearm them was soundly defeated last fall in the Afghan Parliament. Now, it’s again the plan du jour, rubber-stamped by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

    Afghans protest that such a plan amounts to sponsoring civil war, which, if true, would mean that American involvement in Afghanistan might be coming full circle – civil war being the state in which the U.S. left Afghanistan at the end of our proxy war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. American commanders, however, insist that they must use militias because Afghan Army and police forces are “simply not available.” Maj. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, deputy commander of American forces, told the New York Times, “We don’t have enough police, [and] we don’t have time to get the police ready.” This, despite the State Department’s award to DynCorp last August of another $317.4 million contract “to continue training civilian police forces in Afghanistan,” a contract DynCorp CEO William Ballhaus greeted as “an opportunity to contribute to peace, stability and democracy in the world [and] support our government’s efforts to improve people’s lives.”

    America First

    In other areas less obviously connected to security, American aid policy is no less self-serving or self-defeating. Although the Bush administration handpicked the Afghan president and claims to want to extend his authority throughout the country, it refuses to channel aid money through his government’s ministries. (It argues that the Afghan government is corrupt, which it is, in a pathetic, minor league sort of way.)

    Instead of giving aid money for Afghan schools to the Ministry of Education, for example, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funds private American contractors to start literacy programs for adults. As a result, Afghan teachers abandon the public schools and education administrators leave the Ministry for higher paying jobs with those contractors, further undermining public education and governance. The Bush administration may have no particular reason to sabotage its handpicked government, but it has had every reason to befriend private contractors who have, in turn, kicked back generously to election campaigns and Republican coffers.

    There are other peculiar features of American development aid. Nearly half of it (47%) goes to support “technical assistance.” Translated, that means overpaid American “experts,” often totally unqualified – somebody’s good old college buddies – are paid handsomely to advise the locals on matters ranging from office procedures to pesticide use, even when the Afghans neither request nor welcome such advice. By contrast, the universally admired aid programs of Sweden and Ireland allocate only 4% and 2% respectively to such technical assistance, and when asked, they send real experts. American technical advisors, like American privateers, are paid by checks – big ones – that pass directly from the federal treasury to private accounts in American banks, thus helping to insure that about 86 cents of every dollar designated for U.S. “foreign” aid anywhere in the world never leaves the U.S.A.

    American aid that actually makes it abroad arrives with strings attached. At least 70% of it is “tied” to the purchase of American products. A food aid program, for example, might require Afghanistan to purchase American agricultural products in preference to their own, thus putting Afghan farmers out of business or driving even more of them into the poppy trade. (The percentage of aid from Sweden, Ireland, and the United Kingdom that is similarly tied: zero.)

    Testifying before a congressional subcommittee on May 8, 2001, Andrew Natsios, then head of USAID, described American aid as “a key foreign policy instrument [that] helps nations prepare for participation in the global trading system and become better markets for U.S. exports.” Such so-called aid cuts American business in right from the start. USAID has even developed a system for “preselecting” certain private contractors, then inviting only those preselected companies to apply for contracts the agency wants to issue.

    Often, in fact, only one of the preselected contractors puts in for the job and then – if you need a hint as to what’s really going on – just happens to award subcontracts to some of the others. It’s remarkable, too, how many former USAID officials have passed through the famed revolving door in Washington to become highly paid consultants to private contractors – and vice versa. By January 2006, the Bush administration had co-opted USAID altogether. The once independent aid agency launched by President Kennedy in 1961 became a subsidiary of the State Department and a partner of the Pentagon.

    Oh, and keep in mind one more thing: While the private contractors may be in it for the duration, most employees and technical experts in Afghanistan stay on the job only six months to a year because it’s considered such a “hardship post.” As a result, projects tend not to last long and to be remarkably unrelated to those that came before or will come after. Contractors collect the big bucks whether or not the aid they contracted to deliver benefits Afghans, or even reaches them.

    These arrangements help explain why Afghanistan remains such a shambles.

    The Afghan Scam

    It’s not that American aid has done nothing. Check out the USAID website and you’ll find a summary of what is claimed for it (under the glorious heading of “Afghanistan Reborn”). It will inform you that USAID has completed literally thousands of projects in that country. The USAID loves numbers, but don’t be deceived by them. A thousand short-term USAID projects can’t hold a candle to one long, careful, patient program run, year after year, by a bunch of Afghans led by a single Swede.

    If there has been any progress in Afghanistan, especially in and around Kabul, it’s largely been because two-thirds of the reconstruction aid to Afghanistan comes from other (mostly European) countries that do a better job, and partly because the country’s druglords spend big on palatial homes and services in the capital. But the one-third of international aid that is supposed to come from the U.S., and that might make a critical difference when added to the work of others, eternally falls into the wrong pockets.

    What would Afghans have done differently, if they’d been in charge? They’d have built much smaller schools, and a lot more of them, in places more convenient to children than to foreign construction crews. Afghans would have hired Afghans to do the building. Louis Berger Group had the contract to build more than 1,000 schools at a cost of $274,000 per school. Already way behind schedule in 2005, they had finished only a small fraction of them when roofs began to collapse under the snows of winter.

    Believe me, given that same $274,000, Afghans would have built 15 or 20 schools with good roofs. The same math can be applied to medical clinics. Afghans would also have chosen to repair irrigation systems and wells, to restore ruined orchards, vineyards, and fields. Amazingly enough, USAID initially had no agricultural programs in a country where rural subsistence farmers are 85% of the population. Now, after seven years, the agency finally claims to have “improved” irrigation on “nearly 15%” of arable land. And you can be sure that Afghans wouldn’t have chosen – again – the Louis Berger Group to rebuild the 389-mile long Kabul/Kandahar highway with foreign labor at a cost of $1 million per mile.

    As things now stand, Afghans, as well as Afghan-Americans who go back to help their homeland, have to play by American rules. Recently an Afghan-American contractor who competed for reconstruction contracts told me that the American military is getting in on the aid scam. To apply for a contract, Afghan applicants now have to fill out a form (in English!) that may run to 50 pages. My informant, who asked to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, commented that it’s next to impossible to figure out “what they look for.” He won a contract only when he took a hint and hired an American “expert” – a retired military officer – to fill out the form. The expert claimed the “standard fee” for his service: 25% of the value of the contract.

    Another Afghan-American informed me that he was proud to have worked with an American construction company building schools with USAID funds. Taken on as a translator, he persuaded the company not only to hire Afghan laborers, but also to raise their pay gradually from $1.00 per day to $10.00 per day. “They could feed their families,” he said, “and it was all cost over-run, so cost didn’t matter. The boss was already billing the government $10.00 to $15.00 an hour for labor, so he could afford to pay $10.00 a day and still make a profit.” My informant didn’t question the corruption in such over-billing. After all, Afghans often tack on something extra for themselves, and they don’t call it corruption either. But on this scale it adds up to millions going into the assumedly deep pockets of one American privateer.

    Yet a third Afghan-American, a businessman who has worked on American projects in his homeland, insisted that when Bush pledged $10.4 billion in aid, President Karzai should have offered him a deal: “Give me $2 billion in cash, I’ll kick back the rest to you, and you can take your army and go home.”

    “If Karzai had put the cash in an Afghan bank,” the businessman added, “and spent it himself on what people really need, both Afghanistan and Karzai would be in much better shape today.” Yes, he was half-joking, but he wasn’t wrong.

    Don’t think of such stories, and thousands of others like them, as merely tales of the everyday theft or waste of a few hundred million dollars – a form of well-organized, routine graft that leaves the corruption of Karzai’s government in the shade and will undoubtedly continue unremarked upon in the Obama years. Those multi-millions that will continue to be poured down the Afghan drain really represent promises made to a people whose country and culture we have devastated more than once. They are promises made by our government, paid for by our taxpayers, and repeatedly broken.

    These stories, which you’ll seldom hear about, are every bit as important as the debates about military strength and tactics and strategy in Afghanistan that dominate public discourse today. Those promises, made in our name, were once said to be why we fight; now – broken – they remind us that we’ve already lost.

    —-

    Ann Jones wrote at length about the failure of American aid in Kabul in Winter (Metropolitan Books), a book about American meddling in Afghanistan as well as her experience as a humanitarian aid worker there from 2002 to 2006. For more information, visit her website. For a concise report on many of the defects in international aid mentioned here, check out Real Aid (pdf file), a report issued in 2005 by the South African NGO Action Aid.