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Obligatory Blackwater update

A few things have been going on with Blackwater lately, with one coming up pretty soon.  Just one week after the case against the shooters in the Nisour Square massacre was dismissed, two contractors working yet another Blackwater subsidiary were charged with the murder of two Afghans in 2008.  I hadn’t paid much attention to it because this is a regular occurrence in Afghanistan (for details, see this article by Anand Gopal).  The men were also charged with weapons violations for using AK-47s (a Blackwater speciality) most likely in an attempt to blame it on Afghans, which they tried to do anyways:

Federal officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is pending, said that no Paravant car was struck by another vehicle and that the Afghans who were shot were in a car that had passed the contractors from the other direction.

But Callahan said the lead Paravant car was deliberately struck by another car traveling in the same direction. The first car flipped over. Callahan said Cannon and Drotleff, who were traveling in the second car, got out and were running to check on their injured colleagues when the car that had caused the accident accelerated toward them. The men opened fire, Callahan said, killing one Afghan in the car and a bystander about 900 feet away.

More recently, details have emerged about their service records:

Drotleff’s three-year service in the Marines ended with an other-than-honorable discharge in 2001 and a military record that included offenses for seven unauthorized absences, two failures to obey an order, assault, disrespect toward a noncommissioned officer and falsely altering a military ID card. Before his service with Blackwater in Afghanistan, the 29-year-old also faced a number of state convictions for reckless driving, disturbing the peace, assault and battery, resisting arrest and DWI.

Cannon, 27, was discharged from the Army after going AWOL and testing positive for cocaine. He later petitioned successfully to have his military records officially changed to an honorable discharge.

The only strange part about this is that they (theoretically) would have had to have security clearances for those jobs and that’s exactly the kind of thing you’d think would show up in the process of obtaining one.  I don’t suppose we’ll find out what happened with that though, as they have a seemingly limitless number of high ranking officials willing to cover for them, all the way up to issuing denials about what Secretary of Defense himself blurts out.

The problem we have here is what Mark Danner described in an essay about similar issues:

Scandal is our growth industry. Revelation of wrongdoing leads not to definitive investigation, punishment, and expiation but to more scandal. Permanent scandal. Frozen scandal. The weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist. The torture of detainees who remain forever detained. The firing of prosecutors which is forever investigated. These and other frozen scandals metastasize, ramify, self-replicate, clogging the cable news shows and the blogosphere and the bookstores. The titillating story that never ends, the pundit gabfest that never ceases, the gift that never stops giving: what is indestructible, irresolvable, unexpiatable is too valuable not to be made into a source of profit. Scandal, unpurged and unresolved, transcends political reality to become commercial fact.

Which brings me to the last little piece of news about this particular frozen scandal.  Jeremy Scahill recently wrote an article titled “Blackwater’s Youngest Victim” about a nine-year boy named Ali Kinani who died in the Nisour Square massacre and his father’s struggle to have them held accountable.  A documentary about it is set to be aired on Democracy Now! this Friday.  I’d highly recommend reading the article and/or watching the documentary if you’re not very familiar with the incident.

Update: The documentary is apparently already finished, you can watch it here.

Blackwater Xe

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Posted by dm - February 1, 2010 at 1:43 am

Categories: Privatization   Tags: ,

Blessed are the meek….

For they shall inherit more favorable comparisons to animals.

South Carolina’s Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer (born Rudolph Andreus Bauer) has drawn criticism for veering a little too far off script when recounting the Legend of the Welfare Queen:

Bauer said during the meeting that when he was a child his grandmother told him to “quit feeding stray animals.”  “You know why? Because they breed,” he told the crowd. “You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that.”

The last part is a bit strange considering this comes just six months after his boss, who presumably has an ample food supply, ran off to have an affair in Argentina without bothering to tell anyone.  On Father’s Day.

Bauer insists that he had simply been misunderstood, telling reporters, “I never intended to tie people to animals,” then attempted to clarify his position by explaining that, “If you have a cat, if you take it in your house and feed it and love it, what happens when you go out of town?” In other words, the poor are still animals, but they are at least lovable ones sometimes.  After checking the website for his current campaign, I think it’s very possible that he’s simply confused.  From a statement he released:

At a forum this week, I spoke out in favor of finding ways to break the government’s cycle of handouts and dependency.

Yes, I believe government is “breeding a culture of dependency” which has grown out of control, and frankly, amounts to little more than socialism, paid for by hard-working, tax-paying families… against their wishes.

At the same time, I feel strongly that we can and should help our neighbors who are truly needy. In fact, I’ve spent much of my last seven years helping those in need… traveling the state to help provide blankets, shoes, food and health care to those who need it most.

Followed by quoting Warren Buffet, someone who has said of the (temporarily successful) effort to eliminate the estate tax,  “You could take that $30 billion and give $1,000 to 30 million poor families.”  And how do you travel around a state providing health care to people?  Anyways,  since he brought up this  “cycle of handouts and dependency”  being fostered by certain parts of the government, I’ll be doing a series of posts on some the worst offenders, starting with one that’s just making it back into the news again.

KBR, formerly Halliburton, was the twelfth largest government contractor last year, raking in just under $4.5 billion despite a track record that I have no words to describe, so I’ll list a brief sampling of their wrongdoings:

  • One of the many things they’re currently battling lawsuits over is actually so vile that a name had to be created for them: “burn pits” that were used to dispose, “everything from petroleum products to dioxin-releasing plastic water bottles to amputated limbs.” The fumes have disabled and even killed many Americans and Iraqis alike.
  • They have been forced to pay over $100 million in 20 separate cases of fraud, bribery, and so on.
  • Things they actually do build have a recurrent tendency to electrocute people.

And maybe you’ve heard something about a case involving KBR and rape? Which one was it?

Jezebel:

Mary Beth Kineston, above left, who worked as a driver in Iraq for KBR, was sexually assaulted in 2004 by a male driver, and after she reported it to superiors…nothing happened. Then she was assaulted again, this time by a different KBR employee, and, after reporting it to superiors, she was fired.

The Nation:

Dawn Leamon, who worked for a subsidiary of KBR and had told her story to The Nation a week before, described–with her back to the packed room and her voice (mostly) steady–being sodomized and forced to have oral sex with a KBR colleague and a Special Forces soldier two months earlier. When she reported the incident to KBR supervisors, she met a series of obstacles, she said. “They would tell me to stay quiet about it or try to make it seem as if I brought it on myself or lied about it.”

The case most widely reported is Jamie Leigh Jones, who was the first to go public with her allegations.  In 2005, Jones was drugged and gang raped by other employees so brutally that one of her breast implants was ruptured.  She was then locked in a storage container.   Her contract had a clause requiring mandatory binding arbitration, so she had to fight to get her case heard in a US court until she finally won last September.  You can watch a video of her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee here.

Recently, former comedian turned responsible Senator Al Franken passed his first piece of legislation, banning contractors from using binding arbitration in cases of sexual assault.  30 Senators (all Republicans) were so determined to indulge in this culture of dependency that they voted against it.   Still, KBR cannot fend for itself without corporate welfare as Mother Jones reports:

On Jan. 19, KBR petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision allowing Jones to press her case in a civil court rather than in arbitration. Among its many arguments in favor of a high court hearing: that Jones is a relentless self-promoter who has “sensationalize[d] her allegations against the KBR Defendants in the media, before the courts, and before Congress.” In its petition, KBR is clearly miffed about the Franken Amendment, which it credits Jones with getting passed. KBR also suggests that much of Jones’ story is fabricated. The company says in a footnote, “Many, if not all, of her allegations against the KBR Defenandants are demonstrably false. The KBR Defendants intend to vigorously contest Jones’s allegations and show that her claims against the KBR Defendants are factually and legally untenable.”

The amendment only applied to sexual assault, so apparently they’re incapable of preforming these tasks without the constant brutal rape, or maybe there are a more women they’ve silenced that are prepared to come forward…

UPDATE:

In light of the administration’s proposal for a three year spending freeze on everything but the Defense budget I’ll be including SEC proxy statements.

KBR 2008:

kbrcompensation

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Posted by dm - January 25, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Categories: Politicians and Pundits, Privatization   Tags:

Haiti's other catastrophe

It’s not often that Haiti comes up in the news, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to draw attention to the “aid” it has already been receiving up until this point.  Following the 2004 coup in Haiti, the UN established a mission in Haiti called MINUSTAH.  The US component of MINUSTAH is the Department of State’s CIVPOL program, which sends contractors over to train up a national police force.  If this sounds kind of similar to what’s being done in Afghanistan, it’s probably because one of the same companies, DynCorp, was given the contract to do it.  Unfortunately, the results have been very similar as well:

– Tuesday, 26 October, Fort National, Port-au-Prince. Individuals reported to be members of the police burst into a house and kill at least seven people;

– Wednesday, 27 October, Carrefour Péan, Port-au-Prince. Four young men are killed in the street in broad daylight by individuals wearing black uniforms and balaclavas. Witnesses identify their vehicles as police patrol cars.

– Martissant, October. A 13-year-old street child is arrested near the National Theatre by the naval police. At the police station, he is questioned about the hiding places being used by the “chimères” (armed groups said to be supporters of former President Aristide) are hiding and brutally beaten by police while handcuffed and blindfolded.

– Martissant, 20 October. A man is arrested in front of witnesses by individuals wearing black uniforms and balaclavas. They put a plastic bag over his head before brutally beating him. He is being detained at a police station in the capital.

These abuses continued all the way through 2008, when they were awarded with a contract to expand their mission.  They proceeded to do so right over some nearby homes:

According to Cite Soleil mayor Charles Joseph and a DynCorp foreman at the site, funding for the base expansion is provided by the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a very unorthodox use of development aid.

Lawyer Evel Fanfan, the president of the Association of University Graduates Motivatd For A Haiti With Rights (AUMOHD), says that about 155 buildings would be razed if the base expansion goes forward.

“They started working without saying a word to the people living there,” Fanfan said. “The authorities have not told them what is being done, if they will be relocated, how much they will be compensated or even if they will be compensated.”

Most of the buildings targetted are homes, but one is a church.

“They have begun to build a wall around the area to be razed,” explained Eddy Michel, 37, an assistant to Pastor Isaac Lebon who heads the Christian Church of the Apostle’s Foundation, which serves some 300 parishioners. “They have already built a 10-foot high L-shaped wall, which cuts us off from the road. Once they complete the rest of the wall, the remaining ‘L’, we will be completely enclosed and we fear the destruction will begin.”

I’m still waiting to see what happens with the new aid being sent after the earthquake, but President Obama has named a new USAID administrator who appears to be handling things well.

Update:

No contractors for the relief effort at least:

The deployed soldiers were coming from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and more forces from the 3,500-strong 2nd brigade would be heading out on Friday.

“Things are in motion,” Tallman added. “We’re getting folks there as fast as we can to provide humanitarian assistance.”

It was still unclear if the entire brigade would be deployed, he said.

The military had ordered the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier to Haiti along with a hospital ship, destroyers, several Coast Guard cutters and transport planes as part of a major operation to bolster relief efforts after Tuesday’s massive quake.

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Posted by dm - January 14, 2010 at 4:14 am

Categories: Privatization   Tags:

The Mysterious Death of the Nisour Square Trial

Thursday, a federal judge dismissed all charges against five Blackwater employees who slaughtered between fourteen (technically seventeen) civilians in a crowded Baghdad intersection in broad daylight.   How exactly that happened is a long story, that I should probably begin with the shooting itself, referred to as the Nisour Square massacre.  Here is just one of the many accounts of the shooting from the traffic guard who was present:

ALI KHALAF SALMAN: [translated] But when he turned his face towards traffic, he heard this woman crying, “My son! My son!” And then he ran into that direction, and he saw her son, who was a medical student. He was all covered in blood. He said he went—when he heard the woman crying, he went towards that direction, and he tried to help the medical student who was covered in blood, help him out of the car. But the mother inside was holding tight to her son. And he raised his hand to stop—

SUSAN BURKE: Stop the shooting.

ALI KHALAF SALMAN: [translated] Stop the shooting. He was telling them, “Don’t shoot, please.” He said, while he raised his hand and asking them not to shoot, this time the man in the fourth car shot the mother dead. A machine gun. He said, the car was number four in line. And then, when the person in car number four, a security man, started shooting, he shot the mother dead. And the cars in front of this car, the civilian cars, actually, they spread around to the sides. I think they were scared.

And he said the doctor’s car was an automatic car. Because he died behind the wheel, the car started moving by itself, because it was an automatic car, towards the square. And at this moment, they started shooting the car with big machine guns, and the car exploded.

There’s more, but I think you get the idea.  The Army, the FBI, and Iraqi investigators all concluded that at least fourteen were completely unprovoked.  The other three didn’t actually pose a threat and nobody but the Blackwater employees was armed,  but they’re allowed a great deal of leeway on opening fire on things.  Additionally, a former Blackwater employee gave some disturbing sworn testimony about possible motives for the shootings.  The prosecution stated:

In addition to verbal expressions of hatred towards Iraqi civilians, the defendants engaged in unprovoked and aggressive behavior toward unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. In so doing, the defendants routinely acted in disregard of the use of force policies that they were required to follow as a condition of their employment as Blackwater guards.

[…]

This evidence tends to establish that the defendants fired at innocent Iraqis not because they actually believed that they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and actually believed that they had no alternative to the use of deadly force, but rather that they fired at innocent Iraqi civilians because of their hostility toward Iraqis and their grave indifference to the harm that their actions would cause.

So how did the charges get dismissed?   They had immunity before the trial even began.  They were “compelled” to make sworn statements that included the language: “I further understand that neither my statements nor any information or evidence gained by reason of my statements can be used against me in a criminal proceeding,”  effectively turning the Fifth Amendment on its head.   To further ensure that there would be no convictions, higher-ups in the State Department  went to extraordinary lengths to taint the evidence with these statements.   This is how military law expert Scott Horton described it:

What the State Department has done in this case is inconsistent with proper law enforcement standards. It is likely to undermine an ultimate prosecution, if not make it impossible. In this sense, the objective of the State Department in doing this is exposed to question. It seems less to be to collect the facts than to immunize Blackwater and its employees. By purporting to grant immunity, the State Department draws itself more deeply into the wrongdoing and adopts a posture vis-a-vis Blackwater that appears downright conspiratorial.

The State Department Inspector General at the time was a guy named Howard Krongard who’s brother “Buzzy” Krongard was the former number three at the CIA and, at the time of this investigation, was on the advisory board of Blackwater.  Howard Krongard ended up having to testify before a House oversight committee regarding his role in sabotaging investigations against a number of contractors, including Blackwater:

According to a letter, a federal prosecutor asked Krongard’s investigators to assist in the probe of the security contractor, but Krongard sent an e-mail to a senior staff member directing the assistance to “stop IMMEDIATELY” and to wait until he spoke to the prosecutor.

After weeks of delay, [Committee Chair Henry] Waxman said, Krongard asked someone on his media relations staff _ not an investigator _ to assist the federal prosecutors. “This unorthodox arrangement has reportedly impeded the investigation,” Waxman said.

POGO noted an entire network of shady individuals connected to Blackwater and “Buzzy” Krongard including Joseph E. Schmittz, a former DoD Inspector General who was forced to resign in disgrace following similar wrongdoings.  Conspiratorial indeed.

This isn’t something that you would think could be turned into a partisan issue, and indeed, John McCain made a plea to the DoJ to appeal the ruling on his recent visit to Iraq.  Freep had a much different reaction, with one poster going so far as to suggest that Blackwater be put, “in charge of airport and airline security instead of Joe Isuzu Obama and Janet ‘Barney Fife’ Napolitano?”

Nisour Square
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Posted by dm - January 6, 2010 at 11:51 am

Categories: Site News   Tags:

There is no adult supervision at the Pentagon

I couldn’t have asked for better timing to start blogging about military contractors.  Sen. Claire McCaskill’s subcommittee on contractor oversight  held a new set of hearings that have provided the best statistics about currently deployed contractors yet.  Jeremy Scahill has written an excellent summary of their findings:

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.

It’s no longer so much a matter of contractors providing support to the military as it is the other way around.  It naturally follows that when you want to ask about how contractors should be used, you should consult gigantic mercenary corporations which is precisely what happened the following day at hearings held by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, including Blackwater/Xe, which has conclusively proven that it can do absolutely anything it wants.  Their VP’s testimony was absolutely surreal:

Of course, corruption or abuse by Afghans participating in the training and mentorship program is unacceptable.  Even the simple appearance of impropriety at any level can irreparably undermine the integrity of the training and mentoring efforts as well as the trainees’ trust, which is critical for a successful program.  Xe immediately dismisses from training any participant found to be engaging in improper conduct.

This is, of course, the program to train paramilitaries upon which the effort to win hearts and minds rests.  That effort appears to have metastasized into Pakistan, where it is not going over particularly well:

ISLAMABAD: The lawyers’ fraternity held nationwide protests against the notorious presence and activities of Blackwater in the country on Saturday.

Wildly protesting lawyers managed to reach at the Gate No-4 of the Sihala Police College, and tried to force their way in. Raising slogans, they demanded immediate ouster of the notorious organization from the premises.

On the occasion, they announced that if the notorious organization is failed to vacate the premises by 05th Jan, they would stage a strong protest in front of the Parliament House. The lawyers’ said that the Blackwater was a notorious organization, which has been quite active in Iraq and lambasted the fact that they were enjoying ‘diplomatic immunity’ simply by using fake vehicle registration plates of the USA embassy.

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Posted by dm - December 21, 2009 at 10:16 pm

Categories: Privatization   Tags:

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