At a recent press conference in Islamabad, a Pakistani reporter raised this issue to a noticeably frazzled Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. “What is actually terrorism in U.S. eyes?” the reporter asked. “Is it the killing of innocent people in, let’s say, drone attacks? Or is it the killing of innocent people in different parts of Pakistan, like the bomb blast in Peshawar two days ago? Which one is terrorism, do you think?”
An international law expert from Georgetown University has recently made the same point as the journalist:
In our current armed conflicts, there are two U.S. drone offensives. One is conducted by our armed forces, the other by the CIA. Every day, CIA agents and CIA contractors arm and pilot armed unmanned drones over combat zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including Pakistani tribal areas, to search out and kill Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. In terms of international armed conflict, those CIA agents are, unlike their military counterparts but like the fighters they target, unlawful combatants. No less than their insurgent targets, they are fighters without uniforms or insignia, directly participating in hostilities, employing armed force contrary to the laws and customs of war. Even if they are sitting in Langley, the CIA pilots are civilians violating the requirement of distinction, a core concept of armed conflict, as they directly participate in hostilities.
He also makes a point at the end that’s extremely important:
And while the prosecution of CIA personnel is certainly not suggested, one wonders whether CIA civilians who are associated with armed drones appreciate their position in the law of armed conflict. Their superiors surely do.
The big reason for the expanded use of drones and the continued use of mercenaries is the political cover they provide. Doing it through the CIA is a great way to escape congressional oversight (if congress actually intended to exercise it very seriously–as Scott Horton put it in the interview, it’s been “a complete joke”). It would have been nice for them to at least rubber stamp the war in Pakistan rather than just adding a few lines into the annual DoD appropriations bill.
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It will almost certainly be referred off to the darkest corner of some committee just like the 2007 version, but I can hope and watch the shameless lobbying in the meantime.
From the press release:
Two congressional lawmakers have announced legislation that would effectively remove military contractors from war zones.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced the “Stop Outsourcing Security Act” on Tuesday. If passed, the act would force the United States to phase out its controversial use of private security contractors in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The legislation would restore the responsibility of the American military to train troops and police, guard convoys, repair weapons, administer military prisons, and perform military intelligence,” the lawmakers’ offices said.
“The bill also would require that all diplomatic security be undertaken by US government personnel,” they added.
Yes, all of those things are currently done by private contractors. The ban on private guards for diplomats is crucial as well because that’s where a lot of the money has been for armed contractors and Blackwater’s first important gig was actually keeping Paul Bremer alive in Iraq.
According to a report published last month, “As of September 2009, there were almost 22,000 armed private security contractors in
Iraq and Afghanistan.” and that “Many analysts and government officials believe that DOD would be unable to execute its mission without PSCs.” While I wouldn’t be surprised that they believe that, it was not only possible but the way it was done up until the mid 90’s and the last 15 years or so have been far from the most impressive in US military history. It’s more likely that the mission needs to be adjusted.
More from the congressional research service report:
In Iraq there are reportedly more than 50 PSCs employing more than 30,000 armed employees working for a variety of government and private sector clients. In Afghanistan, there are currently 52 PSCs licensed to operate in Afghanistan with some 25,000 registered security contractors. PSCs operating in Afghanistan are limited to 500 employees and can only exceed 500 with permission from the Cabinet. Because of the legal restrictions placed on security companies in Afghanistan, a number of PSCs are operating without a license or are exceeding the legal limit, including security contractors working for NATO and the U.S. Government. Many analysts believe that regulations governing PSCs are only enforced in Kabul; outside Kabul there is no government reach at present and local governors, chiefs of police, and politicians run their own illegal PSCs. Estimates of the total number of security contractors in Afghanistan, including those that are not licensed, are as high as 70,000. The majority of these PSCs do not work for the U.S. government.
Pretty scary stuff. I’m anxiously awaiting the reactions from the industry, so I’ll update this post when they get released.
While this kind of plunder is routine in California, the birthplace of corporate personhood, things are getting pretty absurd recently with a full scale attack on our lives being waged on multiple fronts.
PG&E is attempting to put an initiative on the ballot to amend the constitution to protect their monopoly:
SAN FRANCISCO — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is funding a June ballot initiative that would amend California’s constitution to make it much harder for cities and counties to offer residents another choice for buying their power.
The investor-owned utility, which has about 15 million customers in northern and central California, has already spent $6.5 million on Proposition 16, according to state campaign records. The company is the sole source of the initiative’s funding.
The initiative would require a two-thirds, or super-majority, vote before local governments could create a new form of public power called “community choice aggregation,” or CCA. These public power entities, made possible by state legislation passed in 2002 after the state’s energy crisis, allow cities or counties to buy energy on the wholesale market to sell to residents.
The “state’s energy crisis” being a reference to Enron. Their argument is the standard against more direct forms of democracy with a revealing little twist:
PG&E says a constitutional amendment is needed to protect taxpayers and ratepayers from possible losses incurred by inexperienced local governments entering the risky power wholesaling business.
The reference to increased costs for ratepayers seems to be a tacit admission that they’ll raise rates on the captive consumer base that stays with them–skipping the initiative and passing on $6.5 million in savings would be unthinkable–to make up for the ones they lose. Nevertheless, it’s related to us as being the potential result of reckless city councils interfering with a benevolent private monopoly with remarkable ease.
Blue Cross raising its rates by approximately 34% was so bad that it made national news and seems to have temporarily backfired on them:
The parent company of Anthem Blue Cross has canceled a meeting next week with investors to review its 2010 financial outlook so that executives can prepare for a congressional hearing into its large rate hikes for individual policyholders in California.
A subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has called WellPoint Inc. Chief Executive Angela F. Braly to testify Feb. 24 about premium increases of as much as 39% for many of Anthem’s 800,000 individual policyholders in California.
The canceled meeting understandably pissed off their investors a bit, causing their shares to drop by 2.3% today, though they’re still up from a few months ago due to the assurance they have from Congress that no real reform will take place:
In response, they’ve apparently decided to seek more vulnerable prey whose pleas for help are less likely to be heard:
Patients who are covered by Anthem Blue Cross may have trouble finding a physical or occupational therapist who will accept their insurance. A growing number of therapists are rejecting new contracts with Anthem that pay them half of their normal rate. Anthem has offered the new lower-rate contracts to physical, occupational, and speech therapists. The insurer says it’s cutting the reimbursement rate to help control rising health care costs.
Anthem has offered the new lower-rate contracts to physical, occupational, and speech therapists. The insurer says it’s cutting the reimbursement rate to help control rising health care costs.
Senator Feinstein has decided to try and put a brutal end to the ongoing battle to preserve profits for both Central Valley farmers and California’s little known water robber-barons. For a detailed explanation, check out this article by Yasha Levine at exiled, but it basically works like this: Stewart Resnick, the politically connected owner of the massive Roll International Corporation, essentially “Enron-ized” a huge share of California’s water:
The story of how the state’s largest water bank — jump-started with $74 million in taxpayer money — ended up as an integral piece of the private empire of Stewart Resnick begins with a lawsuit, or at least the threat of it.
A seven-year drought ending in the early 1990s pitted Southern California water contractors, such as the Metropolitan Water District, against agricultural contractors, such as the Kern County Water Agency. Each region made its case to the state, telling why it deserved to receive the water guaranteed by long-standing contracts. In the drought’s worst years, urban users got 30% of the draw, while Kern farmers received less than 5%.
In 1994, agricultural and urban interests threatened to sue the state for nondelivery. The main parties gathered in a closed-door meeting in Monterey to hash out a settlement. Public interest groups, environmentalists and smaller water contractors — locked out of the meeting — cried foul.
When it was over, the very flow of California water had been redirected.
With the new direction being straight into Resnick’s private control. This was working out (for him) quite nicely until this year. The recession and lower than average rainfall have motivated California agribusiness to fight to retain their share of corporate welfare. Enter Senator Feinstein to play the role of King Solomon in her own very special way:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein ignited a firestorm among fellow California Democrats on Thursday as word spread of her proposal to divert Northern California water to Central Valley farmers.
Feinstein wants to attach the proposal as an amendment to a fast-tracked Senate jobs bill. She is pitching the plan as a jobs measure to address the economic calamity in the Central Valley. It would increase farm water allocations from 10 percent last year to 40 percent this year and next, an amount that farmers say is the bare minimum they need.
Where “farmers” is meant to be understood as agribusiness.
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The Iraqis have been working on this for years (and lied to about it) but it looks like they’ve finally pulled it off. Iraq’s interior minister expelled 250 of their employees from the country yesterday:
Making the announcement on Thursday, Jawad Bolani, the interior minister, said: “We have sent an order to 250 former Blackwater employees, who today are working with other security companies in Iraq, to leave the country in seven days and we have confiscated their residence permits.
“All of those concerned were notified four days ago and so they have three days to leave. This decision was made in connection with the crime that took place at Nisur Square.”
Separately, more charges of prostitution and fraud are being reported by the Washington Post :
In court records unsealed this week, a husband and wife who worked for Blackwater said they have firsthand knowledge of the company falsifying invoices, double-billing federal agencies and improperly charging the government for personal expenses…
In their suit, the Davises assert that Blackwater officials kept a Filipino prostitute on the company payroll for a State Department contract in Afghanistan, and billed the government for her time working for male Blackwater employees in Kabul. The prostitute’s salary was categorized as part of the company’s “Morale Welfare Recreation” expenses, they alleged.
If you’ll recall, not that long ago a big fuss was being made over alleged prostitution and fraud and canceling contracts with another organization:
Multiple bills were produced with many co-sponsors, with one eventually being passed and quickly ruled unconstitutional by a federal court. Legislation to simply restrict companies running wild with mercenaries has not been given nearly as much attention. In 2007, Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky introduced a bill to do just that, titled the Stop Outsourcing Security Act . It was promptly sent to die in committee.
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.