Archive for the ‘Blackwater’ Category

Bush’s Global ‘Dirty War’ by Robert Parry

October 4, 2007

Bush’s Global ‘Dirty War’ by Robert Parry

Dandelion Salad

by Robert Parry
Global Research, October 3, 2007
consortiumnews.com – 2007-10-01

Though this reality has been the subject of whispers within the U.S. intelligence community for several years, it has now emerged into public view with two attempted prosecutions of American soldiers whose defense attorneys cited “rules of engagement” that permit the killing of suspected insurgents.

One case involved Army sniper Jorge G. Sandoval Jr. who was acquitted by a U.S. military court in Baghdad on Sept. 28 in the murders of two unarmed Iraqi men – one on April 27 and the other on May 11 – because the jury accepted defense arguments that the killings were within the approved rules.

The Sandoval case also revealed a classified program in which the Pentagon’s Asymmetric Warfare Group encouraged U.S. military snipers in Iraq to drop “bait” – such as electrical cords and ammunition – and then shoot Iraqis who pick up the items, according to evidence in the Sandoval case. [Washington Post, Sept. 24, 2007]

(Sandoval was convicted of a lesser charge of planting a coil of copper wire on one of the slain Iraqis. He was sentenced to five months in prison and a reduction in rank but will be eligible to rejoin his unit in as few as 44 days.)

The other recent case of authorized murder of an insurgent suspect surfaced at a military court hearing at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in mid-September. Two U.S. Special Forces soldiers took part in the execution of an Afghani who was suspected of leading an insurgent group.

Though the Afghani, identified as Nawab Buntangyar, responded to questions and offered no resistance when encountered on Oct. 13, 2006, he was shot dead by Master Sgt. Troy Anderson on orders from his superior officer, Capt. Dave Staffel.

According to evidence at the Fort Bragg proceedings, an earlier Army investigation had cleared the two soldiers because they had been operating under “rules of engagement” that empowered them to kill individuals who have been designated “enemy combatants,” even if the targets were unarmed and presented no visible threat.

Yet, whatever the higher-ups approve as “rules of engagement,” the practice of murdering unarmed suspects remains a violation of the laws of war and – theoretically at least – would open up the offending country’s chain of command to war-crimes charges.

Troubling Picture

The troubling picture is that the U.S. chain of command, presumably up to President Bush, has authorized loose “rules of engagement” that allow targeted killings – as well as other objectionable tactics including arbitrary arrests, “enhanced interrogations,” kidnappings in third countries with “extraordinary renditions” to countries that torture, secret CIA prisons, detentions without trial, and “reeducation camps” for younger detainees.

The U.S. counterinsurgency and security operations in Iraq and Afghanistan also have been augmented by heavily armed mercenaries, such as the Blackwater “security contractors” who operate outside the law and were accused by Iraqi authorities of killing at least 11 Iraqi civilians in a shooting incident on Sept. 16.

The use of lethal force against unarmed suspects and civilians has a notorious history in irregular warfare especially when an occupying army finds itself confronting an indigenous resistance in which guerrillas and their political supporters blend in with the local population.

In effect, Bush’s “global war on terror” appears to have reestablished what was known during the Vietnam War as Operation Phoenix, a program that assassinated Vietcong cadre, including suspected communist political allies.

Through a classified Pentagon training program known as “Project X,” the lessons of Operation Phoenix from the 1960s were passed on to Third World armies, especially in Latin America allegedly giving a green light to some of the “dirty wars” that swept the region in the following decades. [For details, see Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.]

Bush’s global strategy also has similarities to “Operation Condor” in which South American right-wing military regimes in the 1970s sent assassins on cross-border operations to eliminate “subversives.”

Despite behind-the-scenes support for some of these Latin American “death squads,” the U.S. government presented itself as the great defender of human rights and criticized repressive countries that engaged in extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detentions.

That gap between American rhetoric and reality widened after 9/11 as Bush waged his “war on terror,” while continuing to impress the American news media with pretty words about his commitment to human rights – as occurred in his address to the United Nations on Sept. 25.

Under Bush’s remarkable double standards, he has taken the position that he can override both international law and the U.S. Constitution in deciding who gets basic human rights and who doesn’t. He sees himself as the final judge of whether people he deems “bad guys” should live or die, or face indefinite imprisonment and even torture.

Effective Immunity

While such actions by other leaders might provoke demands for an international war-crimes tribunal, there would appear to be no likelihood of that in this case since the offending nation is the United States. Given its “superpower” status, the United States and its senior leadership are effectively beyond the reach of international law.

However, even if the Bush administration can expect a real-politik immunity from a war-crimes trial, the brutal tactics of the “global war on terror” – as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan – continue to alienate the Muslim world and undermine much of Bush’s geopolitical strategy.

The ugly image of Americans killing unarmed Iraqis also helps explain the growing hostility of Iraqis toward the presence of U.S. troops.

While the Bush administration has touted the supposed improved security created by the “surge” of additional U.S. troops into Iraq, a major poll found Iraqis increasingly object to the American occupation.

A survey of more than 2,000 Iraqis by the BBC, ABC News and the Japanese news agency, NHK, discovered mounting opposition to the U.S. occupation and increasing blame put on American forces for Iraq’s security problems.

Eighty-five percent of those polled said they had little or no confidence in American and British occupation forces, up from 82 percent in February, when the “surge” began. Only 18 percent said they thought the coalition forces had done a good job, down from 24 percent in February. Forty-seven percent said occupying forces should leave now, up from 35 percent.

The number of Iraqis who feel the U.S. invasion was wrong also jumped 10 percentage points to 63 percent in August compared to 53 percent in February. The new survey found 57 percent of Iraqis supporting attacks on U.S. troops, up from 51 percent in February and 17 percent in 2004.

As for the surge itself, 70 percent said it had made the security situation worse with only 18 percent citing any improvement.

Regarding social and economic conditions, the poll also revealed a dismal outlook:

Only 8 percent of Iraqis now rate their supply of electricity as good, down from 46 percent in 2005. Only 25 percent were satisfied with the availability of clean water compared to 58 percent two years ago, helping to explain the outbreak of cholera from northern Iraq to Baghdad.

Only 32 percent of Iraqis called medical care adequate compared to 62 percent in 2005. Satisfaction with schools fell to 51 percent from 74 percent in 2005. Satisfaction with family economic situations also was down to 37 percent from 70 percent two years ago.

Blackwater Mercenaries

Little wonder that the unpopular Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has sought to make an issue over the trigger-happy tendencies of Blackwater mercenaries who provide security for U.S. embassy personnel and other American VIPs.

On Sept. 16, Blackwater gunmen accompanying a U.S. diplomatic convoy apparently sensed an ambush and opened fire, spraying a Baghdad square with bullets. Eyewitness accounts indicated that the Blackwater team apparently overreacted to a car, containing a son and his mother, moving into the square and killed about 17 people, including those in the car.

(Earlier accounts erroneously reported that a child also died in the car and put the total death toll lower, at between 8 and 11. Though at least one child did die in the incident, there was no child in the car, according to a detailed investigation by the New York Times published on Oct. 3.)

“Blackwater has no respect for the Iraqi people,” an Iraqi Interior Ministry official told the Washington Post. “They consider Iraqis like animals, although actually I think they may have more respect for animals.” [Washington Post, Sept. 20, 2007]

Iraqis have objected to other disregard of innocent life by American troops, such as the killing of two dozen Iraqis in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005, after one Marine died from an improvised explosive device.

According to published accounts of U.S. military investigations, the dead Marine’s comrades retaliated by pulling five men from a cab and shooting them, and entering two homes where civilians, including women and children, were slaughtered.

The Marines then tried to cover up the killings by claiming that the civilian deaths were caused by the original explosion or a subsequent firefight, according to investigations by the U.S. military and human rights groups.

One of the accused Marines, Sgt. Frank Wuterich, gave his account of the Haditha killings in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” including an admission that his squad tossed a grenade into one of the residences without knowing who was inside.

“Frank, help me understand,” asked interviewer Scott Pelley. “You’re in a residence, how do you crack a door open and roll a grenade into a room?”

“At that point, you can’t hesitate to make a decision,” Wuterich answered. “Hesitation equals being killed, either yourself or your men.”

“But when you roll a grenade in a room through the crack in the door, that’s not positive identification, that’s taking a chance on anything that could be behind that door,” Pelley said.

“Well, that’s what we do. That’s how our training goes,” Wuterich said.

Who’s at Fault?

Four Marines were singled out for courts martial over the Haditha killings though some legal analysts believe the case could be jeopardized by the loose “rules of engagement” that let U.S. troops kill Iraqis when a threat is detected.

Nevertheless, as in earlier killings of Iraqi civilians – or the sexual and other abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison – punishments are likely to stop at the level of rank-and-file soldiers with higher-ups avoiding accountability.

In large part, the lack of high-level accountability stems from the fact that the key instigator of both the illegal invasion of Iraq and the harsh tactics employed in the “war on terror” is President Bush.

Not only did he order an aggressive war – a concept condemned by World War II’s Nuremberg Tribunal as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” – but Bush pumped U.S. troops full of false propaganda by linking Iraq with the 9/11 attacks.

Bush’s subliminal connections between the Iraq War and 9/11 continued years after U.S. intelligence dismissed any linkage. For instance, on June 18, 2005, more than two years into the Iraq War, Bush told the American people that “we went to war because we were attacked” on 9/11.

Bush’s rhetorical excesses, though primarily designed to build and maintain a political consensus behind the war at home, had the predictable effect of turning loose a revenge-seeking and heavily armed U.S. military force on the Iraqi population.

Little wonder that a poll of 944 U.S. military personnel in Iraq – taken in January and February 2006 – found that 85 percent believed the U.S. mission in Iraq was mainly “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9/11 attacks.” Seventy-seven percent said a chief war goal was “to stop Saddam from protecting al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

In that context, many Americans sympathize with the individual U.S. soldiers who have to make split-second life-or-death decisions while thinking they are operating under legitimate rules of engagement that allow killing perceived enemies even if they are unarmed and showing no aggressive intent.

Salvador Option’

By early 2005, as the Iraqi insurgency grew, an increasingly frustrated Bush administration reportedly debated a “Salvador option” for Iraq, an apparent reference to the “death squad” operations that decimated the ranks of perceived leftists who were opposed to El Salvador’s right-wing military junta in the early 1980s.

According to Newsweek magazine, President Bush was contemplating the adoption of that brutal “still-secret strategy” of the Reagan administration as a way to get a handle on the spiraling violence in Iraq.

“Many U.S. conservatives consider the policy [in El Salvador] to have been a success – despite the deaths of innocent civilians,” Newsweek wrote.

The magazine also noted that many of Bush’s advisers were leading figures in the Central American operations of the 1980s, including Elliott Abrams, who is now an architect of Middle East policy on the National Security Council.

In Guatemala, about 200,000 people perished, including what a truth commission later termed a genocide against Mayan Indians in the Guatemalan highlands. In El Salvador, about 70,000 died including massacres of whole villages, such as the slaughter committed by a U.S.-trained battalion against hundreds of men, women and children near the town of El Mozote in 1981.

The Reagan administration’s “Salvador option” also had a domestic component, the so-called “perception management” operation that employed sophisticated propaganda to manipulate the fears of the American people while hiding the ugly reality of the wars.

[For details about how these strategies worked and the role of George H.W. Bush, see Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege. For more on the Salvador option, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s Death Squads,” Jan. 11, 2005.]

In the Iraqi-sniper case, Army sniper Sandoval admitted killing an Iraqi man near the town of Iskandariya on April 27 after a skirmish with insurgents. Sandoval testified that his team leader, Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley, ordered him to kill a man cutting grass with a rusty scythe because he was suspected of being an insurgent posing as a farmer.

The second killing occurred on May 11 when a man walked into a concealed location where Sandoval, Hensley and other snipers were hiding. After the Iraqi was detained, another sniper, Sgt. Evan Vela, was ordered to shoot the man in the head by Hensley and did so, according to Vela’s testimony at Sandoval’s court martial.

Sandoval was acquitted of murder charges because a military jury concluded that his actions were within the rules of engagement. Hensley is to go on trial in a few weeks.

Regarding the Afghanistan case, Special Forces Capt. Staffel and Sgt. Anderson were leading a team of Afghan soldiers when an informant told them where a suspected insurgent leader was hiding. The U.S.-led contingent found a man believed to be Nawab Buntangyar walking outside his compound near the village of Hasan Kheyl.

While the Americans kept their distance out of fear the suspect might be wearing a suicide vest, the man was questioned about his name and the Americans checked his description against a list from the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Afghanistan, known as “the kill-or-capture list.”

Concluding that the man was insurgent leader Nawab Buntangyar, Staffel gave the order to shoot, and Anderson – from a distance of about 100 yards away – fired a bullet through the man’s head, killing him instantly.

‘Classified Mission

The soldiers viewed the killing as “a textbook example of a classified mission completed in accordance with the American rules of engagement,” the International Herald Tribune reported. “The men said such rules allowed them to kill Buntangyar, whom the American military had designated a terrorist cell leader, once they positively identified him.”

Staffel’s civilian lawyer Mark Waple said the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command concluded in April that the shooting was “justifiable homicide,” but a two-star general in Afghanistan instigated a murder charge against the two men. That case, however, has floundered over accusations that the charge was improperly filed. [IHT, Sept. 17, 2007]

The U.S. news media has given the Fort Bragg case only minor coverage concentrating mostly on legal sparring. The New York Times’ inside-the-paper, below-the-fold headline on Sept. 19 was “Green Beret Hearing Focuses on How Charges Came About.”

The Washington Post did publish a front-page story on the “bait” aspect of the Sandoval case – when family members of U.S. soldiers implicated in the killings came forward with evidence of high-level encouragement of the snipers – but the U.S. news media has treated the story mostly as a minor event and has drawn no larger implications.

The greater significance of the cases is that they confirm the long-whispered allegations that the U.S. chain of command has approved standing orders that give the U.S. military broad discretion to kill suspected militants on sight.

The “global war on terror” appears to have morphed into a global “dirty war” with George W. Bush in ultimate command.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.

Robert Parry is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Robert Parry

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Op-Ed Columnist

September 28, 2007

September 28, 2007

Op-Ed Columnist

Hired Gun Fetish

Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush administration is to imagine that it’s a vast experiment concocted by mad political scientists who want to see what happens if a nation systematically ignores everything we’ve learned over the past few centuries about how to make a modern government work.

Thus, the administration has abandoned the principle of a professional, nonpolitical civil service, stuffing agencies from FEMA to the Justice Department with unqualified cronies. Tax farming — giving individuals the right to collect taxes, in return for a share of the take — went out with the French Revolution; now the tax farmers are back.

And so are mercenaries, whom Machiavelli described as “useless and dangerous” more than four centuries ago.

As far as I can tell, America has never fought a war in which mercenaries made up a large part of the armed force. But in Iraq, they are so central to the effort that, as Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution points out in a new report, “the private military industry has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of allied nations combined.”

And, yes, the so-called private security contractors are mercenaries. They’re heavily armed. They carry out military missions, but they’re private employees who don’t answer to military discipline. On the other hand, they don’t seem to be accountable to Iraqi or U.S. law, either. And they behave accordingly.

We may never know what really happened in a crowded Baghdad square two weeks ago. Employees of Blackwater USA claim that they were attacked by gunmen. Iraqi police and witnesses say that the contractors began firing randomly at a car that didn’t get out of their way.

What we do know is that more than 20 civilians were killed, including the couple and child in the car. And the Iraqi version of events is entirely consistent with many other documented incidents involving security contractors.

For example, Mr. Singer reminds us that in 2005 “armed contractors from the Zapata firm were detained by U.S. forces, who claimed they saw the private soldiers indiscriminately firing not only at Iraqi civilians, but also U.S. Marines.” The contractors were not charged. In 2006, employees of Aegis, another security firm, posted a “trophy video” on the Internet that showed them shooting civilians, and employees of Triple Canopy, yet another contractor, were fired after alleging that a supervisor engaged in “joy-ride shooting” of Iraqi civilians.

Yet even among the contractors, Blackwater has the worst reputation. On Christmas Eve 2006, a drunken Blackwater employee reportedly shot and killed a guard of the Iraqi vice president. (The employee was flown out of the country, and has not been charged.) In May 2007, Blackwater employees reportedly shot an employee of Iraq’s Interior Ministry, leading to an armed standoff between the firm and Iraqi police.

Iraqis aren’t the only victims of this behavior. Of the nearly 4,000 American service members who have died in Iraq, scores if not hundreds would surely still be alive if it weren’t for the hatred such incidents engender.

Which raises the question, why are Blackwater and other mercenary outfits still playing such a big role in Iraq?

Don’t tell me that they are irreplaceable. The Iraq war has now gone on for four and a half years — longer than American participation in World War II. There has been plenty of time for the Bush administration to find a way to do without mercenaries, if it wanted to.

And the danger out-of-control military contractors pose to American forces has been obvious at least since March 2004, when four armed Blackwater employees blundered into Fallujah in the middle of a delicate military operation, getting themselves killed and precipitating a crisis that probably ended any chance of an acceptable outcome in Iraq.

Yet Blackwater is still there. In fact, last year the State Department gave Blackwater the lead role in diplomatic security in Iraq.

Mr. Singer argues that reliance on private military contractors has let the administration avoid making hard political choices, such as admitting that it didn’t send enough troops in the first place. Contractors, he writes, “offered the potential backstop of additional forces, but with no one having to lose any political capital.” That’s undoubtedly part of the story.

But it’s also worth noting that the Bush administration has tried to privatize every aspect of the U.S. government it can, using taxpayers’ money to give lucrative contracts to its friends — people like Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater, who has strong Republican connections. You might think that national security would take precedence over the fetish for privatization — but remember, President Bush tried to keep airport security in private hands, even after 9/11.

So the privatization of war — no matter how badly it works — is just part of the pattern.

George W. Bush’s Thug Nation by Robert Parry

September 24, 2007

George W. Bush’s Thug Nation by Robert Parry

by Robert Parry
Global Research, September 23, 2007
consortiumnews.com

It’s said that over time Presidents – especially two-termers – imbue the nation with their personalities and priorities, for good or ill. If that’s true, it could help explain the small-minded mean-spiritedness that seems to be pervading the behavior of the United States these days, both at home and abroad.

On a global level, the world reads about trigger-happy Blackwater “security contractors” mowing down civilians in Baghdad, the U.S. military killing unarmed people under loose “rules of engagement” in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the CIA “rendering” suspected Islamists to secret prisons or to third-country dungeons where torture is practiced.

Inside the United States, too, a police-state mentality is taking hold. After more than six years of having dissent against President George W. Bush equated with disloyalty, police from Capitol Hill to college campuses are treating vocal disagreement as grounds for violently “taking down” citizens, while bouncers at campaign rallies hustle away prospective hecklers and police preemptively detain protesters or stick them in faraway “free-speech zones.”

On Sept. 17 at a University of Florida public forum with Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, journalism student Andrew Meyer asked an animated question about Kerry’s hasty concession after Election 2004.

Meyer then was accosted by several campus police officers who dragged him away and wrestled him to the ground. Despite pleading with police “don’t tase me, bro,” Meyer was “tasered” with powerful electric shocks as he screamed in pain. [Watch the YouTube video by clicking here.]

Overseas, it now appears that Bush has authorized “rules of engagement” that have transformed U.S. Special Forces into “death squads,” much like those that roamed Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s identifying “subversives” and murdering them.

According to evidence emerging from a military court hearing at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S. Special Forces are empowered to kill individuals who have been designated “enemy combatants,” even if they are unarmed and present no visible threat.

The hearing involves two Special Forces soldiers who took part in the cold-blooded execution of an Afghani who was suspected of leading an insurgent group. Though the Afghani, identified as Nawab Buntangyar, responded to questions and offered no resistance when encountered on Oct. 13, 2006, he was shot dead by Master Sgt. Troy Anderson on orders from his superior officer, Capt. Dave Staffel.

Classified Mission

As described at the hearing, Staffel and Anderson were leading a team of Afghan soldiers when an informant told them where a suspected insurgent leader was hiding. The U.S.-led contingent found a man believed to be Nawab Buntangyar walking outside his compound near the village of Hasan Kheyl.

While the Americans kept their distance out of fear the suspect might be wearing a suicide vest, the man was questioned about his name and the Americans checked his description against a list from the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Afghanistan, known as “the kill-or-capture list.”

Concluding that the man was insurgent leader Nawab Buntangyar, Staffel gave the order to shoot, and Anderson – from a distance of about 100 yards away – fired a bullet through the man’s head, killing him instantly.

The soldiers viewed the killing as “a textbook example of a classified mission completed in accordance with the American rules of engagement,” the International Herald Tribune reported. “The men said such rules allowed them to kill Buntangyar, whom the American military had designated a terrorist cell leader, once they positively identified him.”

Staffel’s civilian lawyer Mark Waple said the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command concluded in April that the shooting was “justifiable homicide,” but a two-star general in Afghanistan instigated a murder charge against the two men. That case, however, has floundered over accusations that the charge was improperly filed. [IHT, Sept. 17, 2007]

The major news media has given the case only minor coverage focusing mostly on the legal sparring. The New York Times’ inside-the-paper, below-the-fold headline on Sept. 19 was “Green Beret Hearing Focuses on How Charges Came About.”

However, the greater significance of the case is its confirmation that the U.S. chain of command, presumably up to President Bush, has approved standing orders that allow the U.S. military to assassinate suspected militants on sight.

In effect, these orders have reestablished what was known during the Vietnam War as Operation Phoenix, a program that assassinated Vietcong cadre, including suspected communist political allies.

Through a Pentagon training program known as “Project X,” the lessons of Operation Phoenix from the 1960s were passed on to Third World armies in Latin America and elsewhere, allegedly giving a green light to some of the “dirty wars” that swept the region in the following decades. [For details, see Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.]

Blackwater Killings

Besides the periodic controversies over U.S. military killings of unarmed Iraqis and Afghanis, the Bush administration also is facing a challenge from the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over the U.S. Embassy’s reliance on Blackwater security contractors despite their reputation as crude and murderous bullies.

On Sept. 16, Blackwater gunmen accompanying a U.S. diplomatic convoy apparently sensed an ambush and opened fire, spraying a busy Baghdad square with bullets. Eyewitness accounts, including from an Iraqi police officer, indicated that the Blackwater team apparently overreacted to a car moving into the square and killed at least 11 people.

“Blackwater has no respect for the Iraqi people,” an Iraqi Interior Ministry official told the Washington Post. “They consider Iraqis like animals, although actually I think they may have more respect for animals. We have seen what they do in the streets. When they’re not shooting, they’re throwing water bottles at people and calling them names. If you are terrifying a child or an elderly woman, or you are killing an innocent civilian who is riding in his car, isn’t that terrorism?” [Washington Post, Sept. 20, 2007]

The highhandedness of the Blackwater mercenaries on the streets of Baghdad or the contempt for traditional rules of war in the hills of Afghanistan also resonate back to the marble chambers and well-appointed salons of Washington, where swaggering tough-guyism reigns from the Oval Office to the TV talk shows to Georgetown dinner parties.

Inside the Beltway, it seems there’s little political mileage in standing up for traditional American values, such as the rule of law or even the Founders’ historic concept of inalienable rights for all mankind.

On Sept. 19, Senate Republicans blocked an up-or-down vote on a bill seeking to restore habeas corpus rights against arbitrary imprisonment for people whom Bush unilaterally has designated “unlawful enemy combatants.”

Bush’s supporters portrayed those who favored habeas corpus restoration as impractical coddlers of America’s enemies.

“This is purely a matter of congressional policy and national policy on how we want to conduct warfare now and in the future,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama. “Are we going to do it in a way that allows those we capture to sue us?”

The Republicans also prevented a direct vote on a plan to grant longer home leaves to U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those two factors – obedience to Bush’s claim of unlimited power as he wages his “war on terror” and refusal to relieve some of the pressure on American troops facing repeated deployments to the front lines – are almost certain to keep making matters worse.

The mix of tired and desperate soldiers operating in an environment in which every person on the street is viewed as a potential suicide bomber is a formula for continued abuses, endless slaughter and deepening hatreds.

Back home, Americans who ask too many annoying questions or don’t demonstrate the right attitude toward government leaders can expect to encounter the hostility of an incipient police state, a thug nation that reflects the pugnacious arrogance and the contempt for dissent that is the stock and trade of the nation’s current two-term President.

[For more on how Bush rules, see our new book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com

Robert Parry is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Robert Parry

 


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Iraq makes U-turn on Blackwater

September 24, 2007

The Iraqi interior ministry has implicated
Blackwater in seven fatal shootings [AFP]
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The killings have outraged many Iraqis, who resent the presence of armed Western security contractors, considering them as mercenary forces that abuse Iraqis in their own country. But Blackwater personnel are already back on the streets of Baghdad.

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The US embassy resumed sending convoys out with Blackwater guards on Friday – just a few days after the Iraqi government ordered the company’s operations frozen.

 

The Iraqi government, which concluded that Blackwater employees fired without provocation into civilian cars last week, now says the company will be allowed to keep operating for the sake of security.

 

In Video
Blackwater: An in-depth look
Town split over training centre

Tahseen al-Sheikhly, an Iraqi government spokesman, said: “If we drive out or expel the company immediately there will be a security vacuum that will demand pulling some troops that work in the field who protect these institutions and that will create a security imbalance.”

 

This, despite Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, saying Blackwater’s alleged misconduct is a challenge to his country’s sovereignty.

 

Attending the UN’s special meeting on Iraq, al-Maliki said: “When there is a private company that has committed seven reported crimes already, that is something that we cannot turn a blind eye to.”

 

Joint investigation

 

Baghdad and Washington announced they would take a broad look at the private security firms operating in Iraq.

 

Rear Admiral Mark Fox, a US military spokesman, said: “That is an opportunity for the government of Iraq and the US government to jointly review and assess how private contractors, in terms of the security mission, are conducting their business.”

 

But senior Iraqi officials had officially complained to the US command for months about the way Blackwater was operating without regulation or oversight.

 

They said Blackwater refused to obtain an operating licence, submit to weapons inspections or answer questions about previous incidents.

 

Hussein Kamal, the deputy interior minister, said: “We tried several times to contact the US government through administrative and diplomatic channels to complain about the repeated involvement by Blackwater guards in several incidents that led to the killing of many Iraqis, but there were no concrete results. Our complaints went nowhere.”

 

Iraqi officials say the government may try to file criminal charges or sue Blackwater in a US court.

 

Iraqi Report Says Blackwater Guards Fired First

September 20, 2007

September 19, 2007

Iraqi Report Says Blackwater Guards Fired First

BAGHDAD, Sept. 18 — A preliminary Iraqi report on a shooting involving an American diplomatic motorcade said Tuesday that Blackwater security guards were not ambushed, as the company reported, but instead fired at a car when it did not heed a policeman’s call to stop, killing a couple and their infant.

The report, by the Ministry of Interior, was presented to the Iraqi cabinet and, though unverified, seemed to contradict an account offered by Blackwater USA that the guards were responding to gunfire by militants. The report said Blackwater helicopters had also fired. The Ministry of Defense said 20 Iraqis had been killed, a far higher number than had been reported before.

In a sign of the seriousness of the standoff, the American Embassy here suspended diplomatic missions outside the Green Zone and throughout Iraq on Tuesday.

“There was not shooting against the convoy,” said Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government’s spokesman. “There was no fire from anyone in the square.”

A State Department spokesman, Edgar Vasquez, said he had not heard of the report and repeated that the department was conducting an investigation supported by the American military. A spokeswoman for Blackwater did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

“Let these folks do the investigation and get all the facts,” Mr. Vasquez said, “and if department procedures were not followed, after the facts have been gathered we would decide what action to take.”

The shooting, which took place on Sunday, has angered Iraqi officials and touched off a harsh debate about private security companies, which operate outside Iraqi law, a privilege extended to them by Americans officials while Iraq’s government was still under American administration. Blackwater, which guards all top American officials here, had its work suspended, and Iraqi officials agreed to rewrite the rules to make the companies accountable.

“We do understand that the security companies are subject to high levels of threat and they do a good job at protection, but this does not entitle them to immunity from Iraqi laws,” Mr. Dabbagh said. “This is what the Iraqi government would like to review.”

He said the Iraqi and American governments had set up a joint committee to investigate the deaths.

American Embassy officials had said Monday that the Blackwater guards had been responding to a car bomb, but Mr. Dabbagh said the bomb was so far away that it could not possibly have been a reason for the convoy to begin shooting.

Instead, he said, the convoy had initiated the shooting when a car did not heed a police officer and moved into an intersection.

“The traffic policeman was trying to open the road for them,” he said. “It was a crowded square. But one small car did not stop. It was moving very slowly. They shot against the couple and their child. They started shooting randomly.”

In video shot shortly after the episode, the child appeared to have burned to the mother’s body after the car caught fire, according to an official who saw it.

In interviews on Tuesday, six Iraqis who had been in the area at the time of the shooting, including a man who was wounded and an Iraqi Army soldier who helped rescue people, offered roughly similar versions.

The Iraqi soldier, who said he was standing at a checkpoint on the edge of the square, said he thought the convoy believed the small car was a suicide bomber and opened fire. According to the wounded man, recuperating in Yarmouk Hospital, the car with the family was driving on the wrong side of the road.

The convoy began throwing nonlethal sound bombs, several witnesses said, to keep people in the area away. That drew fire from Iraqi Army soldiers manning watchtowers that are part of an Iraqi Army base on the square. Iraqi police officers, witnesses said, also appeared to be shooting.

The Iraqi soldier, who did not give his name but said he was from a company of Iraqi commandos, said he saw another soldier trying to motion to the convoy to move on, but he was shot as well.

Sean McCormack, the spokesman for the State Department, said in a briefing that contractors “are subject to Department of State rules of engagement.”

“These are defensive in nature,” he said. When contractors and employees are attacked, he added, they “will respond with graduated use of force, proportionate to the kind of fire and attack that they’re coming under.”

The Iraqis’ accounts have not been verified, but the anger in their telling served to reinforce the feeling among Iraqis here that private security companies care little for Iraqi lives. In a war where perceptions are paramount, the effect is poisonous.

“They are more powerful than the government,” the Iraqi soldier said. “No one can try them. Where is the government in this?”

For Safaa Rabee, an engineer in Newcastle, England, whose 75-year-old father was shot dead while driving home from grocery shopping on Aug. 13 in Hilla in southern Iraq, the immunity was particularly galling. Mr. Rabee said his father had pulled over and waited as a convoy of sport utility vehicles zoomed past, lights and sirens flashing, a familiar routine for Iraqis, but when he pulled back out, guards in the last car of the convoy opened fire.

Mr. Rabee and his brother discussed it with the Hilla police chief, who said the convoy was an American diplomatic one from Najaf, another southern city, and also with a sympathetic American colonel, who offered small financial compensation.

The police chief said the security guards in the convoy were Blackwater, Mr. Rabee said, though he does not know for sure if that was the case.

“I said to him that I’ll follow the killer anywhere in the world, even in American law,” Mr. Rabee said by telephone from England. “He said: ‘I understand you are angry but you can’t do anything. They’re under our protection.’ I said, ‘Do you think that’s fair?’ ” For the family, Mr. Rabee said, the killing felt no different from that of Mr. Rabee’s brother, the owner of a fish farm, who was executed by militants just south of Baghdad in 2005. The family pursued the case against his father’s killers in court, but the case was closed.

In the clubby atmosphere of private security firms in Iraq, senior members of rival companies are often reluctant to criticize Blackwater.

But among the rank and file of security contractors, Blackwater guards are regularly ridiculed as cowboys who are relentlessly and pointlessly aggressive, carry excessive weaponry and do not appear to have top-of-the-line training.

Passing Blackwater convoys sometimes intimidates even Westerners, who fear coming under attack if they make a wrong move.

The Iraqi government said it had revoked Blackwater’s license. But it appeared that the company had not possessed one in many months, according to a security official in Baghdad, but had begun work on getting one in spring of 2007.

The Iraqi government has changed hands several times, throwing up new hurdles for companies to register, and by the fall of 2006, when the process changed again, many simply stopped trying, the official said. Currently, about 25 companies are formally licensed, the official said. Blackwater is not among them.

One private security official said Blackwater had been at odds with the Ministry of Interior over licensing, and drew more ill will when a guard killed a ministry bodyguard some time ago.

Khalid al-Ansary, Sahar Nageeb and Kareem Hilmi contributed reporting.

US vows Blackwater killings probe

September 18, 2007

Blackwater is responsible for US embassy security and protects diplomats and officials [AFP]
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Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, telephoned Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, to express regret at the loss of life and promised that the results of an internal investigation into Sunday’s incident would be shared with Baghdad.

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“She has expressed her personal apologies and the apologies of the government of the United States. She confirmed that the United States will take immediate actions to prevent such actions from happening again,” al-Maliki’s office said.

 

‘Working together’

 

Tom Casey, the deputy state department spokesman, said: “She told the prime minister that we were investigating this incident and wanted to gain a full understanding of what happened.”

 

In Video
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Town split over training centre

Rice and al-Maliki “agreed on the importance of working closely together in the time ahead on a transparent investigation,” Casey added.

 

Yassin Majid, an adviser to the prime minister, said the two also agreed to hold any wrongdoers accountable.

 

Al-Maliki had condemned Sunday’s shooting and vowed to punish the perpetrators and their employers.

 

“We will work to punish and halt the work of the security company which conducted this criminal act,” state television quoted him as saying.

 

The 15-minute call came after Iraq’s interior ministry said it had revoked Blackwater’s licence.

 

The firm is responsible for US embassy security and the expulsion may severely curtail US operations in Iraq by stripping diplomats and other officials of protection.

 

The two other private security firms employed by the US state department to protect its personnel in Iraq are Dyncorp and Triple Canopy.

 

Blackwater said it had not been formally notified of any expulsion. The US state department also said Washington had not been informed of the licence cancellation.

 

Convoy attack

 

Conflicting accounts were reported of the incident in which, according to the US embassy in Baghdad, a diplomatic convoy was attacked, and security guards opened fire in response.

 

‘Profitable patriotism’

Estimated 30,000 private security “contractors” in Iraq often referred to as shadow armies and mercenaries

US figures say in the first gulf war, ratio of private contractors to troops one to 60, now about one to three

Little known about who security firms are accountable to

Accused of being overly aggressive and above the law

Blackwater has secured more than $500m in federal contracts since 2000 – two thirds of those contracts known as “no bids”

Landed first big contract in Iraq in 2003, protecting Paul Bremer, the-then US top administrator in Iraq, for 11 months for $21m

Employs 1,500 security personnel in Iraq, specialising in transporting so-called high-value targets

US military destroyed Falluja in 2004, weeks after four Blackwater employees were killed there

Has also stirred up controversy in Potrero, a small US town along the California-Mexico border where it wants to build a huge training camp

Iraq’s interior ministry said eight civilians were killed and 13 wounded when Blackwater contractors opened fire on civilians in the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Mansour in western Baghdad after mortar rounds landed near their convoy.

 

General Abdul Kareem Khaleh, an interior ministry spokesman, said Blackwater guards “opened fire randomly at citizens”.

 

“We have withdrawn its licence” and will “deliver those who committed this act to the court”, he added.

 

Anne Tyrrell, a company spokeswoman, said late on Monday: “Blackwater’s independent contractors acted lawfully and appropriately in response to a hostile attack in Baghdad on Sunday.”

 

The state department could not say which Iraqi laws Blackwater or its employees might be subject to, the chain of command its employees answer to.

 

The US embassy said it was seeking clarification on the legal status of security contractors and whether Blackwater employees could be prosecuted in Iraq.

 

Khaleh said the security guards “do not have immunity, as immunity is granted only to the multi-national forces … [They] are subject to the obligations of the Iraqi penal law”.

 

The moves by the Bush administration appear unlikely to forestall a congressional inquiry into not just Sunday’s events but the government’s increasing reliance on the use of contractors in Iraq.

 

“The controversy over Blackwater is an unfortunate demonstration of the perils of excessive reliance on private security contractors,” Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said.

 

He said his committee would hold hearings to determine “what has happened and the extent of the damage to US security interests”.

 

Blackwater and other security firms in trouble in Iraq

September 18, 2007

Blackwater provides security to US diplomats
and “assets” in Iraq [AFP]
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Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman, announced the decision “to review the operations of foreign and local security companies in Iraq”.

 

He said: “This came after the flagrant assault conducted by members of the American security company Blackwater against Iraqi citizens.”

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The Blackwater controversy provided the backdrop to more violence across the country

 

Four car bombs in Baghdad on Tuesday killed 17 people and wounded 50 more, according to police.

 

The deadliest car bomb attack killed eight people and wounded 22 near a market in the Ur neighbourhood, not far from the Shia-dominated district of Sadr City, police said.

 

Three other car bombs killed a total of nine people and wounded 28.

 

Blackwater case

 

Commenting on the Iraqi government’s announcement that it will review the status of all private security companies, Riad Kahwaji, director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military analysis, told Al Jazeera: “Only the party that brought them [the private security firms] into Iraq can take them out of Iraq – and that is the US.”

 

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He said that under their contracts “neither Blackwater nor the other [private security] companies are obliged to obtain a licence from Iraq”.

 

Kahwaji said: “The chances are they are going to stay. Because a lot of the foreign companies and contractors that are rebuilding Iraq rely totally on these Western, or US-based, security companies.

 

“They don’t have any confidence in the Iraqi police and the Iraqi security services.”

 

Iraq’s interior ministry said 11 people were killed when Blackwater contractors opened fire at random after mortar rounds landed near a US convoy.

 

Regret over death

 

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, telephoned Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, on Monday to express regret over the death of innocent civilians, which the state department said occurred during the attack on the convoy.

 

Blackwater said its guards had reacted “lawfully and appropriately” to a hostile attack.

 

It also said on Monday that it had received no official notice from Iraq’s interior ministry.

 

US officials in Baghdad have yet to clarify the legal status of foreign security contractors in Iraq, including whether they could be liable for prosecution by Iraqi authorities.

 

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September 18, 2007 (NYT)

Iraq to Review All Security Contractors

BAGHDAD, Sept. 18 — The Iraqi government said today that it would review the status of all foreign and local security companies working in Iraq after a shooting that left eight Iraqis dead.

Blackwater USA, an American contractor that provides security to some of the top American officials in Iraq, was banned from working in the country by the Ministry of Interior after the shooting on Sunday, which involved an American diplomatic convoy.

A spokesman for the Iraqi government, Ali al-Dabbagh, said that the cabinet met today and supported the decision to cancel Blackwater’s license and begin an immediate investigation. The ministry has said that it would prosecute the participants in the shooting, but a law issued by the American occupation authority prior to the return of sovereignty to Iraq in 2004 grants American contractors, along with American military personnel, immunity from Iraqi prosecution.

Mr. Dabbagh said the investigation should “compel the company to respect the Iraqi laws, citizens’ dignity and the results and consequences the investigation would come up with.”The statement by the Iraqi government today seemed to blame Blackwater employees directly for the deaths, calling it a “vicious assault which was carried out by the employees of the American security company” against Iraqi citizens.

But American officials have stopped short of saying whether the Blackwater guards in the diplomatic motorcade had caused any of the deaths.

In a statement today, the anti-American Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, called for an investigation and said that the government should annul “this company’s and all other intelligence and criminal companies’ contracts.”

Details of the shooting Sunday are still unclear. Bombs were going off in the area at the time, and shots were fired at the convoy, American officials said.

“There was a firefight,” said Sean McCormack, the principal State Department spokesman. “We believe some innocent life was lost. Nobody wants to see that. But I can’t tell you who was responsible for that.”

In separate violence today, a series of car bombs around Baghdad killed at least eight people. In the largest attack, a car bomb exploded close to the Health Ministry, near the central morgue, killing five civilians and injuring 20 others, the Ministry of Interior said. Another car bomb, which exploded in the Ur district near a popular market, killed one civilian.

The deaths on Sunday that were linked to Blackwater have struck a nerve with Iraqis, who say that private security companies are often quick to shoot and are rarely held responsible for their actions.

A security expert based in Baghdad said Monday night that the law granting contractors immunity, Order No. 17, had never been overturned. Like others, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter remains under official inquiry.

Senior officials, including Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, expressed outrage on Monday.

“This is a big crime that we can’t stay silent in front of,” said Jawad al-Bolani, the interior minister, in remarks on Al Arabiya television. “Anyone who wants to have good relations with Iraq has to respect Iraqis. We apply the law and are committed to it.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Mr. Maliki on Monday afternoon to express her regret “over the death of innocent civilians that occurred during the attack on an embassy convoy,” said Tom Casey, another State Department spokesman.

Mr. Maliki’s office said Ms. Rice had pledged to “take immediate steps to show the United States’ willingness to prevent such actions.”

Because Blackwater guards are so central to the American operation here, having provided protection for numerous American diplomats, it is still not clear whether the United States would agree to end a relationship with a trusted protector so quickly. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker praised private security companies in a speech on Sept. 11, referring to Blackwater by name.

“This incident will be the true test of diplomacy between the State Department and the government of Iraq,” said one American official in Baghdad.

Blackwater has defended its actions, saying it had come under attack from armed militants.

“The ‘civilians’ reportedly fired upon by Blackwater professionals were in fact armed enemies, and Blackwater personnel returned defensive fire,” said Anne Tyrrell, a company spokeswoman, in an e-mail message. “Blackwater professionals heroically defended American lives in a war zone.”

The American official said he believed that the contract had been pulled, although Ms. Tyrrell said that there had been no official action by the Ministry of Interior “regarding plans to revoke licensing.” Mr. McCormack said the State Department had not been informed about any cancellation.

It was not clear what legal mechanism the Iraqi government was using to block the company. All security contractors must obtain licenses for their weapons. Companies must also register with the Ministry of Trade and the Ministry of Interior.

One of the most terrifying images of the war for Americans involved four of Blackwater’s contractors in Falluja who were killed in 2004, and their bodies hung from a bridge. Reports of the number of Blackwater employees in Iraq ranged from at least 1,000 to 1,500, but the numbers were impossible to confirm.

At the end of the cold war, Congress and the Pentagon were eager to take advantage of a new, less threatening landscape and drastically scaled back the standing Army, leading to the outsourcing of many jobs formally done by people in uniform.

The Bush administration expanded the outsourcing strategy after the invasion of Iraq, with companies like Blackwater and its two main competitors, Triple Canopy and DynCorp, supplying guards and training at many levels of the war. About 126,000 people working for contractors serve alongside American troops, including about 30,000 security contractors.

A Blackwater employee was responsible for the shooting death of a bodyguard for one of Iraq’s vice presidents, Adel Abdul Mahdi, on Christmas Eve last year, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal in May. The Blackwater guard had been drinking heavily in the Green Zone, according to the report, and tried to enter an area where Iraqi officials live. The employee was fired, but left Iraq without being prosecuted, the report said.

In the shooting on Sunday, initial reports from the American Embassy said a convoy of State Department vehicles came under fire in Nisour Square, a commercial area in western Baghdad that is clogged with construction, traffic and concrete blocks. One vehicle became “disabled” in the shooting, officials said. The officials did not say whether any of the convoy’s security guards had fired back.

But two bombs exploded around the time of the convoy’s passage. Iraqis who were there said Monday that guards in the American motorcade, which had apparently been stuck in traffic, began shooting in response. That appeared to be confirmed by the embassy’s information officer, Johann Schmonsees.

“The car bomb was in proximity to the place where State Department personnel were meeting, and that was the reason why Blackwater responded to the incident,” he said on a conference call for reporters in Baghdad on Monday afternoon.

Mirenbe Nantongo, an embassy spokeswoman, said directly, “Our people were reacting to a car bombing.”

But typical for Iraq, confusion prevailed over who was firing at whom. Iraqis who had been at the scene said they saw helicopters, though American officials did not speak of air power. Ms. Tyrrell said helicopters came but did not shoot.

“There were several groups on the scene,” said a senior American administration official. “Bad guys. Us. Iraqi police. We don’t know if other parties were there, too. So we have to do forensics.”

A grocery shop owner, Abu Muhammad, reported seeing two helicopters firing down into the area, around the time of the bombing. “I was hearing the shooting continuing every now and then, for about 15 minutes,” he said, adding that the gunfire sounded low and fast, different from the sound of an AK-47 firing.

He said he saw a charred car with a man and a woman inside. A man whom he knew had been shot to death. Video images of the scene after the fighting subsided showed charred cars and bodies, though it was not clear what had caused the damage.

An official at Yarmouk Hospital, where the dead and wounded were taken, said 12 dead Iraqis had been taken in from three different incidents. Thirty-seven more Iraqis were wounded.

It was still unclear on Monday night whether the company had been ordered to leave. Mr. Schmonsees said earlier, “No one has been expelled from the country yet.”

Reporting was contributed by James Glanz, Ali Fahim, Mudhafer al-Husaini, Ahmad Fadam and Khalid al-Ansary from Baghdad, Thom Shanker from Washington, and Alain Delaquérière from New York.