Author: Denise Winebrenner Edwards
People's Weekly World Newspaper, 05/31/07 15:20
When years ago Consolidation Coal, Ford Motor Co. and U.S. Steel created their own private armies, including Pinkertons, to keep the word “profits” always followed by the verb “skyrocketing,” and to keep workers under their control and the union out, no one dreamed that in the 21st century the privatization of the U.S. military would be on the political agenda.
But that’s what is happening, and Jeremy Scahill, an independent journalist, shows us how it’s being done in his new book “Blackwater.” By following the Blackwater company from Iraq to post-Katrina New Orleans, he carefully and thoughtfully details the rise and flourishing of private security firms in the U.S. today. He also paints a picture of a trend that is menacing to democracy as we know it.
As of this writing, with the “surge” underway, there continues to be an almost 1-to-1 ratio of actual U.S. troops and “contractors” engaged in combat. U.S. troops are estimated at about 150,000 and “contractors” like Blackwater’s thugs at 100,000.
In 2006, Scahill says, 7,200 British troops were active in Iraq, but 21,000 employees of private British security companies were tasked to military operations.
Blackwater has not confined itself to recruiting former Navy SEALS or other killers whose training has been funded by U.S. taxpayers. It has reached out and hired former torturers from South America. Some Blackwater hires, for example, had been out of work since the demise of Chile’s Pinochet regime.
Others Blackwater employees are Colombians trained by the SEALS or the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Privatization being what it is, after the Colombians were first told they would be paid $7,000 a month, their pay fell to $4,000 a month, then to $2,700 a month and finally, $34 a day for operations in Iraq.
Former Chilean political prisoner and torture victim Tito Tricot says that while the U.S. has used experienced military personnel from countries governed by military dictatorships in earlier conflicts, “There is something deeply perverse about the privatization of the Iraq war and the utilization of mercenaries.”
“This externalization of services or outsourcing,” he says, “attempts to lower costs — ‘Third World’ mercenaries are paid less than their counterparts from the developed world — and maximize benefits, i.e. ‘Let others fight the war for the Americans.’ In either case, the Iraqi people do not matter at all. It is precisely this dehumanization of the ‘enemy’ that makes it easier for the private companies and the U.S. government to recruit mercenaries.”
This is an important book. Readers should buy copies for their representatives in Congress, especially if they were swept into office last year like Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Robert Casey, who just voted for the $100 billion supplemental appropriation for the Iraq war.
“Blackwater” pulls back the curtain on the dirty no-bid contracts and chronicles the links between multinational oil corporations, the Bush administration and the religious right. It is a must-read, it is a clear read and one that recharges batteries to boot this rotten, murderous administration out. It arms readers and voters to confront their current representative or their favorite candidate to take our country back from the gangsters.
Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army
By Jeremy Scahill
Nation Books, March 2007
Hardbound, 452 pp., $26.95
Posted by TONY on 31.5.07
UNICEF calls for aid to Iraqi children
$42 million required to meet immediate needs of children in Iraq, Jordan and Syria
GENEVA/NEW YORK/AMMAN, 23 May 2007 – Conditions for Iraqi children affected by violence and displacement have reached a critical point, UNICEF said today. The children’s organization requires $42 million to provide relief over the next six months for children inside Iraq, as well as those who fled with their families to neighbouring Jordan and Syria.
View full report: IMMEDIATE NEEDS FOR IRAQI CHILDREN IN IRAQ AND NEIGHBOURING COUNTRIES
“Humanitarian aid offers a lifeline to Iraq’s children and stepping up support now is the best way to protect and invest in Iraq’s future,” said Daniel Toole, Acting Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF and Chief of Emergency Operations. “Plans are in place to reach Iraq’s most vulnerable children with basic health, water, sanitation and education support – particularly displaced children living in host communities, as well as children living in Iraq’s most violent districts.”
UNICEF will also help the Jordanian and Syrian governments in providing quality social services for the growing population of Iraqi children. Initial priorities in these countries include ensuring that Iraqi children have full access to the classroom, health care and protection from exploitation.
Since 2003, nearly 15 per cent of Iraq’s population have fled their homes - four million people, half of them children. Many are seeking refuge in communities that are already poor or hit by violence, pressuring already weakened social services. Those seeking refuge outside Iraq face an uncertain future. Complications over residency status may deter many from seeking health care or enrolling children in school. Among those fleeing are thousands of doctors, nurses, engineers and teachers – key service providers for children. Added to the deaths of so many fathers in the violence, this exodus is robbing Iraq’s children of essential pillars of support.
“Iraq’s drain of care-givers is creating major gaps in children’s daily lives, an issue often overlooked amid the violence,” said Roger Wright, UNICEF Special Representative for Iraq. “We need to fill these gaps to address the most debilitating effects of the insecurity. Conditions for too many Iraqi children are deteriorating,” he added.
Last week Iraq reported its first suspected cholera cases of the year (all of them children), increasing fears of a serious outbreak over the summer months. The deterioration of Iraq’s water and sanitation systems means only an estimated 30 per cent of children have access to safe water. Health services are becoming increasingly hard to access. And with many schools hit hard by insecurity and overcrowding, too few children are completing this school year with a quality education.
Toole said that Iraq is simply not secure enough to deliver a full range of assistance in many areas. But he stressed it is still possible to help a large number of children in need. A recent UNICEF and WHO-supported national Measles, Mumps and Rubella immunization campaign has just reached 3.6 million children (90 per cent of its goal) in a house-to-house campaign, partly funded by the European Commission. Such generous international support to Iraq must continue, especially for children, until the Government of Iraq can provide for its own, he added.
“Our experience operating daily inside Iraq confirms to us that aid does indeed reach children and makes a tremendous impact, even in extremely insecure areas.” Toole said.
Posted by TONY on 24.5.07
U.S. counterterrorism troops in Afghanistan need to limit the number of civilian casualties and prevent a backlash from locals, German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said Monday 21st May.
"We have to do everything to avoid civilians being affected," Jung said on German state television ZDF on Wednesday. "We are in talks with our American friends about this."
Past incidents showed that the troops' behavior needed to be improved and they should show more restraint, Jung said, referring especially to the U.S.-led counterterrorism mission, which was known until recently as Operation Enduring Freedom and operates outside NATO's force of 36,000 troops.
The defense minister's statement reflects increasing European unease about reports of high death tolls in incidents involving American units.
NATO governments are concerned that recent reports of civilian casualties could undermine public support for the international security mission in Afghanistan, both among the local people and with public opinion in Europe.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also said the U.S.-led coalition needs to reconsider the way it is fighting Taliban-led rebels.
"We and the international community, the coalition, must sit down and reconsider and rethink whether the approach to the threat of terrorism that has (been) taken is the absolutely right one," he recently told British Broadcasting Corp. in a television interview.
The bodies of three German soldiers who were killed in a suicide bombing in the northern city of Kunduz less than a week ago were to be flown back to Germany on Wednesday, Jung said.
The attack has triggered calls from some German opposition lawmakers for the country to rethink its strategy in the region — including withdrawing its roughly 3,000 soldiers serving there. The German government has rejected the idea.
One family's misery exposes Iraq's trauma
Scott Canon and Sahar Issa
May 21, 2007 3:21 AM
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The suffering for the women of Saad Abdullah's family only began when the doting father and bookish naval engineer went missing.
First came the brutish calls from his kidnappers - men cagy enough to coax more than $50,000 from the family, and killers cold enough to not so much as hint at what had become of his body.
What followed was a heart-gnawing quest by the women in Abdullah's life as they searched for his body through the country's maddening death bureaucracy. The hunt would last months and end in a mystery only half-solved. The men couldn't help - any who showed his face would have risked all but certain death as a tempting target in Iraq's sectarian chaos.
The family's story shows how Baghdad's unrelenting violence has turned Iraq's traditions on their head. Once a masculine obligation, retrieving a body has become a woman's burden that requires a strong stomach, a bull-headed resolve and no small amount of luck.
''A man who acts like a man will be cut down,'' said Ahlam Abdullah, his sister. ''As a society we've put the men aside to keep them safe, despite their shame and embarrassment.''
It also illustrates a haphazard system of tracking the dead that experts say all but ensures that militia leaders and insurgent organizers will never be held accountable for the thousands of tortured and disfigured bodies dumped on Baghdad's streets. Few records exist of where or when bodies were found.
With killings so rampant, ''you're not going to be seeing one person prosecuted for just one person's murder,'' conceded Robert Lamburne, the director of forensic services for the British Embassy in Baghdad and an adviser to the Iraqis.
But without serious efforts to collect information about torture methods and assassination techniques, there also will be no way in the future to prosecute militia leaders or insurgent organizers for mass killings.
''At some point it becomes a human rights issue,'' Lamburne said. At least, he said, the government should take fingerprints from the dead. Americans have given Iraqis the technology to catalog that data, he said.
Saad Abdullah disappeared as he was making a simple run to the market. Witnesses told the family that a car stopped in front of his at a traffic circle, four gunmen jumped out, pulled him from his car and tossed him in theirs.
Around noon his wife's cell phone chirped. Its screen showed an unfamiliar caller. Is this the mother of Muhassad? We have the father of Muhassad. Adults in Iraq are often referred to by the names of their children. Referring to Saad that way was claiming a chilling intimacy. They demanded $100,000 by nightfall.
Eventually, they agreed to slightly more than half that amount, which they snatched from Abdullah's wife's hands through the window of a passing car. The family never heard from them again.
Days passed. The family searched fruitlessly in both the neighborhood where he'd been kidnapped and the impoverished area where the ransom had been snagged. They checked one hospital morgue after the next - 15 in all - hoping to find him.
No luck. The morgue workers were overwhelmed by the flood of anonymous bodies. They'd grown numb to a family's despair. ''No one wanted to answer questions,'' Ahlam Abdullah said. ''They said 'just keep looking.'''
On the fifth day, Abdullah's family gathered to talk. ''Everyone knew the next step,'' she said. ''No one was willing to say it.''
Head to Baghdad's central morgue, the overflowing facility where hospitals unload bodies that aren't retrieved quickly enough by families. Designed for a pre-war time when it might have seven bodies in storage waiting for identification, the morgue is now an unrelenting scene of horror. Most days it holds 100 bodies or more. Refrigerated truck trailers hold the overflow - and bake like ovens when the power inevitably goes out. Some families pay freelancers to find bodies at the morgue.
''Most of the bodies are never identified, and buried that way,'' said a morgue worker who agreed to be interviewed only if his name was withheld.
When Saad Abdullah's wife and sister showed up, workers said the electricity was out, so they needed to come later. They heard the same story the next day, and the next.
So the two women headed to a police station, where some 20 other women in the same bind were competing for the attention of a desk sergeant. Only after Abdullah's widow fell to the ground sobbing did the officer let her look at photographs of anonymous dead who'd been found recently.
The fourth photo was of a man gagged and blindfolded with his arms above his head. The women decidedly instantly it was Saad. The cops gave the women an identification number to match the body. But police claimed they had no paperwork with clues to the cause of death, where his body had been found or when.
Lamburne, the British forensic expert, said that such identifications are notoriously suspect.
''You might have a blindfold, blood all over the place, and a traumatized family that desperately wants to find the person they're looking for,'' he said. ''I'm sure that sometimes people are just claiming a body because they want to believe they've found the right one.''
Armed with the identification number, Saad Abdullah's wife and sister went back to the central morgue for another two power-free days until they finally were allowed in. Urging each other on, steadfast in prayer, they walked in and found a maze of horrors.
''There were bodies on patios, courtyards, in rooms to our right and to our left,'' Ahlam Abdullah said. With refrigeration spotty, they walked among the dead on floors slick in body fluids.
None was the body they were looking for. Morgue workers suggested asking some of the undertakers who bury the unclaimed.
Outside stood a group of men joking with one another. As women, they were reluctant to approach them. But they mustered the courage.
They coaxed a series of men to check their records for the number matching the photograph they'd identified. The men would pull laptops from their cars, look and offer their regrets. Time and again the women returned, looking for another burial man who might check his records.
It wasn't until April, more than four months after the kidnapping, that they found the right undertaker. He had a match. Saad Abdullah, the man said, was in a grave a three-hour drive south - on ground between Najaf and Karbala considered sacred by Shiites.
So the women drove themselves - again, it was too dangerous a trek for men - to a graveyard for the unknown. Tombstones stretched to the horizon, nearly all identified by no more than a number.
''What a sight. There were graves upon graves,'' said Ahlam Abdullah. ''Thousands and thousands of graves of unidentified bodies. I thought to myself, how many families are missing their loved ones. How many are missing people who were abducted or just went missing. All these people who never returned.''
They found a name that matched their number - the digits that traced through Iraq's busted system of death accountancy to the man in the photo with the blindfold and gag. The grave marker bore a Quran verse and a number.
For slightly more than $100, promised a graveyard attendant, Saad Abdullah's name could replace the number.
''Is there no government agency, no formal department, no coroner's office who can at least make this process more humane?'' Ahlam Abdullah wondered. ''Isn't it enough that our loved ones are being killed like this? For every grave we saw, there is a family that has been broken down. For every grave we saw, mothers and sisters and daughters weep.''
(Canon reports for The Kansas City Star. Issa is a McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent.)
Posted by TONY on 21.5.07
Some have said Blair is the man for the World Bank. He has, after all, been Stan to Dubya's Ollie. But I think the man who has been prophesied to come out of the wilderness to save the world's poor is Rummy:
This is grim but necessary reading. It further gives the lie to Iraq Body Count and other agencies who are, willingly or not, underestimating the carnage in Iraq. These figures are just those which have come to the attention of the Karbala authorities.
As Iraq , Iraq , Iraq is quite properly, by the consensus of Blair’s political obituarists, his abject legacy, it has been overlooked that he also deserved outright condemnation for the debacle in Lebanon . His support for Israel ’s war on Hezbollah last summer also deserves to be engraved on his political headstone. When Israel bombed the Lebanese villages, killing over 1,000 Lebanese citizens, Blair repeatedly uttered the ridiculous phrase ‘we will not indulge in the politics of condemnation’. This is, verbatim, the mantra that Gerry Adams used for 20 years when confronted in interviews about IRA bombings. We as a country were reduced to trotting this out in the face of the outrages in Lebanon when Jacques Chirac was describing Israel ’s actions as ‘completely disproportionate’, a lenient enough condemnation in itself. To this day, Blair’s bizarre stance has radicalized young Muslims in this country as well as alienated our allies and partners in Europe and beyond. It is forgotten now but Ehud Ohlmert had visited Blair at Downing Street in June of last year. Ohlmert appears to have convinced Blair that Israel could roll over Hezbollah (‘Slam Dunk’ ring a bell?) and he adopted a stance of supporting Israel even in the face of the indefensible.
Israel's bombardment brought Hezbollah huge local support whilst weakening the elected Government of Lebanon. It also placed Blair foursquare with the US priorities in the Middle East of supporting Israel right or wrong and pursuing oil.
This makes the publication on 30th April of the report of the Winograd Commission untimely for Blair and his international ‘cronies’. The report, following on a six month investigation, is damning in the extreme. The link below will illustrate why Ohlmert’s reputation is totally destroyed and is another nail in the coffin of Blair’s ‘legacy’. This episode deserves to be remembered. If Blair’s spinners, toadies and a supine press have their way, I doubt if it will be.
Posted by TONY on 15.5.07
German Defense Minister slams civlilan massacres:
Posted by TONY on 14.5.07
Kiwi judge calls Blair a criminal
By IRENE CHAPPLE - Sunday Star Times Sunday, 13 May 2007
A New Zealand Supreme Court judge has launched a blistering attack on outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair, effectively calling him a war criminal for his role in the Iraq conflict.
Justice Ted Thomas, who retired last year but still presides over ongoing cases, told the Sunday Star-Times yesterday that Blair "deceived Cabinet, parliament and the British people" over the war.
And in a hard-hitting essay published in British journal The Spokesman this month, Thomas writes: "As extreme as it sounds, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that, should he be prosecuted at a time when the plea of sovereign immunity is not available, Mr Blair would be found guilty of a war crime."
Thomas said Blair would be guilty of the customary international law crime of aggression as the war was launched without legal basis. "A regime change is not the basis for conducting an invasion of another sovereign state." He said Blair misrepresented - and must have known he was misrepresenting - his attorney-general's advice on the legality of the war.
The essay has drawn conflicting opinion from across the political spectrum. Act Leader Rodney Hide said he was "astounded" a member of the New Zealand judiciary would launch such an attack.
"We get taught at politics 101 there's a distinction between parliament, politics and the judiciary, but here is a judge attacking this PM... his job is to interpret the cases before him, not to engage in politics."
National Party shadow attorney-general Chris Finlayson said the commentary was "not proper - but (Thomas) has always made his own rules".
But Green MP Keith Locke agreed with Thomas and said Blair had personal responsibility for misleading the public.
Locke said it showed admirable judicial independence and could provide Prime Minister Helen Clark with ammunition should she try to talk to the incoming British PM about withdrawing troops from Iraq. Clark was unavailable for comment at press time.
Last week, Blair, his leadership crippled by the decision to invade Iraq, announced he would stand down on June 27. He defended the decision to send troops, saying "hand on heart, I did what I thought was right".
But Thomas's savage essay accuses Blair of treating the foreign affairs portfolio as his "personal fiefdom". Blair, says Thomas, became "almost like a parrot" to the neo-conservatism of US president George W Bush's administration during his tenure.
He says the war is "also an indictment on the political system" which failed to hold him to account over the manipulation of intelligence. The lack of political checks meant Blair "was not constrained from committing political, immoral and illegal misdemeanours".
The US-led invasion began in 2003 after the Bush administration declared Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass destruction, a claim later found to be false. Hussein was hanged in December for his role in the 1982 Dujail massacre.
Since the war began, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of coalition troops have been killed.
Thomas wrote Blair also showed "effective complicity" in the US practice of extraordinary rendition - in which prisoners are deported to countries where they can be tortured.
The essay, written as a judicial investigation, said it was "incongruous" Blair had not resigned or been forced to resign over the war, which "was based on a delusion, and which has had such calamitous and humanly tragic consequences. In short, he has not been held accountable in parliament for the manipulation of the intelligence or the deception he practised in pursuit of the war".
But speaking yesterday to the Star-Times, Thomas said it was "beyond feasibility" Blair would ever stand trial for a war crime. "It will never happen, but (Blair) may have to be circumspect as to which countries he visits."
Thomas has not shied from controversy. He successfully took an injunction to stop the All Blacks touring South Africa in 1985 and worked on a case in which Greenpeace obtained damages against the French government for sinking the Rainbow Warrior. But he told the Star- Times he considers himself a "political eunuch". He published the essay after announcing his retirement because judges should be "aloof" from politics.
Posted by TONY on 12.5.07
A succinct six and half minute clip on the costs of the Iraq War:
Posted by TONY on 12.5.07
From Daily News - Sri Lanka:
AFGHANISTAN: Afghan lawmakers angered by mounting civilian deaths have sent a sharp warning to U.S. and NATO commanders, passing a motion for a military cease-fire and negotiations with the Taliban.
The resolution, which NATO labeled “a warning shot” across its own bow, came as reports emerged Wednesday of 21 villagers killed in airstrikes, including several women and children.
The proposal from the upper house of parliament, which also calls for a date to be set for the withdrawal of foreign troops, suggests that Afghan support for the five-and-a-half-year-old international military mission is crumbling amid a spate of civilian deaths.
“One of the reasons I want this bill implemented is because of the civilian deaths caused by both the enemy and international forces,” said Abdul Ahmad Zahidi, a parliamentarian from Ghazni province.
“It’s difficult to prevent civilian deaths when the Taliban go inside the homes of local people. How can you prevent casualties then? You can’t.” Parliament’s lower house and President Hamid Karzai must endorse the proposal for it to become law. Presidential officials were not available for comment Wednesday.
However, Karzai has repeatedly said he is open to talks with Taliban. The resolution passed Tuesday, hours before U.S. special forces battling insurgents in Helmand province called in a series of airstrikes.
The U.S.-led coalition said it destroyed “three enemy command and control compounds” near Sangin, a militant hotbed in the heart of Afghanistan’s biggest opium poppy region that has seen heavy fighting this year.
The coalition said a “significant” number of militants died in the 16-hour battle, which pitted insurgents against U.S. and Afghan government troops. One coalition soldier also died.
However, Helmand Gov. Assadullah Wafa said militants had sought shelter in Afghan homes and the airstrikes killed at least 21 civilians.
Neither account could be independently verified.
On Tuesday, the U.S. military apologized and paid compensation to the families of 19 people killed and 50 wounded by Marines Special Forces who fired on civilians after a suicide attack in eastern Afghanistan in March.
“We don’t want their money and apologies,” said Haji Lawania, who was injured in the incident and whose father and nephew were killed. The U.S. military also says it is looking into reports from Afghan officials that 51 civilians died in airstrikes and fighting in the western province of Herat last month.
According to an Associated Press tally based on reports from Afghan and Western officials, 238 civilians have been killed by violence this year, including at least 102 blamed on NATO or the U.S.-led coalition. Those numbers do not include the 21 reported killed Tuesday.
Posted by TONY on 10.5.07
I'm a bit concerned myself that the ignorance and crassness of his soldiers is just seeping through to him after four years:
Posted by TONY on 7.5.07
Terry McCarthy of ABC News, Baghdad on his experience in the last four years:
Posted by TONY on 3.5.07
Posted by TONY on 1.5.07