Blackwater USA, the private security contractor under scrutiny for its role in a deadly Baghdad shootout in September, has sacked 122 of its armed guards in Iraq since it started protecting U.S. diplomats there nearly three years ago, congressional investigators said Monday.
The firings, most frequently for weapons-related incidents, amount to more than one-seventh of Blackwater's current workforce in Iraq. None of the people fired has been subject to any legal proceedings or other sanction, the investigation found.
i'm starting with that from peter spiegel's 'inquiry details blackwater firings' (los angeles times). if you missed it, last week a nonsense report gathered news. it was presented as reality and people kept repeating it over and over. it was a limited cover - look at what awful things happened but some blackwater people - thank god! - interceeded. it was a white wash. but every 1 ran with it. that report, we learn today, was not written by the state dept. or by u.s. embassy staff. it was written by blackwater. tomorrow, erik prince of blackwater is supposed to testify before the house oversight committe chaired by henry waxman. al jazeera offers this:
US security contractor Blackwater was involved in nearly 200 shooting incidents in Iraq over the past two years and opened fire first in most of them, a US congressional report has said.
Blackwater is under investigation after some of its troops shot dead 11 Iraqis on September 16.
The private contractor in Iraq hired by the US state department has been the first to fire in more than 80 per cent of shooting incidents in which it has been involved according to a memorandum released on Monday, Henry Waxman, a Democrat, said.
now while the u.s. is stuck in iraq (thanks to the bully boy and cowardly demoncratic leaders in congress), thomas harding and toby helm's 'gordon brown to signal cut in iraq troops' (telegraph of london) tells you more cuts are in store across the atlantic:
Gordon Brown will pave the way for a substantial reduction in the number of British troops in Iraq by early next year when MPs return to Parliament on Monday, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.
the report the expected announcement may involve 'up to 2,000' british troops being pulled from southern iraq. if so, that is a huge number for the united kingdom because they've got 5,250 in southern iraq so we're talking over a 1/3 and closer to 1/2. but will they be pulled out of iraq or just pulled out of southern iraq? if they're pulled at all.
this isn't bully boy's surge ending which is being passed off as a u.s. drawdown. that drawdown only returns the numbers to the pre-surge figure.
we were over a t's tonight. she and her partner have just adopted. (they both prefer 'partner' to wife so that's the term used for any wondering.) so it was a couples and babies night. flyboy's best friend came over with his wife and their children.
point being, i'm tired. it was fun, but i'm tired. so let's close with c.i.'s 'Iraq snapshot:'
Monday, October 1, 2007. Chaos and violence continue, cholera rages, Palestinians are targeted by Shia militias in Iraq, Blackwater -- what do you say, and more.
Starting with war resistance. Saturday, Patrick Maloney (London Free Press) reported that twenty-year-old James Stepp became the latest US war resister to move to Canada's London -- driving from Ohio with wife Vicki and their two children Cheyenne and Tilford and joining war resisters Tim Richard, Linjamin Mull and Matt Lowell who are also putting down roots in the city. Maaloney quotes Stepp declaring, "We miss our friends and we miss our family very much. But it's just something that had to be done. . . . The culture in America is you're either with us or against us. Especially in the military. I just ask people to understand why I did it. I would rather be an outcast in my own country than commit war crimes and live in comfort knowing I had done that."
Another war resister in Canada should have been actively pursued by journalists last week. James Burmeister went to Canada in May of this year and went public on his reasons for self-checking out. Among those reasons were the "kill teams" of US snipers who left US property (any US Army property -- not, as the mainstream media narrative last week insisted, just weapons and materials to make weapons out of) lying around as traps for Iraqis who would then be shot for touching US property. While the US media -- All Things Media Big and Small -- played dumb, Mina Al-Oraibi (Asharq Alawsat) spoke with Burmeister: "Burmeister says he refuses to participate in the practices of what he described as 'small kill teams', which include 'four of five soldiers, with a couple of snipers, who would go out on the streets and put something out, like a camera. Then they'd put a sign out [that said] if anyone touched it, they would be killed. But a lot of these people do not read English, so they would touch it to see what it is, and then they would be shot. [This is justified by] saying the American army has the right to shoot anyone trying to steal its property'." Mina Al-Orabi also speaks with war resister Matthew Lowell who notes that, unlike Burmeister, he's not sure his family in the United States supports his decision: "I do talk to my family, although they haven't come to visit me at all. As far as them supporting my decision, I am not fully certain." He explains, "I tried to get out legitimately before deciding to go AWOL [Absent Without Official Leave]. Nothing I did worked through; I came to Candada first in September-October 2003. At that time, I didn't know about applying for refugee status or a work permit and just got a job that paid under the table." After which, Lowell went back to the United States, turned himself in, checked out from Fort Knox and eventually, November 2005, returned to Canada and states, "Call me what you want. I left my country, my friends, my family, all because of my conscience and morals. What kind of person would I be if I agreed to participate in the slaughtering of people who didn't agree with my way of life, who didn't threaten my family, my friends, and everything that I know? When I joined the military it was to defend all those that I hold dear. I volunteered for the military on those grounds, so why if we aren't defending, should I have to kill? At least I can still hold my head up high and carry myself with pride and respect."
In Friday's snapshot, we noted that three war resisters had published their stories in book form this year: Aidan Delgado with The Sutras Of Abu Ghraib: Notes From A Conscientious Objector In Iraq, Camilo Mejia shared his story in Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia and Joshua Key told his story in The Deserter's Tale. Today, a fourth war resister joins that list. As Elaine noted Friday, Letters from Fort Lewis Brig: A Matter of Conscience is Kevin Benderman (with wife Monica Benderman) telling his story. Kevin Benderman saw a kangaroo court in July 2005 -- his court-martial on trumped up charges -- and no applause from the military brass for any commendable actions such as refusing an order in Iraq to shoot at little kids who were throwing rocks. Prior to and during Kevin Benderman's imprisonment, Monica Benderman went to many book stores attempting to find books about COs (Kevin Benderman attempted to be granted CO status) and other forms of resistance. She found basically zilch at the time. Kevin Benderman's story is one that needs to be told. And they're getting it out.
Of course some will not know about it. For instance, The Nation has refused to review any of the three books already released. A weekly magazine, purportedly against the illegal war, that has pages and pages, and wasted pages, of really bad writing about really bad books but it can't be bothered -- thus far -- in reviewing books by war resisters. Amazingly, what a weekly -- with pages and pages of book reviews each issue -- can't do (really, what they won't do) ISR and The Progressive have been able to. This month, ISR proved they can continue to do so as they reviewed Mejia's Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia (not available online -- we noted it in last Monday's snapshot -- it runs on pages 73 and 74 of the print edition and is written by Elizabeth Wrigley-Field). That's the September/October edition of ISR. The October issue of The Progressive also reviews Mejia's book. JoAnn Wypijewski review ("Dilemmas of a War Resister") runs from pages 39-44 and uses the book as a starting off point to address multiple issue about the illegal war. Wypijewski notes, "Mejia seems to have found his voice, in life and in the book, in the course of saying no. At the end of his court-martial -- his description of which captures the sinking experience of witnessing justice reduce to procedure -- he tells the panel of jurors:
"Yes, you have the power to convict me, to sentence me, to discharge me with a bad conduct discharge. . . I have been a bad soldier according to you, and you have that much power, but [remember] I am part of the military. . . I am one of you, and this is my family too. We're all on trial. Not just me, sitting here, but everybody here in uniform, everybody in this country. . . . Now I feel free."
This review isn't available online. The October issue isn't up yet at the site. The Progressive makes selections available each month. There's a great deal in the October issue (and I wish I'd gone through it last night because it could have easily fit into "And the war drags on"). But we're going to leave it with that for this snapshot and hopefully pick up later in the week. We'll also note Wypijewski later in this snapshot on a different topic. For now, we'll note that both The Progressive and ISR have reviewed two of the now four books by war resisters. Aidan Delgado's only came out last month and Kevin Benderman's is out today. One is a monthly, the other a bi-monthly. Both were able to do what The Peace Resister Katrina vanden Heuvel's weekly Nation magazine won't. Just as the magazine refuses to cover war resisters.
There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes James Stepp, Matthew Lowell, Derek Hess, Diedra Cobb, Brad McCall, Justin Cliburn, Timothy Richard, Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Zamesha Dominique, Chrisopther Scott Magaoay, Jared Hood, James Burmeister, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Carla Gomez, Luke Kamunen, Leif Kamunen, Leo Kamunen, Camilo Mejia, Kimberly Rivera, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Agustin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Abdullah Webster, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, Blake LeMoine, Clifton Hicks, David Sanders, Dan Felushko,Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Dale Bartell, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Chris Capps, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Christopher Mogwai, Christian Kjar, Kyle Huwer, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Sudbury, Ghanim Khalil, Vincent La Volpa, DeShawn Reed and Kevin Benderman. In total, forty-one US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum.
Information on war resistance within the military can be found at The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline [(877) 447-4487], Iraq Veterans Against the War and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. Tom Joad maintains a list of known war resisters.
Turning to the issue of mercenaries. Over the weekend, Warren P. Strobel (McClatchy Newspapers) reported on the beliefs by those working under State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard that he was impeading "investigations into alleged arms smuggling by employees of the private security firm Blackwater and into faulty construction of the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad" and that he "threatened two investigators with retaliation this week if they cooperate with a congressional probe into Krongard's office". The US State Department has relied on Blackwater for protection. And the State Department can always rely on the New York Times for protection -- decade after decade. Which is the best explanation for James Risen (New York Times) proclaiming on Saturday that the State Dept had started not one, not two, but 3 investiagions -- those reading further into the article may have noted that the person over the investigations was still not in Iraq at the time Risen 'reported' (though he was expected to arrive at some point over the weekend). While the Times provided cover, Scotland's Sunday Herald provided coverage noting, "EVEN FOR Blackwater, it was an atrocity too far. If an Iraqi government report is to be believed, Blackwater, a US mercenary company which is unofficially the world's largest "for hire" private army, indiscriminately and without provocation opened fire earlier this month on civilians in a Baghdad street, killing at least 20 people." That's referencing the September 16th attack by Blackwater where they slaughtered innocent Iraqis in Baghdad. Note "mercenary" is used and not apologized for nor are quotation marks required. During the time since that slaughter, as more and more of the mercenary violence has made even the mainstream news, the Defense Department has been happy to point fingers at the State Department and note that it's that US department using Blackwater. Ali Gharib (Asia Times) reports today that the Defense Department's hands are far from clean and, inf act, despite homophobe Petey Pace -- joint chief of staffs -- declaring that Blackwater "could certanily be" a contractor "in the future" seeming to imply that the September 16th slaughter had resulted in some soul searching on the part of DoD, "The future arrived just two hours later when the Pentagon released a new list of contracts - Presidential Airways, the aviation unit of parent Blackwater, was awarded the contract to fly Department of Defense passengers and cargo around Central Asia." Keeping Blackwater in business since . . . well, all along.
Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) noted the contract is for $92 million and that "Newseek has obtained an extensive evidence file assembled by the Iraqi National Police after the Sept. 16 shooting. Iraqi officials concluded Blackwater forces opened fire unprovoked from the ground and the sky." And CNN reports that, "A Blackwater contractor wrote an initial U.S. government report about how his colleagues killed Iraqi civilians in a September shooting that strained U.S.-Iraqi relations, government and industry sources told CNN." This was the two-page State Department report and if you're unfamiliar with it, we noted it repeatedly via the 'reporting' of Sabrina Tavernise and James Glanz for the New York Times. So a correction is in order. I had no idea that the State Department had contracted out their long history of direct channels with the paper of no record or that they had contracted that relationship to Blackwater. Tavernise and Glanz must be so proud to be on the 'cutting edge' of a new chapter in the paper's history.
So, to be perfectly clear, the following appeared on Friday: "To no surprise James Glanz and Sabrina Tavernise are back to shovel the usual crap they've provided on Blackwater throughout. Based on a a two-page report (put out by the US), they write a self-serving account that makes you wonder if they're sleeping with Blackwater? Unliked the Iraqi government's report, the two never use 'self-serving' to describe the report. The report isn't worth noting here. It's nothing but distraction and you can tell that by the fact that the State Department is trying to publicly maintain distance from the report. But Tavernise and Glanz have no distance, they've been one-sided throughout on this story and today's nonsense further undermines their own standing as journalists." That is the two-page spot report CNN is reporting on. And we will stand by the report being "self-serving" -- it read such and Glanz and Tavernise -- so quick to apply the term to an Iraqi report -- should have applied to what was in fact that report the State Dept outsourced to Blackwater. This is the heavily pimped report that cast Blackwater in a much more positive light than reality provided. Proud moments for Tavernise and Glanz, proud moments.
Two Fridays ago, on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, Rehm asked about the Iraqis slaughtered by Blackwater on September 16th and guests participating in the roundtable had no information on them. McClatchy Newspapers' Leila Fadel (at the paper's blog Baghdad Observer) does and wrote of it as she prepared to leave Iraq for a brief period, "But the things that will stay with me over my break are Afrah's tears. I sat in her home this past week to talk about her mother Ghania. Afrah was the woman's favorite among her eight children. Often her sisters would complain that she and Ghania were always together. Afrah talked about her kindness, Ghania would hide away her favorite foods for her or pick up clothes or trinkets from the market that reminded her of her daughter. Ghania is gone, killed at the back of a bus by what witnesses said were bullets from Blackwater security guards on Sept. 16 in Nisour square. While they protected Americans Iraqis died, witnesses said." Ghania is only one of the many slaughtered by the mercenaries of Blackwater.
Moving to some of today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an east Baghdad bombing left three people injured while a northeast Baghdad bombing left two people injured. Reuters notes a Mosul car bombing claimed the life of 1 university professor (six more individuals were wounded) and a mortar attack in Yusufiya claimed the life of 1 adult and left a child wounded.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that Abdul Jalil Khalaf ("police commander of Basra province") was targeted with an assassination today (he survived) and yesterday Lt. Col. Norri was attacked by three assailants who fired repeatedly at his car in Al Anbar Province.
Reuters notes 4 corpses discovered in Kirkuk and 2 in Mahaweel.
Last week, the US Senate voted 75 in favor of what's known as the Biden amendment. The non-binding legislation (do the Dems offer anything binding since being returned to power?) calls for the partitioning of Iraq into 3 areas. Ron Jacobs (CounterPunch) observed last week, "Partitioning Iraq is not a solution that is Washington's to make. The recent vote by the US Senate is misguided. In addition, it will do little to further the desire of the US public to bring the troops home. Instead, it will put US forces in the position of maintaining the newly created divisions along new lines in the sand. Senator Biden's bill is not a solution. It is another false approach that has as much chance at success as anything tried by the Bush administration. In other words, it is destined to fail." Ned Parker and and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) reported yesterday, "Iraq's divided political leadership, in a rare show of unity, skewered a non-binding U.S. Senate resolution approved in Washington last week that endorsed the decentralization of Iraq into semiautonomous regions." Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) reports today, "Opposition to it has even found currency on the street, where Iraqis have volunteered their opinion to American reporters they encountered. Said one, 'So you are going to divide our country?'" Both Rubin and the team of Parker and Salman report on Sunday's press conference in which a statement was read declaring that the partition proposal "represents a dangerous precedent to establishing the nature of relationship between Iraq and the USA and shows the Congress as if it were planning for a long-term occupation by their country's troops and for their staying in Iraq." Also now opposing the plan is, AFP reports, Jordan's King Abdulla II has come out publicly against the measure. The Biden amendment is named after US Senator and 2008 presidential hopeful Joe Biden.
Staying with the US Congress. Michael Ratner and Heidi Boghosian addressed the US Congress on WBAI's Law and Disorder today (Ratner and Boghosian host the program along with Dalia Hashad and Michael Ratner) with Ratner noting that the measures to end the illegal war have not been pushed by Democrats and the excuse offered : "What they said they were afraid of was a filibuster. . . . If they'd been forced to go through with it then the Republicans would have been forced to filibuster and they [Republicans] would have been seen as obstructing it."
Heidi Boghosian: Why? Why didn't they push for this?
Michael Ratner: Other than the fact that Democrats play softball compared to the Republicans who play hardball, you know this was never an issue when the Republicans were there. When the Democrats said we'll filibuster -- when the Republicans ran the Congress -- you know what the Republicans' reaction was? We're going to change the law, we're going to change the way Congress runs, and we're going to make it so you can't filibuster anymore. And so that was the Republicans' reaction but the Democrats instead of saying "We're going to force you to filibuster on the Iraq War and it's your problem," they just basically caved. So we're here with the Iraq War for a very, very long time, I'm afraid.
Now in last week's Democratic presidential nominee 'debate' broadcast on MSNBC, 'front runners' Barack Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton all refused to pledge the illegal war, if elected president, by the end of their first term. As we noted at The Third Estate Sunday Review yesterday, Joe Biden -- author of the now rejected amendment (which doesn't mean the Senate won't stick with it) -- attempted to say yes and no: "Candidate Joe Biden hedged the answer. He said yes and he said no. He declared, 'Just from Iraq. You're going to bring all troops home from Iraq. If in fact there is no political solution by the time I am president, then I would bring them out because all they are is fodder. But -- but -- if you go along with the Biden plan that got 75 votes today and you have a stable Iraq like we have in Bosnia -- we've had 20,000 Western troops in Bosnia for 10 years. Not one has been killed -- not one. The genocide has ended. So it would depend on the circumstances when I became president.' He would bring them all home . . . unless his plan to partition Iraq into three sections came to be and since it won the support of 75 idiots in the Senate, it's very likely that Iraq will be carved up into three areas if the US has the last say. In which case, Biden's answer is 'no'."
Michael Ratner: The war of course is more complicated. The most cynical of people say that the Democrats don't want to vote to actually do anything about the war in part because they want the Republicans to lose the election based on the war. Of course I don't see why a filibuster wouldn't have done that same thing by the Republicans. But I actually think in some ways that it's a cyncial, political maneuver that Nancy Pelosi and others, and Reid -- the Senate Majority Leader, Pelosi of course in the House -- have basically made a calculation: the Democrats can win and they can win the presidency if things remain approximately the same around the war.
HeidI Boghosian: Hmm-hmm. The status quo.
Michael Ratner: And meanwhile Iraqis are dying every day and American soldiers are dying every day.
And it's not just bullets and bombs killing Iraqis -- the cholera outbreak continues with AP reporting yesterday, "Three more people have died of cholera in Iraq, bringing the number of deaths to 14 across the country, the World Health Organization said." Today AFP reports that hospitals in the northern section of the country "are reporting up to 100 new cases of cholera a day as the bacterial disease continues to spread across the country". Prensa Latina observes that 12 have died in the outbreak and at lest 2,839 have een confirmed as infected "according to the Iraqi Health Ministry on Monday."
From cholera to the refugee crisis. Amnesty International reveals:
Scores of Palestinian refugees in Iraq have been killed since the US-led invasion in 2003. Most were abducted by armed groups and their bodies found a few days later in a morgue or dumped in a street, often mutilated or with clear marks of torture. Many Palestinians have fled their homes, most of which are in Baghdad, after receiving written threats warning them to leave the country or face death. Some are in hiding inside Iraq; others are stranded in makeshift camps near the Iraq/Syria border with no apparent solution to their plight. Some Palestinians have been arrested and detained by Iraqi security forces on suspicion of involvement in insurgency activities or links with Sunni insurgents. Most of those arrested have been released without charge, but many say they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention. Palestinian refugees have been targeted by armed militia groups affiliated to Shi'a religious parties because of their ethnicity and because they are reputed to have received preferential treatment under the former Ba'ath government headed by Saddam Hussain. As Iraq plunged into chaos and the sectarian strife between Shi'a and Sunni intensified, Palestinians became more vulnerable.
That is from their press release. Click here for the full report -- and the link takes you to HTML, not PDF.
Lastly, this may be the only time this gets noted before the events take place (it's also the first time because I keep forgetting to mention it). October 13th and October 14th, the Kopkind holds two major events in Vermont -- Saturday, October 13th, Peter Davis will screen his amazing documentary -- amazing and Oscar winning -- Hearts and Minds at 4:00 pm in Brattleboro and the following day in Guilford, Vermont a forum entitled Left Alive? will be held with Alexander Cockburn (CounterPunch) participating along with JoAnn Wypijewski (whom we noted earlier in the snapshot and who is also on the Kopkind board of directors -- named after the tell-it-like-it-is reporter Andrew Kopkind. Please see The Kopkind Blog for more details (and possibly correct details -- verify what I've just dictated if you're interested in the events).
Closing with fables for the willfully dumb, it's the first month which means that not only is the Surpeme Court back in session (first Monday in October), it's also time for the paper's who bother to note the death toll (US) in Iraq to rush to print their features despite the fact that M-NF regularly and repeatedly makes announcements for the previous month after it has ended. Jim Michaels (USA Today) is jazzed on the 'news' that the death toll is 62 for September -- "the lowest levels in more than a year." But 'news' -- like bad reporting -- can shift quickly and ICCC reports it's 63 for the month of September. ICCC has updated their count since the start of the illegal war to 3804 which is also the count AP goes with. Of course, AFP reported yesterday, "US military losses in Iraq for September stood at 71 on Sunday, but the toll remained the lowest monthly figure since July last year, according to an AFP tally based on Pentagon figures." and the count since the start of the illegal war was then 3892. But don't dwell on the numbers (or the way M-NF kept reporters confused all month as they frequently refused to make announcements leading people to wait for the DoD to announce the names of the dead whose deaths were never announced).