Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category
In The Intercept Jeremy Scahill has a good report on the Baghdad massacre of civilians done by the Blackwater employees:
A federal jury in Washington, D.C., returned guilty verdicts against four Blackwater operatives charged with killing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians and wounding scores of others in Baghdad in 2007.
The jury found one guard, Nicholas Slatten, guilty of first-degree murder, while three other guards were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard. The jury is still deliberating on additional charges against the operatives, who faced a combined 33 counts, according to the Associated Press. A fifth Blackwater guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, had already pleaded guilty to lesser charges and cooperated with prosecutors in the case against his former colleagues. The trial lasted ten weeks and the jury has been in deliberations for 28 days.
The incident for which the men were tried was the single largest known massacre of Iraqi civilians at the hands of private U.S. security contractors. Known as “Baghdad’s bloody Sunday,” operatives from Blackwater gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians at a crowded intersection at Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. The company, founded by secretive right-wing Christian supremacist Erik Prince, pictured above, had deep ties to the Bush Administration and served as a sort of neoconservative Praetorian Guard for a borderless war launched in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
While Barack Obama pledged to reign in mercenary forces when he was a senator, once he became president he continued to employ a massive shadow army of private contractors. Blackwater — despite numerous scandals, congressional investigations, FBI probes and documented killings of civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan — remained a central part of the Obama administration’s global war machine throughout his first term in office.
Just as with the systematic torture at Abu Ghraib, it is only the low level foot-soldiers of Blackwater that are being held accountable. Prince and other top Blackwater executives continue to reap profits from the mercenary and private intelligence industries. Prince now has a new company, Frontier Services Group, which he founded with substantial investment from Chinese enterprises and which focuses on opportunities in Africa. Prince recently suggested that his forces at Blackwater could have confronted Ebola and ISIS. “If the administration cannot rally the political nerve or funding to send adequate active duty ground forces to answer the call, let the private sector finish the job,” he wrote.
None of the U.S. officials from the Bush and Obama administrations who unleashed Blackwater and other mercenary forces across the globe are being forced to answer for their role in creating the conditions for the Nisour Square shootings and other deadly incidents involving private contractors. Just as the main architect of the CIA interrogation program, Jose Rodriguez, is on a book tour for his propagandistic love letter to torture, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, so too is Erik Prince pushing his own revisionist memoir, Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.
While the Blackwater verdict is an important and rare moment of accountability in an overwhelmingly unaccountable private war industry, it does not erase the fact that those in power—the CEOs, the senior officials, the war profiteers—walk freely and will likely do so for the rest of their lives.
What is so seldom discussed in public discourse on the use of mercenaries are the stories of their victims. After the Nisour Square massacre, I met with Mohammed Kinani, whose 9-year-old son, Ali, was the youngest person killed by Blackwater operatives that day. As he and his family approached the square in their car: . . .
He includes this brief movie:
Both articles are at Wall Street on Parade.
Very interesting interview with Laura Poitras (author of the quotation of the title) in the Washington Post.
$7.6 billion dollars bought us that little dip toward the right. It’s like pushing a beach ball under the water: as soon as the pressure’s release (the money stops flowing), the ball bounces right back to the surface. We would be well ahead to deflate the damn ball if we want to keep it underwater: legals drugs (all of them), regulate (and tax) their sale, and deal with addiction as a medical problem rather than a criminal problem. But that makes sense, and politicians and governments are strongly resistant to things that make sense. Their attention is focused on big donors and lobbyists, and they seem to pay little attention to anything else..
The graph is from a very good article by Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post:
The U.S. government wasted $7.6 billion on an ill-conceived drug war in Afghanistan that was doomed to failure from the start, according to ascathing new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The Afghan opium poppy crop, providing the raw material for the bulk of the world’s heroin supply, reached record levels in 2013 and is likely to climb even higher this year, the report finds.
“The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability” of the past decade of counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan, Special Inspector General John F. Sopko concludes. “Given the severity of the opium problem and its potential to undermine U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, I strongly suggest that your departments consider the trends in opium cultivation and the effectiveness of past counter-narcotics efforts when planning future initiatives.”
Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown, who has written extensively about the relationship between drug economies and military conflict, is not at all surprised by the findings. “A lot of these programs were counterproductive,” she told me, “and more importantly did not really address the structural drivers of [poppy] cultivation.”
At its root, the Afghan poppy trade is just a symptom of a much broader problem: Afghanistan is “an extremely weak state with an extremely weak economy, and huge insecurity,” Felbab-Brown said. Given the uncertainties, many Afghan farmers turn to poppy because they know they can turn a profit off it.
Until Obama took office, most U.S. anti-drug efforts were focused onunsustainable crop eradication efforts. Starting in 2009, U.S. policies focused more on economic development and the structural drivers of poppy cultivation, but Felbab-Brown says the implementation of these programs has been deeply flawed. . . .
We piss away money on things like this, shoveling sand against the surf, letting our government services—parks, our public educational system (elementary, secondary, and higher ed), public hospitals and so on—gradually collapse.
David Moore has a good post at Informed Comment:
The rise of ISIL, as well as the resurgence of the Taliban, has brought numerous “experts” out to offer analyses on the best way to combat these developments. The consensus is to bomb and arm (or re-arm Sunni) groups to fight ISIL. Since I have written a book on insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare in the First and Second Indochina Wars, I feel qualified to point out that my research shows we are on the wrong path for defeating ISIS, the Taliban, or any other insurgency in the future. (The book is based on my 1982 Master’s thesis in anthropology.)
My interest in unconventional warfare stemmed from my service in Vietnam, along with interest and education in the ancient Middle East and anthropology (a multi-disciplinary approach here is important: the first documented counter-insurgency dates to around 1,500 BC, between the Hittite Empire and Kaska tribesmen). Tribesmen have been recruited in history by diverse empires such as Babylonia, Rome and France, a practice that led to some disastrous outcomes for all three. This led me to write an anthropological case study of the effects of insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare on the various tribal groups of Vietnam, from the French involvement to the American. I later published it as “Tribal Soldiers of Vietnam: the Effects of Unconventional Warfare on Tribal Populations.”
In my book, I note that the French discovered in the First Indochina War they were not only fighting the “typical” or “historical” insurgency, i.e. guerrilla war, but a much more complex form of warfare combining politics with unconventional warfare. The signature aspect of this new insurgency, which the French considered the key aspect of modern insurgency, was labeled “parallel hierarchies.” Simply put, the insurgency establishes an effective parallel government and social services, mimicking the ineffective government offices in contested tribal areas. The French ultimately published in 1957 a landmark—but much ignored—study in the magazine Revue Militaire d’Information devoted entirely to the parallel hierarchies.
One way I described the two competing forms of warfare was through the formula RW = (GW + PW), meaning revolutionary (insurgency) warfare was a close combination of guerrilla warfare married to political warfare. The North Vietnamese set up efficient parallel services of courts, social services, military, etc. I wrote the formula for Western counter-insurgency as COIN = (GW) + (PW). Lacking an effective central government and incorruptible bureaucrats, not to mention lacking the will to create one, the quick Western fix was to hire local warlords while leaving their often brutal mechanism for control intact. These warlords supplied their own version of “anti-communism,” telling Western military and political leaders what they wanted to hear while pursuing their own agendas, oftentimes counterproductive by driving their victims into the insurgency.
The expedient use by the US military of warlord armies to fight these insurgents, in my opinion, was a foreseeable catastrophe.
The explosion of armed gangs extorting villages and individuals in Iraq and Afghanistan was not a surprise for anyone familiar with counter-insurgency in Vietnam. As I showed in my book, the growth of armed groups demanding “protection,” “taxes,” etc., is directly related to the standard recruiting and training practices of Western militaries.
Conversely, using the communist model employing parallel hierarchies, insurgencies co-opt and absorb through politics. Politics and religion can overcome tribalism, but US counter-insurgency doctrine (especially in the Middle East) has only further entrenched tribal animosities, sectarianism and chaos. As I showed in my book, left to their own devices, tribal minorities may unite for a united political end, such as independence. . .
At the link you’ll find not only the rest of the post, but also a video of a panel discussion of tribal societies and tribalism in Pakiston.
Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:
The first is from Anthony Fischer at Reason.tv. It includes just about every drug war excess imaginable, including a militarized police raid for a nonviolent crime, vaguely written drug laws, prosecutorial misconduct, the coercive use of bond, abuse of conspiracy charges, abuse of the plea bargain and the intimidation of media and witnesses to duck transparency.
The second video is from the conservative criminal justice reform group Right on Crime. It’s about prosecutorial discretion and the criminalization of environmental law. The couple in the video were forbidden from building on a parcel of land they had purchased when, after they had purchased it, it was designated a “wetland,” apparently because a backed-up drainage system had caused some standing water . . .
You know, regarding the first video, I’ve seen police aggression exactly like this in movies, but generally it’s Cold War East German movies, or Soviet-spy thrillers set in Moscow: such police actions and tactics were viewed as a sign of a bad government, a government that was starting to oppress its citizens. It’s a pretty familiar pattern, and I’m sorry to see it underway in the US.
Another example, from a NY Times article by Jim Dwyer today:
. . . When Bill de Blasio was running for mayor last year, he noted that marijuana arrests, which fall most heavily on black and Latino males, “have disastrous consequences,” and pledged to curtail the practice of ratcheting up what should be a minor violation of the law into a misdemeanor.
This week, a report showed that such arrests were continuing at about the same pace as last year; the de Blasio mayoralty had not appreciably changed the number of such cases. The Legal Aid Society has a roster of clients across the city who face misdemeanor charges for possession of minuscule amounts of pot because, it was charged, they were “openly displaying” it. About 75 percent of those charged had no prior criminal convictions, and more than 80 percent were black or Latino, according to the report, from the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and the Drug Policy Alliance. . .
Think about it: the NYPD no longer heeds the mayor. The NYPD is an independent entity with no controlling authority—well, no authority that can in fact exert control.
Police departments in this country are starting to seem like military emplacements to control the citizenry—at least in places (cf. Ferguson MO).
And the above raid was done with the support and participation of Federal law enforcement. It’s a little too Kristallnachtish for my taste. If you say, “Well, that’s only one case” (or three, depending on how you count), I would point out that each case is only one case—and moreover, don’t we want to take vigorous action to nip this kind of police work in the bud?