Saturday, February 28, 2009

Doomed to Repeat History in Afghanistan

by: Joe Galloway, McClatchy Newspapers

President Barack Obama this week is laying out the road home from the war in Iraq during the next 19 months. More or less.

The President has indicated that he'll order the withdrawal of upward of 100,000 American troops from a war that began six years ago and has cost us more than 4,200 American dead, well over 70,000 wounded or injured and nearly a trillion dollars in national treasure.

This withdrawal, however, will leave tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq to train and advise Iraqi security forces, safeguard American facilities and personnel and continue tracking down and eliminating the worst al Qaida in Iraq terrorists.

The president and the generals in command are operating against an Iraqi deadline of 2012 for the removal of all American troops from the country as dictated in the status of forces agreement negotiated between Washington and Baghdad late last year.

It's time - past time - to begin a major drawdown of U.S. forces in a war that was begun on false pretenses with little foresight or planning and a rosy forecast of a swift victory and an even swifter withdrawal by the summer of 2003.

The nation we set out to free from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and visit with the blessings of democracy has paid a hellish price for its salvation: Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been slaughtered in civil war and ethnic cleansing, and as collateral damage in the war. Millions more have been forced from their homes and turned into refugees abroad and displaced persons inside their own country.

If there's no peace in Iraq, there is, at least, a silence of sorts and a greatly reduced death toll, both for American troops and for Iraqi civilians.

We can only hope for our own sake that it'll hold for the coming 19 months and, for the sake of the Iraqis, for much longer than that.

Now we wait to hear how many of the American troops leaving Iraq will be retrained and recycled into a potentially disastrous war in Afghanistan that's dragged on even longer, by a year and a half.

The president has ordered three brigades of U.S. combat troops, plus additional support troops - a total of 17,000 soldiers and Marines - to reinforce the 30,000 Americans already in Afghanistan.

The American commander on the ground in Afghanistan, Army Gen. David McKiernan, had sought more than 30,000 troops for an Afghan surge, but he was given just over half that number as the Obama administration and the Pentagon study several reviews of U.S. strategy and tactics in that struggle.

Even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Pentagon have scaled back the Bush administration's lip service to lofty goals such as victory and a democratically elected national government in Afghanistan as the war grows more deadly and dangerous, even that may not be enough of a row back for the Obama people.

The focus is, and ought to be, on neighboring Pakistan, and on how Washington can help steady a shaky new government there that's besieged by homegrown and imported terrorists and by an economic meltdown in a place that already had had plenty of both before the global recession made itself felt.

The new administration wants to know what the end game and the exit strategy will be in Afghanistan before it doubles down on additional forces and commits billions of dollars more in aid for nation building and rebuilding.

The previous administration was seemingly happy to declare Mission Accomplished in Afghanistan after toppling the Taliban government and then starving the necessary conflict there of manpower, machinery and money to focus on its elective war in Iraq. During the long period of neglect, both the Taliban and al Qaida went to work rebuilding in their hideaways across the border in Pakistan's wild frontier provinces.

The Taliban insurgents now have a chokehold on as much as 70 percent of Afghanistan, and they're proving to be flexible and adaptive in their attacks on American, NATO and Afghan forces.

If the new American team has some new ideas about how to succeed in Afghanistan, now would be the time to lay them out. Nothing that Alexander the Great, Queen Victoria or Leonid Brezhnev tried in their attempts to subdue the quarrelsome Afghan tribes worked, and nothing we've tried in the last eight years has, either.

While we're waiting for a new strategy, perhaps we should break out some old Kipling:

"When wounded and left on Afghanistan's plain

"And the women come out to cut up your remains ...."

Etc., etc.

Mom: Deployment leaves no one to care for kids


DAVIDSON, N.C. - When Lisa Pagan reports for duty Sunday, four long years after she was honorably discharged from the Army, she'll arrive with more than her old uniform. She's bringing her kids, too.

"I have to bring them with me," she said. "I don't have a choice."

Pagan is among thousands of former service members who have left active duty since the Sept. 11 attacks, only to later receive orders to return to service. They're not in training, they're not getting a Defense Department salary, but as long as they have time left on their original enlistment contracts, they're on "individual ready reserve" status _ eligible to be recalled at any time.

Soldiers can appeal, and some have won permission to remain in civilian life. Pagan filed several appeals, arguing that because her husband travels for business, no one else can take care of her kids. All were rejected, leaving Pagan with what she says is a choice between deploying to Iraq and abandoning her family, or refusing her orders and potentially facing charges.

Then she hit on the idea of showing up Sunday at Fort Benning, Ga., with her children in tow.

"I guess they'll have to contact the highest person at the base, and they'll have to decide from there what to do," Pagan said. "I either report and bring the children with me or don't report and face dishonorable discharge and possibly being arrested. I guess I'll just have to make my case while I'm there."

Master Sgt. Keith O'Donnell, an Army spokesman in St. Louis, said the commander at Fort Benning will decide how to handle the situation.

"The Army tries to look at the whole picture and they definitely don't want to do anything that jeopardizes the family or jeopardizes the children," O'Donnell said. "At the same time, these are individuals who made obligations and commitments to the country."

Of the 25,000 individual ready reserve troops recalled since September 2001, more than 7,500 have been granted deferments or exemptions, O'Donnell said. About 1,000 have failed to report. O'Donnell most of those cases are still under investigation, while 360 soldiers have been separated from the Army either through "other than honorable" discharges or general discharges.

He said Pagan isn't likely to face charges, since none of the individual ready reserve soldiers who have failed to report faced a court-martial.

Pagan, who grew up near Camden, N.J., was working in a department store when she made her commitment in September 2002. She learned how to drive a truck, and met Travis while stationed in Hawaii. She had her first child while in uniform, and they left the service in 2005 when their enlistments were up.

She always knew there was a chance she could be recalled, so she buried the thought in the back of her mind.

"When I enlisted, they said almost nobody gets called back when you're in the IRR," she said.

The young family settled outside of Charlotte in the college town of Davidson, where Travis landed a job as a salesman. It required lots of travel, but that was OK _ Pagan enjoyed her life as a stay-at-home mom to their son Eric and second child, a daughter named Elizabeth.

She opened a child-care center in her home, and started taking classes at nearby Fayetteville State.

The orders to return to active duty arrived in December 2007. She told the Army there was no one to take care of her children: Her husband spent most of his time on the road, and they believe quitting his job is a sure path to bankruptcy and foreclosure. Her parents live in New Jersey and her husband's parents live in Texas. Neither are able to help out. The Army wasn't persuaded.

Pagan hired attorney Mark Waple, who filed another appeal, which included a letter from Travis Pagan's employer that said bluntly: "In order for Travis to remain an employee, he will be required to travel." In December 2008, her appeal was again rejected.

"It's the obligation of commanders to make certain that service members have a valid family care plan and that clearly has not happened in Lisa's case," Waple said.

Tom Tarantino, a policy associate with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a nonprofit group that helps veterans, said the Army has taken a hard line on many of these cases.

"Usually the only way that someone can get out of the deployment or get out of the military due to a family hardship is if they get into a situation where the kids will be put into foster care," Tarantino said.

"That's how serious it has to be, and I'm sure what the military is telling her _ and I'm not saying that this is exactly the right answer _ but the fact that it is inconvenient for her husband's job is not the military's problem. It's very harsh."

A service of the Associated Press(AP)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Homeland Offense

Washington contemplates deploying the Armed Forces for domestic law enforcement.

By Kelley Beaucar Vlahos

Americans have become so inured to the sight of federal troops fighting fires, rescuing flood victims from rooftops, and engaging in drug interdiction on the border that few eyebrows were raised when news broke that 20,000 active-duty infantry would soon be deployed on American soil for so-called homeland defense.

But critics say this development—announced by U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) in October—is unprecedented and further evidence of a military mission-creep into domestic affairs, particularly in areas for which the National Guard and Reserves are already suited.

“I don’t get it. I don’t understand why they are further encumbering active-duty brigades with this kind of mission,” says Winslow Wheeler, author of America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress and one of Washington’s few civilian experts on the Pentagon’s Byzantine budget. “It sounds like someone is expanding his empire.”

Pentagon officials say that having a permanent, ready-reaction force capable of responding to a catastrophic event—natural or manmade—is a sensible and necessary outgrowth of post-9/11 national security. But the move has constitutional experts, civil libertarians, and retired and active military scratching their heads. Politicians are now demanding answers, wondering how close the military is to violating the Posse Comitatus Act, the 1878 federal law passed after Reconstruction to prevent federal troops from conducting domestic law enforcement. A separate Department of Defense directive prohibits the Navy and Marines from engaging in such activities.

“We were encouraging the Department [of Defense] to do something different than this,” says an aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee thinks the federal government “jumped without weighing the pros and the cons,” while reacting to fears that the country would not be able to respond effectively to a future disaster. “[Leahy] asked for a briefing and is watching how it is being handled.” But like any expansion of Washington’s power, a dramatic reversal now seems unlikely unless President Barack Obama gets personally involved.

Meanwhile, the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT) is back from duty in Iraq and now training at Fort Stewart, Georgia as the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, High-Yield Explosive Consequence Management Response Force (CCMRF, pronounced “sea smurf.”)

Other forces will join these soldiers to form a total of four domestically garrisoned BCT’s—or about 20,000 troops —by 2012, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Almarah Belk. From here on, said Belk, CCMRF will have “unique training” in disaster recovery, with “equipment and personnel that cannot be found anywhere else in the federal government.” She insisted that, in adherence to Posse Comitatus, the forces would not be enforcing the law.

“Their primary role is to augment the consequence management efforts of the first responders” at the state level, she told TAC. CCMRF won’t be called in unless requested by governors or if the president declares an emergency. That sounds justified, given fears of another 9/11-style attack and widespread disgust at how federal authorities reacted to Hurricane Katrina, but the last part—if the president declares an emergency—raises some flags.

“If you hand power over to a political official, the chances that it might be abused are better than not,” says Salon writer Glenn Greenwald, author of Great American Hypocrites and a former constitutional litigator. “The potential for mischief—even if it is not intended right now or there is no specific plan for abuse—is quite high if we allow the president to use the military for domestic purposes.”

Greenwald and others point out that there are safeguards such as Posse Comitatus—loosely translated from Latin, “the power of the country”—preventing troops from rolling into town, setting up checkpoints, and arresting people. Only three years ago, however, the Bush administration tried to broaden the criteria under which the president could invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, allowing the executive branch to override Posse Comitatus and declare martial law.

“These things don’t happen in a vacuum,” said Craig Trebilcock, an Army reservist and former JAG officer who shared his thoughts with TAC as a private citizen and attorney. The Bush administration’s mindset, he added, was to chafe against “any significant restrictions on its use of active duty military forces in the continental U.S.—a tectonic shift from our previous history.”

For nearly 200 years, the Insurrection Act held that the president could only declare martial law “to suppress, in a state, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination or conspiracy.” That would seem broad enough, but in 2006 the Bush administration managed to push new language through the GOP-controlled Congress that added “natural disaster, epidemic or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident” to the conditions permitting the president to act.

The changes, buried in the massive Defense Authorization Act of 2006, passed with little dissent on Capitol Hill. After the Democrats recaptured Congress, however, Senator Leahy succeeded in repealing the amendments. It was, according to the senator’s aide, “a bipartisan effort.”

One tiny battle won, but observers say that the slow erosion of Posse Comitatus and other safeguards goes on—with the complicity of an incurious if not compliant citizenry.

The 9/11 attacks and the aggressive posture of federal authority advanced by the Bush administration convinced Americans that “the solution to any significant problem relies on military action,” says Greenwald. “We place our faith now in the power of the executive to solve every potential problem. … When you adopt that mentality, it makes sense, I suppose, to give the president and the military troops under his command even more domestic powers.”

In “The Myth of Posse Comitatus,” a paper Trebilcock wrote in 2000, before the war on terror, he said that Posse Comitatus “is a statutory creation, not a constitutional prohibition. Accordingly, the act can and has been repeatedly circumvented by subsequent legislation,” particularly since 1980, when militarization began in earnest in the largely unsuccessful war on drugs.

For the purposes of drug interdiction and immigration control at the southwest border, restrictions under Posse Comitatus were loosened to allow a wide variety of military surveillance, training, and support activities. Questions about the military’s role finally arose after camouflaged Marines shot and killed a U.S. citizen as he tended goats a mile from his home in Redford, Texas. Esequiel Hernandez Jr., 18, often carried a .22-caliber rifle to ward off coyotes. Patrolling Marines, participating in an antinarcotics effort, said they acted in self-defense, but a subsequent investigation indicated otherwise. None of the Marines was charged, but the government paid $1.9 million to the family in a wrongful-death settlement.

The military was taken off the border, but it has since returned. The U.S. Coast Guard, which is not bound by Posse Comitatus, is also a major player. According to Thomas Schweich, a former Bush deputy secretary for international law-enforcement affairs, the Pentagon is “muscling in everywhere.” Writing for the Washington Post in December, he said the Pentagon runs “a big chunk” of the new Merida Initiative, a $400 million antidrug effort out of the State Department that supposedly complements law-enforcement operations in Mexico, Central America, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

In some instances, the expanding military presence on Main Street in non-emergencies has raised alarm. In December, authorities got an earful when the Morongo Basin office of the California Highway Patrol announced it would be working with Marine Corps Military Police to conduct joint sobriety and driver’s license checks in San Bernardino County.

“What has High Desert residents confused is that they are not used to military police so far from the Marine base,” reported local news ABC affiliate KESQ, suggesting that Posse Comitatus had been compromised. Not so, said Marine Lt. Thomas Beck: “We were not actively participating in enforcing any laws. We were just there to observe and observe only” in order to learn about conducting their own sobriety tests on base.

In other cases, residents seem indifferent. Last June, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted urban-warfare exercises across central Indiana. According to a WRTV Channel 6 report, Indianapolis “surrendered” 26 sites, “a number of them public parks, where Marines plan to land helicopters and deploy troops.” The two-week training exercise included a force of 2,600 soldiers who fired weapons, conducted patrols, and reacted to ambushes “in an unfamiliar urban environment … in the interest of national defense.” Three months earlier, the media castigated Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner after he pulled the plug on similar maneuvers by a Marine Reserve unit in his city. Finkbeiner said that he hadn’t been informed until the Marines were on their way, and he “didn’t think it was a good idea.”

Federal officials have repeatedly said that the military operates within the law. But they also point out that some key exceptions to Posse Comitatus allow the president to deploy the military for law enforcement to prevent future terrorist attacks and to respond to crimes involving nuclear, chemical, or biological incidents. So far, none of these exceptions has been invoked.

Federal troops certainly operate on U.S. soil today in numerous homeland defense, counter-drug, and civil-support missions under NORTHCOM, but they have only been deployed under martial law ten times since 1957. Each instance involved the federalization of the National Guard to quell violence and unrest: troops shielded civil-rights protesters and students entering desegregated schools in the South and policed race riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., looting after Hurricane Hugo in the Virgin Islands, and the violence after the 1992 Rodney King decision in Los Angeles. In 1970, the Guard was federalized for the New York City postal strike. More than 1,000 troops delivered the mail.

Whether well-founded or not, fears abound that the new BCT assignments to the homefront foreshadow abuses of executive power; that a president could use the threat of terrorism or an actual attack to invoke the Insurrection Act and call in battle-hardened troops to suppress social disorder or political dissent.

“God forbid, if there were another terrorist attack, would they [CCMRF] be precluded from engaging in law enforcement? You don’t know that,” said Jonathan Hafetz, head of the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project, which has filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests with various government agencies to learn more about CCMRF. “There was no public debate on this—it just sort of happened.”

Greenwald argues, “The fact there is a legal framework shouldn’t give anyone confidence that it will be adhered to. You obviously see that in many contexts over the years—illegal wiretapping, torture. Congress hasn’t shown any interest in it at all.”

Which brings us back to CCMRF. “What are the conditions under which they will come in? What’s the trigger? How many will roll in? What is their essential task? That is the key to the puzzle,” says retired Lt. Col. Richard Liebert , who has served on active duty, in the Reserves, and as a National Guardsman.

Like others, Liebert believes the National Guard is a better fit for domestic tasks and can just as easily be a crack force for nuclear, chemical, or biological response. “I argue, why do we even have a Department of Homeland Security when we have National Guard dealing with these issues? … I had plenty of [Guard] students who were forming up chemical response units” before and after 9/11, he added.

The easy response is that the National Guard is too busy fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Liebert points out, they are still rotating in and out like “Groundhog Day.”

“What we have here is a little backward,” adds Trebilcock. “We are sending the National Guard and Reserves overseas and taking the active duty out of combat fighting to remain here in the United States. What’s going on?”

Over at the Pentagon, Belk says it doesn’t work that way. She argues that active National Guard and reservists will eventually support much of the CCMRF anyway. So in a sense, citizen soldiers, not full-timers, will constitute the domestic BCT’s. “This is a 12-month kind of thing, so as the units rotate back into Iraq or Afghanistan, we will rely more on National Guard and Reserves,” she says. In the meantime, DoD and the Department of Homeland Security have put together a task force “in order to enhance the states’ capabilities to prepare for these catastrophic events.”

“While I think it is perhaps a little unnerving to some that we would concentrate so much on the United States, I think it is just a cultural shift,” she explains. “We should be prepared to protect, wherever we can, the homeland.”

Greenwald says there are “conflicting signs” over how President Obama will handle the issue: “You look at his statements over the past year, and it is clear he has a real appreciation of the danger that comes from overreaching executive power.” Yet he concedes, “It is extremely rare for a president to get into office and look at ways to diminish his own power.” And the new president has already appointed two military men to top civilian positions—retired four-star Marine Gen. James L. Jones as national security adviser and Adm. Dennis Blair as director of national intelligence.

The Pentagon maintains that it is not averse to questions from the ACLU or anyone else: “We welcome any debate that keeps us in check and ensures that civil authority rules the land,” says Belk.

But citizens have reason to be wary. “No one likes to see people in military uniforms on the street in an armed capacity,” notes Trebilcock. “We admire our military, but the country was founded on a principle of civilian control of the military, not military control of civilians.”

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance reporter.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Too Many Overseas Bases

by David Vine

In the midst of an economic crisis that's getting scarier by the day, it's time to ask whether the nation can really afford some 1,000 military bases overseas. For those unfamiliar with the issue, you read that number correctly. One thousand. One thousand U.S. military bases outside the 50 states and Washington, DC, representing the largest collection of bases in world history.

Officially the Pentagon counts 865 base sites, but this notoriously unreliable number omits all our bases in Iraq (likely over 100) and Afghanistan (80 and counting), among many other well-known and secretive bases. More than half a century after World War II and the Korean War, we still have 268 bases in Germany, 124 in Japan, and 87 in South Korea. Others are scattered around the globe in places like Aruba and Australia, Bulgaria and Bahrain, Colombia and Greece, Djibouti, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Romania, Singapore, and of course, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba - just to name a few. Among the installations considered critical to our national security are a ski center in the Bavarian Alps, resorts in Seoul and Tokyo, and 234 golf courses the Pentagon runs worldwide.

Unlike domestic bases, which set off local alarms when threatened by closure, our collection of overseas bases is particularly galling because almost all our taxpayer money leaves the United States (much goes to enriching private base contractors like corruption-plagued former Halliburton subsidiary KBR). One part of the massive Ramstein airbase near Landstuhl, Germany, has an estimated value of $3.3 billion. Just think how local communities could use that kind of money to make investments in schools, hospitals, jobs, and infrastructure.

Even the Bush administration saw the wastefulness of our overseas basing network. In 2004, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced plans to close more than one-third of the nation's overseas installations, moving 70,000 troops and 100,000 family members and civilians back to the United States. National Security Adviser Jim Jones, then commander of U.S. forces in Europe, called for closing 20% of our bases in Europe. According to Rumsfeld's estimates, we could save at least $12 billion by closing 200 to 300 bases alone. While the closures were derailed by claims that closing bases could cost us in the short term, even if this is true, it's no reason to continue our profligate ways in the longer term.

Costs Far Exceeding Dollars and Cents

Unfortunately, the financial costs of our overseas bases are only part of the problem. Other costs to people at home and abroad are just as devastating. Military families suffer painful dislocations as troops stationed overseas separate from loved ones or uproot their families through frequent moves around the world. While some foreign governments like U.S. bases for their perceived economic benefits, many locals living near the bases suffer environmental and health damage from military toxins and pollution, disrupted economic, social, and cultural systems, military accidents, and increased prostitution and crime.

In undemocratic nations like Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Saudi Arabia, our bases support governments responsible for repression and human rights abuses. In too many recurring cases, soldiers have raped, assaulted, or killed locals, most prominently of late in South Korea, Okinawa, and Italy. The forced expulsion of the entire Chagossian people to create our secretive base on British Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean is another extreme but not so aberrant example.

Bases abroad have become a major and unacknowledged "face" of the United States, frequently damaging the nation's reputation, engendering grievances and anger, and generally creating antagonistic rather than cooperative relationships between the United States and others. Most dangerously, as we have seen in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and as we are seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan, foreign bases create breeding grounds for radicalism, anti-Americanism, and attacks on the United States, reducing, rather than improving, our national security.

Proponents of maintaining the overseas base status quo will argue, however, that our foreign bases are critical to national and global security. A closer examination shows that overseas bases have often heightened military tensions and discouraged diplomatic solutions to international conflicts. Rather than stabilizing dangerous regions, our overseas bases have often increased global militarization, enlarging security threats faced by other nations who respond by boosting military spending (and in cases like China and Russia, foreign base acquisition) in an escalating spiral. Overseas bases actually make war more likely, not less.

The Benefits of Fewer Bases

This isn't a call for isolationism or a protectionism that would prevent us from spending money overseas. As the Obama administration and others have recognized, we must recommit to cooperative forms of engagement with the rest of the world that rely on diplomatic, economic, and cultural ties rather than military means. In addition to freeing money to meet critical human needs at home and abroad, fewer overseas bases would help rebuild our military into a less overstretched, defensive force committed to defending the nation's territory from attack.

In these difficult economic times, the Obama administration and Congress should initiate a major reassessment of our 1,000 overseas bases. Now is the time to ask if, as a nation and a world, we can really afford the 1,000 bases that are pushing the nation deeper into debt and making the United States and the planet less secure? With so many needs facing our nation, it's unconscionable to have 1,000 overseas bases. It's time to begin closing them.

© 2009 Foreign Policy In Focus

David Vine, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at American University in Washington, DC and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus, is organizing the Security Without Empire conference that will bring together leading U.S. peace activists and scholars, as well as base opponents from 11 nations from February 27-March 2. He is the author of Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia (Princeton University Press), to be released in April.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

7 Reasons You Should Join the March on the Pentagon on March 21, 2009

The war in Afghanistan is expanding and widening. President Obama announced last week that another 17,000 troops are on their way to Afghanistan. Only 18 percent of Afghanis support this escalation and only 34 percent of the people of the United States approve of the added troops despite the president’s popularity, according to the Washington Post/ABC poll announced on February 17, 2009. This is a colonial war. The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, was not involved in the decision to add more occupying troops into his country. Rather, he was “informed of the deployments in a telephone call with Obama” on February 17, according to the Washington Post (February 18, 2009).

About 350,000 U.S. troops and U.S.-paid private contractors (mercenaries) still occupy Iraq. The Iraqi people want the occupation to end. Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is insisting that only two of the 14 combat brigades in Iraq exit in 2009. The war and occupation of Iraq costs $430 million each day. If the U.S. government were to end the military occupation, any and all future Iraqi governments would return to a position of political independence from the economic and political dictates of the United States. Iraq’s anti-colonial legacy has created a political reality that prohibits the country from becoming like Kuwait or Saudi Arabia--an out-and-out dependency on U.S. imperialism. That is the real reason that the U.S. government fears a complete disengagement from Iraq and an end to its military occupation.

Israel’s Siege of Gaza remains in place, with the full backing of Washington. The U.S. government has continued to fund Israel’s war and blockade against the people of Gaza. The Pentagon provided the funding, and technical and logistical support for the establishment of the Israeli war machine, including its massive cluster and white phosphorous bomb arsenal, and the country’s large cache of nuclear bombs.

The new Justice Department has announced that it will continue the policy of renditions, meaning the CIA and Pentagon will capture and kidnap individuals anywhere in the world and transfer them to other countries. “The Obama administration appears to have determined that the rendition program was one component of the Bush administration's war on terrorism that it could not afford to discard.” (LA Times, Feb. 1, 2009)

The new administration has stepped up the air strikes that are killing an increasingly large number of Pakistani civilians. Unmanned drone bombing attacks violate Pakistani sovereignty and are creating an ocean of resentment and anger inside of Pakistan. The U.S. government has no right to carry out these drone bombing strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The people of the United States would not accept the legitimacy of other governments ordering air attacks in the United States. We must openly and loudly reject such tactics by the government that speaks in our name and spends our tax dollars for such aggression.

The real Pentagon war budget is over $1.3 trillion annually. This is greater than the combined total of most of the other countries in the world, including all the NATO countries, and Russia and China. Some label this “waste spending” because it spends precious resources to build exotic and high cost weapons, a new generation of nuclear weapons, and space-based war fighting capabilities, while filling the coffers of the big investors (i.e., the biggest banks) in the war corporations. Pentagon contracting is often based on guaranteed “cost-plus” contracts that reward price gouging since corporate profit is based on a fixed percentage above their expenses. Another label for this process is “extreme corruption” and theft from the public treasury.

More than 20 million people are now unemployed and under-employed. Nine million families are either in foreclosure or are at risk of foreclosure this year, according to the statistics just released by the government. Forty-seven million people are without health care. College tuition hikes are soaring and millions of students are at risk of being forced out of school. The people want change. They don’t want a simple tweaking of Bush’s criminal foreign policies. They want to put people's needs before corporate greed. They want an end to wars of aggression that are wreaking havoc, death and destruction abroad, and diverting urgently needed resources in the service of semi-colonialism and Empire.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Depressing Saga of Secrets, Lies and Medieval Horrors

The US and UK pay others to do what Saddam used to do to his jailed adversaries

by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

This is Britain's position on torture: we ratified the UN Convention against it in 1988 and we then passed an Act of Parliament giving authority to the investigation and prosecution of torturers no matter where they cowered. But impressive as all this sounds, how precisely has it helped Binyam Mohamed?

Today, God willing, he will arrive back from Guantanamo Bay, the sunny Caribbean resort funded hitherto by the generous USA for the Mad Men of Islam who, we have been told for years, are the biggest danger to world peace. Mohamed's doctors have found serious bruising, organ damage, acute injuries and emotional and psychological collapse.

His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith said: "What Binyam has been through should have been left behind in the Middle Ages." His client is also suffering from malnutrition and stomach problems - which must be the result of a long hunger-strike, a silent protest which might have killed and released him. And our government is suffering from the discomfort of having to justify the immorality of the actions and that keep the global torture industry robust. Mohamed will not be received at the airport by a contrite Foreign Secretary, who has long obfuscated and denied any responsibility for all the bad stuff - unseen and unheard - that goes on around the world, ostensibly to combat Islamicist terrorism.

Recently Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones said the UK Government had been forced by the US to suppress information on this case, a claim breezily rejected by the Foreign Secretary, an accomplished operator.

Yet the case against the government grows. I find that deeply depressing. For the two talented Milibands are, in other ways, good men whose father Ralph, a Polish-Jewish exile, was a left-wing academic with a consuming sense of justice. An opponent of the US Vietnam war, he condemned the "catalogue of horrors" perpetrated by the US "in the name of an enormous lie".

Those lies and horrors are now part of the essential toolkit for an ambitious minister. Power corrodes, flushing away honour and wisdom and, it seems, personal memory too. Obama promised to shut down Guantanamo Bay and he delivered. For that he deserves immense respect. However, this is not the end of the US- and UK-endorsed use of extreme pain to break people in custody. Ever since the fateful attacks on 11 September 2001 and in truth, long before that in covert operations, these two states have outsourced torture to some of the most lawless regions in the world or to regimes which commonly use physical and psychological coercion in exchange for influence or cash. There is no sign yet that Obama means to outlaw renditions, secret abductions by the CIA, or the unrecorded movement of prisoners. The fear is that these clandestine activities will continue. Shutting down the - always provocative - Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre is possibly a way to placate protesters and carry on regardless. I hope Obama has more moral sense than that.

The US and UK pay others to do what Saddam used to do to his adversaries in custody. This facility is procured by, and makes perfect sense to, those who believe the end justifies anything. Just this week President Obama met Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the Canadian opposition who wrote The Lesser Evil, a book which defended torture when used to protect the interests of the US. Then we wonder why the world accuses the West of perfidy.

This week Human Rights Watch publishes a report alleging that the British state is implicated in the torture of captured Muslims in Pakistan. UK intelligence and Foreign Office officials have questioned the prisoners whilst they were being processed says Pakistan's feared Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). Ali Dayan Hasan, who directed this study, claims there was "systemic" cooperation. Some had nails pulled out and others went through much worse. In 2004, three British Muslim men, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed were released without charge from Guantanamo. They had done the multi-destination tour that is popular with those waging war on terror by reproducing terror. Captured in Afghanistan they were tortured and allegedly interrogated by our SAS. And there is now a growing suspicion that our government has devised policies for this murky business. The countries that oblige us by taking and sorting out the troublesome ones include Pakistan and Afghanistan of course, and also other very good friends - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Israel - others too I am sure. And these special relationships go back a very long way.

In his disturbing and clearly evidenced book, The War on Truth, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed traces the unholy games played with Islamicist terrorists by the US, and through acquiescence by the UK, flirting with them when it suited and then turning against them. Al-Qa'ida has been used as an instrument of western statecraft and for now is the enemy. Well, not quite. Pakistan's ISI is quite chummy with the Bin Laden groupies and, well, we have to keep Pakistan on side as they know so many of our secrets. So it goes on.

Binyam Mohamed's arrival will hopefully open this can of snakes and our government will be interrogated, though without screws and electrodes. If Miliband apologises we should sing the lines from Rihanna's hit: "Don't tell me you're sorry 'cause you're not; when I know you're sorry you got caught".

But what of those countries that tender for torture? Who calls them to account? The expert interrogators abroad practice on their own citizens. Egypt does this par excellence. Factories somewhere make the instruments too. Again there is little information of where these job opportunities are. And so torture spreads, endorsed by messianic democrats and activated by barbarians whose services are essential to keep us civilised. It works for both sides. The US and the UK can claim ignorance of what goes on in those dark cells pierced by screams; and obliging nations can do their business efficiently in countries without any transparency. There is a long history of such mutuality in evil. Apartheid had willing black operators; the transatlantic slave trade depended on black suppliers. These colluders always get away with it.

The UN Convention against Torture states: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture."

That absolute injunction still stands whatever happens to us in the West, including further terror attacks. And if we don't hold its principle precious all is lost and there can be nothing left for any of us to live and die for.

Copyright 2009 Independent News and Media Limited

--Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

GI Resistance Alive and Well in Chicago

by Patrick Dunn

With a new administration taking office in Washington, and an era of profound economic crisis on the horizon, the U.S. military apparatus is undergoing a strategic makeover. In many respects, conditions "on the ground" have remained essentially the same: violence rages on in Iraq (Obama and his commanders disagree about whether to extend the fighting for another sixteen or twenty-three months); air strikes continue to kill Pakistani civilians (though now at a much higher rate); Palestinians and Israelis continue to suffer under U.S.-funded occupation; corporate war profiteers continue to receive high-level government appointments; the U.S. military budget pushes along on its path of annual expansion. And yet at the same time the elite managers of the military-industrial complex are engineering a shift in both their marketing image and their operational focus. Blackwater Worldwide has changed its name to Xe; military recruitment figures have increased as the economy declines; weapons programs are being advertised as instruments of "job creation"; torture and secret imprisonment have been symbolically expunged from the national conscience; Marine commanders are proposing a full-scale transfer of forces from Iraq to Afghanistan.

This last item is particularly relevant, as President Obama has ordered an immediate fifty percent increase of U.S. troops in Afghanistan (from 36,000 to 53,500), with thousands more expected to deploy by early summer. In the face of sustained public opposition to the Iraq war, the military establishment has found it necessary to direct its ambitions elsewhere – and with Robert Gates staying on as Defense Secretary, the "surge" gimmick that sold so well in the context of Iraq is now being used to promote a similar strategy in the historically unconquerable terrain of Afghanistan. Evidently, the hope of the new administration is that a fresh White House image, renewed international support, and the appearance of a connection to the 9/11 attacks will turn Afghanistan into a preferred venue for its highly profitable "global war on terror."

For many rank-and-file GIs, however, this image of the war in Afghanistan as a "good war" is not at all convincing. Extreme climate, austere geography, and vague military strategies combine to make the country into a hellish environment for day-to-day ground operations. Moreover, those familiar with life in the region are doubtful that a U.S.-led "troop surge" will contribute substantially to the well-being of the Afghan people.

But in the eyes of some enlistees, the problems with the war in Afghanistan extend far beyond the agonies of wartime experience, or doubts about the underlying geopolitical strategy.

A groundbreaking event in Chicago this week featured a panel of six military veterans, all of whom have spoken out not only against the war in Iraq, or even against the war in Afghanistan, but against the "global war on terror" as a whole. The panel was organized by the Chicago chapter of Iraq Veterans against the War (IVAW), and its participants set a bold and courageous tone for GI resistance in the age of Obama-imperialism.

One of the veterans, Tyler Zabel, could face deployment to Afghanistan at any moment. A member of the Illinois Army National Guard who enlisted at the age of seventeen, Tyler has already survived a horrifying ordeal at the hands of the military bureaucracy. After completing basic training at Fort Benning, GA, Tyler returned to Chicago and began the application process to become a Conscientious Objector. Having joined the military in order to serve the people of his country, he was appalled by the rampant bloodlust and blind conformity he witnessed during his time at Fort Benning. After meeting a young woman in Chicago who had experienced war first-hand during her childhood in El Salvador, his perspective was deepened and he became a committed pacifist.

The military's application system for Conscientious Objectors seems designed to prevent people like Tyler – who are morally opposed to the combat missions for which they are being trained – from acting on their moral convictions. In addition to three official interviews (including both a religious and a psychological evaluation), Tyler was required to submit a long essay explaining his refusal to engage in combat. Only then would he begin the excruciating process of waiting for his application to be reviewed, which usually takes between six months and one year, during which time the applicant remains an active member of his unit.

In Tyler's case, however, the system was especially unfriendly. One of the first officers he consulted about his application, his squad leader Sergeant First Class Washington, provided false information about Tyler's eligibility, claiming that his lack of religious affiliation would prevent him from becoming a CO. (This has not been true since a Supreme Court decision in 1971 expanded the basis for Conscientious Objection beyond religious grounds.) The same officer also withheld a key document pertaining to Tyler's case – document AR 600-43 – falsely claiming that the information it contained was classified. (The document is in fact available through the IVAW website.)

Then, a few months later, when it seemed that the worst was over, Tyler received a call from the military notifying him that he would be deployed to Afghanistan in one week. He was flabbergasted. Normal practice within the military allows six months advance notice for calls such as this – and Tyler had already informed the military at length of his pacifism and opposition to the war in Afghanistan. Suddenly, his life was thrown into a state of panic. The personal transformation he had undergone during the previous year, his relationships, his work, his life itself – the U.S. government was asking him to sacrifice all of this for a war that he found morally abhorrent.

But this was not the end. Just one day before Tyler was scheduled to leave for Afghanistan, he received another call from the military indicating that he would not have to deploy after all. Then, as if this torment was not enough, he was contacted yet again a month later with reissued orders for deployment.

In Tyler's mind, this was the last straw. Instead of reporting for deployment, he decided to go AWOL and face the risk of military prosecution. After weeks in hiding – during which time he could not work and rarely left his home – he decided to turn himself in to his old unit. The response of his commanders was to "demote" him to a lower rank – indicating that their intention was not to enforce military policy, but to manipulate Tyler (an active war resister) into psychological submission. This indication was confirmed earlier this month when Tyler's commanders failed to contact him for drill practice, as is the unit's routine procedure; when he telephoned them to resolve the confusion, his commanders accused him of insubordination for his absence. Confronted with this final pattern of abuse, Tyler knew that it was time to get out of the military for good. Instead of reporting to his unit, he stayed home and has not gone back since.

For several months Tyler has lived in a state of legal and existential limbo, knowing that the military could show up at any moment to haul him off to prison (or worse, to Afghanistan). He has received advice from numerous activists and politicians, but his best allies have been fellow veterans from IVAW, whose support has strengthened his will and inspired him to speak out publicly. Now, empowered by these relations of solidarity, he is determined not only to resist the military's internal abuses, but to combat the spread of militarism throughout society. "They need this war [in Afghanistan] to continue to expand the military-industrial complex," he says, "which our society now depends on" – but we can resist this expansion by "closing the door to recruitment, and opening the door for resistance," both within and outside the military.

Tyler's moral opposition to the military-industrial complex was echoed by the other members of the IVAW panel in Chicago. Two national guardsmen (one of whom is now a militant labor organizer with the IWW) described their success at fomenting resistance among fellow rank-and-file guard members. By sharing ideas and literature at their base, they were able to establish strong personal relationships that served as a bottom-up defense against the military's institutionalized discipline. Another AWOL veteran described the U.S. military as an institution whose mission is to "exterminate" the oppressed people of the world "like so many cockroaches," while emphasizing the damage inflicted on vulnerable enlistees by the military's "racist, sexist, and homophobic practices."

All members of the panel recognized the need for movements of counter-recruitment and anti-militarization to intensify under the new political administration. As Fallujah veteran D. Paul Muller pointed out, the armed forces are under strict orders to "keep the recruitment numbers up, keep the high school students coming in." With wealthy financial institutions tightening their budgets, military planners are under pressure to ensure that taxpayer funds continue to flow into the massive "defense" economy. Competition among lobbyists and policymakers for access to these funds has escalated in recent months, and the various branches of the military are devising new marketing strategies to cope with this financially starved environment.

In order to prevent the further militarization of our society, and to steer public wealth towards investment in non-military social programs, we will need an alternative culture that counteracts the military's attempts to prey on desperate communities in a time of crisis. The war resisters from IVAW have paved the way for such an alternative by creating a culture of disobedience within the military's own ranks. By supporting their efforts – and by developing cooperative networks that will sustain these and other projects of demilitarization – we can begin the work of freeing our society from its dependence on war profiteering and military power.

For more information, go to

Patrick Dunn is a philosopher living in Chicago.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Chomsky: Obama OKed Israel's Gaza war

By Press TV

February 21, 2009 "Press TV" -- Renowned US intellectual Noam Chomsky says Barack Obama did not comment on Israel's war on Gaza, as it was part of the "premeditated" plan. We have been informed by an Israeli source that the recent invasion of the Gaza Strip was completely premeditated, Chomsky said in an interview with the French Al-Ahram daily.

The plan was to deliver the maximum blow to Gaza before the new US president took office, so that he could put these matters behind him added the famous intellectual, referring to Obama's pledge to resolve the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

According to Chomsky, while Israel was pounding the Gaza Strip -- during which over 1300 Palestinians were killed --, Obama excused his silence by saying that "There's only one president at a time."

This, however, did not prevent the then president-elect from commenting on other leading issues of US domestic and foreign policy, Chomsky argued.

The recognized political analyst also criticized Obama for repeating the notion that defending Israel is a US priority. He predicted that during the Obama presidency US will hold the same policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Iran not producing weapon-grade uranium: IAEA

Atul Aneja

DUBAI: Iran has not converted the low-grade uranium that it has produced into weapon-grade uranium, inspectors belonging to the International Atomic Energy Agency have said.

The Austrian Press Agency quoted an IAEA expert as saying that the uranium substances that Iran has produced at its Natanz enrichment facility have been carefully recorded and remote cameras have been installed to supervise part of the stockpile.

“If the Iranians intend to transport these uranium substances to a secret location for further processing, agency’s inspectors will find out,” he said.

The expert added that “so far, Iran has carried out good cooperation with us in relevant verifications”.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei has said that Iran has slowed down its uranium enrichment programme. He made this observation while submitting a report to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday. Iran has reportedly added only 164 centrifuges (which are used for enrichment) since December last, a comparatively slower rate than in the past.

The IAEA report said that Iran had so far produced around 1,000 kg. of low-enriched uranium.

Iran has denied accusations by the United States and its allies that it has been engaged in a clandestine nuclear weapons programme.

Iran has continued with its uranium enrichment activities which it stresses only have a peaceful orientation.

The report notes that Iran has not stopped uranium enrichment activity despite imposition of sanctions by U.N. Security Council.

The Security Council has demanded that Iran must suspend all uranium enrichment as a first step to allow negotiations to commence.

U.S.-led coalition kills 13 Afghan civilians

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Thirteen people, described by the U.S. military as "noncombatants," were killed in western Afghanistan earlier this week during a coalition operation, the military said Saturday.

"We expressed our deepest condolences to the survivors of the noncombatants who were killed during this operation," said Brig. Gen. Michael Ryan, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.

Three militants also died in Tuesday's operation in the Gozara district of Herat province, the military said.

The killings further inflame Afghans' anger and frustration over the killing of civilians in U.S.-led coalition and NATO operations. Many civilians also die in the crossfire between coalition forces and Taliban militants. Watch the challenge coalition forces face »

Afghan and coalition investigators and international observers this week were in Herat this week. Weapons and ammunition were found at the site of the operation and Afghan soldiers held shuras, or consultative bodies, with village leaders.

Ryan discussed the attack with senior police and army officials and with the governor of Herat.

"Our inquiry in Herat demonstrates how seriously we take our responsibility in conducting operations against militant targets and the occurrence of noncombatant casualties," Ryan said.

"Our concern is for the security of the Afghan people. To this end, we continually evaluate the operations we conduct during the course of our mission in Afghanistan and have agreed to coordinate our efforts jointly."

President Hamid Karzai raised the issue of civilian casualties during a meeting he had on Saturday with visiting U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

A "recent consensus between the Afghan government and NATO, which gives more authority to the Afghan security forces during military operations, house searches and detention of suspected individuals, will help in reducing civilian casualties and bringing more effectiveness in the fight against terrorism," Karzai said.

The Military's Expanding Waistline

What Will Obama Do With KBR?

by Pratap Chatterjee

President Obama will almost certainly touch down in Baghdad and Kabul in Air Force One sometime in the coming year to meet his counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he will just as certainly pay a visit to a U.S. military base or two. Should he stay for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or midnight chow with the troops, he will no less certainly choose from a menu prepared by migrant Asian workers under contract to Houston-based KBR, the former subsidiary of Halliburton.
If Barack Obama takes the Rhino Runner armor-plated bus from Baghdad Airport to the Green Zone, or travels by Catfish Air's Blackhawk helicopters (the way mere mortals like diplomats and journalists do), instead of by presidential chopper, he will be assigned a seat by U.S. civilian workers easily identified by the red KBR lanyards they wear around their necks.

Even if Obama gets the ultra-red carpet treatment, he will still tread on walkways and enter buildings that have been constructed over the last six years by an army of some 50,000 workers in the employ of KBR. And should Obama chose to order the troops in Iraq home tomorrow, he will effectively sign a blank check for billions of dollars in withdrawal logistics contracts that will largely be carried out by a company once overseen by Dick Cheney.

Questions for the Pentagon

If Obama wants to find out why KBR civilian workers can be found in every nook and cranny of U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, he might be better off visiting the Rock Island Arsenal in western Illinois. It's located on the biggest island in the Mississippi River, the place where Chief Black Hawk of the Sauk nation was once born. The arsenal's modern stone buildings house the offices of the U.S. Army Materiel Command from which KBR's multibillion dollar Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program contract (LOGCAP) have been managed for the last seven years. This is the mega-contract that has, since September 11, 2001, generated more than $25 billion for KBR to set up and manage military bases overseas (and resulted, of course, in thousands of pages of controversial news stories about the company's war profiteering).

Even more conveniently, Obama could pop over to KBR's Crystal City government operations headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, just a mile south of the Pentagon and five miles from the White House. On Crystal City Drive just before Ronald Reagan National airport, it's hard to miss the KBR corporate logo, those gigantic red letters on the 11-story building at the far corner of Crystal Park.

Many people who know something about KBR's role in Iraq and Afghanistan might want Obama to question the military commanders at Rock Island and the corporate executives in Arlington about the shoddy electrical work, unchlorinated shower water, overcharges for trucks sitting idle in the desert, deaths of KBR employees and affiliated soldiers in Iraq, million-dollar alleged bribes accepted by KBR managers, and billions of dollars in missing receipts, among a slew of other complaints that have received wide publicity over the last five years.

But those would be the wrong questions.

Obama needs to ask his Pentagon commanders this: Can the U.S. military he has now inherited do anything without KBR?

And the answer will certainly be a resounding no.

Keeping a Volunteer Army Happy

Tim Horton is the head of public relations for Logistical Supply Area Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, the biggest U.S. base in that country. He was a transportation officer for 20 years and has a simple explanation for why the army relies so heavily on contractors to operate facilities today.

"What we have today is an all-volunteer army, unlike in a conscription army when they had to be here. In the old army, the standard of living was low, the pay scale was dismal; it wasn't fun; it wasn't intended to be fun. But today we have to appeal, we have to recruit, just like any corporation, we have to recruit off the street. And after we get them to come in, it behooves us to give them a reason to stay in."

Even in 2003, the U.S. military was incredibly overstretched. For the Bush administration to go to war then, it needed an army of cheap labor to feed and clean up after the combat troops it sent into battle. Those troops, of course, were young U.S. citizens raised in a world of creature comforts. Unlike American soldiers from their parents' or grandparents' generations who were drafted into the military in the Korean or Vietnam eras and ordered to peel potatoes or clean latrines, the modern teenager can choose not to sign up at all.

As Horton points out, the average soldier gets an average of $100,000 worth of military training in four years; if he or she then doesn't reenlist, the military has to spend another $100,000 to train a replacement. "What if we spend an extra $6,000 to get them to stay and save the loss of talent and experience?" Horton asks. "What does it take to keep the people? There are some creature comforts in this Wal-Mart and McDonald's society that we live in that soldiers have come to expect. They expect to play an Xbox, to keep in touch by e-mail. They expect to eat a variety of foods."

A quarter-century ago, when Horton joined the Army, all they got was a fourteen-day rotational menu. "We had chili-mac every two weeks, for crying out loud. What is that? Unstrained, low-grade hamburger mixed with macaroni. Lot of calories, lots of fat, lots of starch, that's what a soldier needs to do his job. When you were done, you had a heart attack."

Today, says Horton, expectations are different. "Our soldiers need to feel and believe that we care about them, or they will leave. The Army cannot afford to allow the soldier to be disenfranchised."

When I visited with him in April 2008, Horton took me to meet Michael St. John of the Pennsylvania National Guard, the chief warrant officer at one of Anaconda's dining facilities. St. John led me on a tour of the facility, pointing out little details of which he was justly proud -- like the fresh romaine lettuce brought up from Kuwait by Public Warehousing Corporation (PWC) truck drivers who make the dangerous 12-hour journey across the desert, so that KBR cooks have fresh and familiar food for the troops. Stopping at the dessert bar St. John explained, "We added blenders to make milkshakes, microwaves to heat up apple pie, and waffle bars with ice cream." The "healthy bar" was the next stop. "Here," he pointed out, "we offer baked fish or chicken breast, crab legs, or lobster claws or tails."

"Contractors here do all the work," St. John added. He explained that he had about 25 soldiers and six to eight KBR supervisors to oversee 175 workers from a Saudi company named Tamimi, feeding 10,000 people a day and providing take-away food for another thousand.

"They do everything from unloading the food deliveries to taking out the trash. We are hands off. Our responsibility is military oversight: overseeing the headcount, ensuring that the contractors are providing nutritional meals and making sure there are no food-borne illnesses. It's the only sustainable way to get things done, given the number of soldiers we have to feed."

Horton chimes in: "I treat myself to an ice-cream cone once a week. You know what that is? It's a touch of home, a touch of sanity, a touch of civilization. The soldiers here do not have bars; all that is gone. You've taken the candy away from the baby. What do you have to give him? What's wrong with giving him a little bit of pizza or ice cream?"

Between a chili-mac military and a pizza-and-ice-cream military, the difference shows -- around the waistline. Sarah Stillman, a freelance journalist with the website TruthDig, tells a story she heard about a PowerPoint slide that's becoming popular in Army briefings: "Back in 2003, the average soldier lost fifteen pounds during his tour of Iraq. Now, he gains ten."

Stillman says that the first warning many U.S. troops receive here in Baghdad isn't about IEDs (improvised explosive devices), RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), or even EFPs (explosively formed projectiles). It's about PCPs: "pervasive combat paunches."

Privatizing the U.S. Army

KBR has grossed more than $25 billion since it won a 10-year contract in late 2001 to supply U.S. troops in combat situations around the world. As of April 2008, the company estimated that it had served more than 720 million meals, driven more than 400 million miles on various convoy missions, treated 12 billion gallons of potable water, and produced more than 267 million tons of ice for those troops. These staggering figures are testimony to the role KBR has played in supporting the U.S. military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries targeted in President Bush's Global War on Terror.

And in the first days of the new Obama administration, the company continues to win contracts. On January 28, 2009, KBR announced that it had been awarded a $35.4 million contract by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the design and construction of a convoy support center at Camp Adder in Iraq. The center will include a power plant, an electrical distribution center, a water purification and distribution system, a waste-water collection system, and associated information systems, along with paved roads, all to be built by KBR.

How did the U.S. military become this dependent on one giant company? Well, this change has been a long time coming. During the Vietnam War in the 1960s, a consortium of four companies led by the Texas construction company Brown & Root (the B and R in KBR) built almost every military base in South Vietnam. That, of course, was when Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texan with close ties to the Brown brothers, was president. In 1982, two years into Ronald Reagan's presidency, Brown & Root struck gold again. It won lucrative contracts to build a giant U.S. base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, a former British colony.

In 1985, General John A. Wickham drew up plans to streamline logistics work on military bases under what he dubbed the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), but his ideas would remain in a back drawer for several years. In the meantime, Dick Cheney, as Secretary of Defense in the administration of the elder George Bush, loosed the American military on Iraq in the First Gulf War in 1991, and hired hundreds of separate contractors to provide logistics support. The uneven results of this early privatizing effort left military planners frustrated. By the time Cheney left office, he had asked Brown & Root to dust off the Wickham LOGCAP plan and figure out how to consolidate and expand the contracting system.

President Bill Clinton's commanders took a harder look at the new plan that Brown & Root had drawn up and liked what they saw. In 1994, that company was hired to build bases in Bosnia and later in Kosovo, as well as to take over the day-to-day running of those bases in the middle of a war zone.

By the time Donald Rumsfeld took over as Secretary of Defense under the younger George Bush, he had embraced the revolution that Wickham had begun, and Clinton and Cheney had implemented. At a Pentagon event on the morning of September 10, 2001, one day before three aircraft struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Rumsfeld identified the crucial enemy force his assembled senior staff would take on in the coming years:

"The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America. This adversary is one of the world's last bastions of central planning. It governs by dictating five-year plans. From a single capital, it attempts to impose its demands across time zones, continents, oceans, and beyond. With brutal consistency, it stifles free thought and crushes new ideas. It disrupts the defense of the United States and places the lives of men and women in uniform at risk. You may think I'm describing one of the last decrepit dictators of the world. The adversary's closer to home. It's the Pentagon bureaucracy.

"We must ask tough questions. Why is DOD [Department of Defense] one of the last organizations around that still cuts its own checks? When an entire industry exists to run warehouses efficiently, why do we own and operate so many of our own? At bases around the world, why do we pick up our own garbage and mop our own floors, rather than contracting services out, as many businesses do?"

He outlined a series of steps to slash headquarter staffs by 15% in the two years to come and promised even more dramatic changes to follow. While the invasion of Afghanistan the following month was conducted by military personnel, Rumsfeld's ideas started to be implemented in the spring of 2002. Indeed, the building of bases in Kuwait in the fall of 2002 for the coming invasion of Iraq was handled almost entirely by KBR.

Today, there is one KBR worker for every three U.S. soldiers in Iraq -- and the main function of these workers, under LOGCAP, is to build base infrastructure and maintain them by doing all those duties that once were considered part of military life -- making sure that soldiers are fed, their clothes washed, and their showers and toilets kept clean. While many stories have been written about the $80,000 annual salaries earned by KBR truck drivers, most of the company's workers make far less, mainly because they are hired from countries like India and the Philippines where starting salaries of $300 a month are considered a fortune.

Outsourcing the Kitchen Patrol

The majority of KBR's labor force, some 40,000 workers (the equivalent of about 80 military battalions), are "third country nationals" drawn largely from the poorer parts of Asia. In April 2008, I flew to Kuwait city where I spent time with a group of Fijian truck drivers who worked for a local company, PWC, doing subcontracting work for KBR.

My host was Titoko Savuwati from Totoya Lau, one of the Moala Islands in Fiji. He picked me up one evening in a small white Toyota Corolla rental car. The cranked-up sound system was playing American country favorites and oldies. Six feet tall with broad, rangy shoulders, short-cropped hair, and a goatee, Savuwati had been a police officer in Fiji. He was 50 years old and had left at home six children he hadn't seen in four years. When he got out of his car, I noticed that he had a pronounced limp and dragged one foot ever so slightly behind him.

We joined his friends at his apartment for a simple Anglican prayer service. Deep baritone voices filled the tiny living room with Fijian hymns before they sat down to a meal of cassava and curried chicken parts and began to tell me their stories. Each had made at least 100 dangerous trips, driving large 18-wheeler refrigeration trucks that carry all manner of goodies destined for U.S. soldiers from Kuwaiti ports to bases like LSA Anaconda. They sleep in their trucks, not being allowed to sleep in military tents or trailers along the way.

Savuwati had arrived in Kuwait on January 14, 2005, as one of 400 drivers, hoping to earn $3,000 a month. Instead, his real pay, he discovered, was 175 Kuwaiti dinar (KWD) a month (US$640), out of which he had to pay for all his food and sundries, even on the road, as well as rent. Drivers were given an extra 50 dinar ($183) allowance on each trip to Iraq.

"I came to Iraq because of the large amount of money they promised me," he said, sighing. "But they give us very little money. We've been crying for more money for many months. Do you think my family can survive on fifty KWD?" He sends at least 100 dinars ($365) home a month and has no savings that would pay for a ticket home at a round-trip price of roughly $2,500.

I did a quick calculation. For every trip, if they worked the 12-hour shifts expected of them, the Fijians earned about $30 a day, or $2.50 an hour. I asked Savuwati about his limp. On a trip to Nasariyah in 2005, he told me, his truck flipped over, injuring his leg. Did he get paid sick leave? Savuwati looked incredulous. "The company didn't give me any money. When we are injured, the company gives us nothing." But, he assured me, he had been lucky -- a number of fellow drivers had been killed on the job.

The next day, I stopped by to see the Fijians again, and Savuwati gave me a ride home. I offered to pay for gasoline and, after first waving me away, he quickly acquiesced. As he dropped me off, he looked at me sheepishly and said, "I've run out of money. Do you think you could give me one KWD [$3.65] for lunch?" I dug into my pocket and handed the money over. As I walked away, I thought about how ironic it was that the men who drove across a battle zone, dodging stones, bullets, and IEDs to bring ice cream, steak, lobster tails, and ammunition to U.S. soldiers, had to beg for food themselves.

This, of course, is the real face of the American military today, though it's never seen by Americans.

Obama's Army

Pentagon commanders often speak of a "revolution in military affairs" when summing up the technological advances that allow them to stalk enemies by satellite, fire missiles from unmanned aerial vehicles, and protect U.S. soldiers with night-vision goggles, but they rarely explain the social and logistical changes that have accompanied this revolution.

Today, U.S. soldiers are drawn from a video-game culture that embraces computers on the battlefield, even as the U.S. Army bears ever less relation to the draft armies that did the island-hopping in the Pacific in World War II or fought jungle battles in Vietnam. Indeed, the personnel that Obama will soon visit in Iraq and Afghanistan is generally supplied with hot food and showers around the clock in combat zones in the same way they might be on a Stateside base -- by workers like Savuwati.

Undoubtedly, an Obama administration could begin to cut some of the notorious fat out of the contracts that make that possible, including multi-million dollar overcharges. Obama's potential budget trimmers could, for example, take whistleblowers inside KBR and the Pentagon seriously when they report malfeasance and waste.

But could Obama dismiss KBR's army, even if he wanted to? Will Obama really be willing to ask American volunteer soldiers to give up the bacon, romaine lettuce, and roast turkey that they have come to expect in a war zone? And even if he could do so, those are only the luxuries. Keep in mind that, on U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, every single item, from beans to bullets, is shipped using contractors like PWC of Kuwait and Maersk of Denmark. In the last two decades, the U.S. military has even divested itself of the hardware and people that would allow it to move tanks around the world, relying instead on contractors to do such work.

The White House website states that "Obama and Biden support plans to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps by 27,000 Marines. Increasing our end strength will help units retrain and re-equip properly between deployments and decrease the strain on military families." As part of the same policy statement, the site claims the new administration will reform contracting by creating "transparency for military contractors," as well as restoring "honesty, openness, and commonsense to contracting and procurement" by "rebuilding our contract officer corps."

Nowhere, however, does that website suggest that the new administration will work toward ending, or even radically cutting back, the use of contractors on the battlefield, or that those 92,000 new soldiers and Marines are going to fill logistics battalions that have been decimated in the last two decades. What we already know of the military policies of the new administration suggests instead that President Obama wants to expand U.S. military might. So don't be surprised if the new LOGCAP contract, a $150 billion 10-year program that began on September 20, 2008, remains in place, with some minor tinkering around the edges to provide value for taxpayer money. KBR's army, it seems, will remain on the march.

Copyright 2009 Pratap Chatterjee

Pratap Chatterjee is the author of Halliburton's Army: How A Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War. He is the managing editor of CorpWatch.

Afghanistan, the Next US Quagmire

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - The United States is planning to send an additional 17,000 troops to one of the world's most battle-scarred nations - Afghanistan - long described as "a graveyard of empires".

First, it was the British Empire, and then the Soviet Union. So, will the United States be far behind?

"With his new order on Afghanistan, President (Barack) Obama has given substantial ground to what Martin Luther King Jr., in 1967 called 'the madness of militarism'", Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS.

"That madness should be opposed in 2009," said Solomon, author of 'War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.'

The proposed surge in U.S. troops will bring the total to 60,000, while the combined forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), including troops from Germany, Canada, Britain and the Netherlands, amount to over 32,000.

When in full strength, U.S.-NATO forces in Afghanistan could reach close to 100,000 by the end of this year.

Still, in a TV interview Tuesday, Obama said he was "absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban (insurgency), the spread extremism in that region solely through military means."

"If there is no military solution, why is the administration's first set of decisions to continue drone attacks and increase ground troops?" Marilyn B. Young, a professor of history at New York University, told IPS.

She said the uncertainty around Afghan policy seems to be spreading even while the Obama administration announces an increase in troops.

"This is one of the ways events seem to echo U.S. escalation in the Vietnam War," said Young, author of several publications, including 'Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam: Or, How Not to Learn From the Past'.

On Tuesday, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report revealing that in 2008, there were 2,118 civilian casualties in Afghanistan, an increase of almost 40 percent over 2007.

Of these casualties, 55 percent of the overall death toll was attributed to anti-government forces, including the Taliban, and 39 percent to Afghan security and international military forces.

"This is of great concern to the United Nations," the report said, pointing out that "this disquieting pattern demands that the parties to the conflict take all necessary measures to avoid the killing of innocent civilians."

During his presidential campaign last year, Obama said the war in Iraq was a misguided war.

The United States, he said, needs to pull out of Iraq, and at the same time, bolster its troops in Afghanistan, primarily to prevent the militant Islamic fundamentalist Taliban from regaining power and also to eliminate safe havens for terrorists.

But most political analysts point out that Afghanistan may turn out to be a bigger military quagmire for U.S. forces than Iraq.

Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy said Obama's moves on Afghanistan have "the quality of a moth toward a flame."

In the short run, Obama is likely to be unharmed in domestic political terms. But the policy trajectory appears to be unsustainable in the medium-run, he added.

"Before the end of his first term, Obama is very likely to find himself in a vise, caught between a war in Afghanistan that cannot be won and a political quandary at home that significantly erodes the enthusiasm of his electoral base while fueling Republican momentum," Solomon argued.

Dr. Christine Fair, a senior political scientist with the RAND Corporation and a former political officer with UNAMA in Kabul, told IPS she is doubtful that more troops will secure Afghanistan.

"Perhaps several years ago more troops would have been welcomed. My fear is that more troops means more civilian losses and further erosion of good will and support for the international presence," Fair said.

"I would personally prefer a move from kinetics and towards using this increased capacity to help build Afghan capacity," she noted.

"I also think greater support from the international community for reconciliation is needed. Afghans need to own this process," said Fair, a former senior research associate with the Centre for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the U.N. Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington.

However, she said, the international community has legitimate interests in remaining in some capacity to ensure that Afghanistan does not again emerge as a safe haven for al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups.

Fair also co-authored (along with Seth Jones) a USIP report released early this week, titled 'Securing Afghanistan', which spelled out the reasons why international stabilisation efforts have not been successful in Afghanistan over the last seven years.

"Security issues in Afghanistan are extraordinarily complex, with multiple actors influencing the threat environment - among them, insurgent groups, criminal groups, local tribes, warlords, government officials and security forces," the report said.

Afghanistan also presents a multi-front conflict that includes distinct security challenges in the northern, central and southern parts of the country, the study declared.

In Afghanistan, Solomon argued, the U.S. president is proceeding down a path that can only be too steep and not steep enough.

The basic contradiction of his current position - asserting that the situation cannot be solved by military means yet taking action to try to solve the problem by military means - signifies that Obama is bargaining for short-term wiggle room at the expense of longer-term rationality, he added.

"In a very real sense, Obama is kicking a bloody can down the road, unable to think of any other way to confront circumstances that will grow worse with time in large measure because of his actions now," he said.

Even while disputing some thematic aspects of the "war on terrorism" at times, Obama is reinvesting his political capital - and re-dedicating the Pentagon's mission - on behalf of a U.S. war effort that is probably doomed to fail on its own terms, Solomon said.

"Reliance on violence is a chronic temptation for a commander-in-chief with the mighty U.S. military under its command. We've seen the results in Iraq - or, more precisely, the people of Iraq and many American soldiers have seen and suffered the results," he added.

Copyright © 2009 IPS-Inter Press Service

Friday, February 20, 2009

Disappeared in the Name of National Security

by Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah

From October 2003 until May 2005, I was illegally detained by the U.S. government and held in CIA-run "black sites" with no contact with the outside world. On May 5, 2005, without explanation, my American captors removed me from my cell and cuffed, hooded, and bundled me onto a plane that delivered me to Sana'a, Yemen. I was transferred into the custody of my own government, which held me -- apparently at the behest of the United States -- until March 27, 2006, when I was finally released, never once having faced any terrorism-related charges. Since my release, the U.S. government has never explained why I was detained and has blocked all attempts to find out more about my detention.

What I do know is that the Jordanian government -- after torturing me for several days -- handed me over to a U.S. "rendition team" in Amman, which then abducted me, forced me onto a plane, and flew me to Afghanistan. During this, and several other transfers between CIA prisons, I was subjected to a brutal and deeply humiliating "preparation" ritual. I was stripped naked, dressed in a diaper, shackled, blindfolded and hooded, and then boarded onto a waiting plane. I was forced into painful positions, often reeling from the blows and kicks of the men who had "prepared" me for flight.

During my detention, I agonized constantly about my family back in Yemen, knowing they had no idea where I was. They never once received information about who had taken me, why I was taken, or even whether I was alive. They were never contacted by the U.S. government or the International Committee of the Red Cross. My mother and wife were in such anguish that they had to be hospitalized for illness, stress, and anxiety. My father passed away while I was disappeared and I am still distraught thinking that he died without knowing whether I was dead or alive. I continue to suffer from bouts of illness that medical doctors attribute to the treatment I experienced in the "black sites." My physical symptoms are made worse by the anxiety caused by never knowing where I was held, and not having any form of acknowledgment that I was disappeared and tortured by the U.S. government.

I believe that acknowledgment is the first step toward accounting for a wrongdoing. The American public needs to face what has happened to those of us who were disappeared and mistreated in the name of their national security, demand accountability for those who committed torture and other crimes, and acknowledge the suffering of those who became victims. Today, a group of concerned Americans called on President Obama to take the first steps to do just that, by demanding that he establish an independent commission of inquiry into the treatment of detainees in the "War on Terror."

President Obama himself recently said that "democracy requires accountability and accountability requires transparency." If he establishes this commission, it would break the silence about what has happened and signal a real commitment not only to changing the practices of the past but also to ensuring that they do not happen again. Both the American public and the victims of these past policies need to understand what the CIA did in the name of U.S. national security. We need to find out where we were all held and who is still missing. And we need justice for the crimes that were committed in violation of our most basic human rights -- rights the United States has always claimed to uphold and defend. President Obama's recent order to the CIA to shut down its secret prisons was a significant step in the right direction, but it did not resolve the unfinished business of establishing accountability and restoring transparency.

The American public deserves to know what was done to people like me -- and I deserve to know why I lost nineteen months of my life -- all in the name of protecting their security. It gives me faith to see that Americans are standing up for my rights and calling for the truth to be exposed. It is my hope that the President will not only establish this commission, but that he will also direct the relevant authorities to investigate and prosecute those who broke American laws in ordering the torture and disappearance of people like me. Truth and justice are not in opposition; both are necessary, and both are the right of all Americans and the victims harmed in their name.

Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, a citizen of Yemen, is a client of the International Human Rights Clinic at NYU School of Law, which represents him in his quest for truth and justice.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Stimulate Peace, Not War

by Anne Miller

As the $787 billion stimulus bill snaked its way through the House and the Senate and finally landed under the pen of President Obama, my predominant thought has been holy cow -- that's a lot of money!

Sen. John Thune was even kind enough to explain to CSPAN viewers last week how a stack of hundred dollar bills totaling $787 billion, wrapped side by side, would encircle the Earth nearly 39 times. As unsettling as this new financial commitment may be, it is at least an attempt to help more Americans achieve some semblance of economic security.

The stimulus package was aggressively attacked by fiscal conservatives who have been outspoken about the "pet projects" in the bill, and the wasteful programs that will weigh down future generations with massive debt. Point taken.

But I'd like to ask the fiscal conservatives: What about your support, year after year, of a monstrously bloated Pentagon budget?

The Iraq war and subsequent occupation, a "pet project" of the Bush administration and consistently financed by most members of Congress, will very likely cost the American taxpayer more than $3 trillion dollars by 2010, when interest on the debt and much-needed veterans benefits are factored in to the costs of the war. Even former President Bush, as reported in the Wall Street Journal in December 2008, acknowledges that increased military spending during his tenure in the White House has contributed to the federal budget crisis.

And just how much has the increase been? In the past eight years, U.S. military spending has nearly doubled; when nuclear weapons spending and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are factored in, the U.S. taxpayer will be footing a Pentagon bill of an estimated $711 billion in 2009 -- approximately $2,300 for every person living in the United States. $711 billion is roughly equivalent to what the rest of the world spends combined on military spending. There is no indication that President Obama plans to cut the military budget any time soon; in fact, he may be requesting some increase.

So what about wasteful Pentagon spending? The moral implications of spending half of every discretionary U.S. tax dollar on "defense" aside, it would seem prudent for the fiscally minded to scour the Pentagon budget to clean up and dispose of wasteful and unnecessary programs. Rep. Barney Frank, chair of the House Financial Services Committee, has spoken out repeatedly about the possibility of shearing 25 percent from the military budget, and has outlined some programs cuts to get there. Where is the support of fiscal conservatives for this proposal?

For those who believe our defense budget makes us safer: An ever-increasing military budget does little but provide security to Congressional incumbents and military contractors. According to the Center for American Progress and its recently published Unified Security Budget, 87 percent of security resources in the 2009 federal budget are being spent on the military. Only 8 percent are dedicated to homeland security, and a paltry 5 percent to non-military engagement. As the old saying goes, "When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."

National security cannot and should not be defined in terms of our capacity to wage war abroad. National security is when the most vulnerable among us have access to adequate education, health care and housing; when we address the very real and growing threat of climate change; and when those Americans who want to work can support their families with a living wage. It will be achieved when we invest abroad in programs that address the root causes of terrorism including poverty, access to food and clean water, and education. It will be achieved when we make nuclear nonproliferation a priority, and lead the world in helping secure loose nukes and fissile materials, and begin serious negotiation of the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The stimulus' $787 billion is a great deal of money. However skeptical I am about the prospects of the package succeeding in any measurable way, I'd rather have my tax dollars go to "pet projects" that may staunch the bloodletting of American jobs than wasteful Pentagon programs whose primary purpose is to find effective and creative ways to kill human beings.

© 2009 The Capital Times

No Mercy for Mercenaries

Blackwater – er, Xe – has been kicked out of Iraq. Now the other private security contractors should be banned as well

by Eric Stoner

After raking in more than a billion dollars from its contracts in Iraq, Blackwater is finally being forced to leave the country that it has terrorised for so long. But the notorious mercenary firm's departure will likely have more symbolic significance than any real impact on the day-to-day lives of Iraqis.

First, only Blackwater as a corporate entity - which just changed its name to Xe in an effort to shake its bad reputation - is being given the boot. Iraqi officials have said that its operatives will be allowed to stay in the country by switching companies, as long as they have clean records. While this sounds reasonable, making that determination will be next to impossible. According to US officials and the contractors themselves, the actual number of shootings in Iraq by private military companies is far higher than is publicly acknowledged and they are rarely reported by the individuals involved.

Second, Blackwater never was a lone bad apple. The entire mercenary industry is rotten and needs to be discarded. Consider Dyncorp and Triple Canopy, the two mercenary outfits that will be filling the hole left by Blackwater. In 1999, for example, Dyncorp employees were implicated in a sex ring in Bosnia that involved the trafficking of women and children as young as 12 years old. When whistleblowers came forward to expose these heinous crimes, they were promptly fired.

And there is no sign that firm has cleaned up its act in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US state department has repeatedly rebuked Dyncorp for being unprofessional and "too aggressive". In one embarrassing incident, a BBC correspondent actually saw a guard from the company slap the Afghan transport minister.

By comparison, Triple Canopy is a relative newcomer to the mercenary business. With hopes of cashing in on the most privatised war in history, the company was founded immediately after the invasion of Iraq by three US special forces veterans. According to a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (pdf), Triple Canopy relies far more heavily on so-called "third-country nationals" to cushion its bottom line than either Dyncorp or Blackwater. Paid only $33 a day, these hired guns come largely from developing countries - especially those in Latin America - that have histories of human rights abuses.

Much like Blackwater, Triple Canopy was involved in one of the most infamous shooting sprees of the war in Iraq. On 8 July 2006 - after remarking "I want to kill somebody today" - a heavily armed Triple Canopy guard in Iraq reportedly shot multiple rounds into the windshield of an unthreatening pickup truck and later a taxi for amusement.

Many argue, including President Barack Obama, that these mercenaries can be reined in through the creation of a legal framework that can hold them accountable for any wrongdoing. The notion, however, that these hired guns - who number in the tens of thousands and are often better armed than US soldiers - can somehow be effectively monitored and brought to justice in the middle of a war zone is pure fantasy.

The only real solution to this mess is for either Iraq or the US to ban armed contractors altogether. The Stop Outsourcing Security Act would accomplish this by mandating "that all diplomatic security in Iraq be undertaken by US government personnel within six months of enactment." The legislation also states that "the use of private military contractors for mission critical functions" in all conflict zones where the US is active must be phased out over a longer timeline.

Hillary Clinton offered a glimmer of hope when she endorsed this bill during her campaign for the presidency. But as Obama's secretary of state, she has quickly abandoned her commitment to "show these contractors the door". Unfortunately for Iraqis, it looks like the mercenary industry will have little to fear from the new administration.

© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited

Eric Stoner is a freelance writer based in New York and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. His articles have appeared in The Nation, NACLA Report on the Americas, and the Indypendent. He can be reached at: ericstoner1 [at] gmail [dot] com.