Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Yikes redux

Slow news day? The Washington Post runs a front-page story that Patrick Cockburn reported months ago, to very little response: the Mosul dam is in imminent danger of collapse, threatening the inundation of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis immediately downstream.

No acknowledgement of Cockburn's report in the extensive Post story. A Lovely Promise's hat tip is cold comfort, no doubt.


President above the law? Block Mukasey.

Deepest thanks to Sens. Sanders, Dodd, and Obama, who have stated unequivocally that they will not vote to confirm Mukasey as attorney general. Bonus points to Bernie Sanders for putting his finger on the real issue at stake:
Mukasey should not be confirmed because he could not muster a simple, straightforward answer at his confirmation hearing when he was asked the simple, straightforward question: Is the president of the United States required to obey federal statutes?

"That would have to depend," he weaseled, "on whether what goes outside the statute nonetheless lies within the authority of the president to defend the country."

Everything else depends on this point -- warmaking, torture, warrantless spying. We cannot appoint yet another man to the highest law enforcement position in the country who does not believe that the president is subject to the law.

C'mon, Senators, three's a movement!

Update: 5:20 pm, 30 Oct - It is indeed: Sen. Clinton joins in. Good move.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Congratulations, Al Gore

You earned this Nobel prize for the inconvenient truths you've been telling. (Some of them even more obviously related to peace than your warnings about global warming.)

And congratulations to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as well.

I hope the prize will encourage you to push candidates at every level into seriously grappling with the crisis, before and after their election. Don't let them off easy.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Anyone have a lighter?

McClatchy: 'Even sprinkler systems fail at U.S. embassy in Baghdad'

Now would be the best time, before the building is put into "service" -- a giant, moated base full of spooks, inaccessible to Iraqis, performing none of the services of traditional embassies, requiring thousands of troops (or mercs) to defend.

Update: 7:40 pm, 9 Oct - Maybe Sec. Rice will end up wanting to torch it herself:
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday he was unable to provide a revised date for the completion of the project [originally September 30]. "We don't have an answer," he told reporters, adding that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was pursuing the matter. "I can't tell you when it will open up."

But McCormack insisted the repairs would be made and that the contractor in question, First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co., would be required to finish the embassy for the $592 million it agreed to build it for. At the same time, he noted that changes ordered to the original design would cost an additional $144 million. "We're not going to buy ourself a turkey here," he said. "We're going to make sure that we get what we paid for."

Update: 5:45 pm,, 30 Oct - David Phinney has been reporting for a long while on the almost unbelievable levels of corruption involved in the embassy scam: go read this round-up, and check in at his site regularly for more.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Mercenary update

The story burbles along. The front page of today's Washington Post puts an even larger hole into the Blackwater version of the Nisour Square massacre:

U.S. military reports from the scene of the Sept. 16 shooting incident involving the security firm Blackwater USA indicate that its guards opened fire without provocation and used excessive force against Iraqi civilians, according to a senior U.S. military official.

The reports came to light as an Interior Ministry official and five eyewitnesses described a second deadly shooting minutes after the incident in Nisoor Square. The same Blackwater security guards, after driving about 150 yards away from the square, fired into a crush of cars, killing one person and injuring two, the Iraqi official said.

The U.S. military reports appear to corroborate the Iraqi government's contention that Blackwater was at fault in the shooting incident in Nisoor Square, in which hospital records say at least 14 people were killed and 18 were wounded.
Casualties from the incident have quietly risen, I see. The CNN link in the update below says that Blackwater "kill[ed] as many as 20 [civilians] at two scenes in western Baghdad."

Update: 5:15 pm, 13 Oct - Blackwater cover story now swiss cheese:
Fresh accounts of the Blackwater shooting last month ... cast new doubt Friday on statements by Blackwater guards that they were responding to armed insurgents when Iraqi investigators say 17 Iraqis were killed at a Baghdad intersection.

The three witnesses, Kurds on a rooftop overlooking the scene, said they had observed no gunfire that could have provoked the shooting by Blackwater guards. American soldiers who arrived minutes later found shell casings from guns used normally by American contractors, as well as by the American military.

The Kurdish witnesses are important because they had the advantage of an unobstructed view and because, collectively, they observed the shooting at Nisour Square from start to finish, free from the terror and confusion that might have clouded accounts of witnesses at street level. Moreover, because they are pro-American, their accounts have a credibility not always extended to Iraqi Arabs, who have been more hostile to the American presence.

Their statements ...challenge a State Department account that a Blackwater vehicle had been disabled in the shooting and had to be towed away.
In other words, as I said at the time it was issued, the Blackwater/State Department version is a lie from start to finish.

There's a new wrinkle to an incident noted in my earlier post, the jailbreak of a former government minister convicted of embezzling $2.5 billion. Turns out that DynCorp also tried unsuccessfully to get him out before Blackwater succeeded. The perp's in Chicago. Who got him out of Iraq and into the U.S.?

Update: 6:45 pm, Oct 5 - An even more outrageous twist was revealed today in another episode covered in my first post. The drunken Blackwater employee who killed the Iraqi VP's bodyguard on Christmas eve was not only spirited back to the U.S. and faced no charges; within two months he was back working for another private military, Combat Support Associates, on a Defense Dept. contract in Kuwait:
Because the State Department and Blackwater kept the incident quiet and out of Moonen's personnel records, CSA was unaware of the December incident when it hired Moonen.

According to Moonen's personnel record, the U.S. Army tried to call him back to service in April 2007, but canceled the request when they were notified he was overseas. Moonen, 27, had served in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division from April 2002 to April 2005 before joining Blackwater.
Update: 7:45 pm, 9 Oct - Via WIIIAI, this gem from Moonen's lawyer: "Being drunk, yeah, maybe that’s the basis for being fired. But I don’t think it’s necessarily inappropriate for another defense contractor to hire somebody because they happen to be drunk once in their life with some serious consequences."

In other news, the House voted overwhelmingly yesterday (Oct. 4) to put mercenaries under the jurisdiction of the Military Extraterritorial Juridiction Act; the Senate is expected to follow. But given the attitude of the State Department and the Pentagon toward atrocities committed by troops and mercenaries in Iraq so far, and the difficulties for U.S. courts of collecting evidence and testimony about incidents taking place thousands of miles away, how likely are we to see any such cases? The House bill does provide some FBI investigative resources, a step forward.

Update: 10:00 pm, 9 Oct - An interesting Blackwater timeline (which could be usefully supplemented by mine, but who's counting? ;>)
Via Laura Rozen.

Update: 5:10 pm, 13 Oct - Anyone who doubts this is a full-scale private army should take in this Washington Post tour of Blackwater's training base in Moyock, NC. Erik Prince has Ollie North's haircut and attitude, and almost $15 billion in contracts in the last six years:
"If they don't like what we're doing then" -- he snapped his fingers -- "cut off that revenue steam right now."
From your lips to a new administration's ears, pal.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Permanent bases in Iraq

Here they come:

Iraq wants the United Nations Security Council to extend the mandate of the United States-led multinational force in Iraq only through the end of 2008, then replace it with a long-term bilateral security agreement, Foreign Ministry officials said Saturday.

Aides to Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the mandate extension for the 160,000-strong force, scheduled to be discussed at the end of this year, would be the last. Iraq would then seek an agreement with the United States like the ones Washington has with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Egypt, they said.