Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

Lame… DUCK!!!

This is what a lame duck President looks like, with extra ducking.

Organizing to Prosecute Bush War Crimes

Raw Story has a great article about a recent planning conference for how to prosecute members of the Bush Administration for war crimes. Conference organizer Lawrence Velvel explains:

The ‘Bush war crimes conference,’ according to its organizers, is a “throwback to the framers of the constitution,” which aims to establish “necessary organizational structures” to pursue those guilty of war crimes “to the ends of the Earth.”

“The framers didn’t trust the federal government either,” said Velvel. “And oddly enough, over the years and decades, a strong distrust of government was once a Republican position. It was, at least, in theory. And then Bush came along and there’s this, well, my country, love it or leave it in the GOP … But now, you have people on the other side of the spectrum taking that very position.

“This is a conservative idea, to hold conferences and then take action to take power. Liberalism has been made fun of as mere self expression. I was very impressed by the desire in this group to take action.”

Of course, Vincent Bugliosi was there. His latest book is excellent.

Even our leaders need to understand that if they lie to the American people and violate basic standards human rights then they will be held accountable in our system of justice.

No End in Sight

Woops, almost forgot to post this:

Event Date: Apr 30, 2008
Event Time: 7:00 PM
Venue Name: Godeke Library
Address: 6601 Quaker
City: Lubbock
State: TX
Zip Code: 79413

We will screen the file “No End in Sight” which is about the Iraq war.
As always, refreshments are provided and a discussion will follow the film.

Hope to see you there!

Another Iraq Contractor Mess

Very depressing news about a woman, alleging gang rape by her fellow KBR employees, who may have no legal recourse in the United States:

KBR Told Victim She Could Lose Her Job If She Sought Help After Being Raped, She Says

A nonprofit organization to help citizens in similar situations has been set up.

I hope that Jamie Leigh Jones gets her day in court (and not just private arbitration).

Lubbock DFA to Screen “War Made Easy”

On Wednesday, October 24 at 7:00pm at Mahon Public Library, Lubbock Democracy for America will screen the new movie “War Made Easy.”

Full event details and RSVP are online at:

Pivatization Take Two: GEO Group and Blackwater (again)

The Texas Youth Commission (TYC) is ordering all of its juvenile inmates removed from the privately run Coke County Juvenile Justice Center in West Texas. The A-J covered the story today. “Unsanitary and unsafe conditions” were the reasons cited for the removal of juveniles. The private facility was run by the GEO Group, which appears to be a multinational corporation. From their website (emphasis mine):

We are a world leader in the privatized development and/or management of correctional facilities. The North American market is growing rapidly, and we are focused on expanding Federal procurement opportunities. The Federal Bureau of Prisons is operating over capacity and Federal law now authorizes longer term contracts than ever before, resulting in more favorable financing alternatives for new privatized development.

We are an industry leader in the international privatized corrections market. We expect substantial growth in Australia, South Africa, the United Kingdom and other areas in Europe for corrections and immigration services.

Our diversified services include health care, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, home detention/electronic monitoring and secure prisoner escort/transportation and court custody services. Our success in delivering some of our industry’s finest diversified services is evidenced by our numerous contracts in the United States and around the world. We are intently focused on extending that success in privatized health care, mental health care and other diversified services to government agencies around the globe.

Does anyone else find the fact that the private prison industry wants to “branch out” into the private health care industry a little creepy? I’m glad these guys are no longer operating anywhere near me… oh, except for Littlefield and Spur (not to mention Santa Rosa, Hobbs, Pecos, Bridgeport, and Fort Worth). Crap.

Also in the news today: Blackwater is defending the actions of their contractors in Iraq. This is fine, and it’s expected as the FBI begins investigating the company. Did you know:

Blackwater bills the U.S. government $1,222 per day for a single “protective security specialist,” the report says. That works out to $445,891 on an annual basis, far higher than it would cost the military to provide the same service.

Now I can list TWO functions of government that I definitely do not want to be privatized, backed up by terrible examples of same: Military operations and Prison/Correctional operations.

Ambassador Cofer Black in Lubbock

Wow, there’s a lot to digest after attending the Cofer Black talk at the Texas Tech International Cultural Center yesterday. If you need a reference point, the A-J was there and covered it well, including using one of Black’s answers to the question I asked.

Cofer Black was the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism from 2002-2005. Prior to that, he was a CIA field officer. In 2005, he took a Job with Blackwater USA, a private security firm. Needless to say, this guy is an authority on American counterterrorism.

The first part of his talk was devoted to a rough history of counterterrorism in the U.S. — how we got to 9/11. I won’t summarize the whole thing, but will point out a few points from this part of the talk that I think are worth highlighting:

Historically in the U.S., terrorism was seen as the responsibility of law enforcement, not military or national intelligence.

The Clinton administration took Cofer’s / CIA’s terrorism threat assessment seriously.

The early Bush Administration was focused on missile defense, not counterterrorism.

Cofer Black, along with many in the American intelligence world, was not surprised by 9/11. He compared the intelligence view at that time to Romans looking out over Hadrian’s wall.

After 9/11, there were basically two grand strategies for the U.S. to adopt: the “Worldwide Attack Matrix” or the “War Plan.” The Worldwide Attack Matrix basically means going after the 114 terrorist groups in the world and arresting, detaining, or killing them. The War Plan involves degrading terrorism “host countries” (most notably Afghanistan) to the point where they are no longer adequate training grounds for terrorist groups. It seems that we have ended up doing both, with emphasis on the War Plan. Indeed, one of the post-hoc “strategic” justifications for the War in Iraq is that it is now a magnet for Jihadists, as opposed to the United States.

In 2007, where are we now and where do we go from here? Cofer Black had some points from the latter half of his talk and from the Q&A that I want to emphasize:

At 9/11, the world was with us. Now, that view has been “greatly degraded,” and we are seen “in a new light.” Rather, our government is seen that way while our citizens are still looked on generally favorably.

We appear to be safer after 9/11 since we have not been struck. Ambassador Black offered driving fatality statistics of 30-45K per year as a contrasting metric.

The most pressing international issue is resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Iran is not a war threat, but a counterterrorism threat. We should use all of our national resources — statecraft, economics, special forces, intelligence, etc — to reward and punish Iran’s behavior without hurting it.

I want to devote the remainder of this post to the topic of privatization of government functions, since Cofer Black more or less embodies this trend. After 30+ years of service to our country in the fields of intelligence and counterterrorism, Cofer Black accepted a position at Blackwater USA. This type of move from government to the part of private sector that deals directly with government has been increasingly popular since World War II. I’m reminded of Eisenhower’s dire warning in his farewell address to the nation: watch out for the military-industrial complex.

I think it’s safe to expand Eisenhower’s warning to say: watch out when the leaders of industry are also leaders of the nation. Out-of-control privatization is one path to that state.

Ambassador Black made what I think is an excellent point: Blackwater and other companies would not work for the government if the government had not offered the work. Blackwater and others respond to RFPs from the government; in other words, they are invited. Far from being a justification for the ever-expanding roles for private contractors, I think it should be a call to action: stop electing leaders who want to privatize everything!

Don’t get me wrong, I think that private contractors have a useful role to play in some areas of government — specifically those where innovation is key. I do not believe that representing our nation on the field of battle is an appropriate area for private contractors, however. There are many functions of government that should not be privatized, and no area of government should be permanently privatized, period.

Accountability is a key issue here as well. Ambassador Black hinted that he believes a government contract is accountability enough. It isn’t. Suppose that the current allegations of killing Iraqi civilians brought against Blackwater personnel turn out to be true. Those who would be guilty would not face punishment from our system of courts-martial, and possibly they would face no punishment at all. Blackwater’s contract would very likely still be intact, and they would likely be free to pursue other contracts with the government.

Conservatives are often keen on the idea of “incentives.” Well, there’s no incentive here for private contractor personnel to behave honorably, but there are always many incentives for our armed forces to behave honorably. Sending in private contractors to do military jobs will only hurt us in the long run.

I have heard that there are now more U.S. private contractors on the ground in Iraq than there are U.S. troops. What are we doing? We cannot simply purchase our diplomacy, security, and coercive force and call ourselves a sovereign nation. We will become just another customer.

Blackwater: In Trouble and In Lubbock

Not a good week for Blackwater. They are in trouble for killing Iraqi civilians (and will possibly lose their license from the Iraqi government), and there are accusations that they smuggled weapons into Iraq that ended up in the hands of our enemies. Daily Kos has a big story up about this.

Well, it turns out that Cofer Black, an executive with Blackwater, will be giving a talk on Monday at the TTU International Center at 5:30. Here’s the announcement:

The Office of International Affairs invites you to a talk by
Ambassador Cofer Black
Terrorism: The Reality Behind the News
September 24, 2007
5:30 p.m.
International Cultural Center
601 Indiana
A reception will follow the talk

Note: Because of road construction, take either University Ave. or the new Texas Tech Parkway
to 4th Street and then turn south on Indiana

Ambassador Cofer Black, Chairman of Total Intel, is an internationally acknowledged expert in counterterrorism. He serves as CEO of the Black Group, LLC, a company providing security for corporate executives.
Prior to his current position, Ambassador Black was the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism with the rank of Ambassador at Large from Dec. 2002-Feb. 2005. Ambassador Black’s office, Security/Counterterrorism, had primary responsibility for developing, coordinating, and implementing U.S. counterterrorism policy. Before joining the State Department, Ambassador Black was the Director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center.

Sponsors: CH Foundation, Office of International Affairs, and the Center for Global Understanding

I hope to find time to attend and ask some tough questions.

MoveOn: Not Backing Down

It never ceases to amaze me how effective a grassroots organization is. There are maybe 2 dozen people who make a living at MoveOn, but 3.2 million members nationwide who make it go.

Yesterday, they raised $500,000 from 12,000 donors, with an average donation of less than $50 per person. Let me repeat — half a million dollars in a single day from small donors only.

What’s all the fuss? MoveOn ran a very effective ad in the New York Times about a betrayal of trust from those responsible for leading our military.

The Republican response? “How impolite.” The Republican Senators put forward a resolution, sponsored by Texas’ own John Cornyn, condemning the MoveOn ad (voting record). Apparently, a single newspaper ad was more important to the Senate Republicans than actually providing adequate time at home for our troops in the field. And people wonder why congressional approval ratings are so low.

MoveOn’s response is to fight back with a new video that highlights the betrayal of trust from the Senate Republicans. You can watch the ad to see their message yourself and donate online if you are moved by it as I was.

A few minutes ago I ran into a friend downtown. “I just donated to MoveOn,” he told me, as I was about to return to my office and do the same. True story.

Thinking about the John Agresto Lecture

It’s been a busy weekend for yours truly, but I’m finding some time to sit down and think through the John Agresto lecture that took place Thursday at Texas Tech’s International Cultural Center here in Lubbock. There were some real insights from a guy who didn’t sound too far “left of center” at all. Dr. Agresto, in charge of rebuilding Iraq’s higher education system, was part of the group of officials who reported directly to Paul Bremer, and the Bush Administration didn’t pick any big lefties for posts like that…

The most important point Agresto made was that “there is no democracy without some vision of human equality.” Equality does not imply sameness, but it does imply the same rights and a certain degree of connectedness. These implications are taken for granted in the United States today, but they are what make our democracy possible. Their absence in Iraq (and in various other nations around the world) is what makes democracy in Iraq a fool’s errand, at least for this generation.

The character of Iraqi spiritual life is the major culprit for this absence. Religious, rigid, tribal, and extremist — these all describe the nature of the violent insurgents in Iraq. Despite the character of some American Christian denominations, America has truly tamed one of the worst aspects of religion: the belief that certain humans are less than human, evil, able to be destroyed without guilt or hesitation. The Declaration of Independence — coming chronologically before our Constitution — states the rejection of “sub-humanity” plainer than any document in the history of mankind. Real human equality — the same idea of equality that sent firefighters and police up the stairs of the twin towers while so many were fleeing down the stairs — is the most necessary condition for a successful democracy. Patriotism implies that you want your neighbor to be as free and alive as you are. Iraq does not yet possess this idea of equality or patriotism; Sunni willingly kill or oppress Shia and vice versa.

There were some frightening statistics presented as well. For example, 400-600 professors in Iraq were killed by their students. — so much for the idea of questioning tradition or religious authority in the classroom.

Another strong point from Agresto was his definition of success in Iraq. We will be successful in Iraq when the Iraqi people do half of what we are now doing for them. We are not seeing the Iraqis, with the exception of Kurdish people, take the initiative in their own reconstruction, security, or governance. The Kurds have rebuilt their infrastructure to a great degree, including hotels, schools, and a secular government. No Americans have been killed by the Kurds in Northern Iraq. I imagine that those planners of the war thought that all of Iraq would be like Kurdistan in the North, but it’s turning out to be more like Basra in the South.

The war planners did not do their homework about American democracy, much less about the possibility of democracy in Iraq. If they did, they would understand that a nation must be ready to undertake the process of democracy before actually forming a democratic government.

Or worse, the war planners knew or strongly suspected that democracy wouldn’t work in Iraq, and they dragged us into war anyway because a stable democracy in Iraq was never their goal.

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