Sunday, September 28, 2008

Amnesty International: Truth or Propaganda?

Is Amnesty International still interested in the truth about human rights, or has it become so politicized that we can safely ignore it?

It's a legitimate question, because Amnesty has subverted itself by jumping to conclusions formed by others with a political agenda, rather than getting to the truth. Amnesty used to be at the cutting edge. Now it's out of date, the tail of the dog, fat and lazy and politicized.

As we see in the entry below, Amnesty has been so out of touch on the Blackwater/Nisoor Square controversy that it didn't even know that the federal government is readying to prosecute guards for the September 16, 2007 incident.

Further into Amnesty's Nisoor anniversary "report," we find that the foundation really wants to put Blackwater out of business - an agenda set by Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Cal.) and moonbat writer Jeremy Scahill of The Nation.

Here's what Amnesty says in its "report": "Amnesty International USA has demanded that the State Department suspend contracts with contractors like Blackwater until it is clear that proper vetting mechanisms are in place to prevent further abuses."

Does Amnesty even know what the vetting mechanisms are? It gives no indication (they are amply documented among the more than 350 entries on this blog).

Waxman and Scahill can't seem to get much support from among fellow Blackwater critics. Scahill pointedly asked Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) if they would endorse pulling Blackwater's contracts, and both said no. Both said Blackwater should compete for contracts. Even Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has privately said, as US News and World Report revealed, that he thinks Blackwater is "getting a bad rap."

But in Amnesty's case, it shouldn't matter what the politicians say. The organization made a good name for itself by sticking to facts and not jumping to politicized conclusions. That was the old Amnesty International. The new Amnesty isn't worth listening to any more.

(Graphic courtesy of

Spinning Headlines or Just Plain Ignorant?

Amnesty International used to have a great reputation as a champion of prisoners of conscience and human rights in general, but in recent years it's good name for objectivity and principle has become a bit tarnished.

Take this pompous headine from its "report" marking the one-year anniversary of the shootout at Nisoor Square in Iraq: "On Anniversary of Civilian Shootings by Blackwater in Iraq, Amnesty International Calls on US Government to Hold Military Contractors Accountable."

All well and good, but where has Amnesty been over the past year? The headline shows the group is way, way behind the curve, out of touch with the facts, and reduced to a Scahillian poodle nipping and yapping to make itself relevant in the media.

That's too bad, because Amnesty could be adding a lot to the debate on private military and security contractors, and to accountability in general.

Let's pick apart Amnesty's September 22 release and get to the facts:

Amnesty: "Amnesty International today condemned the US government for failing to hold anyone accountable for the deaths."

Fact: The US government has been working hard to hold people accountable for the deaths. As Blackwaterfacts reported on August 18 - a month before Amnesty's statement - the Justice Department sent "target letters" to six Blackwater guards, the first public indication that individuals have been targeted for prosecution. Like it or not, American justice is slow and deliberate. It can't be speeded up to coincide with anniversaries.

Amnesty: "'The U.S. government has failed to ensure legal accountability for widespread abuses by civilian contractors,' said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA. 'Iraqi and U.S. investigations have determined that this assault was an unjustifiable use of force against civilians. And yet, a year later, we are still waiting for justice in this case. Robust protections must be in place to guarantee that personnel are held accountable for indiscriminate shootings and killings of civilians.'"

Fact: Cox is mistaken; the accountability measures are in place, as this blog reported last November. Congress has modernized its laws and the administration has tightened its procedures. Amnesty International seems not to realize that Blackwater CEO Erik Prince personally asked Congress for tightened accountability in his testimony before the Waxman Committee on October 2, 2007.

Finally, Amnesty quotes Congressman David Price (D-NC) about the need to expand the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA).

Again, Amnesty is way behind. Blackwater Chairman Erik Prince publicly called for accountability under MEJA. The Blackwater chief endorsed Congressman Price's call for other types of expanded accountability nearly a year ago during the Waxman hearings. The House, with full bipartisan support, overwhelmingly passed the Blackwater-approved legislation a few days later.

The timeline shows that Blackwater has been further out-front on the accountability issue than has Amnesty International.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Biden: Come Back to Where Blackwater Rescued Me

In dramatizing his February 2008 trip to Afghanistan "where my helicopter was forced down," Senator Joe Biden omits an important fact: His rescuers were the private security men of Blackwater Worldwide.

"If you want to know where Al Qaeda lives, you want to know where Bin Laden is, come back to Afghanistan with me," said Biden in a taunt against Senator John McCain and supporters of winning the war in Iraq. "Come back to the area where my helicopter was forced down, with a three-star general and three senators at 10,500 feet in the middle of those mountains. I can tell you where they are."

But, Senator, can you tell us who rescued you? We can.

Biden huffed that he would ask his Republican counterpart, Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, about "the superhighway of terror between Pakistan and Afghanistan where my helicopter was forced down." He made it seem like terrorists forced down his aircraft.

Actually, it was a snowstorm that prompted the forced landing. That's what Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), who accompanied Biden and Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) on the aborted helicopter flight, told the Associated Press at the time.

ABC News Senior National Correspondent Jake Tapper clarifies the issue. But his Googling of the incident didn't reveal that Blackwater contractors serving their country in a hostile location were the ones who rescued the senators and a three-star general.

If Biden asks Palin about "where my helicopter was forced down," Palin should ask Biden in return to praise Blackwater for saving him and taking him to Bagram Air Base.

Last February, Senator Kerry didn't try to make it look like enemy fire forced down the helicopter. "The weather closed in on us," he told the AP from safe refuge in Turkey. "It went pretty blind, pretty fast and we were around some pretty dangerous ridges. So the pilot exercised his judgment that we were better off putting down there, and we all agreed. . . We sat up there and traded stories."

Tapper adds that Kerry joked, "We were going to send Biden out to fight the Taliban with snowballs, but we didn't have to do it … Other than getting a little cold, it was fine."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blackwater Is NOT a Subject of Criminal Probe of Nisoor Shootout

Blackwater Worldwide is not a subject of federal criminal investigation relating to the September 2007 Nisoor Square shootout in Iraq.

The Associated Press reports that only three Blackwater guards are under investigation, and questions loom about whether they government can even prosecute them because Congress failed to modernize federal law. The company itself is not under investigation, according to AP.

(Pictured: Nisoor Square, Baghdad)

Federal Prosecutions of Security Men Likely to Fail, AP Reports

A federal prosecution of the Blackwater guards reportedly involved in the 2007 Nisoor Square shootout is likely to fail, the company tells the US Justice Department.

Of the dozens of Blackwater personnel involved in the security detail to protect a US diplomat at the time of the incident. Only three are likely to be charged, if any charges are brought forth at all, AP reports.

A federal grand jury has been investigating the incident. Critics have been howling for short-circuiting the justice process, demanding immediate prosecutions before the facts can be established.

"Prosecutors agreed to take Blackwater's argument into consideration but did not indicate whether they would continue to pursue charges or drop the case. The company itself is not a target of the investigation and has pledged to cooperate with the probe," according to AP.
"Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment."

"Meanwhile, the government's investigation has hit several legal snags — chief among them promises of limited immunity to the guards."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Socialist Workers Party Involved with Anti-Blackwater Protests

The Socialist Workers Party is one of the groups promoting anti-Blackwater protests from coast to coast, exploiting the September 16 Nisoor Square shootout to make its political point.

The protests attracted few participants.

Congressman Bob Filner (D-Cal.), whose anti-Blackwater activism was discredited by his assault and battery of a woman last year - he copped a plea to avoid trial - participated in the protest via telephone, according to

Monday, September 15, 2008

'Pentagon's New Map' Author Welcomes Global Stability Industry

Thomas P. M. Barnett, author of The Pentagon's New Map and other future-oriented books, says the "global stability industry" is a new and positive phenomenon resulting from globalization.

Mentioning Blackwater in a syndicated column for the Scripps Howard news service, Barnett cites what he considers two bright spots: the launch of a new global stability magazine called Serviam, and the new US Army field manual on stability operations.

"Globalization sweeps this planet with a speed that stuns its most advanced member states and swamps its weakest. As these penetrating networks reformat traditional societies, a certain amount of social instability inevitably ensues among the least resilient. That's inherent to any frontier-integrating age, and we're experiencing one on an unprecedented global scale right now," Barnett writes.

"America is hardly in charge of this process, as most of globalization is now fueled by rising Asia. But as the world's sole military superpower, we naturally feel responsibility even when we're strategically tied-down elsewhere - e.g., Iraq and Afghanistan. Where gaps in coverage inevitably emerge, look for the global stability industry to step in. The cynical option is to 'let 'em burn.'" But an optimist, he argues, would look toward private providers of "sovereignty services" to those troubled lands.

"It definitely beats the alternative, on display right now in starving Haiti, where relief food supplies from the international community often sit on harbor docks - undistributed - while poor locals survive by eating cakes of mud," he says.

Hence the need for a magazine like Serviam: "Those industry non-stories must be told as well."

The second positive example Barnett encountered was at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he received a briefing on "a new Army field manual on stability operations. Why this matters: Army field manuals are the authoritative how-to guides for future operations. The newest versions clearly reflect the build-up of operational experience in this long war against radical extremism.
When the Army's capstone field manual was revised earlier this year, it declared that stability operations should now be given the same priority as the kinetics - conventional combat operations. That was an unprecedented shift in response to the failures we experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan. . . .

"What the new field manual on stability ops does . . . is pick up that operational thread at the end of conflict and extend it through a long-term, stable peace. In short, it's what comes next.
America's defense community continues to adapt itself in this long war, with all roads leading to a far more developed capacity to conduct stability operations. As we proceed down this pathway, America can use all the bright minds and intelligent voices - both inside and outside of government - which it can muster.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Key Support for Blackwater In Senate

Sources: Obama quote reported in July 25, 2008 US News & World Report: Webb and Kerry quotes elicited and made possible by Jeremy Scahill, DemocracyNow! website.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Senator Kerry Says He's OK with Blackwater

Senator John Kerry has joined Senator Jim Webb in rebuffing calls for the US to ban Blackwater. Like Webb, Kerry is a sharp critic of Blackwater - but says that the company should be allowed to compete for contracts.

Kerry's comment further isolates House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, who is the only senior member of Congress to say he wants to force Blackwater out of the government contracting business.

The Massachusetts senator indicates he has no problem with Blackwater's security services in Iraq, as long as the company operates under the same rules as everyone else.

Anti-Blackwater gadfly Jeremy Scahill posed questions to congressmen and senators at the Democratic National Convention to elicit comments against the firm. Here's the transcript as copied from the DemocracyNow! website:

JEREMY SCAHILL: Senator Kerry, should Blackwater be banned? Senator Kerry, you’ve been aggressive on Blackwater recently. Do you think they should be banned?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: I’m not having a press conference right now. I’ve got to get to an airport, because I have to go to a funeral.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Just answer the one question. I know you know about this.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: I need to—I need—I’m not doing this right know. That’s all.
JEREMY SCAHILL: It’s a simple yes or no. Do you think they should be banned—Blackwater, the mercenary company—from operating in Iraq?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: No, I don’t think they should be banned. I think they need to operate under rules that apply to the military and everybody else.

JEREMY SCAHILL: But it’s OK if Senator Obama continues to use them, if he wins the presidency?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: You guys, I’m not—this is not the moment.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Nisoor Redux Buried In News Reporting

"How can we blame Blackwater and the American soldiers for killing Iraqis in cold blood when today [Iraqi government] guards killed a woman and injured others for no reason but to have the street clear for them?"

That is the anguished question of a Baghdad soda peddler who witnesed the shootings by government guards for the Iraqi Minister for Displacement and Migration.

"First, they killed a woman who was trying to cross the intersection," an Iraqi police officer said. "After that they opened fire on the traffic policeman who was doing his job. They shot him twice and he was injured. He fell down on the street. Then they left the cars and were walking with machine guns and pistols in their hands."

The incident recalls the international outrage nearly a year ago after Blackwater guards defended a diplomatic convoy that came under attack on Nisoor Square, resulting in the deaths of 17 civilians. That incident is under US criminal investigation, with indictments expected.

Media coverage, however, is much different. The Nisoor Square shootout made international headlines. The latest incident is buried at the bottom of a McClatchy news service story about Iraqi natural gas.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

CBO Fingers Waxman As Source of False Information

Congressman Henry Waxman's office is the source of the false information about how much Blackwater security contractors in Iraq are paid. That's not simply this blogger's view - it's a statement in a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on private contractors in Iraq. The Senate Budget Committee commissioned the report.

During October 2, 2007 hearings, the staff of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Waxman prepared a memorandum to committee members, stating that Blackwater security personnel in Iraq were costing $455,000 per person per year, "over six times more than the cost of an equivalent US soldier." Blackwater CEO Erik Prince sharply disputed the figure, which several congressmen - including and especially Waxman - repeated during the hearing and in subsequent interviews with the media.

Waxman made the statements as part of a favor he did for a trial lawyer who stands to make millions by discrediting and suing Blackwater. The liberal website says Waxman's strategy is to discredit the company to "make it ineligible for future federal contracts."

The New York Times, Washington Post and other news outlets uncritically repeated the misleading figures, adding to the falsehood by stating that the figure was what the individual contractors were being paid. This blog reported on the falsehood on the day of the hearing. nearly a year ago.

The CBO report, issued last month, points directly to the source of the falsehood. In footnote 22 of page 14 of the report, the CBO said that the critics' "figures appear to come from a memorandum to members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Additional Information About Blackwater USA (October 1, 2007),"

"Those figures, however, are not appropriate for comparing the cost-effectiveness of contracting the security function or performing it using military personnel," according to the CBO. The $455,000 a year figure comes from a daily billing rate of $1,222 a day. "The figure of $1,222 a day represents the contractor's billing rate, not the amount paid to the contractor's employees. The billing rate is greater than the employee's pay because it includes the contractor's indirect costs, overhead, and profit," the CBO said. This cannot be compared to what a U.S. soldier costs the taxpayer because of many other costs involved.

The CBO backs up Prince's contention at the 2007 hearing that the costs include equipping and supplying the security personnel, and paying for equipment damaged or destroyed by insurgents or the US military. That equipment includes several helicopters the company lost to hostile fire. It is not possible to insure helicopters in war zones; Blackwater pays for the losses out of its profit and overhead.

It is rare for the CBO - an independent, nonpartisan auxiliary of Congress - to point to congressmen or congressional staff as the sources of misleading information, so the observation in the report is particularly important.

Monday, September 8, 2008

State Department Contract Shows Requirements for Security Pros

A State Department security contract obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) shows strict requirements placed on Blackwater and other private security guards in Iraq and elsewhere. Accountability is extensively built into the contract.

"One of the most common criticisms about private security contractors is that there are insufficient rules governing their actions," writes David Isenberg of UPI. "But the truth is, there is and always has been a way to ensure that contractors act the way the client, as in the U.S. government or other private sector firms, wants. And that is to simply write it into the contract.

"And now, we have documentary evidence that this is what the U.S. government has been doing. Recently, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, I obtained a section of the Worldwide Personal Protective Services contract that the State Department issued for protection of its personnel and facilities. This is the contract that is split between Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp."

Isenberg obtained the 187-page specifications section of the WPPS contract, which "details what Blackwater is required to do." Despite big blackout areas imposed during declassificition, the document lays out many of the requirements.

The contract describes the speed in which Blackwater and the State Department must be able to contact one another, contractor training (done with State Department review and veto power), workplace issues, logistical support according to State Department standards, the type of handheld radios the contractors must have, personal requirements of each security contractor, details of each contractor to include health, financial and criminal background checks, psychiatric exams and more; plus details on "vehicles, load-bearing vests, utility belts, pepper spray and morale needs."
"Given that contractors are often shot at while transporting their clients, the contract requires the contractor to employ a 'factory-certified vehicle mechanic' to maintain the Protective Services detail vehicles."

There's strict accounting of weapons, including their maintenance, specifics on when and where weapons should be cleaned, and specs on cleaning logs for each weapon which is tracked by serial number; and requirements for on-site factory certified armorers to maintain and repair weapons.

There even specific requirements for the Odor Recognition Proficiency Test for explosives-detecting dogs to meet; and the conduct of guards, to include that they "will be polite and courteous in performance of their duties. They will not use abusive language."

The contractor spells out when a private guard can and cannot use his weapon, and how.

This is no surprise to anyone who has been under Blackwater's protection. Across the board, protectees praise Blackwater for its guards' professionalism and courtesy. Senator Barack Obama, on receiving Blackwater security service in Afghanistan, said that the company had been receiving a "bad rap."

NOTE (9/11/08): David Isenberg writes us to ask that we post the link to his archived United Press International pieces. Here it is: We picked up his column from the Google News feed, which does not link directly to UPI's site.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Zoning Board in Idaho Unanimously Backs Blackwater Plan

Blackwater won the resounding support of a county board in Idaho to build an indoor firearms training facility. Ordinarily this wouldn't be worth posting, but activists opposed to winning the war in Iraq have been challenging Blackwater at the grassroots, to prevent it from training US military and police.

A guy who says his name is Martin Hippie is leading the opposition.

Normal residents and officials seem pleased that the company is converting a noisy outdoor range into a quieter, indoor facility, according to the Galena Gazette.

Local police officer Andy Schroeder says, "Blackwater has been nothing but tremendous in allowing us the use of their property."

Local zoning board member Nick Tranel was upbeat about Blackwater: "It has met all the requirements of the special use standards."

Said board chairman Mel Grotton, "We live in a world where people do need to train to protect life and property," adding, "I don't know where you could better site a building like this."

Meanwhile, Hippie says he plans to continue his fight.