Daily Archives: March 20, 2007

Blackwater: Bush’s Shadow Army

Sanity for Sale | Mar 20, 2007

The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill describes the rise of Blackwater USA, the world’s most powerful mercenary army.


Jeremy Scahill reports on the Bush Administration’s growing dependence on private security forces such as Blackwater USA and efforts in Congress to rein them in. This article is adapted from his new book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (Nation Books).

On September 10, 2001, before most Americans had heard of Al Qaeda or imagined the possibility of a “war on terror,” Donald Rumsfeld stepped to the podium at the Pentagon to deliver one of his first major addresses as Defense Secretary under President George W. Bush. Standing before the former corporate executives he had tapped as his top deputies overseeing the high-stakes business of military contracting–many of them from firms like Enron, General Dynamics and Aerospace Corporation–Rumsfeld issued a declaration of war.

“The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America,” Rumsfeld thundered. “It disrupts the defense of the United States and places the lives of men and women in uniform at risk.” He told his new staff, “You may think I’m describing one of the last decrepit dictators of the world…. [But] the adversary’s closer to home,” he said. “It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy.” Rumsfeld called for a wholesale shift in the running of the Pentagon, supplanting the old DoD bureaucracy with a new model, one based on the private sector. Announcing this major overhaul, Rumsfeld told his audience, “I have no desire to attack the Pentagon; I want to liberate it. We need to save it from itself.”

The next morning, the Pentagon would be attacked, literally, as a Boeing 757–American Airlines Flight 77–smashed into its western wall. Rumsfeld would famously assist rescue workers in pulling bodies from the rubble. But it didn’t take long for Rumsfeld to seize the almost unthinkable opportunity presented by 9/11 to put his personal war–laid out just a day before–on the fast track. The new Pentagon policy would emphasize covert actions, sophisticated weapons systems and greater reliance on private contractors. It became known as the Rumsfeld Doctrine. “We must promote a more entrepreneurial approach: one that encourages people to be proactive, not reactive, and to behave less like bureaucrats and more like venture capitalists,” Rumsfeld wrote in the summer of 2002 in an article for Foreign Affairs titled “Transforming the Military.”


Mercenary Trophy Videos
There have been hundreds of accounts of personnel from private military and security firms committing abuses in Iraq. These videos demonstrate how the mercenaries from Aegis, a UK based security firm and Blackwater, a US based private military contractor go about their ‘work’.

The few, the proud, the Blackwater

‘Iraq for Sale’ bonus scene: Blackwater
Inside America’s private army with extended bonus scenes from Robert Greenwald’s documentary “Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers”

Blackwater security shot Iraqi man
Lawyers for Blackwater, the private security company, today publicly acknowledged that one of their security guards shot dead an Iraqi man whom he worked with.  The admission by Blackwater confirms worries that armed contractors working directly or indirectly for the U.S. government have been involved in killing Iraqi civilians and that they have escaped the rule of law in Iraq or in the United States.

Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army

Blackwater Contractor Kills Vice President’s Guard
There have been rumors buzzing around the contractor community about murder. It started when a Blackwater employee drunk and fresh from a Christmas party in the Green Zone got into an argument with an Iraqi security contractor. The Iraqi worked for the Vice President as a security guard. It is not cleared what transpired but the Blackwater employee emptied the entire magazine of his pistol into the Iraqi. Under normal circumstances the contractor would have been arrested (the Green Zone is in effect a U.S. base) under the Patriot Act, MEJA, the military code or Iraqi law but he wasn’t. He was dealt with just like any other contractor who commits a crime in Iraq. He was bundled into an aircraft, returned to the US and dropped from the payroll. According to Blackwater’s lawyer, he was “off duty” returned to the US and is being “investigated” by the FBI.

It turns out that Blackwater is sparing no expense to defend its right to be above the law. They claim that they don’t need to obey the military code of conduct because they are a private firm. They also claim that they shouldn’t be prosecuted in a criminal court, because they deal with military secrets that could put our troops in jeopardy. They also claim that they can not be prosecuted for any of the actions that they have taken in Iraq under the Iraqi courts, because they are Americans. In fact they seem to have an excuse for almost every possible way they that they could be held accountable for their crimes. Crimes!? Yes, Crimes. There are many reports in Iraq detailing the antics of the “Blackwater Guys.” They see themselves as above the law. They have reportedly shot at people first, then ask the questions later. Is this the way that America should be building relations with the Iraqis, or others in the Middle East.

Blackwater Mercenaries: Coming Soon to Your Town

Did an American fire on Iraqis unprovoked?
U.S. security contractors allege their supervisor was ‘out of control’

Egyptian Terror Law Gives Government Sweeping Powers to Ban Political Parties, Spy, Detain and Torture

Amnesty International | Mar 22, 2007

Amnesty International today called on Egyptian members of parliament to reject proposed amendments to the country’s constitution, which the organisation described as the most serious undermining of human rights safeguards in Egypt since the state of emergency was re-imposed in 1981.

The appeal came as the Egyptian Parliament prepared to approve this Sunday amendments to 34 articles of the constitution, including Article 179. The amendments to this Article would give sweeping powers of arrest to the police, grant broad authority to monitor private communications and allow the Egyptian president to bypass ordinary courts and refer people suspected of terrorism to military and special courts, in which they would be unlikely to receive fair trials.

“The proposed constitutional amendments would simply entrench the long-standing system of abuse under Egypt’s state of emergency powers and give the misuse of those powers a bogus legitimacy. Instead of putting an end to the secret detentions, enforced “disappearances”, torture and unfair trials before emergency and military courts, Egyptian MPs are now being asked to sign away even the constitutional protections against such human rights violations,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa programme.

The amendment of Article 179 would pave the way for the introduction of a new anti-terrorism law that would undermine the principle of individual freedom [Article 41(1)], privacy of the home [Article 44] and privacy of correspondence, telephone calls and other communication [Article 45(2)]. The amendments would also grant the president the right to interfere in the judiciary by bypassing ordinary courts, including by referring people suspected of terrorism-related offences to military courts.

If approved by parliament, the amendments to Article 179 will be put to a popular referendum on 4 April along with amendments to 33 other articles of the Constitution. Egyptian NGOs and others have also expressed grave concerns about these other amendments including those which would ban the establishment of political parties based on religion and reduce the role of the judges in supervising elections and referendums. The first is seen as part of a government strategy to undermine the opposition Muslim Brotherhood following its improved showing in the 2005 elections. The second is seen as an attempt to prevent any repetition of events last year, when two leading judges denounced the government’s failure to take action in response to evidence of electoral fraud during the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2005.

The amendments are being presented to MPs as a package on which they must vote yes or no. They cannot accept some and reject others, nor can they open up any of the proposed amendments for further parliamentary review.

“Amnesty International recognises the threat posed to Egypt by terrorism, but respect for and protection of fundamental human rights cannot simply be swept away by a majority vote,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“By pushing through these amendments, the government will write into the permanent law emergency-style powers that have been used to violate human rights over more than two decades, so that when it then bows at last to international criticism and lifts the state of emergency the impact will be no more than cosmetic. The parliament should not rubber stamp this. Instead, it should reject the amendments and insist that Egypt’s national law adequately safeguards the universal rights enshrined under international law which Egypt has committed, but so conspicuously failed, to uphold.”

Big Brother database plan draws fire from all over EU

The Times | Mar 16, 2007

Proposals for a centralised database of fingerprints from across the Continent were revealed yesterday, fuelling fears on all sides of a Big Brother Europe.

The scheme for a computerised collection of personal details drawn from all 27 countries in the EU is the latest in a raft of anticrime measures in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

Britain would be expected to contribute all the details held by police. These include fingerprints of suspects and people released without charge, as well as those convicted of crimes. The plan coincides with the Home Office preparing to expand the range of people fingerprinted to include those caught speeding or dropping litter.

The aim is for the database to be up and running by the end of next year. The sensitive information it contains could be shared with third parties, such as US law enforcement authorities.

A detailed assessment is being carried out to determine the scope and cost of the single EU fingerprint database, The Times has learnt.

The proposal, which was buried in a lengthy European Commission document setting out policy goals for next year, managed the rare feat of uniting all sides in opposition. Euro-sceptics criticised them as the trappings of a super-state, while some of Europe’s most ardent supporters complained of a threat to civil liberties.

“This rings alarm bells in terms of civil liberties and in Brussels overreaching itself,” said Baroness Ludford, a Liberal Democrat MEP, who called the project “Euro Big Brother run riot”.

She added: “Of course MEPs want to fight crime and terrorism, but individual privacy must be safeguarded. We need to know who can access this database and what the information can be used for.

“It is irresponsible of the European Commission to act like this. It is doing the euro-sceptics’ job for them.”

Officials in Brussels confirmed that an assessment was under way on “implementing a centralised database of fingerprints”. The one-line announcement of the plan as a “key action” for “security and freedom” appeared in the European Commision’s annual policy strategy for 2008.

There is no decision yet on where the database would be housed. Such EU projects are traditionally the subject of haggling among member governments.

The officials were reluctant to say if the fingerprints, from all 27 countries, would be made available to allies such as the United States in the fight against crime and terrorism, in the same way as airline passenger information.

A spokesman for Franco Frattini, the EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, said: “This is something we are doing more work on, as a very important, if not indispensable, tool in combating cross-border organised crime and terrorism. So we will certainly pursue this.”

He confirmed that it was an additional project to the voluntary sharing of fingerprint information agreed by home affairs ministers in January under the extension of the Prum Treaty — an agreement between several continental countries.

Neil O’Brien, of Open Europe, said: “The European Union is gaining criminal justice powers very rapidly. The problem is that one thing leads to another and that setting up centralised institutions is then used as an excuse for further harmonisation of powers which will take decisions about criminals and victims further away from ordinary voters.

“If you are collecting a centralised database, there will then be rules about how you collect fingerprints, which have implications for how you handle different kinds of crimes. Who decides who controls access to this information? A lot of people will feel this is the start of Big Brother Europe.”

Gareth Crossman, director of policy at human rights group Liberty, said: “The attitude of the British Government is one where mass retention of biometric information is at the heart of anticrime and security policy.

Chinese cyber-dissident gets 6 years for ‘defaming’ government

San Diego Union Tribune | Mar 19, 2007

A Chinese activist accused of posting subversive articles on the Internet was sentenced to six years in prison for “defaming” the government, state media said Monday.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Zhang Jianhong was the former editor in chief of a Chinese Web site called “Aiqinhai,” or “Aegean Sea,” and had written articles that defamed the Chinese government and amounted to agitation aimed at toppling the government.

The sentence comes amid a government campaign to tighten control over China’s media and the Internet. Dozens of people have been detained in recent months after posting political essays online.

Xinhua said Zhang’s sentence was handed down by the Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court in Zhejiang province in eastern China.

Citing a court statement, Xinhua said Zhang had slandered the government and China’s social system in more than 60 articles published on overseas Web sites. Xinhua did not give any specific examples of Zhang’s writings.

It said the court had showed leniency toward Zhang because he showed remorse after his arrest.

According to the media rights group Reporters Without Borders, Zhang was charged last September with inciting subversion against the state, a vaguely worded charge authorities frequently use against activists they deem potentially threatening to the ruling Communist Party.

Zhang was involved with the 1989 pro-democracy movement and spent 18 months in a labor camp for writing “counterrevolutionary propaganda,” the rights group said.

Liverpool struggles to reconcile ties to slave trade

Houston Chronicle | Mar 18, 2007

Beatles lovers who seek out Penny Lane imagine it as that magical place “in my ears and in my eyes, there beneath the blue suburban skies.” But it has a sinister undertone that still reverberates.

The street in Liverpool, hometown of the Fab Four, is named after James Penny, a slave trader and investor in 11 voyages that took 500 to 600 captives at a time to the New World.

Penny was among the many who enriched themselves and their city on human trafficking until the slave trade was abolished 200 years ago. Their ships carried millions of people from West Africa to the plantations of the Americas in a triangular trade that also brought profitable cargoes of sugar, tobacco and rum to England.

Liverpool’s rise, said local historian Ray Costello, is summed up in the carving on a bank facade: two black children supporting Liverpool as Neptune.

“What it really means is that this bank was founded on the slave trade,” Costello said.

200th anniversary nears

It resonates all the more with the approach of the March 25 anniversary of the British parliamentary act that abolished the slave trade in Britain’s colonies 200 years ago — though not slavery itself.

Liverpool’s problem is its “hidden history — nobody wants to talk about it,” said Eric Lynch, a black Liverpool resident who leads walking tours in the west coast city.

However, the past has not gone unacknowledged.

The city council formally apologized in 1999, expressing “shame and remorse for the city’s role in this trade in human misery.”

It has commissioned statues titled Reconciliation, two abstract bronze figures embracing, which will be dedicated this year in Richmond, Va., and Benin, a West African port of call for Liverpool’s slave ships.

On Aug. 23, the anniversary of the slave uprising in French-ruled Haiti in 1791, Liverpool will open the International Slavery Museum. Part of its mission is recovering Liverpool’s history, which remains a fraught issue.

Liverpool council member Barbara Mace last year proposed renaming streets associated with slavery, and she was surprised to learn that Penny Lane was among them. After a lively controversy, the proposal was withdrawn.

Liverpool was once the home of John Newton, the slave ship captain who became an ardent abolitionist and wrote the hymn Amazing Grace.

‘Trying to sanitize wealth’

Abolitionist Thomas Clarkson visited Liverpool in 1787, collecting horrifying stories from sailors and buying tools of the trade: chains, manacles, iron collars and branding irons, which made effective publicity for William Wilberforce’s campaign in parliament to abolish the trade.

“By the end of the 19th century, a lot of rich families were trying to sanitize their wealth, and every trace of slavery they got rid of,” said Costello, who has been researching the history of fellow blacks in his city.

What Liverpool needs to do, Costello says, is “take off its shades and see the blacks,” who have been in the city since the 18th century but still find themselves mistaken for recent immigrants.

Blacks now represent 7 percent of the work force in the city of 450,000.

Because the slaves sailed direct from Africa to the New World, Liverpool saw little of the trade at close quarters.

Richard Benjamin, director of the new museum, said only 11 slaves are known to have been sold in the city. Some slaves who were given their freedom for fighting against the American Revolution made their way to Liverpool, while others came as crewmen on ships, Costello said.

The abolition act in 1807 was a milestone, but Britain waited 26 more years to outlaw slavery in the colonies.

Anti-Slavery International, founded by the leaders of Britain’s abolition movement, estimates that 12 million people are in some form of slavery today, as bonded laborers or in the sex trade.

Liverpool joined the slave trade in 1699 when a ship named Liverpool Merchant put to sea, carrying 220 slaves from West Africa to Barbados. Sir Thomas Johnson, a part-owner of the ship, is known as the founder of modern Liverpool; Sir Thomas Street is named for him.

Cirrhosis in younger drinkers has doubled

Times Online | Mar 19, 2007

Doctors seeing patients with end-stage cirrhosis of the liver in their 20s, and expected to increase.

Alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver has more than doubled among 25 to 34-year-olds in the past ten years.

Figures for England, given in a parliamentary answer to the Liberal Democrats, show a rise from 270 cases in 1996-97 to 642 in 2005-06.

Overall, cirrhosis cases have almost tripled over the period, rising from just under 7,000 a year to more than 19,000. It generally takes a decade or more of hard drinking to damage the liver sufficiently to develop cirrhosis.

Alcohol is by no means the only cause of cirrhosis, but the data given to Sandra Gidley, the Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman, cover only cases related to alcohol. She said: “Ministers should have woken up to this issue and taken action years ago.

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said that doctors were seeing patients with end-stage cirrhosis of the liver in their 20s, and he expected the pattern to increase.