Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

In case you never got the opportunity to watch the documentary filmed by two Irish film makers who happened to be on the scene when the US-supported (and perhaps led) coup against Venezuela's Hugo Chavez took place, you can see it now while you're waiting for Citizenfour to come to a theater near you.  Lucky you.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.


USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) has long been roundly criticized in other countries as a cover for stirring unrest and destabilizing a virtual extension of the CIA. Here’s just one more incident to make that believable.
Less than a year [after Hosni Mubarak was ousted and USAID paid for other NGOs to “democratize” Egypt], the Egyptian government charged 43 NGO workers with operating illegally. Sixteen of them were Americans, including the son of then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  [review the story here]

The Americans were freed in March 2012 after USAID secretly paid the Egyptian government $4.6 million in “bail” money.

That May, USAID’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) completed a confidential draft audit of the program that questioned the wisdom of the program and the legality of using the money to post bail.

But when the inspector general’s office publicly issued its final audit report five months later, those findings and other critical conclusions had been removed. [...] What was once a 21-page report had been reduced to nine.


On Wednesday, [acting USAID inspector general Michael G.] Carroll withdrew his nomination [for the permanent postion], which had been pending for 16 months. Carroll declined to discuss his decision.


He told his staff that he plans to remain in the office as a deputy inspector general.


Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) [ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees all federal inspectors general] said he was concerned after his office looked into complaints by a half-dozen whistleblowers who say their audits were altered.

“You don’t hardly ever see this with other IGs,” Coburn recently told The Post. “You certainly don’t see it to this extent. This is the worst we’ve seen.”


The allegations of improperly altered audit reports were independently examined last year by the National Labor Relations Board’s inspector general. [USAID IG Carroll’s chief of staff, Justin H.] Brown said the confidential examination, which concluded in May 2013, “did not substantiate the allegations” and recommended that “no disciplinary or administrative action be taken.”

Of course. Confidential.
NLRB Inspector General David P. Berry said through a spokeswoman: “We cannot confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.”
Very confidential.
“I don’t think they’re cleared at all,” said [Senator] Coburn. [...] “The people who actually knew what was going on were never actually interviewed. This is the first time in my career that I have some doubts about the integrity of one of these investigations.”
That’s rich, though, isn’t it? A politician questioning the integrity of anybody.

Brown says allegations of covering up are unfounded. He claims discrepancies occur because they are short-staffed and have too much work, no time. And yet, they had time to remove negative information from the reports. Funny how that worked out.

The Post reporters managed to get hold of 12 audit drafts and compared them to the final published versions. They found more than 400 negative references that were deleted from the final reports.
In one audit, the number of negative references fell from 113 to 61; in another, from 170 to 13.


At the USAID inspector general’s office, several auditors and employees told The Post that their authority has been undermined, and some have hired attorneys to file whistleblower and employment discrimination claims. Auditors stationed in different offices around the world have come forward with similar complaints.
In 2010, USAID (probably under pressure) set up a program to reduce fraud and waste in the billion-dollar aid allotment to Pakistan.
In a draft audit of the program written in 2012, auditors found that $32 million of the program’s $44 million budget went to “fringe benefits, consultants and travel.” Auditors also found that one contractor hired to provide training billed the agency $954,000 for “expenses such as salaries, fringe benefits, and travel” but did not train anyone for the 16 months of the contract.
Those findings were removed from the final report.


And I think there's a typo..."conflict mitigation"...I think they meant "conflict instigation".

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Blackwater Verdict

A federal jury in Washington, D.C., returned guilty verdicts against four Blackwater operatives charged with killing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians and wounding scores of others in Baghdad in 2007.

The jury found one guard, Nicholas Slatten, guilty of first-degree murder, while three other guards were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.


A fifth Blackwater guard [...] had already pleaded guilty to lesser charges and cooperated with prosecutors in the case against his former colleagues. The trial lasted ten weeks and the jury has been in deliberations for 28 days.


Known as “Baghdad’s bloody Sunday,” operatives from Blackwater gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians at a crowded intersection at Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. The company, founded by secretive right-wing Christian supremacist Erik Prince [...] had deep ties to the Bush Administration and served as a sort of neoconservative Praetorian Guard for a borderless war launched in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.


Just as with the systematic torture at Abu Ghraib, it is only the low level foot-soldiers of Blackwater that are being held accountable. Prince and other top Blackwater executives continue to reap profits from the mercenary and private intelligence industries. Prince now has a new company, Frontier Services Group, which he founded with substantial investment from Chinese enterprises and which focuses on opportunities in Africa. Prince recently suggested that his forces at Blackwater could have confronted Ebola and ISIS.

  Jeremy Scahill
Camouflage hazmat suits?
While the Blackwater verdict is an important and rare moment of accountability in an overwhelmingly unaccountable private war industry, it does not erase the fact that those in power—the CEOs, the senior officials, the war profiteers—walk freely and will likely do so for the rest of their lives.
It’s the way of the world. Or the code of the west.

You really should read that article which gives the account of a survivor of the massacre. Or you could listen to his interview there in a video, which is heart-rending and amazing at the same time.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

In a Word...Yes

It could also mean that our congress know well what the CIA is capable of doing to them personally.

Then again, they've ignored plenty of other illegality in the administration, so maybe they just aren't interested in the Constitution.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Laugh or Cry?

The Islamic State has released a new video in which it brags that it recovered weapons and supplies that the U.S. military intended to deliver to Kurdish fighters, who are locked in a fight with the militants over control of the Syrian border town of Kobane.


The incident highlights the difficulty in making sure all airdrops are accurate, even with GPS-guided parachutes that the Air Force commonly uses. Airdrops of food and water to religious minorities trapped on mountain cliffs in northern Iraq in August hit the mark about 80 percent of the time, Pentagon officials said at the time.

So, with an 80% success rate, we think it’s a good idea to drop weapons. Brilliant.  Arm everyone.

Turkey, of course, is none too happy about this development.  And we were already having trouble keeping Turkey happy in our new "coalition".

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Yes, It Could Always Be Worse

[In January 2002 in Afghanistan, American Central Command] identified two sites as likely “al-Qaeda compounds.” It sent in a Special Forces team by helicopter; the commander, Master Sergeant Anthony Pryor, was attacked by an unknown assailant, broke his neck as they fought and then killed him with his pistol; he used his weapon to shoot further adversaries, seized prisoners, and flew out again, like a Hollywood hero.


As [Anand] Gopal [a Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor reporter] explains [in his book No Good Men Among the Living], the American team did not attack al-Qaeda or even the Taliban. They attacked the offices of two district governors, both of whom were opponents of the Taliban. They shot the guards, handcuffed one district governor in his bed and executed him, scooped up twenty-six prisoners, sent in AC-130 gunships to blow up most of what remained, and left a calling card behind in the wreckage saying “Have a nice day. From Damage, Inc.” Weeks later, having tortured the prisoners, they released them with apologies. It turned out in this case, as in hundreds of others, that an Afghan “ally” had falsely informed the US that his rivals were Taliban in order to have them eliminated. In Gopal’s words:
The toll…: twenty-one pro-American leaders and their employees dead, twenty-six taken prisoner, and a few who could not be accounted for. Not one member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda was among the victims. Instead, in a single thirty-minute stretch the United States had managed to eradicate both of Khas Uruzgan’s potential governments, the core of any future anti-Taliban leadership—stalwarts who had outlasted the Russian invasion, the civil war, and the Taliban years but would not survive their own allies.
Gopal then finds the interview that the US Special Forces commander gave a year and a half later in which he celebrated the derring-do, and recorded that seven of his team were awarded bronze stars, and that he himself received a silver star for gallantry.

  New York Review of Books
That was a shame, but everything is okay now in Afghanistan, and so we are going to leave soon.  we need to focus on Syria and Iraq (again).
I—like thousands of Western politicians—have often repeated the mantra that there are four million more children, and 1.5 million more girls, in school than there were under the Taliban. Gopal, however, quotes an Afghan report that in 2012, “of the 4,000 teachers currently on the payroll in Ghor, perhaps 3,200 have no qualifications—some cannot read and write…80 percent of the 740 schools in the province are not operating at all.” And Ghor is one of the least “Taliban-threatened” provinces of Afghanistan.
Dr. Hafizullah, Zurmat’s first governor, had ended up in Guantanamo because he’d crossed Police Chief Mujahed. Mujahed wound up in Guantanamo because he crossed the Americans. Security chief Naim found himself in Guantanamo because of an old rivalry with Mullah Qassim. Qassim eluded capture, but an unfortunate soul with the same name ended up in Guantanamo in his place.
[US ambassadors] often joke about [Abdul Rashid] Dostum’s heavy drinking and his extravagance (he is rumored to have paid $100,000 for a fighting dog). A Washington Post journalist records Dostum thundering, when posing for his US visa photo: “My friend, even if you take a picture of my ass, the US will know this is Dostum.” All the American generals, Pakistani intelligence chiefs, heads of European NGOs, ambassadors, ministers, and foreign correspondents who have met Dostum over thirty years compete to tell such anecdotes. He cooked hundreds of Taliban prisoners to death in shipping containers. But he has just become vice-president.


We already tried counterinsurgency and state-building in the same area of Iraq in response to a very similar group—al-Qaeda in Iraq—in 2008. We invested $100 billion a year, deployed 130,000 international troops, and funded hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arab militiamen. And the problem has returned, six years later, larger and nastier.


Why should we be any better at targeting ISIS than we were at targeting the Taliban and al-Qaeda? We are now funding Syrian and Iraqi militia commanders and tribal leaders. In Afghanistan such commanders made themselves wealthy off international contracts, misrepresented their rivals as terrorists, and used their connections with us to terrorize and alienate the local population. How different will our new allies be?
I give up.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spicing up the Supreme Court

Another Correction That Won't Matter

The West’s case blaming Russia for the shoot-down of a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine last July appears to be crumbling as the German foreign intelligence agency has concluded that the anti-aircraft missile battery involved came from a Ukrainian military base, according to a report by the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel.


The Russians denied providing the rebels with the weapon and the rebels denied shooting down the plane. But the tragedy gave the U.S. State Department the emotional leverage to get the European Union to impose tougher economic sanctions on Russia, touching off a trade war that has edged Europe toward a new recession.

Robert Parry: Consortium News
Mission accomplished.

Why Don't They Hate Us?

On Second Thought, Torture Looks Pretty Good to Him

When the Bush administration revealed in 2005 that it was secretly interpreting a treaty ban on “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” as not applying to C.I.A. and military prisons overseas, Barack Obama, then a newly elected Democratic senator from Illinois, joined in a bipartisan protest.


But the Obama administration has never officially declared its position on the treaty, and now, President Obama’s legal team is debating whether to back away from his earlier view. It is considering reaffirming the Bush administration’s position that the treaty imposes no legal obligation on the United States to bar cruelty outside its borders.

According to anonymous officials.
The administration must decide on its stance on the treaty by next month, when it sends a delegation to Geneva to appear before the Committee Against Torture, a United Nations panel that monitors compliance with the treaty.
Maybe Obama will change his mind about sending a delegation, too.
[M]ilitary and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad. They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts.
I can only imagine that means to study whether they can claim some loophole if they’re caught.
[In Mr. Obama’s first term, his top State Department lawyer, Harold H.] Koh argued that both treaties protected prisoners in American custody or control anywhere. In a 90-page memo he signed in 2013, before leaving the State Department to return to teaching at Yale Law School, he declared, “In my legal opinion, it is not legally available to policy makers to claim” that the torture treaty has no application abroad.


Both treaties contain phrases that make it ambiguous whether they apply to American-run prisons on foreign territory. For example, the provision barring cruelty that falls short of torture applies to a state’s conduct “in any territory under its jurisdiction.”


In March, the Obama administration rejected Mr. Koh’s view about the Bill of Rights-style accord, telling the United Nations that the United States still believed that it applied only on domestic soil.
What kind of sick people would argue that torture is okay as long as it’s not done on their own soil? Who would even imagine that a treaty banning torture would have been drawn up with such a clause? Aside from government lawyers  and scum-sucking politicians, I mean.
That disclosure prompted Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, to propose legislation prohibiting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment anywhere. After Congress enacted it, President George W. Bush issued a signing statement claiming that his powers as commander in chief overrode the statute, leaving a cloud over the law until Mr. Obama ordered strict compliance with it.
And now, he’s rethinking that.

And considering his recent proposition that we don't need to concern ourselves about trying to avoid civilian deaths in Syria, I'm guessing he's probably already made up his mind.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.