Monday, December 8, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, 5 Blackwater mercenaries turn themselves in, the Justice Dept announces the charges in a press conference, Iraqi women fight back against efforts to deny them of their rights, and more.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports today: "Blackwater Worldwide security guards indicted in Washington D.C. for the 2007 shooting of Iraqi civilians surrendered to federal authorities in Salt Lake City this morning. They arrived one by one with their attorneys starting about 7:45 a.m. As the first three of five men walked in, they offered no comment to reporters. Attorneys said they would attend a 1:30 p.m. hearing, where the exact charges are expected to be unsealed. The indicted men wore suits and expressionless faces as they walked from 400 South into the federal courthouse at 350 S. Main St." The five are Paul Slough, Nick Slatten, Donald Ball, Dustin Heard and Even Liberty, as Ginger Thompson and Katherine Zoepf (New York Times) reported yesterday after the attorneys for the five men gave some confirmation to the indictments. Ruth noted the reported indictments on Friday evening (and was careful to note they were reported and not confirmed at that point) citing Kevin Bohn and Terry Frieden (CNN) reporting five (then unnamed) Blackwater Worldwide employees were indicted and a sixth was supposed to be talking plea agreement. Saturday found Ginger Thompson and James Risen (New York Times) reporting on the indictment and noting that "at least 17 Iraqi civilians" were killed September 16, 2007 a shocker for those of us who remember the paper's inability to count the number correctly in the days and days after the slaughter. However, the paper wasn't the worst outlet. we'll get to the worst. First, let's refresh via the September 18, 2007 snapshot:
Turning to the subject of US mercenaries. Blackwater's latest slaughter continues to garner attention. On Sunday, Blackwater fired into crowds and they've repeatedly changed their story ever since. Are the mercenaries in our out? Martin Fletcher (Times of London) notes that any effort to eject them from Iraq -- any Iraqi effort -- "would be resisted strenuously by the US Government, whose security arrangements will be thrown into chaos if Blackwater can no longer operate in Iraq." Which is why US Secretary of State and Anger Condi Rice spent 15 minutes on the phone with puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki. Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) noted that "several contractors predicted Monday that it was unlikely the Iraqi government would carry through with the threat to expel Blackwater."For all intents and purposes they belong to the [U.S.] Department of State," one contractor said of Blackwater employees". Kim Sengupta (Independent of London) reports on "an extraordinary telephone news conference, the US embassy spokeswoman could not answer whether the company was still working for the Americans inside the Green Zone, or what its legal position was along with similar foreign contractors within Iraq." Sengupta also notes the ever changing story of Blackwater for why the opened fire on unarmed Iraqi civilians killing at least 8 on Sunday. Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) notes that Ali Dabbagh spoke to the press in Baghdad and noted that the Iraqi investigation "had found that guards with the private security company Blackwater USA had fired without provocation on a Baghdad traffic circle, killing eight people and wounding 13" and that a child was among the dead. As Leila Fadel, Joseph Neff and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) point out, "Whether the Iraqi Interior Ministry will be able to enforce its decision to ban North Carolina-based Blackwater Security from operating in Iraq is likely to be a major test between the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and the United States. Blackwater, founded by a major Republican Party benefactor, is among the most prominent -- and most controversial -- of dozens of companies that provide security to both government and private individuals in Iraq. In 2003, the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority exempted the companies and their employees from prosecution under Iraqi law, but Iraqi officials disputed whether that exemption remains in effect, and U.S. officials declined to comment."
September 18, 2007, PBS' NewsHour provided a discussion (link has audio, transcript and video). Judy Woodruff moderated the discussion and set it up with a clip of an eye witness (speaking through a translator), We see the security firms or the so-called American security firms doing whatever they want in the streets. They beat citizens and scron them. . . . . They shot randomly." Woodruff then brought on David Brooks of the wrongly named the International Peace Operations (it's a civilain arm of the US military) and Jeremy Scahill (who was still an independent journalist back then, having not yet joined the Cult of Barack). Scahill explained that "the Bush administration failed to build the coalition of willing nations to occupy Iraq and so instead it built a coalition of billing corproations. As you said, there are now [more] private contractors in Iraq than there are official U.S. soldiers." That was a real attempt at an honest dicussion. You had Scahill and Brooks from opposite sides and you had Woodruff, a journalist who knows her trade and takes pride in practicing it. Sadly . . .
The October 10, 2007 snapshot noted the worst 'discussion' and it was on PBS. Yes, Washington Week (or Washington Weak) where the gas bag and the fool shall roam -- freely! And without shame! US News & World Reports' Linda Robinson and Gwen appeared to believe their job was to confuse the issue. Linda wanted to "set the stage" but never in such a way that addressed the people of Iraq, the wounded or the dead. Her idea of setting the stage was offering excuses and justifications for Blackwater's slaughter: "Very, very violent city. You're driving around, bombs going off at any unpredicted time. So what happens is these convoy drivers use tactics. They throw things at people. They sound their horns, their sirens. If you don't get out of the way, they will shoot. And so Iraqi drivers generally pull over as soon as they see a convoy." Robinson considers all she stated normal so let's again ask: "So the question is, were Linda Robinson or Gwen to be walking to their cars at the start of the day and a car came zooming through with those in it throwing things at them, would they see that as a problem? Should Jon Stewart attempt to find out for The Daily Show? In fact, it shouldn't even be a surprise. Gwen and Robinson should volunteer for it to prove what good sports they are. After ten to fifteen minutes of drive-bys where water bottles are hurled at them (the mildest object usually cited in press reports) from speeding cars, let's see their smiling, bruised (possibly bloodied?) faces and find out whether they now think that 'the problem' includes a great deal more than being able to tell if a convoy is approaching?"
Here's Linda babbling on some more: "This is the situation right now. With the U.S. military the size that it is, there is no way that uniformed military people could do the job of guarding all these civilians. And it's our biggest embassy in the world and they're trying to get all of these developments people out. I mean, that's part of the General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker thing is to get the civilians out to help people in the neighborhoods."
Linda will say that the "agreesive tactics do protect the people inside the vehicle. What's the problem of course is that innocent Iraqi civilians have been killed. Now, we do -- and this is why I introduced this topic with the violence of that environment." During the entire discussion, only AP's Charles Babington seemed aware of the issues at stake. He demonstrated that by asking, "And there's nothing the Iraqi government can do? Can't take them to court, can't arrest them?" Linda explained Paul Bremer exempted them in 2004 with a decree leading Gwen to qucikly jump in with, "Okay, thank you, Linda." Yes, let's not focus on the Iraqis too much when discussing Iraq.
"At least 17" is the figure reported on the story in this news cycle. At one point, the Interior Minsiter in Iraq was saying 20 Iraqis were shot dead (that count was being given in September of 2007). AP's Matt Apuzzo and Lara Jakes Jordan report the five Blackwater employees indicted (a six is reportedly in the midst of a plea bargain) intend to turn themselves today in Utah and the reporters observe: "The case already is shaping up to be a series of contentious legal battles before the guards can even go to trial. By surrendering in Utah, the home state of one of the guards, the men could argue the case should be heard in a far more conservative, pro-gun venue than Washington, some 2,000 miles away." Nadine Elsibai and Cary O'Reilly (Bloomberg News) add, "Government officials said at a news conference it intends to try them in Washington, where support for the war in Iraq isn't likely to be as strong as in the western state." Del Quentin Wilber (Washington Post) notes "the Justice Department unsealed a 35-count indictment against them. . . . The indictment said all five were charged with volunatary manslaughter, attempt to commit manslaughter, and using and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. A sixth security guard, Jeremy P. Ridgeway, pleaded guilty Friday to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit voluntary manslaughter, according to papers filed in court today."
At the press conference at the Justice Dept today, Assistant Attorney General Patrick Rowan noted, "We're here to announce that a 35-count indictment has been unsealed in the District of Colubmia. As you are aware, an indictment is merely a formal charging document notifying a defendant of the charges against him or her. All defendents are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. The indctment unsealed charges five Blackwater security guards with voluntary manslaughter, attempt to commit manslaughter, and weapons violations, for their alleged roles in the September 16, 2007 shooting at Nisur Square in Baghdad, Iraq. Specifically, the defendants are charged with killing 14 unarmed civilians and wounding 20 other indivuals in connection with this event. In addition, we can report that a sixth Blackwater security guard had pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter for his role in the same shooting."
US Attorney Jeffrey Taylor then spoke and we'll note this from his remarks:
As set forth in the indictment, the five defendants were all employed by the Armed Forces outside the United States. Specifically, the defendants worked as independent contractors and employees of Blackwater Worldwide, a company contracted by the Department of State to provide personal security services related to supporting the Department of Defense in the Republic of Iraq, within the meaning of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, or MEJA.
On September 16, 2007, the five defendants and 14 other Blackwater independent contractors were assigned to a convoy of four heavily armed trucks known as a Tactical Support Team, using the call sign Raven 23, whose function was to provide backup fire support for other Blackwater personal security guards operating in the city of Baghdad.
On September 16, 2007, at around noon, the Raven 23 convoy was responding to the detonation of a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device that had just exploded in the vicinity of a different Blackwater personal security detail located about a mile away from Nisur Square, and which was transporting a USAID protectee.
The members of the Raven 23 convoy understood that their mission was defensive in nature. They were not permitted to engage in offensive military actions, use the military tactic known as suppressive fire, or exercise police powers. They also understood that they were only authorized to discharge their firearms in self-defense and as a last resort.
The four heavily-armed vehicles in the Raven 23 convoy entered Nisur Square and then positioned themselves in order to block any traffic from entering the circle. Seconds after the Raven 23 convoy entered the traffic circle, it is alleged that at least six members of the Raven 23 convoy, including the five defendants named in the indictment, opened fire with automatic weapons and grenade launchers on unarmed civilians located in and around Nisur Square, killing, as Pat said, at least 14 persons, wounding at least 20 other individuals and assaulting but not injuring at least 18.
The first victim was later identified as a second-year medical student named Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia'y, who was driving a white Kia sedan that was approaching the traffic circle from the south. The passenger of that vehicle was also shot and killed. That victim was Dr. Al-Khazali, the mother of the driver of the vehicle.
None of the victims of this shooting was armed. None of them was an insurgent. Many were shot while inside civilian vehicles that were attempting to flee from the convoy. One victim was shot in the chest while standing in the street with his hands up. Another was injured from a grenade fired into a nearby girls' school. At least 18 civilian vehicles were damaged by gunfire from the convoy, some substantially.
The indictment does not charge or implicate Blackwater Worldwide. It charges only the actions of certain employees for their roles in the September 16 shooting. They are Paul A. Slough, age 29, of Keller, Texas; Dustin L. Heard, 27, Maryville, Tennessee; Evan S. Liberty, 26, Rochester, New Hampshire; Nicholas A. Slatten, 23, of Sparta, Tennessee; and Donald W. Ball, 26, of West Valley City, Utah.
All five defendants are each charged with 14 counts of voluntary manslaughter, 20 counts of attempt to commit manslaughter, and one count of using and discharging a firearm and destructive devices during and in relation to a crime of violence. The firearms included an SR-25 sniper rifle, M-4 assault rifles and M-240 machine guns. The destructive devices were M-203 grenade launchers and grenades.
If convicted of the charges in the indictment, the defendants could face up to ten years in prison on each manslaughter count, seven years in prison on each attempted manslaughter count, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years on the firearms charge.
Of the plea bargain, Taylor noted the man's name was Jeremy P. Ridgeway ("age 35, of California") and that it took place in DC last Friday "before Judge Ricardo Urina. He pleaded to superseding information charging him with one count of voluntary manslaughter and one count of attempt to commit manslaughter." There is no date scheduled for Ridgeway's sentencing at this point.
Also speaking at the press conference was Joseph Persichini Jr. (FBI Assistant Director In-Charge) whose remarks included:
The tragic events in Nisur Square on September 16 of last year were shocking and a violation of basic human rights. That day in Baghdad around a busy traffic circle at Nisur Square, the Iraqi citizens were going to lunch, stopping at the market, traveling with their families and children. The traffic circle soon became congested due to construction. Traffic slowed down then gunshots rang out. At that moment many innocent lives were altered. Unarmed citizens were traumatized, injured or killed.
Following this incident the Department of State requested that the FBI investigate the shooting. The FBI's Washington Field Office deployed an investigative team to Baghdad for four weeks of evidence collection and investigation. The FBI was augmented by two agents from the Department Diplomatic Security Service and the Department of State.
To add to the difficulty in an already challenging case, FBI and Department of State personnel had to face the dangers of working extensively outside the green zone. They had to overcome language barriers and deal with cultural and religious sensitivities.
Since that first deployment to Baghdad, members of the investigative team, which included up to 10 special agents, returned to Iraq four additional times in furtherance of our investigation. The FBI utilized every resource available to ensure that a comprehensive and thorough investigation was conducted. Those resources included forensic specialists from the FBI laboratory, members of the Washington Field Office, extra territorial squad and the evidence response team, and Department of Justice Attorneys.
As a result of the tireless dedication and extraordinary efforts of the team, over 250 interviews were conducted and more than 200 pieces of physical evidence were obtained to support the investigation. As with most FBI investigations, we would not have been successful without the assistance of local law enforcement partners. We had the extreme good fortune of working with members of the Iraqi national police. The assistance provided by the Iraqi national police was instrumental to our success of our mission. These officers work under extraordinary challenging circumstances every day and I extend my gratitude to them.
In addition to the Iraqi National Police, the FBI was supported by many members of the United States military. Their assistance was invaluable in the protection of our personnel. The FBI's legal attaché office in Baghdad and the U.S. embassy personnel provided unwavering support during each of our team's deployment to Iraq. The success of one of the FBI's most difficult investigations was truly a team effort with many components and challenges.
What was at stake here was not just an investigation into the allegations of the violation of federal law. But, more importantly, it was an investigation into the protection of basic human rights, that should be afforded to all people, not just citizens of the United States. The FBI is committed to investigating all allegations of violations of the rule of law and defending individual civil rights and civil liberties, whether at home or abroad.
At the US State Dept this morning, Sean McCormack handled the press briefing and attempted to avoid responding on the topic of Blackwater stating, "I'll refer those over to the -- any questions about that over to the Department of Justice. But you know, let me just say one thing about the people who provide protection for our diplomats in Iraq as well as around the globe. They do, in many cases, heroic work and important work that allow us to do our jobs. All of that said, if there are individuals who have broken rules, regulations, or law, they need to be -- laws -- they need to be held to account. And I'll just stop there and not offer andy further comment. If the Department of Justice has anything further to say about actions they may be taking, I'll leave it to them to say it."
Katherine Zopef and Atheer Kakan (New York Times) reported a development (a scoop, in fact, for the paper) this morning following an interview with Abdulwahab Abduklkader who survived the September 16, 2007 slaughter (he was wounded while driving in his car -- first Blackwater chased his car down, rammed it and then shot at him) and revealed them that the FBI questioned him, asked him to walk them through via the satellite images of the area the slaughter took place and that he was brought to the United States in May to testify before a grand jury. Richard Beeston (Times of London) observes, "From next year foreign security guards will lose immunity from prosecution under the terms of the new "status of forces agreement" signed between Baghdad and Washington. The next time a foreign security guard opens fire on civilians he will face Iraqi justice. The days of the cowboys running amok in Iraqi cities are over. "
Blackwater isn't the only news regarding Iraq; however, it is the bulk of it. Sunday Sudarsan Raghavan (Washington Post) reported on the situation for women in Iraq: "From the southern port city of Basra to bustling Irbil in northern Iraq, Iraqi activists are trying to counter the rising influence of religious fundamentalists and tribal chieftains who have insisted that women wear the veil, prevented girls from receiving education and sanctioned killings of women accused of besmirching their family's honor. In their quest for stability in Iraq, U.S. officials have empowered tribal and religious leaders, Sunni and Shiite, who reject the secularism that Saddam Hussein once largely maintained. These leaders have imposed strict interpretations of Islam and enforced tribal codes that female activists say limit their freedom and encourage violence against them." Muna Saud is quoted explaining, "Women are being strangled by religion and triablism."
Violence in Iraq today? Apparently Blackwater is all anyone can focus on. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) notes 20 corpses were discovered in Al Anbar Province today. And that's it for reported violence currently.
Meanwhile AP's Erica Werner and Kimberly Hefling report that the family of Roger Suarez-Gonzalez faces new questions and heartache after video surfaced of his death while serving in Iraq, video which suggests he may not have been killed by enemy forces but by so-called "friendly fire."
The treaty has gone through on Iraq's side and the White House that never wanted Congressional input and approval (despite the Constitution requiring that) gets its way as Congress (and, yes, president-elect Barack) roll over. Friday an interview Iris Ludeker did with Phyllis Bennis was posted at ZNet. Bennis spoke with Ludeker about the treaty on November 24th. Her statements included:
The first problem in examining the SOFA text is that we cannot yet be sure exactly what the text says. The Iraqi parliament is debating one version, that has been translated informally to English for the international press. But we do not yet have the White House's official version. Until that time, I do not think we can assume that the text now being discussed in the press is necessarily "the" final version. There are many in Iraq who are eager to present the text as a victory for Iraqi sovereignty; there is certainly the possibility that the text circulating in Iraq has been doctored with in such a way as to over-emphasize Iraq's power in the future U.S.-Iraq relationship.
The agreement specifies that the Arabic and English texts are equally valid, but without the official U.S. version of either text, it is impossible to know for sure what it says.
We also should not assume the current draft will be ratified by the Iraqi parliament, or that it will be similarly approved by the U.S. Senate - which is necessary under the U.S. Constitution despite Bush administration claims that such ratification is not needed because this is only an "ordinary" SOFA agreement. "Ordinary" SOFA agreements do not take into account on-going wars as is the case in U.S.-occupied Iraq.
Turning to the US, to the White House in fact, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley -- who was very lucky that investigating the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame stopped so quickly -- issued a statement this morning regarding a New York Times editorial:
Sunday's New York Times contains an editorial expressing inaccurate and incomplete statements on pre-war intelligence and the war in Iraq.
While the President has repeatedly acknowledged the mistakes in the pre-war intelligence, there is no support for the Times' claim that the President and his national security team "knew or should have known [the intelligence] to be faulty" or that "pressure from the White House" led to particular conclusions. Nothing in the many inquiries conducted into these matters supports the view of the Times' Editorial Board. Indeed, the independent Silberman-Robb Commission and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that no political pressure was brought to bear on the Intelligence Community.
As the President has stated, he regrets the intelligence was wrong, but it was intelligence that members of Congress, foreign governments as well as the Administration all believed to be accurate. Working with Congress, the President has since put in place a number of intelligence reform measures to try to ensure that such mistakes do not happen again.
While Saddam Hussein did not have stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, he was a threat, and his removal has opened the door to a democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East that is an ally of the United States.
The New York Times continues to have difficulty acknowledging the undeniable success of the President's decision to surge an additional 30,000 troops into Iraq. Because of the surge, Iraq is a more stable and secure country. It is the success of the surge that is allowing American troops to withdraw from Iraq and return home with a record of heroic service and still unheralded success.
The intelligence manufactured and, in many cases, did not come through normal channels. The CIA knew the intelligence was false and some fought back against the lies but the CIA was not used for the 'gathering.' Feith, et al, set up their own little 'office' with the White House's knowledge and on the orders of Bully Boy. The evidence was manufactured. Saying that it's the same evidence Congress has is b.s. because it is the 'evidence' the White House provided Congress with, most infamously in Collie Powell's lie-infested 'testimony' which should have resulted (and still should) in charges being brought against Powell.
The Times' editorial is "The Deluder in Chief" and all Hadley's statement will do is draw attention to it (as evidenced by the fact that we're noting the editorial right now):
It was skin crawling to hear him tell Mr. Gibson that the thing he will really miss when he leaves office is no longer going to see the families of slain soldiers, because they make him feel better about the war. But Mr. Bush's comments about his decision to invade Iraq were a "mistakes were made" rewriting of history and a refusal to accept responsibility to rival that of Richard Nixon.
At one point, Mr. Bush was asked if he wanted any do-overs. "The biggest regret of the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq," he said. "A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction" were cause for war.
After everything the American public and the world have learned about how Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney manipulated Congress, public opinion and anyone else they could bully or lie to, Mr. Bush is still acting as though he decided to invade Iraq after suddenly being handed life and death information on Saddam Hussein's arsenal.
The editorial is correct. Of course it takes a lot of nerve for the editorial board to write the above or the below:
The truth is that Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had been chafing to attack Iraq before Sept. 11, 2001. They justified that unnecessary war using intelligence reports that they knew or should have known to be faulty. And it was pressure from the White House and a highly politicized Pentagon that compelled people like Secretary of State Colin Powell and George Tenet, the Central Intelligence director, to ignore the counter-evidence and squander their good names on hyped claims of weapons of mass destruction.
Judith Miller is the New York Times catch-all excuse and we're all supposed to believe that Miller wrote her articles, the guest columns (and turned down the many columns against going to war with Iraq that the paper rejected), the editorials and, in fact, edited the news section of the paper and determined which stories made the front page. Miller is the paper's fall-gal when the paper was on board with selling the illegal war. Finger pointing at the White House would be more loudly applauded if the paper had ever gotten fully honest about their role in the selling the illegal war. The mini-culpa -- anyone remember that -- promised there would be futher investigation. Was there? (No, there wasn't.) And the matter was allowed to slide. Another editorial could easily read:
The truth is that the New York Times had been chafing to attack Iraq before Sept. 11, 2001. They justified that unnecessary war using unsourced stories, drumming up the beat of war and refusing to question so-called intelligence reports that they knew or should have known to be faulty. And it was a need to be 'in' with the the White House and a highly politicized Pentagon that compelled journalists to ignore the counter-evidence and squander their good names on hyped claims of weapons of mass destruction, to abandon the skepticism that is supposed to be at the heart of journalism and turn themselves into Stenographers to the Court of St. Bully Boy.
Hadley echoes his superior Condi Rice whom CNN reports told Fox "News" yesterday,
"While it's fine to go back and say what might we have done differently, the truth of the matter is we don't have that luxury. And we didn't at the time." The truth? Condi wants to talk about the truth? Okay, that is funny.
Intentionally funny is Mickey Z (via Dissident Voice) who skewers the Cult of Barack cheerleaders. Sample:
In fact, I'm willing to go out on a limb right now and boldly predict that by the year 2011, the number of US combat troops in Iraq will have decreased by at least 10-15%. To those who want more, I ask: We can't expect Obama to simply withdraw those brave, heroic, gallant, valiant, superhuman men and women in one shot, can we? No way, there's no cut and run for America. (And remember: we wouldn't be in this mess if that damn egotistical Ralph Nader hadn't ruined everything in 2000. He shouldn't be allowed to run. Make it illegal, I say.)
At least Obama is forming a strong centrist coalition. "A team of rivals," they say. Some may nitpick and point out that every single appointee is a Washington retread who supported the war and could've just as easily been chosen by John McCain had he won, but Obama is clearly in charge and he's brilliant. He makes the decisions, and he's so articulate. He promised hope and change and, being that he's so eloquent, I'm positive he will deliver. It would be negative, bitter, and cynical to think otherwise. In fact, anyone not thrilled with the historic election of a half-black man should not be allowed to breathe our precious oxygen. (Ain't that right, Tim Wise?)
Keith Harmon Snow is an independent journalist. Iraq's really not his focus but two weeks ago comments about him (positive comments) had to be pulled from a snapshot when I was informed we were over 82K (they can only be so long or they don't hit the site when e-mailed). He has an article up at Dissident Voice and we'll link to that and point out that he is an independent journalist and it is amazing how many allegedly 'independent' outlets are not open to him. KHS is also a favorite of Kat's and she's written of him many times at her site. (Such as here or here.)