Monday, August 23, 2010. Chaos and violence continues, the US military announced another death on Sunday, Joe Biden serves up a course in creative speaking, Margaret Hassan's killer has escaped from an Iraqi prison, Ayad Allawi tells Vladimir Putin that the US wants Iran's approval of any Iraqi government, Medea Benjamin tangles with Blackwater and more.
The Hindu explains, "Over 50,000 U.S. troops are to remain in Iraq, and their numbers could rise to 70,000. They will be called 'Advise and Assist brigades'; they have warplanes and helicopters and will accompany Iraqi troops into combat. The U.S. also has several big, effectively permanent military bases in Iraq; and intends to maintain about 200,000 mercenaries as 'protectors' of western business and other interests across the country." Before we get to anything else, we need to grasp that reality. A lot of spin was spun today.
In the United States this morning, Vice President Joe Biden gave a very strange speech. Matt Negrin (Politico) has the money quote if not the analytical ability to realize what he has: "Don't buy into 'we have failed in Afghanistan.' We are now only beginning, with the right general and the right number of forces, to seek our objectives." Anyone see the problem? That's a swipe on Stanley McChrystal. So McChrystal was the wrong general? Well darn that Bully Boy Bush for putting McChrystal in charge of Afghanistan. Oh wait, McChrystal was Barack's choice. Ann Scott Tyson (Washington Post), June 3, 2009: "Army Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, President Obama's choice to lead the war in Afghanistan, said yesterday that violence and combat deaths will intensify as more U.S. troops surge into Taliban-held areas, but he vowed to execute a "holistic" strategy in which killing insurgents would be subordinate to safeguarding Afghan civilians. McChrystal, a former Special Operations commander, pledged that if confirmed he will take extreme measures to avoid Afghan civilian casualties -- a problem that has long tarnished the U.S.-led military campaign -- putting civilians at risk only when necessary to save the lives of coalition troops." So Barack's been overseeing a war for how long? He chose the wrong general and it took him how long to realize that?
Biden was there to talk about Iraq and, though he knows better, he gave the usual sap and sop. Instead of talking about how the service members should have the public's 'gratitude,' he should have offered the government's sympathy for sending them off to fight an illegal war and a war built on lies. Joe was in crowd pleaser mode and nothing he said matched with the facts.
"You would not recognize the country today!" he insisted. As proof he pointed to the ethnic cleansing/civil war of 2006 and 2007. That would be the ethnic cleansing which created the Iraqi refugee crisis. After you create 4.1 million refugees (higher by some estimates), you would see less violence but, of course, the thugs need someone new to target and it's a damn shame, A DAMN SHAME, that neither Joe Biden or Barack Obama has said one damn word about the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community. It is as shameful as the long silence Ronald Reagan had on AIDS and they -- Joe and Barack -- better accept how ugly this will look historically on their record. The LGBT community targeted and they never said a word.
Last October, New York Magazine published a horrifying article about the persecution of gays in Iraq. The article describes men presumed to be homosexuals being hunted down, tortured, and shot dead at close range.The militias that commit these horrific acts often leave the bodies on the side of the road, with the word "PERVERT" taped to their chests.
But an even more brutal method of torture and murder has been adopted. Militias use super glue to close the men's anuses, and then force them to drink a fluid that induces diarrhea, causing them to explode from the inside.
As a filmmaker, I spent eight months living in Syria documenting the lives of gay Iraqi men.
One of them, a 24 year-old, left his Baghdad home after a note arrived on his front door reading "If your gay son doesn't leave the country, we'll kill the whole family." He told me he considered himself lucky -- "at least they warned me."
So we should not be taken in by the tomfoolery on the Kuwaiti border in the last few hours, the departure of the last "combat" troops from Iraq two weeks ahead of schedule. Nor by the infantile cries of "We won" from teenage soldiers, some of whom must have been 12-years-old when George W Bush sent his army off on this catastrophic Iraqi adventure. They are leaving behind 50,000 men and women - a third of the entire US occupation force - who will be attacked and who will still have to fight against the insurgency.
Yes, officially they are there to train the gunmen and militiamen and the poorest of the poor who have joined the new Iraqi army, whose own commander does not believe they will be ready to defend their country until 2020. But they will still be in occupation - for surely one of the "American interests" they must defend is their own presence - along with the thousands of armed and indisciplined mercenaries, western and eastern, who are shooting their way around Iraq to safeguard our precious western diplomats and businessmen. So say it out loud: we are not leaving.
Defend and protect their country? They don't even have the capabilities to secure their own borders which is, traditionally speaking, the first measure of a nation-state's level of security. (For those in doubt, look to Greece.) Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports that attempts are being made to integrate the Kurdish and the Iraqi forces and quotes US Lt Gen Michael Barbero stating, "The Iraqis realize they have to get the Iraqi Army focused on defending the sovereignty of Iraq. There is a realization that we have to move on and start doing this and get as far down the road as we can in the next 16 months." Arraf reminds, "Iraq, carved out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire by the victors of World War II, borders six countries -- Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kuwait, Turkey, Jordan, and Iran."
Jane Dutton: Iraqis have endured invasion, economic stagnation, wars, sanctions and internal conflict for decades. Today in the aftermath of the seven year war in Iraq, citizens lack even the most basic of services leaving many of them feeling helpless, desperate and in utter disbelief that their homeland is still in a state of chaos. Now the United Nations is promising to create a better future for the people of Iraq. The UN will work closely with a government, civil organizations, academia and the private sector to achieve a series of development goals in Iraq. These goals are: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and create global partnership for development. To find out more about the Millenium Development Goals and whether the UN will be able to achieve in developing them, I'm joined from Erbil by Christine McNab. Ms. McNab is a director of the office of development and humanitarian support at the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq and also the United Nations' resident and humanitarian coordinator for Iraq. And from Baghdad, by Ali Babin, the Iraqi Minister of Planning and Development Cooperation. Welcome both of you to the program. Ms. McNab, the very comendable goals, these Millineum Goals, but how do you plan to go about achieving them?
Christine McNab: It's not really a matter of whether they're comendable, it's a matter of the fact that they are very, very good shorthand for a developmental agenda of any country. And even in a country like Iraq which is still struggling with the impact of conflict. They do give us very clear guidelines of what needs to be done. They're not just development goals because they also concentrate on the most vulnerable. So they're also humanitarian goals. Can we achieve them by 2015? It's possible. It's going to be very, very difficult -- partly because of the violence. But we are working closely with the ministries and the Minister of Planning is one of our close partners. We have a network of 600 UN workers across the country -- these are national staff. We have another 150 international staff who are working in and out of the country as possible. And this is done in close coordination -- as you said -- with local NGOs. And the local NGOs and our staff are going to be the real heroes of the Millenium Development Goals because we can help them and we can support them with government. And, especially with the local government and local societies, they are already making a difference.
Jane Dutton: But this is a very big week for Iraq. You touched on the violence, it's one of the bloodiest months since the invasion. The US troops have pulled out which will eventually leave Iraq with only 50,000 support troops. There's sewage running down the street in certain parts of the country. The basic services aren't there. Who really cares about these goals? Who has the desire to push them forward?
Christine McNab: Are you still asking me --
Jane Dutton: I'm asking you Ms. McNab.
Christine McNab: -- or are you asking the Minister?
Jane Dutton: I am asking you.
Christine McNab: Okay, well who has the desire? I certainly have the desire and my team has the desire but that's not enough. It has to come from within, it has to come from the country. And I don't quite recognize the picture you painted because although there is terrific violence going on, there's also normal life going on in many parts of the country, many governorates. People are actually able to go about their business. Hospitals have been rebuilt or new hospitals built. We have been rebuilding the schools. The access to clean water is increasing. And I would be the first to admit it's not fast enough. Sanitation still is a huge issue. And the environment has been terribly neglected.
Jane Dutton: Mr. Baban --
Christine McNab: Women are getting --
Jane Dutton: Excuse me --
Christine McNab: -- better access.
Jane Dutton: Okay, Mr. Baban do you support these goals, do you think that this is something that is achievable in your country?
Ali Baban: Of course, we achieve a lot. But the problem, as you diagnose it, the lack of stablity in the country. The country face many challenges. The chaos, the political antagonism, the lack of stability -- this is the main problems and challenges the country faces. I think without defeating, without overcoming those problems, we cannot achive a lot. You cannot -- You are not talking about a normal country. You are talking about an extraordinary situation. So we should take that in our consideration.
Jane Dutton: How do you think these goals which are often cited as being better suited to Africa, how do you think they fit into this middle-income country of yours?
Ali Baban: Of course the humanitarian need is equal -- are equal around the world. So I think the problem now that Iraqi people can overcome their antagonism -- political antagonism -- and go for work for development. Iraq, as you know and as all people know, is a rich country. So there is no lack of money and we have everything in this country. We have the fortune. But the problem mainly concentrate on development
Jane Dutton: Let's put that to Ms. McNab. How does the UN view this political standoff at the moment. Five months on and there's still no credible government or there's no government at all.
There is no goverment. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 16 days. Phil Sands (National Newspaper) notes that if the stalemate continues through September 8th, it will then be a half a year since Iraqis voted.
And Joe Biden, with a straight face, declared to the VFW today, "It's because politics and nationalism has broken out in Iraq." [Jon Garcia, Karen Travers and Jake Tapper (ABC News) quote him stating, "Politics, not war, has broken out in Iraq." I'm sure they are correct that he said that but I'm going by the speech as it was written, working from the prepared text.] Politics have not broken out in Iraq. They've broken in Iraq. Five months after an election and you still can't form the government? That's a broken process. US national security types threatening Iraqi politicians with "state of emergency" being declared if they don't form a government? That's a broken process. US suggesting that a new position -- that Allawi or Nouri could take -- be created out of whole cloth and contrary to the country's Constitution? That's a broken process. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported: on the stalemate yesterday and quoted Hoshyar Zebari, Foreign Minister, stating, "In Washington, I told them, 'It would be embarrassing if you left and there's no government in place.' The U.S. will still have a substantial force here, but it needs to use it to produce results. . . . The Iraqi leaders are at an impasse, and we need help from our American friends." Doesn't sound as sweet as the words flowing from Joe's mouth.
Andrew England (Financial Times of London) reports that State Of Law and Iraqiya are supposed to begin talks again today and that the break off in talks over Nouri al-Maliki's assertion (on state TV) that Iraqiya was a "Sunni" party/slate have been mitigated by an elaboration/explanation on Nouri's part. Talks have broken off before and may again. Meanwhile the Voice of Russia reports that Ayad Allawi is supposed to make a trip to Russia shortly to, in the words of an Iraqiya spokesperson, "establish trust relations between Iraq and its friends."
Joe was crowd-pleasing so much, his nose should have grown 17 inches. Certainly he was orbiting the earth and no longer bound by gravity or facts when he declared that Iraqis voted for the people they wanted to and none of these candidates "were wanted by Iran." Uh, no, Joe. No.
In fact, that's not just wrong, that's grossly wrong, that's insulting. Did the Iraqi people get to vote for the candidates they wanted to? Does no one remember the Justice and Accountability Commission that purged multiple candidates from the lists? And Ahmed Chalabi and his pal Ali al-Lami were working on whose authority? Iran. So not only were voters denied the chance to vote for some candidates they would have liked to have, Iran pretty much ran through the lists. And the winners? Nouri's beloved by Iran. (The US wants Nouri because Nouri's indicated -- according to State Dept friends -- that he will gladly go along with extending the US occupation if he is made prime minister. So it's no surprise that Joe is spinning so wildly for Nouri.) Politics have broken out, declared Joe today but the Financial Times of London points out, "The reality is that the political space the surge was meant to open up created a vacuum that remains unfilled. Iraq's elections are the Arab world's freest, but nearly six months on from the last polls politicians have still not managed to form a new government. And not only the state, but Iraqi society is broken. One in six Iraqis, disproportionately middle-class professionals, have fled their homes, around half for other countries."
Earlier today the Voice of Russia reported that Ayad Allawi was to make a trip to Russia in order to, in the words of an Iraqiya spokesperson, "establish trust relations between Iraq and its friends." Alsumaria TV reports he has met with Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Allawi stated the US opposed him becoming prime minister and that they will not back anyone who does not have "good relations with Iran".
Joe insisted, "I am absolutely confident that Iraq will form a national unity government that will be able to sustain the country." Really? It hasn't so far. And that includes the 2005 election that led to the formation (April 2006) of Nouri's government. That government did not sustain the country. Saturday in Nasiriyah, there was a demonstration. Bassem Attiya (AFP) reports that nineteen people were injured in the demonstration with people shouting, "Where is the electricity?" Press TV adds that 40 people were arrested. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) estimates 200 people participated in the protests "over power outages and bad basic services." Nouri's been prime minister for over four years now -- in large part because he kicked back the elections (missing the scheduled date) and in part because he refused to step aside -- so that's all on him, Joe.
Turning to legal news, David Batty (Guardian) reports that the only person convicted (Ali Lufti Jassar) in the 2004 kidnapping and killing of CARE International's Margaret Hassan has escaped from prison at some point and appears to have been aided in his prison break. Mohammed Tawfeeq and CNN add:
[Deputy Justice Minister Busho] Ibrahim said officials did not know of al-Rawi's escape until a month ago. The British Embassy last month said Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke of the matter to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. "Mr. Zebari assured Mr. Hague that the Iraqi government were aware of the case and were keen to ensure justice," an embassy statement said. A spokesman for Hassan's family said in a statement last month that al-Rawi had been due in court July 16 as part of an appeal against his conviction. Concern was growing over his fate, as he had missed some earlier hearings, the statement said. The court was told he had escaped in an "incident." "Jassar is known to be part of the gang that kidnapped and killed my sister," said Deirdre Manchanda, Hassan's sister, in the statement. "We have fought for justice for six years, only to find that not one member of this gang can be brought to justice." Hassan's family only wants to know where her remains are and bring them home for burial, she said. "We can only ever hope to do that if he is recaptured and brought back to face justice."
AFP reports the British Foreign Office issued the following statement: "Justice must be done for this dreadful crime, committed against someone who dedicated her life to helping all Iraqis." The Irish Independent adds, "Last night, one of Mrs Hassan's sisters, Geraldine Riney, said the family was still looking for Margaret's remains to be returned to them." In other prison news, Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer) reports that Salem, her driver who was assisting the US military, was released from jail finally but now is living an underground life to avoid retaliation from Shi'ite militias and that his two sons remain imprisoned.
Sunday the US military announced: "CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq – A United States Forces -- Iraq Soldier was killed today in Basra province while conducting operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/. The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." Martin Chulov (Guardian) explains, "Details of the incident were not released, but Basra airport base, which is still home to about 4,000 US forces, had experienced increased numbers of rocket attacks in recent weeks as the deadline drew near for the withdrawal of combat troops. Two soldiers suffered minor wounds in a rocket strike early last week, and rockets have hit the Green Zone in Baghdad almost daily for the past month." The announcement brought the total number of US service members killed in the Iraq War since it began to 4417.
In today's reported violence, Saad Abdul-Kadir (AP) reports at least 3 people died in Baghdad "overnight and early Monday" and at least twenty more were left injured -- two died from mortar shells (three wounded), 1 Iraqi soldier killed in Ramadi (six people wounded), three Iraqi soldiers wounded in a Mosul grenade attack. Reuters notes a Sulaimaniya mortar attack (from Iran) which injured one person and 5 people shot dead in Haditha. Mohammed Tawfeeq and CNN explain the five were employees of the Oil Ministry and that the killers escaped with a ton of money (approximately $400,000 in US dollars). Meanwhile Hugh Sykes (BBC News) reports, "Iraqi police have broken up an alleged al-Qaeda gang whose members have been killing traffic police in Baghdad, officials said."
The top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno hit the US airwaves yesterday. James Gordon Meek (New York Daily News) told CNN's State of the Union that the US "could be there [in Iraq] beyond 2011." For many other outlets the 'news' was something else. AP thinks the news is that Odierno stated the US could resume combat operations (unlikely, says Odierno, but possible). Don Lee (Los Angeles Times) thinks that the big and new news too. By contrast, Xinhua leads with the same point Meek sees as news:
Top U.S. commander in Iraq Ray Odierno said on Sunday that the United States could have a military presence in Iraq well after 2011 when all U.S. troops are set to leave. Less than two weeks before the scheduled end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq, Odierno told CNN's Candy Crowley on Sunday talk show "State of the Union" that he could imagine a scenario where "we could be there beyond 2011."
So which is the big news?
That call can be made. The news is that the US could be in Iraq beyond 2011. That's news thanks to the news industry. Despite a cranky CBS gas bag's claim that the internet is repeating rumors (I would guess that would be AM Talk show radio hosts, actually, but Bob Schieffer's not going to go there and risk being called out on radio) while CBS doesn't repeat rumors. (CBS legal department came to a different conclusion, Bob, or have you forgotten the AWOL Bush story on 60 Minutes II?) The reality is that CBS is among the multitude of outlets that have spent the last 18 months plus insisting that the Status Of Forces Agreement means that the Iraq War ends in 2011. That's not what it means, that's never been what it means. But the media outlets have overwhelming 'reported' otherwise. That makes Odierno's statements on that aspect news. And he told Bob that Sunday on Face The Nation (CBS News -- link has text and video), "If they ask us that they might want us to stay longer, we certainly would consider that. That would obviously be a policy decision that would be made by the national security team and the president over time." The "national security team"? Ray Odierno spoonfed press types a mouthful in that statement but watch them all play dumb again and pretend Hillary's running Iraq. And if you're still not getting it, read "Blame Hillary" at Third, and key point for those who can't grasp reality:
Let's set aside reality for just a moment and pretend Hillary will be over 'an army' in Iraq. If that's true (it's not true), why would there be anger at Hillary? If Barack was putting Hillary in charge of such an apparatus, the anger should be aimed at him. Or have we all forgotten the Christ-child's fabled 'superior sense of judgment.' You know, the super power which allows him to, after the fact, know what should have been done? Some call it Monday morning quarterbacking, others call it Barack Obama's glorious know-how. And remember how in campaign appearance after campaign appearance and debate after debate, he declared himself right on Iraq and Hillary wrong? Have you forgotten that? If Hillary were being put in charge of Iraq, it would be the biggest slap in the face to Barack Obama's primary supporters you could imagine. They'd elected to vote for him and not Hillary due to the Iraq War and, yet, she's being placed (by him) in charge of the Iraq War? It's not happening but, if it were, the Cult of St. Barack should be storming the barricades and issuing cries of, "Barry, how could you!!!!"
So Bob and CBS, where was your SOFA reporting in real time? Where did you explain to the American people that the SOFA didn't mean the end of the Iraq War? That's right, you never did. The didn't lie on the other aspect: US troops returning to combat. They just rarely reported it; however, they did report it.
In the case of the SOFA, the media -- with very few exceptions -- has repeatedly and wrongly 'informed' that it means the end of the Iraq War. They practiced -- as we noted in real time -- prediction, prophecy, etc. but they were not practicing reporting. Reporting is telling readers what has happened. Barack's plan to send combat troops back into Iraq after pulling them out if things went badly was reported on. It wasn't emphasized -- didn't fit the falese image the press was attempting to paint for the Cult of St. Barack -- but it was reported.
The SOFA? They're still misreporting it. Take a look at the USA Today editorial board today serving up this crap: "Seven years after the invasion and 16 months before the last U.S. soldier is scheduled to depart, few would be bold enough to proclaim victory in Iraq or foolish enough to declare defeat. Instead, U.S. operations seem destined to end in a slow, unsatisfying fadeout as Iraq muddles its way into an uncertain future. This will leave the U.S. to play a high-stakes endgame with steadily decreasing sway." Scheduled to depart? There's no such schedule at current, there never has been. Contract law isn't a tricky thing. We went over this repeatedly in the last nearly two years. And yet it's still a 'surprise' and 'news' to many because the media continues to get it wrong. And that, Bob Schieffer, is far more damaging than an opinion someone holds about whether or not someone else belongs to this religion, that religion or no religion. And, in fact, what Simmi Aujla (Politico) does is so questionable, Politico should review Aujla's resume (Aujla emphasizes the combat aspect but insists that Odierno "said the country will be ready for the U.S. withdrawal to be completed in Sept. 2011" without noting that Odierno stated US forces could remain in Iraq after 2011.
A few people are telling the truth about what did and did not happen last week (no, Virginia, the war did not end). We'll try to spotlight a few of them each day this week and we'll start with two today. Last week Barack offered some pretty lies and the media ran with them. Bill Van Auken (WSWS) observed:
The White House and the Pentagon, assisted by a servile media, have hyped Thursday's exit of a single Stryker brigade from Iraq as the end of the "combat mission" in that country, echoing the ill-fated claim made by George W. Bush seven years ago. Obama is more skillful in packaging false propaganda than Bush, and no doubt has learned something from the glaring mistakes of his predecessor. Bush
landed on the deck of the US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003 to proclaim -- under a banner reading "Mission Accomplished" -- that "major combat operations" in Iraq were over. A captive audience of naval enlisted personnel was assembled on deck as cheering extras. Obama wisely did not fly to Kuwait to deliver a similar address from atop an armored vehicle. He merely issued a statement from the White House, while leaving the heavy lifting to the television networks and their "embedded" reporters, who accompanied the brigade across the border into Kuwait and repeated the propaganda line fashioned by the administration and the military brass.
Well, he did not wear a flight suit, stand on a carrier deck, or have a "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him. The fact remains, however, that President Obama did issue a second "mission accomplished statement on Iraq on August 18th, and one just as wrong and irresponsible as the one given by President Bush:
Today, I'm pleased to report that -- thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians in Iraq -- our combat mission will end this month, and we will complete a substantial drawdown of our troops...By the end of this month, 50,000 troops will be serving in Iraq. As Iraqi Security Forces take responsibility for securing their country, our troops will move to an advise-and-assist role. And, consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all of our troops will be out of Iraq by the end of next year. Meanwhile, we will continue to build a strong partnership with the Iraqi people with an increased civilian commitment and diplomatic effort.
Political posturing is the norm in Washington, and claiming victory and an end
to a war is far more popular than bearing the burden of leadership and dealing
with reality. The Iraq War is not over and it is not "won." In fact, it is at as critical a stage as at any time since 2003. Regardless of the reasons for going to war, everything now depends on a successful transition to an effective and unified
Iraqi government, and Iraqi security forces that can bring both security and stability to the average Iraqi. The creation of such an "end state" will take a minimum of another five years, and probably ten.
Iraq still faces a serious insurgency, and deep ethnic and sectarian tensions. In spite of its potential oil wealth, its economy is one of the poorest in the world in terms of real per capita income, and it is the second year of a budget crisis that has force it to devote most state funds to paying salaries and maintaining employment at the cost of both development and creating effective security forces.
It felt surreal to be inside the home of Erik Prince, the founder, owner and chairman of Blackwater (or Xe, as it is now called). Prince, a former Navy Seal, provides security for the CIA, the Pentagon and the State Department. His company trains 40,000 people a year in skills that include personal protection. Yet his home in McLean, Virginia, has no security. None. Not even a fence or a guard dog or a No Trespassing sign. And his mother-in-law, who helps care for his young children, invited a total stranger--me--into his home without hesitation.
I had gone to Princes' home, together with two CODEPINK colleagues, assuming it would be empty. I'd read in the New York Times that Mr. Prince and his family had moved out of the country, fleeing from a series of civil lawsuits, criminal charges and Congressional investigations stemming from his company's contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the news, "In documents filed last week in a civil lawsuit brought by former Blackwater employees accusing Mr. Prince of defrauding the government, Mr. Prince sought to avoid giving a deposition by stating that he had moved to Abu Dhabi [which is in the United Arab Emirates] in time for his children to enter school there on August 15." Susan Burke, the lawyer seeking the deposition, announced that she was flying to the Emirates to find him.
I had been feeling particularly upset about Blackwater lately. Seeing the combat troops leaving Iraq, I'd been thinking about the banner CODEPINK members held in countless anti-war vigils: "Iraq War: Who Lies? Who Dies? Who Pays? Who Profits?" Politicians lied about weapons of mass destruction, Iraqis and American soldiers died, U.S. taxpayers paid, and companies like Blackwater make a killing. In just a few years, Blackwater received over $1 billion in U.S. government contracts, contracts that accounted for 90 percent of its revenue. Erik Prince, the company's sole owner, was now taking his profits, trying to sell the company and running away to the Emirates, a country that has no extradition treaty with the United States.