Imperial nations love to fight wars – and Barack Obama has only increased the American military footprint – but it comes with a heavy cost (via ProPublica):
Private contractors injured while working for the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on Monday, claiming that corporations and insurance companies had unfairly denied them medical treatment and disability payments.
The suit, filed in district court in Washington, D.C., claims that private contracting firms and their insurers routinely lied, cheated and threatened injured workers, while ignoring a federal law requiring compensation for such employees. Attorneys for the workers are seeking $2 billion in damages.
The suit is largely based on the Defense Base Act, an obscure law that creates a workers-compensation system for federal contract employees working overseas. Financed by taxpayers, the system was rarely used until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the most privatized conflicts in American history.
Profiteers and crooks love this world (via the AP):
A man accused of running an illegal contractor spy ring in Afghanistan has resigned from the Air Force, still maintaining his innocence, and still facing possible criminal charges.
Two investigations continue in a case that has tested the definition of what contractors are allowed to do in war zones.
Air Force civilian employee Michael Furlong, together with his boss, Mark Johnson, resigned in July after the Air Force inspector general told the men they’d face official censure for how they ran an information gathering network in Afghanistan.
“After 17 months of DOD investigations and an FBI investigation, it was determined that no criminal laws were broken,” Furlong wrote in his August 12 resignation letter, obtained by the Associated Press.
But inquiries continue by the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Pentagon’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service, a senior defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters still under legal review.
The CIA alleged in late 2009 that Furlong’s private military contractors were running an illegal covert spying network in Afghanistan and Pakistan, managed by legendary ex-spymaster Duane R. Clarridge. The then-CIA station chief complained those contractors were helping target terrorists for capture and kill operations, and getting in the way of agency operations on the ground, according to multiple U.S. officials briefed on the investigation. All officials spoke anonymously to discuss intelligence matters.
A series of reports by The New York Times first exposed the controversy, leading then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates to order a review. A Defense Department inquiry dated June 2010, obtained by the AP, concluded Furlong’s “Information Operations Capstone” had hidden clandestine spying activity beneath layers of legitimate information collection, violating Pentagon policy and leading to the more in-depth investigations.
Furlong and Clarridge maintained to investigators that they were operating a legal network of paid informants, gathering data on everything from gas prices and local clan disputes to enemy threats against coalition forces. The information was used for everything from mapping tribal loyalties to tracking Taliban bomb-building cells before they could strike, two defense officials said, describing the inquiries.
Clarridge said what he did was no different than what a foreign news network would do, using a system of freelance local stringers across the country to gather information.
Under the Furlong-Clarridge system, a handful of five to six foreigners – former CIA and special operations officers with experience gathering intelligence – ran a network of low-level local operatives, who asked people what they thought or worked their own sources, as directed by their “handlers.”
The problem with information gathering done by a contractor is that the Rolodex of sources becomes an asset of a private company instead of the unquestioned property of the U.S. government, officials said.
My following piece is published today on ABC’s The Drum:
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas returned from New York to occupied Ramallah on the weekend as “an Arab leader of significant standing“, according to writers from the liberal Israeli paper Haaretz.
The Abbas speech in front of the United Nations, calling for the international body to formally recognise the state of Palestine, allegedly slotted well into the narrative of the Arab Spring:
“Abbas succeeded in giving the Palestinians some hope”, the Haaretz journalists stated. “Following the failure of armed struggle and the freeze in negotiations, Abbas offered them a third way: a diplomatic struggle in parallel with peaceful ‘resistance’.”
The response inside Palestine was mixed but certainly a number of people welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s supposed robust defence of their rights. President Barack Obama’s speech at the UN was the exact opposite, endorsing indefinite paralysis.
Yet it was largely ignored that Palestine’s ambassador to Lebanon said last week that the millions of Palestinian refugees in the Diaspora would not automatically become citizens in a newly created state of Palestine.
Such a position fundamentally contradicts a just resolution of the conflict.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his own speech at the UN last week but it was a cliché-ridden mish-mash of paranoia, bigotry and Holocaust insecurities, none of which befit a man leading the fourth largest army in the world.
It was rightly seen by Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy as the clearest indication yet that the Israeli leadership had absolutely no intention of establishing a two-state solution.
In fact, Netanyahu’s obsession with maintaining the illegal colonies in the West Bank is ensuring a one-state equation and the de-facto end of the Zionist “dream”.
This is something anybody who believes in the concept of equality before the law should celebrate; Zionism inherently discriminates against non-Jews and the Abbas statehood bid indulges the dangerous fantasy that Palestinians should accept a tiny fraction of historical Palestine to appease the nation with a nuclear weapon and super-power backing.
A number of progressive voices in America found the Abbas speech moving, a rare moment where the corporate media had little choice but to listen to a moment about ethnic cleansing, occupation and human dignity. And even I can’t deny the symbolic importance of seeing an Israeli leader so isolated internationally by belligerently declaring that colonisation was a natural right, even responsibility, of the Jewish people.
Not surprisingly, Murdoch’s Australian chastised Abbas for even raising his voice and calling for justice; those uppity Arabs should know their place, serving American and Israeli interests.
The world saw two, competing visions for a future Middle East, Netanyahu and Abbas, yet only one of them resides legally in office (and that person isn’t Abbas, his term in office expiring some time ago).
Whenever “saving” the two-state solution is discussed, an air of unreality permeates the discussion. It is a dangerous fantasy that argues the problems only emerged after the 1967 war and the establishment of settlements in the occupied territories. As Palestinian writer Ghada Karmi argued in the Guardian last week:
“As things stand, the danger is that international endorsement of the current statehood proposal will make it the benchmark for all future peace negotiators, and entrench the idea that partitioning Palestine unequally means justice. True friends of the Palestinians should oppose this application and support their struggle for real justice.”
Partition would merely entrench the discrimination.
In Sydney this week I heard a key spokesperson from the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, Rafeef Ziadah, who rightly explained that the struggle for equal rights for all citizens in Palestine – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, atheist or anything else – should threaten the concept of Zionist exclusion. BDS is the legitimate move, wholly backed by international law, to end the occupation, implement the right of return of Palestinian refugees and allow full rights of Arabs inside Israel.
A two-state solution would merely codify these inequalities and the Palestinian Authority, led by Abbas, has spent two decades negotiating (un)equally with a side that has no intention of granting the indigenous population even the most basic human rights.
Too often we refuse to examine what Israel and its Zionist Diaspora colleagues have created in the West Bank. A system of apartheid actively protects the interests of the colonist over the Palestinians in their own land (this recent video shows the kind of impunity enjoyed by settlers). Fundamentalist Zionism is one of the great achievements of the Israeli state and ultra-nationalists are funded, armed and defended by the full weight of the Zionist entity. Abbas has no plan to eradicate this threat.
Moreover, foreign Jewish militants are allowed to enter the West Bank to allegedly protect settlements. The extremist Jewish Defence League is just the latest bunch of bigots that Israel now attracts within its borders.
The Zionist Diaspora is silent over these abominations in an effort to provide “support” for Israel.
The thinking was revealed once again last week when I was approached on a bus by a Zionist lobbyist who used to send me hate emails. He asked if he could sit down and talk. I agreed and we engaged politely for a few minutes. He said he believed that any public criticism of Israel would weaken Zionism and I had to remember that anti-Semitism was everywhere, so in this logic a “weak” Israel was one that couldn’t handle critical comments from a Jew in Sydney.
It turned logic on its head – Israel has most of the world’s Western politicians on a string and yet paranoia in the Jewish community runs rampant – and displayed the increasing moral panic that only knows how to repeat tired mantras about Nazis under the bed (once again seen during this country’s sordid BDS “debate”).
This is the collapse of a moral, mainstream Jewish position on Palestinian self-determination.
The Western-backed PA, a corrupt institution reliant on foreign aid to survive, compounds it. Its economy, praised by ignorant Western visitors who enjoy the relative comforts of Ramallah, is a bloated privatised enterprise assisting very few. The Palestine Papers revealed the duplicity of PA leaders who were willing to give away the most sacred aspects of the Palestinian cause, including territory in East Jerusalem. The PA even wanted to block implementation of the Goldstone Report into Israel crimes against Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.
The Netanyahu government wants American funding to the PA to continue because it knows full well that its American-trained shock troops are essential tools in the maintenance of the occupation. This is the PA “vision” for Palestine.
Instead of seeing the UN statehood bid as breathing new life into the moribund two-state solution, it should be seen as the death of it. These are the two issues of over 500,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied territories and an Israeli government that has enjoyed ever-deepening financial and military ties with Washington; Newsweek reports this week that soon after Obama came into office he sold Israel bunker-buster bombs designed to strike Iranian nuclear sites.
The only positive outcome of the statehood bid would be a global realisation that America (and its trusty lap-dog Australia) has no desire to fairly resolve the conflict. Internationalisation threatens the decades-old, cosy relationship between a crack dealer known as Washington and an addict known as Zionism.
We could do far worse than listen to the wise words of Israeli-born Miko Peled, son of a key Israeli military man, Matti Peled, who is currently in Australia explaining that his country of birth must radically reform its heart and soul. His thinking was transformed after finally meeting Palestinians under occupation.
“As an Israeli that was raised on the Zionist ideal of a Jewish state”, he says, “I know how hard it is for many Jews and Palestinians to let go of the dream of having a state that is exclusively ‘our own’.”
No US president, Zionist leader or Australian politician has come up with any coherent argument to counter the coming reality, due to Palestinian population growth and settlement expansion, of a minority Zionist leadership ruling over a majority Palestinian population in a land where just separation is incompatible with true democracy.
The PA statehood bid is the beginning of a longer struggle for recognising the rights of the Palestinian people in their entirety, a future to be secured through BDS and a local and international campaign of action that highlights the impossibility of partitioning a nation with a colonised, Zionist mindset.
Earlier this week I met and spent time with the remarkable Miko Peled, an Israeli/American whose positions on the Middle East place him in that rare Jewish space; seeing Jews and Palestinians equally.
From yesterday‘s Canberra Times:
His father was an Israeli general in the 1967 war and his niece was killed by Palestinian suicide bombers in 1997, but Miko Peled – a peace activist in Australia for a national speaking tour – is fighting to end what he calls the apartheid state of Israel.
In Canberra last week, he said if Palestine succeeded at the United Nations at gaining statehood, the ability to negotiate with Israel and to have greater international support would be much greater.
”I argue for a secular democracy in Israel,” he said. Currently, different law applies to different people.
A secular democracy would give each person one vote so everyone could travel and work freely, he said.
His comments were slammed yesterday as appalling by a spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy in Canberra.
She said it was easy for Mr Peled, who lives in the US, to make such comments. He did not face missiles being shot from Gaza.
”This is our reality,” she said.
She said Israel was not an apartheid state and that 20per cent of its population were Arabs who had full rights. ”My neighbour is a Muslim.”
Mr Peled said the 5.5million Palestinians could not continue to be ignored by the 5.5million Israelis.
”I think it is inevitable that the transformation from an apartheid state to a democracy will come.” Within the next five to 10 years there would have to be a change.
The embassy’s spokeswoman said Israel’s official policy for peace was a two-state solution. ”We know we will have to give up land.”
It was possible up to 300,000 people would have to be moved from the West Bank, she said. But first, the Palestinians must have a sincere willingness to negotiate, she said. ”This is a huge thing. Most of the pain will come from our side.”
Mr Peled said Israel had almost 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners, most of whom had never thrown a rock or touched a gun.
He said a new generation of Palestinian leadership was committed to non-violent resistance. It was this – not the apartheid wall – that had brought most violence to an end.
But non-violent protests were met with brutal violence by Israel’s army, he said.
On the death of his sister’s daughter by suicide bombers, Mr Peled said, ”It was very clear the culprits were not the Palestinians.”
The two young men who had chosen to kill themselves had come from a place of despair in which they had been placed by Israel, he said.
When asked if she had wanted retaliation, his sister responded that no mother would want the same thing to happen to another mother.
Given his family’s background, why was he now supporting the Palestinians? ”Supporting the Palestinian cause is the right thing to do,” Mr Peled said.
The Palestinians had been the victims of ethnic cleansing and had been waiting for some kind of recognition for more than 60 years.
”I think for people of conscience and people who love peace, there is no question here that supporting the Palestinians is the right thing to do,” he said.
From being a very patriotic Zionist, he had learned through a very painful process of the Palestinian plight. That process had begun in the US when he participated in Jewish-Palestinian dialogue groups.
”I started hearing stories I could not believe. Stories of displacements, stories of massacres … [which] prompted me to make a choice.”
The private mercenary company Blackwater, despite years of serious allegations of human rights abuses across the world, is only seeing bigger opportunities for expansion. The latest (via independent American journalist Tim Shorrock), is this:
Blackwater, the notorious mercenary company now known as “Xe,” has a new Chief Operating Officer (COO) – Charles (Chuck) Thomas, formerly of the British-owned defense and intelligence contractor BAE Systems Inc. According to today’s press release from Blackwater owner USTC Holdings LLC,
Thomas joined Xe on September 6, 2011, retired as a Major General in the U.S. Army, where he held the position of Chief of Staff, Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command from 1998 to 2001; Commanding General, U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School and Ft. Huachuca from 1994 to 1998; Deputy Chief of Staff, Intelligence, U.S. Army Europe from 1993 to 1994; Vice Director of Intelligence for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1991 to 1993 and Director of the Joint Intelligence Center, U.S. Central Command in the first Gulf War; and many other leadership positions throughout his military career. He is based at the company’s new headquarters office in Arlington, Va.
Now that’s a pretty deep intelligence background – perfect for a company that is involved in some of the CIA’s most covert operations in Pakistan and elsewhere. It might take a while for reporters to figure out what this appointment means in the long run. So in the meanwhile let’s take a look at some Twitter postings today from an informed source on all things covert to explain a little about Thomas’ past and how his past jobs will enhance Blackwater’s role in the U.S. wars in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere on the planet (the author of these tweets asked to remain anonymous and I will respect that request).
Thomas at Xe is very bad. For a multitude of reasons. Chief among them, his vast knowledge base in compartmentalization…For starters, Thomas was STO on the Joint Staff under Cheney and Powell. What does that mean? STO, or special technical operations officers, manage and “oversee” — heh — Special Access Programs, of the legal & extra-legal variety…The dude ran pretty much every military intelligence element at every echelon…He ran the Army’s intel schoolhouse at Huachuca…Then, he assumes command of TRADOC and the predecessor to what is now Human Terrain System (Note: see my Daily Beast article on HTS here)…In summation: Chuck Thomas brings to BW/Xe vast experience in blended operations, special collection and a solid grounding in STO.
It’s also important to understand the role of BAE itself in U.S. intelligence. I wrote quite a bit about the company’s contracts with the CIA and other agencies in my book Spies for Hire, and here’s an excerpt that was first published in CorpWatch in 2007. Note especially BAE’s extensive work for the CIA, with which Blackwater/Xe is closely identified:
BAE’s services to U.S. intelligence — including the CIA and the National Counter-Terrorism Center — are provided through a special unit called the Global Analysis Business Unit. It is located in McLean, Virginia, a stone’s throw from the CIA. The unit is headed by John Gannon, a 25-year veteran of the CIA who reached the agency’s highest analytical ranks as deputy director of intelligence and chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Today, as a private sector contractor for the intelligence community, Gannon manages a staff of more than 800 analysts with security clearances.
Just a bunch of charming Jewish Defence League boys helping to protect a Jewish colony in the West Bank.
Surely it’s time for Washington to find the next juicy target of American “liberation” (via the Huffington Post)?
With just over three months until the last U.S. troops are currently dueto leave Iraq, the Department of Defense is engaged in a mad dash to give away things that cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars to buy and build.
The giveaways include enormous, elaborate military bases and vast amounts of military equipment that will be turned over to the Iraqis, mostly just to save the expense of bringing it home.
“It’s all sunk costs,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who oversaw the training of Iraqi soldiers from 2003 to 2004. “It’s money that we spent and we’re not going to recoup.”
There were 505 U.S. military bases and outposts in Iraq at the height of operations, said Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq. Only 39 are still in U.S. hands — but that includes each of the largest bases, meaning the most significant handovers are yet to come.
Those bases didn’t come cheap. Construction costs exceeded $2.4 billion, according to an analysis of Pentagon annual reports by the Congressional Research Service. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers alone was responsible for $1.9 billion in base construction contracts between 2004 and 2010, a spokesman told HuffPost.
Rather than strip those bases clean and ship everything home, Defense Department officials tell The Huffington Post that over 2.4 million pieces of equipment worth a total of at least $250 million — everything from tanks and trucks to office furniture and latrines — have been given away to the Iraqi government in the past year, with the pace of transfers expected to increase dramatically in the coming months.
Indeed (via the Guardian):
Tony Blair is facing calls for greater transparency in his role as Middle East peace envoy after it emerged that he visited Muammar Gaddafi in 2009 while JP Morgan, the investment bank that employs Blair as a £2m-a-year adviser, sought to negotiate a multibillion-pound loan from Libya.
Blair also championed two large business deals in the West Bank and Gaza involving telecoms and gas extraction which stood to benefit corporate clients of JP Morgan, according to a Dispatches investigation to be broadcast on Monday night.
Blair, who represents the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East – the US, European Union, Russia and the United Nations – flew to see the former Libyan leader in January 2009 as JP Morgan tried to finalise a deal for the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) to loan a multibillion-pound sum to Rusal, the aluminium company run by Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.
LIA was set up by Gaddafi to manage the country’s wealth and was estimated to be worth $64bn (£41bn) last September.
Emails obtained by anti-corruption campaign group Global Witness and seen by the Guardian reveal JP Morgan’s vice chairman, Lord Renwick, invited the then vice chairman of LIA, Mustafa Zarti, to “finalise the terms of the mandate concerning Rusal before Mr Blair’s visit to Tripoli which is scheduled to take place on around 22 January”.
The meeting went ahead, but a spokesman for Blair denied the former prime minister had been involved in the proposed Rusal deal. A spokesman for JP Morgan said Blair had no knowledge of the proposal but could not explain why Blair’s visit to Gaddafi was raised in the email.