Open Letter To Congress
January 12, 2010
Open Letter to U.S. Congress
Investigate the Mishandling of Blackwater Case
Enact the Stop Outsourcing Security Act.
On December 31, 2009, United States District Judge Ricardo Urbina
dismissed all criminal charges against five Blackwater security guards
accused of killing 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square of
Baghdad on September 16th 2007. The contractors had been indicted for 14
counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempting to commit manslaughter
and one count of weapons violation. In his decision the Judge did not
rule on the substance of the charges against the security guards, but on
the prosecutorial misconduct of the U.S. attorney Kenneth Kohl and the
Judge Urbina’s 90-page opinion does not dispute the investigations by
the Iraqi police, the U.S. Army, and the F.B.I. The Iraqi and U.S.
investigators found that the guards of the Raven 23 convoy had
indiscriminately fired on unarmed civilians in an unprovoked and
unjustified assault in the crowded Nisour Square of Baghdad on September
16, 2007. Witnesses and reports stated some of the victims were shot in
the back trying to flee the scene. A nine year old boy riding in the
back seat of his father’s car was shot in the head and died. None of the
investigators were able to find any physical evidence to support the
guards’ contentions that they had been fired upon. The F.B.I. stated in
their report that the Blackwater guards recklessly violated American
rules for the use of lethal force. The U.S. military investigators went
further saying that all the deaths were unjustified and potentially
criminal. Iraqi authorities called the shootings “deliberate murder.”
Judge Urbina labeled the misconduct of the trial team, headed by
Assistant U.S. attorney Kenneth Kohl, as a “reckless violation of the
defendants’ constitutional rights.” This violation occurred when U.S.
Attorney Kohl and Department of Justice trial lawyer Stephen Ponticello
built their case around the written statements made by the contractors
immediately following the shooting. The Judge stated, “In short, the
government has utterly failed to prove that it made no impermissible use
of defendants’ statements or that such use was harmless beyond
reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the court must dismiss the indictment
against all the defendants.”
However, in the background section of the opinion, it becomes obvious
that this violation could have been avoided. Judge Urbina describes in
detail the many instances where Kohl and the trial team ignored the
directives and warnings of Raymond Hulser, a Deputy Chief in the Public
Integrity Section of the Criminal Division, who was assigned as the
“taint attorney.” His responsibility was to prevent prosecutors and
investigators handling the investigation from using statements that
could contaminate the case causing it to be dismissed.
On page 82 of the written opinion, Judge Urbina points out that the
government’s attempts to characterize Kohl’s failure to heed the
warnings and directives of Hulser as a mere “miscommunication” are
Judge Urbina writes, “These inconsistent, extraordinary explanations
(given in interviews by Kenneth Kohl) smack of post hoc rationalization
and are simply implausible.” He continued, “The only conclusion the
court can draw from this evidence is that Kohl and the rest of the trial
team purposefully flouted the advice of the taint team when obtaining
the substance of the defendants’ compelled statements, and in so doing,
knowingly endangered the viability of the prosecution.”
Rep. Jan Schkowsky (D – IL) said in the Los Angeles Times, “We’re going
to have to understand how this happened.” The Iraqi families and the
U.S. citizens that are funding companies like Blackwater, as well as
paying for the investigations, have a right to know the motivation
behind such reckless misconduct by a seasoned U.S. Attorney.
An adviser to the Iraqi council of ministers said, “This (the dismissal
of the case) is very bad for the overall look of the United States
outside its borders. It’s very important for the Americans to realize
that this will work against their interests in Iraq and other places.”
Given the prosecutorial misconduct of this case, the tragedy of the
shooting incident and the larger trend of private security contractors,
we call upon the U.S. Congress to take the following actions:
1. Conduct a Congressional investigation into the prosecutorial
misconduct of U.S. Attorney Kenneth Kohl and the trial team. Judge
Urbina’s decision describes in detail the many times the investigators
and prosecutors seemed determined to sabotage the case from the
beginning. It is also known that senior officials of the Justice
Department did not want this case to go to trial. According to Scott
Horton, international law expert and contributor to Harper’s, reported
one Congressman who was present at early briefings of the case held on
Capitol Hill said the Justice Department prosecutors assigned to the
case were behaving like defense lawyers building a case to defend the
Blackwater employees, not prosecute them. A Congressional investigation
is needed to verify and explain the Justice Department’s actions and
motivations in this case.
2. Our military personnel are bestowed with a special responsibility to
use lethal force in the course of their work and are held to a higher
standard of conduct as a result, the Uniform Code of Military Justice
(UCMJ). The current trend to outsource military operations to private
contractors eliminates that higher standard, resolving it instead
through corporate contract provisions and civilian law which is far from
the higher standard of conduct implied by the authority to use lethal
force. The indictments in this case specifically stated that Blackwater
Worldwide, the primary contractor in the matter, had no responsibility
for the events, despite the fact that the guards were trained by
Blackwater and working according to the “culture” of the firm.
Blackwater (Xe Services) must be held accountable for their involvement
in this event and other events, and the U.S. Congress should grapple
with the shortcoming of current contract law when applied to actors in
combat zones using lethal force who would otherwise be subject to the UCMJ.
3. The U.S. Congress should cancel and cut off all funding of contracts
with Blackwater (Xe Services) and with all of their affiliates. This
should include all contracts now in effect under the Department of
Defense, the Department of State, Homeland Security, The Drug
Enforcement Agency, and the CIA. In addition to the above incident,
Blackwater and its owner Erik Prince are named in two other Grand Jury
investigations involving the company’s possible smuggling of weapons
into Iraq and tax evasion. The company may face charges for obstruction
of justice related to the shooting incident in Nisour Square. In August
of 2008 Rep. Henry Waxman, then chair of the House Oversight and
Government reform Committee, called on then candidate Obama to cancel
Blackwater’s contracts if elected President. Candidate Hillary Clinton
also said that Blackwater contracts should be canceled. We agree with
Rep. Waxman when he said, “I don’t see any reason to have a contract
with Blackwater. They haven’t lived up to their contract and we
shouldn’t be having these private military contracts. We should use our
4. This decision also puts the U.S. in breach of its treaty obligations
to prosecute this case, which was an international law obligation. Now
if the U.S. cannot, for the technical reasons set forth in the ruling,
prosecute the case, the U.S. is required to waive the immunity and
surrender these individuals to the Iraqi authorities for prosecution.
Congress should ensure that our Government satisfies all of our
international obligations as they pertain to this case.
5. Reintroduce and swiftly enact the “Stop Outsourcing Security Act”
(known as House Resolution 4102 in the 110th Congress) which cites that
a) the United States is increasingly relying on private security
contractors, b) one quarter of these contractors are third-party
nationals, c) these contractors operate at cross-purposes with our
larger mission and undermine the mission, jeopardizing the safety of
American troops, d) events such as the Nisour Square massacre have
negatively affected the relationship of our country with other countries
in those areas, e) security contracts suffer from inadequate oversight,
f) Congress does not even have access to security contracts, and g) the
use of private security contractors for mission critical functions
should be phased out.
The bill required that a) personnel at any United States diplomatic or
consular mission in Iraq are provided security services only by Federal
Government personnel, b) the military will transition away from the use
of private contractors for mission critical or emergency essential
functions in all conflict zones in which Congress has authorized the use
of force, c) contracts with security contractors shall be open to
inspection by Congress, d) no contracts shall be renewed during the
transition period unless those companies have a clean record, and e)
that the defense department fully document the number and disposition of
all security contractors.
When reintroducing this bill, Congress should insure the scope is
adequately broad to include recent revelations of “black-ops” CIA
activities, and to update it to include regions and operations of
relevance today, including domestic and foreign training operations,
which is a core-competency of our military and must not be relegated to
The safety of our soldiers and our citizens, as well as citizens in Iraq
and Afghanistan, can no longer be put into risk by the careless actions
of hired military and security companies like Blackwater. Legal
loopholes that provide immunity for all contractors, regardless of how
murderous their actions may be, continue the pattern of inadequate
accountability. We ask you how much longer will you allow those whom we
fund to get away with murder in our name?
BY THE UNDERSIGNED:
No Private Armies: Dan Kenney & Mary Shesgreen, co-coordinators of
NoPrivateArmies.org Chicago Area (IL)
Voices For Creative Non-Violence: Kathy Kelly http://vcnv.org
Stop Blackwater: Raymond Lutz, coordinator, StopBlackwater.net (San
CitizensOversight.org (San Diego, CA)
Blackwater Watch: Christian Stalberg, XeWatch.info (NC)
Peace Resource Center: Carol Jahnkow, director, prcsd.org (San Diego, CA)
Citizens Against Private Armies (Riverside County, CA)
NC Stop Torture Now
ADD YOUR NAME OF ENDORSEMENT BY VISITING http://www.StopBlackwater.net
New Year, Same Old Story: Blackwater Still Gets Away with Murder
By Dan Kenney
No Private Armies
This may be the first day of a new year, and the start of a new decade, but it is also a day that marks the continuation of an old sad story of injustice. On New Year’s Eve Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed all charges against five Blackwater contractors that had been indicted for 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 of attempting to commit manslaughter and one weapons violation. This New Year’s Eve gift to Blackwater was bad news for the Iraqi families expecting the American judicial system to deliver justice for the deaths and injuries of their loved ones.
The old story is that, once again, by using the system to their benefit and with the possible deliberate sabotage on the part of the U.S. Attorney assigned to the case, the contractors accused of shooting innocent unarmed Iraqi citizens may never be brought to court.
Judge Urbina’s written 90-page opinion does not dispute the investigations by the Iraqi police, the U.S. Army, and the F.B.I. The Iraqi and U.S. investigators found that the guards of the Raven 23 convoy had indiscriminately fired on unarmed civilians in an unprovoked and unjustified assault in the crowded Nisoor Square of Baghdad on September 16, 2007. Witnesses and reports stated some of the victims were shot in the back trying to flee the scene. A nine year old boy riding in the back seat of his father’s car was shot in the head and died. None of the investigators were able to find any physical evidence to support the guards’ contentions that they had been fired upon. The F.B.I. stated in their report that the Blackwater guards recklessly violated American rules for the use of lethal force. The U.S. military investigators went further saying that all the deaths were unjustified and potentially criminal. Iraqi authorities called the shootings “deliberate murder.”
Judge Urbina labeled the misconduct of the trial team, headed by Assistant U.S. attorney Kenneth Kohl, as a “reckless violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights.” This violation occurred when U.S. Attorney Kohl and Department of Justice trial lawyer Stephen Ponticello built their case around the written statements made by the contractors immediately following the shooting. The Judge stated, “In short, the government has utterly failed to prove that it made no impermissible use of defendants’ statements or that such use was harmless beyond reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the court must dismiss the indictment against all the defendants.”
The Rest of the Story
However in the background section of the opinion it becomes obvious that this violation could have been avoided. Judge Urbina describes in detail the many instances where Kohl and the trial team ignored the directives and warnings of Raymond Hulser, a Deputy Chief in the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division, who was assigned as the “taint attorney.” His responsibility was to prevent prosecutors and investigators handling the investigation from using statements that could contaminate the case causing it to be dismissed.
On page 82 of the written opinion, Judge Urbina points out that the government’s attempts to characterize Kohl’s failure to heed the warnings and directives of Hulser as a mere “miscommunication” are “simply implausible.”
Judge Urbina writes, “These inconsistent, extraordinary explanations (given in interviews by Kenneth Kohl) smack of post hoc rationalization and are simply implausible.”
“The only conclusion,” the Judge continued, “the court can draw from this evidence is that Kohl and the rest of the trial team purposefully flouted the advice of the taint team when obtaining the substance of the defendants’ compelled statements, and in so doing, knowingly endangered the viability of the prosecution,”
As Rep Jan Schkowsky of Illinois said in the LA Times, “We’re going to have to understand how this happened.” The Iraqi families and the U.S. citizens that are funding companies like Blackwater, as well as paying for the investigations, have a right to know the motivation behind such reckless misconduct by a seasoned U.S. Attorney. (It is important to note that Kenneth Kohl was also the U.S. attorney assigned to the anthrax case. He was appointed by the Bush administration.)
You may recall Order 17, put in place by Paul Bremmer in 2003, which provided immunity for contractors operating in Iraq. The order was struck down in the latest U.S. Security agreement with Iraq. However, the U.S. State department replaced it with the “Hunter Memorandum.” Regional Security Officer Mark Hunter authored a memorandum titled “WPPS (Worldwide Personnel Protective Services, a company of Blackwater) On-Duty Discharge of Firearms Reporting Procedures” (“the Hunter Memorandum.”) The Hunter Memorandum required all Blackwater personnel involved in a shooting incident to report immediately for debriefing by the State
Department. After the debriefing, any employee who discharged his weapon was to be given a sworn statement form attached to the memorandum. The statement that the five contractors signed included this line, “I further understand that neither my statements nor any information or evidence gained by reason of my statements can be used against me in a criminal proceeding, except that if I knowingly and willfully provide false statements or information.” This statement is required and an employee may be terminated for failure to sign it. This is commonly referred to as a “Garrity warning” or “Kalkines warning.” The Hunter memorandum and the attached Sworn Statement form were standard procedure to be followed after any shooting incident. So this is the loophole which allowed any guard involved in a shooting to avoid accountability for his actions.
This loophole is still in place and you can be sure that it can function in Afghanistan as well.
It was reported that the five contractors were “overjoyed” and that a “great burden had been lifted from their shoulders.” However it was a startling blow for the Iraqi government and citizens. As one Iraqi lawmaker said in a speech to Iraq’s parliament, “Ask the Iraqi courts to release all the (Iraqi) defendants…sentenced to death for killing Americans in Iraq, as an act of reciprocity with the U.S. judicial system.”
An adviser to the Iraqi council of ministers said, “This is very bad for the overall look of the United States outside its borders. It’s very important for the Americans to realize that this will work against their interests in Iraq and other places.”
Although Judge Urbina’s decision would make it difficult to reinstate the original charges the guards could still be prosecuted for willfully providing false information in their statements. There is also the possibility that the government will bring obstruction of justice charges against Blackwater managers.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has a civil case in the courts against Blackwater. The Iraqi government said that they will support this lawsuit as well as ask the U.S. Justice Department to review the criminal case.
This decision also puts the U.S. in breach of its treaty obligations to prosecute this case, which was an international law obligation. Now if the U.S. cannot, for the technical reasons set forth in the ruling, prosecute the case, the U.S. is required to waive the immunity and surrender these individuals to the Iraqi authorities for prosecution.
Finally, a Congressional investigation should be conducted into the prosecutorial misconduct that tainted this case. Judge Urbina’s decision describes in detail how the trial team seemed determined to sabotage the case from the beginning. It is also known that senior officials of the Justice Department did not want this case to go to trial. One Congressman, who was present at early briefings of the case held on Capitol Hill, said that the Justice Department prosecutors assigned to the case were behaving like defense lawyers building a case to defend the Blackwater employees, not prosecute them. An investigation needs to find out why this occurred.
And the Story Goes On
So the old story goes on. The safety of our soldiers and our citizens put at risk by the careless actions of hired private military and security contractors. Legal loopholes that provide immunity for all contractors, regardless of how murderous their actions may be, continue the pattern of unaccountability. We must ask ourselves and those who represent us, how much longer will we allow those whom we fund to get away with murder in our name.
By Dan Kenney
No Private Armies
December 19, 2009
Recently I gave a talk to a group of democrats about the danger of outsourcing our security to private military and security companies like Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and others. Part of my talk includes looking at the profits made by pentagon contractors such as Raytheon, Boeing, KBR, etc.. During the questions and comments portion the chair of the committee said, “By your definition of military contractor I would be one, I have worked for Raytheon for over 35 years.”
He said that I should not include Raytheon in with Blackwater. “Raytheon is a good company that provides what our soldiers need, they are nothing like Blackwater.” In a sense he was saying that Raytheon was a “good” military contractor and that Blackwater was a bad one. I have given this talk many times and this is the first time someone challenged me with the possibility that there are “good” war profiteers and there are bad.
The next person to speak said that she agreed with the chair and she felt it was not a good idea to take on these companies right now with the economy the way it is, because “they provide a lot of jobs.” She implied these multi-billion dollar companies that make their money from war are “good” companies to have because of the employment they provide. .
On my drive home I puzzled over what they had said. Could it be that I should present the information about pentagon contractors like Boeing and Raytheon in a separate program? So I decided I needed to take a closer look at Raytheon.
I learned that Raytheon, which means “light from the gods,” is the fifth largest defense contractor in the world and the fourth largest in the United States, with annual revenues of over $20 billion. More than 90 percent of Raytheon’s revenues were obtained from defense contracts. Many of their contracts with the U.S. defense department are “no bid contracts.”
Raytheon is the maker of “Bunker Buster” bombs, Tomahawk and Patriot missiles. Raytheon manufactured the missile that killed 62 civilians, most of them women and children, in a Baghdad market in 2003. Hundreds of Raytheon million dollar cruise missiles have been fired on Afghanistan killing more untold hundreds of civilians. The Tomahawk missiles were used during “shock and awe” in 2003 killing hundreds in Iraq.
The missile that killed 62 in a Baghdad market on a Friday night in 2003 had been manufactured in Texas. Apparently it malfunctioned and did not hit its intended target.
The company refused to take responsibility for the malfunction.
In 2009 Raytheon came out with the “Silent Guardian” or Active Denial System (ADS). It is designed to protect military personnel against small-arms fire without the use of lethal force. Transmitted at the speed of light over a 700 yard distance, the “Pain-Ray” as it is also known, is a millimeter-wave beam that penetrates 1/64th of an inch beneath the skin, causing the water molecules to bubble, producing an intense burning sensation, compared to that of a red hot iron. It has been referred to as the “Holy Grail of crowd control.”
Like Blackwater Raytheon has also had its share of rule violations and illegal behavior. Raytheon has paid millions of dollars in fines for illegal activities. Some of the fines were paid in settlements for several cases of overpricing and inflated costs. Other fines followed guilty pleas for illegally obtaining secret Air Force budget and planning documents and for submitting false claims for work done on missiles.
Raytheon is also fighting a civil action suit that was filed by over 1,000 property owners in St. Petersburg, Fla. The resident accuse Waltham, Mass. based Raytheon of polluting the soil and groundwater around its St. Petersburg, Fla.
So it appears that there are many similarities between Blackwater and Raytheon after all.
What about the jobs? Raytheon does employ over 80,000 workers worldwide. Boeing has over 155,000 and GE over 320,000. CACI employs over 12,000, Dyncorp another 15,000.and Triple Canopy has over 2,000 in Iraq alone. Blackwater’s information about how many they employ is difficult to find, however Gary Jackson former president of Blackwater said in an interview back in 2007 that they had a list of over 25,000 contractors. There is no question that these pentagon contractor companies provide employment, after-all this is what the “military industrial complex” is all about. The issue of employment, the livelihood of millions depending upon the creation of weapons, distributing weapons, on and on; this is the heart of the problem with creating an economy based on war. However we need to face the fact that an economy that is based on weapons and war is not sustainable; in fact it may lead to our own destruction.
One must ask where is the line to be drawn separating the one who drops the bomb from the one who helps create or manufacture the bomb? Is one less responsible for the death of those innocent individuals killed? Is one who works for a company that manufactures the missiles that kill the children less responsible for their deaths? Are those who have their tax dollars pay for the missiles any less responsible for the killings by the missiles? If it were not for our tax dollars how would our government pay the war profiteers? And if my tax dollars are among those used to pay for the missile am I not also responsible in some way? Are we not all responsible in some way for what is done in our names?
It is these questions that lead to an impasse as we struggle for a world without war profiteers: a world of peace instead of one of war.
I have answered one question for myself however, and that is I will continue to talk about Raytheon and Boeing, and the other companies who profit from war in the same presentation as Blackwater and other private military security companies. I have yet to find a “good” war profiteer.
Obama’s Shadow Army Continues to Grow in Afghanistan
Now that it is officially Obama’s war, one might say it is also Obama’s privatized war. When President Obama announced his troop increase in Afghanistan on December 2nd he failed to mention the number of shadow army private military contractors that would be joining them. Even after the 30,000 soldiers arrive on the rugged terrain the total number of U.S. troops will still be less than the number of private contractors in Afghanistan.
The DoD’s latest figures on contractors in the country, according to a U.S. Central command spokesperson, is a staggering104,000, an increase of 30,000 over the figure released by the DoD in June of 2009. This amount is also expected to rise as additional U.S. soldiers are deployed. “There will definitely be an increase in the number of contractors,” stated David Berteau, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (The total U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan after the 30,000 arrive will be 98,000.)
It is estimated that the largest portion of the private contractors is made up of Afghans, over 78,000. The Central command estimates there are about 16,000 third country nationals and 9,000 U.S. citizen contractors. However, the number of U.S. citizens is difficult to nail down, because the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan says it is more like 14,000.
It is estimated that between 7% and 16% are gun carrying contractors like those that work for Triple Canopy, DynCorp, and Blackwater (Also known as Xe). The privately owned Blackwater Company is under several Federal investigation and they were fired from their Iraq security contract by the U.S. State Department, due in part to a 2007 killing of 17 innocent Iraqi citizens on a Baghdad Square. The shooting was found to be unjustified and unprovoked by the U.S. Justice Department investigation. Six of the Blackwater contractors responsible for the murders are now facing voluntary manslaughter charges and are expected to go to trial in 2010. And in May of this year two Afghan civilians were killed by Xe contractors. Despite all of this Blackwater is still receiving millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars with their contract to provide security for U.S ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and his staff.
Blackwater’s aviation division, Presidential Airways, is also employed in Afghanistan to airlift supplies to U.S. troops in remote outposts. It is estimated that Blackwater has made thousands of delivery runs since they were contracted for this service in 2006. The company is also responsible for training Afghan special police units.
An Army Times article entitled, “Trigger-Happy Security Complicates Convoys” points out some of the dangers caused by these private contractors operating in a war zone.
Sean Naylor reporting from Afghanistan states in the article, “Ill-disciplined private security guards (most of them Afghans) escorting supply convoys to coalition bases are wreaking havoc as they pass through western Kandahar province, undermining the coalition counterinsurgency strategy here and leading to at least one confrontation with U.S. forces say U.S. Army officers and Afghan government officials.” The report states that security guards are also responsible for killing and wounding more than 30 innocent civilians during the past four years in one district alone. The Afghan government’s district chief says the men who are hired to protect convoys are heroin addicts armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles.
Lt. Col. Jeff French, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment and Task Force Legion told the Army Times “They’ll start shooting at anything that’s moving, and they will kill innocent Afghans, and they will destroy property.”
Recently Hamid Karzai promised he would kick out all foreign private security firms and transfer their duties to Afghans within two years. However analysts believe he will be as powerless over these war profiteers as Iraq’s Maliki was when he tried to order Blackwater out of his country in 2007.
In addition to undermining the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan the lack of knowledge about how many contractors there are and about how much they are being paid paves the way for much fraud and waste of taxpayer dollars. This fact “permits and invites waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer money and undermines the achievement of U.S. mission objectives,’ stated Michael Thibault, co-chair of the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting during a November Congressional hearing.
Afghanistan has become the new gold mine for the private military and security companies as they collect hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars while operating without oversight, transparency, or any consequences for their human rights violations.
It truly has become Obama’s war, mercenaries and all.
We started our day by driving to the gate of Ft. Benning. We explained the history of the SOA and of the SOA vigil to the four NIU students, as we stood at the line that so many have crossed in their attempts to close this school of torture. While we were at the gate we received some abusive comments by soldiers and workers leaving the post. Also I took photos of the police setting up their on site headquarters. It occurs to me that we all want peace. It is too bad that we can’t all agree that it can best be acheived with love and respect; instead of with force and violence. If only we could see that the way to peace is not by way of fear and oppression. It is not the biggest gun that will lead to peace but the biggest heart.
Chuck went with the students over to the warehouse and assisted with the puppetista construction. I went to a Columbia Teach-In sponsored by the Witness for Peace group.
At the teach-in I lerned the multi-national corporations such as Coca-cola and many others, along with the U.S. government, were found guilty of crimes against humanity at last year’s people’s tribunal in Columbia.
I also learned of the importance of defeating the free trade agreement that the U.S. is attempting to forge with Columbia. The Colombian Congress has already approved the agreement and the Obama administration has approved it. The only thing which is standing between the agreement going into force is the U.S. Congress. I will share with you when I return what we can do locally to urge Rep. Foster to vote against the agreement.
Another presenter was the founder of the KillerCoke group. You can learn more about this at KillerCoke.org The list of their human and environmental abuses is long. One of their campaigns is to get communities and universities to become Coca-Cola-Free communities and universities. We plan to have a showing of the video I purchased entitled “The Case Against Coca-Cola.” The students are going to try and organize a campaign to get coke off NIU’s campus.
When I asked the panel members about the role of mercenary companies such as Triple Canopy, DynCorp, and Blackwater in Latin America and especially in Columbia, the one panel member said,” When you hear bullets you don’t hear voices.” His intent was that the Colombian government and the multi-national corporations use these mercenary companies to terrorize the people so they won’t speak up for their rights, to stop them from organizing, to protect the business interests in Columbia and other countries of Latin America. As one panelist, a Colombian citizen, said, “If you look at a map of where the multi-national companies are located around the world you will also find that the private security companies are located in the same places.” He went on to say, “It is business based on fire and blood.”
Also the para-military of Columbia works in coalition with the private military companies without impunity. This is exactly why these companies are hired because this allows the governments and the corporations to get around the international legal restrictions which are in place to protect the people. This allows the business interests and the governments to do what they would never be allowed or able to do with their standing military.
I also attended a workshop on Haiti. The presenter pointed out that once they called us communists, now they call us terrorists. I took eight pages of notes on the various workshops that I will not go into now. But I will share with those that are interested when I return.
I also learned some updated information about Nicaragua at a workshop presented by our friend Chuck Kaufman of the Nicaragua Network.
Today I was reminded of another reason this is such a unique experience. It is the only event I have found that brings together people from all over this hemphishere that are involved in the struggle for positive social change, that are working everyday to bring about social justice and peace in their areas of concentration. I am reminded of how we involved in the work for justice are part of a larger struggle that stretches back in time and that will continue after our time to carry on the work is finished. It is as Alice Walker described, that those involved in the struggle for justice are part of a great relay that stretches back in time, that involves untold thousands who have struggled against the injustices of their time. We are but the current relay runners carrying the torch which has been passed to us by those who have come before. At some point we will pass the torch onto the next runners. And so it will be, as Martin Luther King said I may not be with you but one day justice will come. Not only for African Americans but for all those of all lands who suffer injustice.
When I come here I see how all of our work is interwoven, like bright stands woven into one grand fabric for change. We are not alone.
We drove beneath the soft drapings of a gray November sky. Surrounded by fields of corn and soy beans stretched out flat in all directions. Some times small wispy clouds seemed to be so low that one could think that they might be reached by ladder. I thought of how it would feel to stand on a tall ladder and have the cloud pass me, the cool droplets hitting my face.
The low gray clouds also reminded me of the day Maylan and I visited the coffee cooperative high in the hills of northern Nicaragua. That day the coffee plants were dripping from an early morning rain. We stood on the high plateau surrounded by coffee plants watching in the distance as the low gray clouds gently swept across the tops of distant lush green hills.
I thought as we drove with the constant cars and trucks around us of those people living at the cooperative in Nicaragua. They lived without electricity, without cars. They walked whenever they needed to leave the mountain top. Which is why our bus seemed so out of place and had such a difficult time getting up to their home. I wonder and had a greater appreciation for what our gluttonous country must seem to them. How arrogant and brutal it is of us to go into these rural isolated cultures of peace and quiet, of harmony with nature and impose our will to extract their resources for our own selfish gain.
I think of Eduardo Galeano saying. “Latin America is the region of open veins. Everything, from the discovery until our times, has always been transmuted into European or later United States-capital, and as such has accumulated in distant centers of power.”
When I come to the SOA Vigil, I feel a connection to those who have suffered the oppression of the U.S government’s and the U.S. corporations’ endless hunger for more. I come to the vigil in part because of my since of kinship with the rural people of Latin America. Because I have seen what has become of the small farms I knew as a child growing up in rural America. We have also plundered and wasted our own resources, we have raped and decimated our own lands, and we have displaced our own people as well. All in the name of profit.
The fields that surrounded us on our drive are not the same fields I knew as a child, they are large corporate floors of production. They would be barren waste lands if it were not for the chemicals they are dependent upon.
So I look forward again to stand in solidarity with those who have lost so much and those who are stuggling to hang onto what they may still have.
May this be the year we raise our government’s conscience. May this be the year that we awaken the moral and spiritual obligation to pay back, to practice stewardship, to honor the sacred land and to respect the people who survive in quiet and peace in all the valleys and hillsides of the world. May we stop our plundering and return home to rebuild our own fields and make reparrations to our own people as well.
Chuck and I arrived beneath a clear star filled sky in Columbus at 4 am eastern time. A 14 hour drive. We slept until 11 and we have made contact with David Stocker of Rockford, as well as our friends from NIU. Now we are headed out to the Puppetista building. Also I plan to attend the Columbia teach-in hosted by Witness for peace. I love coming here even though the trip is so difficult. We listened to music the whole way. I just kept saying just stay in the saddle and hold on …so here we go…
Citizens of Highlands County Florida Fight
A Blackwater Wannabe
By Dan Kenney
Many “Blackwater wannabes” have been sprouting up around the country this past year. Proposed large private training centers have been brought to my attention from California, Ohio, Michigan, Virginia, and Florida. The one in Ohio was defeated by citizens. The ones in California and Virginia are still being fought.
The proposed 7,700 acre Eagle National Training Center that was under consideration near Venus Florida has for now been turned down on their attempt to secure zoning changes. The Highland County commissioners voted unanimously to not approve the requested zoning variances.
Opponents of the proposed private military and security training facility turned out in large numbers to speak out against the project. The citizens filled the meeting room and more waited outside. The meeting lasted for over 12 hours. It is unclear if the security center is a dead deal, the developer, Greg Eagle of the Ft. Meyers area isn’t saying. There is a good chance that it is and credit must go to the opponents who worked quickly and with determination to stop it.
The developers made many concessions to try and when over the local residents like giving up plans for a 6,000 foot runway and firing of large guns. But the citizens were not swayed. Many of the citizens voiced concern that Eagle was just purchasing the land but then would lease it to Blackwater (now known as Xe.)
But because Eagle lost this round it does not mean the fight is over. Eagle could come back in six months with a revised plan to try and fit into the present zoning requirements. Also De Soto County, one hour from Highlands, has let it be known that if Highlands didn’t want the training center they would take it. The promise of 1,000 jobs that Eagle has put out is very tempting in the present economic environment.
Also watch for another Eagle Training Center that may be coming to a neighborhood near you. According to a 10 year business plan that was submitted to the commissioners Eagle, following in Blackwater’s footsteps, plans to create twenty additional satellite training installations nationally. Their plan was to make the Florida location a headquarters. Their plan also included the training of foreign soldiers and police. It also mentioned the possibility of “flipping the property” to a larger private training company such as Blackwater.
It seems that many have seen the huge profits that companies like Blackwater, Triple Canopy, DynCorp, and others are making and have decided it is time to join them at the U.S. government privatization feeding trough.
Be on the watch for a private military security company near your home town.
What Is the True Cost of Our Wars?
By Dan Kenney
October 18, 2009
It occurred to me while I prepared for this year’s CROP Hunger Walk, how little is said or written about the connections between the cost of fighting two wars and our economy. We hear often about the cost of the health care overhaul bill, now forecasted in its present form to be $900 billion over the next 10 years. This cost is met with a resounding outcry, however the fact that we have spent over $921 billion fighting the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq over the past eight years is seldom mentioned.
We are told by the U.N. food agency that over 1 billion people will go hungry worldwide over the next year. “We know a child dies every six seconds of malnutrition,” said the head of Action Aid international.
The USDA reported before the “economic meltdown” that over 36 million families in the U.S. live with food insecurity. That number has increased, as we have seen here in our own community. Our homeless shelter is turning more away than they are able to help. Besides sheltering the homeless, Hope Haven also serves an average of 67 meals per night to fellow citizens in need. At the same time, a weekly free community meal sponsored by the Voluntary Action Center serves an average of 75.
Based on IRS data, the tax payers of of my community have paid over $117 million for total Iraq and Afghanistan war spending since 2001. With that money we could have built 825 affordable housing units. This is only one of the many tradeoffs we have made locally; others include not being able to replace needed fire fighters or police officers. We must seriously question during this time of re-evaluating our strategy in Afghanistan if this tradeoff is really worth the price.
Two economists, Joseph Stiglitz former chief economist for the World Bank and Dr. Linda Bilmes of Harvard, have predicted the Iraq war alone may end up costing over $3 trillion dollars. The two economists arrived at this figure after taking into consideration such hidden costs as adequately caring for the Iraq war veterans and the economic impact of this being a war funded with borrowed money.
The Bush administration tried to keep the escalating cost of the wars hidden, and now the Obama administration is doing the same. Take for example the recent articles about the deficit reaching $1.45 trillion for the previous fiscal year. Mr. Geithner, head of treasury said that the deficit “was largely the product of the spending and tax policies inherited from the previous administration, exacerbated by a severe recession and financial crisis that was underway as the current administration took office.” This statement may be true enough but what about the over $2 billion per week for the two wars? Not one word.
During this time of reflection on the direction of our Afghanistan policy, we are told by the Congressional Research Service that one U.S. soldier in Afghanistan for one year will cost $1 million tax dollars or borrowed dollars. If Obama decides to deploy another 40,000 troops as he is being urged to do we can expect more hardship in our communities and around the globe. We cannot fight our way to any security if we are depleting food and job security in our hometowns at the same time.
I stand up to walk out into the clear brisk October afternoon in hopes that we will reach our $30,000 fundraising goal for our walk this year. At the same time my heart is heavy with uncertainty about what we may need to raise by next year if we continue down the path to more war.
We need to be very cautious about the direction our country takes with Afghanistan. As the Chinese proverb warns, “If we don’t change direction we are likely to end up where we are headed.”
We All Need To Rethink Afghanistan
By Dan Kenney
President Obama is not the only one who should be using this time to rethink the strategy for Afghanistan. All Americans should be engaged in debate about this war and where it may lead. After all it is the people who will pay. We will pay with our tax dollars, our loved ones, our democracy, our country’s reputation, and our hopes. This war has the potential to destroy the Obama presidency just as Vietnam buried LBJ’s 45 years ago.
We often hear about the high cost of the health care reform bill, the latest price tag being touted is $900 billion over the next 10 years, yet we don’t hear how we have spent $921 billion on the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last 8 years. We are expected to spend another $130 billion in 2010, and if Obama makes the choice to increase the number of troops that amount will climb higher. How many citizens could we insure with the over $2 billion per week we are spending on the wars?
These are also wars that the majority of citizens on both sides of the ocean oppose. According to a recent CNN poll 57% of Americans are opposed to the Afghanistan war. An ABC poll conducted this year found that the majority of Afghans blame the U.S. more than the Taliban for the strife in their country. At the same time a 2009 AP poll reported that 63% of Americans oppose the war in Iraq. It is clear that the wars are not wanted by the majority of the people in the U.S., Iraq, or Afghanistan. It’s time to listen to the people and for the people to listen to themselves.
President Obama tells us we must secure Afghanistan so it can no longer be a safe haven for al Qaeda. However experts on the country and our own intelligence reports tell us that al Qaeda is no longer in Afghanistan, and are now based in Pakistan. The people of Pakistan, 59% according to polls, share al Qaeda’s attitudes toward the U.S.
Al Qaeda is an international movement. They exist in Indonesia, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. The al Qaeda even has enclaves in England and France. We cannot defeat them by increasing troops in a country they have abandoned. The various al Qaeda groups have different goals and strategies they are linked only by their resentment toward the Western military, culture, political and corporate power. Al Qaeda doesn’t need Afghanistan so why do we?
Next we are told that we need to protect the Afghans from the Taliban. This is dangerously familiar to our stumbling into the ancient ethnic hatreds of Iraq and Vietnam that we knew nothing about. The other problem with this reasoning is that the Taliban is not a unified group. There are many bands that refer to themselves as Taliban. The groups are mostly illiterate farmers, former anti-Soviet fighters, roving bandits, and drug traffickers. There is not one large organized Taliban force. The Taliban is dangerous, of course, and especially so for its brutal treatment of women and young girls. But not every member is barbaric, many are moderate. We should be working with the moderate ones to wipe out the barbaric ones.
The Taliban is not interested in attacking the U.S. nor are they capable of doing so even if they wanted to. The primary goal of the Taliban, which is mostly made up of Pashtuns, is to regain power. As long as we continue to side with their enemies we will find ourselves trapped in an endless civil war.
Also by becoming embroiled in their civil war we have sided with Karzai, which puts us at odds with over 40% of the country’s population. It also aligns us with his corruption and stolen elections.
The claim that we are there to train the Afghan army is also a faulty plan. The Afghan army is very poorly trained, poorly equipped, incompetent, and lacking any will to fight. The police forces are the same as well as openly corrupt. Mark Moyar, a national security analyst with the U.S. Marine Corps points out that doubling the Afghan troops will not double the security because there are not enough properly trained commanders to lead them. Also it is widely known that it takes “at least 10 years to turn raw soldiers into officers suitable for essential commands.”
Added to all of this is the fact that we will also be increasing our use of private military contractors with all the danger that entails. For the past two years over 65% of the Pentagon force in Afghanistan has been private military contractors.
Given the facts and not the hype, it becomes clear that this war is a dead end path that could not only bring down Obama’s presidency but also our own country. We cannot continue down this dangerous road while our own infrastructure crumbles here at home, or while we continue to sacrifice our security with loan after loan from the Chinese.
We all need to seize this moment to rethink what role we want our country to play in the world. We need organize the majority that wants these wars to stop and create the change we want to see. We cannot stand by passively allowing those few who reap profits from these wars drive us further down the path to our own destruction. As the Chinese proverb warns, “If we do not change direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed.”
Beware a Country Which Has Grown Accustomed To War
By Dan Kenney
Now as we begin the ninth year of war in Afghanistan. U.S. spending on the war has reached $1 billion per week. Each day brings more news of innocent citizens of Afghanistan and Pakistan being ravaged and displaced by the actions of our government. Millions are still refugees inside Iraq and outside of the war-torn country.
Many polls show that the majority of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan. The majority of Americans want all the troops to come home. The majority of Americans want the war spending to stop and for more money to be used for humanitarian relief and rebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan; and also back here in the U.S. Yet there is strong talk of sending 21,000 more troops instead. It is becoming obvious to more and more Americans daily that we have a government that has grown too accustomed to war. We can no longer accept that this is the way it has to be.
We have seen in just the past two weeks unarmed American citizens by the thousands pepper sprayed, battered with batons, shot with rubber bullets, and arrested, for speaking up to power on the streets of Pittsburgh. Once again when citizens have turned out in mass to raise their voices they have met with hundreds of militarized police in riot shields carrying weapons of crowd control. We have seen this same type of military response to unarmed citizens during both major party conventions in the summer of 2008. We have grown accustomed to seeing citizens face to face with police officers who look more like soldiers than civil servants. Lawful assembly of its citizens has become a danger to our government. Yet little is made of it and life goes on, as if we have accepted that is just the way it is in America now.
During these past days we have also seen how quickly a government can stop the funding of a non-profit organization that had members who acted like criminals. However in the next breath another branch of the same government extended a Blackwater contract, even though this private mercenary company has contractors under indictment for murdering 17 innocent unarmed Iraqi civilians. Blackwater, now known as Xe, is also under investigation for smuggling illegal weapons into Iraq. The AFT is investigating Blackwater possession of illegal weapons on their property in North Carolina. The IRS also has them under investigation for tax evasion. Another example is Halliburton. A company that has been caught overcharging and defrauding the American taxpayer of millions of dollars with their many no-bid contracts. A company that is under investigation for its shoddy electrical work that has shocked or electrocuted our American soldiers still receives in one day the same amount of money that Acorn has received from the American government in its entire existence. There is little doubt where the priorities of our government are centered.
War has become a part of the very fabric of our existence to such an extent that we don’t think twice about robotic soldiers like transformers being free with a kid’s meal at Burger King. Nor do we question all of the millions spent on movies that perpetuate the myth of war being the way it is in the world. We are capable of accepting numbers as $4 billion per week (which is what we are currently spending on the two combined wars) as natural. “War is a racket and it always has been.” That’s just the way it is. We have grown accustomed to soldiers deaths being reported one, two, or five at a time and go on about our days as if our country really isn’t at war. We seldom hear discussions about sacrifices we should be making on the home front to aid America’s war efforts. We are seldom told of the millions of refugees that are struggling to survive in another part of the world because of our government’s actions.
Now we even drop bombs on a family’s home in Afghanistan or Pakistan with unmanned drones that are operated by soldiers in a mobile trailer on an air force base in Nevada. Bombs that were placed on the drone by a Blackwater contractor making more in one month than our infantry soldiers make in one year. “I can be dropping bombs in Afghanistan and then an hour later be attending my son’s little league game.” One of the air force drone operators reported.
Our government may say we are for peace yet we lead the world in the production of weapons, nuclear arms, and wars. Our legislative leaders may say we support the spread of democracy; however we confront with militarized police our own citizens who exercise their democratic freedom to assemble peacefully. Our President may say that he is committed to peace; however he has increased the number of soldiers in harm’s way and he has overseen the increase of private military contractors to a point at which we now have more private contractors than U.S. soldiers in both Afghanistan and in Iraq.
I keep asking where the outrage is. We need to ask ourselves where our limits are. How much of our democracy are we willing to give up? How much longer will we accept lies as truth? How much longer will we put up with the lack of regard for what the people want? When will we stand up to war profiteers and demand the money be used for all of the humanitarian needs around the world and in our own communities? How many Americans could be provided health care with $4 billion per week? What is happening in our name is not taking place in some hidden location; these decisions are being made right in front of us.
We need to beware of what we are willing to grow accustomed. When a country becomes too accustomed to war and all that goes with it; when we become comfortable with the despair and horror of war, then we are sealing our fate as a nation. For no nation that has become accustomed to war or puts military spending above the well-being of its citizens can survive.