Overseas Civilian Contractors

News and issues relating to Civilian Contractors working Overseas

Blackwater Founder Accused in Court of Intent to Kill

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 29, 2009

The founder of Blackwater USA deliberately caused the deaths of innocent civilians in a series of shootings in Iraq, attorneys for Iraqis suing the security contractor told a federal judge Friday.

The attorneys singled out Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL who is the company’s owner, for blame in the deaths of more than 20 Iraqis between 2005 and 2007. Six former Blackwater guards were criminally charged in 14 of the shootings, and family members and victims’ estates sued Prince, Blackwater (now called Xe Services LLC) and a group of related companies.

“The person responsible for these deaths is Mr. Prince,” Susan L. Burke, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. “He had the intent, he provided the weapons, he provided the instructions, and they were done by his agents and they were war crimes.”

Judge T.S. Ellis III expressed deep skepticism about the claims. “Are you accusing Mr. Prince of saying ‘I want our boys to go out and shoot innocent civilians?’ ” he asked the attorneys.”These are certainly allegations of not engaging in very nice conduct, but where are the elements that meet the elements of murder? I don’t have any doubt that you can infer malice. What you can’t infer, as far as I can tell, is intent to kill these people.”

Attorneysfor the former Blackwater company denied the allegations at the hearing, which was called to consider their motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Ellis said he would issue a ruling “promptly.”

The hearing — combative in its words but respectful in tone — was the latest fallout from Blackwater’s controversial actions in Iraq. The North Carolina company, which has provided security under a lucrative State Department contract, has come under scrutiny for a string of incidents in which its heavily armed guards were accused of using excessive force.

The deadliest was a September 2007 shooting in central Baghdad in which Blackwater guards opened fire on Iraqis in a crowded street, killing 17 civilians. The company has said the guards’ convoy came under fire. Five former Blackwater guards have been indicted on federal charges in 14 of those shootings. A sixth guard pleaded guilty.

The lawsuit cites that incident and other shootings to accuse the company of “lawless behavior.” A consolidation of five earlier lawsuits, it says the company covered up killings and hired known mercenaries. In sworn affidavits recently filed by the plaintiffs’ attorneys, two anonymous former Blackwater employees also say — without citing evidence — that the company may have conspired to murder witnesses in the criminal probe.

Attorneys for Blackwater say the lawsuit should be dismissed on a variety of legal grounds and that although the deaths were tragic, the guards were closely supervised by U.S. government officials. The allegations “go far beyond describing the harm allegedly suffered by Plaintiffs,” the Blackwater attorneys wrote in their motion to dismiss. “They include an encyclopedia of vituperative assertions.”

The Blackwater attorneys are also calling on the judge to strike the affidavits from the former employees from the court record, calling them “scandalous and baseless” and designed to get publicity. Ellis has yet to rule on that motion.

Original Story here

August 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

No Respect

Colonels’ Corner by Ollie North

OllieNo Respect

Bagram, Afghanistan —  It is amazing how a change of geography can alter perception. In the weeks leading up to this, my 16th FOX News deployment to cover the fight against radical Islamic terror, the news was full of attacks on civilian contractors. The target: Those who have been providing support for U.S. military and intelligence operations since Sept. 11, 2001.

“Contractor” is the new dirty word in the so-called mainstream media and in Washington. On Capitol Hill, contractors are the Rodney Dangerfields of the war – they just don’t “get no respect.” Here, where the war is being fought, contractors are regarded as essential to victory.

The attacks on civilian contractors didn’t begin with this summer’s hemorrhage of congressional leaks, sensational disclosures of classified information, threats of inquisitions and the appointment of a special prosecutor. Civilian contractors have been in the crosshairs of Congress since George Washington had to defend buying beans, bread, bandages and bullets from sutlers accompanying the Revolutionary Army. In the opening days of World War II, then-Senator Harry Truman became famous for threatening to “lock up” civilian contractors for producing sub-par munitions and President Dwight D. Eisenhower ominously warned against the threat of a “military-industrial complex.”

However, all that is pale by comparison to the viscera now being aimed at civilian contractors supporting the campaigns in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates and in the shadow of the Hindu Kush. Though the mainstream media and congressional critics initially ignored the essential role played by civilian security and logistics contractors in the opening months of Operation Enduring Freedom, they went into high dudgeon when the Bush administration began preparations for liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein.

It has gone downhill since.

Critics on the left are quick to point to events like the 2007 incident in Baghdad that led to the prosecution of security contractors for using excessive force in carrying out protective duties. On Capitol Hill, members of Congress have threatened to cut the budgets of federal agencies that use security contractors instead of government employees to protect key personnel and sensitive installations. At the Pentagon — which uses more civilian contractors in the war effort than any other U.S. government entity — the response to the criticism was capitulation.

In April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans to hire 30,000 additional Department of Defense employees to cut the percentage of work being done by contractors. The FY 2010 Defense Budget request replaces nearly 14,000 contractor personnel with government employees, even though the “lifetime cost” — counting government benefits and retirement — will more than double the expense to American taxpayers. The numbers don’t mesh, but when it comes to getting the press and politicians off the backs of Pentagon poobahs, cutting contractors loose is apparently a small price to pay.

Unfortunately, dollars may not be the only thing lost.

Last week, in the midst of the firestorm over U.S. intelligence agencies using private contractors, General Michael Hayden, CIA director from 2006-09, asked a telling question: “Who is the best individual available for this task at this moment?” With more than 30 percent of his former agency’s work being performed by contractors, the answer is obvious. He went on to note that the CIA uses contractors for their “very discreet skill sets” and “as an integral part of our workforce.”

The CIA isn’t alone. Here in Afghanistan there are more than 74,000 military contractors and the number is increasing as more U.S. and NATO troops “surge” into the theatre. Though it’s unlikely to make the lead story in any of the mainstream media, contractors are performing tasks that U.S. government entities either cannot do or that cannot be done as economically. A few non-sensational, but essential examples:

— The Afghanistan Border Police (ABP) has the mission of securing the country’s porous borders — an absolutely crucial task if the fight against the Taliban is to be won. The ABP is being recruited, screened, trained, equipped and advised by fewer than 140 private contractor personnel. To date they have deployed more than 3,600 new ABP officers.

— The Counter Narcotics Police and the Afghanistan Narcotics Interdiction Unit (NIU) are being mentored, trained and supported by fewer than 40 private contractors. These law enforcement units are key components in denying the Taliban and Al Qaeda revenues from opium production.

— In the 11 months since I was last in Afghanistan, private contractor aircraft have flown more than 12,000 sorties, delivering nearly 6 million pounds of cargo, 5 million pieces of U.S. mail and 59,000 personnel to installations around the country. Contractor aircraft have also air-dropped more than 640,000 pounds of urgently needed, food, water, ammunition, and medical supplies to troops on the battlefield. For last week’s presidential elections, contractor aircraft airdropped equipment and ballots to remote polling stations.

Like it or not, our modern, all-volunteer military cannot fight or even prepare to do so without civilian contractors. Propagandists for the left know it is no longer politically correct to attack young Americans in uniform, so they aim their viscera at military, logistics, security and intelligence support contractors instead.

Disparaging and de-funding civilian contractors is just one more way of disarming America, but at the end of the day, we won’t win without them.

August 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CIA and torture: In the cold light of day

CIA_TopDetails are published of abusive interrogations by CIA Staff

Prosecutions could follow.

BARACK OBAMA has said that he does not want to dwell on whether the CIA previously tortured prisoners during interrogations in secret prisons overseas. The Department of Justice, however, is proposing to do just that. On Monday August 24th it released a report on the agency’s “interrogation activities” that was written by the CIA’s internal watchdog in 2004. In addition the attorney-general, Eric Holder, announced that a special prosecutor will decide whether a full criminal investigation is warranted into the activities of CIA staff and contractors.

The CIA report includes some unpleasant new details. Ever since photographs emerged in 2004 showing the abuse of inmates by American guards in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, fresh revelations have lost some of their ability to shock. But the report includes examples of unedifying behaviour. Interrogators threatened one prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri, with a pistol and power-drill, as they accused him of being part of the bombing of the American destroyer USS Cole, in 2000. One officer blew cigarette smoke into prisoners’ faces for minutes on end, inducing them to vomit. Another put a detainee in a pressure-hold, blocking the arteries to his brain, repeatedly making him pass out.

Threats were also common. Mr Nashiri was told that “We can bring your family in here”, speaking the Arabic dialect of a country, the name of which is censored, to encourage him to believe that interrogators would sexually abuse his female relatives in front of him. Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the man thought to be the mastermind of the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks, was similarly told that his children would be killed if another attack took place in the United States.

These and other abuses described in the report are illegal under American law, and were not authorised. Mr Holder said that a special prosecutor, John Durham, who has also been investigating the destruction of interrogation tapes by the CIA, will now consider whether prosecutions of interrogators would be appropriate. Mr Obama, despite his wish to look forward, has said that he would support the prosecution of officers who clearly went beyond what they were told to do.

That could mean that only lower-level CIA staff, and perhaps civilian contractors, would appear in the dock. That would infuriate many critics of CIA activity in recent years, who say that policymakers from the Bush administration should also be held accountable for giving orders that sanctioned other brutal tactics, including the use of “waterboarding” (making a prisoner believe that he is drowning), sleep deprivation, stress positions and slamming prisoners into walls. By focusing on the illegal activity of officers who were under pressure in the field, prosecutors are neglecting what was declared to be legal by policymakers in Washington. Human-rights activists and the CIA, in an unusual alignment of interests, suggest it would be unfair if only lower-level personnel were punished.

Another set of critics, conservatives who do not consider that the techniques used by interrogators amount to torture, say it is inappropriate in any case to re-open the possibility of prosecutions. Dick Cheney, the former vice-president who was involved in the creation of what the administration called “enhanced interrogation techniques”, has said flatly that they provided valuable intelligence against potential terrorist attacks. The agency released two other reports, from 2004 and 2005, describing the intelligence gathered and the terrorists captured as a result of the interrogation programme (although the reports did not specify which techniques, including non-abusive question-and-answer sessions, had produced what information). Opinion polls suggest that many Americans remain ambivalent about, or even cautiously supportive of, Mr Cheney’s position.

Mr Obama has tried to balance the pro- and anti-prosecution stances, but he risks looking as if he wants to have it both ways. On Monday his spokesman, Bill Burton, continued to insist that the president wants to focus on the future. But he also stressed that Mr Obama had always expected that Mr Holder would be independent. The latter’s job is a politically ticklish one. He is a presidential appointee, but is also the country’s most senior law-enforcement official, not the president’s lawyer. He says that the clarity of the law and the nature of the abuses legally forced him to act.

If torture trials were to go ahead, they would provide a noisy and sensational scene as there has never before been a federal torture prosecution in the country. Such prosecutions would risk becoming a big distraction from Mr Obama’s attempts to focus energy on reform of health-care provision and other domestic policy. But as details of abuses continue to come out, the need for a proper reckoning with the past will only grow.

August 25, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Feral Jundi on US Panel of Wartime Contracting/Afghanistan

Visit Feral Jundi

The commission’s visit to Afghanistan comes as US commanders weigh cutting back on desk jobs and other support staff to free up troops for combat, a move that could require more private contractors to fill the gap.

I know, why don’t we send the cooks to the frontli….. oh, my bad, the cooks are all KBR contractors.  lol (I had to say it)

Outstanding news, and I hope the team is able to collect some good scoop on how things are going.  One thing this group might want to consider though, is the massive dog and pony show that will go on as soon as these folks hit the deck.  Now will they get an accurate assessment of how things are really going, who knows?  But I guess it is the thought that counts.       If you are one of the folks that this group visits, please do not be vocal in any issues you might have.  How can anything be fixed, if no one says anything about it? I am sure the latest Program Support report is floating around in the team’s heads right now, as is the enormous pressure from the administration to not have any more embarrassments that could impede the war effort, so now is a perfect opportunity to get this right because folks actually care.

The other part of this article that I wanted to point out, was the latest troop shuffling game that General McChrystal and gang has been throwing around. The article mentioned briefly the idea, and I thought it was important to mention it again seeing how the MSM kind of glanced over it.  All joking aside, that is scraping the barrel if the goal is to use support personnel to throw to the front lines.

The MSM is missing the big story on this as well.  We have more contractors in Afghanistan than troops, we have a massive surge of security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet the MSM is fixated on the idea that we are evil and not worth the attention because of a company called Xe.  Really?  It seems to me that it is contractors that are saving the day when it comes to man power issues for these wars, and yet the media and the public continues to ignore that fact.  Yet again, if you read the reports, the dirty little secret seems to be that contracting is a good idea to the Obama administration and the Generals of this war.  Losing the war in Afghanistan or Iraq tends to weigh pretty heavily on the minds of our leaders, and obviously contractors have become an important part of that strategy of not losing. -Matt

August 25, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

US Panel on Wartime Contracting to return to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — A US commission investigating wartime contracting said it plans to return to Afghanistan on Sunday as part its effort to stem fraud and waste by private defense contractors.

Set up in 2008 after audits found rampant abuse in Iraq, the Commission on Wartime Contracting is charged by Congress with reviewing US contracting related to reconstruction, logistics for the military and security operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This trip is an important part of carrying out our study mandate from Congress, and it?s especially important given that we?re intensifying our efforts in Afghanistan,” commission co-chair Michael Thibault said in a statement Friday.

“Among other things, we?ll be looking to see whether and how contracting lessons from the Iraq involvement are being applied to Afghanistan,” he said of the week-long trip.

The commission members will have a chance to share their findings from the Afghan visit at congressional hearings scheduled in September.

More than 200,000 contract employees work to support US military operations and reconstruction work in Iraq and Afghanistan, performing a range of jobs from guarding diplomats to washing uniforms and building hospitals.

In their first appearance before Congress in June, panel members presented an initial report pointing out waste and serious “problems” in how the US government oversees its vast army of contractors.

The commission cited the construction of a 30-million-dollar dining hall at the Camp Delta military base southeast of Baghdad as an example of poor oversight. Replacing the existing mess hall with a larger facility was unnecessary as US troops have to leave the country by the end of 2011.

The commission’s visit to Afghanistan comes as US commanders weigh cutting back on desk jobs and other support staff to free up troops for combat, a move that could require more private contractors to fill the gap.

Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, has warned the United States risks repeating the same mistakes in Afghanistan that have led to billions of dollars being squandered in Iraq on reconstruction.

Bowen told lawmakers in March that he estimates between three and five billion dollars have been wasted in the US effort to rebuild Iraq since 2003.

The panel’s final report is due in July 2010, but Congress could extend the bi-partisan commission’s mandate by another year     Original Story here

August 25, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Afghanistan Contractors Outnumber Troops

Despite Surge in U.S. Deployments, More Civilians Are Posted in War Zone; Reliance Echoes the Controversy in Iraq

By AUGUST COLE

Even as U.S. troops surge to new highs in Afghanistan they are outnumbered by military contractors working alongside them, according to a Defense Department census due to be distributed to Congress — illustrating how hard it is for the U.S. to wean itself from the large numbers of war-zone contractors that proved controversial in Iraq.

The number of military contractors in Afghanistan rose to almost 74,000 by June 30, far outnumbering the roughly 58,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground at that point. As the military force in Afghanistan grows further, to a planned 68,000 by the end of the year, the Defense Department expects the ranks of contractors to increase more.

[Military Contractors]

The military requires contractors for essential functions ranging from supplying food and laundry services to guarding convoys and even military bases — functions that were once performed by military personnel but have been outsourced so a slimmed-down military can focus more on battle-related tasks.

The Obama administration has sought to reduce its reliance on military contractors, worried that the Pentagon was ceding too much power to outside companies, failing to rein in costs and not achieving desired results.

President Obama has repeatedly called defense contractors to task since taking office. “In Iraq, too much money has been paid out for services that were never performed, buildings that were never completed, companies that skimmed off the top,” he said during a March speech.

In April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans to hire 30,000 civilian officials during to cut the percentage of contractors in the Pentagon’s own work force, and last month he told an audience of soldiers that contractor use overseas needed better controls.

Military contractors’ personnel for a time outnumbered U.S. troops in Iraq. The large contractor force was accompanied by issues ranging from questionable costs billed to the government to shooting of civilians by armed security guards. A September 2007 shooting incident involving Blackwater Worldwide guards working for the U.S. State Department, in which 17 Iraqis were killed, forced the U.S. to aggressively rework oversight of security firms.

Yet in Afghanistan as in Iraq, the Pentagon has found that the military has shrunk so much since the Cold War ended that it isn’t big enough to sustain operations without using companies to directly support military operations.

“Because of the surge, we’re trying to get ahead of the troops,” said Gary Motsek, Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Program Support, who helps oversee the Pentagon’s battlefield contractor efforts. “So we’re pushing contractors in place, doing it as fast as we can, and trying to be responsible about it.”

The heavy reliance on contractors in Afghanistan signals that a situation that defense planners once considered temporary has become a standard fixture of U.S. military operations.

“For a sustained fight like our current commitments, the U.S. military can’t go to war without contractors on the battlefield,” said Steven Arnold, a former Army general and retired executive at logistics specialists Ecolog USA and KBR Inc., military contractors formerly owned by Halliburton Co. He added, “For that matter, neither can NATO.”

That poses a challenge for military planners who must keep tabs on tens of thousands of people who are crucial to their operations yet are civilians outside the chain of command.

In Congress, there’s a particular concern about security contractors who might upset diplomatic and military relationships. “We’ve had incidents when force has been used, we believe, improperly against citizens by contractors,” said Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This creates huge problems, obviously, for those who have been injured or killed and their families, but it also creates huge problems for us and our policies in Afghanistan.”

In Iraq, as of June 30 there were 119,706 military contractors, down 10% from three months earlier and smaller than the number of U.S. troops, which stood at approximately 132,000. But as the Pentagon has been drawing down contractors in Iraq, their ranks have been growing in Afghanistan — rising by 9% over that same three-month period to 73,968. More than two-thirds of those are local, which reflects the desire to employ Afghans as part of the counterinsurgency there.

Many contractors in Afghanistan are likely to face combat-like conditions, particularly those manning far-flung outposts, and are exposed to possible militant attacks — blurring the line between soldier and support staff.

The reliance on contractors has prompted a shift in the defense industry, sending more money to logistics and construction companies that can perform everything from basic functions to project engineering.

A recent contract is worth up to $15 billion to two firms, DynCorp International Inc. and Fluor Corp., to build and support U.S. military bases throughout Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, government auditors have repeatedly uncovered military mismanagement of contractors. The Wartime Contracting Commission reported finding during an April trip that the military had accepted a new headquarters building in Kabul hobbled by shoddy construction. Officials in Iraq and Afghanistan were unable to give the commission complete lists of work being contracted out at the bases they visited.

Coordination of security contractors, one of the most charged issues in Iraq, is being beefed up for Afghanistan, said Mr. Motsek, the Pentagon official. A new umbrella contract planned for later this year is designed to make awarding work speedier and to help oversight and vetting.

As well, he said more Defense Department civilians are being sent to oversee all types of contracts, and they will stay longer overseas than their predecessors did in Iraq.

Video conferencing and other remote management tools had fallen short as a substitute. The Army is also adding hundreds of civilian contracting personnel, among the measures being put in place.

Write to August Cole at august.cole@dowjones.com

August 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reports Revive Debate on Contractor Use

Lawmakers, Critics Warn That Military, CIA May Rely Too Much on Private Firms

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 22, 2009

Original Story here

The disclosure that the CIA once hired Blackwater USA for elements of an assassination program has brought back into focus the wide range of intelligence and military activities that are being contracted out to private firms.

Some lawmakers have balked at the shift of intelligence operations away from government employees. This week, Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said she has “believed for a long time that the intelligence community is overreliant on contractors to carry out its work.” She called it a particular problem “when contractors are used to carry out activities that are inherently governmental.”

That phrase, though, is subject to interpretation, and the Office of Management and Budget stipulates that agencies in the executive branch have a good deal of discretion. Moreover, there is no legal prohibition to contracting out what may appear to be a government function.

On Wednesday, after news reports surfaced about the CIA’s hiring of Blackwater, former agency director Michael V. Hayden noted that the definition of an “inherently government activity” is quite narrow.

“Actual intelligence analysis, actual intelligence collection are permissible activities for contractors under current OMB guidance,” Hayden said.

Hayden did not comment directly on the reports about Blackwater and the assassination program targeting suspected top members of al-Qaeda, but he and current CIA personnel have defended the use of contractors.

“The CIA views contractors as essential to the accomplishment of its mission, bringing unique skills that the agency may need only for limited periods of time,” spokesman Paul Gimigliano said in a statement.

He added that contractors provide additional capabilities to staff officers and provide “within the laws and regulations . . . the flexibility required by the changing priorities of intelligence.”

In the case of assassination operations, which officials say never passed the planning stage, the involvement of Blackwater has exacerbated the frustration of Democratic lawmakers and others critical of the use of contractors in intelligence work.

Of the scores of private security contractors that have worked for U.S. military and government agencies, Blackwater gained the most notoriety because of accusations its personnel used excessive force against civilians in Iraq. The Justice Department investigated the North Carolina company, now known as Xe Services LLC, for the alleged role of its employees in the slayings of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad in 2007. Five Blackwater guards were indicted last year in connection with those deaths.

The founder of the privately held firm, Erik Prince, is a major financial backer of Republican political candidates and causes. After the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, his company won numerous lucrative contracts to provide protection for U.S. personnel, including a $21 million no-bid contract to protect L. Paul Bremer, head of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

The next year, Blackwater secured a $1 billion, five-year State Department contract to guard U.S. diplomats and other dignitaries worldwide.

The precise dollar amount of Xe’s business with other government agencies is difficult to determine. But “Master of War,” an investigative book on Blackwater by journalist Suzanne Simons published this year, put the sum at $2 billion since 1997 — not including the company’s classified contracts with the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer who has written several books on intelligence, on Friday criticized the choice of Blackwater in assassination operations.

“It’s one thing, albeit often misguided, for the agency to outsource certain tasks to contractors,” he wrote on Time magazine’s Web site. “It’s quite another to involve a company like Blackwater in even just the planning and training of targeted killings, akin to the CIA going to the Mafia to draw up a plan to kill Castro.”

Hayden said that about 30 percent of CIA employees are contractors, down from a much higher percentage several years ago. But contracting in the intelligence community remains widespread.

L-3, the giant military contractor, says on its Web site that its Intelligence Solutions Division has 2,300 employees at more than 28 sites worldwide. It is advertising this month to hire personnel for eight military intelligence jobs in Afghanistan, including a senior intelligence analyst with 10 years of Defense Department or other government agency experience and a Top Secret clearance.

Meanwhile, Raytheon, the corporation that supplies many technical elements of the Predator drones, is advertising for a technician to help “troubleshoot” the surveillance camera used on the unmanned vehicles.

A senior Senate staff aide familiar with defense matters said yesterday that such technicians are needed “because the equipment is so advanced” that the best workers are those from the companies that helped build the drones and not from the military.

Staff writer Joby Warrick contributed to this report.

August 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Stuart Murray Dies Working in Afghanistan

A man from County Londonderry has died in Afghanistan.

BBC News Channel

Stuart Murray, 40, from Ballykelly, died in an ambush in Herat in the north-west of the country on Saturday.

The father-of-two had been working for a private security firm. Mr Murray had served in the army for 21 years before leaving in 2006.

His widow, Sheena, told the BBC that he was preparing to leave the country when he was killed. It is not known when his body will be brought home.

Mr Murray was due to leave the country on Sunday but had decided to leave a day early, she said.

It was the second time Mr Murray had travelled to Afghanistan for private security work.

August 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

CIA’s ‘Black’ Helicopters Land in Court

CIA’s ‘Black ‘ Helicopters Land in Court

Danger Room / Wired

Over seven years ago a group of Americans traveled to Siberia to buy a pair of Russian Mi-17 helicopters for the CIA’s post-9/11 clandestine operations in Afghanistan. As with many “black” programs, the contract had elements of craziness: Contracting officials paid the multimillion dollar contract on a credit card at a local El Paso bar and then used the credit card rebate to redecorate their office; the team traveled under the guise of being private contractors; and the charter crew transporting the group abandoned the team in Russia in the middle of the night.

Ultimately, a five-year investigation into the mission led to the conviction of the Army official in charge and the contractor who bought the helicopters on charges of corruption. The two men, currently in federal prison, are appealing their convictions.

At first glance, it’s a simple case: a few days after returning from Russia, the contractor paid off the second mortgage of the Army official in charge of the mission. Prosecutors argued that the contractor, Maverick Aviation, was unprepared for the mission, and the Army official helped cover up the problems in exchange for a payoff. The defendants at trial were barred from mentioning the CIA, Afghanistan, or even 9/11.

In an article for the New York Post, I look at what really happened in Siberia based on over two dozen interviews with people involved in the mission and trial. It’s a story, that in some respects, is very different than the portrait painted by the government at trial.

Here’s one interesting comparison not mentioned in the article but worth noting in light of recent purchases of Russian helicopters: In 2001, Maverick Aviation was paid $5 million for two freshly overhauled Mi-17s, spare parts, and travel and logistics for team of Army/CIA personnel, and got the helicopters out of Russia in under 30 days. In 2008, ARINC, a major U.S. defense contractor, was paid $322 million dollars to buy 22 Russian helicopters under a U.S. foreign military sales contract.

Guess how many helicopters ARINC has delivered to Iraq after 18 months? Zero.

Check out the full story at the New York Post.

August 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Sometimes It’s Not Your War, But You Sacrifice Anyway

Washington Post Opinionsphoto_1927

By T. Christian Miller

Sometimes It’s Not Your War, But You Sacrifice Anyway

To outsource the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has turned to the cheapest labor possible. About two-thirds of the 200,000 civilians working under federal contracts in the war zones are foreigners. Many come from poor, Third World countries. Others are local hires.

In the Philippines, I spoke to a woman who received a cellphone message when her son’s father died: “God took him.” She, too, had never been told of her rights to benefits by the employer or the United States. Her partner’s wages were so low that the death payment would have amounted to about $14,000. Not much, perhaps. But on the day I met her in a slum of tin shanties and reeking sewage, she did not know where she would find food that night for her three 3-year-old son. She still has received no payments.

These are not isolated examples. They are part of a pattern of neglect by the U.S. government and its contractors to inform civilian workers of their rights or even to deliver care that has already been purchased by taxpayers. While about two-thirds of the contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan are foreigners, only about 15 percent of claims are filed by foreigners, according to an analysis of Labor Department and Pentagon records by ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom.

Since foreigners work many of the same jobs as Americans, albeit for far less money, the reasons for the disparity seem obvious. Their care has been entrusted to an overwhelmed bureaucracy and the machinations of insurance firms and multinational corporations. And the government has so far shown little interest in helping them out.

Seth Harris, the deputy secretary of labor, said at a congressional hearing in June that the program has “systemic problems,” and he urged Congress to enact new legislation. “The program is not designed for the circumstances we’re in right now,” Harris told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “We are trying to meet a complex, 21st-century challenge with a program from World War II.”

Harris’s history lesson is spot on. Congress, corporate America and individual laborers banded together 60 years ago to create the program for wounded war workers after what is perhaps one of the most forgotten chapters of World War II.

On the day of the Pearl Harbor bombing, Japanese forces also attacked the South Pacific outpost of Wake Island. At the time, about 1,200 American construction workers were beefing up the island’s defenses. Most were employed by an Idaho construction company, Morrison Knudsen. Aided by the contractors, who manned gun batteries in some cases, U.S. Marines repelled the first attack, but they fell to a second assault on Dec. 23, 1941.

The Japanese sent both civilians and soldiers to prisoner-of-war camps in China. But a contingent of 98 contract workers was kept on the island as forced labor. They were all men, mostly white, from towns across America. Photos show them with pomaded hair and fedoras. When the U.S. Navy attacked the island in October 1943, the Japanese lined up the workers and executed them, dumping their bodies in a mass grave.

A single, unknown man escaped, only to be recaptured a few weeks later. In a macabre echo of the fate that would befall several contractors in Iraq, the Japanese commander, Adm. Shigematsu Sakaibara, later confessed to personally beheading him, according to an account by Mark Hubbs, a retired Army Reserve officer who researched the incident. All told, more than 150 civilian contractors from Wake Island were killed, executed or died in prison camps.

The civilians’ entanglement in the war caught the military and the contracting firms unprepared. Earlier in the year, Congress passed the Defense Base Act, requiring defense contractors to purchase workers’ compensation insurance for employees building overseas bases as the U.S. girded for war. But it was a law for workplaces, not war zones. The law did not deal with hostile acts. Nor did it cover employees killed outside the workplace, such as civilians who died in prison camps. The families of the Wake Island men were left without income.

“These people were just coming out of the Depression. There were young wives with children, dependent parents,” said Bonnie Gilbert, an Idaho writer whose father was an imprisoned worker. “They were between a rock and a hard place.”

The families’ plight spurred action. Led by Morrison Knudsen, contracting firms lobbied Congress and financed a charity to help the families with mortgage bills and doctors visits. Each Christmas, the men’s children were given a check for around $9, according to a report published by the firms. The War Department directed emergency funds to the cause.

Congress, meanwhile, created the outlines of the current benefits system. The Defense Base Act was amended to require employers to provide coverage on a nearly 24-hour basis in war zones. To persuade insurers to write policies, Congress also passed the War Hazards Compensation Act in December 1942. The act reimburses carriers for injuries or deaths due to combat, lowering their risk for catastrophic expenses.

In creating the system, Congress recognized that civilian contractors played a vital part in fighting the war. Sen. Elbert D. Thomas (D-Utah), then chairman of the Senate’s Education and Labor Committee, urged passage by telling fellow lawmakers that the war was everybody’s business. “When once total war . . . is undertaken, the sooner we bring home to our people the fact that all are responsible for the war, all might suffer by the war and therefore all should sustain the losses, the better off we will be in a social and governmental way,” he said.

The sympathetic response to the Wake Island tragedy contrasts with the attitude toward contractors today. They are now often labeled as mercenaries or war profiteers. Their contributions to the war efforts are lost amid reports of six-figure salaries, murdered Iraqis and substandard construction. Last Sunday, a British security guard working for ArmorGroup was arrested by Iraqi authorities after allegedly gunning down two colleagues in the Green Zone — an action that would amount to a contractor version of fratricide.

Nearly 1,600 civilian workers have died in Iraq, and more than 35,000 have reported injuries. Since 2001, Congress has held scores of hearings for injured veterans, but only two for injured contractors. The Government Accountability Office has published more than 100 studies on veterans’ benefits since March 2003. It has done two on the Defense Base Act.

Nor, with a few exceptions, have the contract firms stepped forward for their employees. No company leads a charge to fix the system. Notably silent is Washington Group International, a major contractor in Iraq. The company, which has reported 19 deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, was once known as Morrison Knudsen. Now part of URS Corp., the company declined to answer questions about contractor deaths.

It’s not surprising that neither the government nor the firms have felt much pressure to act. Many of the foreign workers and their families do not speak English. They do not have a senator to argue their case or a corporation to lobby for them. The result is an invisible, disposable army suffering its wounds in silence.

t.christian.miller@propublica.org

T. Christian Miller is a senior reporter for ProPublica and author of “Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq.”

August 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mission Essential Translators Expendable

Mission Esential Translators Expendable

by Pratap ChatterjeeSpecial to CorpWatch
August 11th, 2009

Basir “Steve” Ahmed was returning from a bomb-clearing mission in Khogyani district in northeastern Afghanistan when a suicide bomber blew up an explosive-filled vehicle nearby. The blast flipped the military armored truck Ahmed was riding in three or four times, and filled it with smoke. The Afghan translator had been accompanying the 927th Engineer Company near the Pakistan border on that October day in 2008 that would forever change his life.

“I saw the gunner come out and I followed him. The U.S. Army soldiers helped pull me out, but I got burns,” says Ahmed, who had worked as a contract translator with U.S. troops for almost four years. “The last thing I remember was the “dub-dub-dub” of a Chinook helicopter.” A medical evacuation team took the injured men to a U.S. Army hospital at Bagram Base.

Three days later Ahmed regained consciousness, but was suffering from the shrapnel wounds in his scalp and the severe burns covering his right hand and leg.

Full Story here

August 14, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Window Into C.I.A.’s Embrace of Secret Jails

Interrogation Inc.

By DAVID JOHNSTON and MARK MAZZETTI
Published: August 12, 2009

WASHINGTON — In March 2003, two C.I.A. officials surprised Kyle D. Foggo, then the chief of the agency’s main European supply base, with an unusual request. They wanted his help building secret prisons to hold some of the world’s most threatening terrorists.

Mr. Foggo, nicknamed Dusty, was known inside the agency as a cigar-waving, bourbon-drinking operator, someone who could get a cargo plane flying anywhere in the world or quickly obtain weapons, food, money — whatever the C.I.A. needed. His unit in Frankfurt, Germany, was strained by the spy agency’s operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, but Mr. Foggo agreed to the assignment.

“It was too sensitive to be handled by headquarters,” he said in an interview. “I was proud to help my nation.”

With that, Mr. Foggo went on to oversee construction of three detention centers, each built to house about a half-dozen detainees, according to former intelligence officials and others briefed on the matter. One jail was a renovated building on a busy street in Bucharest, Romania, the officials disclosed. Another was a steel-beam structure at a remote site in Morocco that was apparently never used. The third, another remodeling project, was outside another former Eastern bloc city. They were designed to appear identical, so prisoners would be disoriented and not know where they were if they were shuttled back and forth. They were kept in isolated cells.

Full Story here

August 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

A new—and timely—biography of the man behind Blackwater USA

Seeing through the maskMasterOfWar

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks
—Bob Dylan, “Masters of War” (1963)

The first 70 or so pages of Suzanne Simons’ Master of War: Blackwater USA’s Erik Prince and the Business of War contain almost none of the rage of the Bob Dylan song from which the book takes its title. In fact, for most of its early chapters, Master of War seems almost hagiographic, as if it had been commissioned as a vanity project by Prince himself.

The book runs through the early life of the founder of the North Carolina-based military contracting company once known as Blackwater USA, seeming to present him as the hero of a TV biopic, highlighting—with admiration and easy praise—his marriage, athleticism, charisma and drive, and his obsession with joining the Navy and in particular the Navy SEALs. The book begins with rhetorical questions that might seem more appropriate in a People magazine puff piece—”Is he a business genius? A war profiteer? The lucky recipient of a government shell game? What makes him tick?”—as well as a quiet thanks to Prince for the access granted to its author: “Over the course of 18 months [...] he gave me the chance to find out.”

It isn’t entirely clear why this material appears so prominently in a book about the world’s most notorious military contractor, Blackwater USA, whose headquarters are located in Moyock, in the northeastern part of the state. Perhaps Simons felt it necessary to present the information as a show of good faith that she wasn’t embarking on a hatchet job. But even a fervent admirer of Prince would be hard-pressed to gloss over the firm’s latest bout of bad publicity: According to a recent report by The Nation, two sworn affidavits were presented to a grand jury in Virginia federal court earlier this month containing allegations that Prince was conducting religious warfare against Muslims in addition to smuggling weapons and murdering people perceived as hostile to his company. These charges of an anti-Muslim crusade operating out of North Carolina weirdly juxtapose last month’s high-profile terror arrests of seven Muslim men from Willow Spring for allegedly plotting religious warfare abroad. The chances of also seeing Erik Prince in an orange jumpsuit are probably remote, but one may wish for that spectacle upon finishing Simons’ book.

Blackwater USA has become infamous worldwide as the poster child for the private contractors still operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, so much so that it has now rebranded itself Xe (after the chemical symbol for the inert and non-explosive gas xenon) in an effort to escape its toxic reputation. If Simons—an executive producer at CNN—was indeed casting about for positive material that might somehow “balance” the disturbing history of Blackwater she was about to provide, even this doesn’t pan out: Prince’s dedication to the SEALs, while impressive, is complicated by his decision to cut his service short to take charge of a multimillion-dollar financial empire after the death of his father, and the love story of his first marriage is at least partially tarnished by the presence of his mistress (pregnant with his child) at his wife’s funeral from cancer.

And this is all before we have delved into the disastrous history of Blackwater itself. Prince—who seems to have charmed Simons, at least for a while, and who I’m certain is well-liked in his private life and well-loved by his family—oversaw and in many ways orchestrated the radical free-market privatization of the U.S. military operations during the George W. Bush years, which led not only to untold and unnecessary misery in Iraq but which dangerously blurred the lines between corporations and the government. Unaccountable to military law and more expensive (and less competent) than the soldiers it replaced, Blackwater leaves behind a legacy of costly errors and human tragedies that no number of humanizing anecdotes can wash away.

Simons confronts the firm’s unfortunate legacy, beginning with the infamous murder of four Blackwater contractors at Fallujah on March 31, 2004, which marked one particularly visceral turning point in American public opinion about the war. An ongoing wrongful death lawsuit later filed by the families alleges that the company did not follow through on the protections it had promised to its Iraq contractors, including that they would operate in teams of no fewer than six in heavily armed, armored vehicles; as Simons demonstrates, Blackwater eventually countersued for $10 million, claiming violation of a contract that prohibits all lawsuits against the company. Likewise, Blackwater/ Xe faces accusations of negligence (and a wrongful death lawsuit) over a 2004 Presidential Airways crash in Afghanistan that killed six after pilots with incomplete training crashed the plane in the Hindu Kush mountain range.

In terms of its prosecution of the war, Simons spends long sections of the book considering the many accusations against Blackwater of overcharging and war profiteering that have been the subject of myriad congressional hearings. (In one memorable moment, Simons juxtaposes Prince’s angry insistence that Blackwater is not a mercenary firm because “Blackwater does not now, nor has it ever, provided security services for, or on behalf of, any country other than the United States of America” with the reality of Blackwater’s sister firm, Greystone Ltd., also owned by Prince, which does precisely that work.) Blackwater has also been dogged by incidents in Iraq like the Sept. 16, 2007, massacre in Nisoor Square, in which 17 Iraqi civilians were killed by the firm’s contractors—most of which the FBI later determined were unjustified shootings—as well as charges that Blackwater illegally imported automatic firearms to Iraq that eventually reached the nation’s black market. Through it all, despite the controversies, Blackwater has been awarded more than a billion dollars in government contracts; its involvement in Iraq came to an end not at the hands of the U.S. government but only after being expelled from the country by the new Iraqi government.

In the face of so much disaster, by the close of the book the Bush/ Cheney ideology of total privatization is not the only thing that lies tattered and exposed: so too does Prince himself. Heroic in the book’s opening pages, Simons ends her portrait with Prince sputtering in impotent rage against a media he believes has unfairly maligned his company; the last words of the book are “It was the media that played a large role in the downfall of his company, and he would never forget it.” Not negligence, not incompetence, not the awarding of work to private companies that the government should never have been doing in the first place, but the media. Lessons have not been learned.

Simons, for her part, does not flinch from her own evaluation of Prince. “While some champions of the free market system see him as a business genius,” she writes, “others see him as a man with more money than wisdom, more energy than experience, and more determination than is good for him.” But she reserves judgment when it comes to the Bush administration decisions that allowed Blackwater to make $100 million in profits in a war zone in the first place, suggesting only that this sort of highly lucrative military contracting may now be a permanent feature of U.S. military operations whether we like it or not. What, one wonders, would Bob Dylan have to say about that?

August 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Deadly contractor incident sours Afghans

Four men with the U.S. firm once known as Blackwater are said to be under investigation in the deaths of two Afghans. A U.S. report found serious fault with private security firms in Afghanistan.

Original Story here

By David Zucchino
5:58 PM PDT, August 12, 2009

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — Mirza Mohammed Dost stood at the foot of his son’s grave, near a headstone that read, “Raheb Dost, martyred by Americans.”

His son was no insurgent, Dost said. He was walking home from prayers on the night of May 5 when he was shot and killed on a busy Kabul street by U.S. security contractors.

“The Americans must answer for my son’s death,” Dost said as a large crowd of young men murmured in approval.

The shooting deaths of Raheb Dost, 24, and another Afghan civilian by four gunmen with the company once known as Blackwater have turned an entire neighborhood against the U.S. presence here.

Already enraged by the deaths of civilians in U.S. military airstrikes, many Afghans are also demanding more accountability from security contractors who routinely block traffic and bark orders to motorists and pedestrians.

As the war escalates in Afghanistan and the U.S. seeks to win over a wary public, incidents such as the one that left Raheb Dost dead raise uneasy ghosts of the Iraq war. With more than 70,000 security contractors or guards in Afghanistan and billions of dollars at stake in lucrative government contracts, the consequences of misconduct are significant.

A June report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan cites serious deficiencies among private security companies in Afghanistan in training, performance, accountability and effective use-of-force rules.

The report says U.S. authorities in Afghanistan have not applied “lessons learned” in Iraq after a 2007 incident in which Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. Iraq revoked the firm’s license, and five contractors face U.S. federal manslaughter and weapons charges.

The Afghan Interior Ministry has stepped up licensing of security contractors and is demanding stricter monitoring. The ministry says it wants limits on the number of contractors here, even as the Pentagon considers hiring a private security firm to provide more guards for its military bases.

Members of parliament, responding to complaints from constituents, have proposed legislation cracking down on contractors.

“They have caused some serious difficulties for the people,” said Fazlullah Mujadedi, a member of a parliamentary commission looking into security companies.

The extent of those difficulties is hard to gauge: The United Nations office in Kabul, the capital, didn’t break out contractor involvement in its recent report on deaths or injuries of civilians, and other agencies here don’t track such incidents.

In June, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused Afghan guards working for U.S. forces of killing a police chief and four police officers in the southern city of Kandahar. The U.S. military called it an “Afghan on Afghan incident” and said no U.S. forces were involved.

Such incidents have fed a sense among some Afghans that private gunmen are above the law — both Afghan and American. Security contractors are subject to Afghan laws, but the four contractors in the May shooting left for the U.S. before Afghan authorities could mount a case against them.

Since February, oversight of security contractors in Afghanistan has been entrusted not to Congress or the Pentagon, but to a British-owned private contractor, Aegis. The company was hired by the American government after the U.S. military said it lacked the manpower and expertise to monitor security contractors. Aegis is supposed to help U.S. authorities make sure contractors are properly trained, armed and supervised.

The wartime contracting commission, set up by the U.S. last year, expressed concern over “limited U.S. government supervision” of private security contractors in Afghanistan. Many are unlicensed and unregulated, said Zemaray Bashary, an Interior Ministry official.

Anger toward hired gunmen runs especially high in Yaka Toot, a densely packed neighborhood in east Kabul, where residents are still simmering over the May shooting.

Residents say the U.S. contractors opened fire without provocation after one of their vehicles tipped over in a traffic accident. Killed along with Dost was Romal, 22, a passenger in a Toyota sedan on his way home from work. Like many Afghans, Romal used just one name.

Mohammad Shafi, a neighborhood elder who said he ran to the shooting scene that night, said the Toyota driver told him that the Americans ordered him to stop, then told him to move on. When the driver began pulling away, Shafi said, the Americans started shooting.

Dost, who was walking about 200 yards away, was shot in the head. No weapons were found in the Toyota, or on Dost, according to an Afghan police investigator.

“Some Americans think all Afghans are terrorists or insurgents,” Shafi said. “But if they keep killing civilians, I’m sure some Afghans will decide to become insurgents.”

Daniel J. Callahan, a Santa Ana lawyer representing the four contractors, said the men fired in self-defense after one car rammed one of the contractors’ two SUVs, forcing it into a ditch, and a second car tried to run down two contractors.

Callahan accused Blackwater, now called Xe, of “trying to make them scapegoats to take the heat off Blackwater.” He said the company falsely accused the men of drinking alcohol that night.

In fact, Callahan said, Xe supervisors issued the four men automatic rifles and told them to escort Afghan interpreters home that night. He said military investigators found no evidence the men had consumed alcohol.

A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul said in May that the four contractors, who trained Afghan security forces, were authorized to handle weapons only when conducting training. At the time of the 9 p.m. incident, he said, they were not permitted to have weapons.

Xe has said that the four men were fired for not following terms of their contract. An Xe spokeswoman, Stacy Capace, did not return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

A U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman declined to say whether the contractors are under criminal investigation in the United States. Callahan said the Justice Department has told him it is conducting an investigation.

Callahan, who called the contractors “four good Americans,” identified them as Chris Drotleff, Steve McClain, Justin Cannon and Armando Hamid.

The Interior Ministry has licensed 39 security companies employing 23,000 people who are assigned 17,000 weapons. More than 19,000 of the employees are Afghans.

The U.S. military employs 4,373 private security contractors, according to the wartime contracting commission. More than 4,000 are Afghans, many of them former militia fighters who help guard U.S. and coalition bases.

The State Department employs 689 security contractors, most for U.S. Embassy security. American employees traveling in certain areas are protected by Xe contractors supervised by State Department security agents.

The U.S. spent between $6 billion and $10 billion on security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 through 2007 alone, according to Congress.

In all, there are more than 71,000 security contractors or guards, armed and unarmed, in Afghanistan, said P.W. Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has written extensively on the subject.

Private security convoys are a common sight on Kabul’s traffic-clogged streets. Some race past in SUVs with tinted windows, sealing off traffic lanes and forcing motorists to the curb.

Many businesses hire uniformed guards armed with assault rifles. Kabul restaurants that cater to Westerners employ armed, uniformed guards who operate security gates and metal detectors.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, citing poor performance, fired its private security contractor, MVM, in 2007 and hired another American-owned company, ArmorGroup North America.

If U.S. or Afghan authorities don’t properly monitor companies such as Xe, those firms should answer in person to the families of civilians killed or wounded by contractors, said Raheb Dost’s aunt, who goes by one name, Friba.

“We want to confront them and ask them: Why do you think you’re allowed to do such a terrible thing?” Friba said, standing over her nephew’s grave.

Mirza Dost, the dead man’s father, said he was summoned to a police station in May to meet U.S. Embassy officials and Americans who told him they represented Xe. He said the Americans apologized and agreed to pay hospital bills for his son, who was in a coma but later died after 31 days in the hospital.

After his son’s death, Dost said, he was paid “a good sum of money”; he declined to elaborate. Shafi, the neighborhood elder, said the family of the other man who was killed was also paid.

Dost, who lost a leg to a land mine fighting the Soviet army in 1989, said his son was the family’s sole wage earner. He said he considered Xe’s payment fair compensation but was offended that neither the embassy nor Xe paid a condolence call after his son died.

“That’s our culture, but the Americans don’t know our culture,” he said.

Dost said he does not blame all Americans, but he is wary of any American contractors or U.S. forces he encounters on the street.

“They need to be more careful and show more respect for Afghan people,” he said.

Security contractors sign contracts making them liable for prosecution for violating Afghan laws. But Dost does not insist that the Xe contractors be tried in Afghanistan. Nor does his neighbor Shafi, the community elder.

“It wouldn’t make me happy to see them face Afghan justice,” Shafi said as young men from the neighborhood leaned across Dost’s grave to hear his pronouncement.

“What would make me happy,” Shafi said, “is to never have another innocent person killed.”

david.zucchino@latimes.com

August 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Industry Talk: Justice in Iraq, Contractors with PTSD and Taking Care of Our People

Feral Jundi

Mr Fitzsimons posted details about his military past on a Facebook page set up to honour fallen service personnel. He tells of his time in 2 Para and his 3½ years in private security work. He advises soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan: “Stay safe and to those who will return to fight a different battle … A war inside your head.”

Ever since this story came out in regards to the Armor Group shootings and this Fitzsimons guy, I have been thinking about the FJ point of view on this.  More specifically, the Jundism point of view.  The one thing I keep coming back to as far as the correct point of view, is ‘have the courage to do what is right’ or in the case of this story, have the courage to say what is right.

Even though this guy killed two of his comrades in cold blood, as well as wounding an Iraqi, I think what is even more important out of all of this, is that Mr. Fitzsimons gets a fair trial in Iraq.  And if he cannot get a fair trial there, then I think it would be better to get him back to the UK to try him.  I want justice, as do most, but I do not want to witness something that is even more ‘ugly’ and vile.  So the question is, would he get a fair trial in Iraq?

Undoubtedly, contractors are not liked in Iraq, and it would not surprise me that he would be given a death sentence in Iraq.  And you know, the death sentence is a part of the Iraqi justice system (they have hanged quite a few guys, to include Saddam).  It’s just that in this case, Fitzsimons killed an Australian and a Briton, and wounded an Iraqi, while in Iraq.  I guess he would fall under the laws of Iraq, based on the SOFA agreement, but there is an argument that he should fall under British law or even UCMJ, if he was under contract through a DoD gig.  I don’t know, but I do know that the imagery of a contractor hanging from the gallows of Iraq would be quite the message.  Not only to the industry but to the public and especially to Iraqis.  That message is another area we need to go over.

Is Iraq a better place now that Saddam is gone, would be one message?  Under Maliki, is there true justice, would be another? I think what is extremely important in this case, is that the trial for this individual has all the trappings of a fair trial, and if this thing is at all taken as a ‘lynching of one of those evil contractors’, then that would not be good for Iraq.  It would also not be good for those that have fought so hard to get Iraq where it is today.  All that sacrifice and death, and for what cause?  The justice system of Iraq, and what they do to this guy, would be on display to the world.  I guess what I am saying, is that I want justice for the victims, but what is even more important is a fair trial for the guy and as a representation of the kind of justice in Iraq we can all respect and be proud of.

If this trial becomes some kind of politicized parade just before Iraqi elections, with politicians using this trial as a sort of ‘this is for the Blackwater deal, so let’s hang this contractor good’, then I think we need to rethink what justice is in this case.  We can only watch, and wait and see, and there really isn’t much that can be done other than to demand a trial that is just.

Now if Iraq truly approaches this with an utmost respect for a fair trial and the rule of law, then I could accept the outcome.  It is their country, and their laws, and we are all there as ‘guests’, wether we want to acknowledge this or not.  The SOFA and UCMJ, and the laws of our homelands should all be respected and adhered to.  This upcoming trial will make this point pretty clear to all of us, if we hadn’t already gotten the picture.  I just hope it doesn’t swirl out of control and turn into something even more ugly than what it is.

One more thing while I am on a roll.  For all of you supposed human rights folks and anti-contractor journalists, I better hear you speak up in defense of a fair trial for this guy.  Because if I don’t hear that, then I really do know that you assholes could care less about the rights of humans.  Also, as much as you might hate us or hate this individual, the purpose for us being in these war zones was to defend life and property in the first place.

We are not warmongers, because we were never hired to be warmongers.  Nope, we are there to protect your dad or mom, brother or sister, aunt or uncle, son or daughter.  We are there because most who could be there, are not.  We are there, so that your special loved one will get their food or water or mail or ammo delivered, so that they can do the war fighting and live as comfortably as possible while doing it.  We are a service provider, and our job is to protect.  Certainly someone with a pen could eventually comprehend this concept as a noble one? (Wait, my bad, that would take a dedication to the truth, and that is just way too much work for some folks in the MSM…..)

And on to the companies. You guys do have a responsibility to insure that you are hiring individuals that are not a risk to self or others.  That means doing a background check on folks, and properly vetting people.  It also requires fielding sound leadership that is trained to identify these kinds of things.  Once folks are identified as being a risk, then get rid of them!  There are so many hundreds, if not thousands of guys and gals out there that are hungry for work and come with excellent backgrounds, that to continue hiring folks that suck is just mind boggling.  This guys slipped through the cracks big time, and with a little bit of effort, he could have been identified as a liability.

The drinking thing needs to be re-evaluated as well.  I know guys like their booze, but personally folks, when I am working in a war zone, the drug called alcohol has no place. (I don’t drink anyways, so I am biased).  In Iraq and Afghanistan, I am surprised we haven’t seen more of these incidents?  There are better ways to cut loose and de-compress out there, and booze is not the way.  I know some would disagree with me, but that is my opinion.  Wait to go home to get drunk and play hard.  But when you are on the job in a war zone, stay away from the stuff because it is a quick ticket to losing control and losing your job.  And losing control is the last thing you want to do in a war zone.

And for those that are staunch supporters of drinking in war zones, then at least do the right thing and keep each other in check.  To have a firearm while drinking is just not a good practice to get into and you should put away that firearm at the least.  Companies would be wise to initiate common sense policies in regards to this stuff, and make sure your leaders are strong enough to do the right thing.  Notice that one of the dead in this incident, was a detail leader.

Not to mention that the countries we are operating in, are muslim countries.  The cultural offense of drinking, is a no-brainer, even though there those in these countries that drink. But still, on a grand scale, the white Christians hanging out in a muslim dominated country would do well by at least respecting the host nation’s practices.  Especially if we want to be a good idea amongst the local populations (hint, hint–COIN alert)

Another way to look at this is preservation of the contract.  How would the customer react if they saw their protective detail armed and getting drunk?  How does this incident look to Armor Group’s customer(s) now?  It has embarrassed the company, shamed the industry, infuriated the local populations as well as the folks back home, and has taken away two lives and crushed the souls of their family and friends, all because a guy with PTSD got drunk and went on a shooting spree.

Which takes me to the next point.  PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a serious thing.  It is really bad in the military forces right now, and it is an issue that is constantly being worked on and addressed by leadership in the armed forces.  The commercials on AFN are riddled with suicide prevention and PTSD announcements by various commanders, and there is a genuine push on this stuff to get a handle on it.  Where is the compassion in the security contracting industry?

Perhaps the companies out there, in their quest to be the best, could initiate some programs dealing with PTSD and trying to help folks out?  Boy, how cool would that be, if a contractor knew the company they were working for cared about their mental welfare? (Jundism hint- ‘take care of your people’)  Think about it, and start investing in your leaders and people a little.  Or you can continue to foster the image of the money hungry company with little regard for their contractors or for the local populations in these war zones.

I mention the local populations, because if you hired the guy that went psycho, that wounded or killed an Iraqi or Afghani while drunk, and didn’t do the things necessary to vet this person or insure they were not a liability, then you are a part of the problem as well.  You seek out contractors with extensive combat experience, who have plenty of wartime trauma experience already, and ask them to protect life and property with their lives.  The decent thing to do here is actually be a company that cares if any of your guys need help. Or even offer post contract assistance that contractors could come back to if needed. In fairness to some companies, I have heard of this practice of offering help to contractors, but believe me, it isn’t that common of a practice.

Lets not forget that contractors are experiencing trauma in the war zone as well.  When these men and women go back home, and they have left the company and are off on their own, what do we do for them?  You have all heard of the stories of guys committing suicide back home on leave, or getting into some extreme trouble or whatever deal, and you have to think, that some friend or comrade could have seen something that was a clue.  Sometimes, you just can’t see it in a person, and it is a shock to all.  But others, it is outright blatant that they have PTSD, and what do we do for that?

The big one, is be a friend and let them know you care.  The other one, is tell them to maintain contact with their buddies–either from the military or that company they worked for.  Often times, these groups that the individual was a part of, became the support group for that person.  As soon as persons go back into the wild, and left on their own, they tend to get lost in their own demons and thoughts.  It sounds like Fitzsimons was one of those guys. Be the friend, and reach out to those that need it.

If you think you have PTSD, then I advise maintaining contact with your buddies.  Get on Facebook or the phone, and just keep contact.  If you are prior service, try to take advantage of any veterans groups through the VA or whatnot. Seek therapy and find a solution to your set of problems. Things will get better, but you have to reach out and get that help brother.  The big one, is do not get lost within your head.  Find your people, and keep talking and get help, because it will be alright.  You are not alone and all it takes is for you to apply Kaizen to your working through your set of issues.  Don’t give up, and have the resolve necessary to find a way.

I also think war time service is a big reason why guys get into contracting in the first place, and that is for the comradery.  The money is good too, because most have a family or some house payment to support, or lost a job at home, or that job at Home Depot just isn’t cutting it.  So guys get back into contracting to be with their people again, and that is good.  I say people meaning other veterans who know exactly what they have been through.

I guess that would be the positive side of contracting, that most in the world would have a hard time understanding.  Guys join to serve in the war again, yet they just don’t want to go back into the military.  Shorter deployments and having control is a huge appeal to the veteran who wants to get back into the mix.  The money is cool too, but there is a lot more to it than that. Maybe that is why we haven’t seen more incidents like this happen, because in essence, contracting is a great place for a veteran to be? Or not.  Each guy has their reasons.

I don’t know, but I do know that we need to watch out for one another and keep the industry in check or others will put it in check for us.  My view is that we have been doing well out there, and certainly have sacrificed for the cause.  But we can always do better, because that is the Kaizen way.

And for Fitzsimons and for the families and friends of the victims, I only wish for a fair trial and that justice is served.  I feel bad for Fitzsimons, but I also feel bad for those that lost loved ones in this deal.  I would not be surprised if he gets the death penalty, and I hope that a verdict like this was only reached via true justice and a strict adherence to a fair application of the law, and not some politically fueled public lynching.

The real tragedy and question that I keep thinking about, is could this have been prevented with a little dose of humanity and some vetting by the company, along with some strong leadership or some aware friends and co-workers?  This is a tragedy on many levels, and not unlike the tragedy that happened at Camp Liberty in Iraq where a soldier shot and killed five comrades. Like with the military, this incident should be a wake up call to our industry and get us thinking about what we need to do to ‘take care of our people’.-Matt

August 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

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