The Fiji Times December 31, 2011 See Also at MsSparky
MARK Fisher is never going back to Iraq. Eighteen days of mental torture at the hands of the Iraqi military and the real threat of being executed at any time still replays through his mind.
Mr Fisher, who was freed by the Iraqi military after US intervention and flew home on Thursday, said he thought his life was over when soldiers ordered him and his team to kneel facing a wall and to put their hands behind their heads.
“I thought, ‘this is it’. The only thoughts going through my head were non-stop prayers. No amount of money is worth going through what happened to me and my team and no amount of training can ever prepare a person for what we experienced,” he said in the safety of his Votualevu home in Nadi yesterday.
Despite being set free on December 27, after spending Christmas in an Iraqi military cell, Mr Fisher has trouble sleeping.
The former Republic of Fiji Military Forces sergeant began working in 2009 as a contractor with Triple Canopy Incorporated ù a private company contracted by the US State Department to remove military equipment from forward operating bases (FOB) in Iraq after the US military pullout.
“That’s what we were doing when we got detained. We had just cleared a FOB when we were stopped five minutes down the road and taken to a military camp. Our captors said they had to make sure that we had the authority to remove the equipment we had with us,” the 41-year old explained.
“As far as we were concerned, we had the green light and the appropriate clearance to do so but the Iraqis thought otherwise.”
During the ordeal, Mr Fisher and his team of seven men, which included Americans and Iraqi nationals, were ordered to eat food that was thrown on the floor.
“We refused to eat it because the cell was filthy. Instead we ate fruits and bribed some of the soldiers to give us chocolates,” he said.
Although their phones were confiscated, Mr Fisher said a colonel, who was sympathetic towards them after experiencing being detained by Saddam Hussein’s regime, allowed them the use of his telephone to contact friends and relatives.
“The Americans called their embassy but I called my wife, Mariah and informed her of what had happened,” said Mr Fisher.
Mrs Fisher said she grew concerned after not hearing from her husband for a few days.
“We normally communicate via texting and when I hadn’t received anything from him for a few days, I knew something was up. When he called and told me he was detained and no one from Triple Canopy had come to see him and his men, I got really angry,” she said.
When she was finally contacted by Triple Canopy, an official said Mr Fisher and his men had been detained but they were being well looked after and housed in warm quarters.
“We were in a cold cell with no mattresses on the floor and it was winter,” Mr Fisher said.
“There was no heating and no blankets and we had to huddle to keep warm.”
When asked what got him through the 18-day ordeal and mental torture, the father of five said it was God and his family.
“The prayers and my faith plus the thoughts of my wife and five children kept me going, hoping for freedom,” he said.
The Triple Canopy team was released after US Congressman Peter King took up the case.
“If it wasn’t for him, I think we would still be there or worse still, who knows what could have happened to us.”
by David S Cloud McClatchy Washington DC December 29, 2011
After a U.S. airstrike mistakenly killed at least 15 Afghans in 2010, the Army officer investigating the accident was surprised to discover that an American civilian had played a central role: analyzing video feeds from a Predator drone keeping watch from above.
The contractor had overseen other analysts at Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field in Florida as the drone tracked suspected insurgents near a small unit of U.S. soldiers in rugged hills in central Afghanistan. Based partly on her analysis, an Army captain ordered an airstrike on a convoy that turned out to be carrying innocent men, women and children.
“What company do you work for?” Maj. Gen. Timothy McHale demanded of the contractor after he learned that she was not in the military, according to a transcript obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
“SAIC,” she answered
Her employer, SAIC Inc., is a publicly traded Virginia-based corporation with a multiyear $49 million contract to help the Air Force analyze drone video and other intelligence from Afghanistan.
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KABUL — Afghan officials have seized millions of dollars worth of armored vehicles and weapons from private security firms in recent weeks, a move that has exacerbated concerns about the government’s plan to replace the hired guns that protect convoys and installations with an unprepared state-run guard force.
Rodrigo Abd/AP - Afghan officials have seized millions of dollars worth of armored vehicles and weapons from private security firms in recent weeks, a move that has exacerbated concerns about the government’s plan to replace the hired guns with an unprepared state-run guard force.
The crackdown is being carried out even though the Afghan Public Protection Force failed to meet any of the six benchmarks that were set out for it when President Hamid Karzai formally announced a plan to ban private security firms by March 20. An assessment team led by the NATO military coalition, which is heavily involved in the creation of the Afghan force, concluded in the fall that the guard force is far from ready to take over.
Diplomats, development experts and company executives worry that the abolition of private security contractors within three months could endanger Afghans and foreigners supporting NATO and its allies, halt reconstruction projects and open new channels for corruption.
The transition is happening at a critical time in the Afghanistan war. As U.S. and allied troops have begun to draw down, there are concerns about how Afghan troops will manage increased security responsibilities. The United Nations recorded an average of 1,995 attacks during the first 11 months of this year, a 21 percent increase compared with the same period last year
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Reuters Paris Thursday December 29, 2011
Two French soldiers were killed on Thursday when an Afghan army soldier shot at them deliberately while their unit was engaged in a support mission for Afghanistan’s forces in the Tagab valley, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office said.
The shooting was the latest in a string of attacks by “rogue” soldiers and police, or by insurgents who had infiltrated security forces, that have killed dozens of foreign soldiers.
It was also the second such incident in a week, after a December 24 attack in western Farah province in which an Afghan army spokesman said four Americans were wounded. The shooter, who had spent 14 months in the army, was killed on the spot, he added.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said an Afghan soldier had turned his weapon on ISAF forces on December 24, but declined further comment.
Such attacks are especially damaging as the Afghan National Army (ANA) tries to win public trust before Afghan forces take full responsibility for security nationwide. Foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
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Cuba frees more than 2, 500 prisoners
Free Speech Radio News December 28, 2011
More than 2, 500 people have been released from prison in Cuba, after a mass pardoning by the federal government
An upcoming visit by the Pope was among the reasons for the release.
Several foreign prisoners were included in the release, but US contractor Alan Gross was not among them.
Gross is serving a 15 year prison sentence, after being convicted of crimes against the Cuban government earlier this year.
A contractor for USAID, Gross was arrested for bringing communications equipment into the country without a permit and has now been detained in Cuba for more than 2 years.
His imprisonment is at the center of a diplomatic dispute between Washington and Havana.
Human rights organizations have criticized the Cuban government’s prison policies, the regime currently imprisons an estimated 70 to 80 thousand people
U.S. commanders want civilian contractors to provide military security at the Marine Corps’ largest base in Afghanistan as a planned withdrawal of U.S. forces from the war-torn country expands.
The contracted security personnel will guard Camp Leatherneck, the sprawling, 1,500-acre-plus installation that serves as the Corps’ main hub of operations in Helmand province and home to II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), commanded by Maj. Gen. John Toolan. To date, coalition forces have handled security at Leatherneck, but commanders have discussed using contractors for months in anticipation of a smaller Marine footprint, said Lt. Col. Riccoh Player, a Marine spokesman at Leatherneck.
“As we prepare for fewer Marine boots on the ground, the requirement to maintain a certain level of security aboard Camp Leatherneck must be maintained,” Player said. “That’s where contractor support will provide Camp Leatherneck security where Marines have in the past.”
U.S. Army Contracting Command announced a competition for the job in November. At least 166 civilian guards will be needed at all times, meaning the company that wins the contract will almost certainly need more to account for vacations and other leave time. Companies who seek the job must hire guards who are citizens of the U.S. or some of its closest allies: the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
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Washington Bloomberg via SFGate December 28, 2011
The Obama administration, under pressure from Congress to weed out government suppliers for ethics violations or poor performance, has proposed to ban almost as many contractors this year as President George W. Bush did in his entire second term.
Federal agencies have proposed blocking 1,006 companies and individuals from contracting so far this year, as well as asking a judge to ban a unit of food-processing giant Cargill Inc. of Minneapolis, in a process known as debarment. That is 16 percent more than the 868 contractors that governmental agencies proposed to block in all of 2010, and only 70 fewer than the 1,076 contractors that U.S. agencies sought to debar under Bush from 2005 to 2008, according to the General Services Administration.
Federal agencies are under pressure after a series of congressional hearings and reports from inspectors general and the Government Accountability Office faulted procurement officials for failing to keep unqualified or ineligible vendors out of the $500 billion-a-year federal market.
“We are starting to see the pendulum swing to more contractor accountability, but government needs to do a lot more to ensure it only works with responsible contractors and thereby protects the public,” said Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group
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TEHRAN, Iran – An American man accused by Iran of working for the CIA could face the death penalty, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported Tuesday.
In a closed court hearing, the prosecution applied for capital punishment, the report said, because the suspect, identified as Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, “admitted that he received training in the United States and planned to imply that Iran was involved in terrorist activities in foreign countries” after returning to the U.S.
The prosecutor said Hekmati entered Iran’s intelligence department three times.
The report said Hekmati repeated a confession broadcast on state TV Dec. 18.
Iran broadcasts alleged U.S. spy’s confession
Under the Iranian law spying can lead to death penalty only in military cases.
The Fars report said Hekmati’s lawyer, who was identified only by his surname, Samadi, denied the charges. He said Iranian intelligence blocked Hekmati from infiltrating, and under the Iranian law, intention to infiltrate is not a crime.
The lawyer said Hekmati was deceived by the CIA. No date for the next court hearing was released.
Hekmati, 28, was born in Arizona. His family is of Iranian origin. His father, who lives in Michigan, said his son is not a CIA spy and was visiting his grandmothers in Iran when he was arrested.
Because his father is Iranian, Hekmati is considered an Iranian citizen
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(AP)/CBS News December 28, 2011
NEW YORK – Three security contractors including two Americans were released by Iraqi Army forces Tuesday after they were held for more than two weeks, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security announced as he demanded a full report on the episode.
Republican Peter King identified the men as Army veteran Alex Antiohos of West Babylon, N.Y., National Guardsman Jonas March of Savannah, Georgia and Kevin Fisher of Fiji.
King said they were working for a security firm when Iraqi Ministry of Defense officials rejected paperwork prepared on their behalf by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and began holding them on Dec. 9.
The men weren’t charged with any crimes and King said it appeared that the men were not injured.
He said Antiohos, who lives on Long Island, spoke to his wife Tuesday evening, and he was expected to be home later this week.
“She said he seems to be doing well,” he said.
King said they were released after efforts by his office, the State Department, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, the Defense Department and the White House.
He said he will demand answers from the Iraqis as well from U.S. authorities about how the incident was handled after they learned about the men.
“We’re going to have thousands of contractors over there, including many Americans. Can the Iraqis just take them off the street and hold them? This is a terrible precedent. We have to get to the bottom of this,” he said.
The New York congressman said he was concerned that U.S. military authorities had not been notified by the U.S. embassy that the men were being held and that embassy representatives had not visited the men when he learned about it from Antiohos’ wife last week.
“We have to find out if there could have been better coordination between all the agencies to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” King said.
U.S. troops completed a full withdrawal this month after nearly nine years of war.
“This should be a bit of a wake-up call as to whether the situation really is deteriorating in Iraq,” he added. “Iraq was supposed to be an ally. We liberated Iraq. Yet they hold these men for 18 days. … It’s inexcusable that they were treated this way by a supposed ally.”
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You Tube/ CBS News
Christmas may have come and gone but there is still magic to marvel at from this joyous holiday, like the magic that granted the wish of a little girl who only wanted her soldier father back for the holidays.
Bethany Arnold’s class got a visit from Santa Claus this past holiday. He brought toys and goodies that everyone of her classmates asked for, except it seems for little Bethany.
The only gift she asked for in her letter to Santa was to have her father, Wyndall Arnold, home for the holidays. He’s an electrical contractor working on Iraq’s badly needed infrastructure and she’s only seen him for a couple of weeks in the last two years.
It turns out that Santa was listening after all. Watch the touching video below, featuring a surprise you won’t see coming
by Suzanne Kelly at CNN’s Security Clearance December 27, 2011
“There are a lot of assumptions about contractors, and a lot of the assumptions are wrong.” Those are the words of a private security contractor who asked to be referred to only as “Lloyd” for this story, because like most of his colleagues he is not authorized to speak to the media.
By Lloyd’s count, he has spent some 1,000 days working in Afghanistan in the past four years. He, like many other well-trained military men, decided to leave his position as a Navy SEAL and take his chances finding employment in one of the hot spots around the world where highly skilled contractors were well-paid, and in demand.
Very few people outside the contracting industry really understood just what a private security contractor did before March 31, 2004. That was the day four American security contractors accompanying a shipment of kitchen equipment through Iraq were ambushed, killed, set on fire, dragged through the streets, and hung from a bridge before a cheering crowd in the city of Fallujah.
As shock subsided, questions arose. Who were these American men? If they weren’t members of the military, what were they doing in one of the most volatile regions of Iraq?
All four men were private security contractors working for a company called Blackwater. At the time the company, like many others, was just getting on its feet as U.S. demand for security services skyrocketed. The government needed armed, well-trained security personnel in hostile territories. The new push started when the United States went to war in a CIA-led operation in Afghanistan in 2001. e CIA’s early advance teams were not fully prepared for the pace of their own success. They quickly needed makeshift facilities to hold hostile enemy combatants and establish secure operating bases. The military wasn’t yet in a position to help, so the CIA hired Blackwater.
It was a similar story when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. A heavy presence of diplomats and reconstruction experts working in a hostile area meant they needed to be protected. Blackwater won a part of the contract to provide security services in the country. But being a private security contractor was a shady business, if not in the “legal” sense, in the “keeping off the radar” sense. Many of the contracts that were granted to companies such as Blackwater included clauses that severely limited the companies’ ability to talk to members of the media. Contracting was, by the design of the U.S. government, secretive.
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The President of the United States: Include U.S Civilian Contractors in Deaths/Injured in Iraq & Afghanistan
Please go here to sign the petition
Why This Is Important
As Americans, we all feel a sense of patriotism when it comes to our great country. The men and women who chose to go to Iraq and Afghanistan in a civilian capacity to serve our country are NOT included in the numbers when they tally the numbers of Deaths and Injured. Why should they be included you may ask? Why should they be excluded I ask.
When a civilian contractor is killed or injured the American people are paying the bill. Survivor benefits, worker’s compensation, funeral expenses, medical expenses etc are all paid for by the American people. While the multi-billion dollar private military companies like (DynCorp, KBR, Xe, etc.) sit back and continue to reap the benefits of the continued international conflicts.
If you know a civilian contractor who is currently employed, has been injured, has been killed please sign our petition. Although many of these men and women who chose to serve our country in the civilian capacity are retired military personnel, they receive no acknowldgement of their sacrafices when they are injured or killed.
Instead our Government wants to hide these brave men and women and not include these losses in the numbers of Americans who have sacrificed
Please sign the petition here
Stars and Stripes December 14, 2011
BAGHDAD — The United States is still pursuing an agreement with the government of Iraq that could provide defense contractors working for the U.S. State Department with some legal protections in 2012, U.S. embassy and military officials said last week.
While diplomats and service members working for the State Department are shielded by diplomatic immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law, the thousands of private contractors who will be working for the agency in have no such protections.
Contractors have lacked immunity from Iraqi law since 2009, when a new status of forces agreement excluded them.
However, with the pullout of the remaining 50,000 troops from Iraq this year, contractors say they now feel more vulnerable to danger, both from potentially corrupt Iraqi police and from anti-American groups.
“You have to cross a major Iraqi road and, should the [Iraqi police or Iraqi army] decide, they might begin detaining American personnel,” said one contractor, who asked for anonymity because his company has not authorized him to speak publicly.
It remains unclear whether a new agreement could include immunity, an idea which is highly unpopular in Iraq. Talks over allowing thousands of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq in 2012 collapsed in October after it became clear that Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki wouldn’t be able push immunity for troops through an Iraqi parliament vote.
Opposition to contractor immunity largely stemmed from a September 2007 incident, where 17 Iraqis died after a confrontation with Blackwater security contractors.
However, some legal protections for contractors could still be gained through a diplomatic chapeau agreement, State officials said
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The Pentagon is pressing one of the largest contractors in Afghanistan, Supreme Foodservice AG, to refund within 30 days overpayments of $756.9 million in unsupported transportation costs, according to a spokeswoman
by Tony Cappacio Bloomberg December 13, 2011
The Pentagon is pressing one of the largest contractors in Afghanistan, Supreme Foodservice AG, to refund within 30 days overpayments of $756.9 million in unsupported transportation costs, according to a spokeswoman.
The Defense Logistics Agency made the decision last week“after extensive negotiations, in which Supreme and the agency were unable to agree on final rates” for a contract first awarded in December 2005, said agency spokeswoman Mimi Schirmacher in a statement.
Supreme Foodservice of Ziegelbrucke, Switzerland, through Sept. 30 has been paid $5.5 billion since 2005 to supply and transport food, water, three-layered corrugated packing boxes and other non-food items to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It provides fresh fruits and vegetables to as many as 246 sites in Afghanistan under the agency’s “Subsistence Prime Vendor”program.
Schirmacher said the Defense Logistics Agency can’t break down the $756.9 million by category “since it involves proprietary pricing information.”
Company spokeswoman Victoria Frost said in an e-mail that the contested rates have been in negotiations for several years. The company “strongly disputes” the repayment request and will appeal, she said.
‘Just How Bad’
Pentagon Inspector General Gordon Heddell, whose auditors in a March report first highlighted Defense Logistics Agency oversight deficiencies, said at a Dec. 7 hearing that the original Supreme contract was “an example of just how bad it can get.” The contract “wasn’t well-designed” or “well-thought out.”
Only this year has the defense agency assessed final transportation rates for a contract awarded in 2005, Heddell said.
“We are just now determining what should have been the reasonable and fair prices to pay,” Heddell told a House oversight committee.
Supreme’s head of Washington-based operations is Robert Dail, a former Army Lieutenant General who headed the DLA between August 2006 and November 2008. He presented Supreme in January 2007 with the agency’s “New Contractor of the Year Award.” He joined Supreme in March 2009 as president of Supreme Group USA in Reston, Virginia
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