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Rebecca's always been very supportive and encouraging to me and don't think I forget that. Barbra Streisand is her favorite artist and she's really excited about Barbra's new album. To help get the word out, this week I'll skip an archived comic and instead note that Barbra Streisand has a new album due out.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Thursday, August 13, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US State Dept blows off Camp Ashraf, Danny Fitzsimmons legal team states they fear their client will be scapegoated if tried in Iraq, US and Iraqi officials try to lie (again) to the world, and more.
Today two bombers launched an assault outside of Mosul. Jamal al-Badrani Yara Bayoumy and Tim Pearce (Reuters) report that they "detonated vests packed with explosives" at a Sinjar cafe. Iran's Press TV describes it as "a popular coffee shop in an outdoor market". BBC News counts 21 dead and thrity injured and notes a curfew has been imposed on Sinjar. Al Jazeera states the village's "inhabitants are from the minority Yazidi sect". CNN reminds the Yazidis were targeted in August 2007 when over "400 people died and at least 300 were injured" from "suicide truck bombers". Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) explains the official word: The bombings are an attempt to decrease confidence in Nouri al-Maliki prior to the elections currently scheduled for January. We're all supposed to buy that crap when the only thing more amazing is that US and Iraqi officials manage to say it with a straight face.
Point of fact for the Iraqi officials and US officials, we're not as stupid as you think we are. You do not start assaults in August to influence elections in January. Especially not in Iraq. If you want to influence elections scheduled for January, you start no sooner than the end of November and you do that, as anyone who knows one damn thing about revolutions or rebellions, because to start sooner is to risk being caught and derailed. So starting in August risks the entire operation being shut down in October and giving the impression that Nouri's god-like. "Oh look, we had bombings, but Nouri, bless Nouri, he stopped them! I'm voting for Nouri!!!!" You don't do it and everyone knows that. The United Nations did not come out six months ahead of the elections held at the start of this year and state violence is going to start spiking! No. They waited until the immediate time before which is roughly six to eight weeks ahead of an election. That's whn you can influence an election with violence and not have to worry that you'll be caught and your entire operation shut down before the campaigning even begins.
What's the reason for the violence? No one knows at this point. But apparently they've exhausted phoney targets to blame so now they're pretending to be interested in "why." What may be happening, what MAY be happening, is that we may be seeing dry runs, tests for areas of weakness prior to a wave of violence intended to influence elections. That's a possibility especially since the targets largely remain out of Baghdad. (Baghdad is seeing and has seen violence. Including some mass fatalities from bombings; however, the bulk of the most recent of the deadliest attacks have been outside of Baghdad. Some -- though apparently not all -- the Bremer walls in Baghdad are supposed to be coming down and that could be another reason for not attacking Baghdad as heavily. Wait until those walls come down to launch a spectacular attack.) The resistance could be attempting to locate soft spots, weak ones, and measuring response time with the hopes of attacking the most vulnerable areas immediately prior to the elections. That's just a possibility and it could be 100% wrong. No one knows. But it makes no sense for a 'wave of violence proves Nouri's unable to secure the country' to be launched in August if elections are taking place in January.
In other reported violence today, Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 Baghdad roadside bombings which clained 1 life and left eight people injured, 1 bicycle bombing which claimed 2 lives and left thirteen injured, four home bombings in Mosul, a Baquba suicide bomber who took his/her own life (no one else reported dead or injured).
Adam Ashton and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) report, "Tempers are cool in Iraq despite a string of bombings that's killed more than 125 people in the past two weeks, fueling hopes that the attacks won't trigger retalitory killings, at least for now." See that's what real reporters can do. As opposed to Rod Norland's "Shiites in Iraq Show Restraint as Sunnis Keep Attacking" (New York Times) which apparently operates under the belief "Real Journalists Take Sides and Hand Out Gold Stars." As Elaine noted Tuesday night of Nordland's article, "Now here's reality, 2006 the genocide began and the New York Times didn't tell you about it. They underplayed it. It continued through 2007. They covered it a little better but didn't use 'ethnic cleansing,' let alone genocide. But catch any of those reporters when they're giving their speeches in this country and listen as they explain to you that ethnic cleansing took place. They just won't put that in the paper. Tomorrow Rod Norland and the paper attack Sunnis. The same Sunnis they refused to defend during the genocide." Equally true is that the New York Times is saying, "Good Shi'ite thugs armed by Nouri" (that's who is being congratulated by the paper, not the average Shi'ite in Iraq) "for not responding." How the hell does Rod Nordland know what's going on? Mass graves turn up in a month is he going to retract? Hell no, they never do. He doesn't know what the hell is going on but anyone reading that garbage this morning grasps that the paper trying to re-sell the illegal war is in bed with Nouri.
Shane Bauer (Mother Jones) offers some reality on the leaders of Sahwa aka "Awakenings" aka "Sons Of Iraq". The US military created insta-sheiks, tossing around CERP funds:
Eifan is a beneficiary of what some American personnel call the "make-a-sheikh" program, a semiofficial, little discussed policy that since late 2006 has bankrolled Sunni sheikhs who are, in theory, committed to defending American interests in Iraq. The program was a major part of the Awakening, which the Pentagon has touted as a turning point in reducing violence and creating the conditions for an American withdrawal. It was also a reinstitution of a strategy started by Saddam Hussein, who picked out tribal leaders he could manipulate through patronage schemes. The US military didn't give the sheikhs straight-up bribes, which would have raised eyebrows in Washington. Instead, it handed out reconstruction contracts. Sometimes issued at three or four times market value, the contracts have been the grease in the wheels of the Awakening in Anbar--the almost entirely Sunni province in western Iraq where Fallujah is located.
The US military has never admitted to arming militias in Iraq--or giving anything more than $350 a month to Anbari tribesmen to fight alongside Americans against Sunni resistance groups and Al Qaeda. But reconstruction payments, sometimes handed out in shrink-wrapped bundles of $100 bills, have left plenty of extra for the sheikhs to "help themselves as far as security goes," as one Marine officer describes it, or "buy guns," as Eifan's uncle, Sheikh Talib Hasnawi, puts it.
[. . .]
Most of these kinds of projects are funded through the Commander's Emergency Response Program, which allows batallion commanders to hand out reconstruction contracts worth up to $500,000 without approval from their superiors or Washington. CERP was founded in 2003 by then-Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer, who took its initial funding from a pool of seized Iraqi assets. Over the next five years, the program disbursed more than $3.5 billion in American taxpayer dollars. A Pentagon manual called "Money as a Weapon System" broadly defines CERP's purpose as providing "urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction." The guideline has been interpreted liberally: CERP recently funded the development of a $33 million Baghdad International Airport "Economic Zone" with two hotels, a remodeled VIP wing, and a $900,000 mural depicting an "economic theme."
CERP regulations explicitly prohibit the use of cash for giving goods, services, or funds to armed groups, including "civil defense forces" and "infrastructure protection forces"--Pentagonspeak for militias. But Sam Parker, an Iraq programs officer at the United States Institute of Peace, says it's "no real secret" among the military in Iraq that CERP contracts are inflated to pay off sheikhs and their armies. Austin Long, an analyst with the Rand Corporation who has been studying the Awakening, says it is not unusual for contracts to go to sheikhs who, like Eifan, had little or no construction experience before the 2003 invasion. "Contracts are inflated because they are only secondarily about the goods and services received," explains Parker. "It's very problematic. You are rewarding the guys with the guns."
Shane Bauer is one of the three Americans currently in Iran. Sara Shourd and Joshua Fattal are the other two. They allegedly were hiking in northern Iraq and allegedly wandered into Iran. New England Cable News (link has text and TV) notes that the three have been moved to Tehran. The three were discussed on the second hour of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, last Friday (noted in that day's snapshot):
Diane Rehm: And what about the three Americans who were arrested for apparently crossing the border from Iraq into Iran, Nancy?
Nancy Youssef: That's right, that's right. These are three hikers in Iraq in Kurdistan who somehow crossed the border and we learned this week and again there's a question of what their fate is and what-what --
Diane Rehm: But they were warned. That's what bothers me. They were warned by Iraqis that they were getting close to the border.
James Kitfield: Can we -- can we put out an all points bulletin now: "Please American hikers don't go into the Kurdistan mountains near the border with Iran because that's not helpful. It's not helpful to you and it's not helpful to our diplomacy with Iran."?
Susan Glasser: And it's not helpful to Iraq which is so trying to change its image and saying that this is a place you can come to and this is a safe place and trying to revamp it's image and, um, this does not help it.
Diane Rehm: So what happens next or is there some ongoing communication, Susan?
Susan Glasser: Well, I think, unlike in dealing with North Korea, there is a much more established, you know, track record of Americans being able to engage with Iran through back channels. Europeans, of course, several countries actually have relations with Iran. So, you know, there's a much more filled out relationship that's ongoing even in times of stress than with North Korea for example. One question and I didn't see what the follow up was, I think these hikers actually were still being kept in Iranian Kurdistan which probably bodes well for their fate. You know, if they're trucked all the way to Tehran --
Diane Rehm: I see.
Susan Glasser: -- and they're put on trial as spies and that sort of thing, then they're going to -- you might need another President Clinton mission at that point to get them out. If it remains at that level, I think you're dealing with something, once the Iranians verify these do indeed seem to be semi-clueless students who were language students in the region in Syria, at least, a couple of them were. So perhaps they can still be handled at the level of clueless interlopers.
James Kitfield: History suggest they'll use them as pawns in whatever game in whatever diplomatic game they decide to play with us and eventually let them go. What-what I will say about this is interesting to me right now is that the clocks that are ticking on the Iran issue are almost out of sync. We -- Obama has set for next month, as a deadline for Iran to-to-to respond to his offer of engagement. A lot of people are saying we should have a tactical policy because you don't want to be engaging with a regime that's lost significant legitimacy because of these elections. On the other hand, the Israelis who are trying to sort of push them to peace negotiations are saying "You have got to at least put a deadline on your dealings with Iran and your sanctions because we think they're going to get the bomb sometime in the next year to sixteen months." So it's very difficult right now this-this problem, these internal problems with Iran, although interesting have really sort of skewed the diplomatic schedule that Obama has set for Iran and it's difficult to know how you put it back in sync.
By Susan Glasser's judgment last Friday, if they were moved to Tehran, things changed. They have now been moved to Tehran.
Will the US be moving out Iraq anytime soon? Over 130,000 US troops remain in Iraq, still more than were in Iraq at the start of 2007. T.J. Buonomo (Foreign Policy In Focus) explores the potential possibilities:
Under the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), President Barack Obama is currently bound to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011. Three factors, however, make it probable that the president will attempt to renegotiate the terms of the agreement as it approaches its conclusion: Iraqi security forces will continue to be logistically dependent on the U.S. military. The United States will be increasingly dependent on oil from Iraq and the wider region. And the American left will be unable to exert significant electoral pressure on the legislative or executive branch, given the U.S. foreign policy establishment's calculation of the strategic consequences of a complete withdrawal.
Given their continued dependency on the U.S. government and despite their resentment of the occupation, Iraqi leaders might be inclined to agree to a SOFA extension. This would likely entail, at a minimum, continued close air support and logistical assistance to Iraqi Security Forces, as well as a continued advisory mission within the Iraqi defense and interior ministries. It would probably also include continued access to airfields in Iraq to serve as a deterrent against Iran. The Senate would not likely require ratification of a SOFA extension, given its prior decision to accept the Bush administration's claim that the SOFA isn't a treaty and therefore doesn't require Senate approval. A less conspicuous U.S. military mission of perhaps fewer than 50,000 troops would also generate less public opposition, thereby reducing pressure on the Senate to exercise such oversight.
The US military needs to withdraw from Iraq immediately. They remain on the ground while Nouri insults them publicly and while they are sitting ducks, easily picked off targets. The illegal war should never have started and there is no reason to keep them on the ground in Iraq to prop up Nouri's puppet government. They did not sign up to be targets on a shooting range. They signed up willing to defend the United States which, for the record, has not been attacked by Iraq. They are of little to use to anyone in Iraq as is demonstrated by recent events at Camp Ashraf. At the US State Dept today, the issue of Camp Ashraf was raised. July 28th, Nouri al-Maliki launched an assault on the camp despite promising the US earlier this year that he would take no such action. Human rights activists and lawyers have called for the US and the United Nations to step in. "Obviously as we have said many times," declared assistant spokesperson Philip Crowley, "we regret the -- uh, what happened at Camp Ashraf and the loss of life and injury that occurred even as we understand the government of Iraq desiring to extend it's sovereignty into that camp. Uh. We're still in conversations, you know, through [US] Embassy Baghdad, you know, with the Iraqis, and we hope that the-the interests of, uh, the people of the camp will be respected and, uh, that conversation continues. [. . .] Well, obviously we have, uh, a relationship with Iraq. It is moving towards, you know, you know, from a military dominant relationship to a-a partnership. We're in dialogue with Iraq on a variety of issues. Human rights is one of them. Uh. We have, uh, you know, have understandings with Iraq about how the people in this camp will be treated We are continuing to pay attention to that and this is -- this is one among many issues on which we will continue to have significant dialogue with our Iraqi counterparts." Asked if it were true, as the MEK states, that the US had gone back on promises to support them, Crowley responded, "Well there's an inherent contradiction in that this was an attempt for the Iraqis to establish, I think, a police station in the camp and bring, uh, officials into the camp which we completely understand. It is -- it is, we had a small contingent of-of forces nearby. It was not necessarily their purpose to protect these people. We have received assurances from Iraq that, uh, that they will respect, uh, this particular group, uh, and-and their rights, uh, and we continue that dialogue. But as I said yesterday, uh, it is regrettable that in trying to do something that was understandable, it was not executed well, uh, and I think that the Iraqis understand that as well. This is not an issue that we're, you know, we're ignoring. We remain in active discussion with Iraq about Camp Ashraf and will continue to, uh, talk to them and to focus on this issue but it is this is fundamentally about Iraq and it's ability to govern its own countries and the people who are within its soverign boundaries."
Asked after that non-answer if the US had made promises to Camp Ashraf regarding their safety, Crowley hemmed and hawwed through, "I-I-I, we-we received assurances that they would be well treated and we understand that what happend, uh, you know, was a mistake --". He got a few more almost sentences in before he was stopped and asked whether or not he could answer the question regarding whether the US promised residents of Camp Ashraf anything. He will get back with the answer for that.
The US did make promises and that includes the current administration. The response to the assault is not coming from the US State Dept, the US State Dept is not 'over' Iraq. But that's no excuse for the nonsense Crowley spewed in the press conference today. Girish Gupta (Guardian) reports that the London protests in support of the residents of Camp Ashraf include a hunger strike and Fatemeh Khezrie is "seriously ill" and on day 17 of her hunger strike, "After seven days with neither food nor water, Khezrie was taken to St Mary's hospital where doctors put her on a fluid drip, but she removed it and returned to the embassy on hunger strike. However, yesterday she announced that despite her deteriorating health she would stop taking fluids again as she feels the British and US governments, as well as the media, are taking no notice." We'll again note this press release from US Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents:
In a news briefing today at the National Press Club, international and U.S. lawyers of residents of Camp Ashraf presented documents of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Iraqi government during the July 28 attack on Camp Ashraf. They also made public the agreements signed between the U.S. government and every resident of the Camp Ashraf for their protection. Camp Ashraf is home to members of the main Iranian opposition group, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). Its residents had signed an agreement with the Multi-National Force-Iraq in 2004, according to which the US agreed to protect them until their final disposition. "The official U.S. government response to the events at Ashraf is that all issues concerning the Camp are now matters for the Iraqis to determine, as an exercise of their sovereignty. But that is a red herring: no one contests the sovereignty of the State of Iraq over Ashraf. Sovereignty does not provide an excuse for violating the human rights of the residents. Nor does it justify inaction on the part of the United States," said Steven Schneebaum, Counsel for U.S. families of Ashraf residents. He stressed: "The U.S. was the recipient of binding commitments by the Government of Iraq to treat the Ashraf residents humanely, and we know that has not happened. Moreover, it was the United States with whom each person at Ashraf reached agreement that protection would be provided until final decisions about their disposition have been made. And the United States remains bound also by principles of international humanitarian law and human rights law that make standing by during an armed attack on defenseless civilians unacceptable, and that impose an obligation to intervene to save innocent lives." Francois Serres, Executive Director of the International Committee of Jurists in Defense of Ashraf, which represents 8,500 lawyers and jurists in Europe and North America, added, "This [assault] is a manifest of crime against humanity by the Iraqi forces, attacking, with US-supplied weapons and armored vehicles, unarmed residents of Ashraf. The Iraqi government cannot be trusted in protecting the residents of Ashraf. The U.S. must undertake efforts to protect them until international protection is afforded to the residents." "We will pursue this matter before the International Criminal Court and courts in France and Belgium. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki is fully responsible for these atrocities and he will be held to account," he added. Zahra Amanpour, a human rights activist with the U.S. Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents also spoke at the news briefing. Ms. Amanpour, whose aunt is in Ashraf, said: "Why are the Department of State and the White House stone-walling us, the families of Camp Ashraf residents? Thirty-five people have been on a hunger strike outside the White House for 13 days, and we still don't have any reply by the administration."
The US military can't protect the residents of Camp Ashraf. They are allowing the assualts to continue by being present and we all need to grasp that. It's the point Joe Biden was making in April 2008 when he was a US Senator and not the vice president of the United States. His point was that their very presence means they are taking sides (Nouri's) in a civil war. I think it's ethnic cleansing and not a civil war, but whatever. By being on the ground, they continue to shore up Nouri's puppet and illegitmate government. Nouri only returned to Iraq, after decades out of the country, once the US invaded. Like so many 'leaders' (installed by the US), he doesn't represent Iraq, he's not the average Iraqi. He's an exile who was too cowardly to fight for his own country but more than willing to drag the US into an illegal war. As Mike pointed out last night, "In Iraq, AFP reports that there is a bill that's won approval from Nouri's cabinet which would mean that the president of Iraq, the prime minister, speaker of parliament, their underlings and ministers and commanders would have to be Iraqi citizens and only Iraqi citizens. No more dual citizenship. That would eliminate many. Has Nouri denounced his dual citizenship?" The first ambassador Iraq had to the US was, of course, someone who also held US citizenship. We'll address her tomorrow. But the point is that the puppet government is largely staffed with these exiles. Now if you buy that Iraqis lived in brutality prior to the invasion, you need to ask why they would want to be represented by a bunch of cowards who fled the country, by bunch of chickens who didn't have the guts to stay and fight? And you need to ask yourself if you'd tolerate that? You probably wouldn't. The puppet government of Nouri al-Maliki is an illegitmate one and that's why he's forever making 'consoldiation' attempts that are nothing but empty promises prior to an election. (As demonstrated by his campaign promises last January.)
"They gave me a gun" he said
"They gave me a mission
For the power and the glory --
Propaganda -- piss on 'em
There's a war zone inside me --
I can feel things exploding --
I can't even hear the f**king music playing
For the beat of -- the beat of black wings."
[. . .]
"They want you -- they need you --
They train you to kill --
To be a pin on some map --
Some vicarious thrill --
The old hate the young
That's the whole heartless thing
The old pick the wars
We die in 'em
To the beat of -- the beat of black wings"
-- "The Beat of Black Wings," words and music by Joni Mitchell, first appears on her Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm.
Danny Fitzsimons is facing a trial in Iraq and could be sentenced to death. He served in the British military for eight years and was stationed in Afghanistan and Kosovo. He is accused of being the shooter in a Sunday Green Zone incident in which 1 British contractor, Paul McGuigan, and 1 Australian contractor, Darren Hoare, died and one Iraqi, Arkhan Madhi, was injured. Eric and Liz Fitzsimons spoke to the BBC (link has video) and noted that they are not asking for Danny to 'walk.' They stated that he has to take responsibility. But they want a fair trial and do not believe that is possible in Iraq. His legal defense team doesn't believe he can get a fair trial either stating today that the British military's presence in Iraq during the war means that Fitzsimons will be used as scapegoat. We'll come back to his legal team but first Deborah Haynes and Richard Ford (Times of London) report on Danny Fitzsimon's legal problems prior to going to Iraq (going apparently last week):Last November Mr Fitzsimons was given a one-year suspended sentence for robbery and possessing prohibited ammunition, the Crown Prosecution Service said. The Greater Manchester Probation Service said that it was conducting a review to establish whether the quality of supervision he was given met the required standard. Early findings indicate that he had complied with the terms of his supervision, which required him to report to his probation officer every two weeks. His last appointment was at the end of July and he is understood not to have voiced his plan to accept the security job in Iraq, which would have meant breaking the terms of his supervision. That could have resulted in Mr Fitzsimons being brought to court. He was due to return to court in Bolton on August 24 for sentencing over a public order offence.Danny's mother, father and step-mother have been very clear about their belief that he was suffering from PTSD. The article explains how the arrest should have raised some flags. The arrest may or may not stem from PSTD but it does not appear he was receiving treatment for that condition and it does appear treatment was needed.If he's already on probation, that's another reason to move the case to England because he appears to have potentially broken the rules of his probation. The Guardian of Manchester has a podcast titled Guardian Daily podcast. We've linked to it before. Today Jon Dennis speaks with John Tipple who is part of Danny Fitzsimon's legal team.John Tipple: We would need to go back a long way if we were going to remedy the situation as it is in Iraq today, wouldn't we? Because this has been an illegal war and the mess that that's left behind it is incredible. And the very idea that a British subject would get any kind of justice out there -- especially given our client's history with the British armed forces -- is also incredible. We do not trust the Iraqi authorities and we want to see our client back in the UK instead tried here so he can answer to his peers.Jon Dennis: But nevertheless, the very serious offenses that Mr. Fitsimons is accused of did happen on Iraqi soil. Shouldn't they have the right to try a suspect under their own system?John Tipple: Well we challenge whether it is a viable system in any case. But "no" would be my answer to that. Since 1861 there's been a statute in this country that makes provisions to try people here. And we have established a legal system in this country by serious effort and by making sure that the law is as sound as possible. None of that process has taken place in Iraq. It's in this country that the law has been tested and it's in this country that Daniel should be tried.Jon Dennis: You've spoken to Mr. Fitzsimons. What's his mood at the moment?John Tipple: As you might imagine, he's a very concerned and somewhat confused man. He's being processed and that process is not only intimidating, as you might imagine, because he clearly knows the consequences. Everybody saw Saddah Hussein strung up and the farce that that was and for those of us who do not believe in hanging or capital punishment looking at what goes on Iraq is aberrant.Jon Dennis: What sort of assistance are you getting from the security company that employed Mr. Fitzsimons?John Tipple: I can tell you that I consider that that company has a duty of care. And if they look past their corporate image than they should show humanity and a duty of care to Daniel Fitzsimons and they should facilitate his defense including the case that we've made to the request that we've made to them directly which is to be flown out of Baghdad today because clearly my client is in a state of confusion and he's getting legal advice from who knows and what qualifications these people have? We need to get professionals out there to help him properly. Jon Dennis: Does-does Mr. Fitzsimons' family believe that he was in a fit mental state to take what must have been a very stressful job working for a security company in Baghdad ?John Tipple: When Daniel Fitzsimons was in the Parachute Regiment is when he was damaged there through effectively Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and he-he clearly had that when he was in the British Army.Jon Dennis: And so you think that possibly not, that possibly he wasn't in a fit mental state really to take such a stressful job?John Tipple: I think that is a serious question that you have asked there and I think the answer to it is according to the information that's before me is no he's not.Jon Dennis: Are you getting much assistance or any assistance from the British Foreign Office in your attempts to get him tried in the UK?John Tipple: I'm getting -- I am actually having some very good contact with the Foreign Office and I've expressed my concerns to them and they have concerns themselves But we've handed over to the Iraqi authorities -- whoever they are and whatever credibility they may have It certainly is not a satisfactory situation. But they've handed over to them and this is a consequence of the whole debacle of the Iraqi War. And our client is going to be used as a scapegoat. That is our real fear: that he gets -- he gets treated because of the hatred that the British army and British forces in general have clearly earned themselves.
Turning to the US, the Wartime Contracting Commission held two hearings this week. Yawn. I'm not going into DC for their crap. They're a do-nothing commission. Free Speech Radio News covered them yesterday:
Matt Pearson: As military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have progressed since 2001 the need for military translators has increased And as government spending for translation services has increased so too has competition among intelligence corporations to receive government contracts. Pratap Chaterjee, author and managing editor of the watchdog group CorpWatch, says the rapid growth and the need for translators has created problems.
Pratap Chaterjee: The United States employs upwards of 10,000 translators in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay today and this is something that has, you know, grown, expanded considerably over the last seven years starting in 2001. Originally they had one tiny little contract for a company called BTG to provide a dozen or so translators in Kuwait. Now this is over 10,000 people, the military needs a lot of translators and so they say we'll take as many as you can get and because they themselves, as they have admitted in this testimony, had no expertise. Nobody at INSCOM Intelligence and Security Command, speaks Arabic or Dari Pashto. So they'd relied heavily on these translators, these companies like Titan and L3 to bring in the translators.
Matt Pearson: In 2006 a company called Global Linguist Solutions of GLS took over the government linguist contract for $4.6 billion and has been the primary contractor ever since. They have retained L3, the previous contractor, as a sub-contractor for the hiring and development of translators in Iraq and Afghanistan. The two corporations are at the center of the Wartime Commission investigation this week with so much government money going towards GLS the commissioners on Wednesday pried for answers regarding waste, incompetence and in some cases minor fraud.
Charles Tiefer: This contract and the tax payer became a cash cow. So the great big juicy steak the two companies were cutting thick slabs out of this cash cow. Poor taxpayer.
Matt Pearson: That was Charles Tiefer one of the commissioners and a professor of law at the University of Baltimore. He and the other seven members of the commission grilled the executives from GLS and L3 for explanations on certain expenditures in the face of salary cuts for translators.
Charles Tiefer: $5 million in spending that was overspent because of private housing for vendor management and administrative personnel, private 3-bedroom apartments for individual employees, an isolated incident of a contractor with deployed dependents at government expense, automobile densities of 1:1 ratio for management personnel, loss productivity due to less than expedient translative linguists into Iraq. Is that what your experience got us?
Matt Pearson: Some observers say that GLS could provide translators for the war efforts without subcontracting L3 and others. In 2006 and 2007, L3 protested the rewarding of the contract [to] GLS on three separate occasions eventually getting a $1 billion subcontract from GLS as a concession. The GLS executive says they would not have awarded L3 with a subcontract if they had not protested on multiple occasions. Still Tom Miller representing L3 at the hearing said the company provides much needed expertise to the staffing of translators in the Middle East
Tom Miller: By becoming a part of the GLS team we became a part of their management we grafted onto them our experience our lessons learned, you know, our abilities and then we didn't stop at that we literally handed over proprietary intellectual property because that was the best thing for the contract. You're looking for an altruistic sort of action on the part of an American corporation? There it is right there. Because we had a greater concern about the performance of this contract we wanted it to go very well.
Matt Pearson: The commission will release a report this year based on its findings from these hearings and research. Matt Pearson, Free Speech Radio News in Washington.
I'm not wasting my time own that 'commission.' If FRSN covers it or someone else worth noting, we'll cover it that way. But I've already set through their faux hearings. The commission is a joke and we've covered that here before. We gave it a chance until it's first hearing. We attended that hearing, see the February 2nd snapshot, and Kat rightly ripped it apart in June when we learned at a House hearing that the commission was going to start setting some goals. Start setting some goals? It's a two year commission. It's mandated to issue an interim report (it has and that was a joke) this year and then a full report next. And yet, in June, they're working on defining goals? It's a joke because of the commissioners: one commissioner was announcing less than 4 months ago that he was $300,000 in debt (doesn't scream confidence to the American people) and of course you have the lovely Dov S. Zakheim, PNAC signers, George W. Bush's foreign policy tutor in 1999 and 2000 and went to work for the Defense Dept under Bush. Now the commission is supposed to be investigating contracting abuses? Hmm. Dov was the Defense Dept's chief financial officer. Conflict of interest much? You'll get more information (not to mention honesty) in Pratap Chetterjee's article written Tuesday than in both days of the commission's 'hearings'.
Independent journalist David Bacon wonders "Can Labor Get Out Of This Mess?" (In These Times):For anyone who loves the labor movement, it's not unreasonable today to ask whether we've lost our way. California's huge healthcare local is in trusteeship, its leading organizing drive in a shambles. SEIU's international is at war with its own members, and now with UNITE HERE, whose merger of garment and hotel workers is unraveling.In 1995, following the upsurge that elected John Sweeney president of the AFL-CIO, the service and hotel workers seemed two of the unions best able to organize new members. Their high profile campaigns, like Justice for Janitors and Hotel Workers Rising, were held out as models. Today they're in jeopardy.This conflict has endangered our high hopes for labor law reform, and beyond that for an economic recovery with real jobs programs, fair trade instead of free trade, universal health care, and immigration reform that gives workers rights instead of raids. The ability of unions to grow in size and political power is on the line.Bacon is the author most recently of latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) a wonderful book and an award winning one, having just received the C.L.R. James Award. He recently discussed the book at Against The Current.
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