By Jeremy Scahill April 19, 2010
From the first days of the launch of the so-called “war on terror,” Blackwater has been at the epicenter of some of the most secretive operations conducted by US forces globally. It has worked on government assassination programs and drone bombings, operated covertly in Pakistan for both the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command, assisted secret raids inside of Syria, trained foreign militaries and continues to bodyguard senior US officials in Afghanistan. The company also has a bloody track record of killing civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many seasoned observers believe that the extent of the dark acts committed by Blackwater have yet to come to light.While Congressional committees, the IRS, the FBI and lawyers representing foreign victims of the company have fought for years to hold Blackwater and its forces accountable for their alleged crimes, the company has proved to be Teflon. Not a single case against the company has resulted in any significant action. Following last December’s dismissal of the high-profile criminal case against the Blackwater operatives allegedly responsible for the 2007 Nisour Square shootings that left seventeen Iraqis dead and more than twenty others wounded, federal prosecutors have now launched another salvo.
Last week, the Justice Department announced that a federal grand jury had returned a fifteen-count indictment against five current and former Blackwater officials, charging them with conspiracy to violate a series of federal gun laws, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Among those indicted were Blackwater owner Erik Prince’s longtime right-hand man, former company president Gary Jackson, Blackwater’s former legal counsel Andrew Howell and two former company vice presidents. Given Blackwater’s track record and the severity of other allegations against the company–including killing unarmed civilians–if the charges in this case stick, it would be somewhat akin to Al Capone going down for tax evasion. The one major difference being, the number-one man at Blackwater, Erik Prince, is evading prosecution and jail. Prince, who remains the Blackwater empire’s sole owner, was not indicted.
The weapons charges stem from Blackwater’s purchase of 227 “short barrels” for use with the company’s government-issued M4 rifles in Iraq and Afghanistan, a violation of State Department weapons guidelines for contractors. Former Blackwater employees have alleged in sworn affidavits that Prince had used his personal planes to smuggle banned weapons into Iraq, sometimes wrapping them in large shipments of dog food for the company’s K-9 teams in Iraq. Prince, however, is not named in the indictment.
The indictment also charges that the Blackwater officials “arranged straw purchases” of Romanian AK-47s and fully automatic M-4 rifles for use inside the United States. According to the indictment, the local sheriff’s department in Blackwater’s home base of Moyock, North Carolina, provided Blackwater with blank stationery that “was used to prepare letters claiming the sheriff’s office wanted” the weapons. “The weapons were paid for by Blackwater, were immediately delivered to Blackwater upon their arrival, and were locked in Blackwater’s armory to which the sheriff’s office had no direct access,” according to federal prosecutors.
In March 2009, the ATF informed Blackwater that it would be coming to the company’s compound for an inspection of the armory of Blackwater subsidiary XPG. Former Blackwater officials told The Nation that XPG was created in part as a successor to Blackwater SELECT and Blackwater PTC, the divisions of the company that did sensitive covert work for the CIA and JSOC.
When Blackwater was informed of the impending ATF investigation, according to the Justice Department:
Allegedly, [Blackwater lawyer Andrew] Howell did not want any more SBRs [Short Barrel Rifles] to be found and told a subordinate that disclosing the SBRs was “not an option.” He and [Blackwater vice president Ana] Bundy subsequently ordered the short-barreled guns in XPG’s armory to be moved to Blackwater’s armory where the barrels could be switched out. Only the long-barreled guns were returned to XPG. Howell then prepared a letter for the company president’s signature and attached it to an e-mail. The letter was intended to be back-dated and would have given a false impression that the President had ordered the alteration of the guns–which had already been accomplished by direction of Howell and Bundy.
The Justice Department also alleges that Blackwater officials, in an attempt to win a lucrative contract with the Kingdom of Jordan, presented several guns as gifts to Jordanian officials who came to tour Blackwater’s private military base in North Carolina. According to the indictment, “the officials were presented with one M4, three Glocks, and a Remington shotgun. Each was inscribed with the Blackwater logo and presented in a case. Subsequently, the company realized it could not account for the guns in its required records.” Blackwater president Gary Jackson, prosecutors allege, “then organized the false completion” of federal documents that “were designed to give the appearance that employees had bought the guns for their own use.”
Until recently, Blackwater had a partnership with Sig Sauer to manufacture a Blackwater-brand 9 millimeter pistol. For years the company has done a multimillion-dollar business with Jordan, training the company’s special-forces helicopter pilots and advising the kingdom on intelligence matters. Blackwater also has a headquarters in Jordan. Last year the New York Times reported that Gary Jackson was involved in a scheme to bribe Iraqi officials to stay quiet on the company’s alleged massacre of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in September 2007 and to allow Blackwater to continue operating in the country despite the public outrage in Iraq. That alleged plot, according to the Times, involved the transfer of $1 million into Jordan for ultimate use in Iraq.
Each of the charges against the Blackwater officials potentially carries a penalty of three to twenty years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Lawyers for the accused have said their clients are not guilty of the charges and will fight them. There are two other pending criminal cases against Blackwater. Prosecutors have apealed the dismissal of the Nisour Square case, and two Blackwater operatives have been indicted on charges they killed innocent Afghan civilians. In a recent interview, Prince estimated his monthly legal bills to be between $2-3 million.
Meanwhile, as Blackwater officials face another round of attempted criminal prosecutions, the company continues to fight off the remaining civil lawsuits stemming from the Nisour Square shooting. Last year Blackwater settled with most of the victims, reportedly for a total of $5 million. The only remaining suit against the company over Nisour Square was brought by a small group of Iraqis, most prominent among them Mohammed Kinani, the father of the youngest known victim of the shooting. His 9-year-old son, Ali, was shot in the head that day and died shortly after from his injuries. Kinani originally sued Blackwater in state court in North Carolina, but last week a federal judge sided with Blackwater and took control over the case. That judge, Terrence Boyle, was a former legislative aide to the late Republican Senator Jesse Helms, who urged President Ronald Reagan to appoint Boyle, which Reagan did. For more than a decade, Democrats blocked Boyle’s nomination to the appelate court, characterizing him as an ultraconservative who opposed civil rights and was often over-ruled on appeal. It is hard to imagine a better judge for Blackwater to draw in this case.
As it has done in other cases, Blackwater has asked the Obama Justice Department to intervene in Kinani’s case and to make the US government–not Blackwater and the individual shooters in the case–the defendant. Legal experts have told The Nation that if the Justice Department did that, the case would be dead in the water. The Justice Department has not responded to Blackwater’s request. Blackwater, however, is not wasting any time seeking out alternatives.
On April 7, lawyers for the six alleged shooters and Blackwater asked Judge Boyle to replace Blackwater and the shooters with the “United States” in the case, citing the Westfall Act, which was passed in 1988 “to protect federal employees from personal liability for common law torts committed within the scope of their employment, while providing persons injured by the common law torts of federal employees with an appropriate remedy against the United States.” If Boyle were to do this, the case would likely be immediately dismissed.
In its filing, Blackwater’s lawyers argued that the actions taken by the alleged Blackwater shooters at Nisour Square “indisputably fall within the scope” of their State Department employment. But Kinani’s lawyers and federal prosecutors have alleged that the men disobeyed orders from their superiors not to proceed to Nisour Square that day, leading to the shooting. One of the Blackwater guards, Jeremy Ridgeway, pled guilty to killing an unarmed Iraqi in the square. In his sworn proffer that accompanied his guilty plea, Ridgeway admitted that he and the other five accused shooters “opened fire with automatic weapons and grenade launchers on unarmed civilians…killing at least fourteen people” and wounding at least twenty others. “None of these victims was an insurgent, and many were shot while inside of civilian vehicles that were attempting to flee” the Blackwater forces, the proffer stated. Ridgeway also admitted that his team had “not been authorized” to leave the Green Zone and that after they departed, they “had been specifically ordered” by US Embassy officials to return. “In contravention of that order,” they proceeded to Nisour Square, according to Ridgeway.
The Justice Department could intervene in the Kinani case at any point and produce evidence showing that Blackwater does not equal the US government and therefore should not be allowed to shift the burden of responsibility for the shooting onto the US government. To date, that has not happened, and it is currently a decision for one man: Judge Terrence Boyle.
bout Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, published by Nation Books. He is an award-winning investigative journalist and correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!
There has been almost universal silence among Congressional Democrats on the Obama administration’s recently revealed decision to authorize the assassination of a US citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki, who now lives in Yemen, has been accused of providing inspiration for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the alleged “underwear bomber,” and Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged Fort Hood shooter. In recent weeks, there has been a dramatic surge in US government chatter about the alleged threat posed by al-Awlaki, with anonymous US officials accusing him of directly participating in terror “plots” (his family passionately disputes this).Several Democrats refused, through spokespeople, to comment on the assassination plan when contacted by The Nation, including Senator Russ Feingold and Representative Jan Schakowsky, both of whom serve on the Intelligence Committees. Representative Jane Harman, who serves on the Homeland Security Committee, said recently that Awlaki is “probably the person, the terrorist, who would be terrorist No. 1 in terms of threat against us.”
Kucinich told The Nation he has sent several letters to the Obama administration raising questions about the potential unconstitutionality of the policy, as well as possible violations of international law, but has received no response. “With all the smart people that are in that administration, they’ve got to know the risks that they’re taking here with violations of law,” he says.
Targeted killings are not a new Obama administration policy. Beginning three days after his swearing in, President Obama has authorized scores of lethal drone strikes, including against specific individuals, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, surpassing the Bush era numbers. The elite Joint Special Operations Command maintains a list of individuals, including US citizens, which it is authorized to assassinate. In January, Dana Priest reported in the Washington Post that the CIA had US citizens on an assassination list, but the Post later ran a correction stating that only JSOC had “a target list that includes several Americans.” The policy of the CIA targeting al-Awlaki, a US citizen, for assassination, therefore, appeared to be a new development, at least in terms of public awareness of approved government assassinations.
“In the real world, things don’t work out quite so neatly as they seem to in the heads of the CIA,” says Kucinich. “There’s always the possibility of blowback, which could endanger high-ranking US officials. There’s the inevitable licensing of rogue groups that comes about from policies that are not strictly controlled and that get sloppy–so you have zero accountability. And that’s not even to get into an over-arching issue of the morality of assassination policies, which are extra-constitutional, extra-judicial. It’s very dangerous from every possible perspective.”
He added: “The assassination policies vitiate the presumption of innocence and the government then becomes the investigator, policeman, prosecutor, judge, jury, executioner all in one. That raises the greatest questions with respect to our constitution and our democratic way of life.”
Kucinich says the case of al-Awlaki is an attempt to make “a short-cut around the Constitution,” saying, “Short-cuts often belie the deep and underlying questions around which nations rise and fall. We are really putting our nation in jeopardy by pursuing this kind of policy.”
Master Sgt. Mike Smith, National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va.– 04.19.2010 Some describe April 19 as “the day the world began to look at terrorism differently.”
Hundreds of Oklahoma National Guard members will remember today’s date by how they responded 15 years ago to a homeland disaster, unexpectedly, and on a scale never before seen.
At 9:02 a.m., April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was the target of a bombing called “the most significant act of domestic terrorism on American soil.”
A rental truck filled with explosives parked in front of the building exploded, destroying the north side of the building and killing 168, including 19 children. At least 850 more were injured.
Today, Oklahomans, federal officials, domestic responders, family members, Guardmembers and others will gather at the grounds of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum to remember as they have each year since the tragedy.
“There were just a lot of people affected by the tragedy, affected even today,” said Army Maj. Gen. Myles L. Deering, the adjutant general of Oklahoma, in a recent telephone interview.
“If you go to one of the ceremonies, you still get a knot in your throat,” he said. “It is still heavy on their minds to what happened that day. You take the people who were tragically killed … and look at the chain or the string that each of those people has with other people’s lives, it’s just amazing how many people, either directly or indirectly, knew somebody who suffered a fate during that day.”
On that morning, and almost immediately, the Oklahoma Guard responded to requests for military assistance. From then on, it was involved in every phase of the operation, Guard officials said.
At least 731 Oklahoma Guard members, including 624 Citizen-Soldiers and 107 Citizen-Airmen, assisted civilian and government response agencies in the hours and days following the bombing.
“In a sense, that was the Guard’s first exposure to a terrorist event,” said Deering. “It woke us in terms of our response [which] has to be in coordination and in concert with those civilian authorities who are in charge of the event that we are in support of, and how we can augment, how we can bring resources to the table to assist them in their jobs.”
At the time, Deering was working as the executive officer for the Oklahoma Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade and as its full-time officer-in-charge.
“I was in a meeting in my office with another Soldier … the plate glass window right behind me nearly came out of its seams,” he said.
He was 12 miles away.
Army Brig. Gen. Robbie L. Asher, Oklahoma’s director of the Joint Staff, said he took the initial call for Guard assistance when a firefighter called their Command Group at the Oklahoma Guard headquarters, pleading for help.
“He was very excited, saying, ‘Sir, we need help, we need help down here,'” said Asher.
Newly elected Gov. Frank Keating quickly activated the Guard to support the incident commander: Oklahoma City Fire Chief, Gary Marrs.
At the scene, some 100 Guardmembers immediately helped the search for survivors. They set up an emergency operations center and reported to the state’s civil emergency management agency.
Army aviators and medical personnel stood ready with lifesaving care and medevac. Others assisted police with site security and cleared debris from the scene.
Asher said he has a better appreciation today for how the Guard supported emergency responders from the multiple agencies across the state and the nation who worked the mission.
In the recovery operations, Guardmembers helped maintain the security perimeter, brought in equipment and airlifted supplies and donations.
Still other Guardmembers helped the state medical examiner transport and identify the dead. Casualty notification officers contacted next-of-kin, and Guard chaplains assisted families.
In the criminal investigation, Airmen flew reconnaissance missions to photograph the disaster site, and Soldiers even transported the arrested bombing suspect on a military helicopter.
East of the city, Soldiers crawled on their hands and knees to help the FBI comb through more than 120 dump-truck loads of debris for evidence and additional human remains.
“That was one of the more challenging jobs that I think any of our Soldiers had to do,” said Asher.
Those not on duty volunteered long days with the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. They did anything asked of them, officials said at the time.
Asher said it’s important to remind the nation about what happened. The Oklahoma Guard uses what it learned about multi-agency response in its current operations, including last winter’s joint ice storm response, he said.
“The state of Oklahoma came together with the nation’s support and grew from this,” said Asher. “It showed the world that we are resilient, and when you deal with Americans, we are going to come together.”
For Asher and other Oklahoma Guardsmen, their capital city serves as their vigilant reminder.
“When you drive down through Oklahoma City, and you see the memorial, it’s one of those things that always cause reflection,” said Asher.
“If we wish to end slavery and human trafficking. Its time we stand up and allow no more exemptions glorify no slave masters nor laws which promote or condone slavery! We must stand united in saying slavery was is and will always be wrong even in the name of Allah !”
Let’s Put an End to Human Trafficking ~ Sex trafficking charges released today ~ Win Prize for your Activism
Michael Demidenko (Join at Facebook)
Participate and enter to win $200
First, the prize,
after the initial window for participation is over and a number of [at least] 800 participants is reached (1,700 members, so 800 should be possible?), you’ll have *three chances* to win a prize of a $200 value (You can pick one we order for you, or receive a $200 giftcard of your choice or a money order in your name – I’ll work with you).
The winners will be chosen at random, so each participant will have an equal shot at a prize.
To Enter –
Please send an email to: PendingFreedom@live.com
The Subject: Enter
Provide your name and state that you’d like to participate.
Once and if we reach 800 participants, you’ll receive a reply to that email with the instructions of what you’ll need to do to participate – which would take no longer than a minute or two of your time. Your participation will only involve this network and the purpose will be only to raise awareness for the issue at hand.
We’ve not yet attempted this before, so we’ll see how it goes.
Again, details will be released only when a number of 800 people is reached. The prize will serve as a thank you for your participation.
Sex trafficking charges in Gambino case
U.S. attorney announces 13 arrests, one person on the run
Federal agents escort Suzanne Porcelli, a reputed member of the Gambino organized crime family, from New York City’s Federal Plaza on Tuesday
Jin Lee / AP
April 20, 2010 NEW YORK – A reputed boss of the Gambino organized crime family and 13 other people were charged on Tuesday with an array of crimes, including what prosecutors called new territory for the mob: sex trafficking of a minor.
Papers filed in federal court in Manhattan allege that Gambino soldiers and associates recruited prostitutes at strip clubs, including a 15-year-old, and advertised their services online.
Twelve of the 14 were arrested early Tuesday, one was arrested last week and another is on the run, the Justice Department said. One of those charged, Suzanne Porcelli, is a woman.
“Prosecutors said the mobsters drove the prostitutes to appointments in Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn and New Jersey, splitting their earnings with them. The defendants also “made the young women available for sex to the players at the regular high-stakes poker games” hosted by the family, the court papers said.
At a news conference, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called the sex trafficking ring both a “new low” and an apparent “first for the mob.”
An indictment also charged Daniel Marino, an alleged member of the Gambino ruling panel, with ordering a hit from prison on his own nephew because the nephew was cooperating with the FBI. Gunmen lured the victim, Frank Hyell, to a Staten Island nightspot in 1998, where they shot him three times in the face and back.
Marino, 69, was charged in a second murder of a gangland rival in 1989, extorting construction firms and running an illegal gambling operation. The income “sustained Marino’s own lavish lifestyle,” the court papers said.
The case marked the latest in a series indictments and prosecutions that have crippled the Gambino family since notorious boss John Gotti, the so-called Dapper Don, was sentenced to life in prison in 1992. He died in 2002.
Federal authorities said Tuesday that though the Gambinos now maintain a lower profile, they still are 200 strong and are always exploring new ways to stay in business.
“It’s still about making money,” said George Venizelos, head of the New York FBI office.
Marino was detained after pleading not guilty on Tuesday. Afterward, his lawyer, Charles Carnesi, said his client had just been released Monday from a New York hospital, where he had been since Friday.
“It could be heart-related, stroke-related,” Carnesi said. Otherwise, the lawyer added, “He’s in remarkably good health.”
The charges included racketeering, murder, sex trafficking, sex trafficking of a minor, jury tampering, extortion, assault, narcotics trafficking, wire fraud, loansharking and illegal gambling.
The extortion victims were beaten, sometimes with baseball bats, the U.S. Attorney’s office added. “The defendants targeted businesses in the home heating oil industry and the financial services industry, as well as various individuals in and around New York City.”
|Graphic History of the Honduran Coup|
|Written by Dan Archer|
| In the final part of this graphic history of the Honduran coup, originally published on Alternet amd followed up on HuffPost. on piecing together the evidence of the repression that went mostly undocumented in the wake of the Nov 29th Honduran elections. Despite the media’s portrayal of a democratic transition to Porfirio Lobo’s inauguration as president, the de facto government’s use of violence and threats against resistance members should stand as an ominous augury, especially given its clear links to Lobo and his cabinet. Most troubling of all is the United States’ involvement under the banner of promoting ‘democracy,’ a term that is being increasingly used as a pretext for supporting a regime whose sympathies correspond to the American agenda (be it CAFTA or alarmist left-wing conspiracies), regardless of popular feeling or their worrying record of human rights abuses.
To read more of Dan Archer’s comics journalism visit Archcomix.
RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen ~ from The Progressive Populist
When the check-out guy at the dollar store looked at the sky anxiously and complained that he needed to get home to plant his peppers, I became convinced we’re going to be OK. He’s proof that everyone’s more sustainable and self-sufficient this year. Even the Wall Street Journal looks like Martha Stewart is on the staff, with articles every weekend on how to fix your failing plants, corral the bugs, cook your bounty of produce. Maybe they realize that saving money makes financial sense.
But that’s not the whole idea — money. It’s more about connecting with our communities.
For farmers selling local, the markets are expanding exponentially. Restaurants are demanding fresher vegetables and pasture-raised meats. Local grains are even having a day in the sun, so move over, quinoa. Consumers jam farmers’ markets and sign up for seasonal subscriptions to produce, or CSAs. Yes, people know they may pay more, but they want the adventure of eating well. And, if you cook with in-season products, after paying for prepared foods from the factories, local products may make your food bill go down.
Now that we have the food system fixed, we see that supporting the local community takes all sorts of forms. There’s the good-old services swap. I’ll watch your kids if your husband helps my husband paint the barn.
Last year, my neighbor and I got into tag-team canning. I’d stop by her house to pick up what she had and take it home to wash, peel and cook. Then I’d have to run off somewhere and she’d take over and put the tomatoes in the jars and process them. Or we’d do it the other way — she’d start and I’d finish. It seemed to work out real well, both of us ending up with plenty.
Maybe you can share some equipment, keep the money out of the corporate pocket and help your neighbor. Like, let’s say your lawnmower is broken. You could buy a fancy-shmancy lawnmower from the big box store at a cost of several thousand dollars. Or you can find a kid, a reliable one, to cut the grass while you sit on the porch with your glass of home-grown mint tea.
Now, let’s take the next step in breaking from the industrial pattern, and one, I’m sorry to say, won’t be covered by the Journal. I’m talking about your retirement portfolio, dear boomer, and how to make it more local.
No secret that it’s hard for small businesses to get money now to survive. Just talk to the store owners on Main Street. There’s a little shoe store that I used to love, just sold a couple of brands, in business 20 years, that lost their line of credit last winter. The line of credit, $20,000, had been extended to him by the factory for inventory and he paid it off like clockwork. Twenty years.
But the factory had decided to raise their minimum lines of credit so while the owner had survived on $20,000 a quarter, under the new scheme he needed to commit for twice as much or borrow the money elsewhere to cover his inventory.
His bank, red ink from a couple of other deals on the books, and paying the high price of rescuing other banks through the FDIC, couldn’t lend him the money.
It’s a story written on all the Main Streets in the nation. Sure, somebody in the shoe store owner’s Rolodex could have helped, but it’s not in our modern culture to ask. Anyway, all our money is tied up in a 401K or a SEP or a Roth IRA or some other account that takes money out of the community and puts it into the great international banking system.
So it’s time to change the culture and, besides shopping locally, begin to invest locally.
How do you find local deals? Just keep your ears open, and talk to the business people you depend on. Most independents run into lean times now and then and they need good friends to help them through.
Sound scary? Compare the wisdom of investing with someone you know and trust with the wisdom of investing with, say Bernie Madoff or some CEO you’ve never heard of. In the same Wall Street Journal editions that discuss loam and compost, there are articles one after another on how it’s impossible to fund your retirement.
Unless you know your neighbors.
“A good community insures itself with trust,” said Wendell Berry one time, meaning that if you know the folks around you, you can expect that they won’t steal gas from yout truck in the driveway when you sleep at night. You can, in other words, trust them to do the right thing, or at least to try to do the right thing.
Maybe you know a kid that needs a college loan, planning to major in something that will benefit your community. Could you work a deal with him or her to help finance tuition, then pay you back with interest in your golden years?
There’s an extra bottom line in the payoff — something about connection with the future — but you won’t find anything about that in the Wall Street Journal.
Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2010
Enter the Photometria Exhibition ~ Ioannina Photo Festival. VOTE for your favorite photograph!
PHOTOMETRIA ~ IOANNINA PHOTO FESTIVAL IN GREECE