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!
Blood is seen near the footwear and a hair-band inside a room where five members of an Afghan family were killed near Gardez, in Paktia province, southeast Afghanistan, Friday, February 12, 2010. AP photo
The United Nations secretary general’s special representative to Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, said on Thursday that he was “deeply saddened and seriously concerned” about the loss of civilian lives in Afghanistan.
The statement came days after four civilians were killed and 8 others injured by NATO forces in the southern province of Kandahar.
“I am deeply saddened and seriously concerned by this loss of civilian life and once again call on all parties to the conflict to do their utmost to minimize harm to ordinary Afghans,” de Mistura said in the statement referring to Monday’s incident.
De Mistura also called on NATO forces to launch an investigation into the incident.
According to UN figures, more than 2,400 civilians were killed in 2009 alone. In February 2010, foreign forces killed five people including three women during a night raid on a family compound outside Gardez in Paktia Province.
The issue of civilian casualties has on occasions provoked tension between the United Nations and US-led foreign troops. In one of the tensest confrontations, the UN condemned the US for conducting an airstrike, which resulted in the loss of 90 civilian lives.
Pakistan is likely to bring a laundry list of demands to talks with the US today, as the two sides reassess their frayed relationship.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — When Pakistani officials sit down with their American counterparts for a round of high-level talks in Washington today, they’ll be a demanding bunch.
They’ll say that their armed forces have paid a heavy price to fight what many here see as America’s war, and they’ll argue that their country continues to bear the brunt of the war on terror with bomb blasts claiming the lives of Pakistanis nearly every week.
“We have already done too much,” Foreign Minister Shah here last week. “Pakistan has done its bit, we have delivered; now it’s your turn. Start delivering.”
The United States government has already taken steps to address Pakistan’s grievances. U.S. officials have markedly increased the frequency of their visits to Islamabad in recent months, and America is helping fund the country’s recent military offensives. In addition, Congress has passed legislation that provides for $7.5 billion of economic and development assistance to Pakistan over a five-year period.
Despite all these gestures of goodwill, deep mistrust subsists between the two strategic allies. Pakistan remembers that Americans were quick to leave the region once their objectives were attained at the end of the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and the widely held view is that the same will happen when American troops depart from Pakistan’s neighbor.
U.S. efforts to improve its image have often turned into public-relations disasters, and anti-Americanism seems to be on the rise among the general Pakistani population.
“Ultimately, they want to change the tone of this relationship,” said Moeed Yusuf, South Asia adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “This is a realization on both sides that the relationship has failed to deliver.”
Qureshi, who will officially lead Pakistan’s delegation, intends to bring an exhaustive list of demands when he meets with his counterpart Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today. He has identified no less than 10 “sectoral engagements” that go much beyond military cooperation and include everything from energy and education to health and agriculture.
Pakistan, a country of 175 million people — half of them illiterate — with an economy crippled by corruption and chronic power outages, has proved particularly fertile ground for fundamentalist ideologies and militant groups.
As a result, U.S. officials have increasingly emphasized economic development as a key component of their relationship with Pakistan, and the $7.5 billion aid package passed by Congress late last year was meant as a substantial move in that direction.
But the Kerry-Lugar bill, as the piece of legislation is known here, is a symbol of the dangers the United States faces when trying to woo the country’s population.
More recently, a U.S. tour of Pakistani legislators also turned into a PR fiasco when the tour members suddenly decided to return to Pakistan after experiencing what they saw as excessively intrusive body screening at Washington’s Ronald Reagan Airport.
Perceived American favoritism in favor of India, Pakistan’s historical enemy, has also proved to be a major stumbling block in U.S.-Pakistan relations.
“Washington’s heavy tilt in favor of India and its helplessness in nudging India to seriously address Kashmir and other issues is another source of friction,” wrote Talat Masood, a retired lieutenant general, in The News, a local newspaper. “Pakistan also cannot kowtow America’s Afghanistan policy either unless it takes into account Pakistan’s security and strategic concerns.”
Pakistan has always sought to ensure a friendly Afghan regime would allow it to focus the bulk of its military might on its eastern border. The involvement of India in the training of Afghan armed forces is therefore seen as a strategic menace to Pakistan’s interests, said Imtiaz Gul, the executive director of the Center for Research and Security Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank.
“We do not want an army operating in our backyard … that has been trained by our archrival,” he said.
Gul said a recalibration of the U.S.-India relationship that would take into account Pakistan’s interests would go a long way toward mending fences between America and Pakistan.
He said the upcoming talks between the United States and Pakistan are unlikely to yield guarantees besides agreements related to the energy sector. Nonetheless, he said he views the intensification of the dialogue between the two countries as a major opportunity.
“I think they’re developing into a much more positive relationship,” Gul said. “Pakistan stands a very good chance to benefit from it.”
Monday, March 01, 2010 19:17 Mecca time, 16:17 GMT from AlJazeera English website
Deadly blasts strike Afghanistan The blast in Kadahar province killed five Afghans, including a police officer [Reuters] Four Nato soldiers and at least nine Afghans have been killed in separate attacks across Afghanistan, including a car bomb explosion in the southern province of Kandahar. Two members of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) died in an attack in western Afghanistan, while another service member was killed by small arms fire in the country’s south, Nato officials said on Monday. Elsewhere, one Afghan police officer died when a car bomb exploded outside the police headquarters in Kandahar city, Sardar Mohammad Zazai, the provincial police chief, said. He said the blast wounded nine other officers and six civilians. Just hours earlier, four Afghan civilians and one Nato soldier died after a suicide car bomber targeted international forces outside Kandahar city, officials said. Civilians killed The assailant had waited in a taxi near a bridge between the airport and Kandahar city that Isaf troops regularly check for explosives, Inhamullah Khan, an Afghan army official at the bombing site, said. The attacker detonated the bomb as the convoy crossed the bridge in the morning, hurling a military vehicle into the ravine below, he said. Khan said the civilians who died were in a car that had pulled over nearby to wait for the convoy to pass. Kandahar city, the capital of the province of the same name, is east of Helmand province, where thousands of US, Isaf and Afghan troops are conducting a two-week-long anti-Taliban offensive and where a roadside bomb claimed the lives of 11 civilians on Sunday. In other violence, Daud Ahmadi, the Helmand governor’s spokesman, said “a civilian car struck a roadside bomb in Nawzad district” in the province’s north. Blaming the Taliban for the attack, Ahmadi said the dead included two children and two women. Pakistan attack Meanwhile, anti-government fighters in Pakistan blew up a tanker carrying fuel for Isaf troops stationed in Afghanistan. Several armed men lobbed a rocket and then opened fire on Monday on the supply convoy on the outskirts of the northwestern city Peshawar, Imtiaz Ahmed, a senior police officer, said. In a subsequent exchange of fire lasting up to an hour, Pakistani security forces killed a fighter, Karim Khan, another police officer, said. Police did not immediately identify the assailants, but the Taliban and members of local group Lashkar-e-Islam regularly attack Nato supply vehicles on the main route through northwest Pakistan.
By: Sikander Shaheen | Published: February 27,
ISLAMABAD – Although intensified and off-the-curtain deliberations for reconciliation between US and Taliban have been continuing for the last couple of months in Afghanistan, yet the United Nations holds certain disagreements with NATO command over its ‘overstepping’ on some fronts.
United Nations Assistance Missions in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has been instrumental, throughout, in arranging covert talks between Taliban and NATO command, and some senior Taliban leaders frequently met Kai Eide in the second half of December last and couple of months that followed. However, the inclusion of some wanted miscreants of different terrorist organisations in the ‘dialogue process’ followed by their stealthy visits in Afghanistan, and uncalled for Indian involvement are some of the factors that do not go well with UNAMA.
After UN Afghanistan Chief Kai Eide had faced wide criticism on his failure to play an active role in stopping Afghanistan’s fraudulent presidential elections last year under growing demands for his resignations coming from credible international agencies, the outgoing Envoy wants to quit his responsibilities with some worthy achievements to his credit and his active involvement in initiating dialogue with Taliban is inter-linked to it.
Deeply cautious of his somehow passive role on the occasion of presidential elections and carrying the resolve not to repeat his mistakes, Kai Eide has been critical of Afghan government’s inefficiency and has differences with Karzai’s regime in the wake of massive corruption and drugs trafficking. During his tenure, UN had made public several reports highlighting Afghanistan’s inability to counter indigenous vices, other than terrorism, like lack of transparency, misappropriation of funds, and drugs smuggling. It was under his command that international community, for the first time, started pointing fingers at Afghanistan for its self-created multiple crises instead of using Pakistan as a scapegoat.
While Kai Eide has an individual role in facilitating secretive meet-ups with Taliban leaders, he is equally repulsive of NATO’s overstepping to use ‘fugitive’ Taliban in pursuit of its vested agenda. The outgoing Envoy, who is stepping down the next month, cites some personal reasons and family commitments for his decision to wind up, but informed circles in UNAMA believe that their Chief would have given a serious thought to get his contract renewed “had he not been completely out of line on some issues with US military command in Afghanistan.”
US verdict sparks Pakistan protests
Thousands of Pakistanis have staged rallies against the conviction of the Pakistani scientist found guilty of trying to kill American servicemen in Afghanistan.
Protests were held on Thursday in several cities in Pakistan, where many believe that Aafia Siddiqui is innocent.
The neuroscientist, branded “Lady Qaeda” by some in the US press, disappeared for five years before her arrest in Afghanistan in 2008.
She was convicted in a New York court on Wednesday.
Siddiqui’s relatives condemned the verdict, with Fauzia Siddiqui, her sister, saying the verdict had “rejuvenated” the family.
“And we’re proud to be related to her,” she said, speaking from the Pakistani city of Karachi.
“America’s justice system, the establishment, the war on terror, the fraud of the war on terror, all of those things have shown their own ugly faces.”
The AFP news agency quoted Ismat Siddiqui, Aafia’s mother, who lives in Karachi, as saying the family had been braced for the verdict but would continue to work for her release.
“I did not expect anything better from an American court. We were ready for the shock and will continue our struggle to get her released,” she was quoted as saying.
Pakistan’s government has expressed “dismay” over the verdict, vowing to consult her family and lawyers on how to secure her release.
Abdul Basit, a foreign ministry spokesman, said the government would do its best to secure Siddiqui’s release.
“The ultimate objective is to get her back to Pakistan and we would do everything possible and we’ll apply all possible tools in this regard,” he said.
Kamal Hyder, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Islamabad, said that as far as public opinion is concerned, the verdict is definitely not in favour of the Americans.
“There is also disappointment with the [Pakistani] government for failing to find a diplomatic way out and getting Aafia Siddiqui back home, because they feel she was innocent.”
Siddiqui, who was arrested in 2008, was accused of grabbing a US serviceman’s rifle and opening fire on her American interrogators, who returned fire.
While none of the US agents or personnel were injured, Siddiqui was shot in the incident.
Before her arrest, Siddiqui had been missing for five years, during which time her family alleges she was held at the US military’s Bagram airbase in Afghanistan.
Both the US and the Pakistani authorities deny that Siddiqui was in custody before her arrest in 2008 in the town of Ghazni.
Hyder said: “Many hundreds of people have disappeared from Pakistan – they’re still not accounted for – and now that Dr Aafia’s case has come up, that’s likely to be a rallying point for the anti-American sentiment.”
Cageprisoners, a UK-based rights group, rejected the verdict, citing the fact that evidence about Siddiqui’s whereabouts prior to her arrest had been disallowed from the trial.
“The case of Aafia Siddiqui carries great significance in terms of the ability of the Obama administration to administer justice,” Asim Qureshi, a spokesman for the group, said, referring to the administration of Barack Obama, the US president.
|Siddiqui was missing for five years prior
to her arrest in Afghanistan [EPA]
“Already we have seen a blanket refusal to look at the facts of her detention prior to 2008, this verdict will only confirm what many already believe, that it is impossible for Muslim terrorism suspects to receive a fair trial in the US.”
At the time of her arrest Siddiqui was allegedly carrying containers of chemicals and notes referring to mass-casualty attacks and New York landmarks.
But she was not charged in connection with those materials and the charges she was convicted of made no mention of terrorism.
During the trial, Linda Moreno, Siddiqui’s defence lawyer, argued that there was no evidence the rifle Siddiqui was accused of taking had ever been fired, since no bullets, shell casings or bullet debris were recovered and no bullet holes detected.
Moreno also said the testimony of the government’s six eyewitnesses contradicted one another.
Siddiqui faces up to life in prison when she is sentenced on May 6.
Her lawyers have said they intend to appeal the verdict.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ExxAVSb5-0 Video report from AJE
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Several people were shot dead and more than a dozen injured on Tuesday during an anti-NATO demonstration in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand province, local media said.
Hundreds of Afghans took part in the demonstration, which had to be dispersed by police and the military. They were protesting against the killings of civilians by NATO troops and demanding their withdrawal from the country.
The demonstration followed a recent NATO airstrike in the town of Garmsir. The military said several militants were killed as a result of the attack, but the protesters claimed there were also victims among civilians.
The shooting reportedly broke out on Tuesday when the demonstrators started to throw stones at Afghan police and foreign officers, who arrived at the site to calm down the protesters.
“I confirm that the demonstration in Garmsir took place, and that it was dispersed,” said Helmand governor’s press secretary Daud Ahmadi.
He said “no one could say for certain who fired at demonstrators – foreign servicemen, [Afghan] police or militants.” However, he added, “it is known for sure that there were armed men among the protesters,” and pledged to investigate the incident.
Demonstrations against NATO’s presence in Afghanistan are common. In late December, hundreds of students in the country’s eastern Nangarhar province blocked a major highway linking the Afghan east with country’s central provinces.
Violence surged in the country in 2009, with the radical Islamic Taliban group staging regular attacks on provincial government officials, police and civilians and planting roadside devices as part of its fight against U.S. and NATO troops.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and a separate U.S.-led coalition, involved in Operation Enduring Freedom, have more than 110,000 troops in Afghanistan.
In early December, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a televised address to the nation that the U.S. would send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in the first part of 2010 to defeat the Taliban and establish law and order.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen then said alliance members were ready to send 7,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
Source: RIA Novosti