Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
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On September 28, 2002, President Bush proclaimed: “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons . . . The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are Al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq.” Just over a year after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the president and his administration used these two fears — unconventional weapons and terrorism — to win public approval for going to war in Iraq. But the premises proved to be false. The chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq concluded that President Saddam Hussein had no such weapons or the means to produce them, and the U.S. intelligence community determined that there was no meaningful connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq. These conclusions came too late, however. On March 20, 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom began in an attempt to kill the Iraqi president and overthrow his regime. The Center for Public Integrity found that Bush and seven members of his administration made 935 demonstrably false statements in the lead-up to the war, from September 2001 to September 2003, as reported in Iraq: The War Card. The failure of the commander in chief and his administration to gather solid intelligence before sending U.S. troops to war has cost thousands of American and Iraqi lives, billions of tax dollars, and the trust of not only of U.S. allies abroad, but also of a majority of the American people. When asked about the War Card study, a White House spokesman responded: “The actions taken in 2003 were based on the collective judgment of intelligence agencies around the world.”
ABU GHRAIB PRISON SCANDAL
Few incidents have done more damage to America’s image in the world than the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. In late April 2004, Americans got their first glimpse of the haunting photographs of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad: scenes of naked, humiliated prisoners piled on top of one another, some forced to assume sexual positions, all while American soldiers posed nearby, smiling at the camera. The photos provoked an instant outcry around the world. In addressing the scandal, President Bush insisted that it was the fault of a few dishonorable soldiers, not a systematic problem with how the U.S. was managing the war in Iraq — but investigations suggest that the blame likely rises higher up the military’s chain of command. Some senior officials, such as General Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of military prisons in Iraq, were reprimanded and suspended. But the blame mainly fell on low-level soldiers, who were convicted and sent to prison for participating in sexual abuse, beatings, and other brutal acts. Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said news of the abuse “stunned him.” But a military report by Major General Antonio Taguba found that the prison was overcrowded, undermanned, and short of resources, making accountability for prisoner treatment rare. Taguba also noted in 2004 that the Central Intelligence Agency had serious concerns about the kinds of interrogation techniques military forces used on detainees. But Taguba wasn’t permitted to delve much deeper; an article in The New Yorker in 2007 reported that military investigators were not allowed to look into the role of Rumsfeld and other Department of Defense officials. What is known is that the Pentagon found out about the existence of the photos in January 2004 and Taguba filed his report in March. President Bush knew about the abuses at Abu Ghraib at least by March, but he did not address the issue until the media publicized it in late April. Congress found out about the abuse the same day the American public did. “This is entirely unacceptable,” said Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican of Indiana and then chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. The scandal, Lugar added, “pushed international resentment and distrust of the United States to levels unprecedented in recent times.” The biggest failure, according to watchdogs: the lack of accountability for military officials who failed to stop or prevent the abuses. The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment, but has previously stated that the administration and the military acted quickly “to hold people to account and bring them to justice, and to also take steps to prevent something like that from happening again.”
ARBITRARY DETENTION AT GUANTANAMO
The U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has held hundreds of detainees without charging them with a crime. The White House conceived of Guantanamo as an extralegal zone for hardened terrorists whom it unilaterally declared were exempt from the Geneva Conventions. There, terrorists would have no recourse to the American legal system, lawyers at the Department of Justice argued; instead, they could be imprisoned for as long as the government saw fit. In June 2004, the Supreme Court struck down the administration’s plan and declared that the foreign nationals held at Guantanamo had the right to petition for their release in U.S. courts. Once forced to confront the legal status of its prisoners, the Department of Defense (DOD) began releasing or transferring many of the inmates. By October 2004, the United States had released 202 detainees from the prison camp and between late 2004 and March 2005 the remaining 558 detainees passed through “Combatant Status Review Tribunals,” which determined that 520 of these prisoners were “
By 2008, however, after further review of cases and intervention by U.S. courts, the number of prisoners held at Guantanamo dropped to approximately 255, according to the Pentagon. Another 60 or so have been cleared for release but can not be repatriated because their home country refused to accept them or due to other diplomatic complications. Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees have struggled to obtain documents from the U.S. military believed to contain evidence against their clients, and in some cases, the United States has had to drop prosecutions of Guantanamo inmates because much of their case was built on evidence obtained through interrogation methods widely considered to be torture. Asked to comment, a DOD spokesman directed the Center to a factsheet on Guantanamo: “Detainees held at Guantanamo Bay are not only afforded the majority of the protections granted to prisoners of war,” it states, “but many additional privileges that exceed the requirements established by the Geneva Conventions.
PENTAGON OFFICE’S MISLEADING INTELLIGENCE
An under-the-radar Department of Defense (DOD) office produced highly politicized intelligence assessments and promulgated one of the most inaccurate justifications for U.S. invasion of Iraq: that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein had a working relationship with Al Qaeda. The Office of Special Plans, part of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy led by Douglas Feith, created and provided these assessments to senior U.S. officials. Though neither illegal nor unauthorized, these assessments were, in the view of the DOD inspector general, “inappropriate” and “did not clearly show the variance with the consensus of the Intelligence Community.” A Senate Intelligence Committee report found not only that the work of other intelligence agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency, was ignored, but also suggested that the Office of Special Plans shaped intelligence to fit the desires of policymakers — a cardinal sin in the intelligence world. According to several Democratic senators on the intelligence committee, “[C]riticism of the CIA’s analysis was sent by Under Secretary for Policy Feith to Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld.” W. Patrick Lang, the former chief of Middle East intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency, told investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh, “The Pentagon has banded together to dominate the government’s foreign policy, and they’ve pulled it off.” The 9-11 Commission would later conclude that it found “
no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.”
A study conducted by a DOD-funded think tank, after a review of captured Iraqi government documents, also found no “
between Al Qaeda and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Trumpeted by the White House as a key reason to invade Iraq, the much touted close “relationship” between Al Qaeda and Iraq simply did not exist.
MILITARY FAILURE TO SECURE IRAQ AFTER INVASION
Calling them “wildly off mark,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz dismissed the assessments of his own Army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, and a 1999 Department of Defense (DOD) war game scenario, both of which predicted the need for hundreds of thousands of troops to secure post-invasion Iraq — far more than the 148,000 who were eventually assigned the job. According to an official U.S. Army history of the conflict in Iraq, “The military means employed were sufficient to destroy the Saddam regime; they were not sufficient to replace it with the type of nation-state the United States wished to see in its place.” A 2005 unclassified study for the Army by the RAND Corporation, which was suppressed until media reports and congressional pressure brought it to light, said that the chaotic security situation after Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled were “conditions [that] enabled the insurgency to take root, and the Army and Marine Corps have been battling the insurgents ever since.” Though there were some strategies for securing post-invasion Iraq, “few if any made it into the serious planning process,” according to the RAND report. These ideas were “held at bay, in the most general sense, by two mutually reinforcing sets of assumptions that dominated planning . . . at the highest levels” — that few armed forces would be necessary after the invasion and that the military would not be an occupying force. Just days before the war began, Vice President Cheney said, “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”
LACK OF ARMORED PROTECTION FOR TROOPS
The U.S. military failed to provide adequate body armor and armored vehicles to soldiers and Marines fighting the Iraq war. Key assumptions made before the invasion and early in the occupation of Iraq proved faulty: namely, that the Iraqi people would welcome the United States’ presence and that the American military would not face an insurgency. In April 2003 military supply chiefs told the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Army Strategic Planning Board, led by General Richard Cody, that there was enough body armor and that the 50,000 troops behind the front lines did not need armor, according to a 2005 piece in The New York Times. By mid-May, as troops behind front lines faced attacks, Cody reversed that decision and ordered body armor for all, “regardless of duty position.” The case was similar for military vehicles. According to an Army history: “When OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom] began, as in every previous war the U.S. Army has fought, logistical vehicles were largely unarmored or lightly armed. . . . The ‘360-degree’ Iraqi insurgency once again exposed the danger of this approach.” The early missteps were soon compounded by other problems. It took time for the bureaucracy at the Pentagon to move; for example, at one point, the Army's equipment manager reportedly reduced the priority level of armor to the same status of socks. Also, DOD relied on several unproven contractors, which led to delays. The result was that for too long too few troops had adequate armor in a conflict that turned out to have no front lines. Soldiers almost anywhere in Iraq could be targeted, especially by the insurgents’ weapon of choice, improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Between the beginning of the conflict in March 2003 through November 1, 2008, 2,145 troops were killed and nearly 21,000 troops were wounded by IEDs and other types of explosive devices in Iraq.
PENTAGON’S SLOW ADAPTATION TO A WAR-FOOTING
The Department of Defense (DOD) has often been unresponsive or slow to react to the needs of soldiers and Marines on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in the United States when they return. “A lesson I learned fairly early on was that important elements of the Department of Defense weren’t at war,” and thus failed to support those who were in a wartime posture, said Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates. Instead, he explained, they were “preoccupied with future capabilities and procurement programs, wedded to lumbering peacetime process and procedures, stuck in bureaucratic low-gear. The needs of those in combat too often were not addressed urgently or creatively.” According to The New York Times, “In Iraq, Army officers say the Air Force has often been out of touch, fulfilling only half of their requests for the sophisticated surveillance aircraft that ground commanders say are needed to find roadside bombs and track down insurgents.” The DOD press office did not respond to a request for comment, but Gates has criticized the Pentagon’s slow initial procurement of MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles), saying, “I believe that one factor that delayed the fielding was the pervasive assumption . . . that regimes could be toppled, major combat completed, the insurgency crushed, and most U.S. troops withdrawn fairly soon.” Gates sees a lack of accountability at the root of the problems, citing as an example Walter Reed Army Medical Center: “Over a year ago, The Washington Post broke the story about inadequate out-patient care at Walter Reed. I was disappointed by the initially-dismissive response of some in the Army’s leadership, who went into damage-control mode against the press and, in one case, blamed a couple of sergeants. Wrong move. I concluded responsibility lay much higher and acted accordingly.”
INADEQUATE PLANNING FOR POST-INVASION IRAQ
The United States planned poorly for the post-invasion administration of Iraq, contributing to the rise of a broad insurgency and the loss of thousands of lives and billions of dollars. The blame can be cast widely. An official Army history of the Iraq conflict found that “
the Army, as the service primarily responsible for ground operations, should have insisted on better . . . planning and preparations. . . .” A RAND Corporation study concluded that the State Department’s “main postwar planning effort . . . raised many of the right questions. . . . Yet the Department of Defense largely ignored this project.”
Rand also found that much of the confusion between the State and Defense departments stemmed from poor direction from the National Security Council, which failed to mediate disputes between the departments. Others blame the Coalition Provisional Authority, led by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, which issued two orders that disbanded the Iraqi military and gutted the Iraqi government by banning members of the Ba'ath Party. Critics say those decisions, which took many U.S. civilian and military leaders by surprise, contributed to the rise in violence. Before Bremer replaced him as director of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq, Lieutenant General Jay Garner drafted a postwar plan for Iraq, which he introduced with, “History will judge the war against Iraq not by the brilliance of its military execution, but by the effectiveness of the post-hostilities activities.”
POOR HEALTH CARE FOR VETERANS
Veterans enrolled in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care programs have long complained of receiving inadequate treatment at poorly funded facilities. According to a 2003 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, veterans were forced to travel long distances to receive care — about 25 percent of the vets lived more than a 60-minute drive from a VA hospital. They also had to endure long waits for appointments, especially in regions like Florida, home to a large number of aging veterans. Nursing homes for veterans were notoriously understaffed, making it difficult to keep up with the increasing population of older vets who need care. But the strains imposed by new veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan exposed a whole new litany of problems for the VA and the military. Citizens and lawmakers were outraged after The Washington Post exposed dismal conditions for veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2007. Several high-ranking Defense Department officials were fired or stepped down under pressure, and stories soon emerged about other medical facilities where veterans were placed in rooms teeming with fruit flies, slept on broken hospital beds or faced unprofessional staff. A subsequent investigation of 1,400 hospitals and other facilities for vets found more than 1,000 incidents of substandard conditions. The VA has also struggled to deal with the many young veterans complaining of mental health problems, especially post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Treatment for PTSD was found to be inadequate in 2005, when only half of VA medical centers had a PTSD clinical team. Congressional testimony indicated that VA examiners felt pressure to conduct exams of veterans in as little as 20 minutes. The larger problem is that the VA’s patient workload has nearly doubled in the past 10 years; there are now 7.8 million enrollees in the VA health system. The VA “has faced difficulties in managing its resources” in the face of this rising workload, concluded the GAO. While the agency has dealt with challenges in recruiting and retaining health care professionals, it has also encountered problems in its internal budget process, the GAO found. Those issues have been exacerbated by an often-unpredictable Congressional appropriations process, which has frequently been late in delivering a finalized VA budget. The result is considerable confusion and inconsistency in the timely delivery and quality of care. A VA spokesman did not respond to a request for comment, but Gerald M. Cross, acting principal deputy under the secretary of health, told Congress in 2007 that the department is committed to “providing timely, high-quality health care to those who have helped defend and preserve freedom around the world.”
VETERAN DISABILITY CLAIMS LANGUISH
For many injured veterans — aging former soldiers as well as younger ones recently back from Iraq and Afghanistan — disability claims are a vital and necessary source of income. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), however, has long failed to process claims in a timely manner, forcing many vets to wait an average of six months for their claim to be processed, and as long as two years to wait for an appeal. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported a growing backlog of claims and lengthy processing times in 2001, and the problem has persisted. By February 2007, the backlog had grown to almost 400,000 — more than 130,000 of which had exceeded the VA’s 160-day goal to process a claim. This is due in part to the growing number of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan filing disability claims — total claims have jumped from about 579,000 in 2000 to some 806,000 in 2006, a 39 percent increase. The Senate unanimously passed a measure in 2007 to provide the VA with $70.3 million to eliminate the backlog of disability claims by hiring new processors and implementing better staff training. But increasing the number of processors on staff did not immediately solve the crisis. The GAO says that increased numbers must be paired with “adequate training and performance management” in order to issue timely and accurate decisions. Daniel Akaka, Democrat of Hawaii and chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, has called for better technology, improved employee training, and an enhanced claims process to end the long delays. Until the problems are fixed, the persistent delays mean that tens of thousands of veterans and their families will continue to struggle financially. The VA press office did not respond to a request for comment, but Patrick Dunne, the department's acting under secretary for benefits, told Congress in July 2008 that the department is “
continually seeking new ways to increase production and shorten the time veterans are waiting for decisions on their claims,”
which include “
longer-term efforts to enhance and upgrade our claims processing systems through integration of today's technology.”
FAILURE TO SECURE WEAPONS IN IRAQ
In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, U.S. troops failed to secure weapons depots across the country, allowing Iraqis to loot vast amounts of explosives, ammunition, and weapons that were then used to fuel and supply the insurgency. Many sites around Iraq remained unsecured even three and a half years after the invasion, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). “According to lessons-learned reports and senior-level DOD [Department of Defense] officials,” the GAO reported, “the widespread looting occurred because DOD had insufficient troop levels to secure conventional munitions storage sites due to several . . . planning priorities and assumptions.” Among those assumptions — which turned out to be wrong — was a belief that the Iraqi military would assist in securing these installations. The GAO also found that the Pentagon “did not have a centrally managed program for the disposition of enemy munitions until August 2003, after widespread looting had already occurred.” The sites included many well known to intelligence experts, such as the sprawling Al Qaqaa military facility south of Baghdad. The Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation each stressed to Pentagon officials the need to secure these sites, but the military largely failed to address the issue. Stolen explosives traced to the looting have been used to make improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, the number-one killer of U.S. troops in Iraq. Since the beginning of the war in Iraq, at least 2,145 troops have been killed by IEDs and other types of explosive devices. The DOD press office did not respond to a request for comment, but at a 2007 briefing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged the scope of the problem. “We have destroyed several hundred thousand tons of Iraqi munitions,” he told reporters. “I mean, fundamentally, the entire country was one big ammo dump. And there were thousands of these sites... we're doing our best to try and find them, but given the expanse of the country and all the other tasks which the military is trying to carry out there, it's a huge task.
CONTRACTORS FAILING TROOPS IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN
Since the invasion of Afghanistan, the Pentagon’s escalating use of outside contractors has coincided with a decrease in oversight, endangering the well-being of American troops serving there and in Iraq. The Department of Defense (DOD) has suffered a “complete breakdown in the procurement process” during the past seven years, according to Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, echoing the findings of the Center for Public Integrity’s Windfalls of War and Windfalls of War II projects. Examples abound of companies providing substandard supplies to American forces, such as when Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), the largest contractor in Iraq, provided contaminated water to 5,000 U.S. troops in 2005 and when Halliburton, then KBR’s parent company, engaged in overcharges and questionable costs of $212.3 million for oil reconstruction work, as reported by DOD auditors. In July 2008, the Pentagon revealed that 16 Americans had died of accidental electrocution in Iraq, some tied to faulty wiring at facilities run by U.S. contractors. Among the problems cited by former electricians: inexperienced employees, including foreign electricians who did not speak English. Another problem plaguing U.S. contractors have been fires — 283 of them over just five months at facilities maintained by KBR, according to a 2007 report by the Defense Contract Management Agency. The most glaring case of poor oversight may be AEY Inc., which was awarded a nearly $300 million contract to supply ammunition for Afghanistan’s army and police. In a case that Representative Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, said speaks “volumes about what's wrong with the military contracting process today,” AEY was allegedly run out of an unmarked office in Miami Beach by a 22-year-old; much of the ammunition he sold were reportedly old rounds shipped from Albania that were considered so unstable that NATO and the United States spent millions of dollars to destroy the stockpiles. These, prosecutors charge, included $10 million worth of rounds manufactured in China in the 1960s; the selling of Chinese ammunition is a breach of U.S. law. All this allegedly happened despite AEY being on a State Department watch list since 2005.
SURGE IN OUTSOURCING CREATES PROBLEMS IN PERFORMANCE, OVERSIGHT
A dramatic increase in the contracting of government services has resulted in a litany of problems, ranging from cost overruns and missed deadlines to a lack of oversight, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). From 2001 to 2005, the number of federal contractor jobs surged by 72 percent, increasing from 4.4 million to 7.6 million. Spending on contractors nearly doubled from FY 2001 to FY 2006, jumping from $234.8 billion to $415 billion The GAO has issued a series of reports identifying problems associated with the rise in outsourcing. Among the issues: “separating wants from needs; executing acquisition programs within available funding and established timeframes; using sound contracting arrangements with appropriate incentives and effective oversight; assuring that contractors are used only in appropriate circumstances and play proper roles; and sustaining a capable and accountable acquisition workforce ” GAO auditors found that interagency contracting was a “high-risk area” for outsourcing, as were the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The agency also cited concerns about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which now contracts out one-third of its workforce. Lack of competition is another problem. The Department of the Interior’s inspector general found that more than a quarter of the agency’s $380 billion in contracts were awarded without competition.
FAILURE TO REGULATE SECURITY CONTRACTORS
In a busy Baghdad square, a disturbance between a group of Americans and Iraqis on September 16, 2007 resulted in the shooting death of 17 Iraqi civilians. The Americans involved were not military; they were private security contractors from a company called Blackwater. To date security contractors in Iraq number around 48,000 from various companies. Similarly, jobs such as cooking and cleaning on military bases — positions that in past wars were largely filled by military or government personnel — are increasingly outsourced to private companies. The number of private contractors, as well as the amount of money the government pays them, has risen considerably as the Iraq war has gone on, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s 2007 report, Windfalls of War II. The result has been less coordination in missions involving both military and private groups, such as U.K.-based Erinys, and U.S.-based Blackwater and KBR. The problem was highlighted in 2004, when insurgents ambushed a KBR truck convoy and drivers refused to work until security was improved. Without the deliveries, the military was left without adequate fuel, water, and ammunition. A complicating factor has been the ambiguous legal status of private contractors. In the 2007 Blackwater shooting, the security firm initially maintained that the guards fired in self-defense, but investigations by the Iraqi government and the Federal Bureau of Investigation both conclude that the only shots fired came from Blackwater employees. The Department of Defense holds its contractors liable under laws covering the military, but Blackwater works for the State Department, which does not. Critics say that such large-scale security contracting results in a lack of coordination and accountability which poses a risk to American troops as well as to Iraqis, and that mistakes made by U.S. contractors will ultimately be seen by Iraqis as mistakes by the U.S. military. In a 2008 hearing, a senior official argued that contractors have long been an essential and cost-effective tool for ensuring safety in war regions. In Senate testimony, Patrick F. Kennedy, a State Department under secretary, said “The use of security contractors in these dangerous places has allowed the Department the flexibility to rapidly expand its capability… and to support national-security initiatives without the delays inherent in recruiting, hiring and training full-time personnel.
190,000 MISSING WEAPONS IN IRAQ
American weaponry intended for Iraqi security forces may have ended up in the hands of insurgents attacking U.S. troops in Iraq, due largely to oversights at the Department of Defense (DOD), according to government auditors. At least 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols disappeared between 2004 and 2005, some 30 percent of all weapons the United States distributed to Iraqi forces during that time, reported the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in an August 2007 study. While security assistance programs are traditionally operated by the State Department, the Pentagon — as it has in operations throughout the Iraq war— asserted control of the program early on, saying that it could provide greater flexibility. Until December 2005, neither the Pentagon nor Multinational Force-Iraq maintained any central record of equipment distributed during Iraqi security force training (then led by General David Petraeus). The GAO also found that 135,000 pieces of body armor and 115,000 helmets went missing during that time. A subsequent New York Times investigation found that Kassim al-Saffar, an Iraqi businessman Americans entrusted to supply Iraqi police cadets, turned the U.S. armory into a “private arms bazaar” selling weapons to anyone with cash in hand — meaning more U.S. resources wasted in Iraq and greater danger for American troops serving there.
This article, by John Goetz and Bob Drogin, was originally published in the Los Angeles Times, June 18 2008
Rafid Ahmed Alwan hoped for an easier life when he came here from Iraq nine years ago. He also hoped for a reward for his cooperation with German intelligence officers.
"For what I've done, I should be treated like a king," he said outside a cramped, low-rent apartment he shares with his family.
Instead, the Iraqi informant code-named Curveball has flipped burgers at McDonald's and Burger King, washed dishes in a Chinese restaurant and baked pretzels in an all-night bakery. He also has faced withering international scorn for peddling discredited intelligence that helped spur an invasion of his native country.
Now, in his first public comments, the 41-year-old engineer from Baghdad complains that the CIA and other spy agencies are blaming him for their mistakes.
"I'm not guilty," Alwan said, insisting that he made no false claims. "Believe me, I'm not guilty."
It was intelligence attributed to Alwan -- as Curveball -- that the White House used in making its case that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. He described what turned out to be fictional mobile germ factories. The CIA belatedly branded him a liar.
After Curveball's role in the pre-invasion intelligence fiasco was disclosed by the Los Angeles Times four years ago, the con man behind the code name remained in the shadows. His security was protected and his identity concealed by the BND, Germany's Federal Intelligence Service.
But when a reporter knocked on his door one Sunday morning this year, Alwan seemed neither alarmed nor surprised. In a series of sometimes reluctant interviews that followed, he emerged as a defiant and pugnacious defender of his intelligence contributions and reputation.
"Everything that's been written about me isn't true," Alwan repeated.
Along with confirmation of Curveball's identity, however, have come fresh disclosures raising doubts about his honesty -- much of that new detail coming from friends, associates and past employers.
"He was corrupt," said a family friend who once employed him.
"He always lied," said a fellow Burger King worker.
And records reveal that when Alwan fled to Germany, one step ahead of the Iraq Justice Ministry, an arrest warrant had been issued alleging that he sold filched camera equipment on the Baghdad black market.
The reporter at his door that morning offered Alwan a chance to defend himself publicly.
He was calm, unshaven, wearing a T-shirt and pajama bottoms. Alwan tried to bargain for an interview fee. When he didn't get one, he shut the door, saying he was "risking my family" by talking.
Over the next few weeks, Alwan dodged attempts to reopen conversations and took steps to elude the reporter. He altered his appearance by shaving his bushy mustache. He pulled his name from a mailbox. He failed to show up at promised appointments.
Eventually, he agreed to a series of brief interviews. In every encounter, he was combative and unapologetic. Others, he insisted, had twisted or misinterpreted his information.
"I never said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, never in my whole life," he said. "I challenge anyone in the world to get a piece of paper from me, anything with my signature, that proves I said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."
How did the Bush administration get it so wrong?
"I'm not the source of these problems," he said.
Alwan's life as a secret informant began in January 2000, soon after he applied for political asylum at Zirndorf, a refugee camp outside Nuremberg. He told a BND team he had helped run a secret Iraqi program to produce biological weapons, records show.
In 52 meetings with BND handlers over the next year and a half, he provided hand-drawn sketches and other details. German officials said they met mostly on Saturday mornings at a BND safe house. He liked to go for pizza afterward.
Alwan didn't share all his secrets. He didn't disclose that he had been fired at least twice for dishonesty, or that he fled Iraq to avoid arrest. But he did tell some whoppers that should have raised warnings about his credibility.
He claimed, for example, that the son of his former boss, Basil Latif, secretly headed a vast weapons of mass destruction procurement and smuggling scheme from England. British investigators found, however, that Latif's son was a 16-year-old exchange student, not a criminal mastermind.
When a Western intelligence team interviewed Latif outside Iraq in early 2002, a year before the war, he warned that Alwan had been fired for falsifying invoices at work. Latif also denied that anyone produced biological weapons at the plant where he worked with Alwan.
"They thought I was lying," Latif, who now lives in Oman, said in an interview. "But I was telling the truth. It upset me very much."
German officials instead believed Alwan's story that he helped manage an Iraqi factory that installed fermenters, spray dryers and piping within tractor-trailers to brew anthrax, botulinum toxin and other biological agents. CIA and Pentagon biological warfare analysts embraced Alwan's account without corroborating evidence or directly questioning the informant.
President Bush declared in his State of the Union address in January 2003 that "we know" that Iraq built mobile germ factories. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell highlighted Alwan's supposed "eyewitness" account to the U.N. Security Council when he pressed the case for war.
In October 2004, more than a year after the invasion, a CIA-led investigation concluded that Baghdad had abandoned all chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The germ trucks never existed.
Alwan grew up in the middle-class Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad. The youngest of five children, he was raised by his mother after his father died, according to family friends. They were Sunni Muslims, members of the influential Janabi clan, and his eldest brother became a brigadier in Hussein's Republican Guard.
Alwan studied chemical engineering at the Technical University of Baghdad, records show, graduating in 1990 with a D average. His best subject: "Culture and History of Iraq." But he learned English, the language of instruction, and applied to join the ruling Baath Party.
He worked as an appliance repairman, then as a junior engineer at the state-run Chemical Engineering and Design Center. In late 1994, he was named site engineer at Djerf al Nadaf, a new warehouse complex about 10 miles south of Baghdad.
His direct supervisor was Hilal Freah, a British-trained engineer and friend of Alwan's mother. Freah, who now lives in Jordan, viewed himself as Alwan's mentor but had trouble trusting his protege.
"Rafid told five or 10 stories every day," Freah said in an interview. "I'd ask, 'Where have you been?' And he'd say, 'I had a problem with my car.' Or, 'My family was sick.' But I knew he was lying."
He had a gift for it and "was not embarrassed when caught in a lie," Freah said.
At the Djerf al Nadaf warehouse, laborers treated seeds from local farmers with fungicides to prevent mold and rot. But Alwan convinced his BND handlers that the site's corn-filled sheds were part of Iraq's secret germ weapons program. He worked there, he told them, until 1998, when an unreported biological accident occurred.
In fact, Alwan had been dismissed three years earlier, in 1995, after inflating expenses and faking receipts for tools, supplies and lamb for a party.
"I fired him," Freah said. "He was corrupt and he was found stealing." But the family friend gave Alwan one more chance.
Freah, Alwan and two other friends formed a business to sell locally made shampoo and cleaners. Freah says Alwan overcharged the partners for each shampoo bottle, and the company collapsed. So did their friendship. Alwan's embarrassed mother later repaid her son's debts.
Alwan next created a line of cosmetics, selling an eye shadow named "Whisper" in Arabic. That failed amid allegations that he cheated his suppliers, Freah said.
He then worked as a technician at Babel, a Baghdad film and TV company that produced adoring documentaries about Hussein. Alwan's alleged sale of Babel camera lenses and other gear on the black market led the Iraqi Justice Ministry to issue an arrest warrant, signed by a judge, in August 1998.
Alwan already had fled. Officials say smugglers helped him make his way through Jordan, Egypt, Libya and Morocco before he reached southern Germany in late 1999. He brought no blueprints, photos or other evidence, but he quickly won the confidence of the BND officers.
"He was understated," said one former BND officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case. "He was the opposite of a braggart, and that was impressive."
The BND set him up in a small apartment and provided living expenses. Alwan started dressing in stylish suits, bought a heavy gold necklace and kept a cupboard stocked with whiskey, according to former neighbors. He left his TV blaring all day and hit a local disco at night.
He arranged to divorce the wife he had left in Baghdad and married a Moroccan woman. They now have two children. The family moved to Erlangen and then to another German location that The Times agreed not to disclose.
Alwan's fanciful accounts to BND officers were echoed in his tall tales to friends and co-workers.
In early 2002, a year before the war, he told co-workers at the Burger King that he spied for Iraqi intelligence and would report any fellow Iraqi worker who criticized Hussein's regime.
They couldn't decide if he was dangerous or crazy.
"During breaks, he told stories about what a big man he was in Baghdad," said Hamza Hamad Rashid, who remembered an odd scene with the pudgy Alwan in his too-tight Burger King uniform praising Hussein in the home of der Whopper. "But he always lied. We never believed anything he said."
Another Iraqi friend, Ghazwan Adnan, remembers laughing when he applied for a job at a local Princess Garden Chinese Restaurant and discovered Alwan washing dishes in the back while claiming to be "a big deal" in Iraq. "How could America believe such a person?"
But an unrepentant Alwan is unfazed.
"Everything I said was true," he said. "And everything that's been written about me is wrong. It's all wrong. The main thing is, I'm an honest man."
A great many of the posts featured here, were published over the last month. I have decided to reprint them because I have been tied up for much of the last month on another project and they deserve to be included in the blog.
“I can’t go back in time and take back what I’ve done… At one point I was a monster, and I created hate and destruction amongst many people. I am sorry for doing so and I will never turn back into the monster I once was.” These were the closing remarks of Jon Turner, former Marine returned from Iraq, testifying in early March with three other former members of the armed forces, to students at the University of Vermont. His Marine dress uniform jacket, with seven shiny medals lined up across his chest contrasted sharply with the bandanna tied around his head, the soft beard that has grown in since his discharge from the service, and the palpable sadness in his countenance as he spoke, an unbearably painful ordeal of confession and revelation.
Turner, former Marine Matt Howard, and Army veterans Drew Cameron and Adrienne Kinne all spoke about their personal experiences in the military during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, they are determined that their fellow Vermonters, be they students or neighbors, are fully aware of the criminal nature of the war policies of Bush/Cheney.
While the two hundred students who attended that evening may have been irrevocably changed by what they heard, those outside the room were destined to remain unaware, because no one from the press was there to cover the event. Indeed, the press release promised “testimonies from U.S. veterans who have served in the global war on terror. Find out what is really happening on the ground”, and referencing the Winter Soldier testimony from the Vietnam era that “exposed the criminal nature of the Vietnam War…today vets from the current occupations assume the same responsibilities as their predecessors.” but neither the U.V.M student paper, curiously named the Vermont Cynic, nor the Gannet owned Burlington Free Press sent a reporter to listen. Nor did the Vermont Cynic respond to several queries requesting comment; and Patrick Garrity, Metro editor for the Free Press explained that “tough decisions are made every day on what to cover or not.” As to this particular event, he said, “What led to our particular reason why we didn’t cover it – I couldn’t say.” After being apprised of what they may have missed, he responded “Just because we didn’t pick up a story on one day doesn’t mean that we won’t go back to cover it.”
As to this event's newsworthiness, the testimony speaks for itself, morphing from the bad to the truly horrific. Drew Cameron, who served as an army artilleryman, told disturbing if not surprising stories about his duties in gathering and destroying captured munitions. When tank munitions fell off the back of his truck, he was ordered to leave them be, even though there would be children playing among them the next day. When a convoy truck crashed into an Iraqi civilian car, severely wounding several members of a family, he was again ordered to leave them to their fate without any medical help from the troops who caused them harm. And when the captured munitions reached the destination for destruction, they were exploded in open pits in close proximity to villages and agricultural lands, which were then covered with the fallout from the blasts.
Adrienne Kinne, a ten-year army veteran and Arab linguist who worked in military intelligence, testified to the different intelligence rules of conduct that she experienced pre and post 9/11. From 1994 to 1998, she worked under rules that made sure that no American would be the subject of any of the military intelligence intercepts. She cited one instance where an American diplomat was referenced in an intercepted phone call. The intelligence officials destroyed the tape even though he was referenced only in passing, honoring the principle that the government does not spy on Americans.
When called back to active duty from 2001-2001, she discovered that the pragmatic methods, if not the written rules governing them, had changed. She told of routinely monitoring phone transmissions of humanitarian organizations, NGOs and journalists. She listened in to journalists at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad reassuring each other that they were safe from American missile or artillery strikes. Then when she learned that this hotel was considered fair game as a target, she saw a chance for some good to come out of the illegal spying and acted. “I told my superiors that the journalists there thought they were safe. [I asked] should we warn them? My concerns were ignored.”
It was when she participated in translating a fax provided by the Iraqi National Congress, an unreliable faction headed by Ahmad Chalabi, which made claims of WMD in Iraq that she crossed her personal Rubicon. The fax, which made unsubstantiated claims dovetailing with the desires of the Bush/Cheney administration, was given top priority and was rushed directly to the White House after translation, a procedure that was completely at odds with normal protocol. When she considered the source of the information – Chalabi was a known liar and fugitive from justice for bank fraud in Jordan. She approached her superiors and asked whether they shouldn’t have take this into consideration before giving it to the White House as conclusive evidence, but was told to mind her own business, and her patriotism was questioned. “I knew that this war was based on lies" Kinne concluded, "and that I had helped spread these lies. I wish that I had taken my concerns to someone outside of the military.”
Matt Howard’s testimony told about the use of internationally banned cluster bombs, illegal declarations of “weapons free” zones, Marines shooting civilians for sport and the reprehensible devastation of Nasariah by a division of Marines seeking revenge for fallen comrades. He could not remain silent about what he saw. “I raised concerns with my chain of command. I wrote an extensive letter outlining all that I had been told by those in the tank commands when I was delivering to them…. Because of my letter, they had to conduct a war crime investigation, but they found no cause for charges. I was taken aside by the officer in charge of the investigation and he told me off the record that as a father he shared my concerns. But as a marine, he would never implicate his fellow marines and jeopardize their careers.” This officer also told Matt that if he mentioned any of these charges again, he would face a court martial.
None of this testimony could have prepared the audience for what they were to hear next. The first words spoken by Jon Turner, veteran of the third Battalion, Eighth Marines set the tone. “On April 18, 2006 I murdered an innocent man with no weapons. He was walking back to his house.” For this act, Turner was commended by his chain of command including personal congratulations from his captain.
He showed a short video in which his Lieutenant is saying, “I just shot half the fucking population of fucking Ramada, fuck the red tape.” He explained that rules of engagement were completely dropped. “Collateral damage was not an issue for us, most was covered up and stayed at the lowest post level. Our sergeant said shoot first and worry about it later.” He added, “When we were bored, we would take out people.”
He also explained that marines routinely took out their aggressions on civilians whose houses were routinely raided in the middle of the night. “During the 3A.M. raids, we would take the man into a separate room from his wife and children. If we decided that we didn’t like him, we would choke him or beat his head against the wall. If we decided to detain him, we would destroy all the contents of the house. Or if he really pissed us off, we would burn it down with incendiary grenades.”
He showed other video footage of machine gun and tank fire being directed at a minaret of a mosque – not because of any shooting coming from the mosque, but because his fellow soldiers were in a position of power and wanted to let off steam. He recounted how one day two fellow soldiers had killed a couple of civilians, and knowing that John had not yet had a kill for the day, told him that they had saved him one. They pointed out a man riding a bicycle and he calmly shot him dead.
To provide cover for these crimes, his unit kept a supply of “drop weapons”, AK47s and other weapons that might be used by Iraqi insurgents. These were placed on or near the murder victim to provide an alibi of self-defense.
Turner detailed the use of white phosphorous gas by his unit, explaining, “It completely destroys everything. You can’t put out the fire.” While the Pentagon claims that white phosphorous is used only to illuminate a battlefield at night an unknown number of Iraqis have joined the ranks of collateral damage and perished by burning to death.
In conclusion Matt Howard emphasized to the students that these crimes that he and his fellow veterans were describing were not simply the work of a few bad apples. “This is policy,” he flatly stated, adding, “1.2 million individuals have cycled through Iraq and part of something much bigger.” He also told the audience that they should not think of Afghanistan as the “good” war compared with Iraq. He said that
everything that they heard about atrocities in Iraq was true for Afghanistan as well. He explained that the most revered military minds agree that “Without strategy war is mindless. Mindless killing can only be criminal.” He pointed out that the shifting rationales for invasion and occupation provided by the that they have had no strategy from the beginning. Recent Pentagon studies also confirm this fact.
These veterans decided to speak out as victims of an administration’s gross negligence and deceit. Their testimony places some of them at grave risk being charged with war crimes or ignoring security restrictions. If they had chosen to remain silent, they could have been protected by a wall of denial and suppression provided by the military that they served. By deciding to clear their consciences and to try to do what they can do repair the damage they have helped the American military to cause, the have unalterably changed the trajectory of their futures. Whether they alone will bear the awful cost of what they witnessed, as well as the possible costs of speaking out - depends on what those who hear their stories decide to do. If their audiences decide that their own silence would make them complicit, and if the press decides that war crimes being committed today, in our names are front page news, then these veterans will at least have taken a first step beyond their own personal redemption.
The Bush/Cheney administration has established a new paradigm of criminal and immoral actions as public policy. Congress has countenanced these actions, and the courts have failed to check them. It remains to be can match these veterans' courage to stand tall and say "not now and never again."