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.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Jeremy Scahill, was published by The Nation, October 22, 2009
On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected a series of arguments by lawyers for the mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater seeking to dismiss five high-stakes war crimes cases brought by Iraqi victims against both the company and its owner, Erik Prince. At the same time, Judge T.S. Ellis III sent the Iraqis' lawyers back to the legal drawing board to amend and refile their cases, saying that the Iraqi plaintiffs need to provide more specific details on the alleged crimes before a final decision can be made on whether or not the lawsuits will proceed.
"We were very pleased with the ruling," says Susan Burke, the lead attorney for the Iraqis. Burke, who filed the lawsuits in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is now preparing to re-file the suits. Blackwater's spokesperson Stacy DeLuke said, "We are confident that [the plaintiffs] will not be able to meet the high standard specified in Judge Ellis's opinion."
Ellis's ruling was not necessarily a response to faulty pleadings by the Iraqis' lawyers but rather appears to be the result of a Supreme Court decision that came down after the Blackwater cases were originally filed. In a 5-4 ruling in May 2009 in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the court reversed decades of case law and imposed much more stringent standards for plaintiffs' documentation of facts before going to trial. According to Ellis's ruling, which cites Iqbal, the Iraqis must now file complaints that meet these new standards.
Judge Ellis, a Reagan appointee with a mixed record on national security issues, rejected several of the central arguments Blackwater made in its motion to dismiss, namely the company's contention that it cannot be sued by the Iraqis under US law and that the company should not be subjected to potential punitive damages in the cases. The Iraqi victims brought their suits under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows for litigation in US courts for violations of fundamental human rights committed overseas by individuals or corporations with a US presence. Ellis said that Blackwater's argument that it cannot be sued under the ATS is "unavailing," adding that corporations and individuals can both be held responsible for crimes and torts. He said bluntly that "claims alleging direct corporate liability for war crimes" are legitimate under the statute.
Ellis also rejected Blackwater's argument that "conduct constitutes a war crime only if it is perpetrated in furtherance of a 'military objective' rather than for economic or ideological reasons." Ellis said that under Blackwater's logic "it is arguable that nobody who receives a paycheck would ever be liable for war crimes. Moreover, so narrow is the scope of [Blackwater's] standard that it would exclude murders of civilians committed by soldiers where there was no legitimate 'military objective' for committing the murders."
"What is important here is that the judge is saying that violations of war crimes can be committed by private people or corporations," says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He said Ellis's ruling is "an affirmation of the precedent set by CCR thirty years ago" when it brought the first successful Alien Tort suit in 200 years "that those who engage in violations of fundamental human rights abroad can be held liable in the US." Ellis's ruling, he says, "is sympathetic to the idea that the Blackwater case is an appropriate use of the law."
But Ellis also ruled that the Iraqi plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient specific details linking Blackwater's owner Erik Prince to the alleged murders and other crimes in Iraq. In order for the case to proceed against Prince, Ellis wrote, "the complaints must state facts that would allow a trier of fact plausibly to infer that Prince intentionally killed or inflicted serious bodily harm on innocent civilians during an armed conflict and in the context of and in association with that armed conflict." The plaintiffs, Ellis ruled, "have failed to meet this burden."
In a hearing on August 28, Burke said that she has evidence that Prince ordered or directed the killings of innocent Iraqis and at that time asked Judge Ellis permission to later amend her cases if Ellis ruled that, in light of the Iqbal decision, such information was necessary for the cases to proceed. In his ruling, Ellis granted Burke's request in four of the five cases. In one case, involving the alleged murder of a bodyguard for the Iraqi vice president by a drunken Blackwater operative, Andrew Moonen, on Christmas Eve 2006 inside the Green Zone, Ellis found that there was insufficient evidence to suggest Prince "intentionally killed" the bodyguard or that his "conduct proximately caused the decedent's death."
In the four other cases, which include 18 Iraqi civilians allegedly killed by Blackwater, Ellis ruled that Burke could refile her claim with more details about Prince's alleged involvement and the role of the Blackwater corporation in the killings. Ellis found that the cases "could be amended to add factual allegations that would permit plausible inferences that Prince and Xe [Blackwater] defendants ordered killings of innocent Iraqi civilians...and that defendants' conduct proximately caused the injuries or deaths to plaintiffs."
Ellis rejected Burke's allegation that Blackwater engaged in summary executions, saying that under the law such classification of killings "require[s] state action, and none is alleged here." Blackwater also made an argument that the cases should have been tried in Iraq--or that the Iraqis' lawyers should have exhausted that possibility before filing their cases in US courts. Ellis shot down that argument and pointed out that Blackwater's own lawyers admitted that under the Paul Bremer-era Order 17 in Iraq, Blackwater would have immunity for its crimes under Iraqi law. Ellis also rejected Blackwater's claim that punitive damages are not allowed in these types of cases. As Ellis wrote, Blackwater's lawyers "offer no support" for this argument "in the case law or from recognized international treatises."
One of the central thrusts of the Iraqis' suits against Blackwater is that Erik Prince is the head of an organized crime syndicate as defined by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. RICO is a federal statute permitting private parties to seek redress from criminal enterprises who damage their property. Burke and CCR decided to sue Prince and his companies directly rather than his individual employees because they say Prince "wholly owns and controls this enterprise." They allege that Prince directed murders of Iraqi civilians from Blackwater's headquarters in Virginia and North Carolina. Ellis dismissed the claims that the Iraqis have standing under the RICO Act, but ruled that they can file an amended complaint that "Prince ordered or directed the killings allegedly committed in Iraq from within the United States, and that such conduct proximately caused the damage allegedly suffered by the RICO plaintiffs." In one of the cases, Ellis ruled that the four-year statute of limitations had expired for a RICO claim.
On August 3, lawyers for the Iraqis submitted two sworn declarations from former Blackwater employees alleging that Prince may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. One former employee alleged that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life." What role, if any, these allegations will play in the amended complaints is unclear, but Burke insists she has evidence to back up all of her allegations.
Burke's case is also bolstered by the evidence the US government will present in its criminal case against Blackwater forces. On September 7, federal prosecutors in Washington, DC, submitted papers in the criminal case against five Blackwater operatives for their alleged role in the 2007 Nisour Square shooting in Baghdad that killed seventeen Iraqi civilians and wounded more than twenty others. Burke is representing many of these families in her civil case. Blackwater forces "fired at innocent Iraqis not because they actually believed that they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and actually believed that they had no alternative to the use of deadly force, but rather that they fired at innocent Iraqi civilians because of their hostility toward Iraqis and their grave indifference to the harm that their actions would cause," the acting US Attorney in DC, Channing Phillips, alleges in court papers submitted by Kenneth C. Kohl, the lead prosecutor on this case. "[T]he defendants specifically intended to kill or seriously injure the Iraqi civilians that they fired upon at [Nisour] Square." The government also alleges that one Blackwater operative "wanted to kill as many Iraqis as he could as 'payback for 9/11,' and he repeatedly boasted about the number of Iraqis he had shot," while "several of the defendants had harbored a deep hostility toward Iraqi civilians which they demonstrated in words and deeds."
In its motion to dismiss, Blackwater also argued that to allow the company to be sued for alleged crimes in a war zone would violate the rights of the president of the United States under the "political question doctrine" to not have a "second-guessing of the battlefield decisions of the U.S. government." Ellis rejected that outright and noted: "The United States has appeared as an interested party and argues that if defendants committed the alleged conduct, they were not acting as employees of the United States when they did so. Moreover, the government states that its contracts with defendants 'provided for multiple layers of [Xe defendants'] management to oversee the day-to-day operations' of its employees and that the employees were under the direct supervision of Xe defendants' management when the alleged conduct occurred."
Judge Ellis's ruling only relates to the charges that Blackwater and Prince violated federal laws and not to the additional allegations that they also violated state laws. Even if Judge Ellis ultimately rejects all of the federal arguments made by Burke and CCR, which is a big if, the cases can still proceed under "common law," as has happened in other torture and war crimes cases. Ellis has not yet ruled on those charges
This article, by Mark Mazzetti, was posted to Common Dreams, August 20, 2009
WASHINGTON - The Central Intelligence Agency in 2004 hired outside contractors from the private security contractor Blackwater USA as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda, according to current and former government officials.
Executives from Blackwater, which has generated controversy because of its aggressive tactics in Iraq, helped the spy agency with planning, training and surveillance. The C.I.A. spent several million dollars on the program, which did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects.
The fact that the C.I.A. used an outside company for the program was a major reason that Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A.'s director, became alarmed and called an emergency meeting in June to tell Congress that the agency had withheld details of the program for seven years, the officials said.
It is unclear whether the C.I.A. had planned to use the contractors to actually capture or kill Qaeda operatives, or just to help with training and surveillance in the program. American spy agencies have in recent years outsourced some highly controversial work, including the interrogation of prisoners. But government officials said that bringing outsiders into a program with lethal authority raised deep concerns about accountability in covert operations.
Officials said the C.I.A. did not have a formal contract with Blackwater for this program but instead had individual agreements with top company officials, including the founder, Erik D. Prince, a politically connected former member of the Navy Seals and the heir to a family fortune. Blackwater's work on the program actually ended years before Mr. Panetta took over the agency, after senior C.I.A. officials themselves questioned the wisdom of using outsiders in a targeted killing program.
Blackwater, which has changed its name, most recently to Xe Services, and is based in North Carolina, in recent years has received millions of dollars in government contracts, growing so large that the Bush administration said it was a necessary part of its war operation in Iraq.
It has also drawn controversy. Blackwater employees hired to guard American diplomats in Iraq were accused of using excessive force on several occasions, including shootings in Baghdad in 2007 in which 17 civilians were killed. Iraqi officials have since refused to give the company an operating license.
Several current and former government officials interviewed for this article spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing details of a still classified program.
Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, declined to provide details about the canceled program, but he said that Mr. Panetta's decision on the assassination program was "clear and straightforward."
"Director Panetta thought this effort should be briefed to Congress, and he did so," Mr. Gimigliano said. "He also knew it hadn't been successful, so he ended it."
A Xe spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, also declined to give details of the program. But she praised Mr. Panetta for notifying Congress. "It is too easy to contract out work that you don't want to accept responsibility for," she said.
The C.I.A. this summer conducted an internal review of the assassination program that recently was presented to the White House and the Congressional intelligence committees. The officials said that the review stated that Mr. Panetta's predecessors did not believe that they needed to tell Congress because the program was not far enough developed.
The House Intelligence Committee is investigating why lawmakers were never told about the program. According to current and former government officials, former Vice President Dick Cheney told C.I.A. officers in 2002 that the spy agency did not need to inform Congress because the agency already had legal authority to kill Qaeda leaders.
One official familiar with the matter said that Mr. Panetta did not tell lawmakers that he believed that the C.I.A. had broken the law by withholding details about the program from Congress. Rather, the official said, Mr. Panetta said he believed that the program had moved beyond a planning stage and deserved Congressional scrutiny.
"It's wrong to think this counterterrorism program was confined to briefing slides or doodles on a cafeteria napkin," the official said. "It went well beyond that."
Current and former government officials said that the C.I.A.'s efforts to use paramilitary hit teams to kill Qaeda operatives ran into logistical, legal and diplomatic hurdles almost from the outset. These efforts had been run by the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism center, which runs operations against Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks.
In 2002, Blackwater won a classified contract to provide security for the C.I.A. station in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the company maintains other classified contracts with the C.I.A., current and former officials said.
Over the years, Blackwater has hired several former top C.I.A. officials, including Cofer Black, who ran the C.I.A. counterterrorism center immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.
C.I.A. operatives also regularly use the company's training complex in North Carolina. The complex includes a shooting range used for sniper training.
An executive order signed by President Gerald R. Ford in 1976 barred the C.I.A. from carrying out assassinations, a direct response to revelations that the C.I.A. had initiated assassination plots against Fidel Castro of Cuba and other foreign politicians.
The Bush administration took the position that killing members of Al Qaeda, a terrorist group that attacked the United States and has pledged to attack it again, was no different from killing enemy soldiers in battle, and that therefore the agency was not constrained by the assassination ban.
But former intelligence officials said that employing private contractors to help hunt Qaeda operatives would pose significant legal and diplomatic risks, and they might not be protected in the same way government employees are.
Some Congressional Democrats have hinted that the program was just one of many that the Bush administration hid from Congressional scrutiny and have used the episode as a justification to delve deeper into other Bush-era counterterrorism programs.
But Republicans have criticized Mr. Panetta's decision to cancel the program, saying he created a tempest in a teapot.
"I think there was a little more drama and intrigue than was warranted," said Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
Officials said that the C.I.A. program was devised partly as an alternative to missile strikes using drone aircraft, which have accidentally killed civilians and cannot be used in urban areas where some terrorists hide.
Yet with most top Qaeda operatives believed to be hiding in the remote mountains of Pakistan, the drones have remained the C.I.A.'s weapon of choice. Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has embraced the drone campaign because it presents a less risky option than sending paramilitary teams into Pakistan.
This paper, by Robin Long, was written while he was incarcerated at the Mirimar Brig and posted to the Blog Free Robin Long, 12 March, 2009.
N 2004, when military resister Jeremy Hinzman applied for refugee status in Canada, the Conservative government stepped in to his Refugee hearing and stated evidence challenging the legality of the War in Iraq can’t be used in his case. However, the U.N Handbook for Refugee’s and the Nuremburg Principles states: a soldier of an Army that is involved in an illegal war of aggression has a higher international duty to refuse service. Said soldier also has the right to seek refugee protection in any country that is signatory to the Geneva Convention. By refusing to allow him- and by precedent ALL other claimants the right to use that argument, they closed the door on that legal avenue for refugee protection.
THE US invasion of Iraq was clearly an illegal war of aggression. The US was not under attack, or the immanent threat of attack from the nation of Iraq, nor was the war approved by the UN Security Council. By taking the stance it did, the Canadian Government implicitly condoned the invasion & continuing occupation of Iraq. Is that what Canadians want? A majority of Americans want it to end and have come to realize it a mistake, at best. Canadians have long known it to be wrong. Why is the minority Conservative government still holding on to the idea, and still deporting war resisters? Why are they separating families and aiding in the imprisonment of morally strong men and women?
IN June 2007, Canada’s Parliament voted on a non- binding resolution to allow war resisters and their families permanent resident status. That vote passed, and in agreement with that vote, a poll of Canadian opinion showed overwhelming support for the resolution. In defiance of parliaments intent and the will of the people, the Conservative minority government, led by Prime Minister Steven Harper and Immigration Minister Diane Finley ignored the bill. The Government stated: All refugee claimants are given a fair chance to plead their case before the Refugee Board, and special treatment to these Iraq resisters were unfair to other claimants. Further, they stated that we are not legitimate claimants because we are from the US, and that the US has a fair and transparent justice system, and that we wouldn’t be singled out for being political.
ON JULY 14th, 2008, in my final attempt to stay in Canada, where my son and community is, Federal Judge Ann Mactavish stated that I didn’t prove I would be treated harshly by the US military for being a politically outspoken opponent to the War in Iraq and Bush Administration policy. She predicted my punishment would be minimal, 30 days in the brig, perhaps. She then cleared the way for my deportation/extradition. She noted only10% of these cases go to Court Martial.
A MONTH later, I was tried in a Court Martial presided over by a judge, a Colonel in the US Army, who has President Bush in her chain-of-command. (She was later appointed by Bush to oversee trials at Guantanamo Bay, no doubt because of her political credentials.
THE ONLY aggravating evidence the Prosecution presented was a 6 minute video of me stating, among other things, that I believed my President lied to me. A political statement. The fact that this was found admissible in court for the charge of Desertion is beyond me. There were no character witnesses brought against me. The ONLY factors the Prosecution wanted shown in determining my sentence was the fact I was political and exercising my freedom of speech in criticizing my Commander-in-Chief.
IT SEEMS like a conflict of interest to have a judge determine my fate when she has to ultimately answer to the President, while I was claiming that same President was a domestic enemy, who used any reason, and manufactured reasons, to invade and wreak havoc in Iraq.
THE JUDGE came back with 30 months- that’s two and a half years for not showing up for work that I believed to be morally objectionable, criminal, and its by far the harshest sentence given to a resister/deserter of the Iraq War.
I was saved from that by a plea bargain that got me 15 months. I STILL get a Dishonorable Discharge (DD). A DD will keep me from many fields of employment, from any Government position to the civilian world. It will make getting home loans all the harder. This is a FELONY CONVICTION- which will make it very hard, perhaps impossible to return to Canada to be with my young family. It is the worst grade of discharge there is.
PEOPLE THAT committed far worse crimes have been getting off with lighter sentences than me. 1st Infantry Division soldier Spec. Belmor Ramos was sentenced to only 7 months after being convicted of conspiracy to commit murder- 4 Iraqi men. I refused to participate in killings, he stood guard while others executed four unidentified Iraqi men, afterwards dumping their bodies in a Baghdad canal on ’07. During his court martial Ramos admitted his guilt, stating: “I wanted them dead. I had no legal justification to do this.” Where is the justice? The system is neither fair nor impartial. Can it really be transparent when you don’t know who is influencing the judge from up the chain of command? Do you see how the military justice system works? – Condone killings with light sentences, but God forbid someone should call President Bush a liar and a war monger. A persons words and political opinion must be far more damaging to the good order of the military if they are anti war and critical of the President, than a soldiers criminal actions in an occupied foreign nation…..
PEOPLE HAVE used the argument that I signed a contract, quite often. I’d like to quote from a letter one o the Founders of our United States wrote to General Washington concerning his thoughts on contracts in April, 1793: “When performance, for instance, becomes impossible, non performance is not immoral. So if performance becomes destructive to the Party, the law of self-preservation overrules the laws of obligations to others. For the reality of these principals I appeal to the true fountains of evidence: the head and heart of every rational honest man.”- Thomas Jefferson. For me to continue in my military contract would have been destructive to me as a person with my views, morals and ideals. Let alone the Iraqi’s, who have died in the hundreds of thousands ….
THE CONTRACT I signed was to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to obey the LAWFUL orders of the President and those officers over me. I did not sign to be a strong arm for corporate interests or oil. The so called Liberation of Iraq has turned into nothing more than a constant and protracted struggle by the people of Iraq, against forces, seen and unseen, that are trying to impose their will on them in a public war for private power and profit. True freedom is the ultimate expression and condition of a people to control their OWN destiny, not the manufactured variety being offered here. True democracy is not found at the point of a gun. It rises up from within the mass of the people.
IT WASN’T about WMD’s, or we would have found some. It wasn’t about “regime change” or we would have been in Darfur, or Indonesia, or a dozen other countries. It wasn’t about 9/11 because they were from Saudi Arabia. It dosn’t say anywhere in my contract that I would be going to foreign soil, half way around the world, to invade a country that was of no threat to the United States. To risk my life, not in defending the people or Constitution of the United States but creating more enemies for them by being in an occupying force. Iraq, however unhappy under our former ally/client Hussein, was never a real threat. The destabilized nation of Iraq has become a breeding ground and awesome recruiting tool for Al Queda. It has cost the American people an enormous price. Im not talking just te trillion dollar financial burden, but the human cost of the war. The deaths of so many of our brave youth, the missing limbs, the PTSD, the suicides. The invasion has made far more enemies for the United States and made the world a far more dangerous place.
THE ORDER to go to Iraq was not a lawful one. It violates our Constitution. Article IV states that ANY treaty the US is signatory to shall be the supreme law of the land. Last time I checked, the US is signatory to the Geneva Conventions. There are certain laws in that treaty for declaring war, last time I checked, “regime change” wasn’t one of them. A country must be under attack or immanent treat of attack. Neither was true in the case of Iraq. President Bush had no right to interpret the Constitution as he saw fit, on the grounds it was a new world after 9/11, and the 107th Congress had no right to pass HJ Res. 114, which “allowed” the President to invade Iraq. The Constitution was being ignored by the whole lot of them and they were derelict in their duty to uphold it.
THE STAND that the Conservative government of Canada has taken has separated a family, an act totally un-Canadian. I have a young son, a Canadian citizen, and a Canadian partner with MS, left to raise our son while I’m locked in a brig for refusing to participate in a war Canada , in 2003, under a different Government, wouldn’t send troops to. Back then, they saw the holes in Bush’s “intelligence”. By deporting me, and not giving me a chance to leave willingly, I have been barred from entering Canada for at least 10 years. My flesh and blood is there!
The Conservatives are destroying Canada’s tradition of being a refuge from militarism and an asylum from injustices that goes back to the times of slavery. Are they truly representing the people? Who are they working for, really?
THE DAYS of Bush have ended. This new Obama administration has a different view and a different policy. Its now time for Mr Harper to change his view. He should listen to Parliament and the solid majority of his citizens!
Please support the movement to allow War Resisters to stay in Canada and pardon the ones in the US. I ask anyone who reads this: please! Help me return to Canada to be with my partner and son. I want only to live in peace and be in his life.
STOP THE WAR. Peace, love, light.
Incarcerated Prisoner of the US Military
PO BOX 452136, San Diego, CA, 92145