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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 Peter Beaumont, was published in the Guardian, August 20, 2009
Despite its recent attempt to rebrand itself as Xe Services, Blackwater, the private military empire of Erik Prince, has struggled under a growing weight of allegations surrounding its conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now further questions have been raised by claims it was subcontracted by the CIA during the George Bush presidency to run an unrealised campaign of assassinations of al-Qaida leaders kept secret from Congress.
The claims come hard on the heels of the allegations made in sworn affidavits to a federal court in Virginia earlier this month by two former Blackwater employees that Prince may have had a role in the murder of individuals co-operating with a US government investigation into the company.
While the allegations of the two men cannot be verified independently, the combination of the two affairs – on top of Blackwater's already notorious reputation from Iraq – has added a Robert Ludlumesque aura of intrigue to a secretive company named after the US Navy Seals name for a "black op".
Prince has had to contend with widely reported allegations – contained in the sworn statements – that he "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe".
In addition, one of the two anonymous witnesses – who asked for protection because they said they were afraid of Blackwater – has also accused the company, which earned more than $1bn (£600m) in US government contracts, of smuggling weapons into Iraq and the destruction of incriminating evidence.
Although Xe has denied the allegations, the claims this month are only the latest controversies to have dogged Prince and his company, which has been accused of everything from deceiving the US state department to encouraging its operatives to kill Iraqi civilians.
Although the wealthy Prince founded the company in 1997, the name Blackwater only became imprinted on the public consciousness after the war in Iraq. It gained a reputation for being trigger-happy and ruthless, and soon gained the nickname "Ditchwater" from some British security guards.
The company was finally expelled by the Iraqi government, which refused to renew its licence, although some Xe employees still work there for the state department under the auspices of the so-called US Training Centre.
The company's rapid emergence as one of the world's biggest private military contractors benefited from Prince's Republican connections (he was a donor to Bush) and the revolving door recruitment policy for Pentagon and CIA officials. Prince himself is reported to have been close to top officials in the CIA's directorate of operations and was a regular visitor to its headquarters.
And it was his political connections that opened the doors.
The son of Edgar Prince, a wealthy Republican from Michigan who was one of the founders of the rightwing Family Research Council in the 1980s, Erik Prince had served as an intern to President George Bush Sr before joining the elite Navy Seals for four years, leaving the navy on the death of his father in 1996.
With his inheritance, Prince bought the land in North Carolina that would be transformed into Blackwater's training base, complete with sniper training facilities. This was made available for the training of CIA officers – an organisation with which Prince had high-level contacts – as well as for the training of his private army.
It was in 2002 that Prince and his company finally hit paydirt, securing contracts to protect US government personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, two-thirds of which were awarded on a no-bid basis.
And after the fall of Baghdad, Blackwater suddenly became the most visible private military contractor in Iraq, its bandana-wearing, muscular employees riding shotgun on the convoys they protected with no interest in keeping a low profile. Described once as "mercenaries", Prince countered they were "loyal Americans".
Despite growing uneasiness among many observers about Blackwater's methods, not least after a March 2004 ambush in which four Blackwater guards were killed and their bodies hung from one of the town's bridges, it was an incident in 2007 that sealed its notoriety.
Four of its empoyees shot dead 17 Iraqi civilians – 14 of whom the FBI concluded were killed "without cause". And it was not an isolated incident. In 2005 Blackwater guards accompanying a US diplomat fired scores of rounds into an Iraqi car, while in 2006 a drunken Blackwater employee killed an Iraqi security guard for the country's vice-president. The guard responsible was flown by the company out of Iraq.
A congressional subcommittee report in 2007 described the company as being staffed by reckless guards – not always sober – who would shoot first and not stop to see who they had shot. The same report alleged that Blackwater guards had been engaged in more than 200 shooting incidents in two years, largely from moving vehicles.
It was not only in Iraq that Blackwater had a controversial presence. In the immediate aftermath of hurricane Katrina, heavily armed Blackwater guards were controversially deployed in New Orleans by the department of homeland security to confront armed looters.
The revelation that the CIA had allegedly subcontracted Blackwater into an abortive programme to undertake killings of al-Qaida figures adds further weight to the evidence that the company's real ambition was to take over military and intelligence functions.
That ambition was allegedly alluded to by Cofer Black, director of the CIA's counter-terrorism centre until 2002, and later the department of state's co-ordinator for counter-terrorism, who joined Blackwater in 2005 as vice-chairman. At a conference in Amman in 2006, in comments Black has subsequently denied, he was alleged to have suggested that Blackwater was in a position to provide a brigade-sized group to support humanitarian missions.
Despite the controversies, Blackwater continues to benefit from US government contracts under Barack Obama's presidency. Under Obama the numbers of private military contractors have increased in Afghanistan by almost 30% – the company once known as Blackwater among them.
This article was posted to e-Arianna, May 21, 2009
Two of the four Blackwater-affiliated contractors involved in a civilian shooting incident in Kabul earlier this month have fled to the U.S. in order to avoid possible prosecution from Afghan authorities, according to their attorney.
The four men worked as military trainers for Paravant LLC, an affiliate of Blackwater Worldwide, whose parent company is now called Xe after a recent name change. Paravant was assisting Raytheon Co. on a Defense Department contract.
Armed contractors working for the Defense Department have been a touchy issue in Iraq as well as Afghanistan because of civilian deaths when fighting sometimes erupts. In Afghanistan, the recent incident risks further inflaming anger over civilian deaths caused by U.S. forces, and is a test of the Afghan government's posture toward foreign contractors, who are set to dramatically increase as the Pentagon ramps up the number of troops there in the coming months.
Afghanistan does not have a formal agreement with the U.S. governing legal accountability for contractors, and issues about jurisdiction remain hazy. U.S. defense firms are very wary of subjecting their employees to legal systems in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Daniel Callahan, of Callahan & Blaine in Santa Ana, Calif., said that two of the men, Steve McClain and Justin Cannon, "slipped out" of their compound on Saturday and made it to a hotel in Kabul, where a friend helped them. Soon after they flew to Dubai, and then on to the U.S.
Their two colleagues, Chris Drotleff and Armando Hamid, were to follow, but Mr. Callahan has not heard from them since late Sunday. Paravant terminated the four men for contract violations following the May 5 nighttime shooting incident that left one Afghan bystander dead and wounded two others in a car.
He said his clients were held against their will by the company, a claim which Xe has denied.
"They didn't want to take a chance but they felt they were going to get flipped over to the Afghans," said Mr. Callahan, who previously representing the families of four Blackwater security guards killed in Iraq in a lawsuit against the company. "These guys called me on a Friday night and needed help getting free," he said. Blackwater has been criticized in the past for spiriting away contractors who may have broken rules or run afoul of local authorities.
The U.S. military has almost wrapped up its investigation of the incident, according to Lt. Col. Chris Kubik, a spokesman in Afghanistan. He said Paravant cooperated with U.S. authorities. "They kept the guys here until their portion of the investigation was done," he said. Afghan authorities have not asked for jurisdiction so far.
A Blackwater spokeswoman declined to comment.
According to Mr. Callahan, who had been in contact with the four men via an intermittent Internet phone connection, the contractors said they were traveling in the second of two company vehicles when a car came up behind them, passed, and then smashed into the lead vehicle. The four men got out of their vehicle when the Afghan car swerved toward them as if to run them over, prompting them to open fire.
The men were armed with AK-47 assault rifles because a manager told them to carry them, even though they weren't supposed to have weapons at that time, according to Mr. Callahan. The weapons allegedly came from a captured stockpile, he said.
A person familiar with the situation said that several of the contractors, who are former military personnel, had been drinking that night, in violation of their contract. Mr. Callahan said an allegation alcohol played a role in the incident is untrue. "We believe Blackwater is trying to paint these men as out on a lark and drinking so that the company can maintain its ability to work in Afghanistan after losing its work in Iraq," he said.
This article, by Fisnik Abrashi, was posted to Military Times, May 18, 2009.
KABUL — Four U.S. contractors for the private security company formerly known as Blackwater are accusing the company of holding them against their will in Afghanistan after their involvement in a shooting this month, a lawyer said Saturday. A spokeswoman for the company denied the allegation.
An Afghan died and two others were wounded in the May 5 shooting, which followed a car accident in Kabul, said Lt. Col. Chris Kubik, a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul.
Blackwater was involved in a 2007 shooting in a busy square in Baghdad, Iraq, that left as many as 17 Iraqi civilians dead and led to the end of its Baghdad operations this month. It has since changed its name to Xe.
The nature of the shooting and the allegations made by the lawyer highlight the murky legal world in which private security companies operate in Afghanistan.
A California lawyer, Daniel Callahan, contacted by the contractors told the Associated Press that the Army had cleared the four men to leave Afghanistan on May 12 after completing their questioning in the shooting. But the men are now being held against their will by the company's executives in a company "safe house" in a Kabul mosque, he said.
The men think that Xe is attempting to negotiate a deal in which it would hand them over to Afghan authorities in exchange for official permission to remain in the country, Callahan said.
Kubik said the U.S. military in Afghanistan is still investigating the incident, and that he did not know whether the four had been cleared to leave the country.
The contracting company took the four away on Thursday from a military compound where they normally lived and they were never detained by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, Kubik said.
Anne Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Xe — based in Moyock, North Carolina — denied that the four were being held against their will, and said they were Xe contractors employed by a company named Paravant.
"What I can tell you is that they have been terminated and have been asked not to leave the country without the approval and direction of the (Department of Defense)," Tyrrell said.
"Paravant terminated the contracts with the four individuals involved in the incident for failure to comply with the terms of their contract, which require, among other things, compliance with all laws, regulations, and company policies," Tyrrell said. She did not specify what company policy they had violated.
The company is cooperating in the military investigation, said Kubik, the spokesman for the Combined Security Transition Command, which is involved in the training of Afghan security forces and for which the contractors worked.
"If the investigation finds some fault, culpability ... that will be looked at by legal personnel to determine future actions," Kubik said.
A U.S. military statement after the incident said the contractors were involved in a vehicle accident in Kabul on May 5.
"While stopped for the vehicle accident, the contractors were approached by a vehicle in a manner the contractors felt threatening," the statement said.
The contractors fired at the vehicle, wounding two Afghans, said the initial statement, issued May 6.
Callahan, who said he had spoken with at least two of the contractors involved in the incident, gave a different account.
He said the contractors were traveling in two vehicles when another car hit the first vehicle.
"They got out of the second vehicle, went to administer aid to the crash of the two cars ahead. And the insurgent vehicle, if we can call it that, abruptly made a U-turn and headed right at the men as they were standing," Callahan said.
"These four men drew their guns and shot. They killed the driver and they also shot a pedestrian that was about 200 meters away. I was told that that pedestrian is in a coma," Callahan said.
But Shah Agha, the brother of one of the wounded men, said they were not insurgents, but shopkeepers who were shot while driving home from work.
Agha said his brother Farid and his cousin Romal were traveling together when they saw Americans blocking the road. He said they were waved through one checkpoint, but were stopped by another team of Americans further down the road.
He said one of the Americans hit the side of the car, which Farid mistook for an order to move. As he drove off, bullets started hitting the back of the car, hitting Farid in the hand and Romal in the stomach. Romal died two days later, Agha said. Another person was wounded outside the car, he said.
Callahan alleged that the four contractors were being used as scapegoats for Xe's violation of its weapons permit in the country.
He said that workers employed by the men's company were not supposed to be armed, according to the letter of authorization between the company and the Department of Defense.
Kubik did not know whether the contractors were allowed to carry weapons.
"Blackwater violated the letter of authorization by giving these guys these guns," Callahan said. "And now they want to put the blame on them so as to relieve Blackwater of the violation. And I think they are hanging these men to dry."
Tyrrell said there was no blanket ban for the company on carrying weapons in Afghanistan.
"It really depends on the work. We provide different services in different places," she said.
Callahan was the attorney who represented the families of four Blackwater employees killed in Iraq in 2004 who sued the security company.
This article, by Patrick Dunn, was posted to Common Dreams, February 23, 2009
With a new administration taking office in Washington, and an era of profound economic crisis on the horizon, the U.S. military apparatus is undergoing a strategic makeover. In many respects, conditions "on the ground" have remained essentially the same: violence rages on in Iraq (Obama and his commanders disagree about whether to extend the fighting for another sixteen or twenty-three months); air strikes continue to kill Pakistani civilians (though now at a much higher rate); Palestinians and Israelis continue to suffer under U.S.-funded occupation; corporate war profiteers continue to receive high-level government appointments; the U.S. military budget pushes along on its path of annual expansion. And yet at the same time the elite managers of the military-industrial complex are engineering a shift in both their marketing image and their operational focus. Blackwater Worldwide has changed its name to Xe; military recruitment figures have increased as the economy declines; weapons programs are being advertised as instruments of "job creation"; torture and secret imprisonment have been symbolically expunged from the national conscience; Marine commanders are proposing a full-scale transfer of forces from Iraq to Afghanistan.
This last item is particularly relevant, as President Obama has ordered an immediate fifty percent increase of U.S. troops in Afghanistan (from 36,000 to 53,500), with thousands more expected to deploy by early summer. In the face of sustained public opposition to the Iraq war, the military establishment has found it necessary to direct its ambitions elsewhere – and with Robert Gates staying on as Defense Secretary, the "surge" gimmick that sold so well in the context of Iraq is now being used to promote a similar strategy in the historically unconquerable terrain of Afghanistan. Evidently, the hope of the new administration is that a fresh White House image, renewed international support, and the appearance of a connection to the 9/11 attacks will turn Afghanistan into a preferred venue for its highly profitable "global war on terror."
For many rank-and-file GIs, however, this image of the war in Afghanistan as a "good war" is not at all convincing. Extreme climate, austere geography, and vague military strategies combine to make the country into a hellish environment for day-to-day ground operations. Moreover, those familiar with life in the region are doubtful that a U.S.-led "troop surge" will contribute substantially to the well-being of the Afghan people.
But in the eyes of some enlistees, the problems with the war in Afghanistan extend far beyond the agonies of wartime experience, or doubts about the underlying geopolitical strategy.
A groundbreaking event in Chicago this week featured a panel of six military veterans, all of whom have spoken out not only against the war in Iraq, or even against the war in Afghanistan, but against the "global war on terror" as a whole. The panel was organized by the Chicago chapter of Iraq Veterans against the War (IVAW), and its participants set a bold and courageous tone for GI resistance in the age of Obama-imperialism.
One of the veterans, Tyler Zabel, could face deployment to Afghanistan at any moment. A member of the Illinois Army National Guard who enlisted at the age of seventeen, Tyler has already survived a horrifying ordeal at the hands of the military bureaucracy. After completing basic training at Fort Benning, GA, Tyler returned to Chicago and began the application process to become a Conscientious Objector. Having joined the military in order to serve the people of his country, he was appalled by the rampant bloodlust and blind conformity he witnessed during his time at Fort Benning. After meeting a young woman in Chicago who had experienced war first-hand during her childhood in El Salvador, his perspective was deepened and he became a committed pacifist.
The military's application system for Conscientious Objectors seems designed to prevent people like Tyler – who are morally opposed to the combat missions for which they are being trained – from acting on their moral convictions. In addition to three official interviews (including both a religious and a psychological evaluation), Tyler was required to submit a long essay explaining his refusal to engage in combat. Only then would he begin the excruciating process of waiting for his application to be reviewed, which usually takes between six months and one year, during which time the applicant remains an active member of his unit.
In Tyler's case, however, the system was especially unfriendly. One of the first officers he consulted about his application, his squad leader Sergeant First Class Washington, provided false information about Tyler's eligibility, claiming that his lack of religious affiliation would prevent him from becoming a CO. (This has not been true since a Supreme Court decision in 1971 expanded the basis for Conscientious Objection beyond religious grounds.) The same officer also withheld a key document pertaining to Tyler's case – document AR 600-43 – falsely claiming that the information it contained was classified. (The document is in fact available through the IVAW website.)
Then, a few months later, when it seemed that the worst was over, Tyler received a call from the military notifying him that he would be deployed to Afghanistan in one week. He was flabbergasted. Normal practice within the military allows six months advance notice for calls such as this – and Tyler had already informed the military at length of his pacifism and opposition to the war in Afghanistan. Suddenly, his life was thrown into a state of panic. The personal transformation he had undergone during the previous year, his relationships, his work, his life itself – the U.S. government was asking him to sacrifice all of this for a war that he found morally abhorrent.
But this was not the end. Just one day before Tyler was scheduled to leave for Afghanistan, he received another call from the military indicating that he would not have to deploy after all. Then, as if this torment was not enough, he was contacted yet again a month later with reissued orders for deployment.
In Tyler's mind, this was the last straw. Instead of reporting for deployment, he decided to go AWOL and face the risk of military prosecution. After weeks in hiding – during which time he could not work and rarely left his home – he decided to turn himself in to his old unit. The response of his commanders was to "demote" him to a lower rank – indicating that their intention was not to enforce military policy, but to manipulate Tyler (an active war resister) into psychological submission. This indication was confirmed earlier this month when Tyler's commanders failed to contact him for drill practice, as is the unit's routine procedure; when he telephoned them to resolve the confusion, his commanders accused him of insubordination for his absence. Confronted with this final pattern of abuse, Tyler knew that it was time to get out of the military for good. Instead of reporting to his unit, he stayed home and has not gone back since.
For several months Tyler has lived in a state of legal and existential limbo, knowing that the military could show up at any moment to haul him off to prison (or worse, to Afghanistan). He has received advice from numerous activists and politicians, but his best allies have been fellow veterans from IVAW, whose support has strengthened his will and inspired him to speak out publicly. Now, empowered by these relations of solidarity, he is determined not only to resist the military's internal abuses, but to combat the spread of militarism throughout society. "They need this war [in Afghanistan] to continue to expand the military-industrial complex," he says, "which our society now depends on" – but we can resist this expansion by "closing the door to recruitment, and opening the door for resistance," both within and outside the military.
Tyler's moral opposition to the military-industrial complex was echoed by the other members of the IVAW panel in Chicago. Two national guardsmen (one of whom is now a militant labor organizer with the IWW) described their success at fomenting resistance among fellow rank-and-file guard members. By sharing ideas and literature at their base, they were able to establish strong personal relationships that served as a bottom-up defense against the military's institutionalized discipline. Another AWOL veteran described the U.S. military as an institution whose mission is to "exterminate" the oppressed people of the world "like so many cockroaches," while emphasizing the damage inflicted on vulnerable enlistees by the military's "racist, sexist, and homophobic practices."
All members of the panel recognized the need for movements of counter-recruitment and anti-militarization to intensify under the new political administration. As Fallujah veteran D. Paul Muller pointed out, the armed forces are under strict orders to "keep the recruitment numbers up, keep the high school students coming in." With wealthy financial institutions tightening their budgets, military planners are under pressure to ensure that taxpayer funds continue to flow into the massive "defense" economy. Competition among lobbyists and policymakers for access to these funds has escalated in recent months, and the various branches of the military are devising new marketing strategies to cope with this financially starved environment.
In order to prevent the further militarization of our society, and to steer public wealth towards investment in non-military social programs, we will need an alternative culture that counteracts the military's attempts to prey on desperate communities in a time of crisis. The war resisters from IVAW have paved the way for such an alternative by creating a culture of disobedience within the military's own ranks. By supporting their efforts – and by developing cooperative networks that will sustain these and other projects of demilitarization – we can begin the work of freeing our society from its dependence on war profiteering and military power.
This article, by Jeremy Scahill, was posted to Alternet, March 2, 2009
The company formerly known as Blackwater continues its mission to bury its tarnished reputation and soldier on. Early this morning, Blackwater founder Erik Prince released a brief statement announcing he is stepping down as CEO of the infamous mercenary firm he started in 1997. A press release from the company -- which last month renamed itself "Xe" -- said Prince "will now focus his efforts on a private equity venture unrelated to the company."
In a personal message sent to his employees and clients, Prince sought to cast his departure as a natural part of the firm’s ongoing evolution. "As many of you know, because we focus on continually improving our business that Xe is in the process of a comprehensive restructuring,” he wrote. “It is with pride in our many accomplishments and confidence in Xe's future that I announce my resignation as the company's Chief Executive Officer."
Prince's resignation could be seen as a public formality in what has been a dramatic attempt to scrub all public vestiges of Blackwater, given that he remains chairman and sole owner of the network of companies now operating under the Xe umbrella. But it's clear the firm has been thrown into turmoil in recent months. As the Xe statement says, "These appointments follow the addition and departures of several other key personnel. Recent departures from the company include its former Vice Chairman, Chief Operating Officer, President, and Executive Vice President." Joseph Yorio, an ex-Army Special Forces officer and former Vice President of the international shipping company DHL was announced as the new Xe president -- a somewhat humorous development, given Prince's fondness for describing Blackwater as the "FedEx of the U.S. national security apparatus." Meanwhile, Danielle Esposito, a longtime Blackwater employee, was named Xe's new Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President.
The rebranding of Blackwater and its attempts to hide its former self have been downright crude. The company's domestic training centers, which some refer to as private military bases, are now simply labeled "U.S. Training Center." Gone is the sexy black-and-red logo featuring a bear paw in a sniper-scope; it has been replaced by a nondescript, rather amateurish sketch of an American Eagle. The company website has been revamped and scaled down.
One thing that does remain is the Blackwater ProShop, where you can still purchase items ranging from all the ammunition and tactical gear you would need for your own private war, to the ever-popular Blackwater teddy bear. There is currently a blow-out sale in Blackwater baby onesies, which have been reduced from $18 to $10. Toddler polos have also had their ticket price slashed.
Blackwater's new name and Prince's resignation come following the State Department's recent announcement that it would not be renewing Blackwater's security contract in Iraq. Some have speculated that many of its operatives may be rehired by the State Department through other companies or the Department itself. Moreover, Blackwater still holds lucrative government contracts in Afghanistan and elsewhere and is marketing "CIA-type services" to Fortune 1000 companies through Prince's Total Intelligence Solutions. And a 184-foot vessel operated by the company (named the MacArthur) is reportedly heading for the Gulf of Aden to fight pirates. Nevertheless, some see the recent developments as Blackwater's funeral.
Still, the company clearly remains concerned with activist campaigns against the "new" company and is taking the necessary precautions. In April 2008, almost a year before "Xe" was officially launched, Blackwater bought the URLs xewatch.com, .org and .net. But activists who have mobilized against Blackwater have launched a rebranding campaign of their own. While Blackwater beat them in the URL game, the folks at BlackwaterWatch.net -- whose homepage currently reads: "DON'T BE FOOLED -- XE IS Blackwater!" -- recently reaffirmed their activism, sending out an e-mail saying:
"Xe Watch (formerly Blackwater Watch) was formed in 2007 as a spin-off of North Carolina Stop Torture Now. Headquartered in Blackwater's home state of North Carolina, Xe Watch seeks to shine a light on Blackwater USA specifically, and private armies/mercenaries generally, with respect to their human rights violations, absence of accountability and their profiteering at the expense of, and lobbying for, war and conflict. Xe Watch represents a growing contingent of concerned individuals and groups including, but not limited to, human rights and peace activists, people of faith, civil libertarians, and veterans. We are in solidarity with the people in San Diego, California, Mount Carroll, Illinois and Coeur d' Alene, Idaho who are fighting Xe's mercurial growth and expansion."
This article, by David Cronin, was published by IPS, February 10, 2009
BRUSSELS, Feb 10 (IPS) - The intimate involvement of the private sector in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq received international attention in September 2007, when staff with the security firm Blackwater shot dead 17 civilians in the vicinity of Baghdad's Nisoor Square.
Though the U.S. has made the most extensive use of such companies in the history of modern warfare, it is in Europe where they originated. Back in 1967, senior political and military figures in Britain formed Watchguard International as a response to a left-wing coup in Yemen five years earlier. Now recognised as the world's first private security firm, its original intention was to shore up governments that could otherwise be overthrown.
Four decades later, the European Union is being urged to introduce regulations so that better oversight of private security firms can be guaranteed.
According to Chris Kinsey, an academic with King's College in London who has studied private security firms for the past 10 years, such companies are easy to set up.
"You only need yourself, probably a fax machine, and to know how to bid for government contracts," he said at a debate in the European Parliament Monday.
While most of the firms in question work in parts of the world where they can be tried for any misdemeanours by local courts, they have been operating in something of a legal vacuum in Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo and Somalia during recent years. In Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority that took charge after the country's president Saddam Hussein was toppled, went so far as to issue an order providing immunity from prosecution by Iraqi courts for international contractors.
The British government, meanwhile, has procrastinated in subjecting private security firms to tougher rules. This is despite the recommendation in a government policy paper in 2002 that "sound legislation" be developed in this area. That recommendation followed the so-called Sandline affair during the late 1990s, in which a private firm was implicated in breaking a United Nations embargo on providing weapons to Sierra Leone.
About 85 percent of private security firms are based in either Britain or the U.S., though the industry has also spread to France, Israel, South Africa, China and the former Soviet Union. Amnesty International has complained that Britain's private security firms can evade responsibility for human rights violations they are accused of as they cannot be tried in British courts.
Kinsey believes that the 27-country EU is better placed than national administrations to ensure that regulation occurs. Clearer rules are needed, he suggested, as private security firms are eager to widen the scope of their activities to include humanitarian and development aid tasks, increasing the potential for human rights violations.
"Regulation at national level allows companies to move around," he said. "If regulation is very restrictive, they will simply move to another country."
The International Committee of the Red Cross, perhaps the world's best- known humanitarian group, has joined with the government of Switzerland to study how private security firms can be monitored. Some 17 countries have taken part in their discussions so far.
Stéphane Kolanowski, a legal adviser to the Red Cross, described the granting of immunity from prosecution to certain private security firms as an "unjustified idea."
Among the most egregious breaches of human rights attributed to private security companies has been the involvement of their personnel in the administration of Abu Ghraib, the infamous prison in Iraq which has become synonymous with photographs of detainees being tortured.
Kolanowski raised questions about the delegation of tasks normally performed by public sector employees to private firms. "States cannot escape their obligations by the hiring of a private company," he said. "Some activities cannot be subcontracted - such as the power of an officer in charge of a prisoner of war camp or a place where civilians are interned."
J.J. Messner from the International Peace Operations Association, a Washington-based umbrella group for the private security industry, indicated that he would welcome being subject to more stringent laws. "The private sector desires clear rules and guidelines," he said. "Grey areas create unnecessary complications. The European Union is in a pivotal position to impress upon its member states the importance of regulation."
Hélène Flautre, a French Green member of the European Parliament (MEP), suggested in the course of the debate that all EU military operations should have officers who liaise between soldiers and private firms that have been hired to provide particular services.
"Where subcontractors are allowed, this shouldn't represent an evasion of international humanitarian law," she said.
Michael Gahler, a German Christian Democrat MEP, said: "It is very important that we shouldn't give private security companies a law-free area. Employing them should not be a way of avoiding international law. That has to be the yardstick."