Obama’s secret war in Somalia where ‘the Americans are creating a monster’

“Mercenary” is a word with lots of ugly connotations — not least for men who’ve been jailed for being mercenaries.

So, Bancroft Global Development, a private company based in Washington DC currently providing “military services” for the US State Department and the UN in Mogadishu, doesn’t like the term “mercenaries.” It describes itself instead as a non-governmental organization dedicated to finding permanent solutions to violent conflict. It also has what might be a unique distinction of operating in the United States as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit charitable organization.

The Obama administration clearly doesn’t feel comfortable employing mercenaries or “mentors,” as Bancroft’s soldiers call themselves, and so they get paid by the governments of Uganda and Burundi who then get reimbursed by the State Department.

Richard Rouget, the French-born South-African Bancroft employee who is the primary source for the New York Times article cited below, let’s the company’s PR mask fall momentarily and reveals a 19th century colonial mentality when he refers to his Somali adversaries as “savages”.

In the 1970s, Rouget is said to have been active in neo-fascist organizations such as Groupe Union Défense (GUD).

This is how GUD (founded in 1968) and a similar ultra-right group, Unité Radicale, were described in The Guardian:

Both the GUD and UR, founded in 1998, are rabidly racist, anti-semitic and anti-American, declared enemies of “global, cosmopolitan finance”, supportive of the September 11 attacks and believers in la France blanche .

While they profess to be genuine “nationalist revolutionaries” rather than neo-Nazis, the paraphernalia of the Third Reich is never far from their gatherings.

Meanwhile, through its creation of the Somali National Security Agency — an intelligence organization financed largely by the CIA — the Obama administration is backing what one Somali official says is becoming a “government within a government.”

“No one, not even the president, knows what the NSA is doing,” he said. “The Americans are creating a monster.”

The New York Times reports:

Richard Rouget, a gun for hire over two decades of bloody African conflict, is the unlikely face of the American campaign against militants in Somalia.

A husky former French Army officer, Mr. Rouget, 51, commanded a group of foreign fighters during Ivory Coast’s civil war in 2003, was convicted by a South African court of selling his military services and did a stint in the presidential guard of the Comoros Islands, an archipelago plagued by political tumult and coup attempts.

Now Mr. Rouget works for Bancroft Global Development, an American private security company that the State Department has indirectly financed to train African troops who have fought a pitched urban battle in the ruins of this city against the Shabab, the Somali militant group allied with Al Qaeda.

The company plays a vital part in the conflict now raging inside Somalia, a country that has been effectively ungoverned and mired in chaos for years. The fight against the Shabab, a group that United States officials fear could someday carry out strikes against the West, has mostly been outsourced to African soldiers and private companies out of reluctance to send American troops back into a country they hastily exited nearly two decades ago.

“We do not want an American footprint or boot on the ground,” said Johnnie Carson, the Obama administration’s top State Department official for Africa.

A visible United States military presence would be provocative, he said, partly because of Somalia’s history as a graveyard for American missions — including the “Black Hawk Down” episode in 1993, when Somali militiamen killed 18 American service members.

Still, over the past year, the United States has quietly stepped up operations inside Somalia, American officials acknowledge. The Central Intelligence Agency, which largely finances the country’s spy agency, has covertly trained Somali intelligence operatives, helped build a large base at Mogadishu’s airport — Somalis call it “the Pink House” for the reddish hue of its buildings or “Guantánamo” for its ties to the United States — and carried out joint interrogations of suspected terrorists with their counterparts in a ramshackle Somali prison.

And while Washington continues to look at Somalia through the mind-numbing prism of “global terrorism,” the people of this war-torn nation struggle to survive.

A staggering ten percent of children under five are now dying from starvation every 11 weeks.

AFP reports:

Ten per cent of Somali children aged under five are dying every 11 weeks in the country’s devastating famine, which is spreading faster than aid agencies can cope with, UN officials warned on Wednesday.

The UN representative to Somalia also told the UN Security Council that warlords will take control of areas of Mogadishu abandoned by Islamist insurgents last weekend unless the transitional government quickly gets a grip.

The envoy, Augustine Mahiga, said about half the Somali population, about 3.7 million people, are now at risk from famine. The UN estimates that more than 12 million are affected across East Africa.

Across the famine zone, more than 13 children out of every 10,000 aged under five die each day, Mahiga said. ‘This means that 10 per cent of children under five are dying every 11 weeks. These figures are truly heart-wrenching,’ the envoy told the council, appealing for greater international assistance.

The UN has asked for one billion dollars for Somalia, but Catherine Bragg, the deputy UN emergency relief coordinator, said less than half the sum has been raised.

facebooktwittermail

Secret desert force set up by Blackwater’s founder

The New York Times reports from Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates:

Late one night last November, a plane carrying dozens of Colombian men touched down in this glittering seaside capital. Whisked through customs by an Emirati intelligence officer, the group boarded an unmarked bus and drove roughly 20 miles to a windswept military complex in the desert sand.

The Colombians had entered the United Arab Emirates posing as construction workers. In fact, they were soldiers for a secret American-led mercenary army being built by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom.

Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.

The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.

The U.A.E.’s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country’s biggest foe, the former employees said. The training camp, located on a sprawling Emirati base called Zayed Military City, is hidden behind concrete walls laced with barbed wire. Photographs show rows of identical yellow temporary buildings, used for barracks and mess halls, and a motor pool, which houses Humvees and fuel trucks. The Colombians, along with South African and other foreign troops, are trained by retired American soldiers and veterans of the German and British special operations units and the French Foreign Legion, according to the former employees and American officials.

In outsourcing critical parts of their defense to mercenaries — the soldiers of choice for medieval kings, Italian Renaissance dukes and African dictators — the Emiratis have begun a new era in the boom in wartime contracting that began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And by relying on a force largely created by Americans, they have introduced a volatile element in an already combustible region where the United States is widely viewed with suspicion.

facebooktwittermail

FEATURE: Blackwater

Showdown in Blackwater’s backyard

Marshall Adame is a Democrat running for Congress in North Carolina’s 3rd District, a jurisdiction along the Tar Heel state’s low-lying eastern coast that is home to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune, Air Station Cherry Point, and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, as well as Blackwater Worldwide’s 7,000-acre corporate headquarters and training facility. Adame is an underdog in the congressional race, where he will likely face seven-term Republican incumbent Walter B. Jones—who brought the term “freedom fries” to Congress—in the general election. Jones has since become an opponent of the Iraq war, atoning for his vote to authorize the war by writing letters of condolence to the families of dead soldiers—a “mea culpa to my Lord,” he says. But the incumbent and his Republican party are not the only obstacles Adame will have to overcome if he hopes to take over the 3rd District’s congressional seat. He also faces tough opposition from Blackwater. [complete article]

Pioneering Blackwater protesters given secret trial and criminal conviction

Last week in Currituck County, N.C., Superior Court Judge Russell Duke presided over the final step in securing the first criminal conviction stemming from the deadly actions of Blackwater Worldwide, the Bush administration’s favorite mercenary company. Lest you think you missed some earth-shifting, breaking news, hold on a moment. The “criminals” in question were not the armed thugs who gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians and wounded more than 20 others in Baghdad’s Nisour Square last September. They were seven nonviolent activists who had the audacity to stage a demonstration at the gates of Blackwater’s 7,000-acre private military base in North Carolina to protest the actions of mercenaries acting with impunity — and apparent immunity — in their names and those of every American. [complete article]

facebooktwittermail

NEWS: Blackwater might evade justice; signs of Iraq’s economic progress turn out to be baseless

Blackwater case faces obstacles, Justice Dept. says

Justice Department officials have told Congress that they face serious legal difficulties in pursuing criminal prosecutions of Blackwater security guards involved in a September shooting that left at least 17 Iraqis dead.

In a private briefing in mid-December, officials from the Justice and State Departments met with aides to the House Judiciary Committee and other Congressional staff members and warned them that there were major legal obstacles that might prevent any prosecution. Justice officials were careful not to say whether any decision had been made in the matter, according to two of the Congressional staff members who received the briefing.

The staff members, who asked not to be identified, disclosed details of the meeting in interviews this week.

The December briefing took place after a federal grand jury had been convened in the case, suggesting that prosecutors had decided to begin hearing testimony with potential prosecution problems still unresolved. [complete article]

Iraqi spending to rebuild has slowed, report says

Highly promising figures that the administration cited to demonstrate economic progress in Iraq last fall, when Congress was considering whether to continue financing the war, cannot be substantiated by official Iraqi budget records, the Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday.

The Iraqi government had been severely criticized for failing to spend billions of dollars of its oil revenues in 2006 to finance its own reconstruction, but last September the administration said Iraq had greatly accelerated such spending. By July 2007, the administration said, Iraq had spent some 24 percent of $10 billion set aside for reconstruction that year.

As Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, prepared in September to report to Congress on the state of the war, the economic figures were a rare sign of progress within Iraq’s often dysfunctional government.

But in its report on Tuesday, the accountability office said official Iraqi Finance Ministry records showed that Iraq had spent only 4.4 percent of the reconstruction budget by August 2007. It also said that the rate of spending had substantially slowed from the previous year. [complete article]

facebooktwittermail

FEATURE: Hired guns

While the volunteer Army struggles, the business of war booms

“There are many questions as to how a myriad of heavily armed private armies can serve the purpose of the US military and foreign policy,” writes Robert Young Pelton, in Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror.

Pelton has traveled with both military and private contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq throughout the conflict. He describes the new terrain shaped by outsourcing and reports that it bears little resemblance to the noble enterprise sold to the military years ago. Five years into operations, it is a darkly obscured landscape of violence, profiteering, and negligence. He senses that this parallel army is undermining the entire mission, leading to “blowback of extraordinary proportions.”

“It strikes at the core of the entire American principle, the idea of the citizen soldier,” he tells TAC. “We’ve been fighting this war longer than World War II, and the military is absolutely dependent on the private sector.” [complete article]

facebooktwittermail

NEWS: The other safe haven for mercenaries

Nobody guarding Afghanistan’s guards

The Afghan government and its international partners are struggling to bolster the country’s security forces, fighting the twin problems of boosting the numbers of the national army and trying to disband illegal armed groups.

Yet, an unmonitored, unregulated and unauthorized force is on the streets, not just under the noses of authorities but also hired and legitimized by those working on building the security sector.

As many as 28,000 armed personnel are hired by private security companies (PSCs), which have been operating as a lucrative business in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion to oust the Taliban in 2001, providing protection to foreigners and elite Afghans, guarding institutions, homes and individuals.

The number of armed contractors is more than half the Afghan National Army, which is estimated at between 35,000 to 50,000, and could be larger if the numbers of “irregular” forces are added to the ranks of legal contractors. [complete article]

facebooktwittermail

NEWS: Iraqi Cabinet votes to repeal immunity for American mercenaries

Iraqi Cabinet votes to repeal immunity for U.S. guards

The Iraqi Cabinet today approved and sent on to parliament a proposed law repealing the immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts that has been extended to foreign security contractors operating in the country.

A government statement said foreign security companies, their employees and contractors would be subject to Iraqi laws and the judicial system, and “all immunities they have are canceled.” It also said the law would require them to cooperate with Iraqi rules governing visas, weapons possession, vehicle licensing and taxation.

“The reason this law is being passed is basically to stop these security companies and American contractors from thinking that Iraqi blood is cheap and that they couldn’t be prosecuted,” said Adil Barwari, a member of parliament from the Kurdistan Democratic Party who sits on the security and defense committee, which will now review the legislation. “It’s something to make them think before they act.” [complete article]

See also, Immunity jeopardizes Iraq probe (WP) and Officials: Blackwater guards offered limited immunity (CNN).

facebooktwittermail

NEWS: Waxman’s on the job

White House feels Waxman’s oversight gaze

For months, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, chairman of the House oversight committee, has been threatening, subpoenaing and just plain badgering Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to come before his panel to answer questions about the run-up to the Iraq war, corruption and State Department contracting.

Today, Rice will finally appear. But Waxman (D-Calif.) has not spent the week on a victory lap. He has found time to produce evidence accusing State Department security contractor Blackwater Worldwide of tax evasion, to fire off a letter to Rice demanding information about alleged mismanagement of a $1 billion contract to train Iraqi police, and to hold a hearing on uranium poisoning on Navajo land.

Waxman has become the Bush administration’s worst nightmare: a Democrat in the majority with subpoena power and the inclination to overturn rocks. But in Waxman the White House also faces an indefatigable capital veteran — with a staff renowned for its depth and experience — who has been waiting for this for 14 years. [complete article]

facebooktwittermail

NEWS: Blackwater fallout

State Dept. ousts its chief of security

The State Department’s security chief was forced to resign yesterday after a critical review found that his office had failed to adequately supervise private contractors protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq.

Richard J. Griffin, a former Secret Service agent who was once in charge of presidential protection, was told by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s deputy, John D. Negroponte, to leave office by Nov. 1. Griffin’s chief deputy, Gregory B. Starr, will become acting assistant secretary for diplomatic security.

Griffin is the first senior official to lose his job over the widening private-contractor scandal. Under fire from Congress, the U.S. military and the Iraqi government after the Sept. 16 contractor killing of 17 Iraqi civilians, Rice on Tuesday ordered extensive changes in diplomatic security arrangements in Iraq and pledged stronger oversight. A high-level panel she appointed to review the Iraq operation recommended Griffin’s departure along with the other changes, according to State Department sources. [complete article]

Under siege, Blackwater takes on air of bunker

The Blackwater USA compound here is a fortress within a fortress. Surrounded by a 25-foot-high wall of concrete topped by a chain-link fence and razor wire, the compound sits deep inside the heavily defended Green Zone, its two points of entry guarded by Colombian Army veterans carrying shotguns and automatic rifles.

In the mazelike interior, Blackwater employees live in trailers stacked one on top of the other in surroundings that one employee likens to a “minimum-security prison.”

Since Sept. 16, when Blackwater guards opened fire in a crowded Baghdad square, the compound has begun to feel more like a prison, too. On that day, employees of Blackwater, a private security firm hired to protect American diplomats, responded to what they called a threat and killed as many as 17 people and wounded 24. [complete article]

facebooktwittermail

NEWS: American mercenaries evade justice

Iraqis shot by contractors stymied in search for justice

In the days after Usama Abbass was shot dead in a Baghdad traffic circle by security guards working for Blackwater USA, his brother visited the U.S.-run National Iraqi Assistance Center seeking compensation.

Like other Iraqis who have done the same, he learned a harsh truth: The center in Baghdad’s Green Zone handles cases of Iraqis claiming death or damages due to military action, but not due to actions of private contractors such as Blackwater, who work in Iraq for the U.S. government, private agencies and other governments.

“There will be no compensation because the American Army did not kill your brother,” an apologetic U.S. soldier told Abbass’ brother, who did not want his name published. [complete article]

facebooktwittermail

NEWS: America’s own unlawful combatants

America’s own unlawful combatants?

As the Bush administration deals with the fallout from the recent killings of civilians by private security firms in Iraq, some officials are asking whether the contractors could be considered unlawful combatants under international agreements.

The question is an outgrowth of federal reviews of the shootings, in part because the U.S. officials want to determine whether the administration could be accused of treaty violations that could fuel an international outcry.

But the issue also holds practical and political implications for the administration’s war effort and the image of the U.S. abroad.

If U.S. officials conclude that the use of guards is a potential violation, they may have to limit guards’ tasks in war zones, which could leave more work for the already overstretched military. [complete article]

facebooktwittermail

NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Accounting for Blackwater

Blackwater case highlights legal uncertainties

Roughly 100,000 American contractors are working in Iraq, but there has yet to be a prosecution for a single incident of violence, according to Scott Horton, a specialist in the law of armed conflict who teaches at Columbia University.

“Imagine a town of 100,000 people, and there hasn’t been a prosecution in three years,” Mr. Horton said. “How do you justify the fact that you aren’t addressing this?”

One remedy is not being discussed: the State Department can waive immunity for contractors and let the case be tried in the Iraqi courts under Order 17, which is the section of the Transitional Administrative Law approved in 2004 that gives contractors immunity.

L. Paul Bremer III, who supervised the drafting of the immunity order as administrator of the United States occupation authority, said: “The immunity is not absolute. The order requires contractors to respect all Iraqi laws, so it’s not a blanket immunity.” [complete article]

See also, State Dept. may phase out Blackwater (AP).

Editor’s Comment — While the moral, legal, and political dimensions of the Blackwater story have been given most attention, the other part to which there are merely allusions is Blackwater as an expression of American culture. Yet the fantasies being lived out by that these “GI Joe-looking guys” — “They think they’re bloody Rambo!” — are not simply products of youthful imagination. Blackwater’s Iraqi rampage has been inspired as much, if not more, by Hollywood as by 9/11 and a Pentagon addicted to outsourcing.

facebooktwittermail

NEWS: Foreign guards in another drive-by killing

Foreign guards kill two women in Baghdad

Foreign security guards killed two women on Tuesday, opening fire on their car in the centre of the Iraqi capital and then speeding off “like gangsters,” witnesses and Iraqi security officials said.

The shooting in Karrada came two days after Iraq vowed to punish US security firm Blackwater after a probe found that its guards were not provoked when they opened “deliberate” fire in Baghdad three weeks ago, killing 17 Iraqis.

Shopkeeper Ammar Fallah, a witness to the Tuesday’s shooting, told AFP the guards, who were escorting a civilian convoy through the streets, signalled for a woman driving a white Oldsmobile car to pull over as they passed.

“When she failed to do so they opened fire, killing her and the woman next to her,” he said. “There were two children in the back seat but they were not harmed. The women were both shot in the head.” [complete article]

facebooktwittermail

NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Will Blackwater face Iraqi law?

NEWS: Will Blackwater face Iraqi law?
Iraqi authorities seek Blackwater ouster

Iraqi authorities want the U.S. government to sever all contracts in Iraq with Blackwater USA within six months. They also want the firm to pay $8 million in compensation to families of each of the 17 people killed when its guards sprayed a traffic circle with heavy machine gun fire last month.

The demands — part of an Iraqi government report examined by The Associated Press — also called on U.S. authorities to hand over the Blackwater security agents involved in the Sept. 16 shootings to face possible trial in Iraqi courts.

The tone of the Iraqi report appears to signal further strains between the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the White House over the deaths in Nisoor Square — which have prompted a series of U.S. and Iraqi probes and raised questions over the use of private security contractors to guard U.S. diplomats and other officials.

Al-Maliki ordered the investigation by his defense minister and other top security and police officials on Sept. 22. The findings — which were translated from Arabic by AP — mark the most definitive Iraqi positions and contentions about the shootings last month. [complete article]

Blackwater chief at nexus of military and business

Erik D. Prince, the crew-cut, square-jawed founder of Blackwater USA, the security contractor now at the center of a political storm in both Washington and Baghdad, is a man seemingly born to play a leading role in the private sector side of the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He is both a former member of the Navy Seals and the scion of a fabulously wealthy, deeply religious family that is enmeshed in Republican Party politics. As a result, the 38-year-old Mr. Prince stands at the nexus between American Special Operations, which has played such a critical role in the war operations, and the nation’s political and business elite, who have won enormous government contracts as war operations have increasingly been outsourced.

Republican political connections ran deep in his family long before Mr. Prince founded Blackwater in 1997. When he was a teenager, religious conservative leaders like Gary Bauer, now the president of American Values, were house guests. James C. Dobson, the founder of the evangelical organization Focus on the Family, gave the eulogy at his father’s funeral in 1995. “Dr. and Mrs. Dobson are friends with Erik Prince and his mother, Elsa Broekhuizen,” Focus on the Family said in a statement. [complete article]

See also, Iraqis tell of guards’ reckless behavior (LAT) and State Dept. ignored Blackwater warnings (LAT).

Editor’s Comment — It has frequently been reported that Blackwater operates in Iraq with legal immunity. Now AP reports that the Iraqi government says otherwise:

It said Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq expired on June 2, 2006, meaning it had no immunity from prosecution under Iraqi laws set down after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

What’s Erik Prince’s response to that?

facebooktwittermail

OPINION: The administration that harbors murderers

Licensed to kill

The Bush Justice Department does have an essential law enforcement mission, though sometimes it seems to behave much more like a criminal syndicate. It warmly embraces the crime of torture as a tool for collecting human intelligencenotwithstanding both its manifest illegality and immorality and the uniform view of intelligence professionals that torture consistently produces corrupted, inherently unreliable information. In so doing of course it is engaged in a fairly primitive game of self-protection. It can’t acknowledge the fundamental criminality of its conduct, so it turns the Justice Department into its consigliere. Three different lawyers in the office of legal counsel have rendered formal opinions giving a stamp of approval to a universal crime. Indeed, this sort of legal dexterity now seems to be accepted as a rite of passage for “movement” lawyers—a fact which is very revealing of the new character of the “movement.” It has nothing to do with ideals, and everything to do with personal fidelity. In each of these cases, the opinion boils down to the fundamental principle of the authoritarian state, namely: if the Leader authorizes it, then it must be okay. [complete article]

facebooktwittermail

NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The State Department’s reckless protectors

Blackwater faulted in military reports from shooting scene

U.S. military reports from the scene of the Sept. 16 shooting incident involving the security firm Blackwater USA indicate that its guards opened fire without provocation and used excessive force against Iraqi civilians, according to a senior U.S. military official.

The reports came to light as an Interior Ministry official and five eyewitnesses described a second deadly shooting minutes after the incident in Nisoor Square. The same Blackwater security guards, after driving about 150 yards away from the square, fired into a crush of cars, killing one person and injuring two, the Iraqi official said.

The U.S. military reports appear to corroborate the Iraqi government’s contention that Blackwater was at fault in the shooting incident in Nisoor Square, in which hospital records say at least 14 people were killed and 18 were wounded. [complete article]

Bill applies U.S. law to contractors

With the armed security force Blackwater USA and other private contractors in Iraq facing tighter scrutiny, the House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would bring all United States government contractors in the Iraq war zone under the jurisdiction of American criminal law. The measure would require the F.B.I. to investigate any allegations of wrongdoing.

The bill was approved 389 to 30, despite strong opposition from the White House. It came as lawmakers and human rights groups are using a Sept. 16 shooting by Blackwater personnel in Baghdad to highlight the many contractors operating in Iraq who have apparently been unaccountable to American military or civilian laws and outside the reach of the Iraqi judicial system.

The State Department, which had been leading the investigation into the shooting, said Thursday that a team of F.B.I. agents sent to Baghdad in recent days had taken over the inquiry. No charges have been filed in the case, and Justice Department officials have said it is unclear whether American law applies. [complete article]

See also, U.S. issues new rules for Iraq security firm (WP) and Iraqis: Put Blackwater guards on trial (AP).

Editor’s Comment — With plenty of evidence that until now the State Department has had more interest in protecting their trigger-happy guards than in reining them in, today’s announcement of new security procedures intended to “make sure there is a management feedback loop,” are clearly disingenuous. Well before Blackwater hit the headlines, is it conceivable that there were not numerous occasions in which State Department officials witnessed the type of violence for which Blackwater is now infamous? And while it’s no excuse, it’s hardly surprising that those being protected were afraid of blowing the whistle on their sometimes (or often) reckless protectors.

facebooktwittermail