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Corporatism and Fascism

Schakowsky Prepares Legislation to Ban Blackwater


Schakowsky Prepares Legislation to Ban Blackwater
By Jeremy Scahill | Rebel Reports

Schakowsky says Blackwater has “severely damaged the credibility and security of our military and harmed our relationship with other governments”

As multiple scandals involving Blackwater continue to emerge almost daily, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is preparing to introduce legislation aimed at ending the US government’s relationship with Blackwater and other armed contracting companies. “In 2009, the U.S. government employed well over 20,000 armed private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is every indication that these figures will continue to rise in 2010,” Schakowsky wrote in a “Dear Colleage” letter asking for support for her Stop Outsourcing Security (SOS) Act. “These men and women are not part of the U.S. military or government. They do not wear the uniform of the United States, though their behavior has, on numerous occasions, severely damaged the credibility and security of our military and harmed our relationship with other governments.”

Schakowsky originally introduced the bill in 2007, but it only won two co-sponsors in the Senate: Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Ironically, Clinton—now Secretary of State— is currently the US official responsible for most of Blackwater’s contracts. “The legislation would prohibit the use of private contractors for military, security, law enforcement, intelligence, and armed rescue functions unless the President tells Congress why the military is unable to perform those functions,” according to Schakowsky. “It would also increase transparency over any remaining security contracts by increasing reporting requirements and giving Congress access to details about large contracts.”

Meanwhile, a national coalition of groups opposed to Blackwater have issued an open letter to Congress urging support for Schakowsky’s SOS Act and have called on Congress to investigate the US Justice Department’s handling of the criminal case against the Blackwater operatives alleged to have been responsible for the 2007 Nisour Square massacre. Read more.

Ex-Qaeda Man Links Motive To Alleged U.S. Abuse: Report


Ex-Qaeda man links motive to alleged U.S. abuse: report
Editing by Noah Barkin | Reuters

A former Guantanamo inmate who fled to Yemen to help lead an al Qaeda branch after his release says he was motivated by the memory of abuse he says he suffered in U.S. custody, the BBC reported on Wednesday.

Concern about Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has risen sharply since it claimed responsibility for a failed plot to blow up a U.S. passenger jet on December 25.

The group has several former Guantanamo detainees in its ranks, which are believed to number about 300.

The former Guantanamo detainee, a Saudi named Mohammed al-Awfi, said he had been tortured while in detention six years ago at the Bagram U.S. military base in Afghanistan before he was sent to Guantanamo, the BBC reported him as saying.

The memory of this abuse doomed efforts by Saudi officials to ensure he did not resume militant activities, he told the BBC in an interview in Saudi Arabia, where he has been in prison following his surrender to Yemeni and Saudi authorities in 2009.

"When I asked al-Awfi why the rehabilitation program had not worked for him, he said it was because the memories of what he had suffered at the hands of Americans were far more powerful than any corrective inducements he had received in the Care program," BBC journalist Peter Taylor wrote in an online report, referring to a Saudi deradicalization campaign aimed at former Guantanamo detainees.

"Al-Awfi claimed his U.S. interrogators had done terrible things to him. He alleges they sat him on a chair, made a hole in the seat, and then "pulled out the testicles from underneath which they then hit with a metal rod"," Taylor reported.

"They'd then tie up your penis and make you drink salty water in order to make you urinate without being able to do so, until they make you scream," Taylor quoted him as saying. Read more.

Africom - Latest U.S. Bid to Recolonise Continent

Africom - Latest U.S. Bid to Recolonise Continent
By Tichaona Nhamoyebonde | All Africa

AFRICAN revolutionaries now have to sleep with one eye open because the United States of America is not stopping at anything in its bid to establish Africom, a highly-equipped US army that will be permanently resident in Africa to oversee the country's imperialist interests.

Towards the end of last year, the US government intensified its efforts to bring a permanent army to settle in Africa, dubbed the African Command (Africom) as a latest tool for the subtle recolonisation of Africa.

Just before end of last year, General William E. Garret, Commander US Army for Africa, met with defence attaches from all African embassies in Washington to lure them into selling the idea of an American army based in Africa to their governments.

Latest reports from the White House this January indicate that 75 percent of the army's establishment work has been done through a military unit based in Stuttgart, Germany, and that what is left is to get an African country to host the army and get things moving. Read more.

Killer Obama, Dr. King, and the Triple Evils

Killer Obama, Dr. King, and the Triple Evils
by Paul Street | Black Agenda Report

“He’s a Killer”

“Peace prize? He's a killer."

Thus spoke a young Pashtun man to an Al Jazeera English reporter on December 10, 2009 - the day that Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize.
"Obama,” the man added, “has only brought war to our country.”

The man spoke from the village of Armal, where a crowd of 100 gathered around the bodies of 12 people, one family from a single home. The 12 were killed, witnesses reported, by U.S. Special Forces during a late night raid.

"Why are they giving Obama a peace medal?" another village resident asked. "He claims to want to bring security to us but he brings only death. Death to him"

Al Jazeera went to the Afghan village of Bola Boluk, where a U.S. bombing butchered dozens of civilians last spring. "He doesn't deserve the award," a young woman said. "He bombed us and left us with nothing, not even a home"[1]

Obama blasted her village last May. In the first week of that month, the president’s air-strikes killed more than 140 civilians in Bola Boluk, located in western Afghanistan's Farah Province. Ninety-three of the dead villagers torn apart by U.S. explosives were children. Just 22 were males 18 years or older. As the New York Times reported:

"In a phone call played on a loudspeaker on Wednesday to outraged members of the Afghan Parliament," The New York Times reported, "the governor of Farah Province...said that as many as 130 civilians had been killed." According to one Afghan legislator and eyewitness, "the villagers bought two tractor trailers full of pieces of human bodies to his office to prove the casualties that had occurred. Everyone at the governor's cried, watching that shocking scene."[2]

“Ninety-three of the dead villagers torn apart by U.S. explosives were children.” Read more.

Big Tobacco Still At It

Tobacco Company Helped Shape European Policy System Favoring Corporate Profits Over Public Health, Study Finds

ScienceDaily (Jan. 12, 2010) — British American Tobacco (BAT), the world's second largest tobacco transnational, strategically influenced the European Union's framework for evaluating policy options, leading to the acceptance of an agenda which emphasizes business interests over public health, according to a study published in PLoS Medicine.

SEC Suit: Bank of America Failed To Disclose ’Staggering Financial Losses’ To Shareholders

SEC suit: Bank of America failed to disclose ’staggering financial losses’ to shareholders
By Associate Press | Raw Story

Federal regulators sued Bank of America Corp. on Tuesday, accusing the company of failing to disclose "staggering financial losses" at Merrill Lynch before shareholders approved a combination of the companies.

The lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in U.S. District Court in Manhattan sought an order requiring Bank of America to pay a civil penalty for not telling shareholders it was losing $15.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Bank of America spokesman Robert Stickler called the charges "totally without merit."

He said the company believes it provided sufficient and appropriate disclosure to shareholders prior to their vote approving the combination.

"We look forward to presenting the facts in court," Stickler said. "What we would note is that there were no charges against individuals and no charges of fraud. We were pleased with that." Read more.

Health Insurers Secretly Funded $10-$20 Million In Attack Ads

Health insurers secretly funded $10-$20 million in attack ads
By John Byrne | Raw Story

Seen one of those TV ads attacking healthcare reform?

Chances are, it may have been paid for by a health insurance company funneling money through the US Chamber of Commerce -- who then funneled it to one of two front groups it created specifically aimed at derailing or watering down the Democrats' healthcare reform bill.

According to National Journal veteran investigative correspondent Peter Stone, some $10 to $20 million of health insurer money was funneled into the Chamber of Commerce, which then doled it out to its anti-healthcare groups, Campaign for Responsible Health Reform and Employers for a Healthy Economy.

The insurers who contributed to the anti-reform effort purportedly were: Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint.

Each insurer reportedly gave at least $1 million to the campaign, with some insurers contributions totaling in the multi-millions. Read more.

Body Scanners Can Store, Send Images, Group Says


Body scanners can store, send images, group says
By Jeanne Meserve and Mike M. Ahlers | CNN

A privacy group says the Transportation Security Administration is misleading the public with claims that full-body scanners at airports cannot store or send their graphic images.

The TSA specified in 2008 documents that the machines must have image storage and sending abilities, the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said.

In the documents, obtained by the privacy group and provided to CNN, the TSA specifies that the body scanners it purchases must have the ability to store and send images when in "test mode."

That requirement leaves open the possibility the machines -- which can see beneath people's clothing -- can be abused by TSA insiders and hacked by outsiders, said EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg.

EPIC, a public-interest group focused on privacy and civil rights, obtained the technical specifications and vendor contracts through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The written requirements also appear to contradict numerous assurances the TSA has given the public about the machines' privacy protections. Read more.

Greedwashing on Wall Street

Greedwashing on Wall Street
By Mary Bottari | Bankster USA

All eyes are on Wall Street this week as the big banks get ready to report their earnings and bonuses. Rebounding banks are preparing to pay out bonuses that rival those of the pre-crisis boom years.

During the first nine months of 2009, five of the largest banks that received federal aid — Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — together set aside about $90 billion for compensation.

To avoid pitchforks and public outrage most banks are tamping down on the cash payouts and beefing up long-term stock options. One bank is taking an even more novel approach, dare we call it, greedwashing?

Goldman Sachs is coming off one of its most profitable years in its 141-year history. This profitability was made possible through extraordinary government interventions. Goldman was given $10 billion in TARP funds, repaid with interest, but that was just the beginning. After the $182 billion taxpayer bailout of bankrupt AIG, Goldman received $12.9 billion without having to take a discount. This was due directly to the intervention of the New York Fed, headed by Tim Geithner. The continuing drip, drip, drip of revelations of this deal threatens Geithner’s tenure as the Treasury Secretary. The Fed also allowed the investment firm to reorganize as a bank holding company giving their investors the backing of FDIC insurance and access to the Fed’s discount window. Now Goldman can borrow at very low interest rates and lend at 10 percent or more. Even worse, it continues to act like an investment bank, but now its risky moves are backed by the American taxpayer.

As Goldman gets ready to announce bonuses, anticipated to be worth around $595,000 per employee, the press team at Goldman Sachs has been working overtime to come up with clever ideas on how to defray public anger at firm. Remember when they announced their plan to mentor and loan to small businesses? Now they are thinking of creating a rule that would require all their top employees to engage in charitable giving. Read more.

Obama Received $20 Million From Healthcare Industry In 2008 Campaign

Obama received $20 million from healthcare industry in 2008 campaign
By Brad Jacobson | Raw Story

Almost three times the amount given to McCain

While some sunlight has been shed on the hefty sums shoveled into congressional campaign coffers in an effort to influence the Democrats' massive healthcare bill, little attention has been focused on the far larger sums received by President Barack Obama while he was a candidate in 2008.

A new figure, based on an exclusive analysis created for Raw Story by the Center for Responsive Politics, shows that President Obama received a staggering $20,175,303 from the healthcare industry during the 2008 election cycle, nearly three times the amount of his presidential rival John McCain. McCain took in $7,758,289, the Center found. Read more.

Kucinich to Introduce “Responsible Bankers Act”

Kucinich to Introduce “Responsible Bankers Act” | Press Release

Washington D.C. (January 12, 2010) – Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today introduced legislation to impose a 75% tax on the extraordinary bonuses that bankers are planning to pay themselves using windfall profits earned from massive taxpayer support of the financial services industry. The “Responsible Bankers Act” will not penalize banks for making a profit, but rather will tax the bonus pools that are set aside.

This is the follow up to announcement made by Kucinich on December 10, 2009.

Kucinich, who has been a leading critic of the government’s unlimited support to Wall Street, remarked; “Bankers are preparing to pay themselves record bonuses rather than lending and investing in American economic prosperity. They could use their profits to do many things to improve the prospects of economic recovery, like strengthen their capital base, reduce fees charged to customers, or increase lending to small and medium sized-companies.

“Bankers’ failures to self-regulate, let us remember, were the direct cause of the crisis we are in today; they need to be told that the money they are making is a public trust, not something they have earned for good behavior.”

Other bills being discussed fall short of the Kucinich measure, which taxes all banker bonuses whether the bank has received or repaid TARP funds or not. “The aim of federal policy is to give banks the opportunity to clean up the mess they have created,” Mr. Kucinich said today, “but bank executives still don’t get it. They think the profits they are making are for themselves.”

The Responsible Bankers Act has already received the early endorsement of Public Citizen, a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971.

Behind the Veils of Power: Hope for Progressives


Behind the Veils of Power: Hope for Progressives
By Bernard Weiner, Co-Editor | The Crisis Papers | January 12, 2010

Pundits of all stripes are calling this past decade a thoroughgoing disaster, one of the worst in our nation's history. True, but there's another way of evaluating the CheneyBush era.

Sure, lots of horrific things happened in the years between 2000 and 2010: a massive terrorist attack, our country lied into a disastrous war in Iraq, the Administration colluding with corporations in looting the treasury and polluting the air and water, a great recession brought into being at least partially by refusing to enforce oversight regulations on financial institutions, eight years lost in the fight against global warming. Yes, all those things, and many more dark episodes, including the strengthening of a kind of native fascism, happened during the CheneyBush era.

But those shameful ashes of the past eight years can, Phoenix-like, also yield a momentous rebirth of American democracy, a more rational foreign policy, and economic justice. What leads me to this contrarian conclusion?

The essence of my guarded optimism rests on the Removal of the Veils.

THE RARE MOMENTS OF REVELATION

Stick with me here. Most of the time, governmental corruption, moral and ethical lapses, wrongheaded economic and foreign/military policies take place in secret, hidden behind the veils designed to keep the truth of what's really going on from the public. But once every 10 or 20 years, at least in America, the veils part a bit and we can see the scarefying reality of how our government really work: the Army/McCarthy hearings in the 1950s, Watergate and the Pentagon Papers in the early-1970s, Iran-Contra in the early-1980s, and the CheneyBush era of the past eight years.

Suddenly, the citizenry is permitted at least a long, partial glance at the true corporatist/extremist forces at work in our society. The pictures are not pretty. Historically, out of those revelations comes anger, activism, at least some reforms and, at least for a while, a new and often better crop of politicians. The GOP found out about that pattern in 2006 and 2008, when their misrule led to Democratic majorities. Now Obama's the object of anger. There is major anti-Administration activism coming from both the Left and the Right, including even a budding Know-Nothing party or faction forming on the tea-bagging extreme -- all signs that indicate the presence of major seismic activity under the tectonic plates of the American political process.

Let's use America's foreign/military policy as our first demonstration model for this Removal of the Veils:

Rally at White House: "Witness Against Torture"

On Monday, Jan. 11, 2010, a demonstration, “Witness Against Torture; Rally for Justice,” was held in front of the White House. Its purpose was to demand that President Barack Obama keep his campaign promises to close Guantanamo prison and to end torture. The Human Rights activists also oppose “any plans for holding prisoners without charge or trial in the U.S: and denounce the White House’s expansion of [Bush-Cheney Gang]-style detention in Afghanistan,” according to their press release for the event.

President Obama, the CIA and the Master of the Cover-Up

President Obama, the CIA and the Master of the Cover-Up
By Melvin A. Goodman | Truthout

The Obama administration quietly announced Friday the appointment of John McLaughlin, former deputy CIA director, to head the internal investigation of the intelligence failures that led to the Christmas Day attempted bombing of a Delta airliner headed for Detroit as well as the events leading to the shootings at Fort Hood in November.

With this appointment, President Barack Obama has assured that the culture of intelligence cover-up will continue. McLaughlin has participated in and sought to cover-up many of the CIA's most egregious failures and misdeeds of the past decade. When he left the CIA, he then served as the agency's chief apologist.

So, who is John McLaughlin? Most of official Washington and the mainstream media view McLaughlin as the mild-mannered, professorial CIA bureaucrat, who former CIA director George Tenet called the "smartest man he had ever met."

Few people understand, however, that McLaughlin played the most important role in making sure that the Bush administration received the intelligence that would be used and misused to justify the use of force against Iraq in 2003. Read more.

All You Need Is.....Truth!!

All You Need Is.....Truth!!
By Philip A. Farruggio

There are many insulting commercials to have to watch, especially lately. Bad enough to have to watch the yuppie couple with kids as they argue over cell phones. Or the idiots hawking the poison fast foods that dominate the airwaves. How about those $50K to $70K luxury cars and SUVs that flood the airwaves....As if 95% of us can ever afford one of them? Yet, to this writer, the most offensive of them all is the new "All You Need Is Love" song pitching.......credit cards! Whomever owns the rights to that Lennon/McCartney song should be ashamed of themselves for selling the rights to that classic song to a credit card bank! Welcome to 21st century capitalism. Everything and everyone is for sale. Now horse racing jockeys can wear advertisements on their pants. Boxers in the ring can hawk ads on their......bare backs! In Europe most of the major soccer leagues have the sponsors on the player’s jerseys. Here, in my so called provincial town of Port Orange, all the bus stop benches are replete with ads. One joker, an insurance agent, has his mug on at least 20 or more benches throughout town. For that reason alone, this writer would never patronize him!

Well, there is a group, a too small group here in Port Orange, that also advertises once a week on the same street corner for.......five plus years! The difference is that this group stands with signs not hawking products or businesses.

Professor John Yoo to Teach New “Secret Class” at UC Law School

Professor John Yoo to Teach New “Secret Class” at UC Law School

Event: Protest Action and Press Conference

Where: UC Berkeley Law School, The Office of the Dean, #215 Boalt Hall

When: Tuesday, January 12 at 3:00 PM

BERKELEY– With anti-torture protest continuing to focus on the presence on the University of California faculty of former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo, UC officials have adopted a new tactic. Yoo will again teach spring semester at Berkeley Law (Boalt Hall) – but the location of his classroom is being kept secret from the public, and Yoo himself is unlikely to be physically present for the first night of his class Tuesday, January 12.

Yoo’s course is listed on Boalt’s schedule by day and time only, with location only as “To Be Announced.” Calls requesting the UC Registrar and Berkeley Law divulge the information are being rebuffed. Although Yoo formerly taught major courses including Constitutional Law, Separation of Powers, and Ethics, in the spotlight of controversy over his role as legal architect of the Bush-Cheney torture program Yoo has now been re-assigned to teach only a single course on the California constitution, to a class limited to 24 students, and has been given a co-teacher.

Protesters including the national organization World Can’t Wait have announced they will arrive at the office of the dean of Berkeley Law, Christopher Edley, Jr. earlier that afternoon, to ask for more information about UC’s new “secret classes” policy:

  • What will be taught behind closed doors that needs to be kept secret?
  • Is this a new policy behind which UC hides from public accountability?

“We continue to call for Yoo to be fired, disbarred, and prosecuted for war crimes, along with his entire cohort from the Bush-Cheney Torture Team,” said World Can’t Wait organizer Stephanie Tang today. “Torture is a war crime. Thousands have been tortured thanks to John Yoo’s work for the White House, long after Yoo himself returned to teaching. The faculty and students right here at UC – and all people of conscience everywhere -- need to denounce these crimes, not turn away in silent complicity.”

January 11, 2010 marks the 8th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, now made infamous by revelations of torture and other inhumane, illegal treatment of detainees. Barack Obama’s inaugural promise to close Guantanamo had set an original deadline of January 22, 2010 – yet Guantanamo is still open, and a new Guantanamo is being prepared for opening at the Thomas Federal Correctional Facility in Illinois.

DC Rallies to Stop the PATRIOT Act on Feb. 3 - Mark Your Calendar! Check Back for Details!

Join Us in DC to Stop the PATRIOT Act

Since 2001, the USA PATRIOT Act has enabled the US government to intrude on Americans' privacy and violate our fundamental constitutional rights. And since then, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee has helped lead the struggle for transparency, accountability, and the restoration of civil liberties and the rule of law. That struggle continues in 2010, and we invite you to raise your voice in Washington.

With three provisions of the PATRIOT Act set to expire at the end of 2009, the House and Senate rejected a proposal, the JUSTICE Act, that would have added long overdue civil liberties protections to the many controversial provisions of the PATRIOT Act. Other competing bills simply renewed the provisions without consideration for their significant toll on the rights and freedoms of law-abiding Americans.

Instead of passing any of these bills, Congress voted late last month to renew the expiring provisions for 60 days. Now, with calls emerging to demand even more power to monitor and spy on Americans of all walks of life, we must demand that Congress uphold our Constitution and protect our rights. As the Constitution once again finds itself with few allies in Washington, Congress is about to resuscitate a cornerstone of the domestic surveillance regime and shred what little remains of constitutional privacy.

Huge Scandal Brewing: Obama Administration Paid $780K To Economist for Health Care Reform Support

For almost the entirety of the health care debate, the Obama Administration has relied on economist Jonathan Gruber to make the public case for its idea of reform - even the most unpopular parts. But as Firedoglake revealed on Friday, the Obama Administration has failed to disclose that it paid the same economist more than $780,000.

Jonathan Gruber's work has been cited by the White House, Members of Congress, and countless media outlets, but not once did the Obama Administration disclose it was paying him more than $780,000 in tax dollars. This is a huge ethical violation that undermines the entirety of health care reform.

Sign our petition to President Obama: come clean on Jonathan Gruber and anyone else receiving public money to push health care reform.

Once we broke this scandal, The New York Times, Washington Post, Time Magazine, and other publications all said they should have disclosed Gruber's lucrative contracts if they were aware of the conflict of interest. Dozens of Members of Congress cited Gruber's work in their floor speeches. The White House pushed Gruber hundreds of times to the press and on its website.

While Gruber's ethical lapses are his own personal and professional issue, the true problem here is that the White House used Gruber and his research as a seemingly unbiased source in support of its unpopular reforms.

When Obama wanted to tax middle class health care plans, Gruber defends the tax. When Obama to force people to buy private insurance, Gruber defends individual mandate. When Obama does not want public option, Gruber says a public option is not important. When Obama needs to pretend the bill has cost controls, Gruber says it has the greatest cost controls ever.

It is simply not right for the White House to cite Gruber's analysis to illustrate the benefits of the bill they support without disclosing that Gruber is on the government payroll. A biased insider can't be an unbiased outside observer. But that's exactly the approach of the Obama Administration, to the tune of $780,000 in tax dollars.

The Obama Administation's $780,000 "buy-an-economist" scandal threatens to shake the foundation of health care reform. We need to get to the bottom of this.

Sign our petition to Obama: come clean on tax dollars used to pay any other undisclosed contracts.

We need to do health care reform right. But not telling the truth about reform won't help anyone. Thanks so much for your support.

Best,

Jane Hamsher
Firedoglake

Torture Is Continuing Under the Obama Administration, Creating More Terrorists and Further Destabilizing the Economy

Torture Is Continuing Under the Obama Administration, Creating More Terrorists and Further Destabilizing the Economy | Washington's Blog

As I pointed out in May 2008:

The U.S. has imprisoned 2,500 children since 9/11 as "enemy combatants", in violation of the Geneva Convention against classifying children as POWs ...

Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Seymour Hersh says that the U.S. Government has videotapes of boys being raped at Abu Ghraib prison (and see this; see also this - General Taguba discusses the sexual humiliation of a father with his son - see this and this).

This doesn't come as a complete surprise, given that assistant deputy Attorney General John Yoo has publicly argued that the president can order the torture of a child of a suspect in custody – including by crushing that child’s testicles. Read more.

The Shadow War: Making Sense of the New CIA Battlefield in Afghanistan


Tom of TomDispatch.com writes:

Think of this piece as an investigation at one remove: In our latest TomDispatch post, Nick Turse and I look behind the outpouring of news reports about the recent suicide bombing at a CIA outpost in Afghanistan that killed seven CIA operatives and a captain in the Jordanian intelligence service. The result: The most extensive account to be found anywhere of the CIA's shadow war in Afghanistan. Here's how we begin, writing of the suicide bombing:

"No one could say that the deaths and the blow to the American war effort weren’t well covered. There were major TV reports night after night and scores of news stories, many given front-page treatment. And yet lurking behind those deaths and the man who caused them lay a bigger American war story that went largely untold. It was a tale of a new-style battlefield that the American public knows remarkably little about, and that bears little relationship to the Afghan War as we imagine it or as our leaders generally discuss it.

"We don’t even have a language to describe it accurately. Think of it as a battlefield filled with muscled-up, militarized intelligence operatives, hired-gun contractors doing military duty, and privatized “native” guard forces. Add in robot assassins in the air 24/7 and kick-down-the-door-style night-time “intelligence” raids, “surges” you didn’t know were happening, strings of military bases you had no idea were out there, and secretive international collaborations you were unaware the U.S. was involved in. In Afghanistan, the American military is only part of the story. There’s also a polyglot “army” representing the U.S. that wears no uniforms and fights shape-shifting enemies to the death in a murderous war of multiple assassinations and civilian slaughter, all enveloped in a blanket of secrecy."

The Shadow War: Making Sense of the New CIA Battlefield in Afghanistan
By Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse | TomDispatch.com

It was a Christmas and New Year’s from hell for American intelligence, that $75 billion labyrinth of at least 16 major agencies and a handful of minor ones.  As the old year was preparing to be rung out, so were our intelligence agencies, which managed not to connect every obvious clue to a (literally) seat-of-the-pants al-Qaeda operation.  It hardly mattered that the underwear bomber’s case -- except for the placement of the bomb material -- almost exactly, even outrageously, replicated the infamous, and equally inept, “shoe bomber” plot of eight years ago. 

That would have been bad enough, but the New Year brought worse.  Army Major General Michael Flynn, U.S. and NATO forces deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan, released a report in which he labeled military intelligence in the war zone -- but by implication U.S. intelligence operatives generally -- “clueless.”  They were, he wrote, "ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced... and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers... Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy." Read more.

Blackwater Fever: High Crimes and Hired Guns

Blackwater Fever: High Crimes and Hired Guns
By Chris Floyd | Empire Burlesque

Scott Horton of Harper's gives us chapter and verse of the Justice Department's very deliberate -- and insultingly brazen -- sabotaging of its own case against the Blackwater mercenaries who murdered 17 Iraqis in Nisoor Square back in September 2007. As any sentient observer could have told you then, these hired killers -- gorging on taxpayer dollars as they assisted the mass-murdering invasion and occupation of Iraq -- were never going to do time. Why should they? They were just doing what they were paid, by us, to do: kill ragheads.

The case was dismissed by a federal judge last week due to prosecutorial misconduct. In an interview with Democracy Now, Horton explained how the bad deal went down:

[The] decision to dismiss these charges had nothing to do with lack of evidence or weak evidence against the Blackwater employees. To the contrary, there was copious evidence. There was plenty of evidence prosecutors could have used that they evidently weren’t prepared to, including eyewitnesses there. The decision to dismiss was taken as a punishment measure against Justice Department prosecutors based on the judge’s conclusion that they engaged in grossly unethical and improper behavior in putting the case together.

And specifically what they did is they took statements that were taken by the Department of State against a grant of immunity; that is, the government investigators told the guards, “Give us your statement, be candid, be complete, and we promise you we won’t use your statement for any criminal charges against you.” But the Justice Department prosecutors took those statements and in fact used them. They used them before the grand jury. They used them to build their entire case. And they did this notwithstanding warnings from senior lawyers in the Justice Department that this was improper and could lead to dismissal of the case. It almost looks like the Justice Department prosecutors here wanted to sabotage their own case. It was so outrageous. Read more.

Xe Services Aiming for Afghan Police Training Deal - (Blackwater) $1 Billion

Xe Services aiming for Afghan police training deal
By Richard Lardner, Associated Press Writer | Yahoo! News

Blackwater Worldwide's legal woes haven't dimmed the company's prospects in Afghanistan, where it's a contender for an important role in the U.S. strategy for stabilizing the country.

Now called Xe Services, the company is in the running for a Pentagon contract potentially worth $1 billion to train Afghanistan's troubled national police force. Xe has been shifting to training, aviation and logistics work after its security guards were accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians more than two years ago.

Yet even with a new name and focus, the expanded role would seem an unlikely one for Xe because Democrats have held such a negative opinion of the company following the Iraqi deaths.

During the White House campaign, then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, now President Barack Obama's secretary of state, backed legislation to ban Blackwater and other private security contractors from Iraq.

Xe eventually lost its license to operate as guardian of U.S. diplomats in Iraq. Clinton's State Department decided not to rehire the company when the contract expired in 2009. Delays in getting a new company in place led to a temporary extension of that contract. Read more.

How to Save Journalism

How to Save Journalism
By John Nichols & Robert W. McChesney | The Nation

The founders of the American experiment were even by their own measures imperfect democrats. But they understood something about sustaining democracy that their successors seem to have forgotten. Everyone agrees that a free society requires a free press. But a free press without the resources to compensate those who gather and analyze information, and to distribute that information widely and in an easily accessible form, is like a seed without water or sunlight. It was with this understanding that Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and their contemporaries instituted elaborate systems of postal and printing subsidies to assure that freedom of the press would never be an empty promise; to that end they guaranteed what Madison described as "a circulation of newspapers through the entire body of the people...[that] is favorable to liberty."

Two centuries after Madison wrote those words, American news media are being steered off the cliff by investors and corporate managers who soured on their "properties" when the economic downturn dried up what was left of their advertising bonanza. They are taking journalism with them. Newsrooms are shrinking and disappearing altogether, along with statehouse, Washington and foreign bureaus. And with them goes the circulation of news and ideas that is indispensable to liberty. This is a dire moment for democracy, and it requires a renewal of one of America's oldest understandings: that a free people can govern themselves only if they have access to independent information about the issues of the day and the excesses of the powerful, and that it is the duty of government to guarantee both the promise and the reality of a free press. Read more.

U.N. Experts Urge Iraq, U.S. To Pursue Blackwater Case

U.N. experts urge Iraq, U.S. to pursue Blackwater case | Reuters

U.N. human rights experts called on Iraq and the United States on Thursday to ensure that the 2007 killing of at least 14 Iraqi civilians, which has been blamed on Blackwater security guards, be prosecuted.

Iraq said on Monday it would launch lawsuits in U.S. and Iraqi courts against the U.S. security firm for the Baghdad killings, rejecting a U.S. judge's decision last week to throw out the charges.

In a statement, the United Nations working group on the use of mercenaries said the case underscored the need for "credible oversight" of private security companies working for the United States and other governments in war zones.

Baghdad and Washington must cooperate to resolve the killings committed at a Baghdad traffic circle in September 2007, with "those responsible fully held accountable," it said.

The Blackwater incident highlighted the Pentagon's growing use of private forces in war zones and, for Iraqis, came to symbolize what they saw as a disregard for their lives on the part of foreign forces in the country.

Private guards protecting U.S. personnel were given immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts following the 2003 U.S. invasion. Read more.

Obama's Yemeni Odyssey Targets China

Obama's Yemeni odyssey targets China
By M. K. Bhadrakumar, Ambassador Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. | Asia Times Online

An engrossing struggle is breaking out. The US is unhappy with China's efforts to reach the warm waters of the Persian Gulf through the Central Asian region and Pakistan. Slowly but steadily, Washington is tightening the noose around the neck of the Pakistani elites - civilian and military - and forcing them to make a strategic choice between the US and China. This will put those elites in an unenviable dilemma. Like their Indian counterparts, they are inherently "pro-Western" (even when they are "anti-American") and if the Chinese connection is important for Islamabad, that is primarily because it balances perceived Indian hegemony.

The existential questions with which the Pakistani elites are grappling are apparent. They are seeking answers from Obama. Can Obama maintain a balanced relationship vis-a-vis Pakistan and India? Or, will Obama lapse back to the George W Bush era strategy of building up India as the pre-eminent power in the Indian Ocean under whose shadow Pakistan will have to learn to live?

A year ago, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh made the startling revelation that his country's security forces apprehended a group of Islamists linked to the Israeli intelligence forces. "A terrorist cell was apprehended and will be referred to the courts for its links with the Israeli intelligence services," he promised.

Saleh added, "You will hear about the trial proceedings." Nothing was ever heard and the trail went cold. Welcome to the magical land of Yemen, where in the womb of time the Arabian Nights were played out.

Combine Yemen with the mystique of Islam, Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Israeli intelligence and you get a heady mix. Read more.

Courts Roll Back Limits on Election Spending

Courts Roll Back Limits on Election Spending
By David D. Kirkpatrick | NY Times

Even before a landmark Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance law expected within days, a series of other court decisions is reshaping the political battlefield by freeing corporations, unions and other interest groups from many of the restrictions on their advertising about issues and candidates.

Legal experts and political operatives say the cases roll back campaign spending rules to the years before Watergate. The end of decades-old restrictions could unleash a torrent of negative advertisements, help cash-poor Republicans in a pivotal year and push President Obama to bring in more money for his party.

If the Supreme Court, as widely expected, rules against core elements of the existing limits, Democrats say they will try to enact new laws to reinstate the restrictions in time for the midterm elections in November. And advocates of stricter campaign finance laws say they hope the developments will prod the president to fulfill a campaign promise to update the presidential campaign financing system, even though it would diminish his edge as incumbent.

Many legal experts say they expect the court to use its imminent ruling, in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, to eliminate the remaining restrictions on advertisements for or against candidates paid for by corporations, unions and advocacy organizations. (The case centers on whether spending restrictions apply to a conservative group’s documentary, “Hillary: The Movie.”) Read more.

Did the CIA Deploy a Blackwater Hit Team in Germany?

Did the CIA Deploy a Blackwater Hit Team in Germany?
By Jeremy Scahill | Nation

German prosecutors have launched a preliminary investigation into allegations that the CIA deployed a team of Blackwater operatives on a clandestine operation in Hamburg, Germany, after 9/11 ultimately aimed at assassinating a German citizen with suspected ties to Al Qaeda. The alleged assassination operation was revealed last month in a Vanity Fair profile of Blackwater's owner Erik Prince.

The magazine reported that after 9/11, the CIA used one of Prince's homes in Virginia as a covert training facility for hit teams that would hunt Al Qaeda suspects globally. Their job was find, fix, and finish: "Find the designated target, fix the person's routine, and, if necessary, finish him off," as the magazine put it.

According to Vanity Fair, one of the team's targets was Mamoun Darkazanli, a naturalized German citizen originally from Syria. Darkazanli has been accused by Spain of being an Al Qaeda supporter with close ties to the alleged 9/11 plotters who lived in Hamburg. The Blackwater/CIA team "supposedly went in 'dark,' meaning they did not notify their own station--much less the German government--of their presence," according to Vanity Fair. "[T]hey then followed Darkazanli for weeks and worked through the logistics of how and where they would take him down." Authorities in Washington, however, "chose not to pull the trigger." Read more.

Iraqi in Blackwater Case Rejects Compensation Deal

Iraqi in Blackwater case rejects compensation deal
By Katharine Houreld, Associated Press Writer | SF Gate

An Iraqi injured by the U.S. private security firm once known as Blackwater said Sunday he would not accept a compensation deal for injuries he suffered after company employees opened fire in a crowded Baghdad square because the amount of money offered is too low.

Mahdi Abdul-Kadir was speaking about a civil lawsuit that is separate from the criminal case brought against the company, whose dismissal has become a lightening rod for Iraqi resentment over the behavior of private security companies and prompted Iraqi politicians to denounce the U.S. justice system.

Abdul-Kadir said Blackwater's offer of compensation to those who had been injured or had family members killed was too low. He said he has asked the deputy speaker of Iraq's parliament to cancel the agreement that the plaintiff's lawyer Susan Burke reached Jan. 6.

"We have rejected the settlement because it is a small amount. We won't accept such an amount," he said. Read more.

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