Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blackwater & Washington Week

Jim: Mike just informed me that in "Highlights," they mention my request last week of Ava and C.I. which was that they do a "quick write up" of PBS' Washington Week. As readers last week know, our opinion was the edition cratered when we made the decision not to include a book discussion we'd worked three hours doing (plus two hours of editing and discussion). It was at noon (here) when I made the request but I did and do believe they could have pulled it off. As it was, C.I. addressed it on Monday in an "Iraq snapshot." I think it's worth reposting here and still think they could have dashed off something together in a matter of minutes.

Turning to the subject of the mercenaries at Blackwater USA. Jeremy Scahill (Guardian of London via Common Dreams) observes, "A pattern is emerging from the Congressional investigation into Blackwater: the state department urging the company to pay what amounts to hush money to victims' families while facilitating the return of contractors involved in deadly incidents for which not a single one has faced prosecution." The relationship between the US State Department and Blackwater is one of repeated cover ups. On Saturday, John M. Broder (New York Times) got all excited on a new 'answer' -- the State Department would by utilizing "its own personnel as monitors on all Blackwater security convoys in and around Baghdad" and by placing "video cameras in Blackwater armored vehicles to produce a record of all operations". Friday NPR's Jackie Northam (All Things Considered) discussed the so-called measures with -- after noting that Rice's recordings "apply only to Blackwater and only in Baghdad" -- Peter W. Singer (Brookings boy) who said that most already had recording devices, questioned "embedding' a State Department monitor with a private contractor doing government work" (a monitor who will "be making somewhere between 3 to 500 dollars less a day than the people that he or she is supposed to be chaperoning") and sees the measures as "very small, and they don't deal with the fundamental issue". CNN reported over the weekend that the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Henry Waxman, sent another letter to US Secretary of State Condi Rice regarding the State Dept's refusal to stop stonewalling Congress over the issue of Blackwater and CNN noted that Andrew Moonen (Blackwater gun for hire who shot the bodyguard of Iraq's vice-president -- allegedly while Moonen was drunk -- in December 2006) was working, in Kuwait, for a US Defense Dept contractor weeks later. For those who have forgotten, last week -- in Tuesday's hearing -- Blackwater CEO, Erik Prince, told Congress that Moonen (unnamed in the hearing) was stripped of his security clearance before being hustled out of Iraq. If Moonen was stripped of his security clearance, how is it that the DoD and their contractor didn't know that? If he was stripped of his security clearance and still made it back over to the region without it, how many other contractor employees are not in compliance with the basic guidelines?

Paul von Zielbauer (New York Times) reports that the Iraqi government has finalized their investigation and "found that employees of the American security company Blackwater USA shot unprovoked at Iraqi civilians at a downtown traffic circle three weeks ago, an episode that killed 17 people and wounded more than 20 others, a government spokesman said Sunday" quoting Ali al-Dabbagh who also declares that Blackwater's vehicles were not "even hit by a stone" before Blackwater initiated the slaughter of Iraqi civilians. James Glanz and Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) add, "Those conclusions contradict Blackwater's original statement on the shooting, which said that a convoy operated by the company's guards 'acted lawfully and appropriately in response to a hostile attack.' The Iraqi findings are also at odds with initial assertions by the State Department that the convoy had received small-arms fire." Which again goes the issue that the US State Dept has repeatedly provided cover and falsehoods in order to protect Blackwater. AP reports, "Iraqi authorities want the U.S. government to sever all contracts in Iraq with Blackwater USA within six months and pay $8 million in compensation to each of the families of 17 people killed when the firm's guards sprayed a traffic circle with heavy maching gun fire last month."

Naomi Klein's new book [is] The Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism and she uses the book and the research for her article "Disaster Capitalism: The new economy of catastrophe" (October's Harper's magazine, pp. 47 -- 58). this is from the article (page 48):

Everywhere in Iraq, the wildly divergent values assigned to different categories of people are on crude display. Westerners and their Iraqi colleagues have checkpoints at the entrances to their streets, blast walls in front of their houses, body armor, and private security guards on call at all hours. They travel the country in menacing armored convoys, with mercenaries pointing guns out the windows as they follow their prime directive to "protect the principal." With every move they broadcast the same unapologetic message: We are the chosen, our lives are infinitely more precious than yours. Middle-class Iraqis, meanwhile, cling to the next rung down the ladder: they can afford to buy protection from local militias, they are able to ransom a family member held by kidnappers, they may ultimately escape to a life of poverty in Jordan. But the vast majority of Iraqis have no protection at all. They walk the streets exposed to any possible ravaging, with nothing between them and the next car bomb but a thin layer of fabric. In Iraq, the lucky get Kevlar; the rest get prayer beads.

That's pretty clear. Except to the mainstream. Over the weekend on PBS' Washington Week (or Washington Weak) Linda Robinson of US News and World Reports decided to chat and chew the topic with star Gwen:

Linda Robinson: Well Blackwater has about 800 people who are primarily providing bodyguard service to the embassy personnel. And there are about, well there are some thousands of other contractors doing this exact kind of job. So they're moving around the city in convoys and they apply very aggressive tactics in general. There are some who are alleging that Blackwater in particular uses much more aggressive tactics. But let's just set the stage a little bit. Very, very violent city. You're driving around, bombs are going off, at any unpredicted time. So what happens is these convoy drivers uses a tactic: they throw things at people, they sound their horns their sirens if you don't get out of the way they will shoot. So Iraqi drivers generally pull over as soon as they see a convoy. The problem is SUVs cannot readily be identified often from a distance --

Gwen Ifill: Yeah, how do you know it's a convoy? How do you know it's not the military? How do you know -- tell the difference?

That's the problem. Washington Weak tells you that's the problem. For the record, Robinson informs Gwen that it's very obvious when it's the military and it's only confusing when it comes to civilian contractors. So the question is, were Linda Robinson or Gwen to be walking to their cars at the start of the day and a car came zooming through with those in it throwing things at them, would they see that as a problem? Should Jon Stewart attempt to find out for The Daily Show? In fact, it shouldn't even be a surprise. Gwen and Robinson should volunteer for it to prove what good sports they are. After ten to fifteen minutes of drive-bys where water bottles are hurled at them (the mildest object usually cited in press reports) from speeding cars, let's see their smiling, bruised (possibly bloodied?) faces and find out whether they now think that "the problem" includes a great deal more than being able to tell if a convoy is approaching? What's really appalling is Robinson admits to being selective in her report explaining that's why she "set up" because, apparently, reporters are not supposed to show any sympathy for the civilian populations they are allegedly covering but instead are supposed to be act as a p.r. hack for multi-billion dollar corporations. And the chat and chew only got worse as it was wondered if this was all just sour grapes due to Blackwater's "success"?

Last week, the Financial Times of London editorialized: "But privatising war is, in reality, financially, politically and militarily very expensive. The lawlessness of some of these outfits has stained America's reputation and stirred up rage against its troops. Blackwater, which has earned nearly $1bn from the Department of State for protecting its officials, is notoriously trigger-happy: opening fire first in 163 out of 195 shooting incidents since 2005, according to a report by Congress. A Blackwater employee killed a bodyguard of Adel Abdel Mahdi, an Iraqi vice-president Washington favours as a possible prime minister, in an argument last Christmas." Yet our Weak Washington gas bags couldn't explore the topic and, besides, Robinson vouched that the illegal war couldn't continue without mercenaries so they are needed. (Naturally, whether the illegal war 'needed' also went unaddressed on programming 'brought to you by viewers like you'.)
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