Seymour Hersh Unleashed

January 25, 2011

By Blake Hounshell

DOHA, Qatar-David Remnick, call your office.

In a speech billed as a discussion of the Bush and Obama eras, New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

It quickly went downhill from there.

Hersh, whose exposés of gross abuses by members of the U.S. military in Vietnam and Iraq have earned him worldwide fame and high journalistic honors, said he was writing a book on what he called the “Cheney-Bush years” and saw little difference between that period and the Obama administration.

He said that he was keeping a “checklist” of aggressive U.S. policies that remained in place, including torture and “rendition” of terrorist suspects to allied countries, which he alleged was ongoing.

He also charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community.

“What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals* if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”

Hersh then brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.’”

“That’s the attitude,” he continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

He then alleged that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC before briefly becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Adm. William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

Hersh may have been referring to the Sovereign Order of Malta, a Roman Catholic organization commited to “defence of the Faith and assistance to the poor and the suffering,” according to its website.

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They see themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

Hersh relayed that he had recently spoken with “a man in the intelligence community… somebody in the joint special operations business” about the downfall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. “He said, ‘Oh my God, he was such a good ally.’”

“Tunisia’s going to change the game,” Hersh added later. “It’s going to scare the hell out of a lot of people.”

Moving to Pakistan, where Hersh noted he had been friendly with Benazir Bhutto, the journalist told of a dinner meeting with Asif Ali Zardari, the late prime minister’s husband, in which Hersh said the Pakistani president was brutally disdainful of his own people.

Hersh described a trip he made to Swat, where the Pakistani military had just dislodged Taliban insurgents who had taken over the scenic valley, a traditional vacation area for the urban middle class. Hersh said he asked Zardari about the tent cities he saw along the road, where people were living in harsh, unsanitary conditions.

“Well, those people there in Swat, that’s what they deserve,” the Pakistani president replied, according to Hersh. Asked why, Hersh said Zardari responded, “Because they supported the Taliban.” (Note: Hersh’s conversation is not recounted in his 2009 New Yorker article on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, presumably because it coudn’t be verified.)

The veteran journalist also alleged that the CIA station chief in Islamabad, who was recently recalled after his name surfaced in Pakistani court documents and in the lively Pakistani press, had actually been fired for disputing the plans of Gen. David Petraeus, who took over the Afghan war last summer after General McChrystal was summarily dismissed.

“When Petraeus issued a very optimistic report about the war in December that he gave to the president,” Hersh said, the station chief “just declared it was bankrupt… internally. He just said ‘This is completely wrongheaded. The policy’s wrongheaded.’ Off he goes. Out he goes.”

“I’ve given up being disillusioned about the CIA,” Hersh said. “They’re trained to lie, period. They will lie to their president, they will lie certainly to the Congress, and they will lie to the American people. That’s all there is to it.”

Hersh was speaking on the invitation of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, which operates a branch campus in Qatar.

More Christians Flee Iraq After New Violence

December 14, 2010

A new wave of Iraqi Christians has fled to northern Iraq or abroad amid a campaign of violence against them and growing fear that the country’s security forces are unable or, more ominously, unwilling to protect them.

The flight – involving thousands of residents from Baghdad and Mosul, in particular – followed an Oct. 31 siege at a church in Baghdad that killed 51 worshipers and 2 priests and a subsequent series of bombings and assassinations singling out Christians. This new exodus, which is not the first, highlights the continuing displacement of Iraqis despite improved security over all and the near-resolution of the political impasse that gripped the country after elections in March.

It threatens to reduce further what Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana of the Assyrian Church of the East called “a community whose roots were in Iraq even before Christ.”

Those who fled the latest violence – many of them in a panicked rush, with only the possessions they could pack in cars – warned that the new violence presages the demise of the faith in Iraq. Several evoked the mass departure of Iraq’s Jews after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.

“It’s exactly what happened to the Jews,” said Nassir Sharhoom, 47, who fled last month to the Kurdish capital, Erbil, with his family from Dora, a once mixed neighborhood in Baghdad. “They want us all to go.”

Iraq’s leaders, including Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, have pledged to tighten security and appealed for tolerance for minority faiths in what is an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

“The Christian is an Iraqi,” he said after visiting those wounded in the siege of the church, Our Lady of Salvation, the worst single act of violence against Christians since 2003. “He is the son of Iraq and from the depths of a civilization that we are proud of.”

For those who fled, though, such pronouncements have been met with growing skepticism. The daily threats, the uncertainty and palpable terror many face have overwhelmed even the pleas of Christian leaders not to abandon their historic place in a diverse Iraq.

“Their faith in God is strong,” said the Rev. Gabriele Tooma, who heads the Monastery of the Virgin Mary, part of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Qosh, which opened its monastic rooms to 25 families in recent weeks. “It is their faith in the government that has weakened.”

Christians, of course, are not the only victims of the bloodshed that has swept Iraq for more than seven and a half years; Sunni and Shiite Arabs have died on a far greater scale. Only two days after the attack on the church, a dozen bombs tore through Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, killing at least 68 people and wounding hundreds.

The Christians and other smaller minority groups here, however, have been explicitly made targets and have emigrated in disproportionate numbers. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, these groups account for 20 percent of the Iraqis who have gone abroad, while they were only 3 percent of the country’s prewar population.

More than half of Iraq’s Christian community, estimated to number 800,000 to 1.4 million before the American-led invasion in 2003, have already left the country.

The Islamic State of Iraq, an iteration of the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, claimed responsibility for the suicidal siege and said its fighters would kill Christians “wherever they can reach them.”

What followed last month were dozens of shootings and bombings in Baghdad and Mosul, the two cities outside of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. At least a dozen more Christians died, eight of them in Mosul.

Three generations of the Gorgiz family – 15 in all – fled their homes there on the morning of Nov. 23 as the killings spread. Crowded into a single room at the monastery in Qosh, they described living in a state of virtual siege, afraid to wear crosses on the streets, afraid to work or even leave their houses in the end.

The night before they left, Diana Gorgiz, 35, said she heard voices and then screams; someone had set fire to the garden of a neighbor’s house. The Iraqi Army arrived and stayed until morning, only to tell them they were not safe there anymore. The Gorgizes took it as a warning – and an indication of complicity, tacit or otherwise, by Iraq’s security forces. “When the army comes and says, ‘We cannot protect you,’ ” Ms. Gorgiz said, “what else can you believe?”

There is no exact accounting of those who have fled internally or abroad. The United Nations has registered more than 1,100 families. A steady flow of Christians to Turkey spiked in November to 243, an official there said.

The Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq offered itself as a haven and pledged to help refugees with housing and jobs. Many of those who fled are wealthy enough to afford rents in Iraqi Kurdistan; others have moved in with relatives; the worst off have ended up at the monastery here and another nearby, St. Matthew’s, one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world.

There have been previous exoduses, especially from Mosul. In October 2008, more than 12,000 Christians left after a wave of assassinations killed 14 Christians. In February of this year, more than 4,000 fled to the Kurdish-controlled region in Nineveh or to Syria after 10 Christians were killed. When violence ebbed after each exodus, many returned to their homes and jobs, though not all, leaving fewer and fewer Christians. By one estimate, only 5,000 of the 100,000 Christians who once lived in Mosul remain.

“I expect that a month from now not a single Christian will be left in Mosul,” Nelson P. Khoshaba, an engineer in the city’s waterworks, said in Erbil, where he joined a chaotic scrum of people trying to register with the local authorities there.

The displacement of Christians has continued despite the legal protections that Iraq’s Constitution offers religious and ethnic minorities, though Islam is the official state religion and no law can be passed contradicting its basic tenets.

Christians have a quota of 5 seats in the new 325-member Parliament, though little political influence. Christmas was declared a national holiday in 2008, though celebrations are muted, and in Kirkuk, a tensely disputed city north of Baghdad, Christmas Mass was canceled last year.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, appointed by the president and Congress, said that the nominal protections for religious minorities in Iraq – including Christians, Yazidis and Sabean Mandeans, followers of St. John the Baptist – did little to stop violence or official discrimination in employment, housing and other matters. It noted that few of the attacks against minority groups were ever properly investigated or prosecuted, “creating a climate of impunity.”

“The violence, forced displacement, discrimination, marginalization and neglect suffered by members of these groups threaten these ancient communities’ very existence in Iraq,” the commission said in its latest annual report in May. Last week security officials announced the arrest of insurgents whom they said planned the attack on Our Lady of Salvation; those who actually carried it out died when Iraqi forces stormed the church. They offered few details, and a spokesman for the American military, which regularly joins Iraqi forces during such arrests, said he had no information on those arrested.

Archdeacon Emanuel said the government needed to do more to preserve a community that has been under siege in Iraq for decades – from the first massacre of Christians in Sumail in 1933 after the creation of the modern Iraqi nation to the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to today’s nihilistic extremism that, in his words, has taken Islam hostage.

Invitations by European countries for Christians to emigrate following the attack, he said, would only hasten the departure of more, which “is not a solution.” Instead, the latest violence should give impetus to the creation of an autonomous Christian enclave in the part of Nineveh Province near here that is now under the control of the Kurdish region. That idea, though, has little political support in Iraq in Baghdad or Iraqi Kurdistan.

“What happened has been done repeatedly and systematically,” he said. “We have seen it in Mosul, in Baghdad. The message is very clear: to pluck Iraqi Christians from the roots and force them out of the country.”

‘Killing’ of Qaeda leaders won’t end Iraq attacks

April 21, 2010

by Arthur MacMillan

BAGHDAD (AFP) – The purported killing of two top Al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders will send shockwaves through the jihadist network but mid-level commanders must also be removed if attacks are to stop, analysts said Tuesday.

A picture released by the US army shows Abu Ayub al-Masri. The purported killing of two top leaders of Al-Qaeda in Iraq will send shockwaves through the jihadist network but mid-level commanders must also be removed if attacks are to stop, analysts said on Tuesday.

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Masri — both linked with Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden — died in a shootout on Sunday near Tikrit, the home town of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, according to Iraqi and US officials.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why Washington fears Islamic Iran?

January 26, 2010

General David Petraeus (a Jewish Lobby’s choice), Head of US Central Command, during a recently interview with CNN threatened Islamic Iran by saying that in addition to crippling sanctions and international diplomacy, Washington is considering “contingency plans” against Iran’s nuclear installations in parallel. Responding to the General’s barking, Islamic Iran’s Chief of staff of Joint Armed Forces, General Hassan Firouzabadi advised Petraeus to carry out consultations before making such warmongering threats: “The politicians’ statement may not cost them dear, but the military men are expected to avoid making crude and emotional remarks”.

Professor James Petras writing for the Global Research (May 4, 2008) called General David Petraeus Zionism\’s Military Poodle: “In pointing to Iran, Petraeus played the dangerous game of echoing the Israeli line and providing support for a military attack on Iran promoted by the leadership of major American Jewish organizations. Even while Petraeus was covering up his failure (in Iraq) by blaming Iran, (the US) Iraqi puppet government was praising the Iranian government for helping to stablize the country by using its influence on the Shia militias to hold their fire. Puppet Prime Minister Maliki invited Iranian President (Ahmadinejad) to Baghdad, signed trade agreements and praised their co-operation and efforts to stablize the country”.

On January 22, Richard Haass, the Zionist Jewish president of the powerful Zionist think tank, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and an adviser to Obama administeration, made the pitch for the Zionist entity by calling for a (pro-Israel) regime change in Tehran. He called for western governments’ continue help for the anti-Ahmadinejad movement, more sanctions against Tehran and more international pressure on Islamic regime to stop its nuclear program which could pose a threat to Israel’s monopoly in that field (Tel Aviv has 240-400 nuclear warheads).

Last month, another Jewish Lobby puppet, US secretary of states Hillary Clinton, warned Venezuela and Bolivia to “think twice” about the consequences of their ties with the Islamic Republic.

Incidendtly, Israeli MEMRI has not translated any of Ahmadinejad’s speeches in which he may have called for “Wipe the US off Map”. So why the successive US administrations are so paranoid of the Islamic regime in Tehran? Ramzy Baroud, an author and internationally-syndicated columnist, in his recent essay, titled Iran and Latin America: The Media States Its Case, provides some background to Washington’s paranoid behaviour.

Should the United States be concerned about Iran’s determined efforts to reach out to Latin America? Or, as was suggestively described in the Economist, by the Ayatollahs’ strategy of cozying up to Latin America?

The US continues to see the world as its own business. It gives itself and its allies, most notably Israel, the right to geopolitical maneuverability. Iran, on the other hand, is censured, derided and punished for even its own internal policies, within its own borders. Thus, an Iranian move into Latin America is naturally viewed as unwarranted, uncalled for and most definitely dangerous as far as the US is concerned.

But Iran is not invading America geopolitical space per se. It is neither financing a terrorist group, nor involved in the ongoing narcotic war. More, there is no historical connection between an interventionist Iran and the bloody past of Latin America, including its former dictators and brutal juntas. In fact, Iran’s ‘cozying up’ to Latin American merely began in 2005. Since then, Iran has opened embassies in several Latin American countries and launched important joint projects that provided funds and work opportunities for thousands of ordinary people. There is no Iranian equivalent to the School of the Americas.

So why the alarm?

Paul McLeary of Aviation Week gives us a clue. Iran’s move “has set off a proxy conflict between Iran and Israel in South America, with the presidents of both countries logging frequent-flier miles to win friends in the region. One cause for concern among many analysts is the weekly flight between Caracas and Tehran (with a stop in Damascus) that Iran Air has flown for two years.”

He quotes Frida Ghitis: “Flight manifests are kept secret, so neither cargo nor passenger information is well known …one Israeli report suggested that Venezuela and Bolivia are supplying uranium to Iran.”

Two questions emerge. One, is it required of Caracas and Tehran to provide a detailed report of the cargo and passengers to the US and Israel, and perhaps also cc-ed to a list of their friends and allies?

The second pertains to Israel itself. Why is the media most concerned by Iran’s ‘suspicious’ behavior in Latin America, despite the fact that its presence is welcomed by various countries in the hemisphere, while Israel – whose bloody involvement has wrought much chaos to South America – is simply unquestioned, and even cited as a credible source? There is no evidence to link Iran to death squads, or any Iranian firm with “an archive and computer file on journalists, students, leaders, leftists, politicians and so on” to be hunted down, killed or simply made to ‘disappear’ under brutal regimes. Israel’s own history in Latin America seems to inspire little commentary by the ever-vigilant ‘many analysts’. McLeary, Ghitis and others need to do their homework before leveling accusations against others. The book Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship may be a good place to start.

Back to the lurking Ayatollahs in America’s backyard, Susan Kaufman Purcell is also raising questions, this time about Brazil. In Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva welcomed his Iranian counterpart, president Ahmadinejad late November 2009. In the January 7 Wall Street Journal, Purcell claimed: “Until recently, the Obama administration assumed that Brazil and the United States were natural allies who shared many foreign policy interests, particularly in Latin America. Brazil, after all, is a friendly democracy with a growing market economy and Western cultural values.” Purcell suggests that Brazil’s various achievements – largely beneficial to the US – qualified the country to become “more like us”.

Western media is indeed rife with all sorts of unfounded accusations, baseless speculations and superfluous insinuations. They evoke in the reader and viewer a dread and fear, based in this case on the doomsday scenario whereby fanatical Latin Americans and radical Muslims gang up on America, and ultimately Israel………..”…-islamic-iran/

The CIA has long struggled with ensuring safe interrogations

January 20, 2010

By David Ignatius
Sunday, January 17, 2010

As the CIA mourns the officers who died in Khost, Afghanistan, last month, there’s an understandable desire not to second-guess the procedures that allowed a Jordanian suicide bomber to enter the agency’s base. But this practice of meeting with agents “inside the wire” has a controversial history within the CIA, and it offers some useful background as the agency considers changes.

The debate about how to handle agents in war zones surfaced in Iraq in 2003. The question was how to balance the safety of CIA personnel with the needs of intelligence gathering. Headquarters argued for meeting agents inside the Green Zone; case officers in the field countered that this would actually put them and their agents at greater risk — and choke the flow of information.

The tradecraft dispute went on for more than a year, but in the end, the headquarters view prevailed. By 2005, CIA officers had generally stopped meeting agents in the “red zones” of Iraq, outside secured areas. Agent-handling procedures in Afghanistan also evolved toward “inside the wire” meetings.

Some CIA veterans continued to argue privately, however, that the new approach was potentially risky. This account is based on their comments.

CIA officers in the field began to develop their Iraq tradecraft in the months after the March 2003 invasion. The dangers were highlighted by a shootout in Baghdad in midsummer that year when insurgents attacked three case officers riding in military Humvees. The Baghdad station developed procedures to operate more stealthily, using ordinary civilian vehicles.

The biggest danger, CIA officers concluded, was crossing the checkpoints to enter the Green Zone in Baghdad and other secured locations. The insurgents maintained surveillance outside the gates. And on several occasions, jittery soldiers shot at agency vehicles. In the spring of 2004, for example, Kurdish guards opened fire on CIA officers at a checkpoint in Sulaymaniyah, and a CIA security officer was killed.

In the spring of 2004, the chief of the agency’s Near East division, worried about such incidents, ordered a halt to most meetings in red zones. The CIA station in Baghdad protested, arguing: “If you pull people inside the wire, it’s unsafe.”

The field officers warned that some of their best agents would refuse to come inside the Green Zone because they thought it would put them at risk. “They didn’t want their faces known,” recalls one agency veteran.

The Baghdad station argued instead for using its fleet of cars, which could be repainted and retagged repeatedly, to avoid detection. When headquarters proposed using only armored vehicles, the station again balked, arguing that these behemoths would be giveaways. Instead, the Baghdad tech shop devised homemade armor for some of its beat-up civilian cars.

To enhance security outside the Green Zone, the Baghdad station also developed procedures in 2004 for monitoring Iraqi agents who might be hostile. Surveillance teams of Iraqis and other Arabs would precede agency officers on their way to meetings to look for insurgent activity. The Arab surveillance teams would also track the agency’s contacts, checking for signs they might be carrying suicide bombs.

The Baghdad station felt so strongly that it would be a mistake to bring agents inside the wire that its leaders in mid-2004 proposed moving case officers to safe houses outside the Green Zone. That way, the officers and agents wouldn’t have to worry about running the gantlet at checkpoints. Headquarters refused.

Through 2004, a standoff developed between headquarters and the Baghdad station over which approach — inside or outside — was safer. The field officers continued to operate relatively safely with the war zone tradecraft they had evolved, even as violence increased. But the dangers were obvious.

The leadership of the Baghdad station changed in 2005, and the new bosses are said to have opted for the approach that headquarters preferred. Meetings out in the hostile red zones declined. In Afghanistan, too, agency officers reduced their movements in high-threat areas. Since their bases were generally at forward military outposts, CIA officers were already more visible to the enemy. This argued for avoiding meetings outside the wire.

CIA Director Leon Panetta is conducting a high-level review of the Khost tragedy, in part to explore what tradecraft procedures make sense for the future. Agency veterans argue that the Iraq experience — like the agency’s tradecraft in Lebanon during the 1980s — shows it may be safer to operate out in the field, away from “protected zones” that, in reality, have become targets for the enemy.

Foreign workers for U.S. are casualties twice over

December 30, 2009

Contract employees injured in the conflict zones of Iraq and Afghanistan and families of those killed there are covered by American taxpayer-funded insurance, but it often fails to deliver.

Gorgonia Torres lives in a poor part of the Philippine city of San Fernando. After her husband’s death in a 2005 ambush in Iraq, she was eligible for about $300,000 in compensation but didn’t know it until a reporter told her two years later. Video » (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

By T. Christian Miller

Reporting from San Fernando, Philippines – Rey Torres dreamed of a better life for his wife and five children when he left a neighborhood of wooden shacks and burning trash piles to drive a bus on a U.S. military base near Baghdad.

He hoped to send his children to college and build a new home with the $16,000 a year he earned in Iraq — four times what he could make in the Philippines.

Then, in April 2005, Torres, 31, was killed in an ambush by Iraqi insurgents. His widow and children were supposed to be protected by a war zone insurance system overseen by the U.S. government. They were eligible for about $300,000 in compensation.

But Gorgonia Torres knew nothing about the death benefit and did not apply. When she did learn about the insurance, two years later, it was from a reporter. She has since turned down an insurance company’s $22,000 settlement offer. Her only hope of receiving full compensation is a legal fight that could drag on for years.

“He knew it was dangerous. . . . He had second thoughts all the time,” she said of her husband. “But he’d say, ‘If I don’t go, there’s no way we’ll be able to survive.’ ”

Torres was among tens of thousands of civilian contract workers from poverty-stricken countries hired to support the U.S. war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. In case of injury or death, they are supposed to be covered by workers’ compensation insurance financed by American taxpayers.

But the program has failed to deliver medical care and other benefits to many foreign workers and their survivors, a Los Angeles Times-ProPublica investigation found.

Previous articles by The Times and ProPublica described how American civilians injured in Iraq have had to battle insurers for medical care, artificial limbs and other services.

An examination of what happened to foreign nationals has uncovered an even more dismal record. Injured workers have gone without medical treatment and compensation because they were never informed of their right to the benefits. Widows and children have not received death payments for the same reason.

The system relies on companies to make employees aware of coverage and to report deaths and injuries to insurers and the federal government. But some employers have shirked those obligations, and the U.S. Department of Labor, which oversees the program, has done little to ensure compliance, punish violators or reach out to injured foreigners or their survivors.

An analysis of Pentagon and Labor Department records indicates that thousands of injured foreigners have fallen through the cracks.

About 200,000 civilians are working in Iraq and Afghanistan under U.S.-funded contracts. Many are so-called third-country nationals, from countries other than the United States, Iraq or Afghanistan. The rate of reported injuries among these workers is much lower than for Americans doing similar jobs.

Nearly 22,000 injury claims were filed by third-country nationals and American workers from 2003 through 2007. Although they outnumbered Americans by about 2-1, the third-country nationals filed just 14% of the total claims.

Insurance experts said the numbers suggest that many wounded foreigners never apply for benefits, even though U.S. taxpayers have paid more than $1.5 billion in premiums for the war-zone insurance.

Those who do apply often confront rejections and resistance from insurers. It can take years for them to receive compensation.

“It’s been a big problem,” said Jack Martone, a former top Labor Department official. “The Department of Labor is not well equipped to police” the conduct of employers and insurers.

Insurance for civilians working in war zones is required under a World War II-era law known as the Defense Base Act. Companies providing services to the U.S. government must secure a special type of workers’ compensation coverage for their employees, both American and foreign.

The insurance covers all injuries and deaths, whether caused by workplace accidents or roadside bombs. Companies bill the cost to U.S. taxpayers as part of their government contracts.

Mobilization of civilians

For decades, this system was overseen by a handful of federal bureaucrats who processed a few hundred claims a year. That changed when the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 and later in Iraq.

In both conflicts, the U.S. military has relied on civilian workers to a greater extent than ever before — to cook meals, clean latrines, deliver fuel and translate for troops, among many other tasks. There are more civilians than uniformed soldiers in the two war zones, and more than 1,400 contract workers have died.

Despite this large-scale mobilization of civilians, the Labor Department did not increase staff or budget to handle Defense Base Act claims and was quickly swamped.

The department stationed no one in Iraq or any other country to help injured foreigners file claims. Nor did it make a serious effort to ensure that companies posted information about workers’ rights, as required by law.

“I see a complete absence of claims or payments for foreigners,” said Joshua Gillelan, a former Labor Department attorney who now represents injured contract workers. “They are never going to be enforced.”

Thousands of companies have worked under U.S. contracts in Iraq, but since the war began in 2003, the department has fined only one, a small security subcontractor, for not reporting worker injuries, according to Labor Department figures.

Similarly, the department has not prosecuted any companies for failing to buy war-zone insurance, although the Times-ProPublica investigation identified at least five cases in which military contractors did not provide coverage for employees.

The department does not even attempt to communicate with injured Iraqis or Afghans for fear that a letter from the United States might imperil their lives. Instead, the department asks employers to forward Labor Department mail informing workers of their rights.

“It’s the biggest fiasco. Almost all of it is returned,” Richard Robilotti, a department official who oversees many of the claims, said at a recent conference.

Labor Department officials said cultural barriers and war-zone dangers have prevented them from reaching out to injured foreigners.

“There is no mechanism for the Department of Labor to stand around in Baghdad and drum up claims,” said Shelby Hallmark, who oversees the department’s Defense Base Act program. Officials try “to get the word out down through their chains of subcontractors on how this works. Is it perfect? No, I wouldn’t say it is.”

Insurers defended their performance. American International Group Inc., the insurance giant that received a huge taxpayer bailout last year after suffering heavy losses in the derivatives market, is the largest provider of workers’ compensation coverage in Iraq.

In a statement, the company said it conscientiously fulfilled its obligations to workers injured in the war zone and took “numerous extraordinary measures under very difficult circumstances to locate and pay claimants or their beneficiaries.”

AIG opened an office in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to handle claims and translated Labor Department guidelines into Arabic, Turkish and other languages. In some cases, AIG has hired insurance research companies to track down widows and injured workers.

CNA Financial Corp. has the second-largest number of claims in Iraq and Afghanistan. The insurer said it “routinely pays claims made by foreigners” and “is not aware of a problem with regard to foreign workers.”

Incident rates differ

KBR Inc. is the largest employer of contract workers in Iraq, with about 16,000, most of them U.S. citizens, according to a July 2007 Pentagon census.

The Houston engineering and construction firm reported more than 700 serious injuries or deaths in the first six months of 2007– almost 5 incidents for every 100 workers.

Prime Projects International of Dubai was the largest employer of foreigners in Iraq, with about 10,000 civilian workers.

The company reported 43 serious injuries or deaths in the first six months of 2007 — less than 1 per 100 workers.

The same held for other subcontractors with large foreign workforces, such as Saudi-based Gulf Catering Co. and Tamimi Global Co. and Turkish firm Kulak. None of the companies responded to requests for comment.

“When you’re dealing with these subcontractors, a lot of them would just as soon wash their hands and walk away,” said Tyler Keagy, vice president of operations for Vetted International Ltd., a North Carolina firm that researches claims for insurance companies. “A lot of claims go unreported and these people just don’t get care.”

Many of the Middle East firms providing services to the U.S. military in Iraq are subcontractors for KBR. In a statement, KBR said its “top priority is the safety and security of all employees and those the company serves. . . . We expect those we do business with to uphold that same commitment.”

When an employer neglects to report an injury or death, it is difficult for foreign workers or their survivors — assuming they even know about the war-zone insurance — to persuade U.S.-based insurance companies and federal bureaucrats that they are entitled to benefits.

Gorgonia Torres found that out after losing her husband in Iraq.

Rey Torres had gone to Baghdad in December 2003. Stationed at Camp Victory, a U.S. military complex on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital, he was a jack-of-all-trades, working as a driver, janitor and security guard, his wife said.

On April 17, 2005, Gorgonia got a call from one of Rey’s co-workers, who told her he had been killed while traveling through an insurgent-infested neighborhood of Baghdad.

Eleven days later, her husband’s remains were delivered to her in a coffin sealed with red wax. Gorgonia took a deep breath when she remembered looking inside.

“Every part of my body was in pain. I felt like I had just run a long distance. I couldn’t even feel my legs. Everything hurt,” said Gorgonia, 38, a slight woman with high cheekbones and short black hair.

The Philippine government paid Gorgonia about $5,000, a death benefit for citizens working abroad. Her husband’s employer, Qatar International Trading Co., made a one-time payment of $16,000, representing a year of his salary.

That was a fraction of what she was due. Under the Defense Base Act, a widow is entitled to as much as half her spouse’s salary for the rest of her life — more if the deceased left children behind. For foreigners, the law allows insurers to calculate a lump sum based on an estimate of the widow’s remaining life span, and pay half that amount. (Survivors of U.S. citizens receive the full lump sum or lifetime monthly payments.)

Under the formula, Gorgonia and her children were eligible for as much as $300,000. But until a reporter visited her in 2007 after learning of her case from a Philippine government website, Gorgonia had never heard of the insurance.

Qatar International never told her about it, Gorgonia said. Nor is there any record that the firm reported Rey Torres’ death to the U.S. government.

When she finally applied for compensation, the Labor Department sent her a notice in English that she could not read. It said that AIG, Qatar International’s insurance carrier, was disputing her claim and wanted more time to investigate the death and verify her husband’s employment.

AIG recently offered a one-time payment of $22,000, Torres said. She turned it down. She hired a U.S. lawyer and is pursuing full compensation through the Labor Department’s dispute resolution system, a process that can take years.

AIG declined to comment on any individual case.

Qatar International, a logistics and support firm, did not return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

Torres used the $21,000 she received after her husband’s death to build a two-story, two-room concrete house among tin shacks and rutted roads in a poor area of San Fernando, a provincial capital on Luzon, the Philippines’ main island.

The bottom floor houses the family business, a store crammed with sacks of rice, cases of soda and canned squid. Gorgonia and the five children live upstairs.

Business is bad. One December day, Gorgonia fretted that she would not earn enough to put food on the table. One of her children hunted for snails in a ditch for dinner. Another went Christmas caroling in hopes of getting donations to buy pants for school.

“As time goes by, it gets worse and worse,” she said.

Claim goes unfiled

Marcelo Salazar, a Filipino from the resort island of Cebu, was killed in Iraq in April 2005 while working as a truck driver. He left behind his partner, Vicky Buhawe, their baby son, and an unfinished house.

Buhawe has no right to benefits under the Defense Base Act because she and Salazar were not married. Their son, John Mark, now 4, is eligible for a one-time payment of about $14,000, based on his father’s wages. But Buhawe was unaware that civilians employed in the war zone were covered by insurance and never filed a claim.

There is no record that Kuwait-based El Hoss Engineering and Transport Co., Salazar’s employer, reported his death to the Labor Department. The company did pay compensation to Salazar’s son by a different relationship, according to a Philippine government news release.

Efforts to reach El Hoss for comment were unsuccessful.

“Sometimes we go to Marcelo’s grave and we whisper, ‘How will we survive tonight?’ ” Buhawe said as she held John Mark on her knee. “Tonight, I am not sure where we’re going to get dinner.”

Another Filipino, Leopoldo Soliman, took a job in a warehouse on a U.S. military base in Iraq in 2003, hoping to save enough to build a home for his wife and children in a village northeast of Manila.

He earned $9,000 a year working for Prime Projects International, a KBR subcontractor. In 2004, he was given a commendation by U.S. soldiers for “hard work and tireless dedication.”

Then, in May 2005, a mortar shell fell near his living quarters in Balad, a military logistics hub north of Baghdad. Shrapnel blew a hole in his knee.

Prime Projects paid for his initial medical care in Iraq and the United Arab Emirates and his transportation back to the Philippines, he said. But since then, he has had to pay out of his own pocket for pain medication, follow-up surgery to remove shrapnel and physical therapy.

Soliman said Prime Projects ignored his pleas for help. He said he never received any information about the war-zone insurance and has not filed for benefits.

Prime Projects did not respond to requests for comment.

Soliman said the company “treated me well during the accident.

“After that, when I came home, nothing.”

A global workforce

The Defense Base Act was not designed for the complexities of the global contractor workforce now in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Citizens of at least 45 countries are working under U.S. contracts in the two nations. Yet Labor Department notices are printed in English and Arabic, but not Tagalog, Hindi or the many other languages spoken by workers.

Overseas companies often ignore orders from Labor Department administrative law judges to appear in court or pay benefits.

Contracts for support services often involve layers of subcontractors. A Sri Lankan janitor might work for an Indian labor broker hired by a Middle Eastern subcontractor for a U.S. company. The chain is so complex that foreign workers can have trouble proving they were employed in behalf of the U.S. war effort.

In 2004, a dozen Nepalese were killed by insurgents in western Iraq. They had been on their way to work at a U.S. base where Daoud & Partners Co., a Jordanian logistics firm, held a contract. The company denied that it employed the men, foreclosing death benefits for their survivors.

After news reports about the case, attorneys with the Washington law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll volunteered to represent relatives of the slain Nepalese.

Attorney Matthew Handley traveled to Nepal to take witness statements and discovered, by chance, a copy of an employment contract that showed the men worked for Daoud.

In 2008, four years after the killings, a Labor Department judge ruled that Daoud and its insurance provider, CNA, were obliged to pay death benefits. That June, CNA began paying compensation, ranging from $35,000 for dependent parents to $175,000 for young widows of the dead workers.

Daoud did not respond to requests for comment.

“I couldn’t imagine anyone without counsel, nevermind somebody from Nepal, trying to navigate through this process,” Handley said.

“When it comes to third-country nationals, it becomes a black hole. You’re lucky if you’re able to get payments.”

Survivor’s struggles

Even when foreigners know their rights, the system can be daunting.

Daniel Brink, a South African, was working as a security guard in Iraq when his SUV was hit by a string of roadside bombs in December 2005.

Brink, a former police officer, lost his right leg and most of his fingers. He was flown to London, where surgeons used some of his toes to replace some of his lost fingers.

CNA, the insurance carrier for Brink’s employer, paid for that treatment. But when he returned to Johannesburg, South Africa, disputes arose over the cost of follow-up surgeries, psychological counseling, an electric wheelchair and related renovations to Brink’s house. CNA took months to pay for the surgeries and rejected the other bills, Brink said. His credit rating plunged, his wheelchair was repossessed, and he lost his home to foreclosure.

In May 2007, Brink flew to Chicago, believing he had an appointment to meet with his CNA claims adjuster. When he arrived, Brink said, he was told nobody would meet with him. Security guards escorted him out of CNA headquarters.

Two years later, Brink is pressing his claim in the Labor Department’s dispute-resolution system. He said his outstanding medical bills total about $150,000.

CNA said that it “does not have any direct contact with workers,” but otherwise declined to comment, saying that individual cases are confidential.

Brink, 39, said scores of South Africans who worked in Iraq are in similar situations. He is now in law school and hopes to represent injured contract workers from his country someday.

“It’s not that I want something out of the ordinary,” Brink said. “I just want what I’m entitled to, nothing more, nothing less.”

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

Iran says Iraq border incident a “misunderstanding”

December 23, 2009

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran on Tuesday described a border incident with Iraq, which caused oil prices to rise late last week, as a “misunderstanding” and called for experts from both countries to look into border demarcation issues.

The statement came two days after Iraqi officials said Iranian troops had withdrawn partially from a disputed oil area claimed by both Tehran and Baghdad, possibly defusing a border feud straining the two neighbours’ ties.

“Our stance has been crystal clear … it was a misunderstanding,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference in comments translated by English-language state television.

Saying the two countries’ foreign ministers had reached an “understanding” in a phone conversation on Saturday, he added a committee should be formed to look into border demarcation issues between Iran and Iraq, which fought a 1980-88 war.

“We think it is a technical and expert issue and the experts of both sides should sit down and look into … specifying the border areas between the two countries so that such misunderstandings are removed,” he said.

On Sunday, Iraq’s government spokesman said a group of Iranian troops who had taken over an oil well in a remote region along the Iran-Iraq border last week were no longer in control of the well, which Iraq considers part of its Fakka oilfield.

A border official in Iran was quoted on the same day as saying Iranian forces had returned to their original position after dismantling a barricade built by Iraqi soldiers near the disputed oil well.

Global oil prices climbed on Friday following initial media reports that Iranian troops had commandeered an Iraqi oil well.

Iran and Iraq have a long history of border feuds, including one that escalated into the eight-year war in the 1980s.

The relationship warmed after Sunni Arab Saddam Hussein’s ousting in 2003, when Shi’ites took over in Baghdad and trade and religious tourism picked up. Iran is also a predominantly Shi’ite Muslim state.

According to Iraqis, the well is one of seven that comprise Fakka, a relatively small field that now produces about 10,000 barrels of oil per day. Iraqi officials say the well in question has only been operative briefly, before the Iran-Iraq war.

Iran says the well falls within Iranian borders.

“The best solution is … for the experts to sit down and investigate the issue,” Mehmanparast said.

“A committee will review the demarcation and the border lines to remove any possible misunderstanding and to find solutions to that,” he said. (Reporting by Hossein Jaseb and Fredrik Dahl; editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Iraqi parliament fails to reach election deal

November 23, 2009

By Waleed Ibrahim

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The Iraqi parliament on Sunday failed to resolve an impasse threatening to delay the country’s election in January, which could affect the U.S. military’s plans for a partial pullout next year.

There are only a couple of days left for parliament to address Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi’s veto of an election law, as the law must be passed 60 days before a vote and January 23 is viewed by Iraq’s majority Shi’ite Muslims as the last possible date in January for the ballot to take place.

If no resolution is found, Iraq may have to delay the election for a month until after the Shi’ite religious festival of Arbain, a move that western diplomats and U.N. officials have warned would be unconstitutional.

“I think tomorrow will be crucial and the issue will be resolved,” said Khalid al-Attiya, deputy speaker of parliament. “There are no agreements but there are ideas and I hope we will agree on a specific project tomorrow.”

The election is viewed as a milestone for Iraq as it emerges from years of sectarian bloodshed since the U.S. invasion in 2003 and starts to stand on its own feet ahead of a full U.S. withdrawal by December 31, 2011.

Privately, Western and Iraqi officials say a short delay in holding the ballot might not be a bad thing as it would give the electoral authorities more time to prepare.

But the constitution stipulates that the next election should be held by January 31, and breaching that barrier could set a dangerous precedent that might be exploited in the future by a would-be strongman, disinclined to hold a scheduled election.

A major delay might also affect U.S. plans to end combat operations by August 31 next year, as U.S. military commanders want to retain a sizeable force in Iraq until the next government is in place and the security situation is clear.


Hashemi, a Sunni Arab who is one of three members of a presidential council with veto rights, rejected the election law because he said it did not give enough representation to Iraqis who fled abroad when the U.S. invasion triggered sectarian bloodshed. Many of the exiles are Sunnis.

Parliament is discussing whether it can reject Hashemi’s veto and send the law back to the presidential council or whether it has to amend the law first.

If it decides to amend the law, there is a risk that other parties will seek additional changes.

Iraq’s minority Kurds have said they might boycott the election unless their three semi-autonomous provinces in northern Iraq are given more seats.

The election law was approved on November 8 after weeks of wrangling between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen over how to hold the vote in the city of Kirkuk, which they dispute. U.S. diplomats and U.N. officials lobbied energetically for passage of the law.

“We only have 48 hours to end this impasse, otherwise an election by the end of January will be impossible,” said Abbas al-Bayati, a lawmaker of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s ruling Shi’ite alliance.

(Writing by Michael Christie; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

The Fruits of Intervention

November 12, 2009

If we had it to do over, would we send an army into Afghanistan to build a nation?

Would we invade Iraq?

While these two wars have cost 5,200 dead, a trillion dollars and a divided America facing an endless war, what have we won?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal needs 40,000 to 80,000 more troops, or we risk “mission failure” in Afghanistan. At present casualty rates – October was the worst month of the war – thousands more Americans will die before we see any light at the end of this tunnel, if ever we do.

Pakistan, which aided us in Afghanistan, now has a war of its own to fight. Its army is in a battle in South Waziristan, while the country is wracked by terror bombings, the latest in a Peshawar bazaar that specialized in women’s clothing and jewelry and toys for kids. So horrific was the toll even the Taliban and al-Qaida denied any role in it.

The 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are, after almost seven years, to begin pulling out two months after January’s election. But a hitch has developed. Iraq’s parliament missed the deadline for setting the rules. At issue: Will voters be allowed to choose individual candidates, or will they be allowed only to vote for slates of candidates?

Gen. Ray Odierno implies that postponement of the election may mean postponement of U.S. withdrawals.

Ominously, in August, terrorists bombed the foreign and finance ministries in Baghdad, and last week blew up the Justice Ministry and Baghdad Provincial Governorate. And the Kurds are now claiming their control of oil-rich Kirkuk is non-negotiable, which crosses a red line in Baghdad.

Next door, a terror attack by Jundallah (God’s Brigade) in Iran’s southern province of Sistan-Baluchistan killed 40, including two senior commanders of the Revolutionary Guard.

An enraged Tehran pointed the finger at the United States, as there have been charges the CIA has been in contact with Jundallah as part of President Bush’s destabilization program to effect “regime change.”

But Barack Obama has been in office for nine months – and he would never authorize such an attack on the eve of a critical meeting on Iran’s nuclear program. Moreover, the State Department condemned the Jundallah bombing as terrorism and offered public condolences to the families of the victims.

But if we didn’t authorize this, who did?

Was the timing of this attack coincidental? Were these just freelance secessionists on an operation unrelated to the U.S.-Iran talks? Or is someone trying to torpedo the talks and push Iran and the United States into military collision?

For this was a provocation.

And whoever carried it out and whoever authorized or abetted it wishes to dynamite the U.S.-Iran negotiations, abort a rapprochement and put us on a road to war.

Speculation is focusing on the Saudis, the Gulf Arabs and the Israelis, who have been accused, as has the United States, of aiding PJAK, a Kurdish faction that has conducted raids in northern Iran.

If we have any control of these organizations, we should shut them down. With U.S. armies tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan, and America conducting Predator and cross-border attacks in Pakistan, provoking a war with Iran would be an act of madness.

Looking back, how has all this fighting advanced U.S. national interests? We have a “democratic” Iraq that is Shia-dominated and tilting to Iran. We have an open-ended war in Afghanistan that will likely do for Obama what Iraq did for Bush. But we can’t pull out, it is said, for if we do, Kabul falls and Afghanistan becomes the sanctuary for an Islamist war to take over Pakistan and its nuclear weapons.

And if that should happen, it would indeed be a crisis.

And so, how has all this intervention availed us?

We ran Saddam out of Kuwait and put U.S. troops into Saudi Arabia. And we got Osama bin Laden’s 9-11. We responded by taking down the Taliban and taking over Afghanistan. And we got an eight-year war with no victory and no end in sight. Now Pakistan is burning. We took down Saddam and got a seven-year war and an ungrateful Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Turks, who shared a border with Saddam, have done no fighting. Iran has watched as we destroyed its two greatest enemies, the Taliban and Saddam. China, which has a border with both Pakistan and Afghanistan, has sat back. India, which has a border with Pakistan and fought three wars with that country, has stayed aloof.

The United States, on the other side of the world, plunged in. And now we face an elongated military presence in Iraq, an escalating war in Afghanistan and potential disaster in Pakistan, and are being pushed from behind into a war with Iran.

“America rejects the false comfort of isolationism,” said George W. Bush in his 2006 State of the Union. And we did reject that false comfort. And now we can enjoy the fruits of interventionism.

Patrick Buchanan is the author of the book “Churchill, Hitler and ‘The Unnecessary War.” To find out more about Patrick Buchanan, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at

University blasts in Pakistan and the future of Islam

November 2, 2009

The International Islamic University is carving out a much-needed space in Muslim intellectual, and through it, political, life.

By Mark LeVine

European astronaut Christer Fuglesang does repair work on the space station. NASA/AP

Lund, Sweden – When the Taliban attacked the International Islamic University in Pakistan this week, many were shocked that militants were targeting an Islamic school. In fact, the double suicide bombers were going after a university that is at the forefront of changing the way Islamic and Western knowledge are brought together in the Muslim world.

I also had some misconceptions before I had lectured in the very building where the second bombing took place. But the encounters I had there in 2007 utterly changed my understanding of Pakistan, as well as the future of Islam.

I had only landed in Islamabad just a few hours before I was scheduled to give my first talk at the university, and whether it was the 13-hour time difference with Los Angeles, two nights flying in coach, or walking through an arrivals lounge that had recently been attacked by terrorists, I felt more uneasy about being in Pakistan than Baghdad or Gaza during their own periods of intense violence.

Matters weren’t helped when I was introduced to a group of male religious studies students by my host as someone who’d lived in Israel and speaks Hebrew. In fact, my stomach sank a bit – especially as their long beards and traditional dress reminded me a lot more of the Taliban than the graduate students I normally spend time with.

But as with most things in Pakistan, appearances were deceiving, and the situation was far more complex, and inspiring, than I’d imagined.

It turned out that the students with whom I was meeting weren’t merely studying Islam, they were PhD students in comparative religion. They were situating Islam, its history, and its religious dynamics within the broader study of religious experience worldwide.

Moreover, the recently established program in which they were studying was a model for the International Islamic University’s drive to develop a new curriculum, one that would combine 1,000 years of Islamic learning with the latest developments in American and European humanities and social studies scholarship.

The students explained they were all learning Hebrew, as well as biblical criticism and contemporary approaches to religious studies as part of their course work. As we began to talk it became clear that neither students nor faculty had much time or desire to engage in spirited critiques of the United States or the West.

They were much more interested in discussing how to better integrate “Western” and Islamic methodologies for studying history and religion. And more telling, they were trying to figure out how to criticize the government without “disappearing” into the dark hole of the Pakistani prison system for five or 10 years, or worse.

Colleagues in the history and political science departments were just as eager to develop the most up-to-date curriculums possible, and in so doing lay a benchmark for the development of their fields, not just in Pakistan, but globally.

This is not to say that the members of the University community supported US policies in the Muslim world. Far from it. But as good social scientists (or social scientists in training), they understood the importance of the interplay of local and global dynamics, and of the problems in their own societies that contributed to the violent relationship between the US and many Muslim groups around the world.

Indeed, when I delivered my second lecture on globalization early on a Saturday morning, the room was filled with students, more women than men (upward of half the student body at the University are women), who grilled me about the assumptions underlying my research and methodologies. Would that most of my students back home were as interested in what I was teaching as were they.

As I walked around the campus, and met faculty and students who’d come from all over the Muslim world to study there, the role of the IIU in the larger context of Islam globally became evident.

The University was carving out a much-needed space in Muslim intellectual, and through it political, life through its bringing Muslim and Western traditions into dialogue.

Yet it was receiving, and continues to receive far less attention from scholars, commentators, or policymakers than the fully American-style universities being opened across the Persian Gulf. This is most recently evidenced by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or KAUST, just established with great fanfare and a $10 billion endowment from the king in Jeddah.

Such a venture is surely important, not just for having one of the world’s fastest supercomputers or giving every newly hired professor $400,000 in research money – I got $3,000 when I was hired at University of California, Irvine, and that was when the university was flush with cash.

Yet the singular focus of KAUST on hard sciences is ultimately myopic and will likely produce little in the way of the larger societal change in Saudi Arabia predicted by the new university’s boosters. Such changes come only with a robust public sphere where citizens who are educated broadly and humanistically are equipped with the social knowledge and skills to challenge the dominant political and social-religious discourses.

Building such an active Pakistani citizenry was and – I imagine despite the bombing – remains a major goal of the IIU.

Sadly, it’s just such a goal that probably made it a “legitimate” target for the Taliban, for whom a healthy public sphere populated by educated citizens willing and able to challenge, potentially democratize, and clean up their government would pose at least as big threat to its position in the country as the army they are now fighting in the country’s northwest.

Not surprisingly, the core mission of the IIU would also not win it many friends among the country’s corrupt economic and political elite, who, as many of the senior education and religious officials I met confided to me, share the Taliban’s desire to silence any kind of critical scholarship or societal debate.

With this attack, the Taliban has struck what until now was a sanctuary, however fragile and inchoate, where the emerging generation of Pakistanis and Muslims could determine on their own terms how best to bring together their cultures and traditions to grapple with the profound challenges faced by their societies.

I hope it doesn’t weaken the spirit and resolve of the thousands of students who’ve come to the IIU from across the Muslim world to help build a better future. They are not just the future of Pakistan, or of Islam; they are the future as well.

Mark LeVine is a history professor at University of California, Irvine and currently a visiting professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He is the author most recently of “Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam” and “Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989″

Carnage and corruption in Iraq

October 27, 2009

Ignored by the west, Iraqis continue to suffer as the US’s ‘exit strategy’ begins to unravel

Sami Ramadani

It is tragic that Iraq hits the headlines only if there is a major explosion with hundreds killed and injured. Yesterday’s carnage in Baghdad is the second of its kind in two months, and yet another horrific reminder that the Iraqi people are still paying with their blood for the US-led invasion and occupation of their country.

Though inevitable, there is something morally questionable in the way Afghanistan has replaced Iraq in the news headlines. As the number of casualties suffered by US forces went down in Iraq and as the equivalent numbers of US and British casualties in Afghanistan started to climb, the latter has gradually displaced Iraq in the news schedules. This has given the impression that the situation in Iraq has improved markedly and that the country is making progress on all fronts. Back in June, amid much fanfare, the US forces were “withdrawn” from the Iraqi cities to various US bases around the country.

There is no doubt that the situation has improved for US forces, while British troops were airlifted from the fires of Iraq to be thrown into the flames of Afghanistan. The US plan for Iraq has so far succeeded in reducing its own casualties by pushing more of the Iraqi forces into the battle against the “insurgency” – better known in Iraq as the “honourable patriotic resistance” to distinguish it from the hated al-Qaida-style terrorists attacks.

But try to tell Iraqis who are not part of the ruling circles that their situation has improved since the occupation and they will remind you not only of the countless dead and injured but also of the million-plus orphans and widows, the 2 million who fled the country, and the 2 million internal refugees, most of whom live in dreadful squalor.

They will tell you about the sewage covering the streets of many towns and cities, the lack of clean water, fuel and electricity, and the ever deteriorating health and education services. They will tell you about the more than 50% unemployment, the kidnapping of children, the fear of women to move freely, and the rapid rise in drug abuse and prostitution. They will describe the horrific methods of torture inflicted on the tens of thousands of prisoners in Iraqi and American jails. They will remind you that if a “world-famous patriot” such as Muntadhar al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at President Bush, was tortured by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s own guards and forces, what chance ordinary citizens?

Iraqis will also instantly refer you to the corrupt rulers who came to Iraq “on the backs of US tanks”. They will tell you of the division of ministries and senior posts among the various sectarian and ethnically identified political allies of the US. Indeed, corruption has reached such levels that the minister of trade and his brothers have been accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars by the “Integrity Committee”, while the deputy transport minister was caught receiving $100,000 as the “first instalment” of another huge bribe.

While Iraq and its people continue to suffer, with most of the western media ignoring their plight, President Obama is still pursuing President Bush’s goal in Iraq – to have a government in Baghdad that is closely allied to the US. This is incompatible with bringing about a stable, peaceful and democratic Iraq. What US strategists have yet to learn is that the Iraqi people will not freely accept a pro-US regime in Baghdad and that the “exit strategy” will inevitably result in long-term occupation, and bring only more bloodshed and destruction.

Why are the Iraqi people expected to elect a disparate collection of corrupt and sectarian pro-US politicians? The only realistic exit strategy must start with the right of the Iraqi people to self determination, free of American intervention.

Carnage and corruption in Iraq

October 27, 2009

Ignored by the west, Iraqis continue to suffer as the US’s ‘exit strategy’ begins to unravel

Sami Ramadani

It is tragic that Iraq hits the headlines only if there is a major explosion with hundreds killed and injured. Yesterday’s carnage in Baghdad is the second of its kind in two months, and yet another horrific reminder that the Iraqi people are still paying with their blood for the US-led invasion and occupation of their country.

Though inevitable, there is something morally questionable in the way Afghanistan has replaced Iraq in the news headlines. As the number of casualties suffered by US forces went down in Iraq and as the equivalent numbers of US and British casualties in Afghanistan started to climb, the latter has gradually displaced Iraq in the news schedules. This has given the impression that the situation in Iraq has improved markedly and that the country is making progress on all fronts. Back in June, amid much fanfare, the US forces were “withdrawn” from the Iraqi cities to various US bases around the country.

There is no doubt that the situation has improved for US forces, while British troops were airlifted from the fires of Iraq to be thrown into the flames of Afghanistan. The US plan for Iraq has so far succeeded in reducing its own casualties by pushing more of the Iraqi forces into the battle against the “insurgency” – better known in Iraq as the “honourable patriotic resistance” to distinguish it from the hated al-Qaida-style terrorists attacks.

But try to tell Iraqis who are not part of the ruling circles that their situation has improved since the occupation and they will remind you not only of the countless dead and injured but also of the million-plus orphans and widows, the 2 million who fled the country, and the 2 million internal refugees, most of whom live in dreadful squalor.

They will tell you about the sewage covering the streets of many towns and cities, the lack of clean water, fuel and electricity, and the ever deteriorating health and education services. They will tell you about the more than 50% unemployment, the kidnapping of children, the fear of women to move freely, and the rapid rise in drug abuse and prostitution. They will describe the horrific methods of torture inflicted on the tens of thousands of prisoners in Iraqi and American jails. They will remind you that if a “world-famous patriot” such as Muntadhar al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at President Bush, was tortured by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s own guards and forces, what chance ordinary citizens?

Iraqis will also instantly refer you to the corrupt rulers who came to Iraq “on the backs of US tanks”. They will tell you of the division of ministries and senior posts among the various sectarian and ethnically identified political allies of the US. Indeed, corruption has reached such levels that the minister of trade and his brothers have been accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars by the “Integrity Committee”, while the deputy transport minister was caught receiving $100,000 as the “first instalment” of another huge bribe.

While Iraq and its people continue to suffer, with most of the western media ignoring their plight, President Obama is still pursuing President Bush’s goal in Iraq – to have a government in Baghdad that is closely allied to the US. This is incompatible with bringing about a stable, peaceful and democratic Iraq. What US strategists have yet to learn is that the Iraqi people will not freely accept a pro-US regime in Baghdad and that the “exit strategy” will inevitably result in long-term occupation, and bring only more bloodshed and destruction.

Why are the Iraqi people expected to elect a disparate collection of corrupt and sectarian pro-US politicians? The only realistic exit strategy must start with the right of the Iraqi people to self determination, free of American intervention.

Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army

October 26, 2009

by Jeremy Scahill
Nation Books (452 pages)

“The often overlooked subplot of the wars of the post-9/11 period is their unprecedented scale of outsourcing and privatization,” author Jeremy Scahill writes in The Nation. “From the moment the US troop buildup began in advance of the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon made private contractors an integral part of the operations. Even as the government gave the public appearance of attempting diplomacy, Halliburton was prepping for a massive operation. When US tanks rolled into Baghdad in March 2003, they brought with them the largest army of private contractors ever deployed in modern war. By the end of Rumsfeld’s tenure in late 2006, there were an estimated 100,000 private contractors on the ground in Iraq–an almost one-to-one ratio with active-duty American soldiers.” (“Bush’s Shadow Army,” The Nation, 4/2/2007)

In his new book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Jeremy Scahill traces the explosive growth of Blackwater, USA, a private and secretive mercenary company based in the wilderness of North Carolina. Scahill writes that “in less than a decade [Blackwater] has risen out of the swamp in North Carolina to become something of a Praetorian Guard for the Bush administration’s global war on terror.”

According to Scahill, Blackwater has more than 2,300 soldiers deployed in nine countries. It maintains a database of 21,000 special forces troops and retired police that it could deploy at a moment’s notice. It has a private fleet of more than 20 aircraft, including helicopter gunships. Its 7000-acre headquarters is the world’s largest private military facility. It trains tens of thousands of law enforcement officials a year from the U.S. and other nations. It is currently constructing new facilities in California, Illinois, and a jungle training facility in the Philippines. Blackwater has over $500 million in government contracts – and that does not include “black budget” operations for U.S. intelligence agencies or contracts with private corporations or foreign governments. One U.S. Congressmember observed that Blackwater could overthrow many of the world’s governments.

“Blackwater is a private army,” Scahill writes, “and it is controlled by one person: Erik Prince, a radical right-wing mega-millionaire who has served as a bankroller not only of President Bush’s campaigns but of the broader Christian right agenda.”

Erik Prince’s father Edgar played a major role in creating and funding many right wing Christian political movements, such as James Dobson’s Family Research Council. Scahill documents that “Erik Prince has been in the thick of the right-wing effort to unite conservative Catholics, evangelicals, and neoconservatives in a common theoconservative holy war-with Blackwater serving as sort of armed wing of the movement. Prince says ‘Everybody carries guns, just like the Prophet Jeremiah rebuilding the temple in Israel-a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other.’”

The book brings out the political climate among what Scahill calls the “theocratic movement” at the time Blackwater was founded in the mid-1990s. Many on the Christian right considered the newly elected Clinton administration illegitimate. First Things, a journal that Scahill calls “the main organ of the theocratic movement,” published a special issue titled “The End of Democracy,” which featured essays that predicted a civil war scenario or Christian insurrection against the government. Erik Prince’s close friend, former Watergate conspirator turned Christian fascist, Charles Colson, wrote in the issue, “A showdown between church and state is inevitable. This is not something for which Christians should hope. But it is something for which they need to prepare.”

Blackwater and Fallujah

Immediately after 9/11 Blackwater landed a $5.4 million contract to provide 20 security guards for the CIA’s Kabul station. But a big break for the company came when it landed a $27 million contract for providing security for Paul Bremmer, who was in charge of running the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The senior U.S. official in Iraq and the public face of the occupation, Bremer would not be protected by U.S. government forces or Iraqi security but by Blackwater. Scahill writes that the Blackwater soldiers sent to guard Bremmer “embodied the ugly American persona to a tee. Its guards were chiseled like bodybuilders and wore tackey wrap-around sunglasses. Many wore goatees and dressed in all-khaki uniforms with ammo vests or Blackwater t-shirts with the trademark bear claw in the crosshairs, sleeves rolled up…Their haircuts were short and they sported security earpieces and lightweight machine guns. They bossed around journalists, ran Iraqi cars off the road or fired rounds at cars if they got in the way of a Blackwater convoy” (p. 71)

The Blackwater company first came to public attention on March 31, 2004 when four of its private soldiers in Iraq were ambushed and killed in Fallujah. People in the city dragged the bodies through the streets, burned them, and strung two of the mercenaries over the bridge over the Euphrates River.

The press portrayed the incident as an Iraqi mob irrationally attacking “contractors”-not armed mercenaries-who were helping to rebuild Iraq. The headline in the Chicago Tribune read, “Iraqi Mob Mutilates Four American Civilians.” Scahill illuminates the situation in Fallujah before the attack on the Blackwater soldiers. During the 1991 Gulf War, Fallujah had been the site of a major massacre when a “precision bomb” hit a densely populated area smashing through a market and apartment complex killing over 130 civilians. After U.S. troops occupied the city in 2003, U.S. troops opened fire on a peaceful demonstration killing 13 and wounding 75.

The attack on the mercenaries was used as a pretext to launch a massive assault on Fallujah delivering a horrific collective punishment to the whole city. Thousands of U.S. troops invaded the city, 1000- and 2000-pound bombs were dropped, hospitals were closed so those injured could not get medical aid. Over 800 people died in the U.S. attack and tens of thousands were forced to flee. A reporter from Al Jazeera wrote, “I went to the hospital. I could not see anything but a sea of corpses of children and women, and mostly children…These were scenes that were unbelievable unimaginable. I was taking photographs and forcing myself to photograph while I was at the same time crying.”

Mercenaries from Titan and CAGI (two other mercenary groups) were involved in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. According to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Titan and CAGI conspired with U.S. officials to “humiliate, torture and abuse persons” to win more contracts for their “interrogation services.” (p. 157)

Not a single U.S. military contractor has been prosecuted for crimes committed in Iraq. In fact the contractors operate in a legal black hole where they seem to be immune from prosecution. One of Paul Bremmer’s last official acts before leaving Iraq was to sign Order #17, which said that “contractors shall be immune from Iraqi legal processes with respect to acts performed by them pursuant to the terms and conditions of any Contract to sub-contract thereto.” (p. 163).

In addition, until very recently, contractors have been immune from being charged by the U.S. under military law that governs U.S. troops. Blackwater also claims that it is immune to civil suits filed in U.S. courts, because it is part of the U.S.’s “total force” in Iraq. In other words, the mercenaries in Iraq are literally above the law.

In late 2006 Congress added an amendment to a Defense Department spending bill that said that contractors could now be prosecuted by the military in military courts. None have yet been charged. If its mercenaries were brought in front of military tribunals, Blackwater would likely challenge the right of the military to prosecute them.

From Azerbaijan to New Orleans to the Border

Scahill’s book is filled with rich exposure of the role that Blackwater is playing around the world.

Azerbaijan: Blackwater received a government contract in 2004 to train an elite Azeri force modeled after U.S. Navy SEALs. “Torture, police abuse, and excessive use of force by security forces is widespread in Azerbaijan,” according to a Human Rights Watch Report quoted in the book. But, as Scahill brings out, the Bush administration wanted to build an oil pipeline through the country in order to get access to the large Caspian Sea oil reserves without going through Iran or Russia. They also wanted to use the country as a forward base of potential operations against Iran, which borders on Azerbaijan.

Honduras: At an army base used by the CIA during the 1980s to train Nicaraguan Contras and the infamous U.S.-backed death squad Batallion 316, a private U.S. company prepared Honduran soldiers to work as mercenaries in Iraq. Scahill reports that the trainees were told that “where we are going everyone would be our enemy and we’d have to look at them that way, because they would want to kill us and the gringos too. So we’d have to be heartless when it was up to us to kill someone, even if it was a child.”

Chile: Blackwater has relied upon mercenaries that had served under brutal military dictatorships. Nearly 1,000 Chileans, many of whom were part of the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet have been trained by Blackwater and deployed to Iraq. Other recruits have come from members of the military of apartheid South Africa.

New Orleans : One hundred fifty heavily armed Blackwater troops in full battle gear including automatic weapons were deployed to New Orleans by the Department of Homeland Security. Scahill writes, “what was desperately needed [in New Orleans] was food, water and housing. Instead what poured in fastest was guns. Lots of guns.” A Blackwater mercenary is quoted as saying: “The only difference between here [New Orleans] and Iraq is that there are no roadside bombs.”

The Border: Blackwater has mounted a campaign and testified in Congressional hearings arguing that its troops should be deployed on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The rise of Blackwater and the increasing use of mercenaries by the U.S. raises many important questions. In a period of political crises could such a private army be part of a military coup? Is deploying mercenary troops around the world a means by which a U.S. empire could manage a global war for empire and domination without instituting a draft? Would such an army feel even less compulsion to respect international rules against torture and attacking civilians, and would the use of such forces insulate the U.S. government from accusations that it is carrying out war crimes? Readers interested in finding out more should check out this important book.

Trust quotient needle near zero

October 12, 2009

Reset required before conspiracists brandish nukes


Before we throw caution to the wind and build a new embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan – a la Baghdad – fit for 1,000 employees, let’s first acquire a proper understanding of the nature of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. A majority of Pakistanis believe that Sept. 11 was a CIA-Mossad conspiracy designed to enlist the world in a giant push-back against Islam’s growing popularity. Think I’m kidding? Don’t ask the thin veneer of Western-educated Pakistanis who speak highly polished English, or about 10 percent of 175 million people, but even in that minority many will tell you that the ultimate objective of America’s invasion of Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, was Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal. Pakistanis are to the conspiracy theory born.

The Iraq war wound up costing U.S. taxpayers close to $1 trillion. In the past eight years, Afghanistan, with 30 million people, swallowed $40 billion but doesn’t have much to show for it, except for off-the-charts corruption. It took Congress a year to agree to $1.5 billion in aid for Pakistan. Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani, arguably Embassy Row’s sharpest operator with instant access at the highest levels, is talking up the need for a $20 billion lend-lease package. This he says could be patterned on what President Roosevelt devised to assist Britain when it stood alone in 1940-41 after the fall of France and until Pearl Harbor and Germany’s declaration of war brought the U.S. into World War II. Mr. Haqqani is on the phone daily to President Asif Ali Zardari and army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke and head of the U.S. Central Command Gen. David H. Petraeus are urging Pakistan’s leaders to follow up their success in flushing out their homegrown Taliban insurgents from the Swat valley in Pakistan proper with a major offensive in the tribal areas where the Afghan Taliban and their al Qaeda allies have enjoyed safe havens – except for the occasional U.S. drone strike – since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan eight years ago. For this to succeed, Mr. Haqqani, Mr. Zardari and Gen. Kayani have been pleading for weeks for helicopters that can hop, skip and jump from one mountain to the next and drop or pick up special forces as they hunt down the insurgents.

The U.S. provided 10 Russian-made helos. They came without spare parts and four of them were useless. In the Vietnam War, the U.S. lost 5,086 aircraft out of 11,827 documented in service. More than half of them – 3,305 – were Huey helicopter troop carriers; 2,202 Huey pilots were killed in action. Since the late 1970s, Hueys have been replaced by Blackhawks – almost 2,000 now with U.S. forces and sold to a score of countries, including Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Philippines and China. But, a four-star general told this reporter, the Pakistanis haven’t been trained in Blackhawks. Why not? Colombia uses almost 100 UH-60 Blackhawks for its COIN (counterinsurgency) operations.

Blackhawks have seen action in Grenada, Panama, the Gulf War, Mogadishu, the Balkans, Haiti, Afghanistan and Iraq. Since World War II, Pakistani pilots are known to be among the very best in the world. They were hired by the score in the Gulf before the Arabs were trained to fly F-16s and Blackhawks. This is another front on which the Pakistani trust quotient needle is near zero.

Also close to zero is U.S. trust in ISI, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the organization that originally nurtured and trained Taliban to put an end to the Afghan civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal in February 1989. And after the Taliban conquered most of Afghanistan and set up its religious dictatorship in Kabul in 1996, several hundred ISI agents, including some 300 assigned to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda training camps, made sure their investment didn’t stray from the reservation. For Pakistan’s strategic planners, Afghanistan was the country’s defense in depth in another war with India.

On the U.N. human-development index, Afghanistan now ranks 181 out of 182 countries; only Niger was lower and last. Pakistani newspapers, especially the Urdu-language publications, constantly question U.S. intentions about what they call the mingy U.S. aid package of $1.5 billion in “non-security assistance.” “Insulting,” was a unanimous cry from all media. The Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill wasn’t even seen as an improvement over nothing.

Pakistan’s strategic thinkers who scan the Afghan horizon cannot find a silver lining. No one believes the U.S. and its NATO allies will muster the political courage to commit to the five- to 10-year politico-economic-military engagement Afghanistan requires. They can also see a three-sided coalition, including key tribal chiefs, some Taliban sympathizers, and the new military that would guarantee al Qaeda wouldn’t be allowed back under penalty of aerial retaliation.

After being close allies in the 1980s against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the United States turned against Pakistan and began punishing former allies with all manner of sanctions against their secret nuclear- weapons development program. A nuclear deterrent against India was first proposed by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir’s father – later executed by President Zia ul-Haq – after Pakistan had lost half its country to India in the 1971 war that gave birth to Bangladesh. A national feeling of betrayal against the U.S. swept through the armed forces and the intelligentsia in the early 1970s, again in the 1990s, and again now. India is launching a 10-year, $100 billion military modernization program. Thus, it becomes incumbent on President Obama to nurture peace between these two nuclear powers or face, down this road, the world’s first nuclear war.

Zia was also the leader who double-timed a process of Islamization in the armed forces coupled with Koranic schools (madrassas) for poor boys where the only discipline superannuated clerics taught them was how to recite the Koran by heart – a 10-year process from age 6 to 16 – interspersed with homilies designed to nurture hate against America, India and Israel. Since Sept. 11, some 5 million potential jihadis have passed through some 12,500 madrassas. So there is no shortage of volunteers for suicide bombings. Even the U.N.’s World Food Program headquarters in Islamabad that feeds the poorest of the poor wasn’t spared. The man in military uniform who asked permission to use the U.N.’s restroom was a jihadi who blew himself up – killing five staffers who had volunteered to help feed 10 million Pakistanis.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

The Story of My Shoe

September 28, 2009


Mutadhar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi who threw his shoe at George Bush gave this speech on his recent release.
In the name of God, the most gracious and most merciful.

Here I am, free. But my country is still a prisoner of war. Firstly, I give my thanks and my regards to everyone who stood beside me, whether inside my country, in the Islamic world, in the free world. There has been a lot of talk about the action and about the person who took it, and about the hero and the heroic act, and the symbol and the symbolic act.

But, simply, I answer: What compelled me to confront is the injustice that befell my people, and how the occupation wanted to humiliate my homeland by putting it under its boot.

And how it wanted to crush the skulls of (the homeland’s) sons under its boots, whether sheikhs, women, children or men. And during the past few years, more than a million martyrs fell by the bullets of the occupation and the country is now filled with more than 5 million orphans, a million widows and hundreds of thousands of maimed. And many millions of homeless because of displacement inside and outside the country.

We used to be a nation in which the Arab would share with the Turkman and the Kurd and the Assyrian and the Sabean and the Yazid his daily bread. And the Shiite would
pray with the Sunni in one line. And the Muslim would celebrate with the Christian the birthday of Christ, may peace be upon him. And despite the fact that we shared hunger under sanctions for more than 10 years, for more than a decade.

Our patience and our solidarity did not make us forget the oppression. Until we were invaded by the illusion of liberation that some had. (The occupation) divided one brother from another, one neighbor from another and the son from his uncle. It turned our homes into never-ending funeral tents. And our graveyards spread into parks and roadsides. It is a plague. It is the occupation that is killing us, that is violating the houses of worship and the sanctity of our homes and that is throwing thousands daily into makeshift prisons.

I am not a hero, and I admit that. But I have a point of view and I have a stance. It humiliated me to see my country humiliated. And to see my Baghdad burned. And my people being killed. Thousands of tragic pictures remained in my head, and this weighs on me every day and pushes me toward the righteous path, the path of confrontation, the path of rejecting injustice, deceit and duplicity. It deprived me of a good night’s sleep.

Dozens, no, hundreds, of images of massacres that would turn the hair of a newborn white used to bring tears to my eyes and wound me. The scandal of Abu Ghraib. The massacre of Fallujah, Najaf, Haditha, Sadr City, Basra, Diyala, Mosul, Tal Afar, and very inch of our wounded land. In the past years, I traveled through my burning land and saw with my own eyes the pain of the victims, and hear with my own ears the screams of the bereaved and the orphans. And a feeling of shame haunted me like an ugly name because I was powerless.

And as soon as I finished my professional duties in reporting the daily tragedies of the Iraqis, and while I washed away the remains of the debris of the ruined Iraqi houses, or the traces of the blood of victims that stained my clothes, I would clench my teeth and make a pledge to our victims, a pledge of vengeance.

The opportunity came, and I took it. I took it out of loyalty to every drop of innocent blood that has been shed through the occupation or because of it, every scream of a bereaved mother, every moan of an orphan, the sorrow of a rape victim, the teardrop of an orphan.

I say to those who reproach me: Do you know how many broken homes that shoe that I threw had entered because of the occupation? How many times it had trodden over the blood of innocent victims? And how many times it had entered homes in which free Iraqi women and their sanctity had been violated? Maybe that shoe was the appropriate response when all values were violated.

When I threw the shoe in the face of the criminal, Bush, I wanted to express my rejection of his lies, his occupation of my country, and my rejection of his killing my people. My rejection of his plundering the wealth of my country, and destroying its infrastructure. And casting out its sons into a diaspora.

After six years of humiliation, of indignity, of killing and violations of sanctity, and desecration of houses of worship, the killer comes, boasting, bragging about victory and democracy. He came to say goodbye to his victims and wanted flowers in response.

Put simply, that was my flower to the occupier, and to all who are in league with him, whether by spreading lies or taking action, before the occupation or after.

I wanted to defend the honor of my profession and suppressed patriotism on the day the country was violated and its high honor lost. Some say: Why didn’t he ask Bush an embarrassing question at the press conference, to shame him? And now I will answer you, journalists. How can I ask Bush when we were ordered to ask no questions before the press conference began, but only to cover the event? It was prohibited for any person to question Bush.

And in regard to professionalism: The professionalism mourned by some under the auspices of the occupation should not have a voice louder than the voice of patriotism. And if patriotism were to speak out, then professionalism should be allied with it.

I take this opportunity: If I have wronged journalism without intention, because of the professional embarrassment I caused the establishment, I wish to apologize to you for any embarrassment I may have caused those establishments. All that I meant to do was express with a living conscience the feelings of a citizen who sees his homeland desecrated every day.

History mentions many stories where professionalism was also compromised at the hands of American policymakers, whether in the assassination attempt against Fidel Castro by booby-trapping a TV camera that CIA agents posing as journalists from Cuban TV were carrying, or what they did in the Iraqi war by deceiving the general public about what was happening. And there are many other examples that I won’t get into here.

But what I would like to call your attention to is that these suspicious agencies — the American intelligence and its other agencies and those that follow them – will not spare any effort to track me down (because I am) a rebel opposed to their occupation. They will try to kill me or neutralize me, and I call the attention of those who are close to me to the traps that these agencies will set up to capture or kill me in various ways, physically, socially or professionally.

And at the time that the Iraqi prime minister came out on satellite channels to say that he didn’t sleep until he had checked in on my safety, and that I had found a bed and a blanket, even as he spoke I was being tortured with the most horrific methods: electric shocks, getting hit with cables, getting hit with metal rods, and all this in the backyard of the place where the press conference was held. And the conference was still going on and I could hear the voices of the people in it. And maybe they, too, could hear my screams and moans.

In the morning, I was left in the cold of winter, tied up after they soaked me in water at dawn. And I apologize for Mr. Maliki for keeping the truth from the people. I will speak later, giving names of the people who were involved in torturing me, and some of them were high-ranking officials in the government and in the army.

I didn’t do this so my name would enter history or for material gains. All I wanted was to defend my country, and that is a legitimate cause confirmed by international laws and divine rights. I wanted to defend a country, an ancient civilization that has been desecrated, and I am sure that history — especially in America — will state how the American occupation was able to subjugate Iraq and Iraqis, until its submission.

They will boast about the deceit and the means they used in order to gain their objective. It is not strange, not much different from what happened to the Native Americans at the hands of colonialists. Here I say to them (the occupiers) and to all who follow their steps, and all those who support them and spoke up for their cause: Never.

Because we are a people who would rather die than face humiliation. And, lastly, I say that I am independent. I am not a member of any political party, something that was said during torture — one time that I’m far-right, another that I’m a leftist. I am independent of any political party, and my future efforts will be in civil service to my people and to any who need it, without waging any political wars, as some said that I would.

My efforts will be toward providing care for widows and orphans, and all those whose lives were damaged by the occupation. I pray for mercy upon the souls of the martyrs who fell in wounded Iraq, and for shame upon those who occupied Iraq and everyone who assisted them in their abominable acts. And I pray for peace upon those who are in their graves, and those who are oppressed with the chains of imprisonment. And peace be upon you who are patient and looking to God for release.

And to my beloved country I say: If the night of injustice is prolonged, it will not stop the rising of a sun and it will be the sun of freedom. One last word. I say to the government: It is a trust that I carry from my fellow detainees. They said, ‘Muntadhar, if you get out, tell of our plight to the omnipotent powers’ — I know that only God is omnipotent and I pray to Him — ‘remind them that there are dozens, hundreds, of victims rotting in prisons because of an informant’s word.’

They have been there for years; they have not been charged or tried. They’ve only been snatched up from the streets and put into these prisons. And now, in front of you, and in the presence of God, I hope they can hear me or see me. I have now made good on my promise of reminding the government and the officials and the politicians to look into what’s happening inside the prisons. The injustice that’s caused by the delay in the judicial system.

Thank you. And may God’s peace be upon you
The translation is by McClatchy’s special correspondent, Sahar Issa.


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