Thursday, February 12, 2009

Americans Want KBR Debarred From Government Contracts

There is a firestorm brewing in the blogosphere demanding that KBR and Halliburton be debarred from any future government contracts.

"The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) clearly states that a conviction or "adequate evidence" of bribery may be grounds for suspension or debarment from federal contracting." says the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) did a bang up job researching and linking to all the pertinent supporting documents so I am not going to reinvent the wheel. Click HERE to go to their article.

Get informed and then contact your Senators and Congresspeople and demand that KBR and Halliburton be debarred from any future Government Contracts and that current contract awards be reviewed.

Something really stinks here!

Ms Sparky

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What did you do to end the war, Daddy?

When your child asks, in 10 years, "What did you do end the war in Iraq, Daddy? (Mommy?), what are you going to say?

"Well, we worked really hard at it for years. We marched, and wrote letters, and held vigils, and called up Congress, and did a lot of other stuff -- oh, and a lot of meetings, too.

"So did you keep it up until you made them end the war?"

"Well, not exactly. See, we worked to elect this guy who was running for president and said he would end the war if he got elected. And he won.

"So he ended the war and then you could quit protesting?"

"Something like that. More like we quit protesting and hoped he would end the war."

"Did it end?"

"Yes, but not right away. It took a few years. Quite a few, actually."

"Do you think maybe you quit too soon?"

"It's getting pretty late. How about a bedtime story?"

* * *

Friday, Feb. 20, is Iraq Moratorium #18.

It is not the time to opt out of the effort to end the war and occupation of Iraq. It is a time to turn up the heat, or, at a minimum, to keep things simmering. Do something, large or small, to show you want US troops home.

And, whatever you're planning, please list it here.

Members of Congress are going to be home next week for a recess. It's a great chance to tell them face-to-face that we want our troops home. And talk to them about spending priorities, using the billions we are wasting in Iraq to do something constructive.

From United for Peace and Justice, the nation's biggest antiwar coalition:
The time is now to mount a campaign to cut the military budget by ending the war and occupation of Iraq and redirect the spending of our national budget.This is also an opportunity for the antiwar movement to work with economic and social justice groups in organizing joint delegations.

Don't go to their offices alone! Join with labor and community groups to make the first recess of the new Congress the beginning of a surge to compel them to end the war, cut the military budget and fund human needs.

If your Congressional representatives refuse to meet, or opposes the need for urgent emergency government action to respond to the economic crisis or bringing all the troops home: picket or vigil outside their office and call the press!

The opening of the debates on priorities for the next Federal Budget will follow this Congressional recess. We need to make our priorities clear! Ending the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first steps to making larger cuts in the military budget and change the priorities of Federal spending.
That's just one idea. There are hundreds of things you can do to observe the Iraq Moratorium. Need ideas? Visit the website:

What are you and me gonna do to end the war, Daddy and Mommy?

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Sunday, February 8, 2009




How Long Before A "Surge" Drives Them All Back Into The Arms Of The Taliban?

A surge is what Dubya's advisers, er, I mean Obama's advisers, er, oh, well, they're the same people, pretty much, and they're recommending the same thing they recommended in Iraq. Iraq, now there's a model to emulate. Recent elections showed a trend toward just what we were warned about, before we went in there: Fragmentation of Iraq into three rump States: One controlled by Iran, one in a perpetual destabilizing war with Turkey, and, caught in the middle, one mightily pissed off and oil-free home base for Sunni terrorism, like Al Qaida. That's pretty much how the election results played out this week.

Afghanistan could be split in nine ethnic pieces: Aimaq, Baluch, Hazara, Kirghiz, Nuristani, Pashtun, Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek. There's no oil there, so you think there'd be less to squabble about. But there may be a pipeline from the Caucasus running through Afhganistan to the Arabian Sea or the Indian Ocean off Pakistan someday. That's why we're there, according to some people. The pipeline can't be built until it's safe enough to carry out a massive construction project, though. So we're going to be there for quite a while. We might even end up catching Osama, if he doesn't die of old age first. But that's kind of a side effect.



Things have not been going all that well in Afghanistan. You've gotta wonder how they managed to conduct an opinion survey in a place like Afghanistan in the middle of a war. Did they round up the usual suspects and have them fill out questionnaires? Go from bread line to bomb shelter to refugee camp asking questions in five different languages while under heavy guard? Did they ask women, or only men? Wait till they hear that we may be working with the Russians now. Poll that. Ah, Afghanistan!

"Election results spur threats and infighting in Iraq"
So, the surge is working, hunh? Define "working."

' RAMADI, Iraq: The post-election curfew has been lifted and the threats of violence have been muted after the intervention of envoys from the Iraqi Army, the central government and the U.S. Marines. A cacophonous bustle has returned to the filthy, shattered streets of this provincial capital, once a base of the Sunni insurgency. And still Faris Taha, one of the election's victors, according to preliminary results, is too fearful to return to the region he will soon represent. "I cannot go back," he said, having retreated from his hometown east of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, to a hotel in Baghdad's Green Zone. "I am afraid." '

"Partition in Iraq: A Serious Problem With Biden as VP?"
A "secret plan for peace" in a divided Iraq?
' When Biden, who initially supported the war, was running for president, he repeatedly insisted he was the only candidate with a workable plan for ending it. His campaign created a video, featured in the YouTube debate, that said, "Joe Biden is the only one with the experience and the plan to end this war responsibly so our children don't have to go back." That plan was widely seen as calling for the partition of Iraq. It read, in part, "The United States should actively support a political settlement in Iraq based on the final provisions of the Constitution that create a federal system of government and allow for the creation of federal regions, consistent with the wishes of the Iraqi people and their leaders." Despite Biden's occasional objections, that wording was read by other politicians and the media as calling for the division of Iraq into three regions, one for Sunnis, one for Shiites, and one for Kurds. For that perception, Biden has himself to blame. An op-ed Biden wrote in 2006 described his plan this way: "The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group -- Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab -- room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.... The first [point of the plan] is to establish three largely autonomous regions with a viable central government in Baghdad. The Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security. The central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues." The Biden Plan, as it was called, proved remarkably popular in the Senate — in September 2007 it faced a Senate vote and passed with the support of 75 senators, including 26 Republicans. The non-binding measure did not compel the President to act, only expressed the will of the Senate. Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd voted with Biden; Obama and McCain did not vote at all. '

"Survey: US, allies losing ground in Afghanistan"
Change they can believe in? Not so much.
' A survey among Afghans indicates support is plummeting for the Kabul government and the United States and European troops trying to bolster it against insurgents, according to a report Monday. The decline is striking particularly in the last year, the poll shows, even as the Obama administration and NATO allies weigh moves to strengthen forces in the struggle with Taliban and other radical groups. President Barack Obama has assigned high priority to the conflict, and the administration is weighing whether to send another 30,000 U.S. troops, almost doubling the 32,000 present. Few Afghans felt encouraged by Obama's election, however: Two in 10 said they thought he would make things better for the Afghan people, and nearly as many said they thought he would make things worse. The rest either expected no change or were waiting to see. The poll — commissioned by ABC News, the BBC and ARD German TV — found that the number of Afghans who say their country is headed in the right direction has dropped to 40 percent, from 77 percent in 1995 when the survey was first conducted. '

"Angry civilians protest civilian deaths in Afghanistan"
Maybe this has something to do with those poll numbers.
' Angry civilians in Laghman are protesting military operations that resulted in civilian deaths. The protestors are demonstrating against the deaths of 21 civilans killed in a U.S. air strike on Jan. 23. The U.S. military refused responsibility for the bombing and claimed that it did not target civilians. However, 15 insurgents may have been killed during the attack. Many Afghan civilians and the government condemn what they consider the indiscriminate use of arms by the allied forces. '

"Afghan official beheaded by 'guests' "
Another way of taking a head count.
' The Taliban, who control several districts of Helmand, have previously beheaded other people, including hostages, in a campaign of intimidation and fear that targets Afghans working for the government or international groups. Ethnic and tribal rivalries and crime, including that associated with Helmand's booming opium trade, also play a part in the wave of violence that has engulfed the country. '

"US supply routes in Afghanistan squeezed 2 ways"
Bit of a cock-up in the Khyber, I'm afraid...
' U.S. troops in Afghanistan saw their supply lines squeezed from the north and east Tuesday after militants blew up a bridge in Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan's government said it would end American use of a key air base following Russia's announcement of new aid. Securing efficient and safe supply routes into Afghanistan has become a top priority for U.S. officials as the Pentagon prepares to send in up to 30,000 more American soldiers this year. Some 75 percent of U.S. supplies travel through Pakistan, where militants have stepped up attacks on truck convoys destined for U.S. bases. Attackers on Tuesday blew up a bridge in northwestern Pakistan in a fresh salvo in an escalating campaign seeking to cripple Washington's war effort in Afghanistan. Islamist militants blew up a bridge in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, cutting a major supply line for Western troops in Afghanistan in the latest in a series of attacks on the Khyber Pass by insurgents seeking to hamper the U.S.-led mission against the Taliban. A NATO spokesman in Afghanistan confirmed that supplies along the route had been halted "for the time being," but stressed the alliance was in no danger of running out of food, equipment or fuel. The U.S. and NATO fly ammunition, weapons and other sensitive supplies into Afghanistan, but it would be too costly to ship everything that way. '

"Kyrgyzstan cites slaying, finances in closing of U.S. base"
Gee, wonder how this happened?
' U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the decision to close Manas Air Base "regrettable." Just a few weeks ago, during a visit to the region, Gen. David Petraeus -- who oversees U.S. operations in the Middle East and Central Asia -- talked about how important the base is. Closing Manas base would not affect only the United States. Petraeus said the site "plays an important role" in the deployment of Spanish and French soldiers into Afghanistan, in addition to U.S. troops. Sultangaziev rejected any suggestions that Russia may have pushed for the closure of the U.S. base. He said the announcement of Russia's aid package was a coincidence. The mountainous former Soviet republic is Central Asia's second poorest country. The U.S. base has been in operation since December 2001 under a U.N. mandate. Kyrgyzstan also is home to a Russian military base, at Kant, that officially opened in 2003. The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported Tuesday that Russia would offer Kyrgyzstan a $300 million, 40-year loan at an annual interest rate of 0.75 percent and write off $180 million of Kyrgyzstan's debt. Clinton said Thursday, "It's regrettable that this is under consideration by the government of Kyrgyzstan, and we hope to have further discussions with them. But we will proceed in a very effective manner no matter what the outcome of the Kyrgyzstan government's deliberations might be." '

"Russia denies influencing Kyrgyzstan on US base"
So, the Russians had nothing to do with it... ?
' A senior Russian envoy says Moscow did not influence Kyrgyzstan's decision to end American access to a base used to resupply U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The decision was announced several days ago as Kyrgyzstan's president was visiting Moscow after securing more than $2 billion in loans and aid from Russia. Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov says "there is no correlation" between the Russian aid offer and the Kyrgyz decision. '

"U.S. diplomat holds Afghan supply talks in Moscow"
Suddenly, Russia to the rescue. Well played, Vladi!
' A senior U.S. diplomat will hold talks with Russian officials on Tuesday about opening up new supply routes across Russian territory to NATO forces in Afghanistan, the U.S. embassy said. The talks come less than a week after Kyrgyzstan announced it will close a U.S. airbase on its territory that provides logistical support by air to U.S. troops fighting the Taliban in nearby Afghanistan. Russia has signalled readiness to expand cooperation in supplying non-military equipment to U.S. forces and other NATO contingents in Afghanistan. Such shipments would also have to pass through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to reach the conflict zone. Supply routes through Pakistan have become increasingly vulnerable to militant attacks over the last year. '

"Beware of energy’s robber barons"
Russia, India, the U.S. This is getting complicated.
' In early January, Russia’s giant energy company Gazprom suddenly cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine. As a result, much of Europe shivered without heat because pipelines through Ukraine supply most of their gas. Moscow exercised its gas clout in 2008 as well, ostensibly over pricing and transit fees, but more likely as an assertion of its readiness to wield energy as a weapon. The Russian act has implications for two gas pipelines that concern India: TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) and IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India).
At issue is the stranglehold both monopoly suppliers and transiting countries may have over energy security. Given that TAPI and IPI would transit through rough terrain with restive populations such as Afghanistan and Baluchistan, the chances of disruption are high, whether via blackmail by the Pakistani government or due to physical damage by insurgents. '

"Provinces of Afghanistan"
On the road to Kabul.
' Interactive Map: Badakhsan - Badghis - Baghlan - Balkh - Bamian - Farah - Faryab - Ghazni - Ghowr - Herat - Helmand - Jowzjan - Kabul - Kapisa - Konar - Kondoz - Laghman - Logar - Nangarhar - Nemroz - Oruzgan - Paktia - Paktika - Parwan - Qandahar - Samangan - Sar-e-pul - Takhar - Wardak - Zabol '

"Interactive Map: Afghanistan's Ethnic Groups"
The many tribes of Afghanistan.
' Map: Afghanistan's Ethnic Groups - In-depth Coverage of Afghanistan and the War on Terror by the Online NewsHour. '

(Cross-posted at blog me no blogs.)


U.S./U.K. Cover-up on Torture, While Conditions Worsen at Guantanamo (Updated)

Controversy continues to mount over the suppression of key evidence of U.S. torture in the case of Ethiopian national, Binyam Mohamed, at the suspected behest of the Obama administration. UK High Court judges in the case wanted to release the evidence, but Foreign Secretary David Miliband prevented this, saying it would harm UK intelligence cooperation with the United States. The U.S. reputedly threatened a break in cooperation with British intelligence services if the torture evidence, which is part of a CIA file, was released. (Update: The Age has now published documentary evidence of the U.S. threat -- see below. H/T to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse.)

Whatever threats were made, after the suppression of the evidence, and in the face of the protest by the UK judges, the Obama administration told BBC News it was grateful for the cooperation, i.e., the cover-up.

In a statement, the White House said it "thanked the UK government for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information".

It added that this would "preserve the long-standing intelligence sharing relationship that enables both countries to protect their citizens".
The UK ruling on the torture evidence was made in response to a legal challenge to the secrecy made by Associated Press, the Guardian, BBC and The New York Times, among other news organizations.

The controversy has made headlines in the UK, but U.S. media has remained compliantly mute, and that includes much of the blogging community. I could find almost no references to the Obama administrations response to BBC, except at Raw Story, and inside a blistering protest statement made ACLU's Anthony Romero. And among top name bloggers, only Chris Floyd and Glenn Greenwald noted the heavy-handed U.S. attempt. Floyd rightly assailed the supposedly liberal Democratic administration for acting "to preserve the presidential 'prerogatives' that Bush asserted to justify torture, eavesdropping and aggression."

But the story won't die, and today's Sunday Telegraph reports that, as suspected by some, the British were only too happy to suppress torture evidence because it clearly reveals the cooperation of British intelligence officers in the torture interrogation.
Material in a CIA dossier on Mr Mohamed that was blacked out by High Court judges contained details of how British intelligence officers supplied information to his captors and contributed questions while he was brutally tortured, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

Intelligence sources have revealed that spy chiefs put pressure on Mr Miliband to do nothing that would leave serving MI6 officers open to prosecution, or to jeopardise relations with the CIA, which is passing them "top notch" information on British terrorist suspects from its own informers in Britain....

The 25 lines edited out of the court papers contained details of how Mr Mohamed's genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning, "is very far down the list of things they did," the official said.

The British newspaper The Age has published excerpts from copies of letters from the U.S. State Department to the British Foreign Service. The letters were apparently obtained by Britain's Channel 4.

"I write with respect to proceedings … regarding Mr Binyam Mohamed," the letter said. "We note the classified documents identified in your letters of June 16 and August 1, 2008, to the acting general counsel of the Department of Defence … the public disclosure of these documents or of the information contained therein is likely to result in serious damage to US national security and could harm … intelligence information sharing arrangements between our two governments."

Channel 4 revealed that a week later the State Department wrote again to the Foreign Office to make clear the consequences if British courts released the paperwork detailing allegations of torture by US and British intelligence services.

"To the extent the UK proceedings are currently aimed at ensuring that the documents at issue will be before the convening authority before she makes her referral decision, this development further demonstrates the relief sought through these proceedings has been otherwise accomplished and no further action by the court is required," the letter said.
The Democratic Party backers of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had better ponder the meaning of these words, and ponder carefully. Do you really want to sell out torture victims and justice for good feelings and a handful of favorite programs?

Worsening Brutality at Guantánamo

Meanwhile, the UK Guardian is reporting that conditions are worsening for inmates at Guantanamo in the first weeks of Obama's administration.
[U.S. military attorney Lieutenant-Colonel Yvonne] Bradley, a US military attorney for 20 years, will reveal [in court on Monday] that Mohamed, 31, is dying in his Guantánamo cell and that conditions inside the Cuban prison camp have deteriorated badly since Barack Obama took office. Fifty of its 260 detainees are on hunger strike and, say witnesses, are being strapped to chairs and force-fed, with those who resist being beaten. At least 20 are described as being so unhealthy they are on a "critical list", according to Bradley....

"The JTF [the Joint Task Force running Guantánamo] are not commenting because they do not want the public to know what is going on," [Bradley said].

"Binyam has witnessed people being forcibly extracted from their cell. Swat teams in police gear come in and take the person out; if they resist, they are force-fed and then beaten. Binyam has seen this and has not witnessed this before. Guantánamo Bay is in the grip of a mass hunger strike and the numbers are growing; things are worsening.
Even more, the Guardian reports suspicions that some in the U.S. intelligence community would prefer to see Binyam die, so he can not testify to what he has seen and endured, and to prevent a lawsuit against U.S. and British authorities. One wonders if, like the Nazis who turned even more savagely against concentration camp prisoners as Allied armies bore down upon the fascist forces, JTF at Guantanamo isn't becoming more brutal in anticipation of its own less fiery, more juridical form of Götterdämmerung.

U.S. anti-torture and human rights activists, and progressives of all kinds, must demand the immediate closure of Guantanamo. Prisoners who have been imprisoned for years must be released, lacking any evidence of their danger, which can be reviewed promptly by a U.S. judge. Those for whom there may be evidence of crimes can be turned over to the U.S. justice system for timely and swift trial under the laws of the country's standing courts.

The Difficulty of Eradicating Torture

Torture is more than just the destruction of a human being's body or psyche. It destroys whole nations and cultures. The Bush administration accelerated trends in U.S. use of torture and coercion that go back over fifty years, from the CIA MK-ULTRA program to the joint U.S./South Vietnamese torture-assassination Phoenix Program in Vietnam that killed tens of thousands and tortured tens of thousands more, to the training of foreign torturers by the U.S. military.

Whatever the intentions of Barack Obama, there is an entrenched culture now within the military and in the intelligence agencies of the United States, and also of some its allies, that relies on coercion and terror to enforce their rule and their power. The fight over this must be taken into the open, with demands to declassify all but the most current and sensitive documents that relate to interrogations and torture. If there is no imminent danger to the United States then there is no reason to hold any such documention secret. Names, if necessary, can always be blacked out.

All too often the news about torture takes on an unreal air, as the dark irrationalities behind it are obscured by legalistic arguments and political infighting. Hence, I want to close with an up-close look at the man whose name is most in the news about torture right now, Binyam Mohamed. The biography that follows is from the the British human rights group Reprieve, who has provided legal representation for Mr. Mohamed in the United Kingdom. While a horrifying story, it can also be read as tale of remarkable survival against barbaric treatment and torture by the United States and their rendition proxies. Currently Mr. Mohamed, still a prisoner at Guantanamo, is on a hunger strike. It is expected by many that he will be released from Guantanamo next week... if he doesn't die first.
Binyam Mohamed was born in Ethiopia and came to Britain in 1994, where he lived for seven years, sought political asylum and was given leave to remain while his case was resolved.

While travelling in Pakistan, Binyam was arrested on a visa violation and turned over to the US authorities. When they refused to let him go, he asked what crime he had committed, and insisted on having a lawyer if he was going to be interrogated. The FBI told him, ‘The rules have changed. You don’t get a lawyer.’

Binyam refused to speak to them. British agents then confirmed his identity to the US authorities and he was warned that he would be taken to a Middle Eastern country for harsh treatment.

On 21 July 2002, Binyam was rendered to Morocco on a CIA plane. He was held there for 18 months in appalling conditions. To ensure his confession, his Moroccan captors tortured him, stripping him naked and cutting him with a scalpel on his chest and penis. Despite this, Binyam said that his lowest point came when his interrogators asked him questions about his life in London, which he realized could only have been provided by the British intelligence services, and he realized that he had been betrayed by the country in which he had sought asylum.

Binyam’s ordeal in Morocco continued for about 18 months until January 2004, when he was transferred to the ‘Dark Prison’ near Kabul, Afghanistan, a secret prison run by the CIA, which resembled a medieval dungeon with the addition of extremely loud 24-hour music and noise.

Speaking of his time in the ‘Dark Prison’, Binyam said:

“It was pitch black, no lights on in the rooms for most of the time. They hung me up for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb. There was loud music, Slim Shady [by Eminem] and Dr. Dre for 20 days. Then they changed the sounds to horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds. At one point, I was chained to the rails for a fortnight. The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night. Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off.”

From there he was taken to the US military prison at Bagram airbase, and finally, in September 2004, to Guantánamo Bay, where he remains.

In June 2008, the US Department of Defense put Binyam forward for trial by military commission, a novel legal system, conceived in November 2001, which was described by Lord Steyn, a British law lord, as a “kangaroo court.”

In the same month, lawyers at Reprieve, working with colleagues at Leigh Day & Co., sued the British government, demanding that they turn over evidence that could help prove both his innocence and the extent of his torture.

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s Director, said:

“I visited Binyam in Guantanamo just a week ago and he is in a very bad state. Surely the least the British government can do is insist that no British resident be charged in a kangaroo court based on evidence tortured out of him with a razor blade. If Binyam’s trial by military commission proceeds, all it will produce is evidence not of terrorism, but of torture, which will embarrass both the British and the American governments.”

A judicial review of Binyam’s case took place in the high court at the end of July 2008. The result, which will determine whether or not the British government is obliged to hand over evidence relating to Binyam’s rendition and torture, is expected in mid-August.

Letters to Binyam should be sent to:
Binyam Mohamed
ISN 1458
Camp Delta
US Naval Base Guantánamo Bay
Washington, DC 20355

Late additions to this posting: A video interview with Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty (formerly the British National Council for Civil Liberties), talking on the Binyam Mohamed case (see embed), and an editorial from the L.A. Times blasting the government on rendition and the "state secrets" privilege. Thanks to buhdydharma for these links!

Also posted at Invictus

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