Shane Ratliff died on Monday. I met him in Ruby, South Carolina during the filming of Robert Greenwald’s film Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers. Shane was one of the many people we interviewed for a documentary about how the likes of Hilliburton/KBR, CACI,Blackwater, and other corporations stuck their snouts into the deep trough of the wasted and unaccounted-for-cash that now defines how the
Iraq war quickly morphed from “mission accomplished” to fiasco, imperial hubris, and descent into chaos.
But Shane was a favorite of ours, a man with a off-beat sense of humor and a wry southern and, indeed, South Carolinian way of getting at the grit of reality. He was a truck driver by inclination and trade, with the hard rules of the road as his moral compass. On his many trips across the United States he thought he had seen everything. But he had not yet experienced the Alice-in-Wonderland world of Halliburton/KBR in the land of greed, grab, and grin that was Iraq as the CEOs that hired him descended upon this great opportunity to serve their country… from a golf course in the tony suburbs of Houston.
When I directed Iraq for Sale, it became appallingly evident that private contractors like CACI and Titan played a critical role in the torture and abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. Much like Blackwater, KBR, and others, these war profiteers were never held accountable for their unconscionable crimes. Instead, they were rewarded with hundreds of millions in new contracts. The Obama administration has already taken some laudable steps to prevent another Abu Ghraib: ordering the CIA to end enhanced interrogation techniques and follow a more lawful code of conduct; and ordering the Justice Department to investigate the use of torture. However, the President’s recent objection to a provision in the 2010 defense funding bill that would make interrogation an “inherently governmental function” is a huge step backwards.
This provision, backed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), states “the interrogation of enemy prisoners of war, civilian internees, retained persons, other detainees, terrorists, and criminals when captured, transferred, confined, or detained during or in the aftermath of hostilities is an inherently governmental function and cannot be transferred to contractor personnel.” In other words, our government would no longer be able to hand off interrogation duties (and the lavish contracts that come with them) to mercenary firms out to profit from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What’s more, if interrogators are caught violating the law and abusing detainees, our government would have the power to hold those interrogators accountable.
According to The Washington Post, both the White House and the Pentagon have a litany of excuses for opposing this provision. They don’t want US forces to be “limited” in conducting lawful interrogations, but the whole point of the provision is to set limitations and create transparency for interrogation practices. And either the US military should be training new interrogators themselves, as a senior Senate aide has suggested, or, lacking enough soldiers to accomplish this goal, perhaps our government should seek diplomatic alternatives to military escalation in Afghanistan.
Last month, Jeremy Scahill reported that the use of “private security contractors” has shot up 23 percent in Iraq and 29 percent in Afghanistan during the second quarter of 2009. Scahill estimated that there are over 242,000 contractors working on these two wars, and that contractors comprise a whopping 50 percent of our total forces in the region.
Our morals mean nothing if we do not act on them. Our tax dollars are funding this abuse and we must not be complacent. Call your senators today 202-224-3121 and tell them contractors have no place in interrogations, and you expect them to support Senator Levin’s government-only interrogation provision. Once you have done that, call the White House 202-456-1414 and leave a message for President Obama, urging him to stand with you to end prisoner abuse.
The US media have reported on the withdrawal of American troops from Iraqi cities. But 130,000 troops remain in Iraq and many argue that the occupation will continue only under a different guise. Have things really changed? Or has the occupation simply been rebranded?
Today, all U.S. troops must be withdrawn from Iraqi cities, including U.S. bases in Baghdad, according to the Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Iraq. The Iraqi government will also take legal responsibility for the actions of U.S. troops and have legal jurisdiction over American soldiers who commit crimes off-base and off-duty, and the SOFA will grant permission to U.S. troops for military operations, as well as ban the U.S. from staging attacks on other countries from Iraq.
While it may seem like a step forward toward ending the six-year occupation of Iraq, the Pentagon is doing what it can to dodge or play down these SOFA stipulations. In recent weeks, it has been re-classifying bases and troops, hiring “corporate security” mercenaries, and preventing Iraq from having jurisdiction over those actions. It’ll get away with it too, as Congress never ratified the SOFA, and because many are justifying further occupation under the banner of keeping Iraq secure.
It seems as though every week there is a new lawsuit filed against Blackwater for the killing of civilians in Iraq. While the Justice Department has failed to prosecute most of these cases (the September 2007 Nisour Square massacre being an exception), attorney Susan Burke has dedicated a substantial part of her practice to holding the company responsible for its crimes. She works in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Not only is Burke representing the victims of Nisour Square in their civil suit, and the family of an Iraqi guard allegedly murdered by a drunken Blackwater operative, but she has filed at least a half a dozen other cases against the company. “Erik Prince, a modern-day merchant of death, acts as if he is above the rule of law,” charges Burke.
But beyond the specifics of her lawsuits, Burke is also alleging Blackwater/Xe remains firmly entrenched in Iraq, using affiliate companies like Greystone. She also says Blackwater is working for a “non-profit” organization, started under the Reagan administration, with a history of interference in internal affairs and elections of various nations, including allegations it helped foment a coup in Haiti: the International Republican Institute.
Last November, on Veterans Day, I told you about IAVA’s groundbreaking national public service advertisement campaign to help veterans coming home from war reintegrate into their communities. You’ve probably seen the TV ad on ESPN, CNN, or MTV. (One good thing about this economy is that the ads are getting even more traction than we expected – stations have a lot more inventory.)
But reaching out to veterans was only one piece of the puzzle.When servicemembers deploy, they leave behind wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, friends and coworkers. They are the ones waiting for phone calls, worrying for their loved ones’ safety, and welcoming our warriors home.Our troops’ friends and families are called to service on the homefront, and they need support, too.
I’d like to share the story of one of those military families.
Over at Open Left, Adam Green asks if the US Chamber of Commerce is using bailout money to attack workers? It certainly would appear that way, since the Chamber just launched a $1 million ad campaign in five states (Nebraska, Virginia, Louisiana, North Dakota and Colorado) targeting Senators who could be swing votes on the Employee Free Choice Act. What we’re potentially seeing here is the government tag-teaming with anti-union activists and corporations like Bank of America and AIG to put a chokehold on Employee Free Choice.
“[At Walter Reed,] life beyond the hospital bed is a frustrating mountain of paperwork. The typical soldier is required to file 22 documents with eight different commands — most of them off-post — to enter and exit the medical processing world, according to government investigators. Sixteen different information systems are used to process the forms, but few of them can communicate with one another.
The disappearance of necessary forms and records is the most common reason soldiers languish at Walter Reed longer than they should, according to soldiers, family members and staffers. Sometimes the Army has no record that a soldier even served in Iraq. A combat medic who did three tours had to bring in letters and photos of herself in Iraq to show she that had been there, after a clerk couldn’t find a record of her service.”–The Washington Post
When the Walter Reed scandal broke in February 2007 spurring a massive public outcry, the politicians in Washington said heads would roll. But silently, and more than two years later, our seriously wounded troops continue to fall through the cracks, suffering through redundant tests, misdiagnoses, and delayed treatment all because of lost medical records.
But their saga doesn’t end there. When these troops transition from the military to the VA healthcare systems, medical records and military service records regularly get lost in the shuffle, leading to long waits for disability benefits and a drop-off in the quality of care.
Our nation’s heroes deserve much more than lost paperwork and endless delays.
Barack Obama has stepped out farther on Iraq than I thought he would. During the campaign, he pledged a date to get all combat troops out of Iraq, but as many progressives pointed out, the definition of “combat troops” can be a bit fuzzy. There was definitely wiggle room in that talking point. But as President, Obama has not only moved to keep his campaign promise, but gone a step farther – he’s set a date for all U.S. troops to leave the country we invaded six years ago.
Though us progressives will have to hold him to that promise, I must say, I’m pleasantly surprised. There was no need for Obama to go out on that limb, but he did, and that gives me hope in his commitment to peace.
The Iraq war, started six years ago, has an end date. The war in Afghanistan, however, does not.
Obama will announce the new strategy he’s formulated for Afghanistan in a few weeks. I may again be pleasantly surprised. Either way, I’ll be holding up his strategy to the rubric laid out by Alex Thurston a few weeks ago. And I will continue to oppose any new strategies that don’t meet this standard.
One war, started six years ago, has an end date. I intend to see our second war gets the same.
Think about it for a second. What do you actually hear and see right now? This page. The walls and furnishings of the room in which you sit. Perhaps some music or some background noise. Yet you know as sure as you were born that out of sight there are other rooms mere steps away–perhaps the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and a hall. What makes you so sure that they exist? Nothing but your memory…Then there are the companions who enrich your life–family, workmates, neighbors, friends a husband or a wife, and even people you are fond of to whom you haven’t spoken in a year or two–few of whom, if any, are currently in the room with you. You also know we sit on a planet called the earth, circling an incandescent ball of sun, buried in one of many galaxies. At this instant, reading by yourself, where do the realities of galaxies and friends reside? Only in the chambers of your mind. Almost every reality you “know” at any given second is a mere ghost held in memory.
–Howard Bloom, “Reality is a Shared Hallucination,” You Are Still Being Lied To.
Today marks the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by U.S. forces.
In recent days, the architects of that invasion worked to solidify a noxious lie as the historical narrative of the events before and after March 19, 2003. Our new president, thanks be to God, declared his intention to remove our forces from Iraq. But as we move toward the exit, we also move toward the pen and paper to write the final account of what transpired. Six years after the invasion, it is incumbent upon us to remember, to face the truth of the Iraq war and what it says about us, without shrinking, because what chose to remember determines our reality. Those who decided that their ends were more important than the lives lost in the pursuit of those ends, having failed to succeed in the moment, want to make real their lies and their phantoms and their fantasies in the only place where reality lives once the moment passes–in our memory.