Private Boots on the Ground

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been a pot of gold for private contractors.  Gives them a lot of motivation to end the war, doesn’t it?

A hearing in Sen. Claire McCaskill’s Contract Oversight subcommittee on contracting in Afghanistan has highlighted some important statistics that provide a window into the extent to which the Obama administration has picked up the Bush-era war privatization baton and sprinted with it. Overall, contractors now comprise a whopping 69% of the Department of Defense’s total workforce, “the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in US history.”

More from Jeremy Scahill

Time & Elections

From the article US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites by Mark Danner at NYRB on the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay [pdf]:

We think time and elections will cleanse our fallen world but they will not. Since November, George W. Bush and his administration have seemed to be rushing away from us at accelerating speed, a dark comet hurtling toward the ends of the universe. The phrase “War on Terror”—the signal slogan of that administration, so cherished by the man who took pride in proclaiming that he was “a wartime president”—has acquired in its pronouncement a permanent pair of quotation marks, suggesting something questionable, something mildly embarrassing: something past. And yet the decisions that that president made, especially the monumental decisions taken after the attacks of September 11, 2001—decisions about rendition, surveillance, interrogation—lie strewn about us still, unclaimed and unburied, like corpses freshly dead.

How should we begin to talk about this? Perhaps with a story. Stories come to us newborn, announcing their intent: Once upon a time… In the beginning… From such signs we learn how to listen to what will come. Consider:

I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately 4m x 4m [13 feet by 13 feet]. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed….

A man, unnamed, naked, strapped to a bed, and for the rest, the elemental facts of space and of time, nothing but whiteness.

Chaos in Afghanistan

From Afghanistan on the Brink by Ullrich Fichtner at Speigel:

… in the eighth year of the Afghanistan mission, at the beginning of an Afghan election year that could spell the end of President Hamid Karzai’s government this summer, there are still many difficult questions to be asked: What exactly are the 60,000 international troops stationed there fighting for, if Afghanistan, despite their presence, actually dropped by 59 positions on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, to 176th out of 180 countries, in only three years? How is it possible that Afghanistan’s opium production did not shrink during the years that NATO has been present in the country, but in fact grew larger, so that 92 percent of worldwide opium production today comes from Afghanistan?

[…]

Day after day, foreign soldiers are killed and Afghan policemen are murdered, and the life of President Karzai is constantly in danger. Nowadays, his convoy only ventures into the streets outside the presidential palace walls in Kabul with an escort of two Apache attack helicopters. Is Afghanistan lost? Is it a failed state? A failed experiment by one of the biggest coalition of nations ever formed? Is this the end of the world order dominated by powers like the United States, the UN and NATO? And exactly how strong is the Taliban?

[…]

To gain a realistic picture of the current situation in Afghanistan, one should consult the grand old men of Afghan politics, representatives of the Aga Khan, provincial mayors, members of parliament and Turkish reconstruction workers, bankers involved in micro lending and telecommunications entrepreneurs, election monitors, bodyguards, school principals and even the owner of the “Humaira Aria” beauty salon, where wealthy Kabul girls come to prepare for their weddings. Their comments merge into a single conclusion, namely that their country is on the brink, that the global public is being strung along with empty promises that perseverance will lead to success, and that 2009 will be the decisive year for Afghanistan.

Read the whole thing here

How Many Americans Will Be Above the Law?

I dunno.  I just didn’t expect this stuff from Obama.  Maybe someone can tell me how the rule of law became so unimportant, so quickly:

The Obama administration is trying to protect top Bush administration military officials from lawsuits brought by prisoners who say they were tortured while being held at Guantanamo Bay.

The Justice Department argued in a filing Thursday with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that holding military officials liable for their treatment of prisoners could cause them to make future decisions based on fear of litigation rather than appropriate military policy.

The Obama administration was expected to take another stand affecting Guantanamo detainees’ lawsuits Friday. A federal judge overseeing lawsuits of detainees challenging their detention has given the Justice Department until the close of business to give its definition of whom the United States may hold as an “enemy combatant.”

Obama has pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, and Justice Department lawyers are already trying to find courtrooms or foreign countries to place the 240 people still held there.

The new administration is seeking to craft new rules for when and how a terror suspect can be seized, and what interrogation methods may be used in trying to extract information from them. But while it works on those rules, the Obama administration appears to be sticking with Bush administration legal definitions in pending litigation.   [more]

As I’ve said before, I don’t expect much from Obama.  And I didn’t expect this.  Now not only the President of the US is above the law.  Military officials are as well.  Amazing.  It seems many of us have lost the capacity to be shocked.

NOOOOooooooo

Now this would really sicken me:

The next NATO secretary-general doesn’t have to be European, Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay said today of the post he is rumoured to be seeking.

“I don’t think that traditions, in the sense of geography, should be a restriction on any position with NATO,” he told reporters today in Ottawa at a press conference on another subject.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden would be promoting Mr. MacKay’s candidacy to “reward Canada for its valiant combat performance in Afghanistan.” The White House would try to build support for Mr. MacKay by offering to grant France other key appointments within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“The United States will agree to let French generals take over two commands currently held by Americans to smooth the way for this symbolically important step,” the Post reported, citing European sources.

Why the hell should McKay be rewarded for Canada’s “valiant combat performance in Afghanistan”?  What did he do?  Anybody got a petition?

Obama Amazes Hysperia

She just wishes it wasn’t in this way, for this reason:

… the Obama administration — in the case brought by two American lawyers and their charity-client claiming that their conversations were illegally intercepted by the Bush administration — has announced that it intends to try to appeal, yet again, in order to prevent the court from hearing the lawsuit.  On Friday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Obama’s request to stay the District Judge’s Order, which had held that it will review a classified document that the plaintiffs claim proves they were subjected to the illegal eavesdropping (thus conferring standing on the plaintiffs to challenge the legality of Bush’s NSA program), and also ordered the Obama administration to provide security clearances to the plaintiffs’ lawyers so that they could review the document as well.  The Obama DOJ immediately announced they intend to try to appeal again — the third time, since Obama’s Inauguration, that the Obama DOJ will try to argue before a court that the case should not heard at all.

In the meantime, though, the Obama DOJ is now refusing to comply with the Judge’s order, actually arguing to the court that only the President can decide whether classified information can be used in a court proceeding, and that courts have no power to make such decisions.  Here is the remarkable description of Obama’s actions by The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Bob Egelko:

Read the rest and sigh with me here … gotta hope like hell that Obama doesn’t win this one.

UPDATE:  From Matt Browner Hamlin

The similarities between the Obama administration’s response to the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling in the Al-Haramain case, requiring the government to turn over classified information and the legal views espoused under the Bush-Cheney administration by the likes of John Yoo and David Addington are simply stunning.

Read the whole thing here

Obama “Disappoints” on Iraq Withdrawal

From Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:

Iraq’s Parliamentary elections have not yet been scheduled and don’t even have an electoral law, and according to a number of senior Iraqi politicians probably will not be held until March 2010 (not December 2009).  That would then give the U.S. about five months to withdraw the bulk of the dozen combat brigades which would reportedly remain.  And then, keep in mind that U.S. officials generally agree (correctly) that the most dangerous period of elections is actually in their aftermath, when disgruntled losers might turn to violence or other destabilizing measures.  So the following month will likely not seem a good time either.  So that would leave four months to move, what — 9 brigades?  Did someone say precipitous?   Good luck with that. And that’s assuming, of course, that nothing else risky or destabilizing comes up in April or May 2010 (Kirkuk?) which would make a drawdown at that moment appear risky.  [more]

From Robert Dreyfuss at The Nation:

… it’s sad indeed to see the antiwar wing of the Democratic party disheartened by Obama’s Iraq policy, while the McCains of the world are cheering. This, truly, is change I can’t believe in.

From Anthony DiMaggio at counterpunch:

Despite the public’s long-standing opposition to the war and support for a short timetable for withdrawal, Obama and his generals continue to defy public wishes as they debate whether the occupation will continue for another three years, six years, or indefinitely into the future.  Much of the justification for this obstinacy is based on manipulation of available intelligence and from deceptively simplistic arguments that the 2007 troop surge “worked.”  Detailed analysis reveals that this deception is wide-ranging, as support for the surge spans across liberal and conservative mainstream media outlets. 

InConvenient Questions!

On Friday, the US Justice Department, Barack Obama’s Justice Department, told a federal court that it shouldn’t consider the legal challenges of prisoners held at Bagram Prison near Kabul and under US control:

In a short legal filing, Justice Department lawyers said they planned to maintain the Bush administration’s claim that the roughly 600 prisoners held in Afghaninstan have no right to contest their detention in the courts. “The Government adheres to its previously articulated position,” the attorneys said.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that war-on-terror prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have the right to file court petitions because the U.S. has “de facto sovereignty” over the base, located on land leased from Cuba.

However, the Justice Department has argued that prisoners in Afghanistan, held at the Bagram Airbase outside Kabul, lack recourse to the courts because the U.S. does not have similar control over that region.

“Bagram is in a theater of war where the United States is engaged in active hostilities,” so extending those legal rights to the prisoners would be “impracticable,” Justice Department lawyers argued in a brief filed last November. They also argued that the habeas petitions are barred by the Military Commissions Act of 2006, a law Obama vocally opposed.   [more]

How large does the area of de facto sovereignty have to be?  Big as Bagram?  Bigger?

How big is a “theater of war” that isn’t a war on a nation but on an activity, i.e. terrorism?  Very, very big?

How difficult would it be, or should I say “impracticable”, for the US to set up a system for holding hearings in or around Bagram?

How long can the US hold prisoners in places like Bagram without hearings?  Till the war on terror is over?

NB:  The US is now handing over thousands of its prisoners to Iraq according to a security agreement that took effect on January 1st.  Do they remember or care that Iraq is known to torture and mistreat its prisoners?

Articles 10 and 12 of  The Geneva Convention govern the “transferrability” of prisoners of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Prisoners can only be transferrred between countries that are both signatories of the Convention.  The Republic of Afghanistan is not a signatory.  Prisoners cannot be transferred by an occupying authority into the hands of the country it occupies.  Iraq is occupied.

Back to Afghanistan.  When Canadian forces take prisoners, should they turn them over to the US when it’s widely known the Americans torture their prisoners?

I remember watching a movie that began with an trip into an Morrocan prison where infidels had languished for so long the bony hands of skeletons were clamped to the mouldering walls.

Please write to me if you have answers.

UPDATE:

The word “Guantanamo” serves as shorthand among some Afghans for all the reasons they hate foreign troops, but the impending closing of the notorious prison has gotten surprisingly little attention in this country.

Nothing changed with last month’s U.S. presidential order to close Guantanamo, many people here say, because another prison inspires even greater fear: Bagram.

Even a man who could be expected to feel the most joy about Guantanamo closing, a former detainee who spent more than six years in the camp, quickly turns the conversation to the detention facility north of Kabul, inside the U.S. military base at Bagram.  [more]

Paul Krugman’s Stomach Problem

Barack Obama’s attempts to get bipartisan support for a stimulus package failed.  The result of his efforts is a watered down bill that won’t do the job and not one Republican vote, as many predicted.  Paul Krugman offers his view on the Obama administrations efforts:

… while Mr. Obama got more or less what he asked for, he almost certainly didn’t ask for enough. We’re probably facing the worst slump since the Great Depression. The Congressional Budget Office, not usually given to hyperbole, predicts that over the next three years there will be a $2.9 trillion gap between what the economy could produce and what it will actually produce. And $800 billion, while it sounds like a lot of money, isn’t nearly enough to bridge that chasm.

Officially, the administration insists that the plan is adequate to the economy’s need. But few economists agree. And it’s widely believed that political considerations led to a plan that was weaker and contains more tax cuts than it should have — that Mr. Obama compromised in advance in the hope of gaining broad bipartisan support. We’ve just seen how well that worked.

Now, the chances that the fiscal stimulus will prove adequate would be higher if it were accompanied by an effective financial rescue, one that would unfreeze the credit markets and get money moving again. But the long-awaited announcement of the Obama administration’s plans on that front, which also came this week, landed with a dull thud.

The plan sketched out by Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wasn’t bad, exactly. What it was, instead, was vague. It left everyone trying to figure out where the administration was really going. Will those public-private partnerships end up being a covert way to bail out bankers at taxpayers’ expense? Or will the required “stress test” act as a back-door route to temporary bank nationalization (the solution favored by a growing number of economists, myself included)? Nobody knows.

Over all, the effect was to kick the can down the road. And that’s not good enough. So far the Obama administration’s response to the economic crisis is all too reminiscent of Japan in the 1990s: a fiscal expansion large enough to avert the worst, but not enough to kick-start recovery; support for the banking system, but a reluctance to force banks to face up to their losses. It’s early days yet, but we’re falling behind the curve.

And I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach — a feeling that America just isn’t rising to the greatest economic challenge in 70 years. The best may not lack all conviction, but they seem alarmingly willing to settle for half-measures. And the worst are, as ever, full of passionate intensity, oblivious to the grotesque failure of their doctrine in practice.

There’s still time to turn this around. But Mr. Obama has to be stronger looking forward. Otherwise, the verdict on this crisis might be that no, we can’t.

Read the whole thing here

Obama & Civil Liberties – Fail

From Glenn Greenwald at Salon:

Two weeks ago, I interviewed the ACLU’s Ben Wizner, counsel to 5 individuals suing the subsidiary of Boeing (Jeppesen) which had arranged the Bush administration’s rendition program, under which those 5 plaintiffs had been abducted, sent to other countries and brutally tortured.  Today the Obama administration was required to file with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals its position in this case — i.e., whether it would continue the Bush administration’s abusive reliance on the “state secrets” privilege to prevent courts from ruling on such matters, or whether they would adhere to Obama’s previous claims about his beliefs on “state secrets” by withdrawing that position and allowing these victims their day in court. 

Yesterday, enthusiastic Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan wrote about this case:  “Tomorrow in a federal court hearing in San Francisco, we’ll find out if the Obama administration intends to keep the evidence as secret as the Bush administration did.”  As I wrote after interviewing Wizner two weeks ago:  “This is the first real test of the authenticity of Obama’s commitment to reverse the abuses of executive power over the last eight years.”  Today, the Obama administration failed that test — resoundingly and disgracefully …

Read the rest here

Less than a month in to Barack Obama’s presidency, I’m tired already.

UPDATE:  See poor old Obama enthusiast (ex?) Andrew Sullivan on this.