State Department grants*** Blackwater immunity
But it apparently didn’t tell FBI agents before sending them to Baghdad to investigate the Sept. 16, 2007, incident that left 17 Iraqis dead.
The investigative misstep comes in the wake of already-strained relations between the United States and Iraq, which is demanding the right to launch its own prosecution of the Blackwater bodyguards.
Misstep? The U.S. State Department can’t seem to get a grasp on oversight. The U.S. embassy offers to pay Iraqi families $12,500 for each Blackwater victim. Who’s running this joint? FEMA?
Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell declined comment about the U.S. investigation.
It’s not clear why the Diplomatic Security investigators agreed to give immunity to the bodyguards, or who authorized doing so.
Of course not.
Bureau of Diplomatic Security chief Richard Griffin last week announced his resignation, effective Thursday. Senior State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said his departure was directly related to his oversight of Blackwater contractors.
But Blackwater branches out and expands its contracts, even though it was accused of stealing Iraqi airplanes, smuggling and illegally selling weapons, almost killing a U.S. soldier and evading taxes.
Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered a series of measures to boost government oversight of the private guards who protect American diplomats in Iraq. They include increased monitoring and explicit rules on when and how they can use deadly force.
Right. Cultural awareness training. Yeah. That’ll fix it. Heckuva job, Condi.
At least the immunity explains why Blackwater CEO Erik Prince “welcomes extra oversight,” has employed a new PR campaign and blitzed (blizted with Blizter … get it?) the media, chatting with everyone but Letterman, and asked reporters to contact Congress on Blackwater’s behalf. Sort of his own little “bring ’em on” statement.
***Oh, wait. Blackwater always had immunity.
Oh, that Bush. He’s such a kidder.
Need more laughs?
We believe that Iraq as a market will continue to grow for some time due to the outsourcing by the US government in terms of convoy logistics, in terms of guarding, that will continue. The fact that there are obviously huge oil reserves in Iraq and international companies will go back in once the security situation stabilises a bit more. — Patrick Toyne-Sewell, ArmorGroup International, The Independent, Oct. 24, 2007
Here are some of the companies with government contracts in Iraq:
Posted by Becky @ 3:11 pm
State Department halts dignitary visits … for four days
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is pissed. Blackwater USA employees killed one Iraqi police officer and 10 Iraqi civilians and wounded at least 13 Iraqi bystanders in a shootout in Baghdad on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007. Maliki called the action criminal, threatened to prosecute those involved, canceled Blackwater’s operating license and ordered the company out of the country on Monday. On Tuesday, the United States suspended all land travel by U.S. diplomats and other civilian officials in Iraq outside the Green Zone in Baghdad.
Scratch that. Convoys guarded by Blackwater resumed today after suspending them for only four days. The U.S. embassy struck back at the prime minister, releasing a report that details corruption in his government.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got the prime minister to agree to set up a commission to “look into the matter.” Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., asked Blackwater USA founder and owner Erik Prince to appear before the House Government Reform Committeeon Oct. 2, 2007, to determine if private contractors serve U.S. interests in Iraq and whether Blackwater USA “has advanced or impeded U.S. efforts.”
I’m curious. Who were the U.S. diplomats being guarded by Blackwater employees, and will they be required to testify before the committee?
Was it Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and his delegation — Reps. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., and fourth-timer Steve Pearce, R-N.M. — who recently returned from an “intense two-day tour” of Iraq? No. They were there the weekend before last.
Was it Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Ohio, and his delegation — Reps. John Boehner, R-Ohio, Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., Peter King, R-N.Y., Tom Latham, R-Iowa, Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio — who just returned from Iraq? No. They were in Baghdad earlier last week. (Gosh, it’s hard to keep track, isn’t it?)
Was it third-time visitor Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and her delegation — Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., fourth-timer Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and third-timer Ken Salazar, D-Colo.? Maybe. They were on the heels of the other delegation and were in Iraq on Saturday and Sunday.
Blackwater spokeswoman Anne E. Tyrrell said Blackwater’s contractors acted lawfully and that the “civilians” who were killed were armed enemies. An Iraqi report said Blackwater guards were not ambushed. Instead, they fired at a car when it did not heed a police officer’s call to stop, killing a couple and their infant. In video shot after the episode, the child appeared to have burned to the mother’s body after the car caught fire.
In the meantime, Blackwater remains in Iraq, and Rice is telling everyone she has ordered a “full and complete review” of security practices, including Blackwater, which has a $1 billion, five-year contract with the U.S. State Department.
USA TODAY added an update to its breaking-news blog:
Update at 4:45 p.m. ET:We’ve requested comment from Blackwater USA. In the meantime, campaign finance records show that Prince has been a big donor to the Republican Party. In July, he gave $20,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Nice try, but that’s just the beginning.
Prince also gave the National Republican Congressional Committee $25,000 in 2005, $25,000 in 2004, $20,000 in 2000, $15,000 in 1989, $1,000 in 1986, as well as $71,950 to the RNC Republican National State Elections Committee in 2000, and the following:
- $1,000 on Nov. 2, 2004, to Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who visited Iraq in September 2006.
- $1,000 on Sept. 26, 2005, and $1,000 on Nov. 16, 2004, to Rep. Thomas DeLay, R-Texas, who visited Iraq in August 2003.
- $1,000 on Oct. 29, 2004, to Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who visited Iraq in February 2005.
- $500 on Sept. 21, 1999, $1,000 on Aug. 24, 2004, and $1,000 on March 31, 2005, to Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Minn., who visited Iraq in August 2003, September 2003, June 2004 and November 2004.
- $1,000 on Oct. 29, 2004, to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who visited Iraq at least six times.
- $2,100 on Aug. 23, 2006, to Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., who visited Iraq in November 2004 and February 2007.
- $1,000 on Nov. 2, 2004, to Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., who visited Iraq in September 2003.
- $1,000 on Jan. 4, 2006, and $2,000 on Dec. 19, 2005, to Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who visited Iraq in February 2004, September 2005 and April 2007 (his fifth visit).
- $750 on Oct. 29, 2004, to Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who visited Iraq in February 2005.
- $1,000 on Oct. 31, 2005, and $500 on Sept. 26, 2005, to Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., who visited Iraq in October 2003 and July 2005.
- $1,000 on March 31, 2005, to Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., who visited Iraq in September 2003.
That’s just for starters. I’ll keep looking. The USA TODAY guy might want to do the same.
Posted by Becky @ 4:36 pm
Know your balls in North Carolina
When we vacationed in North Carolina last month, I drove into town and spent an afternoon shopping for souvenirs and chatting. Well, I did more chatting than shopping, but that was the fun part. I stopped in a shop on Main Street. Its shelves were filled with ceramics, wooden sculptures, glass work and various local artwork. A boy of about 15 greeted me from behind the counter. I told him I was looking for souvenirs made by local artists. He walked around with me. I held something up, turned it this way and that, and he told tell me who made it and where they lived. I swear he said, “Yes, ma’am,” at least 152 times.
We talked about the weather. They were having a heat wave that week. He apologized for the heat. He got me a map and gave me directions to one of the roadside shops that sell gemstones. While we walked around the shop, an older boy passed by without saying a word. As he did, he stepped on the other boy’s foot or shoved him.
“Is that your brother?” I asked.
“Yes, ma’am.” He grinned. (The brother recently joined the Marines and was scheduled to head out soon. I figured he was getting in his last-minute little-brother teasing.)
Then some colorful glass balls caught my eye. I held one up to the light.
“This is nice,” I said.
“It reminds me of a witch’s ball,” I said and told him someone once gave me one that was made in Blowing Rock, N.C., and how pretty it was.
He lowered his voice and leaned closer to me.
“Yes, ma’am, but you might get in trouble if you call it that around here.”
Ah, I get it. It’s a friendship ball. The story goes that a witch’s ball (aka, witch ball) attracts ghosts with its bright colors. The ghost gets sucked into the hole and gets stuck inside.
Just so you know, the next time you’re in North Carolina …
This? A witch’s ball.
This? Not a witch’s ball.
Posted by Becky @ 8:12 pm
The high cost of dignitary visits, part 5
War is Peace — Freedom is Slavery — Ignorance is Strength
This war is about peace. — President George W. Bush
Sanctioned visits to Iraq by elected officials started in May 2003, and they have been back-to-back ever since. A National Guard general tried to see his troops in late 2003, but a Defense Department policy restricted his travel “for safety reasons” because a limited number of soldiers were available for security details. The general could not visit his troops, but more than 20 delegations visited Iraq in just eight months in 2003. (He finally got to visit his troops by the end of the year.)
Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., started the parade of delegations to Iraq by requesting a visit in early 2003. The Pentagon and the State Department refused. He took off for Iraq anyway in April by joining a convoy of relief workers into Iraq.
This will not be my last time going to Iraq. — Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.
He was correct. He has been to Iraq 18 times … so far.
Less than a month later, a delegation left for Baghdad on May 23, 2003. Until then, Baghdad had been off limits because it was unsafe, even with armed military escorts. Elected officials insisted on going, however, saying they could not exercise “congressional oversight” from Washington. Three more delegations visited from June to August.
Even though 23 people died in a car bombing of the Baghdad United Nations headquarters on Aug. 19, 2003, an 11-member delegation visited the city on Aug. 25.
By the end of 2003, about a third of the U.S. Congress had visited Iraq.
The Pentagon promoted congressional visits, and House GOP leaders asked every Republican member to visit Iraq as soon as possible. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld believed visits would increase congressional support.
Surprise, surprise. They did.
I was hopeful that progress was being made, but based on the media coverage I had seen, I wasn’t certain. After three days of touring the country, I am now certain that we are making progress. — Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., after his Sept. 13-15, 2003, visit to Iraq (York Daily Record, Sept. 24, 2003).
War is peace.
U.S. House members were part of a delegation in Iraq, Oct. 6-10, 2003. Amory Houghton Jr., R-N.Y., said he was not concerned about his safety.
There’s a waiting list. A lot of people want to go. I think they’ll protect us pretty well. The one thing they don’t want to do is to have a bunch of congressmen slaughtered over there.— Rep. Amory Houghton, R-N.Y. (Star-Gazette)
(Delegation: Reps. Michael N. Castle, R-Del.; Jim Davis, D-Fla.; Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md.; Amory Houghton Jr., R-N.Y.; Ron Kind, D-Wis.; Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y.; Fred Upton, R-Mich.; Greg Walden, R-Ore.)
War is peace.
Right on their heels was an all-female delegation during the week of Oct. 20, 2003. Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, wondered if there was a more positive story in Iraq than often portrayed in media accounts that emphasize continuing violence and Iraqi and U.S. fatalities.
The positive stuff isn’t coming through. — Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio (The Columbus Dispatch, Oct. 10, 2003)
They wouldn’t be staying overnight in Iraq, though, for security reasons. (Delegation: Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., Katherine Harris, R-Fla., Darlene Hooley, D-Ore., Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.)
War is peace.
Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., visited Nov. 6, 2003, even after a military transport helicopter went down, killing at least 16 troops (FLORIDA TODAY, Nov. 3, 2003). Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., expected to leave for Iraq in mid-November 2003 even though a trip by another congressional delegation had to be cut short after a bomb blast ripped through United Nations headquarters (Rocky Mountain News, Nov. 15, 2003).
A suicide bomb killed about 50 people and injured scores of others near Baghdad on Feb. 10, 2004, but Gov. Kathleen Blanco, D-La., “presented a positive picture of the occupied country” during her delegation’s visit Feb. 10-11, 2004. Even though extensive security measures highlighted danger at every turn, Blanco said she never felt at risk: “We were well-protected.” Guard units in front and behind their vehicles escorted the delegation, and Apache helicopters flew overhead.
War is peace.
In April 2004, Rumsfeld, who extended the tours of some 20,000 troops, expressed surprise that the death toll was higher than he expected. April was the deadliest month of the war so far with 147 U.S. troops and hundreds of Iraqis killed.
Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah returned with renewed confidence in the importance of the war and that troop morale was high after his visit June 3-6, 2004.
Things were going fine in Iraq. — Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah (The Associated Press, June 7, 2004)
Unconcerned for his safety, Bennett reported a sense of optimism from Iraq. He blamed the slowed Iraq reconstruction on Americans who protested the way building and infrastructure contracts were awarded. (Delegation: Sens. Robert F. Bennett, R-Utah; Bill Frist, R-Tenn; John Ensign, R-Nev.)
War is peace.
Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., and three others visited Baghdad and Fallujah, June 11-13, 2004. They wore body armor at all times, but Davis said,
… it wasn’t like there was a bomb going off every minute. — Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., June 2004
War is peace.
Two U.S. troops died on July 14, 2004, when a suicide bomb killed 11 and wounded 40 near the British embassy, insurgents beheaded a hostage and assassinated the governor of Mosul and the director general of Iraq’s Industry Ministry, capping off an explosion of violence in July, as almost 36 U.S. troops died in the first two weeks.
At least seven more delegations visited in August and September, during which time a mortar hit the roof of the U.S. embassy, and two mortar shells exploded about 500 yards from a delegation waiting to board a helicopter, and one U.S. soldier died in Baghdad that day.
Continued violence kept a September delegation from seeing much of Iraq up close, as they spent most of their time in helicopters and Humvees with tight security and flak jackets. Another delegation visited while officials sought freedom for several hostages. Two car bombs wounded American and Iraqi troops west of Baghdad on Sept. 26. Egyptian and British leaders urged the release of abducted workers and a civil engineer kidnapped with two Americans, later beheaded. Insurgents had kidnapped more than 140 foreigners and killed at least 26 of them. A rocket slammed into a busy Baghdad neighborhood, killing at least one and wounding eight. Hours later, another loud blast shook the U.S. embassy, where the delegation was.
A car bomb exploded in front of the Green Zone in October 2004, and another delegation arrived days later. Several more delegations visited from then until the end of the year. In January 2005, insurgents bombed the U.S. embassy, killing two Americans, while a delegation was in Baghdad for the elections. Yet another delegation visited in mid-January 2005.
As 55 people died in Iraq, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said none of the senators dared drive through Baghdad’s streets, even in armored cars during her Feb. 19, 2005, visit. Even so,
Much of Iraq was functioning quite well. — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., Feb. 19, 2005
War is peace.
A delegation visited Baghdad on April 1, 2007. A U.S. soldier and American contractor died, and a rocket wounded five people. Officials acknowledged an increase in violence after 500 Iraqis and six U.S. troops died, while Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., visited Baghdad and insisted security was improving. Four soldiers died when an explosive detonated near their vehicle in Baghdad on April 1. (Delegation: Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Reps. Mike Pence, R-Ind.; Rick Renzi, R-Ariz.)
War is peace.
Under the table Winston’s feet made convulsive movements. … He was back at the Ministry of Love, with everything forgiven, his soul white as snow. He was in the public dock, confessing everything, implicating everybody. He was walking down the white-tiled corridor, with the feeling of walking in sunlight, and an armed guard at his back. The long-hoped-for bullet was entering his brain. … But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself.
This just in — The surge is working.
Posted by Becky @ 10:57 am
MSM get even warmer on dignitary visits to Iraq
They’re getting warmer, but I’m having a hard time not pulling a Chandler when he’s waiting for Joey to get the punch line and he blurts, “Get there faster!”
The New York Times published an editorial today, “What They Did on Summer Vacation.” (Sound familiar?) They called these visits “congressional junkets” that are really “self-aggrandizing sound bites and video clips.”
They said that “more than two dozen lawmakers went there during their vacations” and what they got was “meetings with people the administration wanted them to meet.”
They called these visits “pointless” and “political.”
Then they asked, “Do these trips have the slightest value?”
(Pause. Sputter. Pause.)
Get there faster!
Here is the Washington Post article the editorial mentioned, “Lawmakers Describe ‘Being Slimed in the Green Zone.'” It said three members of Congress (Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., and Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif.) who recently visited Iraq were annoyed about “biography sheets” everyone had about each of them. These sheets included everything from how to pronounce their names to how they voted on the war to quotes they made publicly about the war. Nobody is sure who distributed the sheets.
They were stunned when Iraq’s national security adviser watched children’s cartoons while he met with them.
I bet the cartoon (unlike the meeting) wasn’t a rerun.
The Washington Post also published an article on Aug. 28, 2007, “After Tour of Duty in Iraq, Graham Backs ‘Surge.'”
(Sputter. Sputter. Sputter.)
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wore fatigues and carried a pistol for his tour of duty in Iraq. He was there for two weeks.
I wonder if he saw anything like this while he was there. For two weeks.
Hat tip on video: valleyforge (who has posted the link all over the Internet)
Posted by Becky @ 10:15 pm