Progress Report: Worse Than Abu Ghraib

The reports on the Blackwater affair in Iraq underline the risks of hiring mercenaries to fight our wars. Mercenaries have little interest in the policy concerns that drive conflicts and so no interest whatever in the moral entailments of their behavior in conflict. They are hired guns whose first interest is to shoot first, whatever the issue, so as to survive. Self-interest pervades the whole relationship: to make a lot of money, to protect themselves so they can live well later. There is no interest in the long-term consequences of what they do so long as they can get out with the loot. The moral entailments on a proper military [to represent the long term interests of their government in what they do] are flagrantly abandoned. Again, our government — our country — will pay a huge price for a policy that was supposed to save money.

“A shooting at a busy Baghdad intersection nearly two weeks ago that killed 11 Iraqis and wounded 12 has focused much-overdue attention on the role of American private security contractors operating in Iraq. A comprehensive investigation by the Iraqi Interior Ministry concluded that the contractors hired by Blackwater USA fired ‘an unprovoked barrage’ on the Iraqis, ‘while the company says its employees, who were working for the State Department, were responding to an attack on an American diplomatic convoy.’ “
” Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently dispatched a five-person fact-finding team to Iraq that concluded ‘military commanders there were unclear about their legal authority’ over contractors.”
“Yet, while the Pentagon is cracking down, the State Department — under whose authority Blackwater currently operates — has not taken similar action, opting to side with Blackwater’s version of the story while merely hoping the rising tensions will resolve themselves.”
“Blackwater, a North Carolina-based company, has ‘gained a reputation among Iraqis and even among American military personnel serving in Iraq as a company that flaunts an aggressive, quick-draw image that leads its security personnel to take excessively violent actions to protect the people they are paid to guard.’ “
“The shootings of 11 Iraqis have prompted the Iraqi government to aggressively assert its sovereignty. The Iraqi Interior Ministry has ‘referred its investigation of the Sept. 16 incident to a magistrate for possible criminal charges.’ Moreover, Iraqi officials announced on Tuesday that they were drafting a new law to control private security contractors, which would make them ‘subject to Iraqi law’ and ‘monitored by the Iraqi government.’ “
“Blackwater ‘enjoys an unusually close relationship with the Bush administration.’ It has received ‘government contracts worth more than $1 billion since 2002.’ And now, it is being protected by the State Department, according to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA). The department has ordered Blackwater not to provide Congress with documents that might shed light on its operations.”

Collecting of Details on Travelers Documented

U.S. Effort More Extensive Than Previously Known

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post

“The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.”
“The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as long as 15 years, as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s effort to assess the security threat posed by all travelers entering the country. Officials say the records, which are analyzed by the department’s Automated Targeting System, help border officials distinguish potential terrorists from innocent people entering the country.”
“But new details about the information being retained suggest that the government is monitoring the personal habits of travelers more closely than it has previously acknowledged.”
“Edward Hasbrouck, a civil liberties activist who was a travel agent for more than 15 years, said that his file contained coding that reflected his plan to fly with another individual. In fact, Hasbrouck wound up not flying with that person, but the record, which can be linked to the other passenger’s name, remained in the system. ‘The Automated Targeting System,’ Hasbrouck alleged, ‘is the largest system of government dossiers of individual Americans’ personal activities that the government has ever created.’ He said that travel records are among the most potentially invasive of records because they can suggest links: They show who a traveler sat next to, where they stayed, when they left. ‘It’s that lifetime log of everywhere you go that can be correlated with other people’s movements that’s most dangerous,’ he said. ‘If you sat next to someone once, that’s a coincidence. If you sat next to them twice, that’s a relationship.’ “
” ‘But DHS Trip does not allow a traveler to challenge an agency decision in court, said David Sobel, senior counsel with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has sued the DHS over information concerning the policy underlying the ATS. Because the system is exempted from certain Privacy Act requirements, including the right to ‘contest the content of the record,’ a traveler has no ability to correct erroneous information, Sobel said.”
” ‘Zakariya Reed, a Toledo firefighter, said in an interview that he has been detained at least seven times at the Michigan border since fall 2006. Twice, he said, he was questioned by border officials about ‘politically charged’ opinion pieces he had published in his local newspaper. The essays were critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East, he said. Once, during a secondary interview, he said, ‘they had them printed out on the table in front of me.’ “

A new site examining Torture

We have recently added a link to “The Interrogation Diaries” from this site. The author is addressing a significant and worrisome issue in our country, the apparent practice of torture of our prisoners. She asks how much the academy has been involved in this practice and so far, thankfully, has not found much evidence that anthropologists have been involved.

Anthropologists however have been involved in some heinous practices, notably in Nazi Germany. Gretchen Schafft [Anthropology Newsletter Jan, 1999, and elsewhere] has written about what anthropologist were doing under the Third Reich. They developed a “racial science” on the basis of which they were sorting individuals into types: “racially pure”, “racially acceptable,” “racially unacceptable,” and “life unworthy of life.” On the basis of these categories the government determined the lives and destinies of individuals.

The original context of this tradition was the eugenics movement, which supposed that racial stock was the basis of social progress. In fact, the Rockefeller Foundation had been funding the study of “German race” in the 1930s. In 1934 the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, with Rockefeller money, was giving a year long course to SS doctors on “racial biology”.

The author of “The Interrogation Diaries” supposes that anthropologists can say something to the practice of torture in our time. I would hope so. But whatever the discipline has to say, I think we as individuals, as human beings, need to be ready to renounce the pretentious of scholars who claim to have reasonable grounds for torture. Torture is a moral issue, and without regard to the pretentions of science, it should be renounced and condemned.

It is a shame and embarrassment that an administration that claims to have a commitment to religious ideals would ever hold an ambiguous position on torture.

Some clarity on the structures of power in Iran

Michael Slackman, in the NYTimes [“U.S. Focus on Ahmadinejad Puzzles Iranians”] points out that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has less control of affairs in Iran than Americans think he has. The focus on Ahmadinejad, as with Mohammad Khattami, conceals the real structures of power in the system. Ayatollah Khamenei is in fact the “real power” in this system, but even he has to be responsive to another “real force” in the system, the powerful wealthy elite that is benefiting from the present system. It turns out that money, as elsewhere, has a grip on a state that claims to be essentially driven by ideological concerns. Here are some choice quotes from Slackman.
. . . Unlike in the United States, in Iran the president is not the head of state nor the commander in chief. That status is held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, whose role combines civil and religious authority. At the moment, this president’s power comes from two sources, they say: the unqualified support of the supreme leader, and the international condemnation he manages to generate when he speaks up. … in Iran, what matters is ideology — Islamic revolutionary ideology, according to politicians and political analysts here. Nearly 30 years after the shah fell in a popular revolt, Iran’s supreme leader also holds title of guardian of the revolution. . . . Mr. Ahmadinejad’s power stems not from his office per se, but from the refusal of his patron, Ayatollah Khamenei, and some hard-line leaders, to move beyond Iran’s revolutionary identity, which makes full relations with the West impossible. There are plenty of conservatives and hard-liners who take a more pragmatic view, wanting to retain “revolutionary values” while integrating Iran with the world, at least economically. But they are not driving the agenda these days, and while that could change, it will not be the president who makes that call. … “Iran has never been interested in reaching an accommodation with the United States,” the Iranian political scientist said. “It cannot reach an accommodation as long as it retains the current structure.” … while ideology defines the state, the revolution has allowed a particular class to grow wealthy and powerful. … His talk of economic justice and a redistribution of wealth, for example, ran into a wall of existing vested interests, including powerful clergy members and military leaders. . . . In the long run, political analysts here say, a desire to preserve those vested interests will drive Iran’s agenda. That means that the allegiance of the political elite is to the system, not a particular president. If this president were ever perceived as outlasting his usefulness, he would probably take his place in history beside other presidents who failed to change the orientation of the system. . . . . Iranians will go to the polls in less than two years to select a president. There are so many pressures on the electoral system here, few people expect an honest race. The Guardian Council, for example, controlled by hard-liners, must approve all candidates. . . . “The situation will get worse and worse,” said Saeed Leylaz, an economist and former government official. “We are moving to a point where no internal force can change things.”

Iraq attacks signal start of Ramadan offensive

We might expect that those who are planning suicide attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan would be anxious to do it during this month of Ramadan, so expect a “surge” on their side of attacks against the American and other Coalition forces. Despite the talk in Washington, the various groups that pose themselves against the Coalition powers could make this an even more bloody month.

By Kim Sengupta
The Independent (UK)

“Bombs, mortars and gunfire left dozens dead and injured in Iraq within hours of insurgents announcing a Ramadan offensive. The attacks, three of them in Baghdad, came just days after US General David Petraeus’s report said violence had fallen and President George Bush declared ‘ordinary life was returning to the country’.”
“Iraqi police said nine were killed and 12 injured in shootings at Mansour, one of the busiest parts of Baghdad … Those shootings followed a car bomb outside a store on a street crowded with shoppers, killing three and wounding seven. Soon after, a mortar landed at the Shaab stadium near the city centre, killing two men … a booby-trapped bicycle exploded outside a café ”

“The Sunni insurgent group, the Islamic State of Iraq, which is said to be linked to al-Qa’ida, had announced it would carry out ‘offensive operations’ during Ramadan”
“Meanwhile, the US military captured Fallah Khalifa Hiyas Fayyas al-Jumayli, a suspect in the assassination of Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, a key US ally, in Anbar province last Thursday. The Islamic State of Iraq group threatened to hunt down any other tribal leaders co-operating with the US. It said it had formed “special security committees to trace and assassinate prominent [leaders] of agent tribes” who co-operated with the Americans.”

Murder of two Christian workers in Pakistan

The murder of a Pakistani Christian minister and his wife in cold blood in Islamabad has dimensions that make one wonder if it has some kind of connection to the deal the Korean government made with the Taliban. The key fugitive has fled to Wana, it is said, the center of Taliban and AlQaeda support and possibly the base of those in the Taliban that negotiated for a bundle of money to release the prisoners. Perhaps I have been thinking like a Pakistani but like them I can’t believe all is what it seems to be.

The other curious thing about these murders is that they seem to have garnered little interest in the press. Is it because these were missionaries? That the man was himself Pakistani? If they had been expatriates might they have gotten a little more notice?

Another version of Sleeping with the Devil?

In various postings on this site I have noted how conflicted Pakistani society is. And for that reason, given the access of the regime to nuclear power, it has been rightly called “the most dangerous country on earth.” As’ad AbuKhalil [Battle for Saudi Arabia: The Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power] regards Saudi Arabia as also conflicted and unstable despite its huge largess of riches. He describes Saudi society as “under attack”, but it turns out that the attacks it is under are coming from two directions, outside and inside. For one thing, an “attack” comes from folks in the West who question the loyalty of the Saudis, or at least some of them, because of their connections with those who fund Al Qaeda. The country is also “under attack” from within, because of the growing disparities among the Saudi populations, some of whom are being exploited and in some cases abused, and others of whom, the Wahhabis, are intensely opposed to the continuing drift of the Saudi families toward Western interests and Western practices (many of them, such as the use of alcohol, secretly). So the Saudi family has little legitimacy with the key local social element, the Wahhabis, with whom they must share power.

Despite the abuses of human rights by the Saudi regime and the evident support of some of them for Al Qaeda, the American government continues to support the regime, deliberately overlooking what is actually taking place. The Wahhabis of course are not overlooking the Saudi family’s growing connections with Western interests.

AbuKhalil wonders how long this situation can continue. His message is similar, then, to Robert Baer’s Sleeping with the Devil. The close intermesh of interests among the wealthy of Saudi Arabia and the wealthy elites of the West have expanded the contradictions implicit in Saudi Arabia so as as to implicate the elites of the West, whose interests cannot be extracted from the interests of the Gulf. At the same time the Wahhabis within Saudi Arabia who continue to support Al Qaeda are linked into the same Saudi families who are being drawn toward cultural practices like those of the Western elites. The Saudi families thus constitute a nexus of relations connecting in both directions, creating an embarrassing relation between the elites of the West and the eminent authorities, motivators and funders of Al Qaeda.

The Saudis embody the contradictions of the Middle East and Central Asia. And because they have strong connections in Western society their particular contradictory relations bear upon all of us, bringing us all into the various “attacks” on Saudi Arabia, from multiple directions.

A Rich Saudi as a “Libel Tourist”

I append below, without comment, a report from last August 3 on The statement speaks for itself; see also my brief note on the topic, “Risks of Litigation,” IJMES, 2006 38:345-347. RLC
[AUGUST 3, 2007 (Los Angeles, CA) — Jeffrey A. Stern, President and Publisher of Los Angeles-based Bonus Books, Inc., is speaking out about this week’s decision by Cambridge University Press to destroy all unsold copies of their 2006 book, “Alms for Jihad,” by American authors Robert Collins and J. Millard Burr, in response to a libel action brought against them in British courts by Saudi billionaire Khalid Salim A. Bin Mahfouz. In just one of a series of heavy-handed libel suits against American and British journalists and publishers filed in British courts in recent years, Mahfouz claimed that “Alms for Jihad” wrongly implicates him as having had a significant role in aiding terrorism. // In a similar attempt to halt the distribution of such claims, libel tourist Bin Mahfouz also filed a libel action in British courts against Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, after Bonus Books published her 2003 book “FUNDING EVIL: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It.” Ehrenfeld, director of the American Center for Democracy, also alleged Bin Mahfouz of backing organizations with alleged ties to terrorism, a charge that Mahfouz, formerly president of the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, continues to deny. But Ehrenfeld stands behind her research, and publisher Stern stands by his author. “I find it utterly appalling that any publisher—let alone one with the history and perceived credibility of Cambridge University Press—would allow themselves to be bullied into making such a decision,” Stern said. “Clearly they must have supported the material before they agreed to a publishing deal with (U.S. authors) Collins and Burr. It’s only now, after being slapped with a suit in the U.K. by the likes of Bin Mahfouz, that they have suddenly decided to concede to demands to pull the book. What’s worse, they have not only agreed to pay damages but they have even gone so far as to issue a formal apology on their website, completely discrediting their authors as having made ‘defamatory allegations’ to which there was ‘no truth whatsoever.’” “Alms for Jihad” authors Robert O. Collins, a professor emeritus of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and J. Millard Burr, a retired employee of the U.S. State Department, who were not personally named in the libel action, have refused to endorse their publisher’s settlement. // “What happened to freedom of the press?” Stern said. “We’re talking about two very credible American writers here. The very idea that these authors could be silenced in the U.S. by a British court is not only outrageous and fraught with frightening journalistic implications, it’s simply un-American.” After several copies of the U.S.-released FUNDING EVIL happened to be purchased online by UK buyers, Bin Mahfouz filed suit against Ehrenfeld in Great Britain, where outdated libel laws still put the burden of proof on the defendant. Ehrenfeld was ordered to pay £114, 386.52 in fines and expenses, publish an apology and physically destroy her books. Because she is a U.S. citizen who writes and lives in New York City, Ehrenfeld did not acknowledge the British court. Instead, she filed suit in New York, seeking to block enforcement of the judgment, citing it as contrary to the free speech protections that Americans enjoy. In June, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor, finding that Ehrenfeld’s claim CAN be brought before a U.S. court. The decision was hailed by prominent U.S. civil rights attorney Harvey Silverglate as one of “the most important First Amendment cases” of the last quarter century. As a result, every American-based writer and publisher in similar “libel tourism” situations can now seek a U.S. court decision, requesting that a foreign decision not be enforceable in this country. // In a recent Washington Times editorial about the Ehrenfeld case, scholar and Jihad Watch director Robert Spencer noted the release of a September 13, 2001 note from France’s foreign intelligence agency, the DGSE (General Directorate of External Security). He stated that French news site obtained the note in late June, revealing that in 1996, Bin Mahfouz was known to be one of the architects of a banking scheme constructed for the benefit of Osama bin Laden. The report also claims that both U.S. and British intelligence services had knowledge of this. “This is just the latest addition to the mountain of evidence from which Miss Ehrenfeld constructed her case in ‘Funding Evil,’” Spencer writes. “Even if this evidence is all mistaken, the British libel judgment against Ehrenfeld appears all the more fantastic and unjustifiable in light of the fact that French intelligence agents had documents allowing them to come to the same conclusion she did.” Ehrenfeld, who is also a Member of the Board of Directors of the Committee on the Present Danger (, told the Chronicle of Higher Education on Monday that she finds Cambridge University Press’ decision “despicable,” and that as she understands it, they “caved immediately.” If and when the New York Court of Appeals decides that there is jurisdiction over Bin Mahfouz, Ehrenfeld’s case would proceed on its merits—allowing Ehrenfeld to conduct pre-trial “discovery” of Bin Mahfouz’s financial activities to further confirm the accuracy of her claims against him. “We commend Rachel Ehrenfeld for being strong-willed on this issue,” Stern said. “Allowing this sort of ‘libel tourism’ to continue stands to negatively impact every writer and publisher and the U.S.—not to mention the public, who is effectively being forced to fall victim to an insidious and unacceptable form of censorship.”

Is China quietly dumping US treasuries?

by Ambrose Evan-Pritchard

The Telegraph (UK)

“A sharp drop in foreign holdings of US Treasury bonds over the last five weeks has raised concerns that China is quietly withdrawing its funds from the United States, leaving the dollar increasingly vulnerable.”
“Data released by the New York Federal Reserve shows that foreign central banks have cut their stash of US Treasuries by $48bn since late July, with falls of $32bn in the last two weeks alone.”
“David Powell … pointed the finger at Beijing as the main suspect in the sudden bond flight this summer.”
“The scheme is part of the government’s plan to diversify it $1,340bn reserves from bonds (mostly in the US) to a broader portfolio of investments and a better yield.”
“If so, the switch comes at a very delicate time, just as tempers flair on both sides of the Pacific over China’s policy of holding down yuan by currency intervention. A bill in Congress calls for punitive tariff sanctions of 27.5pc against Chinese imports, and there has been a growing outcry over contaminated pet food and lead-tainted toys.”
“Two top advisers to the Chinese government gave strong hints in August that Beijing should use its estimated $900bn holdings of US Treasuries and agency bonds as a ‘bargaining chip’, words taken as an implicit threat to trigger as US bond crash if provoked.”

Losing our economic future and civil liberties, are we on the verge of enserfment?

Paul Craig Roberts would seem to be qualified to comment on the state of the American economy: he was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. What he has to say, however, is very sobering.

American Economy: R.I.P.
by Paul Craig Roberts

“The US economy continues its slow death before our eyes”
“In August jobs in goods-producing industries declined by 64,000. The US economy lost 4,000 jobs overall. The private sector created a mere 24,000 jobs, all of which could be attributed to the 24,100 new jobs for waitresses and bartenders, and the government sector lost 28,000 jobs.”
“In the 21st century the US economy has ceased to create jobs in export industries and in industries that compete with imports. US job growth has been confined to domestic services”
“The lack of job growth in higher productivity, higher paid occupations associated with the American middle and upper middle classes will eventually kill the US consumer market.”
“The unemployment rate held steady, but that is because 340,000 Americans unable to find jobs dropped out of the labor force in August. The US measures unemployment only among the active work force, which includes those seeking jobs. Those who are discouraged and have given up are not counted as unemployed.”
“When US companies offshore their production for US markets … foreign labor is substituted for US labor, resulting in a shriveling of career opportunities … US Gross Domestic Product is turned into imports … Simultaneously, imports rise by the amount of offshored production, and the supply of exportable manufactured goods declines by the same amount.”
“The US now has a trade deficit with every part of the world”
“What is striking about US dependency on imports is that it is practically across the board. Americans are dependent on imports of foreign foods, feeds, and beverages in the amount of $8,975,000,000.”
” Americans are 3.4 times more dependent on imports of manufactured consumer durable and nondurable goods than they are on OPEC. Americans no longer can produce their own clothes, shoes, or household appliances”
“Americans are consuming $800 billion more than they are producing”
“They pay for it by giving up ownership of existing assets … America used to be a creditor nation. Now America is a debtor nation … When foreigners acquire ownership of US assets, they also acquire ownership of the future income streams that the assets produce. More income shifts away from Americans.”
“The ability of a population, severely impacted by the loss of good jobs to foreigners as a result of offshoring and H-1B work visas and by the bursting of the housing bubble, to continue to accumulate more personal debt is limited to say the least.”
” The ability of the US dollar to retain its reserve currency status is eroding due to the continuous increases in US budget and trade deficits.”
“Hubris prevents realization that Americans are losing their economic future along with their civil liberties and are on the verge of enserfment”