News Brief, Lover’s Spit Edition
Posted by Joshua Foust on 19 Sep 2007 at 10:50 pm | Tagged as: Military Matters, Notes on the war, Developmental economics, History, Foreign affairs, Domestic Politics
Three kinds of busy over at The Conjecturer.
I was ambushed by the Anonymous Lobbyist of Wonkette fame, and asked a lot of questions about Central Asia for Jezebel, a sister publication in the Gawker blog family. The result? A creatively-edited and mildly schizophrenic interview about the issues surrounding the region. Neat!
Defense & The War
- Yes, the complaints about Blackwater’s history of murdering civilians in Iraq without consequence is just a game of politics. Real patriotic pro-war Americans know that Blackwater can and does do no harm.
- Speaking of which, Blackwater Vice-Chairman Cofer Black, who also runs Total Intelligence Solutions (a spy-for-hire business with shady ties in Iraq), has been named Mitt Romney’s counterterrorism advisor. Because nothing says “hearts and minds” like hiring one of the men in charge of one of the most hated groups in the Muslim world.
- How useful are show of force missions? I would estimate “not very,” considering insurgents in the Iraq already know what we can do and what we cannot do, and an A10 buzzing by overhead doesn’t really scare them much. But then again, what do I know?
- Baghdad has been so surged and fixed that the U.S. embassy has banned ground travel outside the Green Zone.
- Meanwhile, flag officers like Major General Stone offer some hope that, maybe, we’re not as screwed up the butt as I fear when it comes to handling the Muslim world. I suspect a change of civilian leadership will improve things dramatically.
- David Axe is quickly turning into a favorite read: this time he asks questions about tactics and strategy in Iraq, and not only gets non-answers from the guys in charge but is practically accused of defeatism by some DR commenters. Go Axe, I say. At least one of the military reporters out there is asking questions.
- Like this guy. If Waxman has something, and knowing Waxman he might not (or if he does, he just might not be able to say so in less than 5k words), then one of the State Department’s own top-level political appointees had a primary role to play in the billions of dollars of fraud that has been committed against this war. Knowing how brazenly companies like KBR ripped off the government for hundreds of millions of dollars—with nary an indictment—it is difficult to adhere to that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing. In other words, this shit just makes my blood boil.
Around the World
- The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia—which is neither, and run by the anti-Semitic half-Jew Vladimir Zhirinovsky—wants Andrei Lugovoi to run for the Duma. This, we know. What is amazing is what Zhirinovsky thinks of the world: “There is our main enemy, the Anglo-Saxons,” he said, pointing to Britain on a map of the world. “The UK is trying to rule the world.” “Andrei is now the point-man in a historic confrontation between our country and Britain.” So I guess it’s the 1850s again?
- At long last, one of the highest ranking members of the Khmer Rouge just might face justice for the unbelievable amount of misery and horror he inflicted upon Cambodia.
- Michael Totten’s excellent essay on the armed rebels of western Iran is finally online.
- I talk Turkey, then I cruise Kyrgyzstan and their new Constitution, over at Registan.net.
- Roger Williams points me to this collection of Chinese propaganda posters. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason they feel more sinister than the ones from the Soviets. Maybe it’s all the criticism sessions. I don’t know. But I added some deeper reflections on those Soviet posters, as well as what they might tell us of post-Soviet psychology, over at Registan.net.
- Has a new singularity opened? The World Bank now has its own and Flickr Stream.
Back at Home
- American diplomacy has been brought low by the Bush administration: earlier this year Secretary of State Rice could not get an op-ed published (we have something in common!), and now even the Pope has snubbed her like a Muslim. This is not good if you’re looking at the long term health of the country as something other than a military force. Somebody tell John “we need more clandestine regime change” Bolton.
- As expected, no one bought the Petraeus Report. More accurately, no one’s mind changed.
- Yay! We’re second only to cesspool LA for traffic congestion!
- Speaking of which, dear God, please don’t ever let me have a bikini wax.
35 Responses to “News Brief, Lover’s Spit Edition”
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Unless you can show me some court convictions, I would really prefer that you not casually sling such accusations on this blog. It may be all fun and games to your snarky crowd, but there can be serious repercussions to making such unwarranted and completely unsubstantiated claims. With all due respect, please don’t do so here unless you can back it up.
What a ridiculous standard, Michael. The point is that Blackwater cannot be convicted in court for murdering people in Iraq, because no one really has jurisdiction over them. As but one example:
Michael, one of the primary complaints about the private security guards is their ambiguous legal status. In 2005, Brig. Gen. Karl Horst said: “These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There’s no authority over them, so you can’t come down on them hard when they escalate force… They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place.” there are many more examples of PMC employees, and not just from Blackwater, behaving eggregiously without consequence.
So the military seems to be under impression that Blackwater and its fellow PMCs randomly shoot people and don’t face any real consequences, as well. The brass has complained they get totally out of control and muck up their own missions, and there’s no legal way of holding them accountable. Even Lance had complained about this — not that they exist, but that they exist without accountability. What more do you need to recognize there is a problem?
I think the problem is your explanation above is not the same as this statement:
Murder has specific legal meaning. Michael isn’t ignoring the problem, he is pointing out you are opening us up to legal trouble by making such a statement. You especially have to be careful about claiming someone has committed a specific crime, especially a private entity who could sue.
Right, no you’re right. Also, OJ didn’t murder Nicole.
What standard would that be, Josh? Innocent until proven guilty? You have twice now asserted as established fact that Blackwater has committed capital crimes without offering a single bit of evidence that such is the case. Did you ever wonder why newspapers place the word “alleged” in front of every accusation they write about when the accused has not yet been tried or convicted? There is a good reason, whether you appreciate the standard or not.
Actually that is complete BS. I understand that you and your fellow travellers believe this to be the case, but it is far from correct. Even your “example” (which is really nothing more than rumor) proves this to be the case:
Just because they are overseas doesn’t mean they can’t be held responsible for their actions here in the US. This goes doubly so for Blackwater which is a US company and can absolutely face civil and criminal charges here. In addition, you assume that Balckwater has some sort of immunity from prosecution by Iraqi authorities, but again, there is no substantiation for such assumption. As practical matter, it may be the case that no private security firm working on behalf of CF will face an Iraqi judge, and drawing attention to such injustice is perfectly reasonable and even desirable. But asserting without justification that someone has committed murder is simply unacceptable.
Then write a post about, Josh, but don’t levy flippant accusations without providing even a peppercorn of evidence to back them up. And even if you do offer such evidence, that doesn’t make it OK for you to claim anyone has committed murder as if that were an established fact.
I might ask you the same question. Just because you are filled with moral outrage, that doesn’t give you the right to accuse anyone of horrible criminal deeds without any justification. So far, here in the comments, you have written about 100 times more on the issue than you have in your offhand accusations. If you have a case to make then make it. My only issue is that you refrain from calling slinging about factual assertions of murder when no such facts have been established.
This is exactly right.
At least OJ had a couple of trials, one of which found him culpable.
I believe he did, and if I express that belief I point to the evidence presented at trial. However, I am concerned about a company such as Blackwater suing. I think it is unlikely, but your comments should use alleged, or discuss allegations, etc. I am concerned about this issue, but not because I take it as fact that they have employees who have committed murder. I would never have claimed like Murtha did the Marines in Haditha committed murder. I would say things along the lines of it looks as if….. or it is alleged that…..Otherwise you might get sued. Look at poor Murtha. When the case turns out to be more complex than your (by you and your I am speaking generically, not about you personally) comments make it look, when somebody gets acquitted, you face huge potential liability. Personally being fair and writing alleged or some other qualifier is a small price to pay, especially when we do not have enough information to judge the specifics legally.
Okay, so “inexplicable killing of civilians” might be a better term? Lance you’re right, I should be more careful about that, but Michael seems offended I think PMCs have committed crimes, and that I don’t explain at length why I do every single time I mention them. In all my writing on the subject, the same themes have emerged: unaccountability, the extremely high likelihood they commit capital crimes and do not face consequences for it, and so on. If you demand an entire post for every single incident or phenomenon I mention here, then I will stop duplicating my work on your site.
And please, Michael, explain to me how PMCs operating in Iraq are under American jurisdiction, because as of late last year Congress and the GAO were under a different impression. From a report on June 13, 2006 William Sollis reported, “private security providers continue to enter the battle space without coordinating with the U.S. military, putting both the military and security providers at a greater risk for injury.” He added this is done without consequence, as the Military had no way of reprimanding the contractors.
Earlier this year Gen. Petraeus’ second in command, Col. Peter Mansoor said in Jane’s Defence Weekly that “If they push traffic off the roads or if they shoot up a car that looks suspicious, whatever it may be, they may be operating within their contract (but) to the detriment of the mission, which is to bring the people over to your side. I would much rather see basically all armed entities in a counter-insurgency operation fall under a military chain of command.” That seems to be saying they’re not accountable for what they do, since they don’t have any control of ROE or consequences should they be violated.
Indeed, there was a single line added to the 2007 Defense appropriations bill instructing the Pentagon to draft rules to bring PMCs under the Uniform Code (since they only would be should those magic words “declare war” we debated a while ago are used), but the Pentagon has yet to do so. Which means, again, that the PMCs in Iraq, including Blackwater, CAN commit capital crimes without legal consequence, and are ALLEGED (with video evidence for some) to have done so, repeatedly.
And if all that is wrong, then perhaps you should write a post about how a branch of the government, every single expert on the subject, and the U.S. military are all wrong when they say PMCs in Iraq exist outside the law.
I don’t think I can be any more clear about what offended me, Josh. Your assumptions notwithstanding, my issue is simply with the offhand and casual way that you assert as established fact that Blackwater has committed capital crimes. As Lance points out, it is very unlikely that we would get sued, but I don’t want to suffer the consequences if we do.
Moreover, that’s not the sort of blog we are. In case you have noticed, we don’t bandy about serious accusations here as if everybody knows our accusations are indisputable fact, and when we do make serious accusations (or even unserious ones) we back up it with actual evidence. The unifying theme to the writers here isn’t really libertarianism so much as an interest in getting to the bottom of things. When you aren’t being so casual and flippant, Josh, you fit that bill as well.
They go to list numerous statutes that provide US jurisdiction over US persons operating outside the territorial limits of the States:
There’s more, so RTWT.
Hmm, perhaps I shall. Although it’s going to be hard to improve upon what’s already been written.
First off, Mr. Scahill said “no effective law.” The MEJA and others do technically provide for the prosecution of civilians committing crimes abroad, yet remarkably there is no official way for these laws to be put into place, since they rely on terms and guidelines the Pentagon hasn’t yet found the time to draw up.
Also, can you use a source that isn’t Blackwater’s own blogger? I really don’t have the time at the moment to pile through this crap but he, umm… has a vested interest in arguing interpretative law a very specific way.
What part of the War Crimes Act is not an effective law?:
Just like how there are laws against fraud, yet the numerous Iraqi contractors who have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars (sorry, “been unable to account for hundreds of millions of dollars”) have yet to face any charges?
Gimme a break. You know as well as I do that the executive branch will not press charges against anyone accused of committing a crime in Iraq.
I’m not so sure that’s the case. See here, in particular this at the bottom of the page:
In any case, the laws in play are substantiated facts, regardless of the messenger.
Which is irrelevant to the issue at hand, Josh.
Not if you’re quibbling over Scahill’s use of the word “effective” to describe the paucity of law regarding PMCs.
Look, it’s no secret that, figuratively speaking, PMCs, Blackwater included, get away with murder, just as its no secret their many ties to well-placed appointees has insulated them from the official scrutiny and legal accountability anyone else would have to deal with. The laws in play are basically irrelevant, if they cannot be applied to the people committing crimes. In other words, there are no effective laws governing them, or the dozens of criminal complaints against PMC employees since 2002 would have come to trial, instead of the small handful that only happened to involve them pointing weapons at U.S. military personnel.
Even ignoring all that, and quite honestly if I did not have a real job I would dig into this with you, especially the crap about the laws in play mattering at all when the men accused of crimes are simply deported and fired but never tried (as has happened on many occasions), the fact cannot be ignored that even the military does not like the conduct of these corporations or how much their “random shootings” (to borrow the phrase of several high ranking officers describing their conduct) affect the mission. They are uncontrolled, and uncontrollable, and their conduct routinely goes beyond the scope of what MNF-I thinks is “reasonable.” And yet… nothing has been done about it.
He isn’t Blackwater’s own blogger as far as I can tell. Statements like this show shocking ignorance for someone blogging on behalf of them, but a nice point for someone who is following all this closely:
He had to look it up? Hey, if you have some knowledge of his business connection with them let us know. The entire tone and approach of the White Rabbit is of a site not affiliated directly with Blackwater.
Josh, it’s becoming increasingly useless to debate this since you can seem to acknowledge when the facts don’t support you. Regardless of your feelings on the issue, there are laws in place which address exactly the sorts of things you claim that Blackwater has committed. There is no “paucity”, but instead a veritable cornucopia of laws that are applicable and effective (i.e. enacted and in force). Whether anyone from Blackwater (or any other PSF for that matter) will be tried under them is a fascinating issue and one that I hope you and others explore more fully.
But, for the last time, you court legal troubles, not to mention credibility ones, when you assert that Blackwater has committed murder without (a) providing any factual evidence, (b) pointing to any trial, or (c) presenting any notice of conviction. You can’t just go around calling anyone you like a murderer, and you will not do so on this blog.
Other than that,feel free to shout your opinions from the rooftops. Tell us what you think and why. It is often interesting and informative in my opinion, and I’ve learned a lot from you. You might try lowering your defenses and partaking in some self-reflection, and you may just find that you can learn something from us. Maybe even me … maybe.
I have one more quibble, and that has to do with Scahill. That the man is a loon doesn’t mean what he says isn’t true, but it would mean we ought to look for other sources. I know people who were convinced Milosovic was a great man being punished by the neo-fascist capitalist warmongers because they paid attention to him. This is a man who has argued just as vociferously and with the same kinds of weird, cherry picked evidence that Clinton and Wesley Clark should be tried as war criminals for their depredations in the Balkans. His buddies at the ISO love him. I would trust an actual PR firm hired by Blackwater before I would believe Scahill was giving me any kind of reasonable take on any issue.
I think I’ll just add that P.M. Nouri al-Maliki seems to be under the impression Blackwater employees have a history of killing civilians in Iraq (he does not say “murdering,” and you’ll get no argument from me - I said above you two were both right I shouldn’t sling that around without caveats).
I appreciate that, though the snark about OJ made me think you didn’t.
Mountainrunner and Danger Room have some nice things to say about White Rabbit by the way. That is how I found the blog originally, and they have not given me the impression they think it is a Blackwater plant.
I didn’t understand your acknowledgment before. Works for me.
As far as what Maliki believes (and I do find it ironic that you’re relying on him as a source), I really don’t have any issue with having investigators crawling all over the gastrointestinal system of Blackwater and its employees. If they are acting like a bunch of wild men, and killing people unjustifiably, then let them suffer the consequences IMHO.
Okay… Now I’m thoroughly scared.
Imagine the same sentiments at a Dem debate.
America haters… the lot of them.
What a ridiculous debate this is. By Michael Wade’s standard, the news media wouldn’t exist. From here forth, let us no longer ever report on anything anyone does until they’re convicted of it in a court of law.
Blackwater shooting civilians right in front of your eyes? Hey, if they’re not convicted in court, nothing happened. Right? I guess, if William Jefferson has yet to be convicted of bribery, we can’t report anything saying he took bribes, huh? Hey, Bill Clinton was never convicted of perjury. I guess he never lied to Congress after all? Let’s go take all those stories down!
Through a good cop/bad cop game, with Lance as the nice guy and Mike as the attack dog, the goal is simply to make the information about Blackwater’s conduct dissapear. Forget the legal implications of murder. It’s a descriptive term for the act of shooting people. While the moral connotations between that and “killing” or even more provocative words like “massacreing”, differ, the acts described are the same.
So the goal here is to censor information that makes Blackwater look - accurately - as a less than honorable outfit.
Getting to the truth, my a**.
I was impressed when this blog put Josh on here, but seems like they may have overestimated their own ability to handle opinions other than their own.
In fairness to Mike, the laws he adds are interesting, but all they establish is that contractors are liable, essentially, for heinous crimes they commit off-duty.
Things like rape, torture, and murder in the legal/military sense as I understand it, are by definition private acts. In other words, a blackwater guy shooting his Iraqi mistress could be charged with murder, but anything said guy does while guarding a convoy, no matter how over the top, is inherently off limits.
Things like wildly excessive force in the line of duty, I have a strong suspicion, is prosecuted almost entirely under the UCMJ. Thus, with Blackwater not falling under the UCMJ, things they do in said line of duty are unprosectuable.
Thus, while Blackwater contractors may not be unaccountable in all possible situations, they’re unaccountable in the 90% of situations that actually occur.
Not that it matters, because even if they were under the UCMJ, the military’s record of actually punishing its soldiers for war crimes is terrible. Investigate? Maybe. Hold trials? ok. Actually hand out sentences? not often.
Goal? I have complained about the legal netherworld they are in before, and exactly why you would think Mike would want to carry water for Blackwater employees who commit crimes is beyond me. What bothers him is the term murder because of sketchy reports that often in the past have turned out not to be true. So, if we use the term murder we should have a bunch of compelling evidence to back it up so we sound reasonable. Especially with private companies. Josh may have that, but it isn’t here. That isn’t his fault necessarily, but there it is.
As for not being able to handle Joshua, I am a fan. I am a fan of the Conjecturer. That is why he is here. We agree on far more than we disagree. End of story. As for some harsh tones at time, well, Joshua has a pretty high talking/smack ratio. If that smack comes on an issue where others here disagree is it surprising they respond in kind at times?
Lance, I’m afraid I must agree on how we disagree over how we disagree. Or something. I don’t know if I got that right.
But I do think Glasnost raises the exact point I was trying to when Michael spun me around with his fancy lawyer talk of “laws” and such: not only is the military’s record in punishing crimes not the best (the way they bungled the Haditha killings is one example; the way they lied about and suppressed further investigation of the fatal shooting of Pat Tillman is another), but the laws in question are at best extraordinarily difficult to prosecute in the field.
Not only is it practically impossible to collect incontrovertible evidence the way you would at a crime scene here (which even then doesn’t guarantee a good investigation, given the politics surrounding these groups), but the DOD IG has actively declined to investigate allegations on more than one occasion. Plus, despite these laws being in place for years (in some cases, before 9/11), the Pentagon still has yet to issue guidelines for how they are to be enforced and followed — which indicates a lack of enthusiasm from the leadership for actually bothering to enforce them.
That is why we need much clearer, undisputed, laws governing PMC conduct. The attempt last year to incorporate all conduct under the UCMJ was a great start… but again, it has yet to be implemented. Maybe they can get around to it now.
I wouldn’t claim to know the best way to handle it, but I don’t have any problem with the idea that we are not adequately dealing with the legal aspects of PMC’s as you know.
As for the military prosecuting its own, I think this is an issue which we will never be satisfied with. War is not conducive to such things, and getting to the bottom of much of this is quite difficult. Many in the military feel that it is just as big a problem that they punish people for things which they shouldn’t be punished for, but it gets heat off the brass to do it. The politics around such things operates in many directions and comes from many sources. Throw in the military issues of designing rules of engagement where every decision is potentially going to result in an action which can be questioned.
I am less than sanguine on this issue because history tells me that not only are we better about it than at any time in our history, but any other military now or in the past. Once again, with the possible exception of the other commonwealth countries now.
So, while we must always strive to do better, realistically we must realize that it is obviously something nobody has proven they can do better. Despite some people’s (and I don’t mean you) acting as if it is just a matter of doing something about it and nefarious people at the top, the evidence is we can’t really do much better. We can try, but the difference will be somewhat minor. Maybe I am wrong, but if I am what does it say about everybody else? We should also be careful that whatever actions we take don’t make it worse. Our Soldiers in any relative sense behave magnificently. Would efforts to legally, as opposed to institutionally and culturally, improve this might have the effect of actually encouraging behavior that is legally advantageous, but more dangerous for civilians. In fact, I am pretty sure that to some extent that is already true.
By the way, though it was certainly no plan (99% of Michael and I’s contact is in the comments sections. We don’t e-mail each other a lot and have only spoken a few times on the phone) I am glad you perceive me as the good cop. I think in the world of blogging Michael is miles more civil than most in an argument, the same goes for Joshua, so what goes for heated here is pretty darn tame. So I’ll take the idea of being the good cop in such a gentle place as a compliment saying a great deal indeed as opposed to being a weaselly a** kisser.
I would appreciate it if nobody questioned that self serving and potentially deluded way of looking at it.
I agree with you. I don’t mean to turn this into a military bash-fest, as I not only do not believe in them but in this case it would be unnecessary. I don’t even think this is a flag problem, either — it is a civilian leadership problem in the specific case of handling claims of war crimes, murder, rape, or theft against PMCs. The Bush administration and its appointees have proven unwilling to ever prosecute PMCs, with the exception of a single DynCorp (I believe) employee who was caught with child porn in Bosnia.
That is the failure I complain against. To a large degree, when laws are in place but the means to implement them are not, the military itself has its hands tied. Coupled with a general “circling the wagons” effect whenever there is an outcry, you have the appearance of a cover up. It is unfortunate, but I don’t ultimately blame the military for that, I blame the system in which they operate, and over which we do have some measure of control.
Oh yeah, and Lance? Sycophant :-)
I might have been reaching too far with the “you can’t handle the Conjecturer” thing, Lance. I don’t really know how you feel.
But - really - I don’t care either way about the term “murder” - the point is unjustified and unethical killing of civilians. Use whatever word you like, but make the point. As for ‘evidence’ - we’re bloggers, not the DOJ. The only evidence we’re going to have are written reports online, and there are plenty of those: they don’t even need to be cited. I’m not going to ignore such reports of wanton behavior; to do so is unconscionable. Mike can wait for a non-existent criminal convictions if he is willing to completely forfeit any attempt to exercise oversight on American war crimes, hand it all over to the legendarily untrustworthy Big Government, but it’s a wildly inconsistent standard that is obeyed nowhere else in public affairs. When reports suggest someone did something, we come right out and report that it looks like someone did something. The time we wait for a conviction to break news and draw conclusions based on the information we have is the first time in blogospheric history.
Should we wait for criminal convictions of the Iranian state for throwing reformers in jail, before even discussing the topic, or do we make choices about what we’ve seen and heard, and what we believe?
Best. Thread. Ever.
We aren’t arguing you can’t or shouldn’t say it looks like someone did something. In fact, we have said that, and on this issue, and not just Joshua. That is different from rushing to conclusions on each incident. Some I think sound pretty dang thin. Others appear more of an issue. If I just point to those that look pretty serious it is an issue, but not one which supports the idea that Blackwater is as a whole is a huge problem. So we are not in any way saying don;t discuss the topic. Joshua has brought it up several times, no one raised a peep until the claim was made Blackwater has a history of murdering civilians. Period. Disagree with Michael disliking that claim if you want, but we are not doing any of the other things you are claiming. Those are known as a strawmen.
Lance, I just realized that I was actually referring to the complaints that Blackwater had a history of murdering civilians. If you reread my point (”the complaints about Blackwater’s history of murdering civilians in Iraq without consequence is just a game of politics”), I did not actually accuse them of such. So I think this all might have been a tempest over nothing. Or not.
I think the without consequence point has some merit. Let me rewrite it for you in a way that makes me more comfortable, not that my opinion is canonical.
“the complaints about Blackwater’s history of being involved in incidents leading to the death of civilians in Iraq without consequence is just a game of politics.”
Kind of awkward, but I am trying to stay close to your original language.
Well, then we basically agree, I think. I thought it needed to be clarified. It wasn’t a deliberate strawman.
From here, it looked like the terminological argument was a Trojan horse to shut down discussion of the issue.
Such is politics.