Another kind of prisoner rendition? Anbar about to be handed over... again
Not a bad selection of Iraq-related stories today, with contractors getting the most ink. After that, the planned handover of Anbar to Iraqi forces, and a front-page story in the Times
about foreign prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan secretly being sent by the U.S. military to the intelligence services of their home nations. Also, 3,500 anti-war protesters at the DNC.
Contractors in the News
Dana Hedgpeth from the Washington Post
reports that a Washington law firm filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against KBR and its Jordanian subcontractor, Daoud & Partners, alleging that the companies engaged in the human trafficking of Nepalese workers
. The facts are a little unclear, but according to Agnieszka Fryszman, a partner at Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, said 13 Nepali men, were recruited in Nepal to work as kitchen staff, not in Iraq, but in hotels and restaurants in Amman, Jordan(not quite the same thing). After arriving in Jordan, it is alleged that their passports were seized, and that they told they were being sent to a military base in Iraq. Beyond those initial allegations, the scope of the alleged scheme is unclear, and no dates are provided. The plan seems to have gone awry when, as the men were driven in cars to Iraq, they were stopped by insurgents. Twelve were kidnapped and later executed, Fryszman said. The thirteenth man survived and worked in a warehouse in Iraq for 15 months before returning to Nepal. The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in California on behalf of the workers' families and the survivor, claims that the trafficking scheme was engineered by KBR and Daoud & Partners. This spring, an administrative law judge at the Department of Labor, which has jurisdiction over cases that involve on the job injuries at overseas military bases, ordered Daoud to pay $1 million to the families of 11 of the victims. A representative of KBR says the company hasn’t seen the lawsuit yet, but “The company in no way condones or tolerates unethical or illegal behavior."
Peter Eisler covers new federal records which reflect highest-ever levels of money being spent by the United States government on private security contractors in Iraq, as thousands of troops return home
. The end of the surge in servicemen is being replaced by a surge in civilian contractors. Eisler writes that this year, spending on contractors, who protect diplomats, civilian facilities and supply convoys, is projected to exceed $1.2 billion, according to federal contract and budget data obtained by USA TODAY. Most of that bill — about $1 billion —is State Department spending, which is up 13% over 2007. The remaining $200 million covers Pentagon contracts. Rising private security costs come as the Pentagon removes the last of the 30,000 extra troops sent to Iraq last year. Contractors take on roles once handled by U.S. troops, such as securing Iraq's infrastructure and guarding reconstruction supplies. Congress is raising concerns about the costs of relying on contractors for that work and the challenges of ensuring that they are supervised properly. Concern over supervision of these contractors has heightened after incidents where Iraqi civilians were killed by contractors, such as when guards with Blackwater Worldwide shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians while escorting a State Department officer in Baghdad in September 2007. "While security is obviously necessary for American officials in Iraq, we should be transitioning reconstruction to the Iraqi government, which is capable of supporting many of these efforts with its ... oil revenues," says Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., who chairs a House appropriations subcommittee that oversees spending for Iraq reconstruction, and calls the costs, "exorbitant." State's contractor spending has climbed because the focus in Iraq has shifted from combat to rebuilding, department press officer John Fleming says. More diplomats are leaving secure areas to work in the field, where they need security, he says. At the same time, U.S. troops who once guarded reconstruction projects and Iraqi infrastructure are leaving. Contractors "will increasingly take over these former military roles and missions, increasing (the) numbers of private security," Fleming says, noting that the new oversight policies will "hold contractors accountable." The Pentagon and the State Department have committed to work with Congress to enact legislation to increase legal accountability for all U.S. government contractors in Iraq.
Siobhan Gorman and August Cole report in the Wall Street Journal
that MVM Inc., one of the biggest security contractors used by U.S. intelligence agencies, has lost the bulk of a Central Intelligence Agency contract in Iraq after failing to provide enough armed guards, according to company emails and contractors familiar with the decision
. The loss of the CIA contract, which was potentially worth more than $1 billion over five years, is a big blow to closely held MVM, based in Vienna, Va. In last month's Journal
, another article by Gorman and Cole
detailed allegations from a former MVM guard who said his teammates fabricated an after-action report about a November 2004 shooting incident to cover up their errors. This week, MVM declined to respond to specific questions about the status of the loss of the contract. In a written statement, the company said it has an "outstanding performance history" working in dangerous regions and it has never failed to "secure any personnel or facilities that we have been contracted to protect." The company also said that it is "fully compliant with all of the contractual obligations of our diverse client base." A CIA spokesman said the agency doesn't comment on contracting decisions.
In Other News
The New York Times’
Mark Manzetti and Eric Schmitt report from Washington that, according to American military officials, the U.S. military has secretly handed over more than 200 militants to the intelligence services of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other countries, nearly all in the past two years, as part of an effort to reduce the burden of detaining and interrogating foreign fighters captured in Iraq and Afghanistan
. The system is said to be similar in some ways to the rendition program used by the CIA since the Sept. 11 attacks to secretly transfer people suspected of being militants back to their home countries to be jailed and questioned. There are significant differences, though; military officials say. The prisoners can block their transfers to home countries. Officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross interview all detainees before they are returned to their home countries, Bernard Barrett, a Red Cross spokesman, said. Many of these militants are initially held, without notification to the Red Cross, sometimes for weeks at a time, in secret at a camp in Iraq and another in Afghanistan run by American Special Operations forces, the military officials said. The American military’s prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the secret prisons abroad run by the C.I.A. have drawn criticism, and there have been concerns over the use of Iraqi and Afghan jails. Some have questioned whether those facilities should play any future role in housing terrorism suspects. As a rationale for the approach, the American officials said that language skills and cultural knowledge in most cases made the Saudis, Egyptians and others best suited to question the captured suspects, and best equipped to act on any intelligence they provide about militant networks in their countries. American military officials said the transfers required assurances that the prisoners would be well taken care of, but they would not specify those assurances, and human rights advocates questioned whether compliance could be monitored. About 30 to 40 foreign prisoners are held at the Iraq camp at any given time, the officials said; they did not provide an estimate for the Afghan camp, but suggested that the number was smaller. Saudi and Egyptian intelligence officers have been permitted to interrogate militants at the camps, although United States military officials say that the foreign interrogators who operate in the American camps are monitored by American soldiers, and that they must follow American rules. Henry A. Crumpton, who in 2006 was the State Department’s top counterterrorism official, said the decision to begin repatriating detainees was driven “by the realization that Guantánamo was a strategic failure.” Christoph Wilcke, who researches the prison systems of Middle Eastern countries for Human Rights Watch said that international organizations had very little information about the treatment of detainees. “When it comes to sending people back home, there is really no way for us to find out how they are doing,” he said.
On Wednesday, U.S. and Iraqi officials announced that the American military will hand over responsibility for the security of Anbar Province, once a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency and one of the most violent regions in the country, to the Iraqi government. It was originally scheduled to happen in June, but it was put off at the time due to “weather conditions”. In today’s lone story filed from Baghdad, Erica Goode of the New York Times reports
that the turnover would be a milestone for American officials, who have said that reduced violence in the western province shows that a partnership there with the local Awakening councils been successful. The councils are credited with reducing crime and violence in Anbar, but have recently come under attack by the Iraqi Army, which is controlled by the Shiite government in Baghdad. The government’s campaign has been particularly pronounced lately in the area west of Baghdad, where the Iraqi Army has arrested scores of Awakening members. Former insurgent leaders have contended that the Iraqi military is pursuing 650 Awakening leaders, many of whom have fled. Goode goes on to sum up the current state of the SOFA negotiations, and report that American military officials announced that an American soldier had died from injuries suffered on Tuesday, when the vehicle he was riding in hit a bomb in Baghdad. The Washington Post’s Anne Scott Tyson covers the story from Washington
. Her article is really limited to comments made by Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway at a media roundtable at the Pentagon yesterday. Advances made by the Iraqi Army and the Awakening councils aren’t mentioned prominently as the reason for the handover, as is usually the case, but rather the need to reduce the 25,000-strong Marine contingent there and free up more Marines to go to Afghanistan. Conway said the additional Marines are needed in part to replace the 3,200 in southern and western Afghanistan whose extended eight-month tour will end in late November. He warned that without reinforcements, a security vacuum will allow the Taliban to retake captured territory and persecute the population. "Young Marines join our Corps to go fight for their country," Conway said. "It's our view that if there is a stiffer fight going someplace else in a much more expeditionary environment . . . then that's where we need to be."
Richard Wolf and Matt Memmott cover the estimated 3,500 angry protesters who marched outside the Democratic National Convention Wednesday, inspired by dozens of anti-war Iraq veterans
and energized by the rock band, Rage Against the Machine. "We are here to hold the Democratic Party accountable," said Jason Hurd, 28, of Tennessee, an Army National Guard veteran of 10 years. "We voted them into office in 2006, and they have not done their job." The veterans marched like troops in their uniforms and fatigues. Police in riot gear, with batons, handcuffs and pepper spray, lined the parade route and watched warily from rooftops. Ron Kovic, the paralyzed Vietnam War veteran who inspired the movie “Born on the Fourth of July”, said the event reminded him of the anti-Vietnam War march at the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami. "This is history happening," Kovic said. The concert and march were organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, which called on Barack Obama to promise an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, better health care for veterans and reparations to the Iraqis.
In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal
, William Shawcross, author of "Allies: Why the West Had to Remove Saddam" pays tribute to former Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman, who recently died of leukemia
. The two were once fierce adversaries on U.S. policy in Vietnam, among other things, and Shawcross explains how they came to see common ground years later, concerning U.S. policy in Iraq. They gained mutual respect, and co-authored an op-ed on the subject for the New York Times
in June 2007, which was cited in a speech on Iraq by President Bush. Shawcross writes, “Defeat in Iraq, we said, would produce an ‘explosion of euphoria’ among the enemies of the West, and demoralize all those who trusted in American and Western values. Defeat would destabilize moderate, friendly governments and accelerate the radicalization of every conflict in the Middle East. We shared the view that America is an absolutely vital force for good in the world and that America's defeat -- in Iraq or Afghanistan -- would be catastrophic.”
Christian Science Monitor,
no Iraq coverage.