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April 2004

Civilian Contractors and the Iraqi Torture Scandal

A couple of people have sent me this URL, and I am insanely busy today so I had not intended any further blogging. But this shocks me.

I did not think I would be easy to shock on the subject of the use of private contractors in Iraq, but this bit -- the role of private contractors in the emerging scandal over the US treatment of Iraqi prisoners -- is just insane.

US military in torture scandal: Use of private contractors in Iraqi jail interrogations highlighted by inquiry into abuse of prisoners

Graphic photographs showing the torture and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners in a US-run prison outside Baghdad emerged yesterday from a military inquiry which has left six soldiers facing a possible court martial and a general under investigation.

The scandal has also brought to light the growing and largely unregulated role of private contractors in the interrogation of detainees.

According to lawyers for some of the soldiers, they claimed to be acting in part under the instruction of mercenary interrogators hired by the Pentagon.

Immediate questions that spring to mind for the next White House press conference or Pentagon briefing: Who hired these contractors? What private military firm are they with? What was the nature of their screening, if any?

Bot the Guardian and the L. A. Times reports that the companies involved were CACI International of Arlington, Va., and Titan Corp. of San Diego.

This, also, from the Guardian, tells what was done about contractor misbehavior:

Colonel Jill Morgenthaler, speaking for central command, told the Guardian: "One contractor was originally included with six soldiers, accused for his treatment of the prisoners, but we had no jurisdiction over him. It was left up to the contractor on how to deal with him."

She did not specify the accusation facing the contractor, but according to several   sources with detailed knowledge of the case, he raped an Iraqi inmate in his mid-teens.

We're paying these guys to rape boys? And, presumably, they sent they guy home to do it over here, without legal consquences? What planet are these people from?

Gary Farber has a detailed post on the torture story.

And I haven't even had a chance to scratch the surface of the new Mother Jones article, New Word Order.

Can I just repeat what I said a month ago? BREMER SHOULD RESIGN. And not only that, RUMSFELD SHOULD RESIGN.

(Thanks to Gary Farber and Andrea Eastman.)

This scandal has provoked a lot of blog discussion. Some of it can be found via this technorati link.

Bruce on Tour

Bruce Sterling has a new book out and is going on tour. He's posted his tour schedule on his blog. I was busily reading along down the schedule when I realized I'd misread something: what I'd thought said Talk & Singing actually said Talk & Signing. Darn.

I was wondering what Bruce was going to sing. Maybe we can get him to sing anyway, even if that wasn't originally part of the plan. I don't think we could get him to go for "Teen Angel," but maybe if we asked for something from REM? It's worth a try.

MEANWHILE, Kevin Hayden notes that the Republicans are having some difficulty with language as well:

Elsewhere in the news, the party that derided Clinton for his definition of the word 'is' are having great difficulty understanding what the definition of the word 'hero' is. They think it's unpatriotic of Kerry that he wasn't wounded enough in Vietnam and that Max Cleland was wounded too much. Yet in trying to find the proper midpoint of wounds where heroes exist, they're having difficulty finding any Republican ones who ever came under fire. When asked for details, administration officials declared, in unison, "Mnphmnmmmmnpt."

Let's Demand a True Pro-Life Position from Karen Hughes

I'm rolling my eyes this morning about Karen Hughes's attempt to explain herself (Washington Post).

Asked for her response yesterday, Hughes sent an e-mail saying, "That is a gross distortion and I would never make such a comparison. Surely even the most strident of partisans, and reasonable people on both sides of the abortion issue, can agree that we have been reminded of the precious nature of human life and that we ought to work to reduce the number of abortions in America."

So Karen, even though you are one of the most strident of partisans, I imagine that you can order a copy of Sandra Steingraber's Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood and read it cover to cover. Then, I'm sure in your newly enlightened state you will set about advocating strong environmental regulations that will protect the life and health of American fetuses.

How about we start with some really strong regulations on mercury emissions so that pregnant women can go back to eating fish? Thousands of wanted pregnancies are terminated each year either by miscarriage or because of detectable birth defects caused by environmental pollution. Want to reduce the number of abortions? Why don't we start there? Surely even the most strident of partisans can agree that fetal health is more important than serving the needs of Bush's industrial campaign contributors.

So, Karen, shall we start with mercury emissions? You want to talk about fetal well-being? Let's talk about it then. Yes, let's.

(See also my previous posts: Selling the Right to Emit Mercury into My Breastmilk, Obviously, a public health policy that asks expectant mothers to give up certain foods while allowing industries to continue contaminating them is absurd. , A Juxtaposition that Speaks for Itself, and Missing Mercury: An Intrigue.)

(Also, Lori Mann has some good pictures from the march up on her site.)

A Democrat Grumbling

Why is the Kerry campaign spending precious political capital fighting this stupid battle over medals? Yes, sure the Bush campaign is trying to smear him, but they do that. They're going to do that until the election.

It just seems to me that many really important things are coming out about the situation in Iraq and that we have a whole lot more information on the nature of the problems and their depth, so Kerry should be rising to the task of defining how things need to be done differently. I keep going back to the Kerry campaign web site hopling for a rewritten position on how to solve the problem of Iraq, and it doesn't seem to have changed much recently. I find that disappointing.

And while taxes certainly are an issue in this election, I'm not sure why Kerry's pushing that just now, except maybe because people just filed their tax returns.

I'm hoping to see the Kerry campaign re-engage soon. Right now it seems to me that more of the spontaneous effort is being devoted to dealing with Bush smears.

Quantum Mechanics: Not Just a Matter of Interpretation

See the preprint of Afshar's paper on IRIMS here.

Tomorrow at 4 PM, physicist Shahriar S. Afshar, a Visiting Scientist at Harvard University's Physics Department will give a talk entitled Violation of Bohr's principle of complementarity in an optical "which-way" experiment at Texas A&M University.

Afshar has done a variation of the standard two-pin-hole "welcher-Weg" optics experiment, in which he demonstrates that wave interference is present even when one is determining through which pinhole a photon passes. This result is in direct contradiction to Neils Bohr's Principle of Complementarity, which would require in the quantum world that when one is measuring particle properties [formerly read "measuring quantum properties" -KC], all wave interference phenomena must vanish. Afshar's trick is to find the location of the minimum points of wave interference, place one or more wires at these minimum points, and observe how much light is intercepted when one is determining the pinhole through which the photons passed.

It has been widely accepted that the rival interpretations of quantum mechanics, e.g., the Copenhagen Interpretation, the Many-Worlds Interpretation, and my father John Cramer's Transactional Interpretation, cannot be distinguished or falsified by experiment, because the experimental predictions come from the formalism that all such interpretations describe. However, the Afshar Experiment demonstrates in an interaction-free way that there is a loophole in this logic: if the interpretation is inconsistent with the formalism, then it can be falsified. In particular, the Afshar Experiment falsifies the Copenhagen Interpretation, which requires the absence of interference in a particle-type measurement. It also falsifies the Many-Worlds Interpretation which tells us to expect no interference between "worlds" that are physically distinguishable, e.g., that correspond to the photon's measured passage through one pinhole or the other [the word "measured" added 4/28. -KC].

The Transactional Interpretation, on the other hand, has no problem in explaining that Afshar results. "Offer waves" from the source pass through both pinholes and interfere, creating a condition in which no transactions to the wires can form. Therefore, no photons are intercepted by wires, as Afshar observes. The quantum formalism makes the same predictions.

On this basis, it appears that two of the major interpretations of quantum mechanics have been falsified and should be relegated to the waste basket of physics history. The Transactional Interpretation, which involves a forward/back in time handshake, is one of the few (perhaps the only) interpretation(s) left standing after the Afshar test.

Yay for the home team!

(See also the Power Point presentation for my dad's Hal Clement memorial lecture at Boskone; Google also has an html cache of the Powerpoint presentation.)

LET ME KNOW if anyone reading this attends Afshar's talk or attended a similar one he gave at Harvard recently.

TRACKBACKS: My MT trackbacks don't work. One of these days I'll figure out why. But this entry has received really a lot, so here is a link to Technorati's listing of links to this post. Boingboing also blogged it, but the post has already slid off their main page.

SEE UPDATE, 5/10/04.

Is the Use of Mercenaries Unamerican?

Don Monkerud makes an interesting argument on the US use of mercenaries:

As a new nation, after defeating mercenaries sent by King George III of England, America prided itself on having a citizens' army. Even after Congress abolished the draft and instituted a professional army, our soldiers were American citizens, protecting the nation. Today's "deregulated" military adds a totally new dimension. . . .

During the American Revolution, Americans fought mercenaries for our independence. Are we now to embrace them?

ON ANOTHER TOPIC, David Hartwell and I have a seriously overdue anthology to turn in to our editor at Tor, so my blogging may get a bit sparse for a while.

The Struggle Within Islam

Richard Clarke is good in a NYT editorial today:

One lesson is that even though we are the world's only remaining superpower Å\ as we were before Sept. 11, 2001 Å\ we are seriously threatened by an ideological war within Islam. It is a civil war in which a radical Islamist faction is striking out at the West and at moderate Muslims. Once we recognize that the struggle within Islam Å\ not a "clash of civilizations" between East and West Å\ is the phenomenon with which we must grapple, we can begin to develop a strategy and tactics for doing so. It is a battle not only of bombs and bullets, but chiefly of ideas. It is a war that we are losing, as more and more of the Islamic world develops antipathy toward the United States and some even develop a respect for the jihadist movement.

MEANWHILE, I thought wryly about blogging this item with the headline US Not Cooperating with UN Weapons Inspectors.

Religion: we're all in this together

I've been watching with some consternation at some of my good friends calling for religious tolerance among liberals and then getting their feelings hurt for their trouble. I've put in my two cents worth over at Electrolite (the blog in question) and also at Kevin Drumm's new home. But it was an awfully terse two cents worth, because over the course of my life I have felt myself to be much more on the receiving end of religious intolerance than on the giving end. I have been asked to tolerate a wide variety of religious impositions. And other than a few stern grillings given fundamentalists [Leviticus provides rich material for this] who asked me if I'd been saved when I was a teenager, I can't recall instances of the tide going the other direction. Thus, atrios's post of this morning on the subject had me muttering YES! YES!

My earliest clear memory of religious imposition was when I was in the fourth grade: we lived in Munich that year and religious instruction was part of the formal school curriculum. On my school registration form at Herkomerplatz Kinderschule, in the blank for "Religion" my father had filled in "keine." As far as I could tell, the school system had never encountered a family that declined to identify a religion, so I was assigned to the Catholic class where I spent the school year coloring in the back despite the instructor's best efforts to involve me in the class. As far as he was concerned, if I was in his class I was Catholic. As far as I was concerned, "keine" on the form meant I didn't have to do anything. Our compromise took the form of him trying to get me to draw pictures of what God looked like, as best as I can recall.

I have many other examples. But really, they're not that important except in that by the time I was a teenager, much to my mother's dismay, I was a subscriber to American Atheists and had solidified in my cultural identity as an atheist. People would frequently try to talk me into the idea that I was an agnostic, and I was well armed with arguments to the contrary. What is most important about this is that my identity as an atheist (and I suspect this it true for many others as well) was reactive, formed by imposition and lack of consideration by others. Religious tolerance, it seemed, was for those who had a religion to tolerate, not those of us without.

I am 42 year old now and am no longer in need of the defences that kept my teenage psyche safe. I am that most paradoxical of creatures, an atheist who goes to church. Theologically, I am most closely aligned with the Unitarians, but the Unitarian church is all the way up in Mt. Kisco and the Congregational Church in Chappaqua is much closer and has a better children's program. I am still made uncomfortable with sermons in which the minister talks as though one can actually know what exactly Jesus said or figure out why he said it or what he meant by it. And really, I'm no less an atheist than I was at seventeen. So what am I doing in a church?

The understanding I came to in adulthood is that in the grand scheme of the history of world religions, I am a Christian; and my lack of belief in an all-powerful God is a mere theological quibble that takes on exaggerated importance in this cultural moment. It no more divorces me from Christianity than choosing the wrong side in the question of whether the Earth goes 'round the sun or vice versa.

If you view religions as cultural groupings rather than as defined by specific articles of belief, the source of sectarians' underlying anger at the "religious" becomes clearer: large segments of the population are in effect excommunicated from the larger cultural life of their religion. The terms of engagement have been defined by those who would reject categorically that an atheist like me could possibly be a Christian.

The religious tolerance recently demanded of sectarian liberals must be based on a recognition that the "religious" cannot exclude us from the spiritual life of the country and the world; that those who lay claim to the world's religions do not own them; that this isn't, and never was, a battle between those with religion and those without. We're all in this together.

UPDATE: Patrick Nielsen Hayden, in a further thoughtful post on religion and the left, directs our attention to a good post at everything's ruined on this topic.

A Nice Surprise

Yesterday, I ordered Making a Killing: How and Why Corporations Use Armed Force to Do Business by Madelaine Drohan from Amazon Canada. (The book won't be out in the US until October.) I asked for standard shipping and expected I'd receive the book in 8-10 days.

Just now the doorbell rang. My book arrived. Astonishing.

BY THE WAY, this is how I came across the book. It was mentioned an article in the Ottowa Citizen:

The English non-fiction category, also worth $2,500, was won by veteran journalist Madelaine Drohan for Making a Killing: How and why corporations use armed force to do business.

Ms. Drohan's book from Random House of Canada details historical and contemporary examples of corporations, some of them Canadian, that employ killer mercenaries to further their business interests in Africa.

Making a Killing has also been nominated for the $10,000 National Business Book Award, which is to be announced today. The political and business writings of the Ottawa-based Ms. Drohan from around the world have appeared during the past two decades in the Citizen, Globe and Mail, Financial Post and Maclean's.

The awards were presented last evening at the annual Ottawa Literary Awards ceremony at Library and Archives Canada, honouring Ottawa-area writers in several competitions.

I don't remember how I came to read the article.

An Important First

The first conviction under the child-sex tourism provision of the Protect Act (from the Christian Science Monitor):

The push for the travel industry to do its part to curb the demand aspect of the global sex trade comes a year after President Bush passed the Protect Act, legislation making it illegal for US citizens to travel abroad and engage in sex with a minor.

In his September 2003 UN address, President Bush asked that all countries pass laws against their citizens traveling abroad to engage in the "underground of brutality" of sex trafficking and warn tourists of this "humanitarian crisis. In the US, conviction under the Protect Act could lead to a 30-year prison sentence.

Because of the veiled nature of sex tourism, it's impossible to calculate the number of participants. But a survey by ECPAT reports that Americans make up 25 percent of the world's global sex industry, which involves about 2 million children. Americans represent about 80 percent of the sex tourists in Costa Rica, and about 38 percent in Cambodia.

Michael Lewis Clark was the first American convicted under the child-sex tourism provision of the Protect Act. He recently pleaded guilty in a Seattle federal district court to two counts of engaging in sex with a minor. Clark was arrested in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, after authorities there learned he was paying young boys as little as $2 for sex. Clark may have molested as many as 50 children during several years of traveling back and fourth to Cambodia, according to the investigation conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an arm of the Department of Homeland Security. Four other Americans have also been charged under the act.

This AP article provides some interesting background on the changes in Cambodian law enforcement that made the arrest and conviction possible.

In the past week, a doctor returning from Russia was arrested under the same law.

Bloggers on the Hugo Ballot

In the midst of everything, I'd forgotten to mention that the Hugo ballot is out. And it is rife with bloggers.

The New York Review of Science Fiction is nominated in the semiprozine category, meaning a nomination for me, for my husband David Hartwell, and for Kevin Maroney. David is also nominated in the Best Professional Editor category. With 27 previous Hugo nominations, David is the record-holder for most previous nominations without a win.

Charles Stross is nominated for Best Novel for Singularity Sky and also for the novellete "Nightfall."

Neil Gaiman is nominated for Best Short Story for "A Study in Emerald."

David Levine is nominated for Best Short Story for "The Tale of the Golden Eagle" and also for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (not a Hugo, though it behaves like one).

Jeff VanderMeer is nominated in the category of Best Related Book, along with his co-editor Mark Roberts, for The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases.

Cheryl Morgan is nominated in two categories: Best Fanzine for her editing of Emerald City and for Best Fan Writer.

Tim Pratt is nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Finally, Alison Scott is nominated, along with Steve Davies & Mike Scott, for editing Plotka.

I probably missed someone. If I did, let me know (and include the blog URL).

Dozois Steps Down

Since we're all sick here, I'm more out-of-the-loop than usual as far as science fiction gossip goes. So I was quite shocked when David came into the bedroom and told me that Gardner Dozois was stepping down as editor as Asimov's. (We're taking turns lying in bed, since we're both sick and our sick kids have more energy than we do.) Anyway, here's the LOCUS writeup:

Gardner Dozois steps down as editor of Asimov's Science Fiction, after almost 19 years, to pursue other projects, including his own writing € Dozois will remain with Asimov's as Contributing Editor, providing editorial guidance and interacting with readers via the Internet and at public events. Sheila Williams, the current Executive Editor, will succeed Dozois as Editor. Williams' first official issue will be January 2005.

I have no special insight into this. (But I worry. I hope he and his family have made good plans for things like health insurance, which I suspect is much more of an issue now than it was two decades ago when he took the job.)

I was much less shocked by the resignation of David Pringle, editor of Interzone, a few weeks ago. David had been uncharacteristically difficult to contact for months before hand; we were told that this was because he'd become depressed. I do not see Dozois's departure as similar to or related to Pringle's.

Remember This?

While we're thinking about private military firms, it's important to remember that their clients are not always on our side.

I've been lying in bed reading Singer, and came across a discussion of private military firms training terrorists (Corporate Warriors, p. 181). The first firm I looked up, Sakina Security, seems to have vanished from the web, but the Freepers noticed them in 2001 and snarfed a bit of the site:




There was also a bit of involvement from a company called Trans-Global Security International.

One would-be security contractor raises a legitimate point:

ÅgWe use U.S.A. because whenever we go to Afghanistan, U.S.A. labels us terrorist,Åh the Syrian-born Bakri Mohammed was quoted as saying, ÅgOK, so let us go to America. You call us tourists.Åh

Indeed, why train in Afghanistan when you can train in Alabama?

Because That's Where the Money Is

There's a virus going around our house, and none of us are well. I would otherwise devote more discussion to this public radio series, Spoils of War, on corruption in occupied Iraq:

Who's watching the money as it streams through Baghdad? Just about no one, and bribes and black marketeering are rampant, witnesses say. A leading anti-corruption group claims as much as 90 percent of U.S. money spent in Iraq is being lost to corruption. From Halliburton subsidiaries charging double for gas, Iraqi officials and Arabic translators unrestrained from pocketing millions of dollars, or even members of the interim governing Council accusing each other of taking tens of millions in bribes.

(Via Atrios. See also Peace, order and good government, eh?.)

UPDATE: Body & Soul has a good post on the corruption issue.

A Bad Penny

A South African mercenary with the Hart Group was shot in Iraq last week. in SouthAfrica reports that his body was decapitated and hung upside down. He was at home when attacked:

Branfield shared a house with four other people. The four escaped when Shi'ite Muslims attacked the house and killed Branfield.

Johannesburg's Sunday Times reports that he was a South African secret agent under Apartheid:

Iraq Victim Was Top-Secret Apartheid Killer

A security contractor killed in Iraq last week was once one of South Africa's most secret covert agents, his identity guarded so closely that even the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did not discover the extent of his involvement in apartheid's silent wars.

Gray Branfield, 55, admitted to being part of a death squad which gunned down Joe Gqabi, the ANC's chief representative and Umkhonto weSizwe operational head in Zimbabwe on July 31 1981. Gqabi was shot 19 times when three assassins ambushed him as he reversed down the driveway of his Harare home.

Author Peter Stiff this week confirmed information that Branfield was an operative identified in his books, The Silent War, Warfare By Other Means and Cry Zimbabwe as "Major Brian". He said Branfield, a former detective inspector in the Rhodesian police force specialising in covert operations against guerrilla organisations, came to South Africa after Zanu-PF came to power in 1980.

In South Africa he joined the SA Defence Force's secret Project Barnacle, a precursor to the notorious Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB) death squad.

(Via Nathan Newman.)

I C London, I C France: a weekly blog by Howard Waldrop

Public service announcement: Howard Waldrop replaces Bruce Sterling as the Infinite Matrix blogger.

More riffs from Rudy Rucker's sentence on going back to the basics -- robots, brain-eaters, starships -- and what can be done with those elements.

5.��A (human) brain-eater in a starship is stopped by a robot before it can eat the brains of the last human on the ship...

(I add the quote because Ken Houghton says the link needs a warning about what your in for.)

AND SPEAKING OF CHAIRMAN BRUCE, Sterling links to a strange art site in which a design program has set out to give the tiny European principality of Sealand an image makeover. Sealand, I suspect, doesn't not feel in need of a makeover:

The Principality of Sealand is a former World War II anti-aircraft military fortress in the North Sea. Only authorized persons directly involved in the HavenCo project are permitted to land on the island. The Sealand Government is ideal for web business, as there are no direct reporting or registration requirements.

What is HavenCo, you might ask?

HavenCo has been providing services since May 2000 and is fully operational, offering the world's most secure managed servers in the world's only true free market environment, the Principality of Sealand.  Our testing period is now over, and we can offer services to all businesses which comply with our Acceptable Use Policy.  Setup takes approximately 3-5 days, and dedicated servers in managed colocation, with ample bandwidth, are competitively priced with other secure centers around the world.

There is not much, other than child p0rnography, that does not meet their Acceptable Use Policy. So, OK, mostly they're there to serve the Internet p0rn industry. But use your imagination. What other industries might be well-served by this? They're setting themselves up to be the equivalent of a Swiss bank, but for data. This does not seem to me to be a force for good.

Is Erinsys Iraq Ahmed Chalabi's Private Army?

Recall that yesterday the NYT reported that Erinsys now employs 14,000 Iraqi security guards. This article by Knut Royce from New York Newsday (2/15/04) raises the possibility that Erinsys's 14,000 Iraqi security guards are, in effect, Ahmed Chalabi's US bank-rolled private army:

Start-Up Company With Connections

U.S. authorities in Iraq have awarded more than $400 million in contracts to a start-up company that has extensive family and, according to court documents, business ties to Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagon favorite on the Iraqi Governing Council. The most recent contract, for $327 million to supply equipment for the Iraqi Armed Forces, was awarded last month and drew an immediate challenge from a losing contester, who said the winning bid was so low that it questions the "credibility" of that bid.

But it is an $80-million contract, awarded by the Coalition Provisional Authority last summer to provide security for Iraq's vital oil infrastructure, that has become a controversial lightning rod within the Iraqi Provisional Government and the security industry. Soon after this security contract was issued, the company started recruiting many of its guards from the ranks of Chalabi's former militia, the Iraqi Free Forces, raising allegations from other Iraqi officials that he was creating a private army.

Chalabi, 59, scion of one of Iraq's most politically powerful and wealthy families until the monarchy was toppled in 1958, had been living in exile in London when the U.S. invaded Iraq. The chief architect of the umbrella organization for the resistance, the Iraqi National Congress, Chalabi is viewed by many Iraqis as America's hand-picked choice to rule Iraq.

A key beneficiary of both the oil security contract and last week's Iraq army procurement contract is Nour USA Ltd., which was incorporated in the United States last May. The security contract technically was awarded to Erinys Iraq, a security company also newly formed after the invasion, but bankrolled at its inception by Nour. A Nour's founder was a Chalabi friend and business associate, Abul Huda Farouki. Within days of the award last August, Nour became a joint venture partner with Erinys and the contract was amended to include Nour.

. . . Erinys guards are being recruited from the ranks of the Iraqi Free Congress, the militia loyal to Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, Daghistani acknowledged to Britain's Financial Times in December.

Whiskey Bar and Polytropos both had a good posts on the Chalabi connection last February.

As I understand it, Erinsys's 14,000 Iraqis are not counted in the 20,000 figure for privately employed security contractors now widely cited. So if I understand correctly, IN ADDITION TO the 20,000 "civilian contractors" running around Iraq with guns, there are another 14,000 Iraqis at Chalabi's disposal, paid for by U.S. taxpayers. (Yes, they're guarding the oil, but for whom are they guarding it?)

MEANWHILE, I find on a U.S. State Department page, Security Companies Doing Business in Iraq, this ominous statement: The U.S. government assumes no responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms whose names appear on the list. If I'd said this myself, some people would think I was being hyperbolic and inflammatory.

UPDATE: Deena Larsen bring to our attention this article from March 2003 and wonders what bearing it might have on the current situation in Falluja: The strange case of Falluja 2: Confidential files reveal Tory ministers' roles in approval of gas-producing facility and plans to hide it from US . So, is there still a chemical plant in Falluja? Could this have anything to do with what the Blackwater guys were doing there?

ALSO, Christopher Laughlin of WindWizard, a Masters student in International Law at the University for Peace in Cost Rica, has written a good summary article on mercenaries and Iraq from a Peace Studies perspective.

AND FINALLY, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH THESE GUYS WHEN THEY GET HOME? Have a look at this chilling article on snipers in Iraq originally from the L.A. Times.

The corporal hopes to get back home by late fall in time to take his girlfriend to a college football game and go deer hunting with his father.

"When I go hunting for whitetail, it's for food and sport," he said. "Here, when I go hunting, it's personal, very personal."

(Via Proof through the Night.)

AND HERE'S ONE I MEANT TO BLOG LAST WEEK from Defensetech: GLIMPSE OF STATELESS WAR IN IRAQ, which I find most notable for its dystopian vision of the future of warfare.

(Via Noah Shachtman.)

UPDATE 5/20/04: Ahmed Chalabi's house has just been raided. See my new post.

Arab Mercenaries and Al Qaeda

In this country, we think of al Qaeda operatives as religious fanatics willing to give their lives for religious convictions, but I have suspected for a while that military outsourcing was not a one-way street in this global conflict. This news story from ITAR-TASS sheds some light on that dimension of al Qaeda:

Chechnya verifies reports about liquidation of Al-Qaeda emissary

The Chechen Interior Ministry has been verifying media reports to the effect that Abu al-Valid, a successor to notorious terrorist Khattab, has been liquidated in the south of Chechnya. Chief of the Chechen Interior Ministry Alu Alkhanov said that they did not have exact information yet, but a special group was created for verification of this information. . . .

After Khattab died Abu al-Valid became his successor and headed the so-called military wing of Arab mercenaries in Chechnya and was believed to have links with Al-Qaeda.

There are arab mercenaries in Chechnya; there are arab mercenaries in Afghanistan; surely, there are arab mercenaries in Iraq, and not just on our side; perhaps even some with al Qaeda. I would like to know more.

Not Your Daddy's New York Times Book Review!

Last month, The New York Times named Sam Tanenhaus editor of the NYT Book Review. In a harbinger of thing to come, today's NYT features a review by Choire Sicha of Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes which begins:

Bergdorf Blondes should inspire readers everywhere to rise up and rip one another limbless. It is not impossible that such a spontaneous revolution will begin first in New York City. After encountering this novel's manifestation of cultural illness, the tribes of the outer boroughs may be impelled to march upon Manhattan to enslave the emotionally warped hoarders of jewels and neuroses who reside therein.

In all seriousness: we must build a tiny apocalypse-proof time capsule. If we can resist the temptation to burn Plum Sykes's book, we can smuggle it into the future. Perhaps the next breed of humanoids can learn from the holocaust of culture and commerce that destroyed our icky civilization.

This is what's known as a killer review. It contains such lines as In fact, ''Bergdorf Blondes'' makes ''Sex and the City'' resemble a carefully constructed anarcho-feminist critique of capitalist society. The book in question is within a hair of making the NYT Bestseller list.

I should stop and say that, in general, I think reviews of the strengths and weaknesses of good books are what should occupy space in the pages of book reviews. What people like about books tends to be more interesting and illuminating than what they dislike. There are, however, exceptions and this book is probably one of those justifiable exceptions.

The Times Book Review is making an example of a book cynically written, published, marketed, and sold and is sending a message that the NYT Book Review will not tolerate this level of cynicism from the publishing industry.

I stand up and cheer (while hoping that Tanenhaus does not regard science fiction as cynically written and published). Looks like we're in for a wild ride!

(Via Electrolite.)

Consider the GTS Katie: Lessons for the Iraq Situation

Once again, I would like to point out that military privatization should not be a left vs. right issue, but rather is a matter of national security and national sovereignty. Here's another fine anecdote from P. W. Singer's Must-Read, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry:

An episode from recent Canadian military experience illustrates how unexpected problems can arise whenever control is given over to private agents. In July 2000, the GTS Katie, a contracted military transport ship, was carrying back from Bosnia a unit of Canadian Army soldiers, more than 550 vehicles, including tanks and personnel carriers, and 350 containers of ammunition and other sensitive gear. However, due to a financial dispute between two subcontracting agents, the ship began sailing in circles outside Canadian waters. Until the matter was resolved, the ship refused to make delivery, essentially holding about one third of the entire Canadian army's equipment and soldiers hostage. The standoff lasted for almost two weeks, during which time a sizable chunk of the Canadian military's inventory was unavailable, solely because its leadership had privatized transportation to save a minimal amount. (p. 160)

In the end, the Canadian Navy had to go out and seize the ship to end the stand-off.

I don't remember hearing anything about this in the US Press. I called a few Canadians and was told that while it was front page news, the Canadians are used to being humiliated about their lack of military preparedness. It is my understanding that the incident was blamed on the Liberal government for under-funding the military and thus forcing it to rely upon private contractors. For more details about the incident, see:

The web site of the Canadian Navy: HMCS Athabaskan Carries Out Boarding of GTS Katie

CBC: GTS Katie putts into Quebec and Canada seized U.S. ship despite deal, owner says

Singer has more anecdotes privatization of gone wrong and his research suggests that the more use of private contractors is monitored, the fewer saving from privatization can be realized. And without hard figures, there is no special reason to believe that a privately provided service will be cheaper in any case.

REGARDING THE MATTER AT HAND, private military firms operating in Iraq, the NYT reports today that:

There is no central oversight of the companies, no uniform rules of engagement, no consistent standards for vetting or training new hires. Some security guards complain bitterly of being thrust into combat without adequate firepower, training or equipment. There are stories of inadequate communication links with military commanders and of security guards stranded and under attack without reinforcements.

Only now are authority officials working to draft rules for private security companies. The rules would require all the companies to register and be vetted by Iraq's Ministry of Interior. They would also give them the right to detain civilians and to use deadly force in defense of themselves or their clients. "Fire only aimed shots," reads one proposed rule, according to a draft obtained by The New York Times.

Fire only aimed shots? I suppose they alo have to spell out that this is real life and not a movie.

The same piece also mentions Erinys: Erinys, a company barely known in the security industry before the war, now employs about 14,000 Iraqis. Corpwatch has this to say about Erinys:

Erinys' yearlong $39.5 million contract to protect 140 Iraqi oil installations, for which it beat out larger and more established competitors, will start this October. The Johannesburg-based company will be also offering its protection services to contractors Bechtel and Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root.

According to Erinys' own publicity, the company is currently the exclusive providers of "guarding and protective services, secure warehousing, security escorts, visit logistics and protective escorts, transportation and logistics for land access from neighbouring countries."

Handmaidens of Occupation

But the coalition's relationship with Erinys is not exactly transparent. The coalition apparently contracted the company through an "oil security" solicitation issued on July 17, but the details of this solicitation, and the subsequent award to Erinys, are unavailable from the Coalition Provisional Authority (the entity created by the United States government to oversee the occupation of the country).

In Greek mythology, the Erinys were three goddesses, attendants of Hades and Persephone, who guarded the Underworld. Here on modern earth, the company has main offices in Johannesburg and Dubai, and opened a field office in Baghdad in May. A South African news report said Erinys is already providing security and risk management services to "two large multinational companies" operating in Iraq.

While the company does not appear in international business directories and is only a year old, its website names five managers and directors, but does not identify its ownership structure: most of whom have been affiliated with Armor Holdings, a Florida-based security company and Defence Systems Limited, a British company which merged with Armor in 1997.

A former British Special Air Services (SAS) officer, director Alastair Morrison was co-founder and CEO of Defence Systems from 1981 to 1999. Morrison is currently affiliated with Armor Holdings, in which he holds $2.1 million worth of stock. Fraser Brown, who directs Erinys' security operations, has worked for DSL/Armor since 1999. Jonathan Garratt, Erinys' managing director, has worked for DSL and Armor since 1992. The two other Erinys officials named on the website have no apparent ties to either company: Sean Cleary is a South African risk management expert while Bill Elder previously worked as Bechtel's corporate security manager.

Private Security and Oil Protection

Erinys' website touts "management experience" in providing security services for dozens of transnational corporations, such as Ashanti Gold and BP-Amoco. These companies' past security actions hint at what awaits Iraq.

Last month, for example, the Ghanaian NGO, Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM), released a report detailing alleged human rights abuses at an Ashanti gold mine. It relays eyewitness accounts of Ashanti Gold security personnel torturing, beating, and killing local small-scale miners between 1994 and 2002. WACAM further alleges that corporate security used guard dogs to feed on trespassers.

Here's another bit from the NYT article:

Early on in the war, private security contractors came mostly from elite Special Operations forces. It is a small enough world that checking credentials was easy. But as demand has grown, so has the difficulty of finding and vetting qualified people.

. . . and another:

Many security guards are hired as "independent contractors" by companies that, in turn, are sub-contractors of larger security companies, which are themselves subcontractors of a prime contractor, which may have been hired by a United States agency.

In practical terms, these convoluted relationships often mean that the governmental authorities have no real oversight of security companies on the public payroll.

(Thanks to Gary Farber & David Hartwell for nudging me in the direction of this long, meaty article.)

New Zealand's Mercenary Activities (Prohibition) Bill

This New Zealand Green Party press release calls my attention to a good piece of legislation currently in progress, the Mercenary Activities (Prohibition) Bill

Iraq-bound NZers could be mercenaries under law

Iraq-bound NZers could be mercenaries under new law.

Green MP Keith Locke today warned New Zealanders contemplating 'security' work in Iraq that active involvement in the conflict for money will soon be a criminal offence under the mercenary bill returned to Parliament yesterday.

The Mercenary Activities (Prohibition) Bill, which aims to bring New Zealand into line with the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, returned from the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee, of which Mr Locke is a member. It is aimed at a relatively narrow definition of "true" mercenaries - unaffiliated individuals who fight wars, overthrow governments or commit terrorism for money.

"This Bill should make New Zealanders think twice about chasing $1000-a-day jobs in Iraq; as should their local recruiting agents who could qualify to up to 14 years imprisonment," said Mr Locke, the Green Party Spokesperson on Defence.

"If someone is carrying out a role usually associated with security guards or police, like the New Zealander who has been accompanying a BBC TV crew, they have no worries under this legislation. "However, the Bill now uses the term 'take part in hostilities', rather than 'fighting', which means that if a New Zealander is effectively supporting the US occupation by, say, guarding military facilities or convoys, they could be deemed to be a mercenary and be prosecuted upon their return. This is an appropriate distinction, as the privatisation of military operations in Iraq is setting a worrying precedent.


Here's a good link for the nosy neighbor in you, provided you live in the kind of neighborhood where people make big political contributions:

Fundrace 2004 Neighbor Search

Use the location search (on your home address) to find those who live near you that have made presidential campaign contributions. You can also search for friends or celebrities by name.

Much to my surprise I discovered that someone who lives two houses away whom I had taken for a straight-laced financial services type gave a thousand bucks to Howard Dean! It warms my heart.

(Via The Heart of Wood.)