Posts Tagged ‘Blackwater’

I was baffled by the cavalier attitude displayed yesterday by Richard Holbrooke about violence in Afghanistan. Sounding positively Dick-Cheney-ish, Dick Holbrooke waved away concerns about the potential of widespread violence to damage the legitimacy of the upcoming elections. Here he is during an NPR interview, emphasis mine:

Q: Wouldn’t the people, though, who can’t vote think maybe it wasn’t fair because their voices can’t be heard?

HOLBROOKE: Does that invalidate the election? If that’s true, the 2004 election in the United States should be questioned. Because a lot of the voters in Ohio stood in lines and the polls closed and they were left out there not voting. And that was in the world’s greatest and oldest democracy.

Elections are rarely perfect. This election, in unprecedented wartime conditions, is certainly not going to be without its rough spots. It’s the integrity of the voting process in the middle of a brutal war. How many countries would have had the courage to hold an election under these circumstances? But Afghanistan is, and they should be given credit for it.

Yes, Dick, obviously those are analogous situations. We all remember the Taliban planting IEDs in Cleveland and the women immolating themselves in despair brought on by widespread rape by government officials in Columbus. The press was full of reports of Blackwater guards brandishing guns at passers-by. Remember when John Edwards almost got assassinated? I totally get your point!

Or not:

Hundreds of polling stations could be closed in Afghanistan’s most violent regions, raising concerns that many ethnic Pashtuns will be unable to vote in next month’s presidential elections. That could undermine the legitimacy of the election, cause turmoil and possibly deprive President Hamid Karzai of a first-round victory.

Compare Holbrooke’s statement with this little gem from the other Dick (Cheney), coincidentally from 2004:

“Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had hal[sic] guerrilla insurgency [that] controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress. The human drive for freedom, the determination of these people to vote, was unbelievable. The terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places; as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied the right to vote.”

Coincidence? Not on your life.

The timing of Holbrooke’s comments defending the legitimacy of the election, coming before the election takes place, exposes the game plan for the weeks ahead. Holbrooke is seeking to preempt questions about election legitimacy before the election takes place because the administration plans to defend the legitimacy of the election no matter what. That’s because this is what occupiers do–what Edward Herman calls “ratification-of-conquest.”  The Obama administration needs to be able to point to a “legitimate” election so they can translate that legitimacy into a perception of legitimacy for their entire Afghanistan policy.

For an example of how this works, see Dick Cheney, January 2006:

And I think we’ve had a lot of good news out of Iraq over the course of the last year. It’s hard sometimes to see through that, given the continued level of violence, obviously.

But when you look at the fact that they’ve made every political deadline that’s been set: January elections, wrote a constitution in the summer, ratified it in October, national elections in December. It’s been a — I think a remarkable success story so far.

We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I think the president has made the point repeatedly out there that the only way we lose is if we pack is it in and go home. And we’re clearly not going to do that.

Or Dick Cheney, Feb. 23, 2007:

When asked whether the Bush administration had a failed strategy in Iraq, Cheney pushed back hard, insisting there had been significant progress.

“A failed strategy? Let’s see. We didn’t fail when we got rid of Saddam,” Cheney said. “We didn’t fail when we held elections. We didn’t fail when we got a constitution written. Those are all success stories.”

But, most infamously, see Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, May/June, 2005, emphasis mine:

On CNN’s ”Larry King Live” on Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney said of the violence in Iraq, ”I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.”

This is after May became the deadliest month for US forces since the January elections, with 76 US military casualties.

At a press conference on Tuesday, President Bush was asked about the US casualties and the deaths of 760 Iraqis since the new Iraqi government was named April 28. A reporter asked Bush, ”Do you think that the insurgency is gaining strength and becoming more lethal?”

Bush responded, ”I think the Iraqi people dealt the insurgents a serious blow when they, when we had the elections.”

For the record, this month is already the deadliest month of the Afghanistan war so far.

Purple fingers, anyone?

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Much has been made of the so-called “civilian surge” that’s supposed to accompany the military escalation in Afghanistan, but it comes with an ugly caveat: a civilian surge means an escalation in the presence of private military contractors like Xe, formerly known as Blackwater, acting as guards and bodyguards.

Nancy Youssef’s McClatchy article last week details how the security firms are clamping down around civilian life in Kabul and beyond, driving resentment (emphasis mine).

Huge intimidating convoys of armored SUVs now are common sights in the city’s growing traffic jams. …Nearly every day, there’s some incident involving security teams pointing guns out of windows at frightened commuters.

“I have not faced an incident myself, but in front of me I saw foreigners shoot and kill two people in a small bus. We feel like we are condemned in our own country. They came from thousands of miles away, and my car can’t go in front of them. We are not happy about this situation,” said Mohammad Aziz Azizi, 45, the head of a cultural society.

For anyone who’s visited Baghdad in recent years, the feeling is familiar: the tension of never knowing when violence might break out, when a wrong turn or a moment of inattention might bring one face-to-face with a security guard whose first priority is to protect the life of the person he’s assigned to.

We’ve seen this movie before.

These for-profit mercenaries managed to not only incense Iraqis, but U.S. troops as well with their gung-ho brandish-weapons-and-shoot-first mode of operation. A civilian surge of the type pushed by supporters of the military escalation in Afghanistan, though, has the effect of flooding Afghanistan with contractors working for Blackwater and its cousins. Spencer Ackerman:

But what about the firms hired to protect the new State Department personnel on their way to Afghanistan? State Department security contractors like Blackwater Xe, Triple Canopy and DynCorp have been tied to more population-alienating abuses than the ones who work for the Defense Department.

The use of these contractors accompanying a “civilian surge” has a corrosive effect on life in Kabul, and have become a serious political problem for the continued U.S. occupation. Again, from Youssef’s article:

“In the mind of the Afghan people, democracy is tied to the arrival of the foreign forces,” said Wahed Mughzada, a political analyst. “They don’t like it.”

That’s contributing to growing calls for a timetable for U.S. forces to withdraw, said Ashraf Ghani, a leading candidate in next month’s presidential elections. He’s suggesting that the U.S. withdraw in seven years.

“The Afghans want the use of forces to be predictable. They feel they are not being heard,” Ghani said. “The pre-eminent issue is justice.”

Further, as the U.S. counterinsurgency operation established forward operating bases, we will likely see even more private security firms hired and sent to Afghanistan to act as guards.

So let’s recap. First, we find out that the supposed “civilian” surge in Afghanistan would be largely made up of military personnel. Now, we find that it requires widening the use of civilian contractors, including those from the very companies responsible for carnage and popular outrage in Iraq.

This is all starting to feel so very familiar.

In my first post in this series, I briefly mentioned the idea of a “seal,” i.e. a frontier that blocks the counterinsurgent’s opponents from escaping U.S. firepower and establishing a safe haven. The counterinsurgent wants to trap the opponent in a given geographic area and then convince the local population to expel them into the open. In Afghanistan, were the U.S. to continue to pursue a counterinsurgency strategy, that seal would have to be created along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. To do that, though, the U.S. would have to strengthen one of the most corrupt elements in the Afghan National Security Forces, even more corrupt than the Afghan police forces: The Afghan Border Police.

According to the Congressional Research Service:

By many accounts, the Afghan Border Police (ABP) may be beset by even greater incompetence and corruption than their AUP counterparts. To counteract these trends, GIRoA [Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan], working with coalition counterparts, launched the Focused Border Development (FBD) program, similar to the AUP [Afghanistan Uniform Police] FDD [Focused District Development]. Between October 2008 and September 2009, FBD is scheduled to train 52 company-sized units of ABP, at four training sites. The courses are conducted by U.S. private security contractors–Blackwater and DynCorp. The retraining also includes arming the ABP with heavier weapons, including Soviet-origin DShK heavy machine guns.

…Protecting the border, some officials suggest, may require not only trained and professional ABP personnel stationed along the border, but also additional aerial reconnaissance and quick response forces.

Let’s back up and give a little context. CRS described the above-mentioned training program as analagous to the Focused District Directive for the Afghan Uniform Police. The same CRS report relates the following about that directive:

Some observers, including senior officials from international organizations, have charged that the program is not comprehensive enough to be effective. “Taking thugs away for a few weeks,” one official observed, “just gives you better thugs.”

…Coalition officials caution, however, that the reform process will take time, since the aim is a fundamental cultural shift. Providing gear, they argue, especially weapons, to “unreformed” districts, without proper accountability, would likely prove counterproductive [emphasis mine].

So, in an analagous program, officials are leery of giving weapons to participants, but in a sister program dealing with an even more corrupt agency, the U.S. is providing training via Blackwater (oh, excuse me, Xe) and DynCorp and “arming the ABP with heavier weapons, including…DShK heavy machine guns.”

That…sounds like a really bad idea. Even if Blackwater and DynCorp weren’t involved. But they are.

[UPDATE: Here’s a bit of information on why it’s ludicrous to have DynCorp involved:

Actually, being an American contractor is not a plus in the eyes of the Afghan people, for they’ve had bitter experiences with them. They point to DynCorp, a Virginia-based contractor that got nearly a billion dollars in 2006 to train Afghan police. The bumbling “Inspector Clouseau” of comic fame could’ve done a better job. At least he might have amused the people.

What they got from DynCorp was a bunch of highly paid American “advisors” who were unqualified and knew nothing about the country. Some 70,000 police were to be trained, but less than half that number actually went through the ridiculous eight-week program, which included no field training.

A 2006 U.S. report on the DynCorp trainees deemed them to be “incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work.” Meanwhile, no one knows how many of the trainees ever reported for duty, or what happened to thousands of missing trucks and other pieces of police equipment that had been issued for the training.

So we can thank DynCorp, in part, for the absolute corrupt mess that is the Afghan police force. I assume that readers don’t need me to go into why it’s ludicrous to have Blackwater involved…]

So, let’s recap the story so far. In our attempt to apply a counterinsurgency paradigm to Afghanistan:

But wouldn’t you know it, that’s just the tip of the iceberg in Afghanistan.

Next: Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan will alter Iran’s cost/benefit analysis and push them to hinder the effort to stabilize the country, when past behavior indicates they could be a helpful influence.

What you can do until then:

As I said in my previous post on this topic, nonviolent and violentist Christians often mistreat the Hebrew scriptures. Violentist Christians assert that violence in the “Old” Testament tradition negates the possibility of nonviolence as a faithful interpretation of scripture. Nonviolent Christians concede the underlying assumption–that the only faithful interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures is the violent interpretation–and fall back on a kind of Marcionism or dispensationalism. Both of these approaches are incorrect.

It’s important for Christians to understand that the construction of our sacred scripture took place over a very long period and was the result of, to say the least, a very heavy editing job. Each hand that touched and formed the scripture worked in a particular historical context and with a particular agenda and perspective. I say this not to discredit the scriptures or undermine their authority; I only point out that several voices speak in the text. One can find in the so-called Old Testament, for example, verses celebrating or pining for vengeance, and the injunction against vengeance. Swords are hammered into plowshares, and plowshares hammered into swords. One must wrestle with the texts, prayerfully, if one is to discern the voice of God. And many Jews and others who study the Hebrew scriptures discern the voice of the God of Peace.

Take, for example, this passage from Leviticus (Vayikra) 19:16-18:

  • Do not be a talebearer or spread hate among the people.
  • Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.
  • Do not hate your brother or sister in your heart.
  • Rather speak directly to your brother and sister about your concerns.
  • Do not take vengeance. Do not bear a grudge against the children of your people.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself, I am YHVH.

The most recent issue of Fellowship Magazine features Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb interpreting these verses as the basis for nonviolence in the Jewish tradition:

I will interpret these words according to the tradition of interpretation by which I was ordained as a rabbi.  I stand before you today as a rabbi rooted in the lineage of those in the Jewish commnity who follow the path of engaged nonviolence, which is called shomer shalom. As a shomeret shalom I renew a vow of engaged nonviolence every year at Yom Kippur. My teachers, those whose memories are a blessing, and those who still walk upon this earth, have taught me the way of nonviolence as I seek peace and pursue peace (Psalm 34:15).

…I would like to interpret Vayikra. The first verse of the passage states: “Do not become a talebearer or spread hate among the people.” Hate speech is to be avoided because it often leads to acts of violence. As you are well aware, I come from a community that has experienced the genocidal results of hate speech leading to hate action…

…[T]he next verse of Leviticus instructs us: “Do not stand idly by the shedding of blood of your neighbor.” We are commanded not to be silent or passive in the face of prejudice, militarism, violence or structural injustice which privileges some while exploiting others. In fact, challenging systems of injustice is essential to peacemaking.

The text continues: “Do not harbor hatred of your brother or sister in your heart.” This mitzvah relates to the inner dimension of peacemaking. Even in the face of violence and the struggle for human rights we are told to remember that we are all one human family. …Hatred is a form of alienation as is linked to fear and violence. Therefore peacemaking begins by trying to erase hatred of others from one’s heart, to see the other as a full human being, to know that the flaws we find in others are also flaws within ourselves. We are to judge everyone from z’khaf zechut, a place of merit, and thus begin to build an atmosphere of trust out of which peace can grow even as we make every effort to redress wrongs.

Rather than respond to violence with violence we are told: speak directly to your brother or sister about your concerns. The Torah urges direct negotiations, acts of face-to-face reconciliation as the way to peace.

…As the next verse categorically states, as a matter of religious obligation, we are not to take vengeance, nor bear a grudge. This is a weighty obligation and the heart of the instruction to act nonviolently, even in the face of violence. This instruction is explicated further as the central tenet of all our traditions: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself. I am YHVH.” Love is not a sentiment, but a condition in which we face obstacles to peace with the view that the man or woman who stands before us is indeed our brother or our sister. We are commanded to choose love and not fear, love and not violence, love and not war.

And in case you were wondering how strongly she felt about this interpretation, Gottlieb gave this interpretation during a speech to a modest-sized group that included Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

[Incidentally, the NRSV translates Leviticus 19:16 slightly differently:

You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

Lockheeds, Boeings and Blackwaters, take notice.]

The Hebrew scriptures, aside from containing commands from God that can lead to a nonviolent theology, include several stories of nonviolent resistance to power. Arthur Waskow identified several incidents in a May/June 2003 article written for the Fellowship of Reconciliation:

  • The story of the saving of the baby Moses by Shifrah and Puah – the midwives who refused to obey Pharaoh’s order to murder Hebrew boy babies – is perhaps the first tale of nonviolent civil disobedience in world literature.
  • The process of liberation in the Exodus itself is woven with violence in the form of disastrous ecological upheavals and ultimately the death of Egypt’s firstborn. But the imposition of these plagues is ascribed to God, and thus placed one giant step away from Israelite behavior.
  • Jeremiah warns against using violence and military alliances to oppose the Babylonian Conquest, and argues instead that God will protect the people if Judah acts in accord with the ethical demands of Torah – freeing slaves, letting the land rest.
  • Daniel and his friends famously are cast into the lions’ den for nonviolently refusing to obey the king’s command to worship foreign gods.
  • And although the Book of Esther ends in violence, Esther herself demonstrates nonviolent civil disobedience when, in fear and trembling, she approaches the Persian king without having been invited so that she can carry out her mission to save the Jewish people from a murderous tyrant.
  • There is a powerful story of an Israelite king, Saul, who had to deal with an underground guerilla whom he thought of as a terrorist…named David. And David, with a very small band of underground guerillas, went off, hungry and desperate, and found food and protection at a sacred shrine, where they asked the priests to let them eat the show-bread, the lehem panim, the sacred bread placed before God, because they were desperately hungry. And the priests fed them from the sacred bread. When Saul heard about this, he said (more or less), “Anybody who harbors a terrorist is a terrorist!” (do you hear an echo?) and so King Saul ordered his own bodyguard to kill the priests of Nov. But the bodyguard refused. His own bodyguard, yet he refused to murder these priests. An act of nonviolent civil disobedience against an Israelite king, not an Egyptian Pharaoh.
  • Jeremiah…used “Yippie” acts of street theater to protest. He wore a yoke as he walked in public, embodying the yoke of God that the King had shrugged off, as well as the yoke of Babylonian captivity that the King was bringing on the people.

In my next post in this series, I’ll discuss the Genesis 1 account of creation and contrast it with other creation myths to show how, in context, the Judeo-Christian creation story gives a glimpse of a God of nonviolence, and of the nonviolent Word woven into the nature of the universe and by whom all things were made.

You can learn more about the shomer shalom tradition at the Shomer Shalom website.

“If the sword then not the book; if the book then not the sword.”

Shameless Plug

Posted: December 28, 2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Yesterday I wrote a piece on BraveNewFilms on the U.S. military’s use of outrage-stoking home raids in Afghanistan. (The point: these kinds of raids led directly to the uprising in Fallujah in 2003 that included the bodies of Blackwater contractors being hung over a bridge which then led to U.S. forces decimating Fallujah. That was the moment many observers point to as the true beginning of the insurgency in Iraq. Our use of these raids shows that the U.S. military has not learned lessons from the Iraq experience, and when they try to portray a proposed escalation in Afghanistan as “applying the lessons of Iraq,” it doesn’t pass the smell test.)

The post is now being promo’d on The Huffington Post. Go check it out and see what you think.