Jeremy Scahill

The Disturbing Truth Behind U.S. Drone Assassinations That the Government Tried to Keep Secret

The following is an excerpt from the new bookThe Assassination Complexby Jeremy Scahill & The Intercept Staff (Simon & Schuster, 2016): 

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Scahill: Will the Global War on Terror Ever End?

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Jeremy Scahill and Noam Chomsky: The Truth About America's Secret, Dirty Wars

The following is taken from a transcript of a special event featuring Jeremy Scahill and Noam Chomsky with Amy Goodman hosted by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the American Friends Service Committee of Massachusetts, the Cambridge Peace Commission and the Community Church of Boston that was broadcast by Democracy Now!. The event covered the subjects explored in Scahill's new book, Dirty Wars. The transcript starts with a speech by Scahill, who is later joined in a discussion with Goodman and Chomsky.

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The Secret Story Behind Obama’s Assassination of Two Americans in the Name of Fighting the 'War on Terror'

The Obama administration’s assassination of two U.S. citizens in 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old Denver-born son Abdulrahman, is a central part of Jeremy Scahill’s new book, "Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield." The book is based on years of reporting on U.S. secret operations in Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan. While the Obama administration has defended the killing of Anwar, it has never publicly explained why Abdulrahman was targeted in a separate drone strike two weeks later. Scahill reveals CIA Director John Brennan, Obama’s former senior adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security, suspected that the teenager had been killed "intentionally." "The idea that you can simply have one branch of government unilaterally and in secret declare that an American citizen should be executed or assassinated without having to present any evidence whatsoever, to me, is a — we should view that with great sobriety about the implications for our country," says Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation Magazine. On Tuesday,  the U.S. Senate is preparing to hold its first-ever hearing on the Obama administration’s drone and targeted killing program. However, the Obama administration is refusing to send a witness to answer questions about the program’s legality. 

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Dirty Wars: New Film Exposes Hidden Truths of Covert U.S. Warfare

AMY GOODMAN: We have flown from Washington, D.C., from the inauguration, to Park City, Utah, to cover the Sundance Film Festival. It’s the 10th anniversary of the documentary track. And we’re going to start off by getting response to President Obama’s inaugural address. On Monday, President Obama declared a decade of war is now ending and that lasting peace does not require perpetual war. But he never mentioned the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan by name.

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Why Did Obama Help Lock Up a Yemeni Journalist?

The following article first appeared on the Web site of The Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its e-mail newsletters here. 

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Why Are Your Tax Dollars Funding Secret CIA Prisons in Somalia?

The following article first appeared on the Web site of The Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for their e-mail newsletters here.

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Secret Recording of Blackwater CEO Erik Prince Reveals Previously Undisclosed Blackwater Operations

Democracy Now! Co-host Sharif Abdel Kouddous: Erik Prince doesn’t like being in the media spotlight. The reclusive owner of the private military firm known as Blackwater is scheduled to give the keynote address tomorrow at the Tulip Time Festival in his hometown of Holland, Michigan. True to form, Prince told the event’s organizers no news reporting could be done on his speech and they consented to the ban. But journalists and media associations in Michigan protested the move and on Monday, the organizers reversed their position and said the media would be allowed to attend with one caveat: no video or audio recording devices are allowed inside. Despite Prince’s attempts to shield his speeches from public scrutiny, investigative journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill obtained a rare audio recording of a recent, private speech delivered by Prince to a friendly audience in January. The speech, which Prince attempted to keep from public consumption provides a stunning glimpse into his views and future plans and reveals details of previously undisclosed activities of Blackwater. 

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Secret Erik Prince/Blackwater Tape Exposed

Erik Prince, the reclusive owner of the Blackwater empire, rarely gives public speeches and when he does he attempts to ban journalists from attending and forbids recording or videotaping of his remarks. On May 5, that is exactly what Prince is trying to do when he speaks at DeVos Fieldhouse as the keynote speaker for the "Tulip Time Festival" in his hometown of Holland, Michigan. He told the event's organizers no news reporting could be done on his speech and they consented to the ban. Journalists and media associations in Michigan are protesting this attempt to bar reporting on his remarks.

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Has Disaster Profiteering Already Begun in Haiti?

The Orwellian-named mercenary trade group, the International Peace Operations Association, didn't waste much time in offering the "services" of its member companies to swoop down on Haiti for some old fashioned  humanitarian assistance disaster profiteering. Within hours of the massive earthquake in Haiti, the IPOA created a special web page for prospective clients, saying: "In the wake of the tragic events in Haiti, a number of IPOA's member companies are available and prepared to provide a wide variety of critical relief services to the earthquake’s victims."

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Two Blackwater Guards Arrested by FBI on Murder Charges

Two former Blackwater operatives were arrested by U.S. federal agents on murder charges, stemming from their alleged involvement in the shooting deaths of two Afghan civilians in Kabul in May. They have been identified as Justin Cannon, 27, of Corpus Christi, Texas, and Christopher Drotleff, 29, of Virginia Beach, Va. They have been charged with "crimes including second-degree murder, attempted murder and firearms offenses while working as contractors for the U.S. Department of Defense in Afghanistan," according to the Justice Department. The 13-count indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia on Jan. 6 and unsealed today.

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Stunning Statistics About the War in Afghanistan Every American Should Know

A hearing in Sen. Claire McCaskill’s Contract Oversight subcommittee on contracting in Afghanistan has highlighted some important statistics that provide a window into the extent to which the Obama administration has picked up the Bush-era war privatization baton and sprinted with it. Overall, contractors now comprise a whopping 69% of the Department of Defense’s total workforce, “the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in US history.” That’s not in one war zone -- that’s the Pentagon in its entirety.

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Cindy McCain Bankrolled Conference That Called for Ban on Mercenaries

A little-publicized U.S. Naval Academy conference named after Senator John McCain and bankrolled by his wealthy wife, Cindy, issued a call earlier this year for the U.S. government to ban the use of armed private security contractors like Blackwater in U.S. war zones, stating bluntly, "contractors should not be deployed as security guards, sentries, or even prison guards within combat areas."

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The Mysterious Electrocution Death of a Military Contractor in Iraq

Adam Vernon Hermanson "was a natural-born leader," according to his brother, Jesse. In 2002, just before his eighteenth birthday, Adam enlisted in the U.S. military, armed with the required permission from his parents because he was not legally an adult. Adam spent six years in the Air Force. In all, he did three tours in Iraq and one in Uzbekistan. After he was honorably discharged from the military in early 2009 with the rank of staff sergeant, Hermanson took up employment as a private bodyguard in his hometown of Las Vegas, where, according to his family, he protected a wealthy individual. But according to Jesse, Adam was interested in returning to Iraq as a private military contractor. "He had been talking about it a lot; he was interested in Blackwater," Jesse recalls.

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Does a Senior Obama Official Have Unseemly Ties to Notorious Human-Rights Abuser Chevron?

It is well known that under the Bush administration oil corporations were basically given a spare set of keys to the White House. Dick Cheney and the Bush family had ties to big oil as deep as an offshore drilling operation. Among those in bed with big oil was Bush's National Security Adviser/Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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Did Washington Turn a Blind Eye to the Coup in Honduras?

There is a lot of great analysis circulating on the military coup against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. I do not see a need to re-invent the wheel. (See hereherehere and here). However, a few key things jump out at me. First, we know that the coup was led by Gen. Romeo Vasquez, a graduate of the U.S. Army School of the Americas. As we know very well from history, these “graduates” maintain ties to the U.S. military as they climb the military career ladders in their respective countries. That is a major reason why the U.S. trains these individuals.

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Little Known Military Thug Squad Still Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo Under Obama

As the Obama administration continues to fight the release of some 2,000 photos that graphically document U.S. military abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, an ongoing Spanish investigation is adding harrowing details to the ever-emerging portrait of the torture inside and outside Guantánamo. Among them: "blows to [the] testicles;" "detention underground in total darkness for three weeks with deprivation of food and sleep;" being "inoculated … through injection with 'a disease for dog cysts;'" the smearing of feces on prisoners; and waterboarding. The torture, according to the Spanish investigation, all occurred "under the authority of American military personnel" and was sometimes conducted in the presence of medical professionals.

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What if Instead of the Nuremberg Trials There Was Only a Truth Commission?

Representatives John Conyers and Jerrold Nadler are officially asking Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint an independent Special Prosecutor to investigate the Bush-era US torture system. But, as Politico reports, “Holder is likely to reject that request – his boss, the president, has indicated he doesn’t see the need for such a prosecutor.” The Democratic Leadership, particularly Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Diane Feinstein have pushed for secret, closed-door hearings in the Senate Intelligence Committee. Other Democrats, like Patrick Leahy, advocate establishing a Truth Commission, though that is not gaining any momentum. The fact remains that some powerful Democrats knew that the torture was happening and didn’t make a public peep in opposition.

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Why is the Center For American Progress Cavorting With Neocons?

The Center for American Progress, which was founded by former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta in 2003, masqueraded as a “progressive,” semi-anti-war organization through the dark years of the Bush administration when it required little political courage to oppose the White House and wars that were portrayed as Bush’s or the Republicans’. While feigning opposition to the Iraq war, CAP refused to confront Democrats over their continued funding of that war. After Obama’s election, Podesta, of course, headed the transition team, which swiftly appointed hawkish Democrats from the Clinton era, kept on Robert Gates and other Republicans, sidelined progressives and in doing so won praise from neocons and other Republicans. Now that “their” guys -- big “D” Democrats -- are back in power, CAP has assumed its rightful place as a partisan front group for the Democratic Party’s power structure and for selling Obama’s wars to “progressives.”

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Mercenary King Erik Prince Resigns as Blackwater CEO

The company formerly known as Blackwater continues its mission to bury its tarnished reputation and soldier on. Early this morning, Blackwater founder Erik Prince released a brief statement announcing he is stepping down as CEO of the infamous mercenary firm he started in 1997. A press release from the company -- which last month renamed itself "Xe" -- said Prince "will now focus his efforts on a private equity venture unrelated to the company."

In a personal message sent to his employees and clients, Prince sought to cast his departure as a natural part of the firm’s ongoing evolution. "As many of you know, because we focus on continually improving our business that Xe is in the process of a comprehensive restructuring,” he wrote. “It is with pride in our many accomplishments and confidence in Xe's future that I announce my resignation as the company's Chief Executive Officer."

Prince's resignation could be seen as a public formality in what has been a dramatic attempt to scrub all public vestiges of Blackwater, given that he remains chairman and sole owner of the network of companies now operating under the Xe umbrella. But it's clear the firm has been thrown into turmoil in recent months. As the Xe statement says, "These appointments follow the addition and departures of several other key personnel. Recent departures from the company include its former Vice Chairman, Chief Operating Officer, President, and Executive Vice President." Joseph Yorio, an ex-Army Special Forces officer and former Vice President of the international shipping company DHL was announced as the new Xe president -- a somewhat humorous development, given Prince's fondness for describing Blackwater as the "FedEx of the U.S. national security apparatus." Meanwhile, Danielle Esposito, a longtime Blackwater employee, was named Xe's new Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President.

The rebranding of Blackwater and its attempts to hide its former self have been downright crude. The company's domestic training centers, which some refer to as private military bases, are now simply labeled "U.S. Training Center." Gone is the sexy black-and-red logo featuring a bear paw in a sniper-scope; it has been replaced by a nondescript, rather amateurish sketch of an American Eagle. The company website has been revamped and scaled down.

One thing that does remain is the Blackwater ProShop, where you can still purchase items ranging from all the ammunition and tactical gear you would need for your own private war, to the ever-popular Blackwater teddy bear. There is currently a blow-out sale in Blackwater baby onesies, which have been reduced from $18 to $10. Toddler polos have also had their ticket price slashed.

Blackwater Operatives Indicted for Slaughter of Iraqi Civilians

For 1,929 days, the Bush administration's mercenary force of choice, Blackwater Worldwide, has operated on a US government contract in Iraq in a climate that has wed immunity with impunity. Today the Justice Department took the first concrete step to hold accountable the individuals responsible for the single greatest massacre of Iraqi civilians at the hands of an armed private force deployed in Iraq by the US government.

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Blackwater Busted? Six Guards May Be Charged in Iraq Massacre

After more than five years of rampant violence and misconduct carried out by the massive army of private corporate contractors in Iraq -- actions that have gone totally unpunished under any system of law -- the US Justice Department appears to be on the verge of handing down the first indictments against armed private forces for crimes committed in Iraq. The reported targets of the "draft" indictments: six Blackwater operatives involved in the September 16, 2007, killing of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square.The Associated Press reports, "The draft is being reviewed by senior Justice Department officials but no charging decisions have been made. A decision is not expected until at least later this month." The AP, citing sources close to the case, reports that the department has not determined if the Blackwater operatives would be charged with manslaughter or assault. Simply drafting the indictments does not mean that the Blackwater forces are certain to face charges. The department could indict as few as three of the operatives, who potentially face sentences of five to twenty years, depending on the charges.

If the Justice Department pursues a criminal prosecution, it would be the first time armed private contractors from the United States face justice.

But that is a very big "if."

"The Justice Department has had this matter for fourteen months and has done almost everything imaginable to walk away from it -- including delivering a briefing to Congress in which they suggested that they lacked legal authority to press charges," says Scott Horton, distinguished visiting professor of law at Hofstra University and author of a recent study of legal accountability for private security contractors. "They did this notwithstanding evidence collected by the first teams on the scene that suggested an ample basis to prosecute. The ultimate proof here will be in the details, namely, what charges are brought exactly and what evidence has Justice assembled to make its case. Still, it's hard to miss Justice's lack of enthusiasm about this case, and that's troubling."

Even if some Blackwater operatives face charges, critics allege it is the company that must be held responsible. "I am encouraged that the Justice Department is finally making progress in the investigation, but I am disappointed that it took over a year and a lot of pressure for the department to take any action," says Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who introduced legislation that seeks to ban using Blackwater and other armed security companies in US war zones. (She was also the national campaign co-chair of Barack Obama's presidential campaign and is a top candidate to replace him in the US Senate.)

"While it is important to hold these individual contractors accountable for their actions, we must also hold Blackwater accountable for creating a culture that allows this type of reckless behavior," adds Schakowsky. "The indictments do nothing to solve the underlying problem of private security contractors performing critical government functions. The indictments will likely get rid of a few bad apples, but there will be no real consequences for Blackwater. This company is going to continue to do business as usual -- the solution is to get them out of this business."

News of potential indictments over the Nisour Square shootings comes as the State Department is reportedly preparing to hit Blackwater with a multimillion-dollar fine for allegedly shipping as many as 900 automatic weapons to Iraq without the required permits. Some of the guns may have made their way to the black market.

Blackwater has served as the official bodyguard service for senior US occupation officials since August 2003, when the company was awarded a $27 million no-bid contract to guard L. Paul Bremer, the original head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. To date, the company has raked in more than $1 billion in "security" contracts under its arrangement with the State Department.

Despite widespread accusations of killings of civilians and other crimes, not a single armed contractor from Blackwater -- or from any other armed war corporation -- has faced charges under any legal system. Instead, they have operated in a climate where immunity and impunity have gone hand in hand. At present, private contractors -- most of them unarmed -- outnumber US troops in Iraq by roughly 50,000 personnel.

There is no doubt that the Bush administration will continue enthusiastically to use armed private forces until the second Bush leaves office. This means that the future of Blackwater and the hundreds of for-profit war corporations servicing the Iraq occupation will lay with President-elect Barack Obama. This includes Blackwater and at least 300 other companies, which have been hired by the US government for privatized armed services in Iraq to the tune of about $6 billion in taxpayer money.

"One of the biggest problems that Barack Obama is going to have is turning the government back into a civil service and getting rid of all the private contractors," says Washington Democratic Representative Jim McDermott. "The private contracting thing is the most erosive thing that this administration has done. You look at all the things that are being run by private contractors, you simply cannot be handing money to a private contractor who is not under the law of that country or the law of this country and can do anything they want. They're really -- they're rogue outfits."

Obama has been a passionate critic of the war industry and is the sponsor of the leading Democratic legislation in the Senate to bring more effective regulation and oversight to it. But he has stopped short of supporting Schakowsky and Senator Bernie Sanders's legislation seeking a ban on using Blackwater and other armed contracting companies in Iraq. One of his top foreign policy advisers toldThe Nation earlier this year that Obama "can't rule out [and] won't rule out" using these companies in Iraq.

In a brief interview with Democracy Now! in February, Obama explainedhis position when asked about the report in The Nation.

"Here's the problem: we have 140,000 private contractors right there, so unless we want to replace all of or a big chunk of those with US troops, we can't draw down the contractors faster than we can draw down our troops," Obama said. "So what I want to do is draw -- I want them out in the same way that we make sure that we draw out our own combat troops."

As Obama's inauguration day draws near, he is facing increased calls from Democrats who have spent years investigating Blackwater to ban the company. Most prominent among these is Henry Waxman, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He called on Obama to cancel Blackwater's security contracts. "I don't see any reason to have a contract with Blackwater," says Waxman. "They haven't lived up to their contract, and we shouldn't be having these private military contracts. We should use our own military."

As of now, Blackwater's Iraq contract expires in April (it was extended for a year by the State Department despite numerous investigations). "I think there should be very strong handcuffs put on this whole outsourcing question, but particularly with these private security contractors like DynCorp and Blackwater," says Vermont Democrat Peter Welch, who serves on the Oversight Committee with Waxman and supports the calls for Obama to cancel Blackwater's security contracts. "It's just an incredible waste of taxpayer money. It dishonors the Code of Military Conduct. Our soldiers are over there. They abide by rules. Blackwater doesn't."

But not all Democrats agree. Senator John Kerry, who is reportedly among the people being considered for Secretary of State in the Obama administration, shares the president-elect's view. "I don't think they should be banned," says Kerry. "I think they need to operate under rules that apply to the military and everybody else."

As of January 20, 2009, if Obama decides to keep Blackwater and other armed war corporations on the US payroll, these private forces would go from being Bush's mercenaries in Iraq to Obama's. As commander in chief, he would be responsible for their crimes. As for the accountability issue, many critics allege that the most serious problems in holding contractors responsible for their crimes stem from the Bush administration's covering-up of their misconduct and immunizing them from prosecution, and the total lack of political will to bring them to justice. When Obama appoints a new attorney general, there will be more than five years' worth of crimes to investigate -- and prosecute.

Bailout Protesters Send a Strong Message from Wall Street

Updated: These photos were sent to us by Jeremy Scahill who attended the protests against Bush's bailout in New York City:

Click for larger version
Click for larger version.

Vets for Peace Demonstrate Against Fellow Veteran John McCain

Despite the serious questions surrounding the uncertain fate of this week's convention, protests are continuing. On Monday, Iraq Veterans Against the War marched on the Xcel Center in an attempt to raise awareness about what they characterize as Senator John McCain's anti-veteran voting record and his continued support for the occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.

On Sunday, there was another veteran-led protest, this one organized by Vets for Peace, a large national organization made up of veterans of every war, from Korea and Vietnam and Iraq. Vets for Peace held its national convention here in the Twin Cities over the weekend, drawing hundreds of veterans, and many of its members are staying on to participate in anti-RNC demonstrations. Among the members of Vets For Peace, there's a sizeable contingent of Vietnam War vets. So, too, is the man they are demonstrating against: the presumptive presidential nominee John McCain.

Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill filed this report from the streets of the Twin Cities.

Would Obama Ban Blackwater and Other Mercenary Companies?

Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill talks with Congressman Henry Waxman, chair of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, about whether Sen. Barack Obama would cancel the private military firm Blackwater's Iraq contract if Obama is elected president. Serious questions remain about what Obama will do with this massive private, shadow army in Iraq.

Watch part 2 of this report here.

And for more on the war profiteers, check out Iraq for Sale.

Jeremy Scahill Confronts BlackWater Honchos

Last week, I spoke at a conference organized by NYU's Center on Law and Security called "Privatizing Defense: Blackwater, Contractors, and American Security." Also present at the conference were Blackwater Worldwide vice president Martin Strong and a lawyer for Blackwater, David Hammond. At the conference, I confronted Strong on Blackwater's killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. The day after our exchange, the Bush Administration extended Blackwater's Iraq "security" contract for another year:

Democracy Now! videotaped the session and covered Blackwater's contract extension -- the video is in the window to your right.

JEREMY SCAHILL, AUTHOR, BLACKWATER: My name is Jeremy Scahill. I find it very telling that nowhere on this panel do we hear a voice talking about the Iraqi victims of these companies. I find it very interesting--the way that Mr. Strong and Mr. [Doug] Brooks [president of the pro-industry International Peace Operations Association] talk about this, we could be at a banking convention.

Anti-War Campaigners Have to Change Electoral Tactics


So said Dick Cheney when asked last week about public opinion being overwhelming against the war in Iraq. "You can't be blown off course by polls."

His attitude about the the fact that the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq has reached 4,000 displayed similar levels of sympathy. They "voluntarily put on the uniform," the Vice-President told ABC news.
This brick wall of indifference helps explain the paradox in which we in the anti-war camp find ourselves five years into the occupation of Iraq: anti-war sentiment is as strong as ever, but our movement seems to be dwindling.

Sixty-four per cent of Americans tell pollsters they oppose the war, but you'd never know it from the thin turnout at recent anniversary rallies and vigils.

When asked why they aren't expressing their anti-war opinions through the anti-war movement, many say they have simply lost faith in the power of protest. They marched against the war before it began, marched on the first, second and third anniversaries. And yet five years on, U.S. leaders are still shrugging: "So?"

There is no question that the Bush administration has proven impervious to public pressure. That's why it's time for the anti-war movement to change tactics. We should direct our energy where it can still have an impact: the leading Democratic contenders.
Many argue otherwise. They say that if we want to end the war, we should simply pick a candidate who is not John McCain and help them win: We'll sort out the details after the Republicans are evicted from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Some of the most prominent anti-war voices--from to the magazine we write for, The Nation--have gone this route, throwing their weight behind the Obama campaign.
This is a serious strategic mistake. It is during a hotly contested campaign that anti-war forces have the power to actually sway U. S. policy. As soon as we pick sides, we relegate ourselves to mere cheerleaders.

And when it comes to Iraq, there is little to cheer. Look past the rhetoric and it becomes clear that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton has a real plan to end the occupation. They could, however, be forced to change their positions--thanks to the unique dynamics of the prolonged primary battle.
Despite the calls for Clinton to withdraw in the name of "unity," it is the very fact that Clinton and Obama are still fighting it out, fiercely vying for votes, that presents the anti-war movement with its best pressure point. And our pressure is badly needed.
For the first time in 14 years, weapons manufacturers are donating more to Democrats than to Republicans. The Dems have received 52 percent of the defense industry's political donations in this election cycle--up from a low of 32 per cent in 1996. That money is about shaping foreign policy, and so far, it appears to be well spent.
While Clinton and Obama denounce the war with great passion, they both have detailed plans to continue it. Both say they intend to maintain the massive Green Zone, including the monstrous U.S. embassy, and to retain U.S. control of the Baghdad Airport.
They will have a "strike force" to engage in counterterrorism, as well as trainers for the Iraqi military. Beyond these U.S. forces, the army of Green Zone diplomats will require heavily armed security details, which are currently provided by Blackwater and other private security companies. At present there are as many private contractors supporting the occupation as there are soldiers so these plans could mean tens of thousands of U. S. personnel entrenched for the future.

In sharp contrast to this downsized occupation is the unequivocal message coming from hundreds of soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq Veterans Against the War, who held the historic "Winter Soldier" hearings in Silver Spring, Md. earlier this month, are not supporting any candidate or party. Instead they are calling for immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. soldiers and contractors. Coming from peace activists, the "out now" position has been dismissed as naive. It is distinctly harder to ignore coming from hundreds who have served--and continue to serve--on the frontlines.
The candidates know that much of the passion fueling their campaigns flows from the desire among so many rank-and-file Democrats to end this disastrous war. It is this desire for change that has filled stadiums and campaign coffers.

Crucially, the candidates have already shown that they are vulnerable to pressure from the peace camp: When The Nation revealed that neither candidate was supporting legislation that would ban the use of Blackwater and other private security companies in Iraq, Clinton abruptly changed course. She became the most important U. S. political leader to endorse the ban, scoring a point on Obama, who opposed the invasion from the start.

This is exactly where we want the candidates: outdoing each other to prove how serious they are about ending the war. That kind of issue-based battle has the power to energize voters and break the cynicism that is threatening both campaigns.
Let's remember: unlike the outgoing Bush administration, these candidates need the support of the two-thirds of Americans who oppose the war in Iraq. If opinion transforms into action, they won't be able to afford to say, "So?"

A View of Iraq From Beyond the Green Zone

EDITOR'S NOTE: Dahr Jamail has spent more time reporting from Iraq than almost any other US journalist. His new book, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, is a chronicle of his experiences there. He recently sat down with Nation correspondent Jeremy Scahill to talk about the supposed "success" of Bush's troop surge, what would happen if Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton wins the White House and why he believes an immediate withdrawal from Iraq is the only way to peace. Here's an edited transcript of that interview.

Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have indicated that US troops are not going to be withdrawn in any significant manner in the first term of a presidency. What do you think would happen if the US did withdraw immediately from Iraq?

We have a specific example of what would likely happen throughout Iraq if the US were to withdraw completely. When the Brits recently pulled out of their last base in Basra City late last year, The Independent reported that according to the British military, violent attacks dropped 90 percent. I think that goes to show that the Brits down in Basra, like the Americans in central and northern Iraq, have been the primary cause of the violence and the instability. And I think it's easy to see that when the US does pull out completely, we would have a dramatic de-escalation in violence. We would have increased stability and it would be the first logical step for Iraqis to form their own government. This time, it would actually have popular support, unlike the current government, where less than 1 percent of Iraqis polled even support it or even find it legitimate at all.

Now, obviously, we have a situation in Iraq right now that's very different from the era of Saddam Hussein: many pockets of power, various leaders who have their own armed factions, and a much more significant Iranian influence. How do you see that playing out in the absence of US troops? What do you think would happen among those various groups that are vying for power, and have a significant volume of weapons?

One of the key reasons Iran has the influence it does in Iraq right now is because the US itself appointed Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. We have to remember that he was in no way, shape or form democratically elected. After the January 30, 2005, elections, one of the first tasks of the government was to choose its own prime minister. It chose Ibrahim Al-Jaafari. And then when he wasn't toeing the US-UK line enough, Condoleezza Rice and her UK counterpart, Jack Straw, flew to Baghdad. And right before they left from their trip, Jaafari was out, Maliki was in.

Maliki, head of the Dawa party, was in exile in Tehran for numerous years, and is basically a political figurehead of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), whose armed wing, the Badr Organization, has staunch Iranian support. It was basically formed in Iran and came into Iraq on the heels of the invasion forces. So I think, again, with [Maliki] out, and with other Iranian puppets in the government out, we would have more nationalist Iraqis who would certainly be able to start making moves toward reconciliation.

Who do you see emerging in a post-occupation Iraq if the US did leave? What are the major political forces in the country that could unify Iraq under one national flag?

It's difficult to say at this point, but there are some political figures who do have popular support. There's a Shia cleric, Sheikh Jawad al-Khalasi, who has mass popular support. He's renowned for being able to bridge differences between Sunni and Shia political groups right now. There's Dr. Wamid Omar Nadhmi, a Sunni, who also has that same effect. He's relatively nonsectarian, compared to everyone else on the scene right now. They have started to form a shadow -- I wouldn't say government, but certainly political organization -- that is a coalition of many different groups. There's Al-Khalasi, there's Dr. Wamid Omar Nadhmi, there's Kurds, there's Christians, there's Turkomen, there's numerous groups represented in this political structure that they have right now. It's based primarily out of Syria, and sometimes they have meetings in Jordan, but this type of political structure would be able to come in and, I think, begin to fill what vacuum would be created.

You've spent a lot of time in Al-Anbar province and in Sunni areas of Iraq. And we've seen the United States and the commanders declare Anbar province a "victory." We've also seen some Sunni puppet figures who have allied themselves with the United States assassinated in recent months, most prominently Abu Risha. What happened in Al-Anbar province?

What's happening in Al-Anbar province today is akin to what the US did in Fallujah, when they were repelled out of the city during the April '04 siege. They essentially saved face by ceasing patrols and buying off the militants in the city. They put them on the payroll -- mujahedeen basically started donning Iraqi police uniforms and Iraqi civil defense corps uniforms -- and took over control of security of the city. When I interviewed them in May, they said this was the most peace they'd had in the city since before the invasion had ever taken place. They were quite happy with it, most people in the city were quite happy with that situation.

But essentially, the US plan ended up backfiring. Because they had to go back in the city in November, they didn't want it to remain the only liberated city in the country. That fighting was far more violent and took so many more deaths, on both sides of the conflict, than even the April siege did. And so we have now a macro version of that same policy in Al-Anbar, where various tribal sheikhs who are willing to collaborate have stepped up. They're taking millions and millions of dollars of US taxpayer money. They're basically being bought off to not fight against the Americans, while simultaneously the Americans, for the moment in Al-Anbar, are sticking closer to their bases, and relying more on airpower than ground troops if any fighting breaks out.

And so right now, that's why Al-Anbar is notably more quiet. But it's a ticking time bomb. Because this is a policy where even US soldiers on the ground right now in Al-Anbar are expressing concerns. They know all too well that they're now working with these people who, three days ago or three weeks ago, they were actually fighting. And some of these people are still lobbing mortars into their bases at night.

So we have tensions. We have the US military trying to ID all these people, so that when things become violent again, they'll know who these people are and where to go get them, while simultaneously, these same fighters are, of course, gathering very, very valuable intelligence by being able to work with the Americans and go around with them.

You've spent about eight months in Iraq unembedded. A lot of your time was spent with ordinary Iraqis, documenting the suffering, the deaths, the civilian injuries. You've also spent time in other countries talking to Iraqi refugees. One of the things that's lost in the mainstream coverage is the extent of the death that's happened in Iraq. In fact, there was an AP-Ipsos poll not too long ago that found that a majority of Americans believed that fewer than 10,000 Iraqis had died since the start of the invasion. Give a sense of the scope of the death that has taken place in Iraq.

This is a good example of why the media coverage is still so horribly skewed. Even though a lot of people tend to think, "Well, the media is coming around a little bit, that it is showing that the occupation is not going well, and that there's suffering." But really, contrast what you may see in some of the larger media outlets with some of these figures from the ground in Iraq.

We look at, for example, how many people have died, based on figures primarily produced by The Lancet report in October '06, which showed 655,000 Iraqis had been killed, or 2.5 percent of the total population of the country.

Another group, called Just Foreign Policy, has taken those figures and extrapolated from them based on more recent media reports, because that first survey, that Lancet survey, the legwork was carried out in July 2005. And so from that time until this time, with new data, it's now estimated by the group Just Foreign Policy that over 1,100,000 Iraqis have been killed. In addition to that, we can estimate that, very conservatively, another 3 million are wounded. According to the UN these figures are too low as well; I've been told this by a UN spokesperson myself when I was in Syria last summer.

Current figures: 2.5 million internally displaced Iraqis in their own country, another 2.5 million refugees outside of the country. In addition to that, another 4 million Iraqis are in dire need of emergency assistance, according to an Oxfam International report released last July. When we take into account the fact that Iraq's total population has fallen from 27 million, when the invasion was launched, to now roughly 23 million, when we add all those figures up, that means over half the total population of the entire country are either refugees -- in or out of their country -- wounded, in dire need of emergency aid, or dead.

In addition to that, we have the infrastructure, where on every measurable level, it's worse now than it was after nearly thirty years of Saddam Hussein's reign, and twelve years of genocidal sanctions. Even oil exports have not for one day been at or above pre-war levels -- and this is where Iraq gets 90 percent of its income. Electricity: the average home has anywhere from zero hours of electricity per day to maybe six or seven hours on a really good day. Unemployment: it's between 60 or 70 percent, vacillating right now. During the sanctions, it was roughly 33 percent, which is about what it was here during the Great Depression. So 60 to 70 percent unemployment, on top of that, 70 percent inflation. We have 45 percent of Iraqis living in abject poverty on less than $1 per day. Seventy percent of Iraqis don't even have access to safe drinking water. So that gives you an idea of the magnitude of how horrific the suffering really has become. According to Refugees International, it's the fastest-growing refugee crisis on the planet.

You haven't been to Iraq for a number of months, but you are regularly in touch with Iraqis on the ground. In fact, a lot of the articles that you do you co-author with Iraqi colleagues still on the ground. Many of the journalists who do go to Iraq are trapped in the Green Zone -- or what an Iraqi friend of mine calls the Green Zoo. And so, in a way, you may be in a better position to analyze what's happening there, because of your regular contact with unembedded Iraqi journalists. Give us a couple of examples of news that's not making it out of Iraq.

I was recently working on a story about Fallujah because one of my Iraqi colleagues lives there. And again, contrast this with what maybe you've been hearing about Fallujah. In fact, it's even been held up by various Bush Administration officials over the last several months as a model city. Look, it's calmer, things are better now, the plan is working, the surge is working. Well in Fallujah, according to my friend who lives there, the security measures that were imposed around the city by the US military during the November '04 siege -- the biometric data, the retina scans, the fingerprinting, the mandatory, bar-coded IDs for everyone trying to go in and out of the city. That remains, that has not changed at all. In addition to that, businesspeople estimate that there's approximately 80 percent unemployment in the city. There are entire neighborhoods that still do not have electricity or running water since the November '04 siege. There's still tens of thousands of refugees from the city from the April '04 siege, not even talking about November.

There's been a vehicle ban, to one degree or another, imposed on the city since May. So how do you live in a city of 350,000 people, when the majority of the time, you can't even drive a vehicle. Most people are either walking or literally using horse-drawn or donkey-drawn carts. And he quoted a man as saying, relatively recently, that yes, it is quieter in Fallujah today, but it's the same quiet as a dead body is quiet. That there's no normal life, that the hospital there doesn't get medicines and things that it needs, because of the corruption of the Ministry of Health in Baghdad, and the bias that's there. And just to give you an idea. That's life in Fallujah today, where there's literally no normal life.

And that's in a city that the US is holding up as a victory?


I know your expertise is not necessarily US domestic politics, but like all of us, you're following the presidential campaign. Do you see any marked difference for Iraqis in the event of a Hillary Clinton presidency or a Barack Obama presidency?

I don't. They've both already officially taken the idea of total unconditional withdrawal of all occupation forces out of Iraq off the table, until after their first term, if one of them is elected. So it's off the table already until 2013, even before one of them would come into power, if that is going to happen. In reality, they in no way are reflecting the will of the troops on the ground in Iraq, or the majority of Americans now who are opposed to the occupation. And certainly not respecting the will of the Iraqi people, where the most conservative polls I've found have shown that 85 percent, at a minimum now, of the total population of Iraq are completely opposed to the occupation and want it to end, right now.

Iraqis are willing to take the risk of what might happen if that much-discussed "power vacuum" is created. And the reality is that the only real first step to a solution in Iraq is full, immediate, unconditional withdrawal, while simultaneously re-funding all the reconstruction projects and turning them over to Iraqi concerns. So this idea of, "You break it, you buy it." Well, there's no buying happening. There's nothing being done by Western contractors on the ground to improve the basic life necessities of any Iraqi in that country right now.

And the other factor is, which candidate is talking about compensation for the Iraqi people? Every Iraqi person who's suffered from this situation deserves full compensation from this government. Because this is the government that perpetrated the war and continues on in this illegal occupation. So, I don't see any of these mainstream candidates talking about any of these things, which are really essential if we're going to talk about a solution to this catastrophe in Iraq.

Pioneering Blackwater Protesters Given Secret Trial and Criminal Conviction

Last week in Currituck County, N.C., Superior Court Judge Russell Duke presided over the final step in securing the first criminal conviction stemming from the deadly actions of Blackwater Worldwide, the Bush administration's favorite mercenary company. Lest you think you missed some earth-shifting, breaking news, hold on a moment. The "criminals" in question were not the armed thugs who gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians and wounded more than 20 others in Baghdad's Nisour Square last September. They were seven nonviolent activists who had the audacity to stage a demonstration at the gates of Blackwater's 7,000-acre private military base in North Carolina to protest the actions of mercenaries acting with impunity -- and apparent immunity -- in their names and those of every American.

The arrest of the activists and the subsequent five days they spent locked up in jail is more punishment than any Blackwater mercenaries have received for their deadly actions against Iraqi civilians. "The courts pretend that adherence to the law is what makes for an orderly and peaceable world," said Steve Baggarly, one of the protest organizers. "In fact, U.S. law and courts stand idly by while the U.S. military and private armies like Blackwater have killed, maimed, brutalized and destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis."

A month after the Nisour Square massacre, on Oct. 20, a group of about 50 activists gathered outside Blackwater's gates in Moyock, N.C. There, they reenacted the Nisour Square shooting and staged a "die-in," involving a vehicle painted with bullet marks and blood. The activists stained their clothing with fake blood and dramatized the deadly shooting spree. Some of the demonstrators marked Blackwater's large welcome sign -- with the company's bear claw in a sniper scope logo -- with red hand prints. The demonstrators believed these "would be a much more appropriate logo for Blackwater," according to Baggarly. "We're all responsible for what is happening in Iraq. We all have bloody hands." It took only moments for the local police to respond to the protest, the first ever at Blackwater's headquarters. In the end, seven were arrested.

The symbolism was stark: Re-enact a Blackwater massacre, go to jail. Commit a massacre, walk around freely and perhaps never go to jail. All seven were charged with criminal trespassing, six of them with an additional charge of resisting arrest and one with another charge of injury to real property. "We feel like Blackwater is trespassing in Iraq," Baggarly later said. "And as for injuring property, they injure men, women and children every day." The activists were jailed for five days and eventually released pending trial.

When their day in court arrived, on Dec. 5, the activists intended to put Blackwater on trial, something the Justice Department, the military and the courts have systematically failed to do. Their action at Blackwater, the activists said, was in response to war crimes, the killing of civilians and the fact that no legal system -- civilian or military -- was holding Blackwater responsible. The Nisour Square massacre, they said, "is the Iraq war in microcosm."

But District Court Judge Edgar Barnes would have none of it. So outraged was he at Baggarly, the first of the defendants to appear before him that day, that the judge cleared the court following his conviction. No spectators, no family members, no journalists, no defense witnesses remained. The other six activists were tried in total secrecy -- well, secret to everyone except the prosecutors, sheriffs, government witnesses and one Blackwater official. Judge Barnes swiftly tried the remaining six activists behind closed doors and convicted them all. It was as though Currituck, N.C., became Gitmo for a day.

It's not unusual for a judge to clear a courtroom when there is a disruption by the public. Nor is it rare for judges to try to prevent activists from turning the tables and attempting to put the government -- or in this case a mercenary company -- on trial. But witnesses that day report that there was no disruption -- and the defendants say they were immediately cut off when they strayed from the narrow scope of the trespass charge to discuss Blackwater's actions or the war. So why clear the courtroom? That may be a question for Judge Barnes in the end, but it's hard not to view his conduct through the same veil of secrecy that shrouds all of Blackwater's actions -- and the seemingly endless lengths to which the Bush administration will go to protect Blackwater.

That was certainly how the activists saw it. "He didn't want people influenced by our message," Baggarly said. "There have been hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq. If we're going to speak about that, nobody is allowed to hear it."

The North Carolina chapter of the ACLU quickly stepped in, saying it knew of no similar action in any previous criminal trials in the state. "It's a clear violation of constitutional rights, not only of the defendants but the press and public," said Katy Parker, the group's legal director. "They have a right to a public trial, so any trial that goes on behind closed doors is a farce." She added, "We are very concerned about this reported disrespect for the laws of our land by a member of the judiciary, especially in a controversial and politically laden case such as this." The ACLU filed a complaint against Barnes with the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission, asking it to investigate him.

The activists appealed their convictions and were back in court last week, on Jan. 24, in front of Superior Court Judge Russell Duke. Unlike Judge Barnes, Duke allowed the defendants some freedom of speech and graciously decided to let the public witness the daylong trial. In his statement before the court, Baggarly recalled the story of one of the Nisour Square victims he and his fellow activists attempted to dramatize in their protest: "Mohammed Hafiz was driving four children when Blackwater mercenaries riddled the car with bullets. His ten-year-old son Ali was shot in the head. Mohammed had to gather up pieces of the child's skull and brains for the burial. During one point in the massacre, Blackwater operatives concentrated fire on a passenger bus. A small boy fled the bus in terror and was shot down as was his mother who ran after him."

The defendents said that they believed no court would hold Blackwater responsible for these killings and that, by committing civil disobedience on the company's private military base that day, they were guided by higher principles, citing the U.S. Constitution and the Bible. "U.S. law has immunized Blackwater, both in Iraq and at home, allowing it unrestricted license to kill and a five-year reign of terror," said Baggarly. The activists invoked the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and the conveners of the Boston Tea Party. "'Made in the U.S.A.' is written all over those bullets that are flying all over Baghdad," one of the activists, Bill Streit, told the judge. "We're sick at heart about that."

Rather than ignore or dismiss their motivations, Judge Duke engaged the defendents in a theological discussion, challenging their Biblical interpretation and, at one point, admonishing the activists, many of whom are members of the Catholic Worker movement. "I've always thought that if you're going to be a follower of Jesus or someone who appreciates the Constitution, you can't select the portions that you like and disregard the rest," he said. The fact that the hearing was held at the same moment that the country was remembering the legacy of MLK, who called on his supporters to break unjust laws that violated the rights of others, seemed to be lost on Judge Duke. Perhaps he should have read Dr. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," in which he wrote to other clergy accusing him of political extremism:

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Scandal-Plagued Mercenary Firm Blackwater Makes a Play for the Big Money

Gunning down seventeen Iraqi civilians in an incident the military has labeled "criminal." Multiple Congressional investigations. A federal grand jury. Allegations of illegal arms smuggling. Wrongful death lawsuits brought by families of dead employees and US soldiers. A federal lawsuit alleging war crimes. Charges of steroid use by trigger-happy mercenaries. Allegations of "significant tax evasion." The US-installed government in Iraq labeling its forces "murderers." With a new scandal breaking practically every day, one would think Blackwater security would be on the ropes, facing a corporate meltdown or even a total wipeout. But it seems that business for the company has never been better, as it continues to pull in major federal contracts. And its public demeanor grows bolder and cockier by the day.

Rather than hiding out and hoping for the scandals to fade, the Bush Administration's preferred mercenary company has launched a major rebranding campaign, changing its name to Blackwater Worldwide and softening its logo: once a bear paw in the site of a sniper scope, it's now a bear claw wrapped in two half ovals -- sort of like the outline of a globe with a United Nations feel. Its website boasts of a corporate vision "guided by integrity, innovation, and a desire for a safer world." Blackwater mercenaries are now referred to as "global stabilization professionals." Blackwater's 38-year-old owner, Erik Prince, was No. 11 in Details magazine's "Power 50," the men "who control your viewing patterns, your buying habits, your anxieties, your lust. ... the people who have taken over the space in your head."

In one of the company's most bizarre recent actions, on December 1 Blackwater paratroopers staged a dramatic aerial landing, complete with Blackwater flags and parachutes -- not in Baghdad or Kabul but in San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium during the halftime show at the San Diego State/BYU football game. The location was interesting, given that Blackwater is fighting fierce local opposition to its attempt to open a new camp -- Blackwater West -- on 824 acres in the small rural community of Potrero, just outside San Diego. Blackwater's parachute squad plans to land at the Armed Forces Bowl in Texas this month and the Virginia Gold Cup in May. The company recently sponsored a NASCAR racer, and it has teamed up with gun manufacturer Sig Sauer to create a Blackwater Special Edition full-sized 9-millimeter pistol with the company logo on the grip. It comes with a Limited Lifetime Warranty. For $18, parents can purchase infant onesies with the company logo.

In recent weeks, Blackwater has indicated it might quit Iraq. "We see the security market diminishing," Prince told the Wall Street Journal in October. Yet on December 3 Blackwater posted job listings for "security specialists" and snipers as a result of its State Department diplomatic security "contract expansion." While its name may be mud in the human rights world, Blackwater has not only made big money in Iraq (about $1 billion in State Department contracts); it has secured a reputation as a company that keeps US officials alive by any means necessary. The dirty open secret in Washington is that Blackwater has done its job in Iraq, even if it has done so by valuing the lives of Iraqis much lower than those of US VIPs. That badass image will serve it well as it expands globally.

Prince promises that Blackwater "is going to be more of a full spectrum" operation. Amid the cornucopia of scandals, Blackwater is bidding for a share of a five-year, $15 billion contract with the Pentagon to "fight terrorists with drug-trade ties." Perhaps the firm will join the mercenary giant DynCorp in Colombia or Bolivia or be sent into Mexico on a "training" mission. This "war on drugs" contract would put Blackwater in the arena with the godfathers of the war business, including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

In addition to its robust business in law enforcement, military and homeland security training, Blackwater is branching out. Here are some of its current projects and initiatives:

-- Blackwater affiliate Greystone Ltd., registered offshore in Barbados, is an old-fashioned mercenary operation offering "personnel from the best militaries throughout the world" for hire by governments and private organizations. It also boasts of a "multi-national peacekeeping program," with forces "specializing in crowd control and less than lethal techniques and military personnel for the less stable areas of operation."

-- Prince's Total Intelligence Solutions, headed by three CIA veterans (among them Blackwater's number two, Cofer Black), puts CIA-type services on the open market for hire by corporations or governments.

-- Blackwater is launching an armored vehicle called the Grizzly, which the company characterizes as the most versatile in history. Blackwater intends to modify it to be legal for use on US highways.

-- Blackwater's aviation division has some forty aircraft, including turboprop planes that can be used for unorthodox landings. It has ordered a Super Tucano paramilitary plane from Brazil, which can be used in counterinsurgency operations. In August the aviation division won a $92 million contract with the Pentagon to operate flights in Central Asia.

-- It recently flight-tested the unmanned Polar 400 airship, which may be marketed to the Department of Homeland Security for use in monitoring the US-Mexico border and to "military, law enforcement, and non-government customers."

-- A fast-growing maritime division has a new, 184-foot vessel that has been fitted for potential paramilitary use.

Meanwhile, Blackwater is deep in the camp of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Cofer Black is Romney's senior adviser on counterterrorism. At the recent CNN/YouTube debate, when Romney refused to call waterboarding torture, he said, "I'm not going to specify the specific means of what is and what is not torture so that the people that we capture will know what things we're able to do and what things we're not able to do. And I get that advice from Cofer Black, who is a person who was responsible for counterterrorism in the CIA for some thirty-five years." That was an exaggeration of Black's career at the CIA (he was there twenty-eight years and head of counterterrorism for only three), but a Romney presidency could make Blackwater's business under Bush look like a church bake sale.

In short, Blackwater is moving ahead at full steam. Individual scandals clearly aren't enough to slow it down. The company's critics in the Democratic-controlled Congress must confront the root of the problem: the government is in the midst of its most radical privatization in history, and companies like Blackwater are becoming ever more deeply embedded in the war apparatus. Until this system is brought down, the world's the limit for Blackwater Worldwide -- and as its rebranding campaign shows, Blackwater knows it.

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