Backtalk, May 15, 2007

Back in the EUSSR

The standards used by the Empire to justify independence for Kosovo from Serbia should then be applied also to Nagorno Karabakh. The Republic of Nagorno Karabakh should be recognized by the UN as a sovereign country independent from Azerbaijan. But let’s not stop there – let Abkhazia and South Ossetia be recognized as sovereign countries independent from Georgia. Let the Russians propose a UN Security Council resolution package including Kosovo independence together with Karabakh and Abkhazia, etc., independence, and then let the Empire dare to veto the package resolution.

Let’s see how much the Empire enjoys having the shoe on the other foot.

~ Antranik Miranjian, Yerevan, Armenia

Still Whacking Moles in Iraq

Dear Charles,

With due respect, every time a notable person casts doubt on the real estimate of Iraq’s casualties they are unwittingly supporting the administration’s cover-up. I personally find this appalling. We know the figures are empirically false.

Please read “Counting the Cost” by Richard Horton.

I quote:

“Scientists at the UK’s Department for International Development … concluded that the [Lancet] study’s methods were ‘tried and tested.’ Indeed, the Hopkins approach would likely lead to an ‘underestimation of mortality.’ The Ministry of Defense’s chief scientific advisor said the research was ‘robust,’ close to ‘best practice,’ and ‘balanced.’ He recommended ‘caution in publicly criticizing the study.'”

~ Simon Hos

Charles Peña replies:


Thank you for your e-mail. There is no “correct” body count for Iraqi civilian casualties because no one is keeping count. At best, there are various estimates. uses reported casualties to document their statistics, hardly empirically false. But it is probably safe to say that their numbers represent the “floor” for the number of casualties.

The Lancet study (.pdf file here) uses a scientific method (not number counting) to estimate casualties. Their numbers are only as good as the reliability of the data reported to them. The study’s methods may be generally accepted as scientifically sound, but that doesn’t mean that their numbers are right. They may be. But the reality is that no one knows with absolute certainty what the right numbers are. I cited both and the Lancet study because there is a range of what the numbers might be and no one can say definitively what they are.

Opposition to the War Growing Among Troops

As a member of the Air National Guard and a senior master sergeant (E-8) in the disaster preparedness and emergency management Career field (which deals directly with CBRNE and WMD for military personnel), I have strong feelings in opposition to the the reasons for the war and the “Global War on Terrorism.”

Prior to Iraq our policy has always been that of setting the example to the world, of retaliatory strikes, never preemptive. I, like many others, was misled by the current administration’s claims of WMD in Iraq. However, intel we were receiving in the career field was never that of a WMD threat against U.S. soil, only to those that were in the theater of operation. The range of the missiles was classified but the range was very limited at the time and the only threat was against my fellow military members whom I personally trained. ATSO or the ability to survive and operate is part of every serviceman’s training. We volunteer to protect American soil from invasion from both foreign and domestic threats.

Everyone seems to be wrapped around the axle and misses important information that seems obvious, yet I never see any of this in the news.

1. The policy of containment was completely effective prior to the Iraq invasion. Yes, the USS Cole was bombed, U.S. military personnel were potentially in harm’s way from the WMD in Iraq, and no doubt Saddam Hussein was an evil ruler.

2. The FBI and state and local police have the responsibility within our borders to help prevent crimes against our country at their respective levels. The CIA has the responsibility to keep track of the enemy abroad, and the military is at the control of the president to help insure national security and the protection of threat against our borders.

Overthrowing Saddam just because he was evil, then, becomes justification to topple several dozen regimes in Africa, Europe, South America, other Middle Eastern countries, and Asia.

It is my strong belief that we as a nation have overstepped our boundaries. We claim our sovereignty yet tread upon the sovereignties of others under false premises. Our foreign policy before the Iraq invasion was effective in containment, expensive but far less costly on military equipment and personnel than the current strategy. It is time to downgrade this from a war to policing terrorist threats. In our efforts to promote democracy and freedom around the world we are rapidly giving up our own rights and freedoms that I am fighting to give to other countries. My service has taken me to Asia, Russia, Europe, and the Middle East. I have seen many forms of government, and we are oppressing ourselves from within and adopting internally the very things we are trying to set other countries free from.

As an Independent, I prefer to look at extremism on either side of the two major parties as insanity and getting so far behind a party line as to abandon all reason. …

Our Founding Fathers had it right when they argued for peace and commerce between nations, and against entangling political and military alliances. In other words, noninterventionism (to quote Rep. Ron Paul). This is not the same as isolationism. Yes, our brave men and women in the armed forces volunteered, but let’s not forget what we volunteered for!

Many civilians don’t have any idea what we swore to. Here is the oath we took for them:

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the president of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

At what point does a serviceman violate the defense of the Constitution or the orders of a president when the two seem to conflict? There are three branches of government, legislative (our Congress), the executive (our president) who gives the orders, and the judicial who are suppose to make sure the other two are following the Constitution.

When you look upon it in this light we have to follow the orders of the president until such time the judicial branch says our actions are unconstitutional, or our Congress says enough and says our policies that we have been supporting are not correct and make changes. Too simplistic? Maybe, but if it is any more complex than this, it only puts our armed forces in a greater conflict on how best to carry out their oaths to the defense of the Constitution and the orders of the commander in chief.

For anyone who is curious about what supporting the troops means I will leave you with this thought. We need money for resources to operate in theater when we HAVE to. When injured in battle we need quality health care; our salaries are very poor when compared to our civilian counterparts (my job on the outside is paying double what I make serving you). Provide us with a decent retirement and don’t take it away, and when we are ordered unjustly or unconstitutionally to fight an interventionist war, bring us home to our families and friends and our great country. After living in tents for months at a time without the creature comforts that you take for granted, we really appreciate your support to bring us home for good and ready to defend you against a real threat not a fictitious one. That’s what we volunteered for.

This is what support means to me (and I believe to many other servicemen and women): I appreciate the thank-yous when you see us in uniform (the appreciation that was missed on the Vietnam vets), those warm, heartfelt gestures make us feel proud for volunteering and serving you, but please support us by making sure that we are meeting the oath we swore to uphold. …

~ Brett Heck

Absurd Analogies

Mr. Eland:

The analogies are absurd. That’s obvious. But how do you know 9/11 was not an inside job? A “fringe opinion”? Many home crimes are committed by people known to the family, even family members? Your 9/11 view is mere opinion. You’ve bought the Bush story. You should at least be neutral about something you don’t really know well.

~ C. Varela

Ivan Eland replies:

I don’t believe in conspiracy theories unless given good evidence. Every time there is an unusual happening, there is a conspiracy theory – JFK’s assassination, MLK’s assassination, the Oklahoma City bombing (in addition to the two convicted guys), and even Anna Nicole Smith’s death. I said that it was a fringe opinion; I didn’t rule it out completely. The burden of proof should be on the conspiracy mongers.

A Democratic Sellout on Bush’s Mercenaries

As president of the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA) I’d like to just make a few quick comments about Jeremy Scahill’s latest article “A Democratic Sellout on Bush’s Mercenaries,” which is largely a rehash of previous pieces he has published. IPOA is a trade association of more than 30 companies – including Blackwater – that provide critical services to stability and peace operations around the world.

First, as in his book and in past articles Mr. Scahill omits the fundamentally important fact that the overwhelming majority of contractors doing security and reconstruction in Iraq are Iraqis – the very people who should be doing security in reconstruction in their own country.

Second, while the U.S. military is designed to be the most capable organization in the world, it is not designed to be cost effective. It is estimated that the Pentagon is paying $15,000-$25,000 per month per soldier in Iraq. Contractors, brought in to support the effort from a hundred different countries, bring remarkable cost effectiveness, capabilities and expertise. And yes, not surprisingly they cost far less than trained combat soldiers.

Nor should we become overly obsessed with Iraq as IPOA member companies also provide critical support services to stability and peace operations in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Somalia, and other vital humanitarian missions where the West does have the political will to send their own militaries. In fact IPOA member companies have more personnel working in UN and African Union peace operations than all but a handful of countries. It is difficult to imagine how Mr. Scahill would hope to replace these personnel and capabilities if companies were banned from providing these services.

Third, despite what Mr. Scahill claims, many companies have been held to account or penalized contractually – that has been less of a problem (for some light reading pull out the Federal Acquisition Regulations sometime). More complex under international law is the difficult issue of holding individual foreign contractors accountable – and again it is important to remember here that Iraqi contractors which make up the overwhelming majority of contractors are under Iraqi law (for better or worse).

IPOA strongly supports the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) and its expansion and enforcement. We have found the U.S. Department of Justice to be depressingly slow at enforcing the law on the books and we are constantly criticized on the accountability issue. As a result, our association is in the interesting position of being the most proactive NGO working to enhance contractor accountability.

Mr. Scahill, oddly, prefers to try civilians in military courts under UCMJ. That concept has been rejected by human rights organizations who object not just in the case of contractors, but for the detainees in Guantanamo. Thus I do have a fundamental disagreement with Mr. Scahill on this point.

Further, IPOA advises our member companies that when there is an allegation of illegal actions in the field they should remove the individual in question from the theater so that they are no longer a problem, and then to fully cooperate with authorities to do a full investigation. While Mr. Scahill apparently has faith that the Iraqi legal system is far ahead of the curve in the reconstruction process, it is not yet widely recognized by the international community as being fair and impartial. Until their legal system has improved, foreign and U.S. contractors accused of felonies should be tried in U.S. federal courts under MEJA (or numerous other laws that can be used, including international laws and even the PATRIOT Act). IPOA has been proactive at improving MEJA, endorsing its expansions and improvements, and holding a public roundtable with members of Congress to find the best ways to ensure effective accountability (Mr. Scahill did not attend).

Fourth, while Mr. Scahill revels in the use of the term “mercenary” it really has no significant legal definition. It is simply a derogatory word, and I submit the best definition is my own – “a mercenary is a foreigner or business person we don’t like.” We should get beyond the name calling on this important issue.

Fifth, if one bothers to read Mr. Scahill’s book it becomes clear that his primary objection to Blackwater is the fact that it was founded by Republicans – the book would be little more than a 10-page pamphlet if you remove his deep-seated horror at that shocking fact. As a Democrat who used to work for the Democratic Party let me say there are far better works available which actually provide reasonably balanced examinations of the use of the private contractors.

Sixth, contractors are not new. They serve in peace and stability operations because we – as humanitarians – want them there. They have been used in pretty much every recent conflict, including hundreds in support of the UN in Sierra Leone and some 80,000 in support of U.S. efforts in Vietnam. We need them: their skills and capabilities are irreplaceable. Problems that arise need to be addressed, accountability enhanced and IPOA has suggested how this can be done (see our Web site or our Journal of International Peace Operations for more information and insights on this). Good oversight and accountability are good for good companies. But we can ignore the private sector’s value to peace and stability operations only at great humanitarian peril.

Finally, despite numerous citations in his book, and frequent mention in his articles and media appearances, Mr. Scahill has never bothered to interview me or anyone at IPOA. On the contrary, we made numerous efforts to meet and talk with him over the past year, all have been rebuffed or ignored. Even if he fundamentally disagrees with the use of the private sector in support of stability and peace operations, considering the focus of his book, wouldn’t a chat with the primary industry trade association have made at least a wee bit of sense?

~ Doug Brooks, president, International Peace Operations Association (IPOA)

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