Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He is the author of the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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Levin Demands Blackwater/Raytheon Probe

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 12:18 PM EST

Last week, Fred Roitz, a top executive at Xe Services (formerly Blackwater), made a stunning admission. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said Raytheon had requested that Blackwater create a shell company in order to win a $25 million subcontract to train Afghan troops. In Roitz's telling, Raytheon apparently wanted to do business with Blackwater, yet didn't want to be associated with its controversial brand. Blackwater obliged, creating a subsidiary called Paravant that was separate from its parent company in name alone. Armed services committee member Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) called the subsidiary a "classic example of a cover corporation." Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) described the creation of Paravant as "deception" and said "there's clearly an effort to coverup that Blackwater was the real contractor here."

Now Levin wants a Justice Department investigation into Blackwater and Raytheon. Specifically he wants to know whether representatives of the companies "made false or misleading statements in their submission of a contract proposal to the U.S. Army."

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Diplomatic Impunity?

| Wed Mar. 3, 2010 5:38 PM EST

For years a group representing current and former State Department officials has warned of an "above-the-law" culture that has taken root within the agency's law enforcement division, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. No one paid much attention—and now the State Department could have a major scandal on its hands.

Court records unsealed Tuesday suggest that diplomatic security officers may have worked to impede the investigation into 2007's mass shooting in Baghdad's Nisour Square by Blackwater personnel. The New York Times' James Risen unearthed a key exchange, buried in thousands of pages of court transcripts, in which Kenneth Kohl, the lead prosecutor in the case against five former Blackwater guards, recalls an interview with a diplomatic security officer stationed at the US Embassy in Baghdad when the episode occurred:

"I talked to David Farrington, who was concerned, who expressed concern about the integrity of the work being done by his fellow officers," Mr. Kohl recalled. He said that Mr. Farrington had said he was in meetings where diplomatic security agents said that after they had gone to the scene and picked up casings and other evidence, "They said we’ve got enough to get these guys off now."

Samantar Speaks

| Wed Mar. 3, 2010 10:45 AM EST

For Bashe Abdi Yousuf, Aziz Mohamed Deria, and three other plaintiffs who suffered under the brutal reign of Somalia's late dictator Mohammed Siad Barre, today is a make or break moment. This morning the Supreme Court is hearing the case of the highest-ranking member of the Siad Barre regime who's still living, Mohamed Ali Samantar, who served as the country's defense minister and later prime minister during a dark era in which a range of human rights abuses were inflicted on the populace. But the high court won't be weighing in on whether the 74-year-old official, who has been living outside of Washington, DC for more than a decade, is the war criminal his accusers say he his. It will render an opinion on whether he—and, by extension, other foreign officials accused of similar abuses—can be sued at all in US courts. When I reported on the case a couple weeks ago, I noted that Samantar, who claims he's immune from suit under a statute known as the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, has drawn an odd coalition of defenders.

Among them were the government of Saudi Arabia, various pro-Israel groups, and three former US attorneys general. At stake is whether foreign officials can be sued in US courts for human rights abuses, or whether they are protected by a swath of immunity that shields them from answering for even the most heinous acts. Supporters of Samantar’s position contend that if the Supreme Court rules against him, it could leave officials from Saudi Arabia, Israel, the US, and elsewhere vulnerable to an avalanche of lawsuits. And the case raises major foreign policy questions, particularly as the Obama administration wages an aggressive fight against terrorism around the world.

Yet, if the court agrees with Samantar's interpretation of the FSIA—and it's important to note that his reading of the law is at odds with the views of both the Bush and Obama administrations—that would effectively gut the Torture Victim Protection Act. The 1991 law, championed by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and others, allows torture survivors to seek legal redress against their victimizers in American courts. Part of the irony here is that this law came into being partially as a result of the gross human rights violations carried out by Siad Barre's regime.

The Washington Post ran a story on the case yesterday, based on a elusive interview with Samantar. For the most part, the story paints a fairly sympathetic portrait of the grandfatherly man who J. Peter Pham, an expert on Somalia's history, described to me as "the dictator's enforcer."

Samantar says the claims of his accusers—who collectively say they or their family members were subjected to torture, rape, extrajuducial killings, and other horrors—are "baseless allegations, with no foundation in truth." He added, "I served the people rightly and justly. I always respected the rule of law. I am no monster." Perhaps not. But he's made clear, just the same, that he'd rather not take the chance on whether a judge and jury will agree.

New Torture Memos Mystery

| Thu Feb. 25, 2010 3:00 PM EST

When Office of Professional Responsibility's long-awaited report on the torture memos was released last week, it noted that the nearly 5-year investigation had not been "routine." The inquiry was hampered by a number of factors, including an "unprecedented" case load, but the most eyebrow raising impediment was this:

OLC initially provided us with a relatively small number of emails, files, and draft documents. After it became apparent, during the course of our review, that relevant documents were missing, we requested and were given direct access to the email and computer records of [REDACTED], Yoo, Philbin, [Assistant Attorney General Jay] Bybee, and [Assistant Attorney General Jack] Goldsmith. However, we were told that most of Yoo's email records had been deleted and were not recoverable. Philbin's email records from July 2002 through August 5, 2002—the time period in which the Bybee Memo was completed and the Classified Bybee Memo...was created—had also been deleted and were reportedly not recoverable.

On Thursday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) requested that Attorney General Eric Holder launch in investigation into the deleted emails. CREW notes that at the very least the destruction of the emails flouts the Federal Records Act (FRA). But if the emails were deep-sixed intentionally, CREW says, there may be criminal implications.

In a statement, CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said:

Given the disappearance of millions of Bush White House emails, we shouldn’t be surprised that crucial emails also disappeared from the Bush Justice Department. The question now is what is the Attorney General going to do about it? Even if Mr. Yoo and Mr. Philbin did not violate their professional obligations by writing the torture memos, they—or others seeking to hide the truth—may have broken the law by deleting their emails.
 

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