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.

Get my RSS |

Samantar Speaks

| Wed Mar. 3, 2010 9:45 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.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

New Torture Memos Mystery

| Thu Feb. 25, 2010 2:00 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.
 

The Other Paravant Scandal

| Thu Feb. 25, 2010 1:28 PM EST

When salacious details emerge about run-amok contractors, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture—the reason why these scandals keep happening and happening and happening. So what's the big picture, you ask? Great question. Let me tell you. In military parlance, oversight is FUBAR. (If you don't know what that means, look it up.) And the Paravant/Blackwater scandal I've been reporting on for the past few days is a perfect case study in what happens when oversight goes AWOL. Yes, the firm's personnel acted recklessly and knowingly violated military regulations—even the company acknowledges that—but no one bothered to stop them, to enforce the rules in place. As an investigation by Sen. Carl Levin's armed services committee documents, there was mass confusion about who was actually responsible for monitoring Paravant on the ground.

Ultimately Paravant had a contract with Raytheon. Raytheon had a contract with the Army's Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation. PEO STRI, headquartered in Orlando, Florida and without a rep on the ground, says it relied on a Dutch military officer attached to NATO's Combined Security Training Center-Afghanistan. That officer's supervisor told Levin's committee he had "no idea" why anyone would think this officer was responsible for Paravant—in fact, he knew of no one at CSTC-A who was. And things got even more ridiculous from there.

Blackwater Did Rescue Alan Grayson

| Wed Feb. 24, 2010 5:10 PM EST

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who made his substantial fortune by suing military contractors and later lambasted them as a lawmmaker, was indeed evacuated from Niger by personnel working for Xe Services (the private security empire formerly known as Blackwater), his spokesman confirms.

Earlier today I reported on the testimony of Fred Roitz, an executive vice president at Xe, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Blackwater subsidiary Paravant. In his prepared remarks, he stated: "Xe Services, through its subsidiary Presidential Airways, provides aviation support and medevac services to Defense Department personnel in Africa. Just last week, our personnel evacuated a congressman from Niger during civil unrest."

This sure seemed to fit the description of Grayson, who was traveling in the country last week when a military coup erupted. The lawmaker was quickly evacuated out the country to neighborhing Burkina Faso. "The flight was arranged through the State Department," Todd Jukowski, Grayson's spokesman, told me. "The Congressman did not know, and frankly did not care, who owned the plane.” Later, Jurkowski followed up with an email confirming that Grayson was flown out of the country on a "Xe helicopter."

I also asked Jurkowski whether the experience had changed Grayson's thinking on the use of private military firms. Jurkowski replied: "The Congressman does not deny that there is admirable work being done by some employees of private contractors.  However, he stands by his criticism of companies who have been found to cheat the American people, defraud our government, and unnecessarily risk the lives of members of our military, all in the name of making a profit."

If it Looks Like Blackwater and Acts Like Blackwater...

| Wed Feb. 24, 2010 4:32 PM EST

Why did Blackwater set up a new corporate identity when it inked a subcontract with Raytheon to train Afghan troops? Masking its scandal-tainted brand was the brainchild of its defense contractor client, according to a top executive for Xe Services (as Blackwater is now known).

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Fred Roitz, an executive vice president at Xe, pulled back the curtain on the creation of Paravant, LLC. He suggested that Raytheon wanted to do business with Blackwater—so long as it didn't appear that it was actually doing business with the controversial security firm. Roitz said it was his "understanding... that the request for a company other than Blackwater came from Raytheon."

So Paravant was born. As Brian McCracken, a former Paravant vice president who now works for Raytheon, acknowledged, the subsidiary and Blackwater were effectively "one and the same." Along with a bank account and address, Paravant also shared its corporate parent's propensity for stirring up controversies. In May, two of the firm's trainers, Justin Cannon and Christopher Drotleff, opened fire on an oncoming car, killing two Afghan civilians and wounding a third. The men are currently being prosecuted by the Justice Department on second-degree murder and weapons charges. A months-long investigation by the armed services committee followed, unearthing evidence [PDF] that Paravant personnel had acted recklessly, disregarded military regulations, and improperly acquired hundreds of AK-47s and other firearms that were intended for use by the Afghan National Police. The probe also indentified a series of vetting lapses by Blackwater and major oversight failures by the army officials that were supposed to be supervising its work.

Tue Jan. 10, 2012 11:49 PM EST
Sun Jan. 8, 2012 10:56 AM EST
Sat Jan. 7, 2012 10:22 AM EST
Tue Jul. 12, 2011 7:45 AM EDT
Tue May. 17, 2011 10:33 AM EDT
Tue Oct. 19, 2010 10:22 AM EDT
Fri Sep. 10, 2010 9:55 AM EDT
Fri Aug. 13, 2010 6:36 AM EDT
Thu Aug. 5, 2010 7:02 AM EDT
Mon Jul. 26, 2010 4:05 PM EDT
Wed Jun. 23, 2010 10:46 AM EDT
Tue Jun. 22, 2010 9:16 AM EDT
Fri Jun. 18, 2010 11:53 AM EDT
Fri Jun. 18, 2010 5:00 AM EDT
Wed Jun. 16, 2010 7:00 AM EDT
Tue Jun. 15, 2010 9:58 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 14, 2010 11:51 AM EDT
Wed Jun. 9, 2010 2:13 PM EDT
Tue Jun. 8, 2010 12:49 PM EDT
Wed May. 26, 2010 2:18 PM EDT
Fri May. 14, 2010 11:25 AM EDT
Fri May. 14, 2010 5:15 AM EDT
Thu May. 6, 2010 3:47 PM EDT
Wed May. 5, 2010 1:00 PM EDT
Wed Apr. 21, 2010 10:07 AM EDT
Sat Apr. 10, 2010 8:23 AM EDT
Fri Apr. 9, 2010 9:33 AM EDT
Thu Apr. 8, 2010 12:57 PM EDT
Thu Apr. 1, 2010 11:44 AM EDT
Thu Apr. 1, 2010 9:15 AM EDT
Fri Mar. 26, 2010 10:42 AM EDT
Thu Mar. 25, 2010 11:29 AM EDT
Tue Mar. 23, 2010 3:47 PM EDT
Tue Mar. 23, 2010 10:58 AM EDT
Wed Mar. 10, 2010 7:31 AM EST
Thu Mar. 4, 2010 11:18 AM EST
Wed Mar. 3, 2010 4:38 PM EST
Wed Mar. 3, 2010 9:45 AM EST
Thu Feb. 25, 2010 2:00 PM EST
Thu Feb. 25, 2010 1:28 PM EST
Wed Feb. 24, 2010 5:10 PM EST