Dan is Mother Jones' deputy DC bureau chief. He is the New York Times best-selling author of Sons of Wichita(Grand Central Publishing), a biography of the Koch brothers that is now out in paperback. Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.
The Iraq IG has an ambitious plan to overhaul reconstruction oversight, planning, and contracting. Let the turf war begin!
Daniel SchulmanFeb. 23, 2010 7:00 AM
Whether he meant to or not, Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), just launched the opening volley in a bureaucratic turf war. On Monday, Bowen's office released a report outlining the creation of a new government agency that would be responsible for managing, planning, and funding stability and reconstruction operations, like the ones that are ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan and the aid effort that is ramping up in Haiti. Not surprisingly the lead players in these operations—namely the departments of state and defense—don't like the idea of a new government entity bigfooting their terrain one bit.
Dubbed the US Office for Contingency Operations (USOCO), the proposed agency would gather under one roof a variety of government divisions that are currently spread among a multitude of agencies, each responsible for a piece of the puzzle but none for the whole picture. The idea, says Bowen, is to provide a single point of accountability for the billions of dollars being poured into reconstruction and stability efforts. In other words, one agency to blame when things go wrong—a concept that, at the very least, would save congressional committees the trouble of calling officials from multiple agencies to the mat to answer for reconstructiondebacles.
Presently authority over reconstruction and stability programs—and the associated contracting—has been diffused among the State Department, the US Agency for International Development, the Pentagon, and others. The result, in many cases, has been unclear lines of authority, ad hoc or absent oversight, and overlapping or contradictory efforts. Given the litany of oversight lapses that have marred reconstruction efforts—resulting, among other things, in untold amounts of taxpayer money squandered or outright ripped off—shaking up the status quo would seem like a welcome and long overdue option. But ceding territory is never something government agencies take kindly to. And, if Bowen's proposal threatens to become anything more than a well-read white paper, the firm, yet polite opposition of government officials could turn into a bureaucratic insurgency.
The Office of Professional Responsibility report on the Bush administration's torture memos—released at long last this evening, completely bollixing this reporter's plans for after work cocktails—is remarkable on a number of levels, not least the duration it took to put together. The report was almost five years in the making. What took so damn long? "This was not a routine investigation," the report notes, going on to detail a laundry list of complications. One was the deletion of the email records of Office of Legal Counsel officials John Yoo and Patrick Philbin. (Sound familiar?)
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.
Virginia resident Mohamed Ali Samantar oversaw a reign of terror in Somalia. Will the Supreme Court grant him immunity?
Daniel SchulmanFeb. 18, 2010 7:00 AM
Supporting an alleged war criminal's bid to evade accountability is surely not a popular stance. But when the Supreme Court took up the case of Somali General Mohamed Ali Samantar last fall, an odd coalition of defenders emerged. 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.
The case is the first ever to target a member of the brutal regime of Somalia's late dictator Mohammed Siad Barre. Samantar served as his defense minister and later prime minister, and he oversaw the country's armed forces as they engaged in a litany of human rights violations. "He was the dictator's enforcer," says J. Peter Pham, the director of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy's Africa Project. Samantar moved to the US in 1997 and for years has battled a lawsuit by alleged victims of the regime’s abuses—who collectively tell of torture, rape, extrajudicial killings, wanton imprisonment, and the abduction of family members who were never heard from again. Samantar's lawyers argue that he's immune from such suits under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), a 1976 law that, with some exceptions, protects countries (and any "agency or instrumentality" of those nations) from being sued in US courts. The high court will consider whether or not Samantar's claim of immunity is valid when it hears oral arguments on March 3. (An attorney for Samantar did not respond to an interview request.)
Samantar’s defenders—along with officials from countries with questionable human rights records—have cause to be anxious about how the Supreme Court rules in this matter. In the past, attempts (unsuccessful thus far) have been made to sue ex-Israeli officials in American courts for their role in military campaigns that caused civilian casualties. The case makes the Saudis tense because of their experiences fending off a spate of lawsuits accusing Saudi officials, nonprofits, and other entities of complicity in the September 11th attacks. These concerns also hit a little closer to home, given, among other things, the Bush administration's controversial interrogation and rendition policies. In 2004, Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen who was detained in the US and rendered to Syria, where he alleges he was tortured, sued Attorney General John Ashcroft and other US officials—using one of the same statutes that Samantar was initially taken to court under. The case was dismissed by an appeals court, but earlier this month Arar petitioned the Supreme Court to review the decision.
Compared to allegations that Blackwater founder Erik Prince orchestrated hits on informants planning to spill dirt on his company or that executives ran a sex and wife-swapping ring out of Blackwater's Moyock, North Carolina headquarters, the latest charges against the firm are a bit more mild. A lawsuit, filed by a married couple who worked for Blackwater, accuses the company of keeping a Fillipino prostitute on its payroll in connection with one of its State Department contracts in Afghanistan and chalking her salary up to "Morale Welfare Recreation" expenses. The couple, Brad and Melan Davis, allege that Blackwater (since renamed Xe) and its executives engaged in "systematic" fraud, including falsifying invoices and double-billing (in part through one of Blackwater's sister companies, Greystone). The suit was filed under the False Claims Act, which entitles whistleblowers who come forward with allegations of fraud to a percentage of any money the government is able to recoup. The Justice Department ultimately decided not to join the Davis' in the suit, originally filed in 2008, which resulted in the unsealing of records in the case.
As it stands, this case is really the last of Blackwater's worries. The Justice Department is investigating whether Blackwater execs attempted to bribe Iraqi officials in the wake of the Nisour Square shootings in an effort to ensure the company could continue operating in the country. On top of that, the agency is expected to appeal a federal judge's decision to dismiss the charges against five ex-Blackwater guards implicated in the shootings. (The Washington Post's Del Quentin Wilber has a good piece today outlining how the agency bungled the case.) In a separate case, the Justice Department is pursuing charges against two contractors working for a Blackwater affiliated company, Paravant, for the alleged murder of two Afghan civilians.
In other Blackwater news: Iraq's interior minister, Jawad Bolani, announced yesterday that as many as 250 former Blackwater contractors, who were employed by the company at the time of the Nisour Square episode but have gone on to work for other firms, have been ordered to leave the country within the next week. According to the Post, this decision is largely seen as political posturing by Bolani ahead of Iraq's parliamentary elections. Even so, if an anti-Blackwater platform has the power to get candidates elected in Iraq, that raises serious questions about whether the government's continued reliance on Prince's security empire is worth the price.
The Snowpocalypse is an inconvenient truth for Al Gore and all those scheming scientists who claim global warming is imperiling our planet, right? I mean look at the epic amounts of snow blanketing the mid-Atlantic! It's not warm at all! This is essentially the argument some GOPers are making to suggest that climate change doesn't exist. Kate noted this phenomenon on Friday, when the Virginia GOP ran ads targeting Reps. Rick Boucher and Tom Periello.
The ads mock Boucher and Periello because they "think global warming is a serious problem for Virginia"—so serious they voted to "kill tens of thousands of Virginia jobs just to stop it." The ad features images of falling snow, stuck cars, and weathermen, and urges viewers to call the congressmen "and tell them how much global warming you get this weekend. Maybe they'll come help you shovel."
Politicoreports today that conservatives from Mitch McConnell to Sean Hannity to Newt Gingrich have seized upon the "Gore-easter" to slam the climate conscious ex-Veep.