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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Justice Dept.: Blackwater Contractor Saw Killing Iraqis as 9/11 Payback

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 11:55 AM EDT

For sport, they rolled through the streets of Baghdad hurling frozen oranges and water bottles at civilians and nearby vehicles, trying to smash windshields and injure bystanders. Convoying through the city in armored vehicles, the contractors fired their weapons indiscriminately. One member of the Blackwater security team known as Raven 23 regularly bragged about his body count and viewed killing Iraqis as "payback for 9/11."

These allegations are contained in court records [PDF] filed on Monday by Justice Department lawyers prosecuting five Blackwater contractors for the September 2007 shooting frenzy in Baghdad's Nisour Square that killed 14 Iraqis and wounded 20 others. Anticipating that lawyers representing the contractors will argue that they were acting in self defense, the prosecution is seeking to introduce evidence that "several of the defendants had harbored a deep hostility toward Iraqi civilians which they demonstrated in words and deeds." The charges are similar to those that recently emerged in civil lawsuits against Blackwater, stemming from the Nisour Square episode.

According to the court filing:

In addition to verbal expressions of hatred towards Iraqi civilians, the defendants engaged in unprovoked and aggressive behavior toward unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. In so doing, the defendants routinely acted in disregard of the use of force policies that they were required to follow as a condition of their employment as Blackwater guards.

...

This evidence tends to establish that the defendants fired at innocent Iraqis not because they actually believed that they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and actually believed that they had no alternative to the use of deadly force, but rather that they fired at innocent Iraqi civilians because of their hostility toward Iraqis and their grave indifference to the harm that their actions would cause.

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Did Embassy Fire Hazing Victims?

| Fri Sep. 4, 2009 12:53 PM EDT

UPDATE: The news POGO is getting from Afghanistan suggests that the "right people are being fired." See below.

Earlier, I noted the possibillity that the US embassy in Kabul may have fired Armor Group guards who were victims of sexually-tined hazing rituals, along with some of the perpetrators of them.  The Project on Government Oversight just released a statement from the group's executive director, Danielle Brian, and she is indeed concerned that some of "unwilling participants" may have been axed:

POGO is pleased that the State Department has finally taken decisive steps to bring the Kabul security guard scandal. under control.  We remain very concerned, however, with certain elements of this action.  POGO has no solid information of the identities of those reported to have been removed.  We have been told people are being fired for simply being in the photographs.  We do know a number of those were unwilling participants.

We also want to hear that the supervisors who were responsible for this debacle are being held fully accountable and not simply allowed to resign and go to another contractor.

I have a call into the State Department seeking comment. I'll update the post when I hear back.

UPDATE: More news is coming in from POGO.

A quick update from the ground in Kabul: we've heard that guards at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan are very pleased with the State Department's actions so far, with one source saying guards feel as if they've been "liberated from prison."  State Department investigators have been conducting thorough, respectful interviews and are not asking guards if they shared information with POGO.  The right people are being fired and it looks like we're on the way to restoring an atmosphere of professionalism at the U.S. Embassy.

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Embassy Scandal: Eight Guards Fired

| Fri Sep. 4, 2009 11:06 AM EDT

The US embassy in Kabul has fired eight ArmorGroup guards, all of whom appeared in a series of pictures showing the firm's employees partying half-naked and engaging in lewd acts. The AP reports:

The embassy said Friday the management team of the private contractor that provides the guards is also "being replaced immediately."

An embassy statement said the guards who were dismissed left the country Friday. Two other guards resigned and also left.

White House Does 180 on Visitor Records

| Fri Sep. 4, 2009 9:21 AM EDT

Remember those Secret Service logs of White House visits by health care and coal industry execs the Obama adminstration was refusing to make public? Or the records of visits by lobbyist Stephen Payne, who was caught on tape peddling access to senior US officials in exchange for a sizable donation to the George W. Bush presidential library, that the Bush administration fought to keep secret? Details of those visits will soon be made public by the Obama White House, which up until now had been following its predecessor's policy of blocking access to the Secret Service logs. But not just that. Going forward, the adminstration is planning to implement an historic transparency policy, releasing the names of most White House visitors, along with other information, on an ongoing base.

This policy shift comes as the Obama administration moved to settle four cases related to public access to White House visitor logs filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. This morning's release from CREW:

CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan praised the White House, stating, “The Obama administration has proven its pledge to usher in a new era of government transparency was more than just a campaign promise.  The Bush administration fought tooth and nail to keep secret the identities of those who visited the White House.  In contrast, the Obama administration – by putting visitor records on the White House web site – will have the most open White House in history.  Because visitor records will now be available online, CREW dismissed its lawsuits.”  Sloan continued, “Providing public access to visitor records is an important step in restoring transparency and accountability to our government.  CREW is proud to have been part of this historic decision.”

Yesterday’s agreement stems from lawsuits CREW filed after the Bush and later the Obama administration refused to provide White House visitor records in response to CREW’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.  Visitor records are created by the Secret Service as part of its statutory responsibility to protect the president, vice president, their residences, and the White House generally.

In lawsuits for records of visits by Christian conservative leaders and lobbyist Stephen Payne, the Bush administration argued the records were presidential records, not agency records of the Secret Service, and therefore exempt from the FOIA’s mandatory disclosure requirements.  U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth disagreed, ruling twice that the records are subject to the FOIA and not within any of the claimed exemptions.  The government appealed those decisions to the District of Columbia Circuit Court.

After President Obama took office, CREW sought records of visits to the White House by health care and coal executives to determine the degree of their influence on health care and energy legislative proposals.  The government initially refused to turn over these records, but now has agreed to produce them, as well as the Bush era records, as part of the settlement.  In turn, CREW has agreed to dismiss all the pending litigation.

MoJo on MSNBC: Contractors Behaving Badly Edition

| Thu Sep. 3, 2009 3:21 PM EDT

A clip from my appearance on MSNBC this morning, where I spoke with Monica Novotny about the latest developments in ArmorGroup-gate. What is the State Department going to do about this debacle? Good question, Monica.

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