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.
When it comes to prosecuting Blackwater contractors on murder charges, the Justice Department has a pretty weak track record. The government's case against 5 contractors charged in connection with 2007's mass shooting in Baghdad's Nisour Square imploded last January, thrown out by a judge who said prosecutors had relied on tainted interviews. A few weeks ago, the case against two contractors for a Blackwater shell company who were charged with killing Afghan civilians ended in a mistrial. And late Monday came word that federal prosecutors have decided against indicting Andrew Moonen after an investigation that lasted nearly 4 years.
Moonen is the Blackwater contractor who, on Christmas Eve 2006, fatally shot one of the Iraqi vice president's bodyguards following a drunken confrontation in Baghdad's Green Zone. Blackwater whisked Moonen out of the country immediately after the incident. The company—now known as Xe—was subsequently accused of destroying evidence. (Similar allegations have surrounded the Nisour Square shooting, including reports that Blackwater immediately repaired the vehicles its contractors were riding in when the incident occured.)
All three incidents have been highlighted as examples of contractor-related abuses that seriously undermined US war efforts, inflaming anti-American sentiments. It certainly doesn't help local notions of American accountability and justice in the theaters of Iraq or Afghanistan that the DOJ is now 0 for 3 against Blackwater. If concerns about prosecution had anything to do with Blackwater founder Erik Prince's recent relocation to Abu Dhabi, perhaps he needn't have worried.
Does Afghanistan's most controversial powerbroker have a letter from the DEA clearing him of drug-smuggling allegations?
Daniel SchulmanOct. 7, 2010 6:00 AM
Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has long insisted that he's no drug kingpin. And now, should anyone question the legitimacy of his Kandahar fiefdom, he has a letter from the Drug Enforcement Agency to prove it. Sort of.
AWK, as he's known locally, first touted the letter in an interview with a British newspaper, the Independent, published earlier this week: "It has taken years to get this, but here it is, and it shows that these accusations against me are false, baseless." He said the document states that he is not the target of any drug investigations, claiming the letter will be unveiled sometime soon at a press conference convened by his brother, the president. When the note is made public, he said, it's his hope that all the press coverage portraying him as some cross between Pablo Escobar and Don Corleone will cease.
Law enforcement bodies don't typically inform people whether or not they're under investigation. But the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) confirms there is, in fact, a letter—only the agency and Ahmed Wali Karzai have vastly different interpretations of its significance.
I admit I was unfamiliar with Operation Dark Heart, the new book by former Defense Intelligence Agency officer and retired army reservist Anthony Shaffer, until I read about it in the Times last night. But now I can't wait to get my hands on a copy—partly because it sounds like an interesting read (tagline: "spycraft and special ops on the frontlines of Afghanistan and the path to victory") but mostly because the Pentagon does want me (or you) to get a look at what's inside.
The book was originally cleared by army reviewers, who vetted the manuscript to ensure it didn't reveal national security secrets. It went to press, was sent to reviewers, and was even available for a short time online. Now your best best of getting a copy may be to bid for the one some opportunist put up on Ebay—starting bid, $500 $1000. That's because the Pentagon is now negotiating with Shaffer's publisher to purchase all 10,000 copies of the first print run with the intention of destroying them. It turns out the book may indeed contain a significant amount of senstive material. Once the DIA looked over the book, and shared it with other intelligence agencies, "200 passages suspected of containing classified information" were discovered "setting off a scramble by Pentagon officials to stop the book’s distribution," according to the Times.
It's worth noting that just because information is classified doesn't mean it's not widely available publicly. Details intel community censors might consider worthy of redaction could have already appeared in a news article or elsewhere. And it's not unusual for retired spooks and their publishers to do battle with their former employers over what can and cannot be divulged. (Former CIA officer Gary Berntsen, for one, famously clashed with the agency over what he believed were capricious redactions to his book, Jawbreaker. It's a great book, if you don't mind reading around the swaths of black hiding key details of Berntsen's story.)
The classified portions of Shaffer's book, according to the Times, include "the names of American intelligence officers who served with Colonel Shaffer and his accounts of clandestine operations, including N.S.A. eavesdropping operations." Fox is reporting that intelligence officials are also trying to deep-six portions of the book concerning a classified data mining program known as "Able Danger." Shaffer—and others—have previously said that the program, established in 1999, had identified Mohammed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers well before the attacks, though an investigation by the Senate intelligence committee has determined the claim doesn't hold up.
One thing's for sure: the Pentagon's effort to block the book's release has probably done more to boost its future sales prospects (albeit, for a heavily redacted version) than any ad blitz. (See Wings Over Iraq for more on DIA's inadvertent publicity campaign.) It's certainly one way to sell out a first printing in record time.
The Justice Department has finally uncovered emails written by John Yoo, the author of the so-called torture memos. But something's missing.
Nick Baumann and Daniel SchulmanSep. 7, 2010 6:00 AM
When the Justice Department's report on the so-called torture memos was released in February, the agency's internal watchdog noted that the five-year inquiry "had not been routine" and included the intriguing detail that a trove of key documents had been destroyed. These included almost all of Justice Department official John Yoo's emails. The report noted that investigators for the agency's Office of Professional Responsibility had been informed that these records "had been deleted and were not recoverable." Without the emails of one of the primary authors of the memos, the OPR could only cobble together a partial picture of how Bush administration lawyers had crafted a legal rationale for the use of torture. "Given the difficulty OPR experienced in obtaining information over the past five years," the report said, "it remains possible that additional information eventually will surface."
Months later John Yoo's emails have surfaced—some of them, at least. But these are probably not the records the OPR gumshoes were after. So the mystery of the missing Yoo emails remains.
In response to a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Justice Department has produced 900-plus pages of email records, and it says it has identified but is withholding an additional 147 documents for as-yet unspecified reasons. This might sound like a lot, but given that Yoo's tenure as a top political appointee in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel spanned almost two years, from July 2001 to May 2003, the emails account for what would be less than a week's worth of email traffic for most routine email users. Though the OPR noted that the supposedly destroyed records included "relevant documents" to its investigation, nothing of the sort was included in the files Justice handed to CREW. These emails are remarkable if only because they are so mundane—and because virtually none of them have anything to do with Yoo's official Justice Department work. If the messages are at all representative of Yoo's stint there, they suggest that the bulk of his time was devoted to arranging speaking engagements, authoring journal articles, and, as CREW put it in a release, "expanding his credentials" for his return to academia.
Recently, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) has beens sounding the alarm about a new and insidious plot involving so called "terror babies." Infants are sometimes known to be terrors in their own right, but this diabolical plan involves terrorists sending pregnant women into the US to birth their America-hating spawns. The mothers and their kids then return home where, the congressman says, the children "could be raised and coddled as future terrorists"— and later, "twenty, thirty years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life." Gohmert, a member of the newly formed Tea Party Caucus and a supporter of a bill stemming from the "birther" conspiracy about the president's citizenship, has used the far-fetched terror baby conspiracy to bash the Obama administration's immigration policy and its legal challenge to Arizona's draconian law. "They figured out how stupid we are being in this country to allow our enemies to game our system," he said during a debate on the House floor in late June. "We won’t do anything about it we’ll even sue a state that tries to do something about it."
Here's the thing: There doesn't appear to be a morsel of evidence to support Gohmert's terror baby tale, which the congressman says he learned of from a woman on a plane while en route to the Middle East and from a retired FBI agent. (The FBI says it has no information about such a plot. And former top bureau official Tom Fuentes has called Gohmert's claims "ludicrous.") So last night Anderson Cooper featured Gohmert and his terror babies plot in the show's "Keeping Them Honest" segment. What followed was about 9 minutes of high-quality crazy, courtesy of a congressman known for making outlandish claims and staking out unorthodox and outright bizarre positions.
Gohmert was in feisty form and quickly came unhinged ("you're going to keep me honest!" he thundered), blasting Cooper for calling him out for political fear-mongering. "You're attacking the messenger," Gohmert yelled. "Anderson, you're better than this. You used to be good. You used to find that there was a problem and go after it instead of going after the messenger." Gohmert grow ever more irate, as Cooper repeatedly pressed him to provide any credible information to back up his claims. "Sir, do you want to offer any evidence?" Cooper asked at one point. "I'm giving up an opportunity to say what research and evidence you have. You've offered none, other then yelling." Let's just say Gohmert declined Cooper's offer. Just watch this clip. You won't be dissappointed. And, while you're watching, keep in mind that Gohmert is a former district and appeals court judge.