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06 May 2005

what have I become .... 



"Our position is that whatever grievances a nation may have, however objectionable it finds the status quo, aggressive warfare is an illegal means for settling those grievances or for altering those conditions."

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson
American Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials

I Would Find A Way .....

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05 May 2005

U.S. Soldiers' Deaths: Don't Look, Don't Tell 

The coverup of Pat Tillman's death was even worse than we thought

Bush Beat Wednesday, May 4

The coverup of NFL star Pat Tillman's death by friendly fire in April 2004 in Afghanistan was even worse than previously reported.

And as more and more facts and photos emerge, the lies and bullshit of the Pentagon come into sharper focus.

The Washington Post, whose former managing editor Steve Coll wrote a blistering account in December about Tillman's unnecessary death, is now reporting that the Pentagon hid the truth from his family until weeks after the Bush regime had milked the tragedy for all the p.r. it could get.

Josh White's story this morning says:

The first Army investigator who looked into the death of former NFL player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan last year found within days that he was killed by his fellow Rangers in an act of "gross negligence," but Army officials decided not to inform Tillman's family or the public until weeks after a nationally televised memorial service.

A new Army report on the death shows that top Army officials, including the theater commander, Gen. John P. Abizaid, were told that Tillman's death was fratricide days before the service.


In my previous item about Coll's story, I quoted his piece:

The records show Tillman fought bravely and honorably until his last breath. They also show that his superiors exaggerated his actions and invented details as they burnished his legend in public, at the same time suppressing details that might tarnish Tillman's commanders.


In White's follow-up, he pored through thousands of pages of documents and found that despite what was called "gross negligence" in Tillman's death, the soldiers responsible got off lightly. Of the coverup, he also wrote:

The documents … show that officers made erroneous initial reports that Tillman was killed by enemy fire, destroyed critical evidence, and initially concealed the truth from Tillman's brother, also an Army Ranger, who was near the attack on April 22, 2004, but did not witness it.


White doesn't say so, but what's so surprising about this? At the time of Tillman's death, the Abu Ghraib scandal was breaking, and the Bush regime desperately needed the great p.r. generated by the heroic Tillman's tragic death to counter the ugly torture scandal.

In other words, use Tillman's square-jawed face to blot out images of Lynndie England's moon-faced mug.

"Blot out" is the operative phrase of our current administration. Just look at the photos of soldiers' coffins, like the picture above, pried out of the government after a long court battle.

Kudos to former CNN journalist Ralph Begleiter and the hard-working truth fanatics of the National Security Archive for obtaining these images. The government only wants you to focus on celebrities' deaths, when it can spin some p.r. It has steadfastly played down the relentless offloading of coffins at Dover, Delaware, but Begleiter, now a journalism prof at the University of Delaware, fought long and hard to open up those secret operations.

Just a few days ago, the National Security Archive, one of the best NGOs around, posted another batch of photos previously suppressed by the government. You can look at them, download them, pass them around. People can see the human cost of war. I know it's bad for military recruiting. Tough.

But let's go back to exactly one year ago.The memorial service for Tillman was on May 3, 2004. The coverup was in full swing. As White's story notes:

An initial investigation found fratricide just days [after Tillman's April 22 death]. Top commanders within the U.S. Central Command, including Abizaid, were notified by April 29—four days before Tillman's memorial service in San Jose, where he was given a posthumous Silver Star Award.…

The family learned about Tillman's fratricide over Memorial Day weekend, several weeks later. Commanders felt they could not hold on to the old version because the Rangers were returning home and "everybody knows the story," the documents show.


Meanwhile, the very day after the memorial service, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was interviewed on the government's Pentagon Channel. The topic was Military Appreciation Month. Here's a snatch of the TV show's May 4, 2004, Q&A:

Q: With Military Appreciation Month, what are some of the things that we can do to help them understand or help them get the message back to the United States that progress is being made?

WOLFOWITZ: Well, I think, first of all, just keep making progress. I mean, I do believe eventually the facts get through over the statements—false statements. And it is absolutely critical that we win Iraq and that we win Afghanistan.


The interviewer of course had to bring up families:

That critical job obviously, it’s very difficult for our military, but it’s also difficult for their families. Is there something you’d like to say to the families?


Wolfowitz, a pretend soldier himself, obviously didn't have anything to say to Tillman's family. The coverup was going on at that moment. All Wolfie said was the usual platitudinous crap, including this:

It’s an enormous burden on families just to be separated so long and to be separated under combat conditions where every day you’re hoping that the bad news isn’t coming. The anxiety is enormous. And I think our whole country has got to be enormously grateful that there are men and women ready to serve our country in that way and families who support the way these families do.


Well, then, just don't show them the pictures of death and of coffins, and don't tell the families the bad news—especially the truth.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. The Enigmatic Flea has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is The Enigmatic Flea endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

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04 May 2005

a crime against humanity ..... 

"The London Times reports that the British government and the United States government had secretly agreed to attack Iraq in 2002, before authorization was sought for such an attack in Congress, and had discussed creating pretextual justifications for doing so."

US Congressman John Conyers has written to President George Bush seeking his response to these explosive revelations.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States of America The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write because of troubling revelations in the Sunday London Times apparently confirming that the United States and Great Britain had secretly agreed to attack Iraq in the summer of 2002, well before the invasion and before you even sought Congressional authority to engage in military action. While various individuals have asserted this to be the case before, including Paul O'Neill, former U.S. Treasury Secretary, and Richard Clarke, a former National Security Council official, they have been previously dismissed by your Administration. However, when this story was divulged last weekend, Prime Minister Blair's representative claimed the document contained "nothing new." If the disclosure is accurate, it raises troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war as well as the integrity of your own Administration.

The Sunday Times obtained a leaked document with the minutes of a secret meeting from highly placed sources inside the British Government. Among other things, the document revealed:

· Prime Minister Tony Blair chaired a July 2002 meeting, at which he discussed military options, having already committed himself to supporting President Bush's plans for invading Iraq.

· British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw acknowledged that the case for war was "thin" as "Saddam was not threatening his neighbours and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran."

· A separate secret briefing for the meeting said that Britain and America had to "create" conditions to justify a war.

· A British official "reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

As a result of this recent disclosure, we would like to know the following:

1) Do you or anyone in your Administration dispute the accuracy of the leaked document?

2) Were arrangements being made, including the recruitment of allies, before you sought Congressional authorization to go to war? Did you or anyone in your Administration obtain Britain's commitment to invade prior to this time?

3) Was there an effort to create an ultimatum about weapons inspectors in order to help with the justification for the war as the minutes indicate?

4) At what point in time did you and Prime Minister Blair first agree it was necessary to invade Iraq?

5) Was there a coordinated effort with the U.S. intelligence community and/or British officials to "fix" the intelligence and facts around the policy as the leaked document states?

We have of course known for some time that subsequent to the invasion there have been a variety of varying reasons proffered to justify the invasion, particularly since the time it became evident that weapons of mass destruction would not be found. This leaked document - essentially acknowledged by the Blair government - is the first confirmation that the rationales were shifting well before the invasion as well.

Given the importance of this matter, we would ask that you respond to this inquiry as promptly as possible. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Congressman John Conyers


The Raw Story

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saved from private england ..... 

Thank God for ‘truth, justice & the American way’.

It is now clear that the diminutive US Private, Lynndie England, aided & abetted by half a dozen of her erstwhile comrades, cunningly perpetrated an obscene reign of terror, torture & murder on unsuspecting US detainees across the globe: all without the knowledge of her chain of command superiors.

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Sanchez & Gonzalez, the golden dawn global warriors in the endless war against the “evil-doers”, all clearly innocent bystanders, were callously duped by this 22 year-old baby-faced mastermind.

How else to explain the systemic abuse of 17,000 detainees held at more than 150 US military bases around the world? How else to explain the secret renditions; the torture & the rapes? How else to explain the more than 100 mysterious deaths by “interview”?

Given that such behaviour is an anathema to God’s right-hand man & the members of his prayer group, the child-like images of England’s grotesque behaviour at Abu Ghraib must surely represent just a sickening aberration: something that would never be tolerated by any fundamentalist torch bearer of freedom & democracy, including our own?

But sadly, there are always the doubters.

In spite of the fact that relentless investigations by the Pentagon have clearly proven that there was no smoke from the grassy knoll, the stubborn cynics & conspiracy theorists remain convinced that England could not have acted alone.

George Bush has assured the world that: “Torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture”, especially Egypt, Syria & Uzbechistan.

Why is it that some people just cannot bring themselves to trust the words of our leaders?

Surely now that the fiendish arch war criminal England has been brought to justice & the world’s collective conscience has been appeased, it must be time to heed the words of our Prime Minister for life & “move on”- just like he has?

As our heroic leader sagely reminded us only a week ago: “nothing in life is free & nor should it be”. The wisdom in these words can be vouchsafed directly by the 100,000 Iraqi civilians & 1,700 US servicemen who have thus far sacrificed their lives for the freedom & democracy meme.

But at least the 17,000 detainees held around the world by the US government & its surrogate jailers are much safer: saved from Private England.


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02 May 2005

IRAQ: U.S. Contracting Firm Accused of Bilking Millions 

Custer Battles is under investigation by the Department of Defense for allegedly overcharging the government millions by making up invoices for work never done, equipment never received, and guards who didn't exist.

CorpWatch

by Deborah Hastings, Associated Press
April 30th, 2005

His career in Baghdad was brief. And it ended badly.

On a blistering July afternoon, three MP5 submachine guns were pointed at Alabama businessman Robert Isakson inside the fortified Green Zone of lawless Baghdad. The men carrying the weapons wanted his money and his security pass.

As Isakson tells it, they also wanted his guns, leaving him unarmed in a mess of a country and banned from its safest haven.

"We were defenseless," says the former cop and FBI agent from Mobile. He had come to Iraq to help rebuild the devastated country, accompanied by his 14-year-old son, Bobby. Now, after less than a month, they were being expelled at gunpoint.

By Americans.

The gunmen and Isakson all worked for Custer Battles LLC, a Rhode Island-based contracting firm now mired in lawsuits and a criminal investigation by the Pentagon. Isakson claims company employees ordered him out because he refused to help defraud the U.S. government.

It is one allegation on a long list.

Custer Battles security guards have also been accused of firing at unarmed civilians. They have been accused of crushing a car filled with Iraqi children and adults. They have been accused of unleashing a hail of bullets in a Baghdad hotel, only to discover, when the dust literally settled, that they had been shooting at each other.

The company is under investigation by the Department of Defense for allegedly overcharging the government millions by making up invoices for work never done, equipment never received, and guards who didn't exist.

In September 2004, the company was banned from receiving government contracts after Air Force investigators determined it "conspired to defraud the CPA," the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Isakson and William "Pete" Baldwin, the former Iraq country manager for Custer Battles, filed a federal whistle-blower suit last year, accusing the company of war profiteering and defrauding the government of at least $50 million.

The company rejects those claims. "Custer Battles strongly denies that any of its corporate management or officers knowingly engaged in any improper conduct," the firm said, responding to a list of detailed questions e-mailed by The Associated Press. The suit, it says, is the work of disgruntled employees.

Isakson has spent three decades cleaning up natural and man-made disasters, from hurricanes to Somalia, and he says Custer Battles is a disaster of a different sort.

"I've never seen U.S. contractors do something like this," he says. "And our soldiers are out there being killed while it's going on. And so are our fellow contractors."

---

Scott Custer and Michael Battles got their first government contract by sheer bravado. Sure, they could provide armed guards and security screeners at Baghdad International Airport. Absolutely, they could transport equipment and vehicles there. Sure, they could do it all in three weeks.

No matter that they had no experience. No matter that other established Pentagon contractors said the deadline was impossible. No matter that this was Iraq, just after the devastated country had fallen to invading coalition forces, and no one, nowhere in this desert had any idea what was going on, or how to get anything done.

But the CPA, mandated to run Iraq on an interim basis, wanted the airport open pronto, as proof to the Iraqi people - who hadn't seen it up and running, or been able to travel from it for years - that freedom had indeed arrived.

Calling themselves Custer Battles, the ex-Army Rangers formed a limited liability corporation before the invasion and let it be known in Washington, D.C., that they were looking to snap up rebuilding contracts once the fighting stopped.

Battles, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2002 as a Republican from Rhode Island, was a GOP campaign contributor and a former CIA case worker who claimed White House connections.

Mutual friends introduced the entrepreneurs to Isakson, an Alabama businessman specializing in wartime and disaster-relief contracts. Less than a month after Isakson and Custer and Battles secured the $16.8 million airport contract, Isakson was forced to leave.

Custer Battles is one of at least 60 private firms, collectively employing more than 20,000, living in a war zone. They have their own arms, their own vehicles, their own body armor. Some even have their own helicopters. Their security ranks include ex-Special Forces members and an assortment of aging warriors who believe they can still laugh at death.

At its apex, Custer Battles employed more than 700 employees in Iraq. It parlayed that single contract into eight contracts, worth at least $100 million.

"Let me tell you this," says Isakson, leaning back in his chair, behind a big desk in his Mobile, Ala., office. He loves to spin a good war yarn, weaving in snippets of world travels, dignitaries he's met, and his personal relationship with God.

But he can also get right to the point. "It's a screaming shame for people who have been in the intelligence community, and served in the military, to go to a war zone to do a job for their country, and end up stealing," he says.

---

Custer Battles gained a certain reputation in Iraq.

"Probably as gunslingers," a retired lieutenant colonel working for the firm told Chicago public radio last year. For security reasons, he gave his name only as Hank.

He described a Baghdad hotel gunfight that erupted not long after Custer Battles security agents landed. It was started by a rocket-propelled grenade attack, or that's what the men thought they heard. When the smoke cleared, the guards - who'd leaned out windows and fired more than 3,000 rounds in the middle of a residential neighborhood - realized they had been shooting at each other.

"Opening-day jitters," said Hank.

Earlier this year, four former employees, all military veterans, said they quit after witnessing Custer Battles security escorts shooting indiscriminately at civilians, including gunning down a teenager walking along a road. The men also said guards in a truck drove over a car containing children and adults while trying to make their way through a traffic jam.

Custer Battles found "no evidence" to support the claims, the company responded in its e-mail to the AP. "These stories were fabricated."

The company's financial exploits, according to the military memo and the whistle-blower suit, included fake invoices, shell companies and forgery.


The Air Force investigated a $21 million contract awarded in August 2003 to provide security for the CPA and its massive effort to exchange near-worthless Iraqi money - which featured portraits of Saddam Hussein - for 2,400 tons of new, stable currency that didn't carry the deposed dictator's face.

It was a dangerous undertaking. Convoys trucking $4 billion worth of Iraqi cash had to deliver it to three distribution centers on unsafe roads in a country engulfed by chaos. Custer Battles was to provide support - from trucks to armed guards to temporary housing for those handing out the money to citizens.

But CPA officials soon complained that promised trucks never showed up. Others broke down. A convoy carrying prefabricated cabins got lost for a week, its cargo ending up scattered across the desert.

Pete Baldwin was in charge of this project and all others in Iraq. He, too, complained - first to his Custer Battles bosses, then to the military, and finally to Pentagon investigators and the FBI.

Baldwin's ultimate concerns went beyond broken-down trucks and wayward convoys.

He accused his employers of fraud. He said the owners - and other company officials - concocted a scheme to overcharge the coalition by running Custer Battles invoices through offshore companies, which in turn jacked-up the prices.

The companies were really "shells" owned by Custer Battles, Baldwin said. And he refused, in several memos, to sign off on the "fake" invoices.

Isakson also said he was recruited to participate in such schemes. When he refused, he claims Custer Battles employees held him at gunpoint with his 14-year-old son and took their security passes, his weapons and other property. Then, Isakson says, they were thrown out of the secured Green Zone in Baghdad.

Isakson said he hightailed it across northern Iraq to Jordan, driving his SUV at 120 mph.

The company denies the allegations, and says Isakson's decision to leave was his own.

Baldwin, in a phone interview from Iraq, said he went to military officials in November 2003 and said, "There's a problem here."

Custer Battles had ignored admonitions that its billing practices constituted fraud, Baldwin said. He told Defense Criminal Investigation Service officials that Custer Battles was using forged and fake invoices, and was billing the coalition for services it never provided, including a nonexistent security detail for the caravan that got lost.

Since then, Baldwin said he has been interviewed by FBI agents and DCIS investigators, who are conducting a joint investigation of the company.

The Pentagon and the FBI declined comment.

In their suit, Baldwin and Isakson also name as defendants companies owned by Custer Battles in the Cayman Islands, Cyprus and Lebanon, as well as foreign business associates. The Air Force memo also names those firms, calling them "sham companies."

The overall operation, the military said, "fraudulently increased profits by inflating its claimed costs. CB (Custer Battles) purchased cabins, trucks and equipment and created false leases between CB and the sham companies, making it appear that the sham companies were leasing the goods to the CPA through CB."

The memo cites a spreadsheet entitled "Iraq Currency Exchange Logistics Support Requirements." It had been accidentally left behind by Custer Battles employees leaving a tense meeting with CPA officials who were questioning bills submitted by the contractor.

The spreadsheet included line items of the currency exchange contract. It showed Custer Battles had charged more than $9.8 million for work that actually cost the company about $3.7 million - a markup of more than 162 percent, the memo said. Under the terms of its contract, Custer Battles was allowed to charge no more than 25 percent profit.

Also, the memo said, a December 2003 invoice charged the coalition $157,000 for building a helicopter pad in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. The actual cost to Custer Battles was $95,000, the memo said.

One of the most astounding allegations in the whistle-blower's suit: At the airport, Custer Battles took forklifts abandoned by Iraqi Airways, painted them to cover the airline's name, and then charged the coalition thousands of dollars on fake invoices, claiming it was "leasing" the equipment.

Franklin Willis, a senior official with the CPA, testified in February before a U.S. Senate committee investigating waste and inefficiency during the coalition's 13-month existence. He used Custer Battles as an example of both.

He described Iraq as the "Wild West," a place where cash and chaos were everywhere. More than $3 billion - in new, shrink-wrapped $100 bills - had been confiscated by coalition forces searching Hussein palaces and elsewhere. It was stored in a vault in the basement of coalition headquarters, Willis said.

The money was simply handed out to eager contractors converging on Baghdad. "We called Mike Battles in and said, 'Bring a bag,'" Willis told the senators. Coalition officials filled a duffel with $2 million, which Custer Battles used as startup capital for the airport contract because the company had no funds of its own.

Willis, who served in the state and the transportation departments under President Reagan and worked for the CPA as an aviation and communications adviser, said the firm continued to collect money on the contract, even though the decision to open the airport was rescinded for security reasons, and it never accepted scheduled civilian traffic during the life of the CPA.

"Custer Battles interpreted their obligations solely by themselves and continued collecting on the $16 million," Willis testified. "They refused to coordinate with Skylink, the airport manager, and became an entity unto themselves at the airport."

For five months, Willis said, he tried to nail down what the money was being spent on because "the reason for the Custer Battles contract had disappeared."

But Willis kept getting sent on other assignments, and the CPA was overwhelmed.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Willis said the CPA was in over its head from the beginning. It didn't have enough people, it didn't have enough security, and it didn't have enough time to keep track of billions awarded to private companies.

"The contract process was a joke," Willis said.

---

On April 1, the whistle-blower lawsuit got a boost from the Justice Department. It filed a brief saying the CPA, which relinquished power last June to an interim Iraqi government, was subject to U.S. law. Lawyers for Custer Battles had contended American law had no jurisdiction over moneys spent by the coalition.

The suit was filed under the False Claims Act, which allows citizens to sue on behalf of the government when they suspect fraud in federal contracting. The plaintiffs, Baldwin and Isakson, may receive up to 30 percent of any judgment.

Baldwin is back in Iraq, working on his own as a private contractor. He is supervising the building of an outpost in Fallujah for the Iraqi Army.

"There's a group of us who are here for the right reasons. We're here to make a living, and we owe it to Iraq to rebuild the country," he said.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. The Enigmatic Flea has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is The Enigmatic Flea endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

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