Bagram: The Annotated Prisoner List

On January 15, the ACLU won a FOIA suit demanding information about the prisoners held at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. Now British journalist Andy Worthington has reproduced the list (Many of the detainees were abducted and from who-knows-where and brought to Afghanistan in order that the CIA and military could take advantage of the lawlessness of the current “battlefield” there.) along with notes on approximately 100 of them who he had previously identified and investigated.

Worthington calls it a “co-operative project” and invites any information people may be able to add.

Sen. Dorgan Raised the Issue of War Profiteering

I’m not sure why Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D, decided to surprise everyone and announce his retirement Tuesday. I’ll admit right up front that I am not an expert on North Dakota politics, nor a thorough observer of  the man’s nearly-30 year career (17 years in the Senate;  11 years in the House of Representatives) in Washington. I’m not sure if he’s leaving to become a lobbyist for the energy industry, as some have suggested. I suspect it’s just plain politics — he had a tough opponent on the horizon and today’s political winds are against so-called Blue Dog Dems in Red Meat States.

What I do know is that Sen. Dorgan held over 21 hearings in the Senate on private contractor fraud and abuse, including war profiteering, the physical and mental harassment of whistle-blowers in-theater, and most recently on Nov. 6, the constantly burning open-air pits of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan that have made countless veterans sick and looking to the Pentagon for answers. Kellogg, Brown and Root, a former subsidiary of Halliburton, is being charged in 22 different class action lawsuits with purposefully burning toxic waste in the open-air pits to save a buck on not installing incinerators. There are now more incinerators at U.S bases today than there were a year ago, but the alleged victims contend that KBR, which has the contract for waste management services, plus practically everything else in its multi-billion LOGCAP contract, could have installed more incinerators years ago (a charge KBR officials vociferously deny).

But even aside from burn pits, Dorgan was one of those rare members of Congress who actually gave a flying fig about exposing not only the abuse that private contractors were perpetuating in the war zone, but the over-use of private contractors in the war zone, period. Aside from Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, on the House side, Dorgan, as chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, was the only one to use his leadership post as a bully pulpit against abuses — even when there weren’t cameras on to report it — from very early on in the post-invasion occupation(s).

When I first started covering Dorgan and his hearings, his committee was literally scrambling around for space to meet. Let’s face it, whether the Republicans were in charge or the Democrats, most of these politicians hate to talk about war profiteering and all the money that has been bled from our treasury by private contractors who now hold the fate of our soldiers in their hands overseas (they feed them, clothe them, house them and protect them), and, as we know now thanks to Dorgan’s many hearings, they have put our personnel in harms’ way. From dirty water to faulty wiring in barrack showers, contractors have been responsible, but rarely held accountable, Dorgan has said more than once.

When the Democrats took back the majority in Congress in 2006, Dorgan’s committee stopped scrambling for space and announced it would make government oversight a key priority,a centerpiece. Government watchdogs were thrilled. But it didn’t take long to realize that reformist movements were marginalized even when the Democrats were in charge, and while plenty of Democrats liked to get in front of a camera to lash out against the Bush Administration’s use of contractors in the past, they have largely lost their gumption under the year-old, Democratic administration.

Still, Dorgan fought for, but never won the 60 Senate votes necessary to get him an investigative committee with real subpoena powers in 2008. “All you can do is dig and disclose … and keep pushing, because I think this is all an unbelievable scandal,” Dorgan said. “The American taxpayers have a right to be pretty disgusted about what’s going on.”

Dorgan got his wish, sort of, when the Commission on Wartime Contracting starting holding its hearings in 2009, traversing much of the same ground that the DPC had for years. It was a “compromise” because the panel, like Dorgan’s committee, doesn’t have subpoena or enforcement powers. And, in DPC fashion, the commission has already held a number of explosive hearings on contractor abuses — with all the effect of a tree falling in a forest.

Dorgan has not minced words, especially in disappointment:

From DC Bureau, in October:

..But since regaining control of Congress, including control of all standing committee agendas, Senate Democrats have failed to authorize the kind of sweeping probe that they criticized their Republican counterparts for avoiding in 2006. Instead, the DPC remains the central front for combating contractor corruption, where Sen. Dorgan has watched his investigations, many of them corroborated by the Pentagon Inspector General (IG), go unheeded by the Justice Department and the military.

“It’s one of the most disappointing and frustrating things that I have been involved with,” Dorgan said. “This is the most significant waste and fraud in the history of our country …When you have contractors that have demonstrated that they have fleeced the government agency or the taxpayer, I don’t think there should be a slap on the wrist or a pat on the back. They should be debarred.

I appreciate his trying, especially at a time when members of Congress are so concerned with keeping their heads down, being good team players. Playing nice with the defense industry.  Dorgan was curious, creative and responsive when it came to this contractor issue — it’s now been estimated that at least $10 billion has gone down a black whole, missing, unaccounted for — he even deigned to talk to me on a story or two, that’s how important it was for him to get the message out.

While it was a good day for the KBRs and DynCorps and Blackwaters (Xe), it was surely not a good day for the watchdogs.

“‘Nuff Said?” You Bet.

(Cross posted at @TAC)

I know it is a tired trope, but it’s helpful to look at the ultimate success of Counterinsurgency, or the vaunted COIN doctrine dominating the popular ethos of the American military establishment, as a three-legged stool.

As it is conceived, or at least projected for public consumption, in order for COIN to work in Afghanistan —

1) The central government must be legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people and willing to work hand in glove with the U.S military to pursue the campaign to its proscribed ends.

2) Afghan security forces must be trained and equipped and trusted enough by the civilian population to eventually provide security and to “hold” in the long-term any territory coalition forces can wrest from the “enemy” in the current campaign.

3) The U.S military must have trust (and assistance) from the Afghan civilian population in order to gain leverage over the insurgency and to build legitimacy for the government in Kabul.

All three goals bear serious problematic signs of failure today and yet, there is no realistic talk from the Obama Administration, nor the senior military brass about the prospects of any of this having a snow ball’s chance in hell of ever seeing fruition. Karzai’s legitimacy, and particularly his standing with the Pashtun people (at least 46 percent of the population), is a joke. The reliability of the Afghan security forces is much worse than any administration flak or Washington COIN pusher will concede.

And the military’s success with winning over “the hearts and minds” of the Afghan people? We can’t necessarily blame the soldiers themselves. They were trained to kill — and in a post-9/11 world, their target practice was on dummies with funny headgear who spoke even funnier languages and lived in sand traps and goat-dotted mountains — not to make friends or strive to be the next Greg Mortenson. But it is in the soldiers’ and Marines’ own words that we can sense the truth of the matter — and of how flimsy this house of cards really is.

First, war scribe Robert Young Pelton wrote this engaging chronicle earlier this year of his time with one unit of the Human Terrain Project — the Army’s (clearly problematic) attempt to inject anthropologists/social scientists onto the battlefield to engage the people and to learn more about the regional tapestry for the benefit of the mission. What he found was earnest but overwhelmed personnel, and, more than a little disdain, a lot of confusion and a truck load of condescension and outright scorn for the whole “touchy-feely” approach from the chain of command he had encounters with. A good read, for which Pelton tells me he has been virtually “cut off” from the press office and the lead guy for the project  (it’s also worth it to read the reaction to Pelton’s piece, particularly from the Army and subsequent comments).

Secondly, this little nugget, posted yesterday by COIN hagiographer Tom Ricks. Again, it takes a non-commissioned officer, not a “senior officer who represents the Establishment Party they serve” as one commenter described, to show how this thing is headed to nowheresville. Why? This last paragraph says it all:

Doesn’t matter if you like the people or not. Don’t really care if you think their ideology is bullshit. Fact is if you want to win, the people have to believe that you are sincere and convincing them that it is in their best interest to support you vice your enemy is a key part.  Winning is what matters and the only way to do that is getting better at COIN and IO, regardless of how much we hate it.

Read it all here.

As Ricks so artfully blurts at the end, “nuff said?”

All You Can Cheat

From Big O’s speech:

[W]e have made progress on some important objectives. …  In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election and — although it was marred by fraud — that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and constitution.

Hurrah! Stolen elections for everyone! Try and stop us, baddies!

Will Obama Out-BS Bush?

Obama’s speech from West Point tonight may drive the final wooden stake into liberals’ hope that their guy would create a Brave New Order in Washington and the world.

The fact that Obama is following in Bush’s footsteps – talking to an audience of captive individuals who would be ruined for life by a single catcall – is a sign of how archaic hope for change and reform has become.

If Obama honestly admitted that he is sending American boys to die to help assure the profits of drug kingpins like Karzai’s brother, I could at least respect the president’s candor.

But the odds of truth breaking out during Obama’s visit to West Point are slim and none – and “Slim just left town,” as Dan Rather says.

WHICH ‘safe haven,’ Mr. Obama?

If things run on schedule, Mr. Obama will announce tomorrow that he and his organization will be sending approximately 34,000 more U.S. troops to harass and sometimes kill men, women and children (as “collateral damage”) in Afghanistan.  And then he has to sell his unpopular decision. If previous statements are any guide, his main excuse will be “We have to deny al’Qaeda ‘safe haven’.” 

Question: “If you believe the official mythology,

1. “In what country did the 911 al’Qaeda pilots get ‘safe haven‘ to train

2. “In what country did the Madrid train bombers get ‘safe haven‘ to prepare?

3. “In what country did the London bombers get ‘safe haven‘?”

HINT: It’s NOT Afghanistan.

The answers to the three questions are:

 1. U.S.A.

 2. Spain

 3. England

How many troops will Mr. Obama send to THESE terrorist states to deny al’Qaeda ‘safe haven?’

By way of context, there are approximately 193 countries in the world, each of which can supply al’Qaeda with equivalent ‘safe haven.’

According to CIA and military intelligence sources, currently there aren’t 100 al’Qaeda operatives in all of Afghanistan.  So, Mr. Obama, what are your other excuses?