Iraqis Stunned as Blackwater Mercs’ Case Thrown Out

Relatives of the 17 Iraqis killed by American mercenary forces employed by the Blackwater corporation (now called Xe after months of bad press) were stunned to learn that the case against the mercenaries was thrown out.

Sahib Nassir’s 26-year-old son, Mehdi, a taxi driver, was shot in the back and died during the incident. He said he was stunned to hear that the charges had been dismissed because he had been preparing to testify at a the trial. “How could they release them?” he asked. “There is evidence. There are witnesses.”

One such witness was an Iraqi police officer on duty that day:

Ali Khalaf, a traffic police officer who was on duty in Nisour Square when the Blackwater guards opened fire and aided some of the victims afterward, was furious.

“There has been a cover-up since the very start,” he said. “What can we say? They killed people. They probably gave a bribe to get released. This is their own American court system.”

That’s highly unlikely. While Khalaf’s anger is understandable and probably righteous, America is not Iraq.

If anything, the injustice in this case is first and foremost about maintaining a standard of high standard of law in this country, something that should be the goal in every nation, particularly those in which the expectation of bribery being behind any unexpected outcome is natural and justified.

A secondary issue with the case is its misuse of civilian courts to punish military offenses. Like it or not – and I do not like it one bit – Blackwater was effectively a branch of the U.S. military in its operations in Iraq. Its personnel should, therefore, be held to military-level standards of conduct and violations of these standards dealt with by the military justice system.

From a civilian perspective it seems likely that a travesty of justice will be the result in this case. Personally I have a belief that the Blackwater mercenaries acted inappropriately and that they killed 17 Iraqis for no good reason. But it’s certainly possible that they were fired upon. Such attacks still happen in Iraq even now.

Yet the truth is my perspective, like that of almost all Americans, is limited by the very nature of the safety that our comfortable, secure lives provide. We have no ability to understand what it means to be in mortal danger simply driving along a city street or highway and no knowledge of what it’s like to pass vehicles burning in the street as a result of terrorist actions. Passing judgment on men who have to live with and work under such a threat for months on end can never be the business of a civilian court.

What is within the purview of the American people is the use of mercenary companies in the stead of the United States military. The Blackwater incident in question is not the only such instance of misbehavior by the company and others like it, merely the most egregious.

Should American force be projected abroad in the form of hired guns? I think not. Better by far to recruit the needed personnel into the legitimate military where standards of training and behavior can be dispensed and enforced using a well-defined system. It may cost more to do so, but the price of war must be paid if one is to be executed.

Unanswered Questions About Fort Hood Madness

The story of the day is one of madness. Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed at least 12 of his fellow soldiers today at Fort Hood and no one really knows why. Perhaps he was resentful about an upcoming deployment to Iraq. Frankly that explanation doesn’t pass muster. What then could Hasan’s motive been in attacking his fellow soldiers?

The story of the day is one of madness, for what other word can describe the actions of a man who guns down dozens of innocent people in a purposeless act of rebellion? Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed at least 12 of his fellow soldiers today at Fort Hood and no one really knows why.

Perhaps he was, as reported, fearful and resentful about an upcoming deployment to Iraq. Apparently Hasan’s loathing of the Army’s mission in that country was so great that he hired an attorney to help him get out of the military.

Frankly that explanation doesn’t pass muster. Anyone who works, in any line of business, has to do things that he or she doesn’t want to do, often for months at a time and under difficult circumstances. Although the stresses of most of our daily 8-to-5s can’t compare to those experienced by our deployed military personnel, the comparison is still a useful tool.

Considering it’s unlikely that a trained psychologist like Hasan would be put into a front-line situation, it seems that he would have had relatively little to fear in terms of his personal safety had he been sent overseas.

What then could Hasan’s motive been in attacking his fellow soldiers? Josh Marshall jumped in early on this point, noting that Hasan’s heritage contains Islamic elements.  Scott McCabe confirms this assertion, writing:

Hasan attended the Muslim center for about six years and seemed like a good person, [Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring President Ishtiaq] Chughtai said.

Hasan exhibited a dark side at work, however, as noted while he was an intern at Walter Reed:

Hasan had some “difficulties” that required counseling and extra supervision, said Dr. Thomas Grieger, who was the training director at the time.

Grieger said privacy laws prevented him from going into details but noted that the problems had to do with Hasan’s interactions with patients.

Moreover, Hasan made anti-American, pro-Muslim statements to officers at Fort Hood, including now-retired Colonel Terry Lee:

“He was making outlandish comments condemning our foreign policy and claimed Muslims had the right to rise up and attack Americans,” Col Lee told Fox News.

“He said Muslims should stand up and fight the aggressor and that we should not be in the war in the first place.” He said that Maj Hasan said he was “happy” when a US soldier was killed in an attack on a military recruitment centre in Arkansas in June. An American convert to Islam was accused of the shootings.

Col Lee alleged that other officers had told him that Maj Hasan had said “maybe people should strap bombs on themselves and go to Time Square” in New York.

As Marshall says, things may get very dark indeed with regard to Hasan’s true motives if Lee’s assertions about Hasan’s Muslim sympathies prove true. Previous cases indicate that this is a line of questioning that should be scrupulously followed up on.

For if Hasan’s fear of being deployed to a war zone is, as I believe, insufficient to explain his cowardly, murderous actions, his motivations must have come from a deeply rooted personal sense of vengeance. While it is premature to conclude that Hasan’s religious and social beliefs caused him to commit mass murder, it’s nevertheless obvious that this should be a primary line of inquiry, wherever it leads on the path to the heart of darkness.

Darker still are the larger questions about whether followers of Islam can truly belong in a democratic society. Millions do fit in successfully, just as Nidal Hasan did, to all appearances, prior to today’s shooting spree.

There is a tension between religion and government in democratic societies. Despite founding the first modern democracy here in the United States, American Christians feel it. I suspect that Muslims feel it more keenly yet what with the demanding, legalistic nature of their path to salvation.

Can that tension be resolved to the benefit of democratic society? Or is Islam inherently detrimental to democracy? This is the darkest question of all: Must Islam always seek to undermine secular government in order to gain power, as it has in Turkey and, to a lesser extent to-date, in many European countries? 

Certainly it has in the past and still does in the present. But must it? If the answer is Yes, that democracy and Islam are oil and water, never mixing, always distinct, constantly fighting, then hard times and hard choices lie ahead for the citizens of western democracies.

A man can only serve on master. One wonders what Nidal Hasan served.

Obama Planning to Slash Defense Budget

Fox News is reporting that Barack Obama has asked the military’s Joint Chiefs for Staff to cut the defense budget by 10% for FY 2010.  This is an unfortunate “request” given the massive expenditures being planned in virtually every other area of the budget. 

These proposed cuts are not a good idea for national security purposes, needless to say.  Neither are they good from an economic stimulus perspective.  Some economists, including Martin Feldstein of Harvard, say that defense spending is one of the best ways to ensure that stimulus money hits the economy quickly.

Writing about the trillion dollar stimulus package, Jim Manzi says:

the net effect of this bill is to shift the distribution of U.S. government spending as a whole away from defense and public safety and toward social programs: for good or ill

This is a Democratic dream and, as I predicted, the inevitable result of voters being gullible enough to vote the entitlement party into control of the presidency and both houses of Congress.

It’s time to get on the phones and blow the dust off of your typewriters, folks.  Contact your congressman and senator and make sure they know that you want the defense budget to, at a minimum, remain static when adjusted for inflation.

h/t Doug Ross

War Crimes in Gaza, Mogadishu

Jeffery Goldberg wonders if American troops committed war crimes in Somalia while fighting rebels in Mogadishu.  The question seems ridiculous at first.  What war crimes could be committed against murderous insurgents responsible for a civil war?  Goldberg’s big gun, however, is astounding.  According to Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, 80% of Somalia casualties were civilians.  This number, if true, is alarming and news to me.  I find it unbelievable, to be completely frank.  Yet there it is.  So is a battle such as the one in Mogadishu a crime if more civilians die than bad guys?


…gunmen in that battle hid behind walls of civilians and were aware of the restraint of the (Army) Rangers. These gunmen literally shot over the heads of civilians, or between their legs. They used women and children for this. It’s mind-boggling. Some of the Rangers shot civilians, some of them inadvertently and some of them advertently. They made the choice to shoot at crowds. When a ten-year-old is running at your vehicle with an AK-47, do you shoot the kid? Yes, you shoot the kid. You have to survive.

American waged war on the Somali rebels right enough.  But the crimes were committed by the rebels who deliberately placed innocent lives in harms way because of their own lack of courage, equipment, skill.

Earlier Michael quoted Daniel Pipes, who I respect a lot, as saying that he doesn’t know what the Israelis hope to achieve in Gaza or if their army knows how to do the job there.  With respect to Mr. Pipes, I don’t think the objective is in doubt – it is to hurt and hopefully cripple Hamas, a purely military action that’s overdue.  As to whether the IDF knows how to do that cleanly…is such an outcome even possible?

Mark Bowden also has something useful to say about Gaza:

I believe that culpability for these casualties is very much with Hamas. Take this leader, Nizar Rayyan, who was killed with many of his children. He knew he was a target. If I knew that I was a target, I sure as hell wouldn’t have my children near me. It’s a horrible and cynical choice he made.

In other words, Rayyan was using his sworn enemy’s own sense of mercy and fair play as a weapon against them.  It did not work and while we ought to mourn the innocent lives that have been lost, the objective is a good one. 

To allow terrorists to hold hostage the civilian lives that are unfortunately entangled with their own is not an acceptable option for any nation at war with these people. 

For a guide, consider the Moscow theatre hostage crisis engineered by Chechen terrorists in the Russian capital.  Even though many hostages were killed, Russia’s choice to use force against the terrorists was the correct one. 

Only the size of the stage and the number of hostages is different in Gaza.

Military Spending as an Economic Stimuli

Martin Feldstein says that the planned budget cuts at the Department of Defense shouldn’t happen.  At first read the idea seems ludicrous.  The U.S. already has a huge budget deficit caused in large part by excessive military spending.  But Feldstein argues that depleted supplies and overworked equipment should be replaced now and that doing so would help to stimulate the economy.  It’s true that defense spending will help maintain or even add jobs in that sector.  But can that really be considered a priority when jobs are being eliminated by the thousands in other areas?

The base amount for the Department of Defense’s 2009 budget is over $515B, a number that includes a 9.5% increase in the operations and maintenance component and a smaller 5.3% hike in the procurement component.  Is that sufficient to maintain the ready status of basic supplies and maintain/replace aging equipment?  Presumedly with the decrease in fighting in Iraq that the equipment there is being serviced better and more frequently than a couple of years ago.

I’m not buying military spending as a priority sector for stimulus spending.  I’m not even sure that increased government spending is that good of an idea, the pundits not withstanding.  It was, after all, the spending of non-existent money that created the present economic situation in the first place.

If we are about to proceed with another massive government spending spree in the name of propping up an economy already bogged down with debt the least we can do is get some good out of it.  There are many, many domestic public works projects that could be executed, including infrastructure projects such as road and bridge enhancement, urban renewal, and supplemental education,  to name a few. 

In this respect Hillary Clinton’s Green Corps makes some sense.  I understand Barack Obama is considering something like that as well.  I don’t agree that this would be a good use of public funds.

Renewable energy sources have not yet been vetted by the market to any large extent.  Public funds directed to the jump-starting of that economic sector would be largely wasted.  If we must spend, the money should be directed toward less complex, better understood projects that even government ought to be able to get right.  Even moderately ambitious projects of this nature would, if successful, be better than spending the money on tanks and fighter planes that, frankly, we don’t need. 

Iraq Thankful for American Troops

Perhaps thankful is too strong of a word.  Or perhaps not.  80% of Iraq’s parliament voted for a security pact that will keep American troops in that country for three more years – sounds like they’re glad to have us there.

After the madness that’s been happening in Mumbai over the last 2 days and the massive, brutal Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence of 2 years ago, it’s not hard to understand why Iraq’s leaders want to keep the the troops responsible for the progress of the last year plus in country.

It’s also clear that the U.S. has an obligation to keep our troops in Iraq until that country is ready to stand on its own.  Despite the recent successes, that time may be beyond the 2012 timeframe specified in this latest agreement.  Regardless, the moral imperative of “we broke it, we bought it” can’t be ignored. 

That’s true even for Barack Obama who, while elected on the promise of change and troop withdrawals, will find his ability to keep his allies on the far left happy constrained by the realities of his new responsibilities.

Hopefully the U.S. will continue to be able to draw down troop numbers in Iraq and shift the theater of war back to Afghanistan where our focus is needed.  And hopefully our former allies in Europe will re-commit themselves to the pacification of that country, work with us to secure its border with Pakistan, and help create an economy based on something other than opium.  And hopefully the U.S. will be able to establish long-term working relationships with the governments in both Iraq and Afghanistan and build military bases in those countries similar to those in Japan, South Korea, and other allied nations.

True, that’s a lot of hoping.  But our successes in Iraq have created the opportunity to hope for more favorable outcomes.  That’s something to be thankful for.

Of Hurricanes and Sarah Palin

Republican VP candidate Sarah “Her-icane” Palin did to Barack Obama and Joe Biden what Hurricane Ike is fixin’ to do to Galveston, Houston, and yours truly here in Texas – she blew them away.  This will probably be my last post for a couple of days because big, bad Ike is coming our way like Ike Turner hunting for Tina after a bender.  Even with all the excitement headed my way it’s obvious to me that Sarah Palin has taken over this presidential race.  Memeorandum, for instance, has been dominated by stories about Palin recently and today is no exception.

Sarah Palin’s interview with Charlie Gibson went well with the exception of the “Bush Doctrine” question and, desperate for anything to counter her compelling story and personal presence, her opponents have pounced on the perceived bobble.  But the term is an artificial concoction – there’s no formal policy of that name.  So should Mrs. Palin be expected to have an opinion it?  Her response, I think, was not unlike my own.  “Bush Doctrine” means different things depending on who you talk to and each is a potential landmine for a Republican candidate.  Asking “Which part?” seems like a reasonable, if overly cautious, response to Gibson’s question.

James Fallows disagrees, saying:

What Sarah Palin revealed is that she has not been interested enough in world affairs to become minimally conversant with the issues. Many people in our great land might have difficulty defining the “Bush Doctrine” exactly. But not to recognize the name, as obviously was the case for Palin, indicates not a failure of last-minute cramming but a lack of attention to any foreign-policy discussion whatsoever in the last seven years.

That’s not necessarily true.  I’ve paid a great deal of attention to international matters and in my view Palin’s response cuts through the facade of media interpretation and gets directly to the important principle involved:

“I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell-bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though. There have been mistakes made. And with new leadership — and that’s the beauty of American elections, of course, and democracy, is with new leadership comes opportunity to do things better.”

This may not have been the question that Gibson asked; however, when discussing the primary policy interest of the Bush Administration, it is the most salient answer possible.

Fallows and folks like Glen Greenwald feel differently – or pretend to, for ideological reasons – and prefer to focus on issues like domestic surveillance, telecom immunity, and close parsing of words like preemptive and imminent, all of which is well and good.  We need people to do that, to act as a free and skeptical Fourth Estate, to keep the powers that be if not in check at least partially honest.

However, the primary function of an executive is not to banter about with subtleties of the English language or be overly concerned with legal technicalities, at least not in a time of “heightened security”.  No, the executive’s first responsibility is to understand the fundamental issues at work in a situation and choose the best possible response to a given situation.

Sarah Palin is not America’s foremost expert on foreign policy, that’s a given.  But she understands exactly what the Bush Administration has been trying to do for America and the world, probably at least as well as most of the people who have been slamming her over the interview, Fallows and Hilzoy included. 

The great issue, indeed, the great threat, of our time is Islamic Terrorism.  The so-called Bush Doctrine is a response to that threat.  It exists to meet it, not the other way around.  People who don’t remember that really ought to take a step or two back and remember the forest instead of focusing in on one insignificant tree among so many.

Yes, ideally Palin would be more familiar with the media lexicon so that terms like this one don’t trip her up.  But I’ll take my chances with someone who understands what’s at stake and will take strong action to protect America over someone who is hip to insider language but isn’t willing to do everything necessary to protect the freedom of people he – or she – is supposed to serve.

Now, it’s off to batten down the hatches, matey.  Wish me and my family luck; I’ll do the same for Barack Obama.  Frankly I’m not sure who needs the good wishes more at the moment, him or us.

Draft Indicates Failed Policies

John McCain may not advocate re-instituting the military draft but when given an opportunity he didn’t disagree with the idea either:

At a town-hall event in New Mexico today…a woman in the audience told the presumptive Republican nominee, “Senator McCain I truly hope you get the opportunity to chase Bin Laden right to the gates of hell and push him in as you stated on your forum. I do have a question though. Disabled veterans, especially in this state, have horrible conditions…. I think it is a sad state of affairs when we have illegal aliens having a Medicaid card that can access specialist top physicians, the best of medical and our vets can’t even get to a doctor. These are the people that we tied yellow ribbons for and Bush patted on the back. If we don’t reenact the draft I don’t think we will have anyone to chase Bin Laden to the gates of hell.”

McCain, without hesitation, responded, “Ma’am, let me say that I don’t disagree with anything you said and thank you and I am grateful for your support of all of our veterans.”

In my mind a military draft is obscene.  I’ve advocated staying in Iraq and Afghanistan until those countries are secured and the troops there are getting a raw deal in terms of extended tours, low pay, and poor conditions at the VA back home.  But would a draft resolve any of those issues?

The military doesn’t think so.  One big reason:

With a conscripted force comes higher personnel turnover, which results in substantial costs. Shorter enlistment terms, characteristic of a draft, result in high personnel turnover and a degradation in unit stability and performance. Also, high turnover means more recruits, and more recruits mean more supervision and training; and more training means more trainers. As a result, an increasing proportion of military resources are diverted from core readiness missions to support for military training. Thus, training costs would be higher under conscription.

If we’re unable to get enough volunteers, two causes are, in my view, primarily responsible:

  1. The compensation package, inclusive of pay, leave, training, and medical care, is not sufficient
  2. The mission(s) that predominate are not judged to be sufficiently important

Both of these reasons indicate failed policies on the part of the government, the former demonstrating that the true cost of the War on Terror is not being paid and the latter indicating that perhaps it is not desirable to fight it, at least in the form it’s being prosecuted now.

This is off the wall, but one way to get more volunteers would be to make public service compulsory – no exceptions – for 1 or 2 years at age 18.  Given that a young person must serve, he/she might volunteer for the military over a domestic assignment if the inducements were adequate.

Coming Soon: an Army of Atheists?

An army soldier who lost his faith while deployed in Iraq is now suing the U.S. Army because of the prevalence of Christian practices therein.


Hall filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, among others. In the suit, Hall claims his rights to religious freedom under the First Amendment were violated and suggests that the United States military has become a Christian organization.

"I think it’s utterly and totally wrong. Unconstitutional," Hall said.

Hall said there is a pattern of discrimination against non-Christians in the military.

Whether the military is more Christian than the rest of the country is an interesting question.  I would guess that it is, for the simple reason that going to places where one will be shot at, on purpose, mind, would be more palatable to people with faith in God.

Hall’s specific complaints:

Two years ago on Thanksgiving Day, after refusing to pray at his table, Hall said he was told to go sit somewhere else. In another incident, when he was nearly killed during an attack on his Humvee, he said another soldier asked him, "Do you believe in Jesus now?"

He also said he missed out on promotions because he is an atheist.

"I was told because I can’t put my personal beliefs aside and pray with troops I wouldn’t make a good leader," Hall said.

If he was told that leadership potential is diminished by lack of faith – if – then his case may have some legal merit.  It would be a shame for the military to lose a good soldier over a subjective issue.

However, leaders are defined by their actions.  Hall’s rejection of Christianity makes his judgment suspect in the eyes of many of those who would be asked to follow him.

This is potentially a very interesting case as it pits the expansionary natural of the progressive atheist agenda against the traditional Christian values of the country. 

On one hand, the fact that Private Hall would file a lawsuit of this kind is, frankly, irritating as hell, pun intended.  He lives in and serves one of the few countries on Earth where he’s free to do exactly as he pleases with virtually no restrictions.  Yet he is unsatisfied with the ability of others to do the same.  Standard "me first" American leftist thinking.  Ugh.

On the other, Hall’s lawsuit is an excellent opportunity to correct the misguided thinking of political correctness by rejecting his attempt to force Christianity out of a national institution that needs it as much as or more than any other.

At some point Americans have to be willing and able to say, "This is how we do things here, mister, and if you don’t like it, tough."  This case is such a time.