Former executives at the private military firm Blackwater have revealed the company authorized around $1 million to bribe Iraqi officials in the aftermath of the September 2007 killings of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. The New York Times reports the payments were approved after the Iraqi government called for Blackwater’s expulsion from Iraq, threatening the company’s lucrative annual contract. It’s unclear if any Iraqi officials ultimately received the payments, which would violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act banning bribes to foreign governments. Despite the Iraqi government’s initial calls for ousting Blackwater, it only revoked the firm’s main operating license earlier this year. Speaking to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Democracy Now! correspondent and independent journalist Jeremy Scahill said the revelations could lead to criminal charges against Blackwater.
Jeremy Scahill: “Let’s remember here that we are talking about the single worst massacre committed by a private force in Iraq of that war, committed by Blackwater, the Nisoor Square massacre. It was the biggest diplomatic crisis between Washington and Baghdad at the time. You had the Iraqi government saying that Blackwater was banned from the country and then suddenly doing an about face, and Blackwater remains in Iraq to this day. So on the issue of criminality here, when you have the FBI going over to conduct a criminal investigation, if you had Blackwater officials attempting to bribe Iraqis, that’s tantamount to tampering with a federal investigation. There is a grand jury sitting right now in North Carolina that has reportedly been informed of these allegations by Blackwater officials, very serious.”
Blackwater continues to work in Iraq under an aviation contract with the US State Department.
Reports continue to surface that the Obama administration has decided on a major troop increase in Afghanistan. The New York Times reports top officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, are backing a plan that would deploy at least 30,000 additional troops. President Obama is said to be considering four final options for Afghanistan. The low-end option would see an increase of at least 20,000 troops.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit on behalf of a US citizen over the FBI’s alleged role in his imprisonment and mistreatment abroad. Amir Mohamed Meshal was detained in Kenya, transferred to Somalia, and then sent to Ethiopia, where he was jailed for three months without charge. Meshal says US interrogators held him in inhumane conditions and threatened him with torture, forced disappearance and execution unless he confessed to belonging to a militant Islamic group. He was ultimately released and has returned to the United States. Meshal is the first US citizen to seek damages for the practice of so-called “extraordinary rendition.”
President Obama visited Fort Hood, Texas on Tuesday to pay tribute to the thirteen soldiers and civilians killed in a shooting rampage last week. The suspect, Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Malik Hasan, remains hospitalized after emerging from a coma. In an apparent reference to Hasan’s alleged contacts with a militant Islamic cleric, Obama said “no faith” could justify the attack.
President Obama: “It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. But this much we do know: no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. For what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice — in this world and the next.”
In Florida, a Marine reservist has been arrested after allegedly attacking a Greek Orthodox priest he mistook to be of Arab descent. The priest, Alexios Marakis, had gotten lost in Tampa, when he tried to ask for directions. The reservist, Jasen Bruce, allegedly struck Marakis with a tire iron and then called police to say an Arab man had tried to rob him. Bruce later told police Marakis was an “Arab terrorist.” Police say Bruce “teared up” when they told him Marakis was actually a Greek priest.
The man known as the DC sniper has been executed for the October 2002 killings of ten people in DC, Virginia and Maryland. John Allen Muhammad was killed by lethal injection Tuesday after Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine denied a last-minute appeal for clemency. Larry Traylor of the Virginia Department of Corrections announced Muhammad’s execution.
Larry Traylor: “The execution of John Allen Muhammad has been carried out under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Death was pronounced at 9:11 p.m. There were no complications. Mr. Muhammad was asked if he wished to make a last statement. He did not acknowledge this or make any statement whatsoever.”
Defense attorneys had argued for sparing Muhammad’s life on grounds he suffered mental illness worsened by the Gulf War syndrome he developed while serving in the first US invasion of Iraq.
In Connecticut, four people were arrested Tuesday at the Hartford offices of independent Senator Joseph Lieberman. The protesters held a sit-in after trying to meet with Lieberman about his donations from the insurance industry. Lieberman has faced criticism following his recent vow to back a Republican filibuster if the public option is included in a final healthcare reform bill. The protest follows Thursday’s arrest of fifteen people at Lieberman’s offices in Washington, DC. Four of those protesters remain in jail after refusing to give their names to police. The protesters say they’ll continue their jail stay until Lieberman agrees to meet them.
In other healthcare news, the Hall of Fame retired basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has endorsed calls for universal healthcare. On Tuesday, Abdul-Jabbar appeared on CNN to announce he has leukemia. Asked about his healthcare stance, Abdul-Jabbar called universal coverage a “just and noble cause.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “Our healthcare system really fails so many people, especially poor people, you know, people who don’t have the means to go to private doctors. I think we should change that. I think it’s absolutely crucial. And certainly it’s a just and noble cause to make healthcare available to everyone.”
Here in New York, two former hedge fund managers at the investment bank Bear Stearns have been acquitted in a fraud trial. Matthew Tannin and Ralph Cioffi were the first executives to face criminal charges in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis. On Tuesday, jurors found the pair not guilty after six hours of deliberation.
In India, the Indian government is facing criticism for a plan to open up the site of the 1984 Bhopal disaster that killed thousands of people. India says it’s opening the plant to prove it no longer poses a threat to public safety. But critics say the plant still contains dangerous chemicals. Next month will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Bhopal disaster. On Tuesday, victims and advocates addressed the European Parliament to call for direly needed aid to Bhopal residents. Satinath Sarangi runs a clinic in Bhopal that provides survivors of the disaster with free medical and community healthcare.
Satinath Sarangi: “I got there the day after the disaster, and I thought 'nothing could be worse.' But now I know better, because there are more than 100,000 people still chronically ill today. Add to that the next generation, the children born to gas-exposed parents, many of whom have growth and development disorders, many of whom are born with birth defects. And add to that the 25,000 to 30,000 people who live near the factory and who have been forced to drink contaminated water for the last fourteen to eighteen years.”
The Bhopal plant belonged to the US chemical company Union Carbide, which is now owned by Dow Chemical.
And the Justice Department is coming under criticism for demanding information on visitors to the independent progressive news website Indymedia. A US attorney in Indiana reportedly subpoenaed the records from Indymedia earlier this year and then ordered the site to keep silent about the request. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says the subpoena demanded the individual internet protocol addresses of every single Indymedia visitor. The group says the subpoena was ultimately dropped.