Friday, December 09, 2005
British Contractors Appear To Shoot at Iraqi Civilians
By Jonathan Finer and Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 9, 2005; A01
BAGHDAD, Dec. 8 -- A silver Mercedes swings into the passing lane when a machine gun opens fire, sending the car smashing into a taxi, whose terrified occupants scatter. Moments later on the video, posted on the Internet and apparently recorded in Iraq, a white sedan is riddled with bullets as it accelerates on an open highway.
Framed as if on a movie screen by the outline of a sport-utility vehicle's rear window, those scenes and others show what appear to be private security contractors firing on Iraqi civilians. The video footage has prompted an investigation by the U.S. military, a spokesman said Thursday, and by the company linked to the incidents. It even has a soundtrack: Elvis Presley's upbeat "Mystery Train."
Details about the origin of the video clip and the location shown in it are unknown. It was originally posted last month on a Web site maintained by former employees of Aegis Specialist Risk Management, a London-based company that has a $293 million U.S. government contract to provide security services in Iraq. The video has since been removed from the site.
"Aegis has established a formal board of enquiry, in cooperation with the U.S. military authorities, to investigate whether the footage has any connection with the company and, should this prove to be the case, under what circumstances any incident took place," the company said in a statement about the incident.
A public relations representative for Aegis said the company's findings could come within the next week.
"An investigation has been initiated, but we do not have any details at this time," Army Capt. Bill Roberts, a U.S. military spokesman, said in an e-mail message Thursday.
There are more than 25,000 private security contractors working in Iraq, according to industry estimates. In an effort to limit the number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the military employs private contractors to handle jobs that would otherwise be performed by troops. But the conduct of security contractors has occasionally come under scrutiny, and Iraqi civilians and military commanders have charged that they shoot indiscriminately and flout local laws with impunity.
The companies, whose employees have been frequent targets of insurgent attacks and perform some of the country's most dangerous jobs, such as guarding highway convoys, maintain that they use force only when necessary for protection. The rules of engagement "allow for a structured escalation of force to include opening fire on civilian vehicles under certain circumstances," Aegis said in its statement about the video.
Aegis typically performs 100 "escort assignments" per week on roads in Iraq, according to its Web site.
But many Iraqis complain that the force used by contractors, who are immune from prosecution under an order signed into Iraqi law last year, is often excessive.
"At least the police and army are recognized in the street, and they have the right to shoot because they are security forces," said Qasim Muhammed, 44, a Baghdad taxi driver. "But who gave those civilians the right to shoot?"
The newly released video, which was broadcast widely on Arabic-language satellite television stations in recent days, shows no faces and contains few audible bits of dialogue. Because of that, identifying those involved will be difficult, a U.S. military official said on condition of anonymity.
The video contains four segments that appear to have been shot from the type of vehicle often used by security companies, and which often have cameras mounted in the back. In some of the segments, it cannot be determined where the bullets are striking. It is also not possible to determine whether anyone was injured in the shootings.
In the first segment, a man's voice can be heard, along with the music, saying, "These two aren't stopping," as a white sedan emerges from the traffic and travels toward the camera. Machine-gun fire erupts, and the white car slows down. Then a van swings into the passing lane and begins to accelerate, and the machine gun sounds again, continuing to fire as the van fades into the distance.
The scene quickly shifts to the silver Mercedes on a rural highway. In the third part of the video, someone in the vehicle with the camera throws what appears to be a smoke canister toward oncoming traffic, in an apparent attempt to encourage those vehicles to slow down. When they continue to advance, the vehicle with the camera slows to a crawl and the machine gun fires. An approaching red sedan swerves off the right side of the road.
The final segment shows the white sedan being riddled with bullets, as a convoy of U.S. military Humvees passes about 60 feet away on a parallel highway.
Founded three years ago, Aegis is run by Tim Spicer, a former lieutenant colonel in the Scots Guards, a British army unit. A previous firm run by Spicer, Sandline International, was disbanded in the late 1990s after it was accused of breaking an embargo on the sale of arms to Sierra Leone.
The site where the video was first posted ( http://www.aegisiraq.co.uk ) does not belong to Aegis, according to a statement on its main page. "It belongs to the men and women on the ground who are the heart and soul of the company," the statement says.
Another message on the site is said to have been posted by Spicer. "Remember that your job and those of your colleagues indirectly relies on the maintenance of our contract," it reads. "Refrain from posting anything which is detrimental to the company since this could result in the loss or curtailment of our contract with resultant loss for everybody."
Although the video has been removed, its contents were debated on the message board attached to the Web site.
"although i haven't viewed this footage ive read a lot of posts condenming it. All i can say is if you havent been there you dont have a say," an anonymous poster wrote. "Its the lonliest job on the planet as im sure guys will agree. You and you alone have to make the decision wether to open fire or not."
Other videos apparently shot by contractors have been made public in recent months. One circulating in Baghdad shows contractors returning fire after being ambushed on the road to Baghdad's international airport. At least one contractor in the video appears to have been killed.
Tags: Air Marshall Follies Tampa
Breakfast at Epiphanies
by T. A. Frank
Only at TNR Online
Post date: 12.07.05
ast week Donald Rumsfeld announced to journalists that he'd experienced a nomenclatural revelation. A question had been haunting the defense secretary: "Why would you call Zarqawi and his people 'insurgents'?" This was giving the insurgents too much credit. "I think of an insurgency slightly different," Rumsfeld explained, sharing his belief that the word insurgency actually harbored positive connotations. Then he added, "It was an epiphany."
Epiphany, indeed--and one that perhaps has failed to garner sufficient admiration. While Americans remember Bill Clinton for having a particularly fluid sense of language--reflections on the word "is," and so forth--many have failed to appreciate the efforts of current executive-branch officials to sustain a sense of continuity in this area. What's more, the Clinton administration boasted only one true master of ontology, the president himself, whereas the Bush administration has a broader range of talent. In fact, the public has, over the years, been treated to a host of word epiphanies from Bush administration officials, most of which have met with indifference or ingratitude. That's why TNR Online has decided to review some of them.
Brainchild of: Donald Rumsfeld
Context: Explaining his leaked memo on war in Iraq that referred to a "long, hard slog."
Epiphany: "The Oxford Dictionary, I'm told by Mark, has a definition of slog ... which is: 'Slog, to hit or strike hard; to drive with blows; to assail violently.' And that's precisely what the U.S. has been doing and intends to continue to do."
Significance: It's very easy to misunderstand the defense secretary, and not just with the word "slog." Remember: "long" means "to pine" or "to yearn for," and "hard" means "firm." In other words, while "long, hard slog" might suggest a lengthy, grueling grind, Rumsfeld could have meant "to yearn for firm drive with blows." This can be easy to miss, however, which is why we should leave classified information to the professionals.
Brainchild of: Condoleezza Rice
Context: Addressing senators' questions about Vice President Cheney's statement that former White House counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke "wasn't in the loop."
Epiphany: "I would not use the word 'out of the loop.'"
Significance: The vice president said Clarke "wasn't in the loop" not "out of the loop." It's typical of the liberal media to assume "wasn't in" means "out of," as if a loop doesn't have plenty of no-man's-land on the edge or the bendy part.
Brainchild of: Donald Rumsfeld
Context: Responding to Senator Bill Nelson's query about WMD in Iraq. Nelson felt that the Bush administration might have failed to inform senators that there was a "dispute in the intelligence community over the veracity of that information."
Epiphany: "I would not use the word 'veracity,' I would use the word 'accuracy.'"
Significance: Bill Nelson obviously failed to think through the nuances of his words. Webster's defines accuracy as "conformity to truth" whereas as veracity is defined as "conformity with truth." If the doubts about pre-war intelligence had hinged on its conformity with truth, of course administration officials would have disclosed it. Alas, the doubts were only about its conformity to truth. And that is hardly the sort of thing that's appropriate to share.
Brainchild of: Condoleezza Rice
Context: Responding to questions from senators about Richard Clarke's demotion.
Epiphany: "I didn't think of it as demotion. I thought of it as reorganization."
Significance: Opens up the possibility that Rice's pre-9/11 understanding of the terrorist threat shouldn't be thought of as insufficient but, rather, at variance with optimal standards.
Brainchild of: Karen Hughes
Context: Commenting on Bush's success in pushing through a $1.3 trillion tax cut.
Epiphany: "The president feels that the American people have suffered a--have seen a victory today."
Significance: Mid-sentence epiphany. Wait--today is a victory. The suffering--that comes tomorrow.
Brainchild of: Donald Rumsfeld
Context: Responding to questions about looting in Baghdad.
Epiphany: "Our folks are operating, to the extent they can, in Baghdad in creating a presence and dissuading people from looting. And for suddenly the biggest problem in the world to be looting is really notable. I believe that's a nice euphemism for what's going on."
Significance: Some epiphanies are too profound to understand.
Brainchild of: George W. Bush
Context: Responding to questions about torture.
Epiphany: "We do not torture."
Significance: Get busy--somebody just ordered another Graner sandwich.
Brainchild of: Dick Cheney
Context: Responding to CNBC interviewer Gloria Borger about his statement to Tim Russert on December 9, 2001 that it was "pretty well confirmed" that Mohammed Atta had met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague.
Epiphany: "No, I never said that ... I never said that ... Absolutely not."
Siginificance: Of course I can "un-happen" things. I'm the vice president.
Brainchild of: Donald Rumsfeld
Context: Being questioned by Senator Ted Kennedy for having said "we know where they are" regarding Iraq's WMD.
Epiphany: "I'm coming to 'We know.' I could be wrong. I'm asked a lot of questions. I use a lot of words."
Significance: Words, shmords.
Hard Evidence of US Torturing Prisoners to Death Ignored by Corporate Media :: from www.uruknet.info :: news from occupied Iraq - ch
Vigo. Monte do Castro 3. Autumn Leaves / Les Feuilles Mortes
Originally uploaded by Manuel Bóo.
"I Will Do Everything I Can, Including A Filibuster, To Stop This Patriot Act"... | The Huffington Post
Pentagon Memo on Torture-Motivated Transfer Cited
A court filing describes a classified proposal to send a detainee away for information extraction.
By Ken Silverstein, Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — Although Bush administration officials have denied that they transfer terrorism suspects to countries where they are likely to be abused, a classified memorandum described in a court case indicates that the Pentagon has considered sending a captured militant abroad to be interrogated under threat of torture.
The classified memo is summarized — its actual contents are blacked out — in a petition filed by attorneys for Majid Mahmud Abdu Ahmad, a detainee held by the Pentagon at its Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility.
The March 17, 2004, Defense Department memo indicated that American officials were frustrated in trying to obtain information from Ahmad, according to the description of the classified memo in the court petition. The officials suggested sending Ahmad to an unspecified foreign country that employed torture in order to increase chances of extracting information from him, according to the petition's description of the memo.
The precise contents of the Pentagon memo on Ahmad were not revealed, but the memo was described in the petition by New York attorney Marc D. Falkoff, who contested the transfer of Ahmad and 12 other Yemenis in U.S. District Court in Washington this year.
Falkoff's description was not disputed by U.S. government lawyers or by U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, who read the actual Pentagon document. The judge ruled in favor of the Yemenis on March 12, and Ahmad has not been transferred from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
The memo appears to call into question repeated assertions by the administration that it does not use foreign governments to abuse suspected militants — what critics call "torture by proxy."
Pentagon officials did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment on the memo.
The U.S. record on treatment of detainees worldwide has overshadowed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip this week to Europe. She has faced a daily barrage of related questions, especially regarding the U.S. practice of snatching and transferring suspects from foreign countries and regarding reports that the CIA maintains secret prisons across Europe for terrorism suspects.
Ahmad was captured in Pakistan after the American invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. The federal government charges that Ahmad was a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and participated in "military operations against the United States and/or its coalition partners." Falkoff, of Covington & Burling, represents a number of Guantanamo detainees including Ahmad, and denies that his client has any links to terrorism.
Falkoff said he was allowed to review the classified Pentagon memo in preparing the defense case but was not permitted to comment on its contents beyond what was described in his legal filing.
Falkoff filed the petition for Ahmad and 12 other detainees March 11, after learning that the government had transferred a Saudi national from Guantanamo without notifying his lawyer and that the Pentagon was considering sending other detainees to foreign countries for imprisonment.
"I called the Justice Department and asked for guarantees that it would not transfer our clients while their cases were pending in court, or at least notify us if they intended to do so," Falkoff said. "The Justice Department said no — that we were not entitled to any advance notification."
Falkoff argued that transferring detainees overseas would "have the effect of denying them access to U.S. courts for review of their detainment status and also potentially expose them to interrogation techniques and treatment that would be contrary to the laws of the United States."
He asked the court to order the government to give 30 days' notice before transferring a detainee so the transfer could be contested. Collyer agreed; the government has appealed.
Falkoff's petition quoted a section of the memo, but the quotation was blacked out in the unclassified version that is publicly available.
After the quotation is Falkoff's interpretation of the classified memo's significance: "There is only one meaning that can be gleaned from this short passage," Falkoff's petition says. "The government believes that Mr. Ahmad has information that it wants but that it cannot extract without torturing him." The petition goes on to say that because torture is not allowed at Guantanamo, "the recommendation is that Mr. Ahmad should be sent to another country where he can be interrogated under torture."
Falkoff said that he asked the Pentagon early this year to declassify the memo but had not received a response.
Human rights advocates said the implications of the memo were significant even though Ahmad ultimately remained at Guantanamo.
"Whether they sent him or not, the memorandum reflects their understanding of how the program functions," said Scott Horton, an attorney who helped produce a New York City Bar Assn. report last year on detainee transfers.
Of hundreds of detainees who have been kept at Guantanamo, more than 175 have been released and more than 75 others have been transferred to other governments, in many cases for continued detention. U.S. officials have delivered suspects to a number of countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Uzbekistan, that are believed to still practice torture, as the State Department has acknowledged in its human rights reports.
Horton provided The Times with a November 2002 legal analysis by a senior FBI attorney that concluded that it would be illegal to deliver detainees to any "third country" that employs coercive interrogation techniques. The analysis said that taking such action was clearly intended to circumvent American laws against torture and that anyone even discussing such a plan could be found criminally liable.
EXCLUSIVE: Shoe Bomber Alert Preceded Airport Shooting
Egyptian Man Had Been Stopped at New York Airport; Shoes Tested Positive for Explosive
By BRIAN ROSS and CHRIS ISHAM
Dec. 8, 2005 — - FBI officials report that they have located the Egyptian man whose documents showed discrepancies after he was held at JFK airport last week. The man was in Iowa and is not considered a threat.
Federal law enforcement sources told ABC News they had been on the alert for a possible shoe bomber when a federal air marshal opened fire at the Miami International Airport yesterday.
Yesterday, an agitated passenger claiming to have a bomb in his backpack was shot and killed by a federal air marshal, officials said. No bomb was found.
Officials said a 50-year-old Egyptian man was stopped a week ago at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. Sources said he had a suspicious pair of shoes that tested positive five times for the explosive substance TATP on the interior of his shoes between the heel and sole.
Federal officials said the man's shoes were remarkably similar to those used by shoe bomber Richard Reid, who attempted to blow up an American Airlines jet over the Atlantic four years ago.
The Egyptian man's destination was Des Moines, Iowa, sources said, and he claimed he was a student at Iowa State University in Ames.
After holding him overnight, airport security in New York released him. The FBI was notified after he was released and put out a nationwide alert. FBI officials confirmed that the man's story was true and that he was not a threat.
Medical Journal Says Merck Concealed Vioxx Data
Merck misrepresented the results of a crucial clinical trial of Vioxx to play down the drug's heart risks, The New England Journal of Medicine said today.
The Journal's allegation may play a critical role in the thousands of lawsuits that Merck faces over Vioxx, a once-popular painkiller that has been linked to heart attacks and strokes. In the three lawsuits that have reached trial so far, Merck has contended that it promptly disclosed information about Vioxx's heart risks.
But in an interview today, Dr. Gregory D. Curfman, the executive editor of The Journal, sharply criticized Merck for hiding data from the trial. The study, called Vigor, was published in The Journal in November 2000 and covered more than 8,000 patients.
"They did not disclose all they knew," Dr. Curfman said. "There were serious negative consequences for the public health as a result of that." The Journal is widely read by doctors and scientists, with a circulation of almost 200,000.
Merck said in a statement that it had acted properly and promptly disclosed the Vigor findings. But lawyers for plaintiffs said they believed that the allegation would undercut the company's defense. Shares of Merck fell sharply after the statement was made public.
In an "Expression of Concern" posted this afternoon on its Web site, The Journal said the authors of the study had deleted data on strokes and other vascular problems suffered by patients in the Vigor trial two days before it submitted the results to the publication.
The authors also underreported the number of heart attacks suffered by patients taking Vioxx, claiming that there were 17 heart attacks when there were actually 20, The Journal said. The authors have been asked to correct the study, The Journal said.
The authors of the Vigor study included both Merck scientists and independent researchers. The study's results showed that patients taking Vioxx were four times as likely to suffer heart attacks as those taking naproxen, an older painkiller. In fact, 20 patients taking Vioxx suffered heart attacks, compared with four taking naproxen, a ratio of five to one.
Merck said at the time that the difference probably resulted from the fact that naproxen protected people from heart attacks, not because Vioxx caused them. Many independent scientists disputed the company's theory.
If the authors of the study had published the data about strokes and other vascular problems, the company's theory would have been even harder to accept, Dr. Curfman said.
"The totality of the data didn't look good for Vioxx," he said.
More than 20 million Americans took Vioxx between 1999, when Merck began selling the drug, and 2004, when Merck withdrew it from the market after another clinical trial showed that it increased the risk of both heart attacks and strokes.