The Blackwater Fever

Gorilla’s Guides:

FALLUJAH, Mar 26 (IPS) – Iraqi doctors in al-Anbar province warn of a new disease they call “Blackwater” that threatens the lives of thousands. The disease is named after Blackwater Worldwide, the U.S. mercenary company operating in Iraq.

“This disease is a severe form of malarial infection caused by the parasite plasmodium falciparum, which is considered the worst type of malarial infection,” Dr. Ali Hakki from Fallujah told IPS. “It is one of the complications of that infection, and not the ordinary picture of the disease. Because of its frequent and severe complications, such as Blackwater fever, and its resistance to treatment, P. falciparum can cause death within 24 hours.”

What Iraqis now call Blackwater fever is really a well-known medical condition, and while it has nothing to do with Blackwater Worldwide, Iraqis in al-Anbar province have decided to make the connection between the disease and the lethal U.S.-based company which has been responsible for the death of countless Iraqis.

The disease is most prevalent in Africa and Asia. The patient suffers severe intravascular haemolysis — the destruction of red blood cells leading to kidney and liver failure. It also leads to black or red urination, and hence perhaps the new name ‘Blackwater’.

The deadly disease, never before seen in Iraq on at least this scale, seems to be spreading across the country. And Iraq lacks medicines, hospitals, and doctors to lead a campaign to fight the disease.

“We informed the ministry of the disease, but it seems that they are not in a mood to listen,” a doctor from the al-Anbar Health Office in Ramadi told IPS, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We are making personal contacts with NGOs in an attempt to get the necessary medicines.”

The three doctors who spoke to IPS in Fallujah and in Ramadi in al-Anbar province that lies west of Baghdad, seemed sure that the Iraqi government would do little to face the plague.

I don’t know that either the associating of this fever with Blackwater or the continued failure of public health system in Iraq is surprising, but it is tragic and depressing. Hopefully this gives both the US government another impetus for eliminating private military contractors from Iraq – and the US government’s employ on whole – as well as compel the Iraqi government to treat public health risks seriously as soon as they arise.

Cheney vs. The Troops

Dick Cheney, on why the 4,000 Americans who died fighting in Iraq don’t give him pause:

Noting the burden placed on military families, the vice president said the biggest burden is carried by President George W. Bush, who made the decision to commit US troops to war, and reminded the public that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan volunteered for duty….

“A lot of men and women sign up because sometimes they will see developments. For example, 9/11 stimulated a lot of folks to volunteer for the military because they wanted to be involved in defending the country.”

You don’t say. I’ll let one veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan provide something of a rebuttal from that.  I just finished reading Brandon Friedman’s The War I Always Wanted. I wouldn’t say that this is a political book, but much more a detailed, honest, no-frills telling of one soldier’s experience going to war twice since 9/11/01. It’s a tale of combat reminiscent of Colby Buzzell’s My War or Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead — stories that show the grind our troops go through in war, as well as how the failings our political and military leadership trivialize the lives of the members of our military. I may do a longer write up on this fantastic book another time, but for now will share this passage, which Friedman writes in response to having two men in his unit killed in an RPG attack in Tal Afar.

    Lying on my cot that night, I hated. It was a new thing for me. It had been building each day that no weapons of mass destruction were found–and now it was coming to a head. I had never hated before–not like this. I had never hated the enemy, nor had I ever feared the enemy. I was always emotionally neutral when it came to that. I had feared dying, but never the enemy. Now still, I did not hate whoever had been behind the RPG. You go to a war–these things happen. I knew that. But you go to an unnecessary war and it happens–well that’s completely different.

I had always wanted to fight. But I never wanted any part of something like this. I was a professional soldier. I wanted to believe in my work. Instead, I was watching as politicians with no military experience hijacked the Army. I was a public servant, not a lackey. Lying on my cot, I came to the point that many people reach in a situation where they stop what they’re doing and say, “Wait a second. This is bullshit. This isn’t right.” Two guys in our battalion were dead, two families ruined. And try as I might, I couldn’t figure out what the purpose of that was.

Things that had been welling up inside me all summer suddenly exploded in my head like a dozen Roman candles. I hated the president for his ignorance. I hated Donald Rumsfeld for his appalling arrogance and his lack of judgment. I hated their agenda. I hate Colin Powell for abandoning the Army–for not taking care of his soldiers–when he could have done something to stop these people. I hated them because they didn’t listen to the people who told them this was a bad plan. I hated them because now, it meant that my guys could be next. It meant that I could be next. And I didn’t want to die like this–not in a confusing mishmash of ideologies, purposes, and bullets.

I felt like we had been taken advantage of. We were professionals sent on a wild goose chase using a half-baked plan for politician reasons. Lying there restlessly, I was reminded of a Schwarzenegger line in one of his movies-when, after being used and lied to, his muscle-bound character had expressed perfectly what was no on my mind: My men are not expendable. And I don’t do this kind of work.

I longed for the clarity of purpose we’d had in Afghanistan. [pg. 186-188]

I don’t know about you, but I’m more inclined to take the word of one of the men who bravely served our country through two wars over the word of one of the architects of the second war, the greatest foreign policy disaster in American history. Of course, Cheney has never worn the uniform. So not only is he unimaginably offensive, even for him, he has no standing to diminish the burdens born by men and women in the armed forces.

You can read Friedman’s response to Cheney’s remarks today at VetVoice, where he is a front page writer.

Netroots Caucus Plan for Iraq

Major General Paul Eaton has worked with Darcy Burner, Donna Edwards, Eric Massa, and six other challengers to craft a new vision for America’s diplomatic and military efforts in Iraq. They are rolling out a new plan for Iraq tomorrow at the Take Back America conference.

This is a remarkable moment in progressive politics. My guess is that the DCCC and the Democratic establishment in Washington aren’t crazy about the idea of challengers charting their own, non-DCCC approved policy course. But these Dems are putting their faith in the netroots to recognize the importance of their presence in Congress to lead on Iraq and other issues. I look forward to seeing the full plan and how it plays for these brave progressive challengers.

Update:

Here’s the full list of candidates who are endorsing the soon-to-be-announced plan to get us out of Iraq:

Darcy Burner (WA-08)Jared Polis (CO-02)
Donna Edwards (MD-04)

Eric Massa (NY-29)

Chellie Pingree (ME-01)

George Fearing (WA-04)

Larry Byrnes (FL-14)

Tom Perriello (VA-05)

Steve Harrison (NY-13)

New Details of KBR’s War Profiteering at Tax Payer Expense

This Boston Globe story came out yesterday, but I don’t think it’s news to too many people. Kellogg Brown & Root and Halliburton are systemically avoiding paying proper taxes on their employees to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars of money lost to the US. They’re doing this by using shell companies in the Cayman Islands to hire American workers who work in Iraq, thus reducing their tax, workers compensation, and social security liabilities.

Kellogg Brown & Root, the nation’s top Iraq war contractor and until last year a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp., has avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicare and Social Security taxes by hiring workers through shell companies based in this tropical tax haven.

More than 21,000 people working for KBR in Iraq – including about 10,500 Americans – are listed as employees of two companies that exist in a computer file on the fourth floor of a building on a palm-studded boulevard here in the Caribbean. Neither company has an office or phone number in the Cayman Islands.

The Defense Department has known since at least 2004 that KBR was avoiding taxes by declaring its American workers as employees of Cayman Islands shell companies, and officials said the move allowed KBR to perform the work more cheaply, saving Defense dollars.

But the use of the loophole results in a significantly greater loss of revenue to the government as a whole, particularly to the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. And the creation of shell companies in places such as the Cayman Islands to avoid taxes has long been attacked by members of Congress.

A Globe survey found that the practice is unusual enough that only one other major contractor in Iraq said it does something similar.

“Failing to contribute to Social Security and Medicare thousands of times over isn’t shielding the taxpayers they claim to protect, it’s costing our citizens in the name of short-term corporate greed,” said Senator John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee who has introduced legislation to close loopholes for companies registering overseas.

With an estimated $16 billion in contracts, KBR is by far the largest contractor in Iraq, with eight times the work of its nearest competitor.

KBR declined to release salary information. But workers interviewed by the Globe who served in a range of jobs said they earned between $48,000 and $85,000 per year. If KBR’s American workers averaged even as much as $63,000 per year, they and KBR would have owed more than $100 million per year in Social Security and Medicare taxes, split evenly between them. Over the course of the five-year war, their tax bill would have been more than $500 million.

The whole story goes into much further detail on how KBR and Halliburton established their profiteering operation. Recall that Halliburton recently moved their headquarters to Dubai. Companies like Halliburton and KBR are anti-American war profiteers, milking the American tax payer of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars they’ve received in sweetheart, no-bid deals. They’re denying their American workers wages and protections that they deserve and they’re forcing those liabilities back onto the American tax payer.

Over at Balloon Juice, John Cole quotes one of his commenters response to this story:

 This is fucking ridiculous. You literally cannot go one fucking day without hearing about someone tied to the Bush administration doing something patently fucking evil, borderline illegal, or screwing the public. You’d think they’d need to at least go on vacation at some point after the last 7 years of this. It’s got to be hard work finding something reprehensible to be part of every single day.

The Globe piece cites an angry John Kerry. I’d hope that Kerry and other congressional Democrats investigate these abuses, pass laws banning this kind of off-shore avoidance of obligations to American workers, and punish those who are profiteering in the Iraq war.

Coburn Now Thinks Iraq Was A Mistake

This is remarkable. We’re not talking about John Edwards or John Kerry changing their view on whether or not it was a mistake to go to war with Iraq, but Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, one of the most conservative Republicans in the Senate. Think Progress reports:

During a town hall meeting in Muskogee, Oklahoma this past weekend, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) admitted that it was “a mistake” for the United States to invade Iraq in 2003. “I will tell you personally that I think it was probably a mistake going to Iraq,” Coburn told the crowd.

The senator “made it clear” during the town hall meeting that “he did not believe the U.S. could withdraw” from Iraq, but it is unclear when he decided the war was “a mistake” in the first place. Though Coburn was not a member of Congress when the war was authorized in 2002, he made it clear during his 2004 Senate run that he supported the choice to go to war.

The reaction from Coburn’s equally conservative colleague from Oklahoma, James Inhofe, is hilarious: “No, no, he couldn’t have said that…I cannot believe he said that.”

I have no problem with people changing their views on Iraq. It’s to be expected that if someone has the capacity for honest thought and reason that, over time, they would move away from supporting a failed policy in Iraq and recognize that the reasons that brought us there were faulty.

I hope that Coburn’s realization that going to war in Iraq was a mistake influences his thought-process on future iterations of the Bush-McCain vision of American foreign policy.

Dolchstosslegende: Not Just for Presidential Politics

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The Republican candidate for the Illinois 14th Congressional District (Dennis Hastert’s seat) is running this ad against Democrat Bill Foster. This ad mentions “cut[ting] off funding for our troops” and Foster is accused of wanting to “raise the white flag”. It ends: “I’m Jim Olberweis and I approved this message because I’ll never turn my back on our troops.”

This is their brand. This is all they have. Republicans from John McCain on down will repeat the mantra that Democrats want to surrender, that we aren’t supporting the troops, that we would have won in Iraq if we didn’t stab them in the back.

It is tired, pathetic, and just plain wrong. I hope Democrats push back very forcefully on this sort of breathless Republican attack.

Update:

Markos Moulitsas has more on the IL-14 race in his column in The Hill.

Review: Still Broken

AJ Rossmiller of AmericaBlog has a great new book out today, Still Broken: A Recruit’s Inside Account of Intelligence Failures, from Baghdad to the Pentagon. There have been a few posts giving it strong praise so far: Matt Yglesias, Jill at Feministe, and I expect there to be many more as people pick it from book stores. AJ himself has a great statement of why books matter at AmericaBlog.

Still Broken is an account of Rossmiller’s desire to serve America following the September 11th attacks. He ends up working at the Defense Intelligence Agency, as a civilian analyst doing critical work for one of the key agencies in our intelligence community, particularly given the ongoing war in Iraq. Rossmiller volunteered to serve in Iraq, spending six months doing strategic and tactical analysis in Baghdad and earning high praise for his work. He returned to the Pentagon following his deployment and continued to analysis intelligence from Iraq, primarily on politics in Iraq. After almost two years in the DIA, Rossmiller left because of problems internal to the intelligence community, from structural incompetence to the pressures of policy having influence on factual analysis.

Still Broken is a frightening book. Throughout his tenure at the DIA, but most particularly in his time at the Pentagon, Rossmiller feels the pressure of people higher up the chain in command to confirm his analysis to the policy desires of the administration. In the book he frequently relates stories of he and his analyst colleagues watching in horror as higher-ups with no expertise in Iraq change their findings without basis. Their work is second-guessed as “too pessimistic.” Yet time and again, the superiors are proved wrong, while the analysts are proven right.

What makes Still Broken so scary isn’t that analysts butt heads with their superiors, but rather that their superiors never look retrospectively at their own judgments and edits of intelligence. Not only is work shifted towards the administration assessment that things are getting better, that the positive isn’t being reported, and the intelligence should optimistically reflect that, but the editorial pressure on the analysts never changes.

In her review of the book, Jill at Feministe describes a Rossmiller’s narrative style particularly well.

AJ is skilled at never assigning motives to people, and never drawing hard and fast conclusions as to why things are going the way they are. He writes like an analyst: He observes what’s happening, and then follows it up by giving several reasonable explanations as to why those things could be happening. The dozens of anecdotes he tells certainly lead a halfway astute reader to understand exactly why certain events are occurring and why particular decisions are being made, but AJ has enough respect for his audience to simply present the facts as he sees them, rather than force a particular conclusion.

I think this is a very fitting description of how Rossmiller writes a narrative that reflects his experience while demonstrating his competence at presenting information factually, without obvious ideological bent. That is, in many regards his book shows his skill as an analyst. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t know what intelligence findings on Iraq from the DIA normally read like, but this book is fast paced and exciting.

Separate from the insight Rossmiller provides to the DIA’s dysfunctional structure for handling intelligence and the challenges facing us in Iraq, Still Broken is a story of patriotism. Rossmiller serves his country with distinction, doing good work that he deserves to be proud of for the rest of his life. We’re lucky to have him as a story-teller documenting the problems facing our intelligence community. But beyond that, we’re lucky to have his experience, expertise, and sharp analytical prowess working in the progressive political community, fighting for a better America.

I hope that this isn’t the most in-depth review of Still Broken that you read, but for whatever it’s worth, I highly recommend you pick up a copy and give it a read.

Check out the StillBroken.com for more updates on the book.

Not Working

BAGHDAD – A suicide car bomber targeted U.S.-allied fighters north of Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least eight civilians and wounding 20, Iraqi security officials said.

Police and members of an anti-al-Qaida group opened fire as the attacker sped toward a joint checkpoint. But the bomber managed to detonate his explosives near some stores about 20 yards away.

Via Bob Cesca.

The war isn’t over. The surge isn’t working. There is no political progress. And no amount of 3, 6 or 12 month increments of continued American escalation will assure an end to the war or political progress necessary to allow us to claim “victory” and come home.

McCain wants us there for 100 years. Clinton and Obama are somewhat better – with our presence possibly ending by the time they run for re-election. I’m starting to think the main predictable virtue of a Democrat in the White House when it comes to our military involvement in the Middle East is that while we may remain in Iraq at high levels, we won’t end up in Iran. A McCain administration would guarantee war with Iran, and who knows, maybe Syria and a few others for good measure.

So sad.