Surprise Surprise, Halliburton Used Shell Companies To Get Contracts

THE NEW YORK TIMES
by James Risen and Mark Mazzetti

WASHINGTON — Blackwater Worldwide created a web of more than 30 shell companies or subsidiaries in part to obtain millions of dollars in American government contracts after the security company came under intense criticism for reckless conduct in Iraq, according to Congressional investigators and former Blackwater officials.

While it is not clear how many of those businesses won contracts, at least three had deals with the United States military or the Central Intelligence Agency, according to former government and company officials. Since 2001, the intelligence agency has awarded up to $600 million in classified contracts to Blackwater and its affiliates, according to a United States government official.

The Senate Armed Services Committee this week released a chart that identified 31 affiliates of Blackwater, now known as Xe Services. The network was disclosed as part of a committee’s investigation into government contracting. The investigation revealed the lengths to which Blackwater went to continue winning contracts after Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in September 2007. That episode and other reports of abuses led to criminal and Congressional investigations, and cost the company its lucrative security contract with the State Department in Iraq.

The network of companies — which includes several businesses located in offshore tax havens — allowed Blackwater to obscure its involvement in government work from contracting officials or the public, and to assure a low profile for any of its classified activities, said former Blackwater officials, who, like the government officials, spoke only on condition of anonymity. [Read more…]

Republicans Defend Torture With Two Tasty Words: Nancy Pelosi

Pelosi and Torture

AFTER DOWNING STREET

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By John Nichols – www.thenation.com

That House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been a disappointing leader for House Democrats, few serious observers of the congressional condition will deny. But now, she appears to be something more troubling: a serious hindrance to the fight against the use of the crudest and most objectionable torture techniques.

Democrats and Republicans with a conscience have gotten a good deal of traction in recent months in their battle to identify the use by U.S. interrogators of waterboarding – a technique that simulates drowning in order to cause extreme mental distress to prisoners — as what it is: torture. Arizona Senator John McCain, a GOP presidential contender, has been particularly powerful in his denunciations of this barbarous endeavor. And Senate Intelligence Committee chair Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, and key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have effectively pressed the issue on a number of fronts.

Now, however, comes the news that Pelosi knew as early as 2002 that the U.S. was using waterboarding and other torture techniques and, far from objecting, appears to have cheered the tactics on.

The Washington Post reports that Pelosi, who was then a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, was were informed by CIA officials at a secret briefing in September 2002, that waterboarding and other forms of torture were being used on suspected al-Queda operatives. That’s bad. Even worse is the revelation that Pelosi was apparently supportive of the initiative.

According to the news reports, Pelosi has no complaint about waterboarding during a closed-door session she attended with Florida Congressman Porter Goss, a Republican who would go on to head the Central Intelligence Agency, Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts and Florida Democratic Senator Bob Graham.

“The reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement,” recalls Goss.

How encouraging? It is reported that two of the legislators demanded to know if waterboarding and other methods that were being employed “were tough enough” forms of torture to produced the desired levels of mental anguish to force information from suspects who, under the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution, cannot be subjected to cruel or unusual punishment.

Was Pelosi one of the “tough-enough” cheerleaders for waterboarding? That is not clear, as the speaker has refused to comment directly regarding her knowledge of torture techniques and encouragement of their use. Another member of the House who is closely allied wit Pelosi did tell the Post, however, that the California Democrat attended the session, recalled that waterboarding was discussed, and “did not object” at the time to that particular torture technique.

If this is the case, Pelosi has provided aid and comfort to the Bush administration’s efforts to deviate not just from the standards set by international agreements regarding war crimes but from the provision of the Bill of Rights that establishes basic requirements with regard to the treatment of prisoners who in the custody of the United States.

Those deviations are precisely the sort of impeachable offenses that Pelosi has said are “off the table.” Her association with the administration on the matter of torture necessarily calls into question the speaker’s credibility on questions of how and when to hold the administration to account. It also begs a more mundane political question: At a point when Republicans like John McCain are earning points with their forthright stances against waterboarding, isn’t the credibility and the potential effectiveness of the House Democratic Caucus as an honest player in the debate profoundly harmed by the involvement of its leader in behind-the-scenes meetings that by all accounts encouraged the use of that technique?

Karl Rove on Path To Jail After Refusing To Show Up For Subpoena

Dick Cheney is Fairly Pleased With His Eight Bloody Years

The outgoing US vice-president, Dick Cheney, last night gave an unapologetic assessment of his eight years in office, defending the invasion of Iraq, the US prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, secret wiretapping and the extreme interrogation method known as waterboarding.

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In his first television interview since the presidential election in November, Cheney displayed no regrets and gave no ground to his many critics within America and around the world. He summed up his record by saying: “I think, given the circumstances we’ve had to deal with, we’ve done pretty well.”

He told ABC News he stood by the most controversial policies of the Bush administration, and urged president-elect Barack Obama to think hard before undoing them. Asked about the use of torture on terror suspects, he replied: “We don’t do torture. We never have. It’s not something this administration subscribes to.”

Later in the same interview, Cheney was asked whether the use of waterboarding in the interrogation of the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, had been appropriate. He replied: “I do.”

Waterboarding is a technique that induces the sensation of drowning, and is widely regarded as a form of torture. It was used on three high-level al-Qaida suspects, including Mohammed, but has since been banned by the US.

Cheney was chosen in 2000 by George Bush to be his vice-president; he did not put his own name forward for the job. He has since turned into one of the most divisive and reviled vice-presidents in US history, amassing to his office enormous powers and devising a stream of controversial policies.

Despite the vitriol he has attracted, and Bush’s historically low approval rating of just 29%, Cheney was still able to joke about his term in the White House.

He referred to a comment from Hillary Clinton likening him to the Star Wars character Darth Vader. “I asked my wife about that, if that didn’t bother her. She said, no, it humanises you.”

But his lack of any introspection over the decisions made under his watch – in contrast to Bush who recently said he had been sorry about the false intelligence over Iraq – will renew Cheney’s reputation as a combatant and uncompromising vice-president.

Though no weapons of mass destruction were ever found, he insisted that Saddam Hussein had had the capability to produce them.

“He had the technology, he had the people. This was a bad actor and the country’s better off, the world’s better off with Saddam gone. We made the right decision,” he said.

On Guantánamo, he challenged the incoming Obama administration to think hard about what he claimed were the “hardcore” detainees still being held at the Cuban base.

“What are you going to do with those prisoners?” he said, adding: “I don’t know any other nation in the world that would do what we’ve done in terms of taking care of people who are avowed enemies.”

He also defended the use of secret wiretapping of suspects that was carried out without court warrant.

“It’s worked. It’s been successful. It was legal from the very beginning.”

Given the role of hate-figure that Cheney has acquired over the years among the American left, many US liberals will be dismayed to hear him say that he largely approves of the cabinet put together by the president-elect.

He praised the decision to keep Robert Gates as defence secretary as “excellent” and predicted that General Jim Jones would be “very, very effective” as national security adviser.

He even complimented his old adversary, Hillary Clinton, Obama’s choice as secretary of state, saying “she’s tough, she’s smart, she works very hard and she may turn out to be just what President Obama needs.”

Cheney has 34 days left in office. This will be his fourth transition out of government and back to private life. He said he was not ready to retire yet, but did want to spend more time with his family. “Got some rivers I want to face. Maybe write a book. I haven’t decided yet.”

Thousands Line Up For Free Food In San Francisco

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

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(12-16) 13:47 PST SAN FRANCISCO — Never have so many people waited so long in San Francisco for a chicken.

Not only a chicken, but cans of pears, corn, carrots and tomatoes, plus a sack of pinto beans.

The line Tuesday for the annual grocery giveaway at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church was longer than anyone could remember. It stretched beyond the liquor store on the corner, past a half dozen residence hotels, up and down the aisles of a parking lot and along the far side of the massage parlor. It coiled back on itself like a cobra.

“We may run out of food,” said the Rev. Cecil Williams, who this year appeared to mean it. “The line is all the way around the block, twice over. We’re trying to rush things along so the line doesn’t come back on itself three times.”

Six thousand sacks of groceries were handed out. The first thousand came with a turkey. The rest came with a chicken. A lot of people were willing to show up before dawn in rainy 40-degree weather, to make sure they got the turkey instead of the less weighty, if not lesser, bird.

Four hundred volunteers in red T-shirts began passing out the food at 7 a.m., about a half hour earlier than scheduled. By 8 a.m., the turkeys were gone and it was chickens only.

Williams stood on the sidewalk in front of his fabled Tenderloin church, directing traffic. In the race for the turkeys, a woman in a motorized wheelchair nearly plowed over a woman in a walker, along with Williams.

“Just a minute here,” said Williams. “Take it easy. Please.”

Inside the church, volunteers were loading up the sacks in an assembly line that would do credit to whatever’s left of the ones in Detroit. Sarah Anderson, who was perched on two cases of canned corn while she loaded cans from a third case into the sacks, marveled at the versatility of canned corn.

“You can sit on it and then you can eat it,” she said.

Aaron Harris, who was lifting 48 cans of tomato sauce at a time, said it’s important to do something good when times are bad.

“People are hurting right now,” he said. “It’s good to give back.”

Outside, the line was so long that dozens of volunteers were required to make sure it stayed orderly. There was also a line for the three outhouses that had been set up in the middle of Ellis Street.

At the end of the food line, John Sorensen and a pal, Danny Holliday, were waiting for their sacks.

“Times are tougher than ever,” said Sorensen, an unemployed construction worker. “I used to be able to find some kind of work. Not now.”

Holliday, an out-of-work waiter, said standing in line for free groceries “is kind of a new thing to me.”

“I’m broke all the time right now,” he said. “So this really helps.”

Across Ellis Street in front of Boeddeker Park, recipients conducted the usual swapping. Homeless people without access to kitchens were less than excited about a sack of uncooked pinto beans and more than willing to trade for a can of cooked vegetables. Deals went down by the dozens.

“OK, gimme the beans and the rice,” said one man in a denim coat to another man in a knit cap. “You get the peas, corn and carrots.”

E-mail Steve Rubenstein at srubenstein@sfchronicle.com.

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