"Geoff Harries didn't know his son Andrew was even in Iraq when the call came through saying the former British soldier had been killed in an ambush near the northern city of Mosul.
""It was a complete shock because I had no idea he was there," Harries told the BBC in May. "I am shattered. I want to wake up and find it's not right."
"Unfortunately, his is a nightmare all too familiar to the parents of many former soldiers lured to hot spots such as Iraq by the prospect of a fast fortune in return for their military and security expertise.
"With the official US body count over the past 18 months now topping 1000, and the Iraqi death toll in the unrecorded thousands, another tally is quietly creeping up.
"Since April 2003, at least 151 foreign contractors, ranging from Nepalese cooks to South African bodyguards, have died in Iraq, according to Iraq Coalition Casualties, a website that tracks the body count.
"Of these deaths, recorded via monitoring of international and local media, nearly a third are "security consultants" - essentially former soldiers hired to guard anything from oil installations to diplomats, politicians or foreign businessmen.
"Some of the deaths hit the headlines, such as that of Fabrizio Quattrocchi, an Italian security adviser executed by his kidnappers in April this year.
"Others, however, are reported only in the victim's local papers, their names and job descriptions withheld by families or employers often accused of moving in a shadowy, mercenary world.
"South Africans, many from the ranks of crack, but now out-of-work, apartheid-era troops, make frequent appearances in the incident reports.
"While the estimates of numbers are staggering, so too are the sums of cash involved. If you can stay alive long enough, you can get very rich. At the sharpest end of the industry - short-term protection contracts for political bigwigs or businessmen - a security guard may make as much as $US1500 ($A2150) a day, almost what a US private takes home in a month.
"Unfortunately for some of the security workers such as Herman "Harry" Pretorius, a South African who worked as a bodyguard for American security company DynCorp, theirs was a one-way ticket...." [more]
"David A. Passaro was a mercenary working for the United States. A former Special Forces soldier, he was on the job for the American government in Afghanistan on June 19, 2003, when he was told to get information from a detainee named Abdul Wali. When Wali insisted that he knew nothing, Passaro allegedly beat him to death with a heavy metal flashlight.
"Now on trial for murder, Passaro is described in a recent criminal indictment as "a contractor working on behalf of the United States Central Intelligence Agency … engaging in paramilitary activities."
""Contractor" is the term used by the Defense Department to avoid more pejorative terms like "mercenary" to describe Washington's growing shadow army.
"While Passaro awaits trial in North Carolina, another self- described "contractor," Jonathan K. Idema, was convicted Wednesday in Afghanistan and sentenced to 10 years in a case involving charges of torture and other crimes. And in Iraq, 16 of 44 incidents of abuse at Abu Ghraib have been tied to private contractors.
"In all, there are about 20,000 military contractors currently working in Iraq for the U.S. government, according to the Washington Post; that's the equivalent of three army divisions of contractors. Soldiers-for-hire like Passaro are often employed (for as much as $200,000 a year) by former generals, who retired to run clandestine operations for profit and who have, in many cases, become millionaires from the secret budgets of the CIA and Defense Department.
"One such company alone, MPRI, has dozens of former generals and 10,000 former soldiers in the field, including many former members of the Special Forces. But privatization of the military comes at a price. In recent years, contractors have been linked to abuses ranging from ethnic cleansing operations in Croatia to the trafficking of sex slaves in Bosnia. They have been used to circumvent federal restrictions on the military. (For example, when Congress imposed a cap of 20,000 soldiers in Bosnia, the military simply hired 2,000 more private military contractors.)
"In Iraq, they're dying just like regular soldiers. To date, roughly 120 contractors have been killed there (although some were not involved in paramilitary activities). They include Vincent Foster, a former Marine sniper who was engaged in "skirmishes" in Iraq, and Scott Helvenston, who died guarding a convoy.
"The growing use of contractors and freelancers for paramilitary work has fueled an industry of mercenaries that was long in decline. Consider the strange case of Idema. On July 5, 2004, Afghan police entered the private prison run by him in Kabul. They reportedly found three men hanging from the ceiling while five others were found beaten and tied in a dark small room. Idema, also a former Special Forces member, claimed to have been working with the CIA and offered to supply proof that high-ranking U.S. officials supported his operation.
"Idema's case highlights the increasingly fluid definitions of soldiers, contractors and freelancers. While officials denied any contact with Idema's operation, the Defense Department recently acknowledged it held an Afghan man in custody for two months after Idema delivered him to U.S. forces. Likewise, officials now admit that Idema sent messages and faxes to top Pentagon officials. Idema also reportedly arranged and participated in raids on homes with NATO forces in Kabul.
"It is not clear whether Idema was actually employed by the U.S., but clearly he is part of a radically expanded market for soldiers of fortune, a market fueled by U.S. dollars. Unlike Passaro, Idema was conveniently left to Afghanistan. Not only was he denied the right to cross- examine witnesses, but the presiding judge, Abdul Baset Bakhtyari, dismissed his efforts to show his connections to "high-ranking military officials."
"As for Passaro, the government secured a federal court order in Raleigh, N.C., barring the public disclosure of many of the facts of his case, including details of his work for the CIA...." [more]
NO COMPETITION Former Bechtel consultant portrays Halliburton bidding process as a “sham”
by David Phinney, Special to CorpWatch
"A former Bechtel consultant who wrote a competing proposal against Halliburton subsidiary, KBR, in 2003 for a sweeping oil reconstruction contract in Iraq calls the government’s competition a “sham” that was “rigged” from the start in Halliburton’s favor.
"Appearing before a special panel of congressional Democrats on Sept. 10, the consultant, Sheryl Elam Tappan, said that she finally advised Bechtel to pull out before the contract was awarded because she was convinced that the competition was a done deal for KBR.
"“Officials up and down the chain of command ignored our federal laws and regulations and the procedures that normally ensure fair play,” she told the panel of the Army Corps of Engineers, which awarded the controversial contract through its Fort Worth office. She said she'd never before seen "the arrogant and egregious ways in which the Corps treated Halliburton’s competitors.”
"After the competition, on Jan. 16, 2004, two contracts were awarded. Halliburton was assigned work in southern Iraq for a top value of $1.2 billion and a second, valued for as much as $800 million, went to Parsons Energy and Chemical Group and the Worley Group of Australia for similar work in northern Iraq. Both Parsons and KBR are headquartered in Houston.
"As the largest contractor in Iraq, Halliburton’s work with the Pentagon has been especially controversial.
"Critics have accused the Pentagon of backroom deals that handed Halliburton work valued at billions of dollars without first holding full and open competitions. Since the spring of 2003, Pentagon auditors and members of Congress also complained that the company uses shoddy accounting practices, has a cavalier approach to containing costs, and repeatedly overcharged the government by hundreds of millions of dollars without justification.
"The fact that Vice President Dick Cheney once headed Halliburton as CEO from 1995 to 2000, holds stock options presently worth an estimated $400,000 in the company and is receiving deferred compensation from Halliburton even while vice president, supplies additional cause for speculation about the firm and the Defense Department.
"Halliburton’s Washington lobbyist, Charles Dominy, is also a retired general who once served with the Army Corps of Engineers...." [more]
* Idema’s lawyer claims Americans accused of torturing Afghans were warmly greeted by Kabul government officials
"KABUL: Lawyers for two of three Americans on trial for kidnapping and torturing Afghans in a vigilante counter-terror operation said on Wednesday they had videos showing the trio met Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brother.
"John Edwards Tiffany, lawyer for ringleader Jonathan Idema, said the videotapes, which had been among material temporarily confiscated by the FBI, showed “the three Americans being warmly greeted at the Kabul Airport by Afghan officials upon their arrival.” “The officials include Haji Timor, the director of the Kabul Airport; General Babajan who is the commander of the Kabul and Afghan National Police, and President Karzai’s brother,” Tiffany told a press conference in Kabul.
"He distributed the videotapes to several media representatives, but did not state whether they would be played in court.
"Idema, Brent Bennett and Edward Caraballo are on trial on charges of illegally kidnapping, jailing and torturing Afghans as well as entering Afghanistan without permission or proper documentation. Tiffany, who only arrived in Kabul late August, said the latter charge was disproved by other videotapes — already played in court — showing the three meeting high-level Afghan officials.
"Babajan subsequently arrested the three Americans and had been present in court on several occasions but had not come forward to acknowledge greeting the three on their arrival in Afghanistan, the lawyer added. Idema claims the group was working with the full knowledge of US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to hunt down terrorist suspects...." [more]
"KABUL (Reuters) - Three Americans on trial in Afghanistan for illegally imprisoning and torturing Afghans have appealed to the U.S. ambassador to request the charges be dropped, lawyers for two of them said Wednesday.
"One of the men, Jonathan "Jack" Idema, has said his actions were sanctioned by the Defense Department, the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency and that they had denied links with him due to embarrassment over the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.
"Idema, a former Green Beret, is on trial with Brett Bennett and Ed Caraballo. Bennett is another ex-soldier and Caraballo an Emmy award-winning cameraman who was making a documentary. The men face up to 20 years in jail if convicted.
"Idema's lawyer, John Edwards Tiffany, and Caraballo's lawyer, Robert Fogelnest, criticized the Afghan justice system as inadequate to handle such a trial.
"They complained that evidence had been withheld from the defense and that the accused had never received proper translations of the charges against them.
"They told reporters they had met the prosecutors on Sept. 1, who said they would have no objection to the charges being dropped if the U.S. ambassador made such a request.
"The lawyers said they had written to ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on Sept. 2 requesting his intervention. "We are awaiting his response," they said in a statement.
"A spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy said the letter had been forwarded to Washington for review but had no further comment.
"Asked whether the letter had suggested a deal in which allegations of official sanction for the men's activity would be dropped, Fogelnest replied: "We are not prepared at this time to discuss what the contents of our letter to the ambassador was...." [more]
"HOUSTON (Reuters) - Halliburton Co. may decide not to submit new bids for the logistics contracts it holds in Iraq if the U.S. military divides up the work too deeply, Chief Executive Officer Dave Lesar said on Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, the Wall Street Journal reported the U.S. Army plans to break up the multibillion-dollar logistics contract and seek competitive bids for the work it awarded to Halliburton to feed, house and operate services for U.S. troops.
""I'm not sure we're going to rebid if it's hacked into too many pieces in Iraq. If we do choose to rebid, we're going to jack the margins up significantly," said Lesar, whose comments to an analysts' conference in New York were broadcast on the Internet...." [more]
"The Pentagon plans to end a contract given to Halliburton to provide US troops in Iraq with logistical support, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The army will put the work out to bid, the newspaper says, quoting an army memorandum which estimates the contract to be worth $13bn (£7.3bn).
"Halliburton has been accused of overcharging since it was handed the no-bid contract last year.
"US Vice-President Dick Cheney headed the firm until he took office in 2001.
"He has, however, denied that this has led to preferential treatment for the firm.
"US defence officials say the intention to break up the contract with Halliburton was not intended to penalise its Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) unit which handles the Iraq operation, the Wall Street Journal reports.
"KBR provides troops in Kuwait and Iraq with housing, dining halls, transportation and laundry.
"Rather, the intention was to find greater efficiency by parcelling the work out to a greater number of firms...." [more]
"BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - The Army general who once ran detention operations in Iraq said a "conspiracy" among top U.S. commanders has left her to blame for the abuses of Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib prison.
"Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who commanded the Army's 800th Military Police Brigade, said she fears more senior Army generals may escape punishment, even though they issued or approved guidelines on the interrogation of Iraqi prisoners.
"Karpinski said in an e-mail interview with The Associated Press that she was unfairly cited by a report issued last month by an independent panel of nongovernment experts headed by former defense secretary James Schlesinger.
"The Schlesinger report blamed Karpinski for leadership failures that "helped set the conditions at the prison which led to the abuses." She failed to ensure that Iraqi prisoners were protected by the Geneva Conventions and failed to deal with ineffective commanders below her. It recommended that she be relieved of command and given a letter of reprimand, which would essentially end her career.
"The panel also said disciplinary action "may be forthcoming" against Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the Army's 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, which was assigned to Abu Ghraib last year. That recommendation may allow top generals in Iraq to sidestep punishment, Karpinski said.
"Those she said might avoid sharing responsibility are Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the former land forces commander in Iraq; his deputy, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski; Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, the former head of military intelligence here; and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, deputy commander for detention operations in Iraq.
""It was a conspiracy all along," Karpinski said. "Sanchez and Miller and likely Fast had fallback plans and people to blame if anything came unglued."..." [more]
A Nigerian report on allegations of bribery by consortium accuses the firm of playing games with parliamentary investigators.
By Ken Silverstein, Times Staff Writer
"WASHINGTON — A Nigerian parliamentary report on allegations that a consortium that includes Halliburton Co. made vast illegal payments to win multibillion-dollar deals accuses the company of playing "hide-and-seek games" with local investigators.
"The payments were reportedly made between 1995 and 2002, as the consortium, known as TSKJ, won three contracts worth a combined $7 billion to build a natural gas plant and related facilities.
"The report, which was released Wednesday, sharply criticizes Halliburton, the energy services firm, calling on Chief Executive Dave Lesar to come to Nigeria to "make necessary clarifications" before parliamentary investigators.
"It also recommends that Halliburton receive no further contracts in Nigeria until all international inquiries have been concluded. French authorities, the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also have ongoing investigations...." [more]
"The California State Teachers' Retirement System ratcheted up pressure Wednesday on military contractor CACI International Inc., urging the company's board to investigate the conduct of executives and interrogators in the Iraqi prison scandal.
At the same time, CalSTRS, the nation's third-largest public pension fund, took steps that could lead to divesting its holdings in the beleaguered company.
"The action comes after Army investigators last week said three private interrogators from CACI participated in some of the abuses or failed to report the wrongdoing and referred them to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution.
Some interrogators allegedly encouraged soldiers to abuse prisoners and used military dogs to threaten detainees, the Army noted in the report by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay and Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones.
"In one instance, the Jones-Fay report said, "The use of dogs in the manner directed by (a CACI interrogator) was clearly abusive and unauthorized."
"The latest military report prompted state Treasurer Phil Angelides, a CalSTRS trustee, to push for divestiture. He said the the $114 billion pension fund's relatively small investment in CACI isn't worth the "heartburn."
""We ought to get out of this small holding. The company is going to be in jeopardy for quite some time," Angelides told members of the CalSTRS corporate governance subcommittee Wednesday...." [more]