The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, October 05, 2007

National Guard Troops Denied Benefits After Longest Deployment Of Iraq War

National Guard Troops Denied Benefits After Longest Deployment Of Iraq War
Rhonda Erskine, Online Content Producer

Last Updated: 10/3/2007 5:32:02 PM
MINNEAPOLIS, MN (NBC) -- When they came home from Iraq, 2,600 members of the Minnesota National Guard had been deployed longer than any other ground combat unit. The tour lasted 22 months and had been extended as part of President Bush's surge.
1st Lt. Jon Anderson said he never expected to come home to this: A government refusing to pay education benefits he says he should have earned under the GI bill.

"It's pretty much a slap in the face," Anderson said. "I think it was a scheme to save money, personally. I think it was a leadership failure by the senior Washington leadership... once again failing the soldiers."

Anderson's orders, and the orders of 1,161 other Minnesota guard members, were written for 729 days.

Had they been written for 730 days, just one day more, the soldiers would receive those benefits to pay for school.

"Which would be allowing the soldiers an extra $500 to $800 a month," Anderson said.

That money would help him pay for his master's degree in public administration. It would help Anderson's fellow platoon leader, John Hobot, pay for a degree in law enforcement.

"I would assume, and I would hope, that when I get back from a deployment of 22 months, my senior leadership in Washington, the leadership that extended us in the first place, would take care of us once we got home," Hobot said.

Both Hobot and Anderson believe the Pentagon deliberately wrote orders for 729 days instead of 730. Now, six of Minnesota's members of the House of Representatives have asked the Secretary of the Army to look into it -- So have Senators Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman.

Klobuchar said the GI money "shouldn't be tied up in red tape," and Coleman said it's "simply irresponsible to deny education benefits to those soldiers who just completed the longest tour of duty of any unit in Iraq."

Anderson said the soldiers he oversaw in his platoon expected that money to be here when they come home.

"I had 23 guys under my command," Anderson said. "I promised to take care of them. And I'm not going to end taking care of them when this deployment is over, and it's not over until this is solved."

The Army did not respond questions Tuesday afternoon.

Senators Klobuchar and Coleman released a joint statement saying the Army secretary, Pete Geren, is looking into this personally, and they say Geren asked a review board to expedite its review so the matter could be solved by next semester.

Minnesota National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Kevin Olson said the soldiers are "victims of a significant injustice."

©2007 Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Paul Krugman - Conservatives Are Such Jokers

Conservatives Are Such Jokers

In 1960, John F. Kennedy, who had been shocked by the hunger he saw in West Virginia, made the fight against hunger a theme of his presidential campaign. After his election he created the modern food stamp program, which today helps millions of Americans get enough to eat.

But Ronald Reagan thought the issue of hunger in the world’s richest nation was nothing but a big joke. Here’s what Reagan said in his famous 1964 speech “A Time for Choosing,” which made him a national political figure: “We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet.”

Today’s leading conservatives are Reagan’s heirs. If you’re poor, if you don’t have health insurance, if you’re sick — well, they don’t think it’s a serious issue. In fact, they think it’s funny.

On Wednesday, President Bush vetoed legislation that would have expanded S-chip, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, providing health insurance to an estimated 3.8 million children who would otherwise lack coverage.

In anticipation of the veto, William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, had this to say: “First of all, whenever I hear anything described as a heartless assault on our children, I tend to think it’s a good idea. I’m happy that the president’s willing to do something bad for the kids.” Heh-heh-heh.

Most conservatives are more careful than Mr. Kristol. They try to preserve the appearance that they really do care about those less fortunate than themselves. But the truth is that they aren’t bothered by the fact that almost nine million children in America lack health insurance. They don’t think it’s a problem.

“I mean, people have access to health care in America,” said Mr. Bush in July. “After all, you just go to an emergency room.”

And on the day of the veto, Mr. Bush dismissed the whole issue of uninsured children as a media myth. Referring to Medicaid spending — which fails to reach many children — he declared that “when they say, well, poor children aren’t being covered in America, if that’s what you’re hearing on your TV screens, I’m telling you there’s $35.5 billion worth of reasons not to believe that.”

It’s not just the poor who find their travails belittled and mocked. The sick receive the same treatment.

Before the last election, the actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s and has become an advocate for stem cell research that might lead to a cure, made an ad in support of Claire McCaskill, the Democratic candidate for Senator in Missouri. It was an effective ad, in part because Mr. Fox’s affliction was obvious.

And Rush Limbaugh — displaying the same style he exhibited in his recent claim that members of the military who oppose the Iraq war are “phony soldiers” and his later comparison of a wounded vet who criticized him for that remark to a suicide bomber — immediately accused Mr. Fox of faking it. “In this commercial, he is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He is moving all around and shaking. And it’s purely an act.” Heh-heh-heh.

Of course, minimizing and mocking the suffering of others is a natural strategy for political figures who advocate lower taxes on the rich and less help for the poor and unlucky. But I believe that the lack of empathy shown by Mr. Limbaugh, Mr. Kristol, and, yes, Mr. Bush is genuine, not feigned.

Mark Crispin Miller, the author of “The Bush Dyslexicon,” once made a striking observation: all of the famous Bush malapropisms — “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family,” and so on — have involved occasions when Mr. Bush was trying to sound caring and compassionate.

By contrast, Mr. Bush is articulate and even grammatical when he talks about punishing people; that’s when he’s speaking from the heart. The only animation Mr. Bush showed during the flooding of New Orleans was when he declared “zero tolerance of people breaking the law,” even those breaking into abandoned stores in search of the food and water they weren’t getting from his administration.

What’s happening, presumably, is that modern movement conservatism attracts a certain personality type. If you identify with the downtrodden, even a little, you don’t belong. If you think ridicule is an appropriate response to other peoples’ woes, you fit right in.

And Republican disillusionment with Mr. Bush does not appear to signal any change in that regard. On the contrary, the leading candidates for the Republican nomination have gone out of their way to condemn “socialism,” which is G.O.P.-speak for any attempt to help the less fortunate.

So once again, if you’re poor or you’re sick or you don’t have health insurance, remember this: these people think your problems are funny.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Glenn Greenwald - The latest revelations of lawbreaking, torture and extremism

The latest revelations of lawbreaking, torture and extremism
Glenn Greenwald

Much outrage has been provoked by the generally excellent New York Times article this morning revealing the Bush administration's recent violations of legal restrictions on the use of torture and other "severe interrogation techniques." And, in one sense, the outrage is both understandable and appropriate. Today's revelations involve the now-familiar, defining attributes of this administration -- claims of limitless presidential power, operating in total secrecy and with no oversight, breaking of laws at will, serial misleading of the Congress and the country and, most of all, the shattering of every previous moral and legal constraint on our national behavior.

But in another, more important, sense, this story reveals nothing new. As a country, we've known undeniably for almost two years now that we have a lawless government and a President who routinely orders our laws to be violated. His top officials have been repeatedly caught lying outright to Congress on the most critical questions we face. They have argued out in the open that the "constitutional duty" to defend the country means that nothing -- including our "laws" -- can limit what the President does.

It has long been known that we are torturing, holding detainees in secret prisons beyond the reach of law and civilization, sending detainees to the worst human rights abusers to be tortured, and subjecting them ourselves to all sorts of treatment which both our own laws and the treaties to which we are a party plainly prohibit. None of this is new.

And we have decided, collectively as a country, to do nothing about that. Quite the contrary, with regard to most of the revelations of lawbreaking and abuse, our political elite almost in unison has declared that such behavior is understandable, if not justifiable. And our elected representatives have chosen to remain largely in the dark about what was done and, when forced by court rulings or media revelations to act at all, they have endorsed and legalized this behavior -- not investigated, outlawed or punished it.

A ruling by the Supreme Court in Hamdan that the President's interrogation and detention policies violated the law led Congress to enact the Military Commissions Act to legalize those policies. Revelations that the President and telecom companies were breaking our surveillance laws led to the legalization of much of that program and will soon lead to amnesty for the lawbreakers. With regard to all of the most severe acts of illegality, no criminal prosecutions have been commenced and no truly meaningful Congressional investigations have been pursued.

And the more that is revealed about the deep corruption of this administration, the more protective our political elite becomes of the administration, the more insistent their demands become that nothing be done (see Fred Hiatt's attack today on Pat Leahy for his "irresponsible" refusal to confirm Bush's Attorney General until the administration discloses information regarding their past lawbreaking. And the more our political elite defends the administration and demands that nothing be done, the more our "opposition party" heeds those demands:

Backing away from a fight with the White House, Senate Democrats are suggesting that they will not hold up confirmation of President Bush's nominee for attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey, despite differences over Senate access to documents involving Justice Department actions.

In a letter to Mr. Mukasey made public Wednesday, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, said he would go forward with the confirmation hearings without the promise of the documents.

The committee had for months been pressing the White House for access to files and e-mail messages about last year's firing of several federal prosecutors for what Democrats maintain were political reasons, and about legal justifications for the domestic eavesdropping program run by the National Security Agency.

All of these subversive and grotesque policies -- the Yoo/Addington theories of the imperial presidency, torture, rendition, illegal surveillance, black sites -- began as secret, illegal Bush administration policies. But the more they are revealed, and the more we do nothing about them, the more they become our own.

It is vital to emphasize here that these revelations are not obsolete matters of the distant past -- something we can all agree to leave behind in the spirit of harmoniously moving forward. The torture, detention and surveillance policies in question are still the formal and official position of our government -- and thus can be applied with far greater vigor not merely in the event of a new terrorist attack, but at any time.

The current policies of the U.S. Government still include, in undiluted form, the Bush administration's theories of unlimited presidential power; the lawless powers of indefinite, due-process-free imprisonment even of U.S. citizens (as applied to Jose Padilla); the use of black sites; the asserted right to spy on Americans with no warrants or legal constraints. None of that has gone away. We just decided to accept it. As the NYT article said about the administration's torture memos:

But the 2005 Justice Department opinions remain in effect, and their legal conclusions have been confirmed by several more recent memorandums, officials said. They show how the White House has succeeded in preserving the broadest possible legal latitude for harsh tactics.

All of the solemn "debates" and hand-wringing and anti-torture laws that were passed have changed very little, because the administration knows that there is no political will ever to enforce any of that. They know that the political and media institutions intended to impose checks on their behavior will never take any meaningful stand against what they do, no matter how blatantly extreme or illegal.

In response to a post I wrote a couple of months ago regarding the press's reverence for Karl Rove, NYU Journalism Professor (and excellent media critic) Jay Rosen argued that much of the Beltway's acquiescence to the administration's lawbreaking and radicalism is due to their sheer inability to comprehend and internalize just how extreme it all has been:

But I would recommend to Glenn some other factors that deserve consideration if we're trying to explain the collapse of the press under Bush, Cheney and Rove.

The most important of these is that journalists and their methods were overwhelmed by what the Bush White House did -- by its radicalism. There is simply nothing in the Beltway journalist's rule book about what to do, how to act, when a group of people comes to power willing to go as far as this group has in expanding executive power, eluding oversight, steamrolling critics (even when they are allies) politicizing the government, re-working the Constitution, rolling back the press, making secrecy and opacity standard operating procedure, and repealing the very principle of empiricism in matters of state.

The press tends to behave because it does not know how to act, in the sense of striking out in a new direction when confronted with a new fact pattern.

Previously, that's what I believed, and I think that is what accounted for the meekness among our political and media class when these abuses first began to emerge: an inability to comprehend, really to believe, that our government had become this extreme, so blatantly indifferent to even the most minimal legal and moral constraints. One does not expect an administration to imprison U.S. citizens with no process, or to proclaim explicitly the right to break the law, or to systematically adopt policies of torture. For that reason, it is not surprising that it would take some time for the reaction to catch up to the full extent of the wrongdoing.

But we are now way past the point where that excuse is plausible. Anyone paying even minimal attention is well aware of exactly how radical and corrupt and lawless this administration is. We all know what has happened to our standing in the world, to our national character and our core political values, as a result of the previously unthinkable policies the Bush administration has relentlessly pursued. Ignorance or incredulity can no longer explain our acquiescence. Accommodating and protecting the lawbreaking of high Bush officials is widely seen by our Beltway elite as a duty of bipartisanship, a hallmark of Seriousness.

It isn't surprising or particularly revealing that there were not immediate consequences for these revelations. Our political system, by design, works slowly and methodically. The Founders purposely imposed significant hurdles to undertaking the most significant steps (such as criminal investigations of high Executive officials or impeachment) precisely in order to ensure that such actions were taken deliberatively, not impetuously. It took two-and-a-half years for the much simpler Watergate scandal to lead to what would have been the impeachment of Richard Nixon. The failure to impose immediate or even rapid consequences, while frustrating to many, would not really be a cause for legitimate complaint.

But when it comes to Bush's extremism and lawbreaking, we're not imposing consequences slowly. We're not imposing consequences at all. Quite the contrary, we're moving in the opposite direction -- when we're not affirmatively endorsing and providing protection for that conduct, we're choosing not to know about it, or to simply allowing it to fester. And the more that happens, the less that behavior becomes the exclusive province of the Bush administration and the more it becomes our country's behavior.

This could still all be reversed. The NYT article today reveals new facts about the administration's lawbreaking, lying, and pursuit of torture policies which we had decided, with futility, to outlaw. The Congress could aggressively investigate. Criminal prosecutions could be commenced. Our opinion-making elite could sound the alarm. New laws could be passed, reversing the prior endorsements and imposing new restrictions, along with the will to enforce those laws. We still have the ability to vindicate the rule of law and enforce our basic constitutional framework.

But does anyone actually believe any of that will be the result of these new revelations? We always possess the choice -- still -- to take a stand for the rule of law and our basic national values, but with every new day that we choose not to, those Bush policies become increasingly normalized, increasingly the symbol not only of "Bushism" but of America.

Secret U.S. Endorsement of Severe Interrogations

Secret U.S. Endorsement of Severe Interrogations

WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 — When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations.

But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.

Mr. Gonzales approved the legal memorandum on “combined effects” over the objections of James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general, who was leaving his job after bruising clashes with the White House. Disagreeing with what he viewed as the opinion’s overreaching legal reasoning, Mr. Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it.

Later that year, as Congress moved toward outlawing “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, the Justice Department issued another secret opinion, one most lawmakers did not know existed, current and former officials said. The Justice Department document declared that none of the C.I.A. interrogation methods violated that standard.

The classified opinions, never previously disclosed, are a hidden legacy of President Bush’s second term and Mr. Gonzales’s tenure at the Justice Department, where he moved quickly to align it with the White House after a 2004 rebellion by staff lawyers that had thrown policies on surveillance and detention into turmoil.

Congress and the Supreme Court have intervened repeatedly in the last two years to impose limits on interrogations, and the administration has responded as a policy matter by dropping the most extreme techniques. But the 2005 Justice Department opinions remain in effect, and their legal conclusions have been confirmed by several more recent memorandums, officials said. They show how the White House has succeeded in preserving the broadest possible legal latitude for harsh tactics.

A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, said Wednesday that he would not comment on any legal opinion related to interrogations. Mr. Fratto added, “We have gone to great lengths, including statutory efforts and the recent executive order, to make it clear that the intelligence community and our practices fall within U.S. law” and international agreements.

More than two dozen current and former officials involved in counterterrorism were interviewed over the past three months about the opinions and the deliberations on interrogation policy. Most officials would speak only on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the documents and the C.I.A. detention operations they govern.

When he stepped down as attorney general in September after widespread criticism of the firing of federal prosecutors and withering attacks on his credibility, Mr. Gonzales talked proudly in a farewell speech of how his department was “a place of inspiration” that had balanced the necessary flexibility to conduct the war on terrorism with the need to uphold the law.

Associates at the Justice Department said Mr. Gonzales seldom resisted pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney and David S. Addington, Mr. Cheney’s counsel, to endorse policies that they saw as effective in safeguarding Americans, even though the practices brought the condemnation of other governments, human rights groups and Democrats in Congress. Critics say Mr. Gonzales turned his agency into an arm of the Bush White House, undermining the department’s independence.

The interrogation opinions were signed by Steven G. Bradbury, who since 2005 has headed the elite Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. He has become a frequent public defender of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program and detention policies at Congressional hearings and press briefings, a role that some legal scholars say is at odds with the office’s tradition of avoiding political advocacy.

Mr. Bradbury defended the work of his office as the government’s most authoritative interpreter of the law. “In my experience, the White House has not told me how an opinion should come out,” he said in an interview. “The White House has accepted and respected our opinions, even when they didn’t like the advice being given.”

The debate over how terrorism suspects should be held and questioned began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the Bush administration adopted secret detention and coercive interrogation, both practices the United States had previously denounced when used by other countries. It adopted the new measures without public debate or Congressional vote, choosing to rely instead on the confidential legal advice of a handful of appointees.

The policies set off bruising internal battles, pitting administration moderates against hard-liners, military lawyers against Pentagon chiefs and, most surprising, a handful of conservative lawyers at the Justice Department against the White House in the stunning mutiny of 2004. But under Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Bradbury, the Justice Department was wrenched back into line with the White House.

After the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the Geneva Conventions applied to prisoners who belonged to Al Qaeda, President Bush for the first time acknowledged the C.I.A.’s secret jails and ordered their inmates moved to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The C.I.A. halted its use of waterboarding, or pouring water over a bound prisoner’s cloth-covered face to induce fear of suffocation.

But in July, after a monthlong debate inside the administration, President Bush signed a new executive order authorizing the use of what the administration calls “enhanced” interrogation techniques — the details remain secret — and officials say the C.I.A. again is holding prisoners in “black sites” overseas. The executive order was reviewed and approved by Mr. Bradbury and the Office of Legal Counsel.

Douglas W. Kmiec, who headed that office under President Ronald Reagan and the first President George Bush and wrote a book about it, said he believed the intense pressures of the campaign against terrorism have warped the office’s proper role.

“The office was designed to insulate against any need to be an advocate,” said Mr. Kmiec, now a conservative scholar at Pepperdine University law school. But at times in recent years, Mr. Kmiec said, the office, headed by William H. Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia before they served on the Supreme Court, “lost its ability to say no.”

“The approach changed dramatically with opinions on the war on terror,” Mr. Kmiec said. “The office became an advocate for the president’s policies.”

From the secret sites in Afghanistan, Thailand and Eastern Europe where C.I.A. teams held Qaeda terrorists, questions for the lawyers at C.I.A. headquarters arrived daily. Nervous interrogators wanted to know: Are we breaking the laws against torture?

The Bush administration had entered uncharted legal territory beginning in 2002, holding prisoners outside the scrutiny of the International Red Cross and subjecting them to harrowing pressure tactics. They included slaps to the head; hours held naked in a frigid cell; days and nights without sleep while battered by thundering rock music; long periods manacled in stress positions; or the ultimate, waterboarding.

Never in history had the United States authorized such tactics. While President Bush and C.I.A. officials would later insist that the harsh measures produced crucial intelligence, many veteran interrogators, psychologists and other experts say that less coercive methods are equally or more effective.

With virtually no experience in interrogations, the C.I.A. had constructed its program in a few harried months by consulting Egyptian and Saudi intelligence officials and copying Soviet interrogation methods long used in training American servicemen to withstand capture. The agency officers questioning prisoners constantly sought advice from lawyers thousands of miles away.

“We were getting asked about combinations — ‘Can we do this and this at the same time?’” recalled Paul C. Kelbaugh, a veteran intelligence lawyer who was deputy legal counsel at the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorist Center from 2001 to 2003.

Interrogators were worried that even approved techniques had such a painful, multiplying effect when combined that they might cross the legal line, Mr. Kelbaugh said. He recalled agency officers asking: “These approved techniques, say, withholding food, and 50-degree temperature — can they be combined?” Or “Do I have to do the less extreme before the more extreme?”

The questions came more frequently, Mr. Kelbaugh said, as word spread about a C.I.A. inspector general inquiry unrelated to the war on terrorism. Some veteran C.I.A. officers came under scrutiny because they were advisers to Peruvian officers who in early 2001 shot down a missionary flight they had mistaken for a drug-running aircraft. The Americans were not charged with crimes, but they endured three years of investigation, saw their careers derailed and ran up big legal bills.

That experience shook the Qaeda interrogation team, Mr. Kelbaugh said. “You think you’re making a difference and maybe saving 3,000 American lives from the next attack. And someone tells you, ‘Well, that guidance was a little vague, and the inspector general wants to talk to you,’” he recalled. “We couldn’t tell them, ‘Do the best you can,’ because the people who did the best they could in Peru were looking at a grand jury.”

Mr. Kelbaugh said the questions were sometimes close calls that required consultation with the Justice Department. But in August 2002, the department provided a sweeping legal justification for even the harshest tactics.

That opinion, which would become infamous as “the torture memo” after it was leaked, was written largely by John Yoo, a young Berkeley law professor serving in the Office of Legal Counsel. His broad views of presidential power were shared by Mr. Addington, the vice president’s adviser. Their close alliance provoked John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, to refer privately to Mr. Yoo as Dr. Yes for his seeming eagerness to give the White House whatever legal justifications it desired, a Justice Department official recalled.

Mr. Yoo’s memorandum said no interrogation practices were illegal unless they produced pain equivalent to organ failure or “even death.” A second memo produced at the same time spelled out the approved practices and how often or how long they could be used.

Despite that guidance, in March 2003, when the C.I.A. caught Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, interrogators were again haunted by uncertainty. Former intelligence officials, for the first time, disclosed that a variety of tough interrogation tactics were used about 100 times over two weeks on Mr. Mohammed. Agency officials then ordered a halt, fearing the combined assault might have amounted to illegal torture. A C.I.A. spokesman, George Little, declined to discuss the handling of Mr. Mohammed. Mr. Little said the program “has been conducted lawfully, with great care and close review” and “has helped our country disrupt terrorist plots and save innocent lives.”

“The agency has always sought a clear legal framework, conducting the program in strict accord with U.S. law, and protecting the officers who go face-to-face with ruthless terrorists,” Mr. Little added.

Some intelligence officers say that many of Mr. Mohammed’s statements proved exaggerated or false. One problem, a former senior agency official said, was that the C.I.A.’s initial interrogators were not experts on Mr. Mohammed’s background or Al Qaeda, and it took about a month to get such an expert to the secret prison. The former official said many C.I.A. professionals now believe patient, repeated questioning by well-informed experts is more effective than harsh physical pressure.

Other intelligence officers, including Mr. Kelbaugh, insist that the harsh treatment produced invaluable insights into Al Qaeda’s structure and plans.

“We leaned in pretty hard on K.S.M.,” Mr. Kelbaugh said, referring to Mr. Mohammed. “We were getting good information, and then they were told: ‘Slow it down. It may not be correct. Wait for some legal clarification.’”

The doubts at the C.I.A. proved prophetic. In late 2003, after Mr. Yoo left the Justice Department, the new head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith, began reviewing his work, which he found deeply flawed. Mr. Goldsmith infuriated White House officials, first by rejecting part of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, prompting the threat of mass resignations by top Justice Department officials, including Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Comey, and a showdown at the attorney general’s hospital bedside.

Then, in June 2004, Mr. Goldsmith formally withdrew the August 2002 Yoo memorandum on interrogation, which he found overreaching and poorly reasoned. Mr. Goldsmith left the Justice Department soon afterward. He first spoke at length about his dissenting views to The New York Times last month, and testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

Six months later, the Justice Department quietly posted on its Web site a new legal opinion that appeared to end any flirtation with torture, starting with its clarionlike opening: “Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms.”

A single footnote — added to reassure the C.I.A. — suggested that the Justice Department was not declaring the agency’s previous actions illegal. But the opinion was unmistakably a retreat. Some White House officials had opposed publicizing the document, but acquiesced to Justice Department officials who argued that doing so would help clear the way for Mr. Gonzales’s confirmation as attorney general.

If President Bush wanted to make sure the Justice Department did not rebel again, Mr. Gonzales was the ideal choice. As White House counsel, he had been a fierce protector of the president’s prerogatives. Deeply loyal to Mr. Bush for championing his career from their days in Texas, Mr. Gonzales would sometimes tell colleagues that he had just one regret about becoming attorney general: He did not see nearly as much of the president as he had in his previous post.

Among his first tasks at the Justice Department was to find a trusted chief for the Office of Legal Counsel. First he informed Daniel Levin, the acting head who had backed Mr. Goldsmith’s dissents and signed the new opinion renouncing torture, that he would not get the job. He encouraged Mr. Levin to take a position at the National Security Council, in effect sidelining him.

Mr. Bradbury soon emerged as the presumed favorite. But White House officials, still smarting from Mr. Goldsmith’s rebuffs, chose to delay his nomination. Harriet E. Miers, the new White House counsel, “decided to watch Bradbury for a month or two. He was sort of on trial,” one Justice Department official recalled.

Mr. Bradbury’s biography had a Horatio Alger element that appealed to a succession of bosses, including Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court and Mr. Gonzales, the son of poor immigrants. Mr. Bradbury’s father had died when he was an infant, and his mother took in laundry to support her children. The first in his family to go to college, he attended Stanford and the University of Michigan Law School. He joined the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, where he came under the tutelage of Kenneth W. Starr, the Whitewater independent prosecutor.

Mr. Bradbury belonged to the same circle as his predecessors: young, conservative lawyers with sterling credentials, often with clerkships for prominent conservative judges and ties to the Federalist Society, a powerhouse of the legal right. Mr. Yoo, in fact, had proposed his old friend Mr. Goldsmith for the Office of Legal Counsel job; Mr. Goldsmith had hired Mr. Bradbury as his top deputy.

“We all grew up together,” said Viet D. Dinh, an assistant attorney general from 2001 to 2003 and very much a member of the club. “You start with a small universe of Supreme Court clerks, and you narrow it down from there.”

But what might have been subtle differences in quieter times now cleaved them into warring camps.

Justice Department colleagues say Mr. Gonzales was soon meeting frequently with Mr. Bradbury on national security issues, a White House priority. Admirers describe Mr. Bradbury as low-key but highly skilled, a conciliator who brought from 10 years of corporate practice a more pragmatic approach to the job than Mr. Yoo and Mr. Goldsmith, both from the academic world.

“As a practicing lawyer, you know how to address real problems,” said Noel J. Francisco, who worked at the Justice Department from 2003 to 2005. “At O.L.C., you’re not writing law review articles and you’re not theorizing. You’re giving a client practical advice on a real problem.”

As he had at the White House, Mr. Gonzales usually said little in meetings with other officials, often deferring to the hard-driving Mr. Addington. Mr. Bradbury also often appeared in accord with the vice president’s lawyer.

Mr. Bradbury appeared to be “fundamentally sympathetic to what the White House and the C.I.A. wanted to do,” recalled Philip Zelikow, a former top State Department official. At interagency meetings on detention and interrogation, Mr. Addington was at times “vituperative,” said Mr. Zelikow, but Mr. Bradbury, while taking similar positions, was “professional and collegial.”

While waiting to learn whether he would be nominated to head the Office of Legal Counsel, Mr. Bradbury was in an awkward position, knowing that a decision contrary to White House wishes could kill his chances.

Charles J. Cooper, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel under President Reagan, said he was “very troubled” at the notion of a probationary period.

“If the purpose of the delay was a tryout, I think they should have avoided it,” Mr. Cooper said. “You’re implying that the acting official is molding his or her legal analysis to win the job.”

Mr. Bradbury said he made no such concessions. “No one ever suggested to me that my nomination depended on how I ruled on any opinion,” he said. “Every opinion I’ve signed at the Office of Legal Counsel represents my best judgment of what the law requires.”

Scott Horton, an attorney affiliated with Human Rights First who has closely followed the interrogation debate, said any official offering legal advice on the campaign against terror was on treacherous ground.

“For government lawyers, the national security issues they were deciding were like working with nuclear waste — extremely hazardous to their health,” Mr. Horton said.

“If you give the administration what it wants, you’ll lose credibility in the academic community,” he said. “But if you hold back, you’ll be vilified by conservatives and the administration.”

In any case, the White House grew comfortable with Mr. Bradbury’s approach. He helped block the appointment of a liberal Ivy League law professor to a career post in the Office of Legal Counsel. And he signed the opinion approving combined interrogation techniques.

Mr. Comey strongly objected and told associates that he advised Mr. Gonzales not to endorse the opinion. But the attorney general made clear that the White House was adamant about it, and that he would do nothing to resist.

Under Mr. Ashcroft, Mr. Comey’s opposition might have killed the opinion. An imposing former prosecutor and self-described conservative who stands 6-foot-8, he was the rare administration official who was willing to confront Mr. Addington. At one testy 2004 White House meeting, when Mr. Comey stated that “no lawyer” would endorse Mr. Yoo’s justification for the N.S.A. program, Mr. Addington demurred, saying he was a lawyer and found it convincing. Mr. Comey shot back: “No good lawyer,” according to someone present.

But under Mr. Gonzales, and after the departure of Mr. Goldsmith and other allies, the deputy attorney general found himself isolated. His troublemaking on N.S.A. and on interrogation, and in appointing his friend Patrick J. Fitzgerald as special prosecutor in the C.I.A. leak case, which would lead to the perjury conviction of I. Lewis Libby, Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, had irreparably offended the White House.

“On national security matters generally, there was a sense that Comey was a wimp and that Comey was disloyal,” said one Justice Department official who heard the White House talk, expressed with particular force by Mr. Addington.

Mr. Comey provided some hints of his thinking about interrogation and related issues in a speech that spring. Speaking at the N.S.A.’s Fort Meade campus on Law Day — a noteworthy setting for the man who had helped lead the dissent a year earlier that forced some changes in the N.S.A. program — Mr. Comey spoke of the “agonizing collisions” of the law and the desire to protect Americans.

“We are likely to hear the words: ‘If we don’t do this, people will die,’” Mr. Comey said. But he argued that government lawyers must uphold the principles of their great institutions.

“It takes far more than a sharp legal mind to say ‘no’ when it matters most,” he said. “It takes moral character. It takes an understanding that in the long run, intelligence under law is the only sustainable intelligence in this country.”

Mr. Gonzales’s aides were happy to see Mr. Comey depart in the summer of 2005. That June, President Bush nominated Mr. Bradbury to head the Office of Legal Counsel, which some colleagues viewed as a sign that he had passed a loyalty test.

Soon Mr. Bradbury applied his practical approach to a new challenge to the C.I.A.’s methods.

The administration had always asserted that the C.I.A.’s pressure tactics did not amount to torture, which is banned by federal law and international treaty. But officials had privately decided the agency did not have to comply with another provision in the Convention Against Torture — the prohibition on “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatment.

Now that loophole was about to be closed. First Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and then Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who had been tortured as a prisoner in North Vietnam, proposed legislation to ban such treatment.

At the administration’s request, Mr. Bradbury assessed whether the proposed legislation would outlaw any C.I.A. methods, a legal question that had never before been answered by the Justice Department.

At least a few administration officials argued that no reasonable interpretation of “cruel, inhuman or degrading” would permit the most extreme C.I.A. methods, like waterboarding. Mr. Bradbury was placed in a tough spot, said Mr. Zelikow, the State Department counselor, who was working at the time to rein in interrogation policy.

“If Justice says some practices are in violation of the C.I.D. standard,” Mr. Zelikow said, referring to cruel, inhuman or degrading, “then they are now saying that officials broke current law.”

In the end, Mr. Bradbury’s opinion delivered what the White House wanted: a statement that the standard imposed by Mr. McCain’s Detainee Treatment Act would not force any change in the C.I.A.’s practices, according to officials familiar with the memo.

Relying on a Supreme Court finding that only conduct that “shocks the conscience” was unconstitutional, the opinion found that in some circumstances not even waterboarding was necessarily cruel, inhuman or degrading, if, for example, a suspect was believed to possess crucial intelligence about a planned terrorist attack, the officials familiar with the legal finding said.

In a frequent practice, Mr. Bush attached a statement to the new law when he signed it, declaring his authority to set aside the restrictions if they interfered with his constitutional powers. At the same time, though, the administration responded to pressure from Mr. McCain and other lawmakers by reviewing interrogation policy and giving up several C.I.A. techniques.

Since late 2005, Mr. Bradbury has become a linchpin of the administration’s defense of counterterrorism programs, helping to negotiate the Military Commissions Act last year and frequently testifying about the N.S.A. surveillance program. Once he answered questions about administration detention policies for an “Ask the White House” feature on a Web site.

Mr. Kmiec, the former Office of Legal Counsel head now at Pepperdine, called Mr. Bradbury’s public activities a departure for an office that traditionally has shunned any advocacy role.

A senior administration official called Mr. Bradbury’s active role in shaping legislation and speaking to Congress and the press “entirely appropriate” and consistent with past practice. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Bradbury “has played a critical role in achieving greater transparency” on the legal basis for detention and surveillance programs.

Though President Bush repeatedly nominated Mr. Bradbury as the Office of Legal Counsel’s assistant attorney general, Democratic senators have blocked the nomination. Senator Durbin said the Justice Department would not turn over copies of his opinions or other evidence of Mr. Bradbury’s role in interrogation policy.

“There are fundamental questions about whether Mr. Bradbury approved interrogation methods that are clearly unacceptable,” Mr. Durbin said.

John D. Hutson, who served as the Navy’s top lawyer from 1997 to 2000, said he believed that the existence of legal opinions justifying abusive treatment is pernicious, potentially blurring the rules for Americans handling prisoners.

“I know from the military that if you tell someone they can do a little of this for the country’s good, some people will do a lot of it for the country’s better,” Mr. Hutson said. Like other military lawyers, he also fears that official American acceptance of such treatment could endanger Americans in the future.

“The problem is, once you’ve got a legal opinion that says such a technique is O.K., what happens when one of our people is captured and they do it to him? How do we protest then?” he asked.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Sinking in a Swamp Full of Blackwater

Sinking in a Swamp Full of Blackwater


“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster,” Nietzsche said. “And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

We’re gazing into the abyss all right, and Blackwater is gazing back.

Besides having an army for hire, brave kids who are paid to fight so that most Americans are not personally touched by war, we have the real mercenaries. And they’re a spooky cadre, careening outside the laws of Iraq, the United States and the military.

President Bush continues to preach that we must defeat the “dark ideology” of extremists with “a more hopeful vision.”

But the compromises W. makes to slog on in Iraq, be it with warlords, dictators or out-of-control contractors, are spreading a dark stain on America’s image.

“Blackwater appears to have fostered a culture of shoot first and sometimes kill, and then ask the questions,” said Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat, yesterday at a House hearing.

The Times reports today that Blackwater’s explanation of an incident in Baghdad on Sept. 16 that left 17 dead and 24 wounded is sketchy.

It seems as though a bullet struck an Iraqi man driving his mother to pick up his father, a pathologist, at the hospital. The dead man’s weight, The Times reports, “probably remained on the accelerator and propelled the car forward” toward a Blackwater convoy.

Blackwater guards then unleashed a spray of gunfire and explosives, even though witnesses did not see anyone shooting at the American convoy and even though Iraqis were turning their cars around and escaping the scene.

Newsweek quotes the Iraqi national police as saying that Blackwater vehicles “opened fire crazily and randomly, without any reason.”

The Blackwater desperados are a sinister symbol of how little progress we’ve made in Iraq, that V.I.P.’s — or “packages,” as the contractors call them — can’t make a move in the country without the high-priced hired guns of the State Department.

Americans have been antimercenary since the British sent 30,000 German Hessians after George Washington in the Revolutionary War.

But W. outsourced his presidency to Cheney and Rummy, and Cheney and Rummy went to war on the cheap and outsourced large chunks of the Iraq occupation to Halliburton and Blackwater. The American taxpayer got gouged, and so did the American reputation.

The mercenaries inflame Iraqis even as Gen. David Petraeus tries to win their trust.

Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, summoned the 38-year-old crew-cut chairman of Blackwater, Erik Prince, to defend his private security company yesterday.

Once there was the military-industrial complex. Now we have the mercenary-evangelical complex.

Mr. Prince, a former intern to the first President Bush and a former Navy Seal, is from a well-to-do and well-connected Republican family from Michigan.

He and his father both have close ties to conservative Christian groups. His sister was a Pioneer for W., raising $100,000 in 2004, and Erik Prince has given more than $225,000 to Republicans.

Blackwater, in turn, has been the beneficiary of $1 billion in federal contracts, including a no-bid contract with the State Department worth hundreds of millions.

Mr. Waxman yesterday called the State Department “Blackwater’s enabler.” His committee staff summarized State Department reports revealing a cascade of Blackwater trouble.

“In a high-profile incident in December 2006, a drunken Blackwater contractor killed the guard of Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi. Within 36 hours after the shooting, the State Department had allowed Blackwater to transport the Blackwater contractor out of Iraq.”

The State Department chargé d’affaires “suggested a $250,000 payment to the guard’s family, but the Department’s Diplomatic Security Service said this was too much and could cause Iraqis to ‘try to get killed.’ ” In the end, they agreed on a $15,000 payment.

“The State Department took a similar approach,” the report stated, “upon receiving reports that Blackwater shooters killed an innocent Iraqi, except that in this case, the State Department requested only a $5,000 payment to ‘put this unfortunate matter behind us quickly.’ ”

Mr. Prince was pressed by Representative Paul Hodes about the penalty paid by the Blackwater employee who, while drunk and off-duty at a Christmas party, killed the Iraqi guard.

The man was fired. And he had to pay his own airfare home and forfeit his bonuses, amounting to a loss of about $14,697 — slightly less than the amount paid to the family of the Iraqi he blew away.

Blackwater to guard FBI team probing it

Blackwater to guard FBI team probing it


Wednesday, October 3rd 2007, 4:00 AM

WASHINGTON - When a team of FBI agents lands in Baghdad this week to probe Blackwater security contractors for murder, it will be protected by bodyguards from the very same firm, the Daily News has learned.

Half a dozen FBI criminal investigators based in Washington are scheduled to travel to Iraq to gather evidence and interview witnesses about a Sept. 16 shooting spree that left at least 11 Iraqi civilians dead.

The agents plan to interview witnesses within the relative safety of the fortified Green Zone, but they will be transported outside the compound by Blackwater armored convoys, a source briefed on the FBI mission said.

"What happens when the FBI team decides to go visit the crime scene? Blackwater is going to have to take them there," the senior U.S. official told The News.

An FBI spokesman declined to comment on security measures taken by agents in Iraq.

"It makes absolutely no sense that the FBI will be protected by the very people they are investigating," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan). "But given how the administration runs this war, it's hardly surprising."

In the past, FBI SWAT or hostage rescue team members protected other agents in the war zone. But the hostage rescue team force has been shrinking under the strain of bodyguard duty, leaving the FBI to rely increasingly on Blackwater when military escorts aren't available, sources said.

Besides the potential conflict of interest, it's unclear whether the FBI or Justice Department even has legal jurisdiction over Blackwater activities in Iraq.

"It is a question being examined now," the State Department's Iraq coordinator, David Satterfield, told lawmakers yesterday.

Some prosecutors believe they could slap murder charges on Blackwater, hired by the State Department to protect U.S. officials, under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act.

Sources said the FBI team was dispatched after FBI Director Robert Mueller met with President Bush and Secretary of State Rice and will help Diplomatic Security Service agents already investigating the shootout, which Blackwater claims was a defensive action against an ambush.

The House Oversight Committee conducted a hearing yesterday to question Blackwater Chairman Erik Prince - butwas asked by the Justice Department not to discuss the Sept. 16 killings in Baghdad.

Democrats were left to accuse Prince's men of being "reckless," which he calmly denied.

Asked about an operative who allegedly killed an Iraqi guard last year, Prince said he can only fire bad employees - "We can't flog him. We can't incarcerate him."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The dark truth about Blackwater

The dark truth about Blackwater
Outsourcing the war to private military contractors such as Blackwater has shattered the United States' moral authority and its ability to win the nation's wars -- including Iraq.

By P.W. Singer

Oct. 02, 2007 | On Sept. 16, 2007, a convoy of Blackwater contractors guarding State Department employees entered a crowded square near the Mansour district in Baghdad, Iraq. But versions of what caused the ensuing bloodshed diverge. Employees from the firm claim they were attacked by gunmen and responded within the rules of engagement, fighting their way out of the square after one of their vehicles was disabled. Iraqi police and witnesses instead report that the contractors opened fire first, shooting at a small car driven by a couple with their child that did not get out of the convoy's way as traffic slowed. At some point in the 20-minute gunfight, Iraqi police and army forces stationed in watchtowers above the square also began firing. Other Iraqi security forces and Blackwater quick-reaction forces soon reportedly joined the battle. There are also reports that one Blackwater employee may even have pointed his weapon at his fellow contractors, in an effort to get them to cease firing.

Since then, the Iraqi and U.S. governments have launched separate investigations, likely ensuring that the differing versions of the story will never meet. The only thing agreed upon is the consequences: After a reported 20 Iraqi civilians were killed, including the couple and their child, who was subsequently burned to the mother's body after the car caught fire, the Iraqi government and populace exploded with anger.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the killings a crime, announcing that his government was pulling Blackwater's license to operate in Iraq and would prosecute any foreign contractors found to have been involved in the killings. But there were two problems: Despite its mission of guarding U.S. officials in Iraq, Blackwater had no license with the Iraqi government. Secondly, the murky legal status of the contractors meant they might be considered exempt from Iraqi law because of a mandate left over from the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S. governing authority in Iraq that was dissolved more than two years prior.

The Blackwater mess has roiled Capitol Hill and shined light on the many questions surrounding the legal status, management, oversight and accountability of the private military force in Iraq, which numbers more than 160,000 -- at least as many as the total number of uniformed American forces there. The debate will heat up again Tuesday with hearings by the House Oversight and Reform Committee led by Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California. The problem is, some of the most critical questions may yet go unasked.

I've done a decade's worth of research and writing on the military's use of private contractors, including hundreds of interviews and discussions with everyone from employees of private military firms to active and retired soldiers, ranging from four-star generals down to line infantry. I have reported my findings to audiences including the U.S. military, the CIA and the State Department. Although I've been approached with multiple offers (as well as varied threats) from those in the private military industry, I am not paid either to lobby for the industry or to attack it, and the findings in this report are my own.

When we evaluate the facts, the use of private military contractors appears to have harmed, rather than helped, the counterinsurgency efforts of the U.S. mission in Iraq, going against our best doctrine and undermining critical efforts of our troops. Even worse, the government can no longer carry out one of its most basic core missions: to fight and win the nation's wars. Instead, the massive outsourcing of military operations has created a dependency on private firms like Blackwater that has given rise to dangerous vulnerabilities.

On Tuesday, among those testifying on Capitol Hill will be Erik Prince, the chairman and owner of Blackwater, as well as a series of State Department officials who were supposed to have overseen the firm's activities. We can expect that Prince will wrap himself in the flag, discussing all the vital missions that Blackwater conducts in Iraq, while downplaying the recent killings. State Department officials are likely to say that they had no other option but to use the firm, given their lack of Diplomatic Security forces -- conveniently ignoring that the department has chosen to hollow out its Diplomatic Security corps and instead hand over the task to a consortium of private firms led by Blackwater under a multibillion-dollar contract.

Waxman's committee, which has already been focused on politically connected companies and contracting corruption in Iraq, has disclosed a series of documents in recent days that reveal some dark patterns with Blackwater. The documents appear to show that the firm cut corners that may have contributed to employee deaths, it may have tried to have documents classified in order to cover up corporate failures, and the State Department's own inspector general may have tried to impede investigations into Blackwater, including threatening to fire any of his inspectors who cooperated with Congress.

Prince will take his shots, and State officials will point to new investigations they are now launching to try to mollify congressional anger. But regardless of whether the Blackwater contractors were justified in the shooting, whether there was proper jurisdiction to ensure accountability, or even whether using firms like Blackwater saves money (the data shows it does not), there is an underlying problem that everyone is ignoring.

Our dependency on military contractors shows all the signs of the last downward spirals of an addiction. If we judge by what has happened in Iraq, when it comes to counterinsurgency and the use of private military contractors, the U.S. has locked its national security into a vicious cycle. It can't win with them, but can't go to war without them.

When the U.S. military shifted to an all-volunteer professional force in the wake of the Vietnam War, military leaders set up a series of organization "trip wires" to preserve the tie between the nation's foreign policy decisions and American communities. Led by then Army Chief of Staff Gen. Creighton Abrams (1972-74), they wanted to ensure that the military would not go to war without the sufficient backing and involvement of the nation. But much like a corporate call center moved to India, this "Abrams Doctrine" has since been outsourced.

The use of contractors in Iraq is unprecedented in both its size and scope. Estimates of the number of contract personnel in Iraq vary widely. In 2006, the United States Central Command estimated the number to be around 100,000. (That it turned out to be such a perfectly round figure indicated that the estimate was actually what researchers call a "WAG," short for "wild ass guess.") In 2007, an internal Department of Defense census on the industry found almost 160,000 private contractors were employed in Iraq (roughly equal to the total U.S. troops at the time, even after the troop "surge"). Yet even this figure was a conservative estimate, since a number of the biggest companies, as well as any firms employed by the State Department or other agencies or NGOs, were not included in the census.

What matters is not merely the numbers, but the roles that private military contractors play. In addition to war gaming and field training U.S. troops before the invasion, private military personnel handled logistics and support during the war's buildup. The massive U.S. complex at Camp Doha in Kuwait, which served as the launch pad for the invasion, was not only built by a private military firm but also operated and guarded by one. During the invasion, contractors maintained and loaded many of the most sophisticated U.S. weapons systems, such as B-2 stealth bombers and Apache helicopters. They even helped operate combat systems such as the Army's Patriot missile batteries and the Navy's Aegis missile-defense system.

Private military firms -- ranging from well-established companies, such as Vinnell and MPRI, to start-ups, such as the British Aegis -- have played an even greater role in the post-invasion occupation. Halliburton's Kellogg, Brown and Root division, recently spun off into its own firm, currently runs the logistics backbone of the force, doing everything from running military mess halls to moving fuel and ammunition. Other firms are helping to train local forces, including the new Iraqi army and national police.

Then there are the firms such as Blackwater that have played armed roles within the battle space. These firms do everything from helping guard facilities and bases to escorting "high-value" individuals and convoys, arguably the most dangerous job in all of Iraq. Such firms are frequently described as "private security" or "bodyguards," but they are a far cry from rent-a-cops at a local mall, or bodyguards for Hollywood celebrities. They use military training and weaponry to carry out mission-critical functions that would have been done by soldiers in the past, in the midst of a combat zone against fellow combatants. In 2006, the director of the Private Security Company Association of Iraq estimated that just over 48,000 employees from 181 of such "private security companies" were working in Iraq.

As it has been planned and conducted to date, the war in Iraq would not be possible without private military contractors. Contrary to conspiracy theories, the private military industry is not the so-called decider, plotting out wars behind the scenes like Manchurian Global. But it has become the ultimate enabler, allowing operations to happen that might otherwise be politically impossible. The private military industry has given a new option that allows the executive branch to decide, and the legislative branch to authorize and fund, military commitments that bypass the Abrams Doctrine.

It is sometimes easier to understand this concept by looking at the issue in reverse. If a core problem that U.S. forces faced in the operation in Iraq has been an insufficient number of troops, it is not that the U.S. had no other choices other than using contractors. Rather, it is that each of them was considered politically undesirable.

One answer to the problem of insufficient forces would have been for the executive branch to send more regular forces, beyond the original 135,000 planned. However, this would have involved publicly admitting that those involved in the planning -- particularly then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- were wrong in their slam of critics like Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, who warned that an occupation would require far more troops. Plus, such an expanded force would have been onerous on the overall force, creating even more tradeoffs with the war in Afghanistan, as well as broader global commitments.

Another option would have been a full-scale call-up of the National Guard and Reserves, as originally envisioned for such major wars in the Abrams Doctrine. However, to do so would have prompted massive outcry among the public (as now the war's effect would have been felt deeper at home) -- the last thing leaders in the executive branch or Congress wanted as they headed into what was a tight 2004 election season.

Some proposed persuading other allies to send their troops in to help spread the burden, much as NATO allies and other interested members of the U.N. had sent troops to Bosnia and Kosovo. However, this would have involved tough compromises, such as granting U.N. or NATO command of the forces in Iraq or delaying the invasion, options in which the administration simply had no interest. This was the war that "was going to pay for itself," as leaders like then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz infamously described in the run-up to the invasion, and to share in the operation was to share in the spoils. Plus, much of the world was vehemently opposed to the war, so it was unlikely that NATO allies or the U.N. would agree to send the needed number of troops.

The private military industry was an answer to these political problems that had not existed in the past. It offered the potential backstop of additional forces, but with no one having to lose any political capital. Plus, the generals could avoid the career risk of asking for more troops.

That is, there was no outcry whenever contractors were called up and deployed, or even killed. If the gradual death toll among American troops threatened to slowly wear down public support, contractor casualties were not counted in official death tolls and had no impact on these ratings. By one count, as of July 2007, more than 1,000 contractors have been killed in Iraq, and another 13,000 wounded. (Again, the data is patchy here, with the only reliable source being insurance claims made by contractors' employers and then reported to the U.S. Department of Labor.) Since the troop "surge" started in January 2007, these numbers have accelerated -- contractors have been killed at a rate of nine per week. These figures mean that the private military industry has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of allied nations combined. The losses are also far more than any single U.S. Army division has experienced.

Hence, while private losses were just the "cost of doing business" for a firm in Iraq, they actually had an undisguised advantage to policymakers. The public usually didn't even hear about contractor losses, and when they did, they had far less blowback on our government. For all the discussion of contractors as a "private market solution," the true costs that they hope to save are almost always political in nature.

And when we weigh the devastating consequences that the Iraq war has had on America's broader security and standing in the world, this enabling effect of the private military industry may be its ultimate cost. The underlying premise of the Abrams Doctrine was that, if a military operation could not garner public support of the level needed to involve the full nation, then maybe it shouldn't happen in the first place.

That debate over the ultimate costs of Iraq is one for historians to weigh now. What is clear, however, is that the enabling effect of the military contractor industry is not simply in allowing the operation to occur, but also in how it reinforces our worst tendencies in war.

Lobbyists for military contractors like to talk up how the U.S. war effort is the best supplied and supported military operation in history. Doug Brooks of the International Peace Operations Association, an industry trade group, says, "The fact that troops are going to Iraq right now and actually, in 120 degree weather, putting on weight, kind of shows we are doing too much to support." Brooks is correct on many counts. The operation is one of the most lavishly supported ever, and most of that has been due to contractors to whom we have outsourced almost all the logistics, and the protection of that enormous supply chain.

But it has proven to be remarkably inefficient, all the while undermining our counterinsurgency efforts. According to testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the Defense Contract Audit Agency has identified more than a staggering $10 billion in unsupported or questionable costs from battlefield contractors -- and investigators have barely scratched the surface.

Such corruption doesn't just represent lost funds; it represents lost opportunities for what those funds could have been used on to actually support the mission: everything from jobs programs to get would-be insurgents off the streets to flak vests and up-armored vehicles for our troops. The situation got so bad that in August the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR) dubbed corruption as the "second insurgency" in Iraq.

While no one would argue that our uniformed soldiers do not deserve the utmost in support, contractors appear to have used this opening to drive a gold-plated train through (or, in the slang of KBR truckers, an opportunity to ship "sailboat fuel," meaning charge for nothing). Halliburton's contract has garnered the firm $20.1 billion in Iraq-related revenue and helped the firm report a $2.7 billion profit last year. To put this into context, the amount paid to Halliburton-KBR is roughly three times what the U.S. government paid to fight the entire 1991 Persian Gulf War. When putting other wars into current dollar amounts, the U.S. government paid just this one firm about $7 billion more than it cost the United States to fight the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War and the Spanish American War combined. (More, the $2.2 billion that the U.S. Army has claimed Halliburton overcharged or failed to document is almost double the amount in current dollars that it cost the U.S. to fight the Mexican-American War, which gained the territories of Arizona, New Mexico and California.)

Turning logistics and operations into a for-profit endeavor helped feed the Green Zone mentality problem of sprawling bases, which runs counter to everything Gen. David Petraeus pointed to as necessary to winning a counterinsurgency in the new Army/USMC manual he helped write. As retired Marine Col. and expert on "4th generation" war T.X. Hammes described the effect of a profit-seeking approach in an interview with "Frontline": "We get a little carried away, and then we gold-plate ... They could do it, so they did, because it's just money."

Basically, the bigger the bases, the more fast-food franchises, the more salsa dance lessons -- and the more money the firms make, while wrapping themselves in the flag. But while bigger bases may yield more money for stockholders, they disconnect a force from the local populace and send a message of a long-term occupation, both major negatives in a counterinsurgency. Moreover, it puts more convoys on the roads, angering the Iraqis and creating more potential targets for insurgents. "It's misguided luxury ... Somebody's risking their life to deliver that luxury," Hammes says, adding, "Fewer vehicles on the road creates less tension with the locals, because they get tired of these high-speed convoys running them off the road."

For all the hubbub over the recent Blackwater incident, the American public remains largely unaware of the private military industry. While private forces make up more than 50 percent of the overall operation in Iraq, according to a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, they have been mentioned in only a quarter of 1 percent of all American media stories on Iraq.

Yet, at the same time, contractors are one of the most visible and hated aspects of the American presence in Iraq. "They seal off the roads and drive on the wrong side. They simply kill," Um Omar, a Baghdad housewife, told Agence France Press about Blackwater in a report in mid-September. A traffic policeman at Al-Wathba square in central Baghdad concurred: "They are impolite and do not respect people, they bump other people's cars to frighten them and shout at anyone who approaches them ... Two weeks ago, guards of a convoy opened fire randomly that led to the killing of two policemen ... I swear they are Mossad," he said, referring to the Israeli spy service, which is a catch-all for anything perceived as evil in the Arab world.

It is also important to note that Iraqi civilians do not differentiate the acts of the private military contractors from the overall U.S. military effort, just because they are outside the chain of command.

The point here is not that all contractors are "cowboys," "unprofessional" or "killers," as Blackwater and other contractors are often described. Most are highly talented ex-soldiers. However, their private mission is different from the overall public operation. Those, for example, doing escort duty are going to be judged by their corporate bosses solely on whether they get their client from point A to B, not whether they win Iraqi hearts and minds along the way. Ann Exline Starr, a former Coalition Provisional Authority advisor, described the difference between when she traveled with a U.S. military escort and with guards from Blackwater and another State Department-contracted security firm, DynCorp. While the uniformed soldiers kept her safe, they also did such things as playing cards and drinking tea with local Iraqis. The private contractors had a different focus. "What they told me was, 'Our mission is to protect the principal at all costs. If that means pissing off the Iraqis, too bad.'"

This "protection first and last" mentality has led to many common operating practices that clearly enrage locals. In an effort to keep potential threats away, contractors drive convoys up the wrong side of the road, ram civilian vehicles, toss smoke bombs, and fire weaponry as warnings, all as standard practices. After a month spent embedded with Blackwater contractors in Baghdad, journalist Robert Young Pelton said, "They're famous for being very aggressive. They use their machine guns like car horns."

As far back as 2005, U.S. officers in Iraq such as Col. Hammes were worried that while contractors may have been fulfilling their contract, they were also "making enemies each time they went out." U.S. Army Col. Peter Mansoor, one of the leading experts on counterinsurgency, similarly noted in January 2007, that "if they push traffic off the roads or if they shoot up a car that looks suspicious, whatever it may be, they may be operating within their contract -- to the detriment of the mission, which is to bring the people over to your side. I would much rather see basically all armed entities in a counter-insurgency operation fall under a military chain of command."

The formula for failure isn't hard to calculate. An Iraqi is driving in Baghdad, on his way to work. A convoy of black-tinted SUVs comes down the highway at him, driving in his lane, but in the wrong direction. They are honking their horns at the oncoming traffic and firing machine gun bursts into the road, in front of any vehicle that gets too close. The Iraqi veers to the side of the road. As the SUVs drive by, Western-looking men in sunglasses point machine guns at him. Over the course of the day, that Iraqi civilian might tell X people about how "the Americans almost killed me today, and all I was doing was trying to get to work." Y is the number of other people that convoy ran off the road on its run that day. Z is the number of convoys in Iraq that day. Multiply X times Y times Z times 365, and you have the mathematical equation of how to lose a counterinsurgency within a year.

And these are standard occurrences that go on in the regular course of contractor operations, where no one is actually harmed. Unfortunately, however, contractors have also been involved in a pattern of abuses that go far beyond the recent Blackwater incident.

For example, a reported 100 percent of the translators and up to 50 percent of the interrogators at the Abu Ghraib prison were private contractors from the Titan and CACI firms, respectively. The U.S. Army found that contractors were involved in 36 percent of the proven abuse incidents from 2003-04 and identified six particular employees as being culpable in the abuses. However, while the enlisted U.S. Army soldiers involved in the Abu Ghraib abuse were properly court-martialed for their crimes, three years later not one of the private contractors named in the U.S. Army investigation reports has been charged, prosecuted or punished.

In another incident in 2005, armed contractors from the Zapata firm were detained by U.S. forces, who claimed they saw the private soldiers indiscriminately firing not only at Iraqi civilians, but also at U.S. Marines. Again, they were not charged, as the legal issues remained murky.

Other cases in 2006 included the Aegis company's "trophy video," in which contractors set video of them shooting at civilians to Elvis' song "Runaway Train," and put it on the Internet, and the alleged joyride shootings of Iraqi civilians by a Triple Canopy supervisor (which became the subject of a lawsuit after the two employees, who claim to have witnessed the shootings, lost their jobs).

Blackwater is thus not the only company to be accused of incidents that negatively impact the battle to win hearts and minds. But Blackwater has earned a special reputation among Iraqis. Much of this stems from the highly visible role it has played in escorting U.S. officials. Iraqi government officials claim that there have been at least seven incidents of civilian harm in which the company has been involved. The most notable that has been reported in the press was on Christmas Eve 2006, when a Blackwater employee allegedly got drunk while inside the Green Zone in Baghdad and got in an argument with a guard of the Iraqi vice president. He then shot the Iraqi dead. The employee was quickly flown out of the country. Nine months later, he has not been charged with any crime. Imagine the same thing happening in the U.S. -- an Iraqi embassy guard, drunk at a Christmas party in D.C., shooting a Secret Service agent guarding Vice President Cheney -- and you can see some potential for how Blackwater's Christmas tidings were not happy ones for U.S. efforts at winning hearts and minds.

In May 2007, there were two more reported shootings of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater contractors, including an Interior Ministry employee, which led to an armed standoff between the firm and Iraqi police. Thus, many felt the great tension between the firm and the locals would soon erupt. In the weeks before the September killings, Matthew Degn, a senior American civilian advisor to the Interior Ministry's intelligence directorate, described Blackwater as giving rise to "a powder keg" of anger.

U.S. military officers frequently express their frustrations with sharing the battlefield with such private forces operating under their own rules and agendas, and worry about the consequences for their own operations. As far back as 2005, for example, Brig. Gen. Karl Horst, deputy commander of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division (responsible for security in the Baghdad area at the time), tried to keep track of contractor shootings in his sector. Over the course of two months, he found 12 shootings that resulted in at least six Iraqi civilian deaths and three more wounded. As Horst tellingly put it, "These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There's no authority over them, so you can't come down on them hard when they escalate force. They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath."

Several weeks before the most recent Blackwater incident, an Iraqi official explained how the contractors' actions were reverberating against the wider U.S. effort in Iraq and beyond. "They are part of the reason for all the hatred that is directed at Americans, because people don't know them as Blackwater, they know them only as Americans. They are planting hatred, because of these irresponsible acts."

The Iraqi official's view is echoed by many. Jack Holly is a retired Marine colonel who, as director of logistics for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has worked with several firms in Iraq. As an example of the costs to key efforts, he described how Iraqi employees of the national rail system were so intimidated by Blackwater escorts that they refused to meet with State Department officials there to help them with the reconstruction effort. Of the Blackwater contractors he noted, "Their aggressive attitude is not what you would say is trying to mitigate disagreements between two societies."

These perceptions of a contractor force run amok help to undermine the very justification for the U.S. effort in Iraq. As an Interior Ministry official said of the Blackwater contractors hired by the U.S., "They consider Iraqis like animals, although actually I think they may have more respect for animals. We have seen what they do in the streets. When they're not shooting, they're throwing water bottles at people and calling them names. If you are terrifying a child or an elderly woman, or you are killing an innocent civilian who is riding in his car, isn't that terrorism?"

This statement is by an official ostensibly working with the U.S. Even worse is that incidents of contractor abuse have given America's foes yet another weapon in the war of information so critical to winning in a counterinsurgency. Much like the Abu Ghraib affair, the episode in which the civilians were killed by Blackwater employees may have been an anomaly. But it proved to be a perfect fact around which adversaries could wrap their wider propaganda.

For example, the same week that the Blackwater shooting incident occurred, radical Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr was planning the withdrawal of his coalition from the government. Instead of having to justify the act, which potentially could collapse the government and plunge the nation into civil war, he was able instead to focus his propaganda and recruiting efforts on the Blackwater episode, describing it as "a cowardly attack committed by the so-called security company against our people without any justification." As with others, he was clear to blame not merely the firm, but the wider American policy, describing how the firm had been allowed to recruit "criminals and those who have left American jails." That this part is not truthful misses the point; the episode gave the other side a factual point on which to leverage their wider propaganda operations.

The effort in Iraq is just one theater within a larger effort against extremist forces, in which the "war of ideas" is the critical battleground. The global war on terrorism is not a traditional military conflict made up of set-piece battles, but rather made up of a series of small wars and insurgencies in places ranging from Iraq and Afghanistan to Pakistan and Egypt, where the U.S. must sway a broader population from hostility to support if it ever wants to oust terror cells and shut down recruiting pipelines. As the newly revised foreword to the famous U.S. Marine Corps Small Wars manual notes, "Small wars are battles of ideas and battles for the perceptions and attitudes of target populations." Within these wars, it is non-kinetic tools (as opposed to fielded weaponry) that make up "the fire and maneuvers of small wars. They frequently are the main effort simply because of the criticality of the functions they perform."

Unfortunately, here again contractors have proven to be a drag on efforts to explain and justify the already highly unpopular U.S. effort in Iraq.

The Blackwater episode resonated negatively not merely inside Iraq, but throughout the Muslim world. Every single media source led with the episode in the days that followed, focusing on how the U.S. could hire such "arrogant trigger-happy guns for hire, mercenaries by any other name," as UAE-based Gulf News put it. The Al-Jazeera satellite news channel reported on the U.S. hired contractors as "An army that seeks fame, fortune, and thrill, away from all considerations and ethics of military honour ... The employees are known for their roughness. They are famous for shooting indiscriminately at vehicles or pedestrians who get close to their convoys." In the leading newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Fahmy Howeydi, one of the most influential commentators in the entire Arab world, compared Blackwater "mercenaries" to al-Qaida, coming to Iraq's chaos to seek their fortunes. Even the Daily Star, which is a regional English-language newspaper considered the most moderate voice in the region, wrote how "At least irregular formations like the Mehdi Army [Sadr's militia] can plausibly claim to be defending their communities. No foreign mercenary can plead similar motivation, so all of them should go."

What is telling about this episode is not merely the reaction in the press, but also how the contractor responded after the news broke. At a time when America's image was getting pummeled because of its employees' actions, Blackwater shut down its Web site and declined all interviews. Then a spokesperson in North Carolina issued a two-paragraph statement via e-mail, only targeted at a U.S. audience. It claimed that "The 'civilians' reportedly fired upon by Blackwater professionals were in fact armed enemies." The firm then brought its Web site back online, without even this new statement posted, as if nothing had happened. It continued to not to take any press calls. You could, however, continue to buy Blackwater apparel on the Web site, ranging from baseball caps to baby clothes.

When the history books are written about the Iraq war, they will point to several critical turning points in U.S. efforts to beat back the insurgency that flourished after the 2003 invasion and "Mission Accomplished" victory speeches were the order of the day. Certain to make the list are the battle for Fallujah, the revelation of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, and now the shootout in Baghdad that left as many as 20 civilians dead, the entire country seething and U.S. operations at a standstill. What will distinguish these accounts from histories of past wars is the new common denominator for each of these incidents: the private military industry.

In developing a counterinsurgency operation, the ideal is that a strategy is developed and then implemented. As Gen. von Moltke famously said, "No plan survives first contact with the enemy," and it is expected that the enemy will react and the plan will have to be adjusted. What is not expected is for a third force to cause the strategy to be jettisoned, before it even has a chance to succeed.

The recent Blackwater incident is not the first time that decisions made by the firm have diverted American strategy and resources, taking the U.S. operation into unexpected and unfortunate directions. As retired Army officer and New York Post columnist Ralph Peters notes, "Time and again, contractor shoot-'em-ups have either turned back the clock on local progress or triggered greater problems. Blackwater also gave us the cowboys who got lynched in downtown Fallujah in early 2004 -- prompting an 'ordered-by-the-White-House' response that defined the entire year."

There are two notable aspects about the Fallujah episode as it relates to counterinsurgency. First, the town had been restive since the invasion, but as former Marine Bing West describes in his masterful book "No True Glory: A Front Line Account of the Battle of Fallujah," the Marine unit that deployed into the area in 2004 had a classic counterinsurgency plan to simultaneously build up local trust in the community and weed out insurgents. As Maj. Gen. Mattis said, they would "demonstrate to the world there is 'No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy' than a U.S. Marine." Unfortunately, on March 31, without any coordination with the local Marine unit, a Blackwater convoy drove through Fallujah, was ambushed, and the four contractors killed. The Marine unit based right outside of Fallujah didn't even know that an attack had taken place until a reporter embedded at their base passed on the news from a wire-service report that he downloaded off the Web.

With images of the contractors' bodies being mutilated making the press and eerily echoing the killing of U.S. soldiers in Somalia a decade before, the Marines were ordered to seize the entire city, despite their protests that it would worsen the situation rather than solve it. It was one ambush in a war full of them. But to the policymakers back in Washington, now feeling the pressure of the television news cameras, some sort of action had to be taken.

The Marines moved into the city in force and a major battle broke out. It proved a disaster for the effort to win hearts and minds. With international press reporting more than 1,600 civilians killed (an exaggeration) and his Iraqi and British allies pressuring him, President Bush ordered a halt to operations. The town was handed over to a makeshift Iraqi brigade led by a former Republican Guard officer. The city soon devolved into a base of operations for al-Qaida in Iraq, and the Marines were ordered back in November 2004. Ninety-five U.S. Marines and soldiers were killed and almost 500 wounded in the street-by-street fighting that followed. The Marines' original strategy for winning at counterinsurgency never had a chance.

The second notable aspect of this incident is how the contractor convoy ended up there in the first place. A wrongful lawsuit against Blackwater, filed by the mothers of the four men killed, revealed that the employees had been sent on the mission without proper equipment, training or preparation. While the contract had called for at least six men in armored vehicles and time for a route risk assessment and pre-trip planning, the firm had rushed together a team of four men, who had never trained together, and sent them out without armored vehicles or even good directions. It later turned out that the critical mission the men were being rushed into was escorting some kitchen equipment. Blackwater had just won the contract and reportedly wanted to impress the client, a Kuwaiti holding company, that it could get the job done. The equipment was never delivered and Fallujah instead become a rallying point for the wider insurgency.

Another unanticipated setback for U.S. foreign policy occurred again in July of this year. One of the most critical aspects to Iraq's short- and long-term stability is the behavior of its neighbors. While the Kurdish north is one of the most secure parts of Iraq, its quasi-independence has Turkey, which has its own large Kurdish minority, especially tense. In July, the Turkish government revealed that its forces had captured U.S. weapons in the hands of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), a Turkish rebel group that often uses northern Iraq for a base of operations. The Turkish press exploded and the Turkish military discussed launching operations into Iraq, as well as using the episode to try to stifle civilian political rule inside Turkey.

The PKK is designated a "foreign terrorist organization" by the State Department, which bars U.S. citizens or those in U.S. jurisdictions from supporting the group in any way. The U.S. military and Justice Department launched an investigation into how U.S. weapons could get into the hands of the PKK, as the group has goals so contrary to U.S. strategy both within Iraq and beyond. Their investigations led them from Turkey and Iraq to North Carolina, home of Blackwater. Two Blackwater employees recently pled guilty of "possession of stolen firearms that had been shipped in interstate or foreign commerce, and aided and abetted another in doing so" and are now reportedly cooperating with federal authorities. However, the damage to U.S. strategy has already been done; as Steven Cook, an expert on U.S.-Turkey relations at the Council on Foreign Relations, put it, the "the Turks were very pissed."

The same derailing of U.S. foreign policy has played out the last weeks in Iraq. Just days before the Blackwater shooting, Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker delivered their assessment to Congress of the troop "surge" strategy and their plans for progress in the year ahead. There was intense debate over whether the military "benchmarks" were being met or not -- a debate that missed the fact that, as reported by the McClatchy news service, 43 people were shot in Baghdad by Blackwater contractors that same week. But there was general agreement that progress had to be made in pressing the Iraqi government on the lagging, and arguably more important, political benchmarks.

Then the Blackwater shootings happened, and senior U.S. government officials went from figuring out how best to pressure the Maliki government to scrambling to repair relations. Within hours, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had called the Iraqi prime minister. She didn't call to press him to take action on key political benchmarks like passing an Iraqi oil-sharing agreement or solving amnesty issues. Instead, she called to express her regrets about the Blackwater shootings. With the State Department so dependent on contractors that its personnel could not leave the Green Zone without them, Rice and Ambassador Crocker soon were reduced to begging the Iraqis to not kick out the firm, because the shutdown had paralyzed nearly all U.S. diplomatic and intelligence efforts inside the country. (Blackwater also has a contract to guard CIA offices in Iraq.)

Meanwhile, President Bush had been scheduled to meet with his Iraqi counterpart a mere eight days after the shootings. The top of the president's agenda no longer included how to get the Iraqi government to act to stem sectarian violence so that U.S. military forces could return home. Instead, the focus was now the problems with Blackwater and the wider private military industry.

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Neither private military contractors in general nor Blackwater in particular are the only cause of U.S. troubles in Iraq. We can be sure that history will point to a laundry list of leaders and organizations to blame. But while contractors have performed the missions asked of them, it does not appear that the massive outsourcing of military efforts has been a great boon to the counterinsurgency in Iraq.

As the U.S. government now finally debates the private military contracting issue, it must move beyond the obvious focus on shoring up accounting, oversight and even legal accountability. We need to go back to the drawing board on the use of private military contractors, especially within counterinsurgency and contingency operations, where a so-called permissive environment is unlikely. That U.S. civilian diplomatic, reconstruction and intelligence operations in Iraq shut down after the Blackwater suspension illustrates both the inherently governmental importance of these missions and the massive vulnerability we have created.

The emperor has no clothes, but the answer isn't simply to ask him to put on a scarf. A process must begin to roll inherently governmental functions back into government hands. These functions include armed assignments in the battle space, including security of U.S. government officials, convoys and other valuable assets; as well as critical but unarmed roles that affect the mission's success or failure, such as military interrogations, intelligence tasks and the movement of critical supplies like fuel or ammunition. In turn, there are many, many others, such as the running of fast food restaurants, which need not be governmental and can be left to the private market.

The ultimate point is that counterinsurgencies and other contingency operations have no front lines and it is time to recognize this. The Defense Department's function of "supporting" civilian agencies does not include merely stepping aside for a private contractor force. As CENTCOM commander Adm. Fallon notes, contractors shouldn't be seen as a "surrogate army" of the State Department or any other agency whose workers they protect: "My instinct is that it's easier and better if they were in uniform and were working for me."

Our policy need not be inflexible. The return of inherently military and government functions to U.S. military and government personnel will take time, reassignment of personnel, and amendments to existing contracts. But if the Pentagon and State Department prove unwilling or unable to overhaul the process and restore our government's capacity to carry out its constitutionally mandated mission, then the legislative branch must act for them. Congress has been funding an entire pattern of private military outsourcing that it never explicitly voted on, and it is well past time to act.

Many of those vested in the system, including those testifying on Tuesday, will try to convince us to ignore this cycle. They will describe an evident pattern of incidents as "mere anomalies," portray private firms outside the chain of command as somehow part of the "total force," or claim that "we have no other choice" but to rely on contractors, when it is rather about choices they'd rather avoid. These are the denials of pushers, enablers and addicts.

If our military outsourcing has become a dangerous addiction, only an open and honest intervention, a step back from the precipice of over-outsourcing, can break us out of the vicious cycle. Will our leaders have the will to just say no?

Unfortunately, we may already have our answer. On Sept. 21, 2007, five days after the latest shooting incident in Baghdad, Blackwater resumed operations in Iraq.