No. 251, Nov. 6-12, 2003

To read an article, click on the headline.

Bush cronies hit jackpot
in Iraq, Afghanistan

Graphic courtesty Public

UN sends mission to prevent
collapse of Karzai regime

Soverign traditional nations
assert themselves

APD is out of control
Howard Dean: A hawk in a dove's cloak
What is the MATRIX?
Botswana: Tensions heightened over fate of Basarwa
Striking workers hold the line on health care
Warm seas melting ice shelf the size of Scotland
Street Medics prepare for upcoming demonstrations
Is media bias filtering out good news from Iraq?
Colombia: FARC insisten con canje de rehenes
Quote of the Week

“Honestly, it’s a little tougher than I thought it was going to be. If we have to, we just mow the whole place down, see what happens. You’re dealing with insane suicide bombers who are killing our people, and we need to be very aggressive in taking them out.”

-- Republican Senator Trent Lott, regarding Iraq in the article “GOP Unity Is Strained by Attacks” by Geoff Earl (The Hill (DC)), 29 Oct 2003)

Bush cronies hit jackpot in Iraq, Afghanistan

By Emad Mekay

Washington, DC, Oct 30 (IPS)— Some 70 US companies with good connections to the Bush administration have won at least eight billion dollars worth of reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past two years, an independent research group said Thursday.

“This is all outrageous,” said Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), the organization that carried out the investigation.

“The last time I checked, in this democracy we are supposed to have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, not public officials protecting private companies behind closed doors,” he said.

According to the six-month probe by the center, the 70 firms donated more money to the presidential campaign of George W. Bush than they collectively did to any other politician over the past dozen years.

The investigation, which examined contracts awarded in 2002 through September 2003, provides the most complete list to date of US contractors in the two nations that were invaded by the United States in its self-styled war on terror.

The study does not look into dozens of subcontracts.

The findings that came out in a brief report, “Windfalls of War: US Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan,” show that Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), the subsidiary of the giant US oil field services firm Halliburton, was the top recipient of federal contracts for the two countries, worth more than $2.3 billion.

Vice President Dick Cheney led the Houston-based corporation prior to being chosen as Bush’s running mate in August 2000. Cheney still receives a six-figure deferred annual compensation from Halliburton that the company says is not affected by current business decisions.

Halliburton said on Wednesday that its revenue rose to $4.1 billon from $3 billon in the third quarter as a result of government work by KBR.

KBR’s no-bid contract with the US Army Crops of Engineers to modernize Iraq’s oil industry has been under fire from many congressional Democrats and civil society groups who say the deal illustrates favoritism in the Republican administration.

The San Francisco-based Bechtel Group, a leading engineering company and a major government contractor, also with high-ranking ties, was second with awarded contracts worth $1.03 billion.

Bechtel’s CEO Riley Bechtel was appointed in February by Bush to the President’s Export Council, an influential economic advisory panel.

Another company with ties to the administration that won contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan is Science Applications International Corp (SAIC).

It received seven contracts in Iraq, one of them to help rebuild the country’s media, a deal estimated to be worth $38 million in year one but perhaps more than $90 million in 2004.

David Kay, the former United Nations weapons inspector who was hired by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to track down weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is a former vice president of SAIC.

The CPI, which prides itself on “public service journalism” and says it does not accept funding from corporations, labor unions or governments, said its research also found that dozens of lower-profile but well-connected companies also won big in the reconstruction bonanza.

The top 10 US contractors in Iraq include International American Products, Perini Corporation, and Contrack International.

“Their tasks ranged from rebuilding Iraq’s government, police, military and media, to providing translators for use in interrogations and psychological operations,” said the report. “There are even contractors to evaluate the contractors.”

The center says that nearly 60 percent of the 70 companies had employees or board members who either served in or had close ties to the executive branch for Republican and Democratic administrations, for members of Congress of both parties or at the highest levels of the military.

It also found that nearly every one of the 10 largest contracts awarded for Iraq and Afghanistan went to companies employing former senior government officials with close links to those agencies or to Congress.

Using an analysis of campaign finance records, the findings show that the top 10 contractors were also long-time political donors.

The companies gave nearly $11 million to national political parties, candidates and political action committees since 1990.

“Indeed, most of the companies that won contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan were political players,” says the report.

Among individual candidates that received money from those contractors, Bush collected more money than any other, a little more than $500,000.

According to the investigation, Iraq outpaced Afghanistan, once ground zero in Washington’s war on terrorism, as the locale for contracted work.

The center says at least $5.7 billion in government funding went to US contractors in Iraq.

Nearly one-half of that, $2.7 billion, went for work in Afghanistan.

The center’s team of journalists, researchers and former media officials complained that they had to wrestle the information in the report from the administration.

The group had to rely on 73 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and appeals to demand information from the Pentagon, the State Department, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The center filed suit in the US District Court in Washington, DC, against the State Department and the Army after both agencies failed to cooperate fully with its request for information as outlined under the FOIA.

In a statement, the center charged that USAID and the Pentagon went as far as to initially omit the largest contracts they had awarded in Iraq from the information provided to the investigation—contracts to Bechtel and to Halliburton’s KBR subsidiary.

The CIP warned that because of such secrecy shrouding contracts in Iraq, and because of official reluctance to share information, the total value of contracts awarded for reconstruction work in Iraq and Afghanistan may be actually much larger than what is publicly known.

Experts say such findings are disturbing and illustrate how US policy in Iraq is in fact counter-productive.

“Both US and Iraqi interests would be better served if the management of reconstruction funds served as a concrete demonstration of how to create a capable post-war state rather than a secretive contracting operation,” said Gayle Smith of the Center of American Progress, a liberal think tank here. “The mere perception that US contractors with ties to the Bush administration are profiting from their connections damages support for the operation in Iraq and at home.”

UN sends mission to prevent
collapse of Karzai regime

By Katherine Butler

Nov. 3— The UN Security Council sent a high-ranking delegation to Afghanistan yesterday to bolster the country’s leader, Hamid Karzai, amid signs that his authority is steadily slipping to powerful warlords and warnings that an opium boom could turn Afghanistan into a failed state run by drug cartels.

The delegation, including the UN ambassadors of the United States, Britain, France, Mexico, Spain and Bulgaria, are aiming to demonstrate the international community’s commitment to rebuilding the country, said the head of the mission, Germany’s UN ambassador Gunter Pleuger.

The ambassadors are to visit Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif, he said, to pressure powerful regional warlords “to co-operate fully with the central government” so elections next year can be held in a climate of stability. “We will speak to the local warlords and call to their attention the responsibility for the whole country demanded from them, that they work together with the central government, economically, politically and above all for security,” he said.

But even as he spoke, there were reports of further violence. Two civilians were killed in clashes between rival militias. And there were unconfirmed reports that eight villagers had died in an airstrike on a remote eastern village. The strike hit a house belonging to Mawlawi Rabbani, a prominent local cleric who is said to have co-operated with the US-led coalition.

The finishing touches are being put to the country’s first post-Taliban constitution. The terms of the document are to be debated at a constitutional convention next month. The draft document could be released within days.

But prospects of a smooth transition to democracy are bleak, with much of Afghanistan still ruled by competing warlords and their private armies. Last month, the Security Council approved an expansion of the 5,500-member NATO-led military force outside the capital. A German advance team is preparing for the arrival of a 450-strong mission in the northern city of Kunduz. But no country has yet volunteered troops for an expanded mission to other parts of Afghanistan where the risk would be considerably higher.

More than 350 people have been killed across Afghanistan in the past three months, the worst period for violent deaths since the Taliban’s collapse. Civilians, US soldiers, Afghan troops, police and local aid workers have been targeted.

The UN delegation will avoid Kandahar, the former Taliban stronghold, because of the unrest. Pashtun leaders from that region will travel to Kabul to voice their views to the ambassadors.

Taliban insurgents in Kandahar threatened to kill a kidnapped Turkish engineer yesterday unless the authorities release 18 Taliban prisoners. The engineer, Hasan Onal, had been returning to a camp for workers repairing the Kabul to Kandahar highway.

Tension is also high around Mazar-i-Sharif, between the Uzbek leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum and his Tajik rival, General Atta Mohammed. They were key figures in the Northern Alliance that worked with the American-led coalition to invade and oust the Taliban from power in late 2001.

A military clash between the two factions last month led to 60 deaths. In more recent clashes, at least three soldiers and two civilians have died.

Source: Independent (UK)


Huge Afghan opium harvest reported by UN agency

Afghanistan produces three quarters of the world’s opium—the raw material for heroin—and two thirds of all opiate users take drugs of Afghan origin, according to a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

The UN said that unless the problem was tackled the country could be over-run by violence, corruption, and terrorism. High prices for opium had recruited more farmers, spreading poppy cultivation to 28 of Afghanistan’s 32 provinces, from 18 four years ago.

The report, “The Afghanistan Opium Survey for 2003,” found that Afghan opium farmers and traffickers took home about $2.3 billion, or about half of the country’s legitimate GDP in 2003.

Afghanistan has re-established itself as the world’s biggest opium producer after the fall of the Taliban regime, which banned cultivation.

The 2003 harvest of 3,600 tons was the second biggest recorded since the agency began surveying the country in 1994. The biggest harvest, of 4,565 tons, was recorded in 1999. The area devoted to opium poppy cultivation was the third largest since 1994, and is comparable to the area used before 2001, when a Taliban ban on cultivation reduced it to 8,000 hectares.

Poppy cultivation involves 1.7 million people, or seven percent of Afghanistan’s population. Though declining prices have reduced the average opium grower’s annual income by 15 per cent to $594, this is more than three times the average national income. Farmers’ revenues from opium in 2003 were about $1.02 billion, or $3,900 per family.

Source: Independent (UK)

Soverign traditional nations assert themselves

By Brenda Norrell

Seattle, Washington, Oct. 29— American Indians began efforts for traditional sovereign governments to replace tribal governments resulting from the Indian Reorganization Act.

Oglala Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Sissteon-Wahpeton delegations told the United Native Nations that it is vital to act now.

Already, the Sisseton-Wahpeton and Northern Cheyenne have established traditional courts.

“We are starting to tell the truth of what America was doing yesterday and what it is doing today,” said Tim “Night Bear” Lame Woman, Tsisistas Northern Cheyenne from Lame Deer, Mont.

“The government will come after us, because what we have is the evidence.”

Lame Woman was among the speakers at the United Native Nations legislative assembly Oct. 13 - 17.

Guy White Thunder, Lakota elder from Pine Ridge, illustrated a traditional Lakota government. He diagrammed four elders in a box shape in the middle, with a circle of twelve people around them, and finally the people in the outer circle.

The sacred pipe is in the center to be smoked when a consensus is reached.

“The people are the decision makers. The people have the voice, we are working for them,” White Thunder said.

Speaking of the Sisseton “People of the Star Nation,” Darlene Pipe Boy said her people are the eastern door in South Dakota.

“We are a woodland, prairie people who have ties to medicine and spiritual mysteries.”

Remembering her father and others, who traveled by wagon to Rapid City to struggle for land rights, she said, “They are very proud of who they are and who we are.

“Sisseton is a non-IRA tribe. My grandfather did not agree to a constitutional government.”

Since the beginning, she said, the intent of the federal government was to eliminate traditional Indian governments.

“When our young people can no longer speak their language, then cultural genocide has taken place.”

Richard Grass, Lakota, Dakota and Nakota elder said, “Reservations are prisoner of war camps and we are under military occupation.”

George Samuel, Taanta Kwaan elder from Alaska, was among those who spoke on gaining and losing power. “If you take federal recognition, you lose your sovereignty because you empower them.”

Speaking of wealth and materialism, Samuel said those who have gone away and return to the reservations, come back with the “bottom line syndrome,” always looking at money and their percentage.

Rudy Al James, Secretary-General of the United Native Nations, said the power of traditional Indian governments rests with the elders.

“The power goes back to the elders where it should have been all along.”

Antoinette Red Woman, Tsisistas Northern Cheyenne, said sovereigns must defend the children, woman, and elders being abused.

“Our traditional Native laws supercede state, county, and federal law. We have a lot of power.”

Dispelling myths about power in America, speaker Dennis Foisy, a banker, said it is not the federal government that wields the ultimate power and control.

“It is the banks,” Foisy said, pointing out that the Federal Reserve is privately owned. “About 52 percent is owned by the Bank of England.”

“We’ve all been duped,” he said. Referring to the economic systems resulting in Americans living in debt, he said, “They’re ‘banksters.’”

“Exercise your power,” he said, urging Indians to rid themselves of “prisoner of war” status and become truly sovereign nations.

Foisy said the attitude should be: “This is our land and we’re going to sue you for it.”

Displaying an example of sovereign nation rule, Vincent Johnson, Onondaga, displayed his Onondaga passport for international travel.

Tlingit Paul Jackson explained the canoe ceremony held and the dance of the ravens and eagles held during the week-long assembly. “We want this song to pull the people together.”

Jackson said his tribal elders left a box of knowledge with the instruction to take whatever is useful into the future.

Wayne Price, Tlingit, and Pike Powers, Native from Quebec, built the canoe in Alaska and Washington and rowed it to shore for the ceremony.

The canoe ceremony was held in the rain to the sound of the Tlingit drum and whirl of Tlingit dancers, with a backdrop of the flags of many nations.

During the assembly, Calixta Gabriel from Guatemala said Mayans are petitioning the government to respect indigenous human rights and cultural identity.

But as the United Native Nations session was taking place, news came that Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu Tum was threatened and roughed-up by those opposing indigenous rights during a court hearing.

Ramon Nenadich, Taino from Puerto Rico and Ph.D. said in Central and South America, the murders of indigenous have been massive.

He also shared a vision: A relay walk from the Northwest US to Chile and back up through Brazil to the north.

Expressing hope it will become a reality, in the vision he saw indigenous peoples walking south, heralded by horseback riders, in a relay walk through countries where indigenous peoples’ rights are violated. They were walking for Mother Earth, human rights, and sovereignty.

Humberto Pagan Hernandez, Taino from Puerto Rico, said he learned a great deal from his brothers and sisters here: “The way you are, the way you do things, the way you relate to Mother Nature and the way you relate to the rest of humanity.

“That is something my people have been losing and that is something we must recover.”

Lame Woman said it is time to fight back. “Everything that happens in Afghanistan and Iraq happens here to our people.”

“Health disparity is the worst kind of genocide.”

In solidarity with indigenous losing lands to cattle producers in Brazil, James urged the world’s 400 million indigenous people to boycott McDonald’s restaurants.

Now in its fourth year, the United Native Nations began after an alliance was formed in 1999 at D-Q University to promote sovereignty, advancement, and honor.

During the session, the Seattle Times quoted W. Ron Allen, former president of the National Congress of American Indians. Allen said the majority of Indians “don’t buy into the breakaway philosophy” of the United Native Nations.

“The majority of tribes feel they are very much a part of the US and have a unique relationship with the US government,” Allen told the Times.

However, at the United Native Nations tribal members from many regions found the comments revolting. Lame Woman said, “NCAI has never done anything for us.”

David Bald Eagle, Tetunwun Lakota elder from Cheyenne River, SD serves on the United Native Nations Grand Council. He addressed Indian youths.

“Use the past, the traditional government with modern technology. Don’t look back, look ahead. Look forward with your new weapon, education.”

The Sisseton delegation spoke on the racism of law enforcement and false imprisonment of Indian youth in South Dakota.

Pipe Boy said, “If you are real quiet you will hear the cry of the Red Man. That is why we have come here today, to hear the cry of the Red Man.”

Source: Indian Country Today