Friday Newswrap

May 22, 2009

And what a Friday. Lovely and sunny, cloudy spells in the north and murderous air strikes in Afghanistan:

NATO soldiers on patrol in the southern province of Helmand on Tuesday came under attack from about 25 insurgents, the alliance’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

“Finding it difficult to extract themselves from this dangerous situation, ISAF troops resorted to calling for close air support,” it said…A plane dropped a bomb. “Tragically, it is believed that eight civilians were killed as a result of the air strike,” it said.

And the U.S. won’t be ponying up to close the internment camp ar Guantanamo Bay, but it will for more mass destruction in Central Asia:

The Senate on Thursday passed a $91.3 billion military spending bill, shorn of money President Barack Obama wants to close the Guantanamo Bay prison but allowing him to significantly ramp up the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Debate pretty much fizzled after Democrats retreated and moved to delete from the bill money to close Guantanamo, where about 240 terrorism suspects still are held. The companion House bill had already taken that step…The underlying war funding measure has gotten relatively little attention, even though it would boost total approved spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars above $900 billion.

..In the end, several amendments were added, including one by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to block the release under the Freedom of Information Act of government photographs showing the abuse of detainees.

Private military companies continue to run amok, with Blackwater guards having been armed with AK 47s in Afghanistan despite a prohibition from the U.S. government:

Justin Cannon and Steven McClain said Thursday that they frequently asked superiors why the company distributed the AK-47 assault rifles without Department of Defense authorization…”We were just told, ‘Continue doing your job. Don’t worry about it. That’s above your paygrade,‘” Cannon, 27, of Texas, said in an interview with The Associated Press. The men were involved in a shooting earlier this month that killed an Afghan and injured two others, and they recently returned to the U.S., saying they were cleared to leave after an interview with military investigators.

And the U.S. military continues to be a virtual black hole, into which public billions vanish, never to be seen again:

In its first audit report since being formed a year ago, the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says the Combined Security Transition Command “lacks effective contract oversight capabilities.”

It is the command’s responsibility to ensure U.S. tax dollars are spent properly, the audit says. That means command staff must visit locations where contractors are working to verify that contractors are following the terms of their deals with the government.

This is not happening,” the audit said.

E.g.

Fields’ office examined one training contract worth $404 million and found the official responsible for monitoring contractor performance was located at an Army office in Maryland — nine time zones away.

The report does not name the contractor because the auditors did not assess the vendor’s performance. But in comments from command authorities in an appendix to the report, the company is identified as MPRI. Headquartered in Alexandria, Va., MPRI is a large consulting firm led by retired U.S. military officers.

[C/ref MPRI and Croatia]

More U.S. soldiers, and many more civilians, have died in Baghdad, fighting the forgotten war. But, there’s a glimmer of hope for those seeking justice for Jose Cousso, a Spanish journalist killed by U.S. tankfire in 2003.

And the trial of the CIA agents accused of illegally kidnapping (and subsequent torturing) of the cleric Abu Omar from the streets of Milan is grinding ahead.

A Milan judge rejected a defense request to lift arrest warrants against the 26 Americans, most of whom are believed to be CIA agents, despite some of the evidence being made inadmissible by state secrecy rules.

..Judge Oscar Magi was responding to a March constitutional court ruling that said some evidence was classified, prompting the defense to ask him to toss out the whole Abu Omar case.

Somalia continues to descend once more into violence, as the government loses its grip over Mogadishu. The U.S.-backed government is counter-attacking, and 5 are reported to have been killed, including one journalist. But at least 7 have also died in flooding, as an overnight storm washed away homes in the nation’s capital.

Eritrea is being blamed by nations in the Horn of Africa for the resurgence of violence, with little evidence, according to the nation’s president, Isais Afewerki, who blames the CIA. IGAD, a grouping set up by the U.S., is calling for sanctions to be placed on the poor, coastal nation, whose leader has recently come out as a staunch critic of western financial policies.

Meanwhile, the trial continues of Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, accused of taking part in a pirate attack on an American merchant ship last month. Muse is pleading not guilty. Moreover:

[His lawyer Phil] Weinstein also protested the conditions in which his client is being held, saying “they are giving him medications that he doesn’t understand,” and adding Muse was “unable to communicate with anyone exept us, once or twice a week.”

A lawyer from the group which is defending Muse, Fiona Doherty, said their defense was based on the fact that Muse had voluntarily turned himself over to the US Navy…”We think he will be exonerated. He was the one who requested permission to board the US ship. He was trying to negotiate for the safety of captain Phillips.”

And regardless of pirate attacks, plucky little Australian oil company Range Resources continues its operations in the Puntland region of Somalia. More on that later…

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