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    • Looks like Scottish Independence is a “No”
      The calls are coming in. Assuming they are correct, I think this vote is a mistake, and I note that having been given a clean vote to leave and a chance to live their own values, but having given in to fear; for me, at least, Scottish complaints about privatization of the NHS and other [...]
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Federal Judge Dismisses All Charges Against Blackwater Guards in 2007 Shootings of 17 Iraquis

Blackwater plainclothes contractors

Just a short time ago, Federal Judge Ricard Urbina dismissed all charges against five Blackwater contractors who opened fire in a crowded square in Bagdad on September 16, 2007.

From the BBC News service:

District Judge Ricardo Urbina said the US justice department had used evidence prosecutors were not supposed to have.

The five had all pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. A sixth guard admitted killing at least one Iraqi.

The killings, which took place in Nisoor Square, Baghdad, strained Iraq’s relationship with the US and raised questions about US contractors operating in war zones.

The disputed evidence consisted of statements the five men gave to State Department investigators shortly after the shootings.

Judge Urbina said prosecutors should not have used those statements in the case, and that the US government’s explanation for this was “unbelievable”.

The five guards were Donald Ball, Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nick Slatten and Paul Slough – all of whom are decorated military veterans.

As well as the 14 counts of manslaughter, they had faced 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and one count of using a machine gun to commit a crime of violence, a charge that carries a 30-year minimum sentence.

Jeremy Scahill is an investigative reporter who has done more than any other writer to reveal the activities of Blackwater (aka Xe) head Erik Prince and his mercenaries in their roles as contractors for the U.S. government. He is the author of the book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. In October, 2007, Scahill appeared on Bill Moyers Journal to discuss the killings in Bagdad. You can listen to the interview here.

Here is Scahill’s blog post on today’s outrageous dismissal of the case against the five Blackwater guards.

A federal judge in Washington DC has given Erik Prince’s Blackwater mercenaries a huge New Year’s gift. Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed all charges against the five Blackwater operatives accused of gunning down 14 innocent Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in September 2007. Judge Urbina’s order, issued late in the afternoon on New Year’s Eve is a stunning blow for the Iraqi victims’ families and sends a clear message that US-funded mercenaries are above all systems of law—US and international.

In a memo defending his opinion, Urbina cited a similar rationale used in the dismissal of charges against Iran-Contra figure Oliver North—namely that the government violated the rights of the Blackwater men by using statements they made to investigators in the immediate aftermath of the shooting to build a case against the guards, which Urbina said qualified for “derivative use immunity.”

Scahill provides links to the decision a the Judge’s 90-page memo explaining it.

In this recent post, Scahill provides statistics for the government’s use of private contractors in Afghanistan alone. As of December 17, 2009, according to Scahill, there were “189,000 personnel on the ground in Afghanistan right now—and that number is quickly rising.” Other Blackwater employees are deployed in Iraq and have been used by the CIA in Pakistan. They are representing us and are being paid with our tax dollars.

I for one do not want these men representing me. I think it is disgraceful that Blackwater “contractors” are allowed to get away with committing murders in the name of the people of the United States of America.

Friday Mid-Morning News and Views

For me the biggest news of the day comes from Jeremy Scahill’s revelations about the relationship between Blackwater (aka Xe) head Eric Prince and the CIA. According to Scahill Prince has been working as a CIA asset for years, and that Blackwater contractors with U.S. backing are effectively engaging in a covert war in Pakistan.

In addition, Scahill revealed that there are more than 100,000 contractors in Afghanistan now in addition to the 100,000 U.S. military troops who will be there after Obama’s latest troop “surge.” Scahill wrote the cover story for this week’s The Nation. Unfortunately the story is not yet available on-line to non-subscribers. However Scahill did appear on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC program last night. Here is the video.

A few days ago, Scahill also talked about his latest Blackwater research in an interview with Laura Flanders:

There is also a major story on Eric Prince in the January issue of Vanity Fair.

I put myself and my company at the C.I.A.’s disposal for some very risky missions,” says Erik Prince as he surveys his heavily fortified, 7,000-acre compound in rural Moyock, North Carolina. “But when it became politically expedient to do so, someone threw me under the bus.” Prince—the founder of Blackwater, the world’s most notorious private military contractor—is royally steamed. He wants to vent. And he wants you to hear him vent.

I haven’t had time to read the full interview yet. I hope to get to it over the weekend.


In other news….

Top Congressional Researcher on Afghanistan Fired

The top congressional official who oversees research on foreign policy and defense issues, including the war in Afghanistan, has been fired from his job after publishing a newspaper op-ed criticizing the Obama administration’s recent decision about bringing Guantánamo detainees to trial.

Morris Davis, the assistant director of the Congressional Research Service’s foreign policy and defense division and the former chief prosecutor of the U.S. military commissions, says that the American Civil Liberties Union plans to challenge his dismissal in a letter to CRS’s longtime director, Daniel Mulhollan, on Friday. The letter will contend that Mulhollan violated Davis’s First Amendment rights to free speech by firing him and will threaten the service with a lawsuit if he is not reinstated, says an ACLU spokeswoman.

Politico thinks the Massachusetts Senate Race is boring Could that be because a woman–Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley–is leading the race by double digits? Politico seems disappointed that there are no Kennedys in the race. Massachusetts citizens are more interested in electing a Senator who will be responsive to their needs than having a celebrity studded primary.

Get this–according to Politico, Michael Capuano, Coakley’s nearest rival, is terrified of a “Rick Lazio moment.”

“We all learned from his mistake,” Capuano said in an interview of the former New York congressman’s debate badgering of Hillary Clinton, which has become political shorthand for what male candidates ought not to do against female opponents. “There are certain rules of engagement.”

It’s not just debates where the gender issue has surfaced — it hangs over the campaign because of the otherwise liberal state’s not-so-progressive history when it comes to women candidates….

…in last year’s historic Democratic presidential primary, much of the state’s political establishment — including the governor and both senators — rallied behind the man over the woman.

“That left a bad taste in women’s mouths,” said Marsh, adding that it seems to be playing out again this year, with nearly all of the men in the House delegation backing their colleague.

Oh really? Izzat so. Poor Mikey C., getting beat up by woman because of the “rules of engagement.”

Also from Politico, a number of opinion leaders weigh in on whether Ben Bernacke should get four more years as head of the Fed.

President Obama is running some PR operation and calling it a “jobs summit,” but The New York Times reports that there won’t be any money to speak of to back up any job creation effort by the administration. That’s as to be expected–unlimited funds for bankers and war, while middle-class, working-class, and poor Americans can go f**k themselves.

Mr. Obama said he would entertain “every demonstrably good idea” for creating jobs, but he cautioned that “our resources are limited.”

The president said he would announce some new ideas of his own next week. One of those, he indicated when he participated in a discussion group on clean energy, would be a program of weatherization incentives for homeowners and small businesses modeled on the popular “cash for clunkers” program.

What about the people who have lost their houses Mr. President–and the people who were already homeless? What kind of weatherization program will you recommend for them. I can’t wait for the big speech!

The Wall Street Journal reports that Allentown, PA workers and business people may not welcome President Obama’s “Main Street tour” with open arms.


Main Street Tour Faces Frosty Greeting

When President Barack Obama launches a multicity tour Friday to take Main Street’s temperature, he will likely get a cool reception from business leaders and workers here who say he hasn’t delivered.

Swing voters in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley helped Mr. Obama win this pivotal, populous state. But the region’s jobless rate inched up another half percentage point in October to 9.8%. About 41,000 people are out of work, the highest number since 1984.

Finally, here’s a “just for fun” story:


Cat Cams: What DO Cats Do Home Alone?

Fifty house cats were given collar cameras that took a photo every 15 minutes. The results put a digital dent in some human theories about catnapping.

Based on the photos, about 22 percent of the cats’ time was spent looking out of windows, 12 percent was used to interact with other family pets and 8 percent was spent climbing on chairs or kitty condos. Just 6 percent of their hours were spent sleeping.

What are you reading this morning? Please post links in the comments.


HAVE A FABULOUS FRIDAY!!!!

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