New revelations from ABC News of Blackwater International being accussed of illegally smuggling silencers into Iraq raises questions as to whether they are conducting or aiding assassinations there:
New Blackwater Iraq Scandal: Guns, Silencers and Dog Food
Ex-employees Tell ABC News the Firm Used Dog Food Sacks to Smuggle Unauthorized Weapons to Iraq
By Brian Ross and Jason Ryan
A federal grand jury in North Carolina is investigating allegations the controversial private security firm Blackwater illegally shipped assault weapons and silencers to Iraq, hidden in large sacks of dog food, ABCNews.com has learned.
Under State Department rules, Blackwater is prohibited from using certain assault weapons and silencers in Iraq because they are considered “offensive” weapons inappropriate for Blackwater’s role as a private security firm protecting US diplomatic missions.
“The only reason you need a silencer is if you want to assassinate someone,” said former CIA intelligence officer John Kiriakou, an ABC News consultant.
Six Blackwater employees are under investigation by another federal grand jury, in Washington, D.C., in connection with the shooting deaths of at least 17 civilians in September, 2007 at a Baghdad traffic circle. Prosecutors are expected to return indictments in the next few weeks, according to people familiar with the case.
The investigation of the alleged dog food smuggling scheme began last year after two Blackwater employees were caught trying to sell stolen weapons in North Carolina. The two, Kenneth Cashwell and William “Max” Grumiaux pleaded guilty in February and became government witnesses, according to court documents.
Two other former employees tell ABCNews.com they also witnessed the dog food smuggling operation. They say the weapons were actually hidden inside large sacks of dog food, packaged at company headquarters in North Carolina and sent to Iraq for the company’s 20 bomb-sniffing dogs.
Larger items, including M-4 assault weapons, were secreted on shipping pallets surrounded by stacks of dog food bags, the former employees said. The entire pallet would be wrapped in cellophane shrink wrap, the former employees said, making it less likely US Customs inspectors would look too closely.
Last year, a US Department of Commerce inspector at JFK airport in New York discovered an unlicensed two-way radio hidden in a dog food sack being shipped by Blackwater to Iraq, according to people familiar with the incident.
A Blackwater spokesperson, Anne Tyrrell, said certain arms shipmens were sent to Iraq surrounded by dog food “to secure them on the airplane and not to smuggle them.” Tyrrell said she could not comment on specifics because of “the ongoing investigation” but she denied the company had done anything wrong.
In addition to the grand jury investigation, Blackwater sources say the company is facing a multi-million dollar fine for some 900 instances in which it violated State Department licensing requirements for the export of certain weapons.
Of the 900 cases, about 100 of them have been referred to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution, according to lawyers briefed on the case.
Last month, Blackwater hired a team of former federal law enforcement officials and defense experts that it said would review the company’s compliance with export laws.
Andrew Howell, Blackwater’s general counsel, said, “Ongoing reviews by the Department of Justice, State and Commerce have highlighted the need for a significant and systems-wide initiative.”
Another former Blackwater insider who talked with ABCNews.com said company executives made the decision to smuggle the weapons and silencers in the dog food “because it’s a war over there and our guys need them.”
Despite four separate federal grand jury investigations of its operations, Blackwater’s contract to provide security services for the US State Department was renewed earlier this year. The contract pays Blackwater $250 million a year and runs for five years.
Adam Zagorin in Time reports on new evidence suggesting prosecutorial misconduct in the trial of former Alabama democratic Governor Don Siegelman. the fact that the emails he discusses were available to the Justice Department over a year ago and yet they did nothing suggests possible obstruction of justice. Surprise!
More Allegations of Misconduct in Alabama Governor Case
By Adam Zagorin
Next month in Atlanta, a federal court will hear the high-profile appeal of former Alabama governor Don E. Siegelman, whose conviction on corruption charges in 2006 became one of the most publicly debated cases to emerge from eight years of controversy at the Bush Justice Department. Now new documents highlight alleged misconduct by the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney and other prosecutors in the case, including what appears to be extensive and unusual contact between the prosecution and the jury.
The documents, obtained by TIME, include internal prosecution e-mails given to the Justice Department and Congress by a whistle-blower during the last 18 months. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which investigated the Siegelman case as part of a broader inquiry into alleged political interference in the hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys by the Bush Justice Department, last week sent an eight-page letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey citing the new material.
Conyers says the evidence raises “serious questions” about the U.S. Attorney in the Siegelman case, who, documents show, continued to involve herself in the politically charged prosecution long after she had publicly withdrawn to avoid an alleged conflict of interest relating to her husband, a top GOP operative and close associate of Bush adviser Karl Rove. Conyers’ letter also cites evidence of numerous contacts between jurors and members of the Siegelman prosecution team that were never disclosed to the trial judge or defense counsel.
The letter to Mukasey is a signal that Democrats intend to probe what critics call the “dark side” of the Bush Administration even after it leaves office, according to congressional sources. Besides the Siegelman prosecution, such investigations could focus on the authorization of harsh interrogation methods, and the role of the former White House aides Karl Rove and Harriet E. Miers in the firing of U.S. attorneys.
Siegelman was released on bail earlier this year after a Federal court ruled that his appeal raises “substantial questions.” But the issue that turned the case into a national controversy was the allegation of political bias. Critics, including a bipartisan group of 52 state attorneys general, have raised numerous questions, including the allegation that Siegelman was prosecuted at the insistence of Bush-appointed officials at the Justice Department, and of Leura G. Canary, a U.S. Attorney in Montgomery whose husband was Alabama’s top Republican operative and who had for years worked closely with Rove.
When the House Judiciary Committee looked into the Siegelman affair earlier this year, DoJ issued statements, placed in the Congressional record, maintaining that the case had been handled only by career prosecutors, not political appointees, and that Canary had recused herself in 2002, “before any significant decisions … were made.”
But new documents furnished by DoJ staffer Tamarah T. Grimes tell a different story. A legal aide who worked in the Montgomery office that prosecuted Siegelman, Grimes first submitted her documents to DoJ watchdogs in 2007, and now finds herself in an employment dispute that could result in her dismissal. Grimes’ lawyer had no comment.
The documents — whose authenticity is not in dispute — include e-mails written by Canary, long after her recusal, offering legal advice to subordinates handling the case. At the time Canary wrote the e-mails, her husband — Alabama GOP operative William J. Canary — was a vocal booster of the state’s Republican governor, Bob Riley, who had defeated Siegelman for the office and against whom Siegelman was preparing to run again. Canary also received tens of thousands of dollars in fees from other political opponents of Siegelman.
In one of Leura Canary’s e-mails, dated September 19, 2005, she forwards senior prosecutors on the Siegelman case a three-page political commentary by Siegelman. Canary highlighted a single passage which, she told her subordinates, “Ya’ll need to read, because he refers to a ‘survey’ which allegedly shows that 67% of Alabamans believe the investigation of him to be politically motivated.” Canary then suggests: “Perhaps [this is] grounds not to let [Siegelman] discuss court activities in the media!”
Prosecutors in the case seem to have followed Canary’s advice. A few months later they petitioned the court to prevent Siegelman from arguing that politics had any bearing on the case against him. After trial, they persuaded the judge to use Siegelman’s public statements about political bias — like the one Canary had flagged in her e-mail — as grounds for increasing his prison sentence. The judge’s action is now one target of next month’s appeal.
“A recused United States Attorney should not be providing factual information … to the team working on the case under recusal,” Conyers wrote Mukasey last week. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said only that “the Department will review the letter.” A spokesperson for Canary said she had nothing to add.
Beyond providing the e-mails, Grimes has given a written statement to the Department of Justice noting that U.S. Attorney Canary had “kept up with every detail of the [Siegelman] case”. If true, Conyers told Mukasey this raises “serious concerns” because “It is difficult to imagine the reason for a recused USA to remain so involved in the day to day progress of the matter under recusal.”
Grimes last year also gave DoJ additional e-mails detailing previously undisclosed contacts between prosecutors and members of the Siegelman jury. In nine days of deliberation, jurors twice told the judge they were deadlocked and could not reach a decision. After the panel finally delivered a conviction, allegations emerged that jurors had discussed the case in e-mails among themselves and downloaded Internet material — serious breaches which could have invalidated the verdict. But the trial judge ruled that the jurors’ alleged misconduct was harmless.
The DoJ conducted its own inquiry into some of Grimes’ claims, and wrote a report dismissing them as inconsequential. But the report shows that investigators did not question U.S. marshals or jurors who had allegedly been in touch with the prosecution.
A key prosecution e-mail describes how jurors repeatedly contacted the government’s legal team during the trial to express, among other things, one juror’s romantic interest in a member of the prosecution team. “The jurors kept sending out messages” via U.S. marshals, the e-mail says, identifying a particular juror as “very interested” in a person who had sat at the prosecution table in court. The same juror was later described reaching out to members of the prosecution team for personal advice about her career and educational plans. Conyers commented that the “risk of [jury] bias … is obvious”.
What’s more, when prosecutors conducted their own investigation of suspected improper conduct by jurors after the trial, two of them were interviewed, despite express instructions from the judge that no contact with jurors should occur without his permission. Those interviews were not publicly disclosed until nearly two years later, when the head of DoJ’s criminal division belatedly wrote all parties, including the Appeals Court in Atlanta, to inform them.
Further undisclosed evidence of prosecution team members speaking with jurors following the verdict emerges in Grimes’ written statement to the DoJ. In it, she says a member of the team prosecuting Siegelman had spoken with a juror suspected of improper conduct — apparently at the time the judge was due to question the juror about that conduct. Grimes quotes the lead prosecutor in the case as saying someone had “talked to her. She is just scared and afraid she is going to get in trouble.”
In his letter to the Attorney General, Conyers calls this additional juror contact “important information”, noting, “It is startling to see such repeated instances of Federal prosecutors failing to keep the defense apprised of key developments in an active criminal case.” He might have added that the judge was, in some instances, apparently not in on the secret either.
Mark Benjamin, in Salon, writes what he is hearing of Obama’s plans for a truth Commission, with possible, though not that likely, future prosecutions. Hanging over the latter is the threat of a blanket Bush pardon for those involved in the torture program:
Obama’s plans for probing Bush torture
President Bush could pardon officials involved in brutal interrogations — but he may also face a sweeping investigation under the new president.
By Mark Benjamin
WASHINGTON — With growing talk in Washington that President Bush may be considering an unprecedented “blanket pardon” for people involved in his administration’s brutal interrogation policies, advisors to Barack Obama are pressing ahead with plans for a nonpartisan commission to investigate alleged abuses under Bush.
The Obama plan, first revealed by Salon in August, would emphasize fact-finding investigation over prosecution. It is gaining currency in Washington as Obama advisors begin to coordinate with Democrats in Congress on the proposal. The plan would not rule out future prosecutions, but would delay a decision on that matter until all essential facts can be unearthed. Between the time necessary for the investigative process and the daunting array of policy problems Obama will face upon taking office, any decision on prosecutions probably would not come until a second Obama presidential term, should there be one.
The proposed commission — similar in thrust to a Democratic investigation proposal first uncovered by Salon in July — would examine a broad scope of activities, including detention, torture and extraordinary rendition, the practice of snatching suspected terrorists off the street and whisking them off to a third country for abusive interrogations. The commission might also pry into the claims by the White House — widely rejected by experienced interrogators — that abusive interrogations are an effective and necessary intelligence tool.
A common view among those involved with the talks is that any early effort to prosecute Bush administration officials would likely devolve quickly into ugly and fruitless partisan warfare. Second is that even if Obama decided he had the appetite for it, prosecutions in this arena are problematic at best: A series of memos from the Bush Justice Department approved the harsh tactics, and Congress changed the War Crimes Act in 2006, making prosecutions of individuals involved in interrogations more difficult.
Instead, a commission empowered by Congress would have the authority to compel witnesses to testify and even to grant immunity in exchange for information. Should a particularly ugly picture emerge, the option of prosecutions would still theoretically be on the table later, however unlikely.
In Obama’s camp, there is a sense among some that such a commission would essentially mean letting Bush get away with crimes. “People have called for criminal investigations,” one person familiar with the talks told me this summer as plans got under way. On Wednesday, a person participating in the talks confirmed that some people involved in the planning felt strongly that the commission would amount to “bullshit” and that Bush officials should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
But few think prosecutions are realistic, given the formidable legal hurdles and the huge policy problems competing for Obama’s attention. Among them is the complicated task of closing down the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, which Obama advisors say is a priority. Some observers outside the Obama camp are also questioning how much Democrats really want exposed with regard to interrogation, since top Democrats in Congress were briefed in secret on some of the harshest tactics used by the CIA and appear to have done little, or perhaps nothing, to stop them.
Further complicating the Obama team’s planning is uncertainty about what President Bush might do. On the one hand, a blanket pardon for anyone involved in the interrogations could be viewed by the public as a tacit admission of colossal wrongdoing — after years of public denial — which would do nothing to help Bush’s tarnished legacy. Yet, if the administration fears an investigation will follow Bush out the door in January, they may not want to leave officials exposed to potentially revealing criminal proceedings. Bush might seek to frame a blanket pardon as a preemptive strike against wrongheaded, partisan retribution.
Constitutional scholars say a pardon of this kind would be an unprecedented move — the prospective pardon of not just individuals but entire categories of people, perhaps numbering in the thousands, for carrying out the president’s orders , which the White House has argued all along were legal.
Those scholars agree, however, that Article II of the Constitution gives Bush much latitude: There is no authority that can stop the president from doing so if he wishes, and there is no outside check or balance to revisit such a decision, however controversial it may be. “The president can do with pardoning power whatever he wants,” explained University of Wisconsin Law School professor Stanley Kutler. “It is complete and plenary unto itself.”
A blanket pardon from Bush could cover, for example, anyone who participated in, had knowledge of, or received information about Bush’s interrogation program during the so-called war on terror. Not only are there potentially too many people to name without risking missing somebody, but some of the names are presumably classified.
“The classic pardon is an identifiable individual; here you are talking about potentially thousands of people involved in illegal activities,” explained Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington Law School. A blanket pardon of this variety, Turley said, “would allow a president to engage in massive illegality and generally pardon the world for any involvement in unlawful activity.”
There are, in fact, some constitutional scholars who believe a pardon might actually facilitate more complete participation in a fact-finding commission, by removing the threat of looming liability. “Holding people accountable is certainly nice, but in terms of healing the country and moving forward, so is actually getting a clear picture of what happened and letting the public make an informed decision,” said Kermit Roosevelt at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “If we had a pardon followed by something like a truth and reconciliation commission, that might not be such a bad outcome.” (Roosevelt represents a detainee held at Guantánamo.)
The politics of it would be fraught with danger, however, and could so blemish Bush’s legacy that some doubt he would go so far. “A pardon is an admission of guilt,” noted Donald Kettl, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Bush has argued for years that his interrogation program was perfectly legal. With a pardon, Kettl said, Bush is essentially saying, “Gee, maybe we did not do the right thing.”
It is not entirely unprecedented for a president to grant a pardon based on a category of behavior, rather than pardoning an individual by name. The day after his inauguration, President Carter pardoned all those who avoided the Vietnam draft by failing to register or by fleeing to Canada. George Washington pardoned participants in the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion. Andrew Johnson pardoned Confederate soldiers in 1865.
But these were pardons designed to foster reconciliation, handed out to categories of individuals who acted on their own conscience, rather than the president’s own allegedly illegal orders. “This would be a different deal completely,” explained Kettl. “It would be anticipating that people thought the official policy of the administration was wrong.”