Here's how bad corruption is in Iraq. An Iraqi corruption judge, Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, the former head of the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity, is testifying now before the House oversight committee. It's been known that institutional mechanisms in the Iraqi criminal code allow the Iraqi ministers to stifle corruption investigations. But al-Radhi, who is now seeking asylum in the U.S., stated that a whopping $18 billion has been lost to thieves in "nearly every ministry." (That's not the U.S.-provided Iraqi Relief and Reconstruction Fund.) Corruption, he said, is not just getting worse, but has "stopped" reconstruction efforts.
Al-Radhi testified that the Maliki government's corruption "has helped fund sectarian militias," as has that of Maliki's rivals in the Sunni parties. According to al-Radhi, the militias controlling cities like Taji (Sunni) and Basra (Shiite) control oil sales and use the revenue to buy weapons. "These militias are from the parties' blocs, and it is a source of revenue for them." Even worse is what happens to those who try to stop the corruption: The militias have systematically targeted al-Radhi and his investigators. His staff and their relatives have been kidnapped, detained, tortured and murdered. Their bodies have been found hung on meat hooks, tortured with power drills, and attacked by suicide bombers.
He said Maliki -- who recently issued counter-charges of corruption against al-Radhi -- has protected his deputies and "his relatives" from corruption investigations. These are allegations that the State Department tried to stop Waxman from airing publicly.
Video of al-Radhi's opening statement coming shortly.
"Lies, deceit, greed. Most of all greed. This case is all about greed," Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Halpern told jurors as he laid out the government's case in his opening statements....
"The evidence will show the politician was bought by the defendant lock, stock and barrel," Halpern said, adding that the bribes include "the truly astonishing," such as machine gun lessons and the services of prostitutes.
Among the expected witnesses are Duke Cunningham's former staffers, former Pentagon officials, and Wilkes' nephew, who's expected to give the most detail about how his uncle kept Cunningham in pocket. Cunningham is on the prosecutors' witness list, but apparently is not likely to be called.
Wilkes' lawyer Mark Geragos will make his opening statement next Tuesday -- when we'll finally hear how he plans to get his client off the hook.
Federal Prosecutors have named top executives from TDC (a Louisiana-based company) as co-conspirators in William Jeffersonâs alleged bribery scheme. TDC was awarded a $450,000 grant from a government agency that Jefferson attempted to influence. No word yet on whether TDC kept the cash in their freezer. (The Hill)
Just after Alberto Gonzaleswas sworn in as Attorney General, the Justice Department began retreating from its 2004 public declaration that torture is âabhorrent.â The New York Times reports that under Gonzales, the department issued new, highly secretive endorsements of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the CIA. James Comey, then deputy attorney general told department colleagues at the time that they would be âashamedâ when the world eventually learned of the Gonzales-sponsored memos. (New York Times)
Under the recently enacted lobbying reform bill, former senators-cum-lobbyists are barred from working out in the senate gym during a one year âcooling off periodâ (in January the term will be extended to two years) but they are allowed to dine with colleagues in the Senate while active members discuss legislative agendas. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who organizes such lunches, insists, â"There's no lobbying that ever goes on," itâs just a âkind of a small courtesy to former senators." (Washington Post)
Off in Seattle, a former Army paratrooper lives and works behind the padlocked chain-link fence that surrounds his house. Though Blackwater will not confirm or deny whether he was an employee, he is the sole suspect in the shooting of the bodyguard of an Iraq vice president. His lawyer says he has not yet been charged with a crime. (NY Times)
Some farces, it turns out, can be avoided. The FBI team traveling to Iraq at the behest of the State Department to assist in the investigation of Blackwater's September 16 shooting at Nisour Square was supposed to be guarded by... Blackwater. (Shades of Darrell Issa's threat hover over that one.) However, the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security realized yesterday that the ensuing conflict of interest would be just too egregious.
Under Blackwater's State Department contract, the company provides security for all official travel outside the U.S.-protected Green Zone. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that security for the team would be handled by the department's Diplomatic Security Service.
Of course, the DSS needed a bit of prompting, which is perhaps to be expected after chief Richard Griffin's vigorous defense of Blackwater on Tuesday. In a letter, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) urged (pdf) Condoleezza Rice to step back from the precipice of absurdity.
You can add Sen. Pete Domenici's (R-NM) name to the flurry of Justice Department officials who bowed out in the wake of the U.S. attorney firing scandal. The Washington Postreports that he's expected to retire next November rather than seek reelection.
A brief walk down memory lane: in October of 2006, Domenici called U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias to ask about whether an indictment against a prominent state Democrat on public corruption charges was forthcoming before the election. When Iglesias said no, "the line went dead."
After ducking questions about the first reports of the call this February, then saying "I have no idea what he's talking about," he finally admitted that he'd made the call and said he regretted it.
"The scandal at the Department of Justice has gone on long enough," said Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-IL) back in March. "Careers have been destroyed and legitimate public corruption cases have been derailed. It is time for accountability -- it is time for the truth."
Six months and several Department senior resignations later, it's a different time. The urgency is gone.
More than two months after the House Judiciary Committee passed contempt resolutions against White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former counsel Harriet Miers for ignoring committee subpoenas, it's still unclear when, or if, Democrats will hold a vote on the full floor.
The leadership has indefinitely delayed taking up the issue. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) toldThe Politico last month, âI donât think anything is going to happen on that for a while,â and couldn't offer a range. Three weeks later, that hasn't changed.
And apparently scheduling concerns are not all that's at issue. A source familiar with the ongoing discussions told TPMmuckraker that getting the leadership to bring the contempt resolutions to the floor at all is an "uphill struggle."
The New York Times has a piece out today adding new details about the September 16 Blackwater shootings in Nisour Square. Relying largely on 12 Iraqis described as eyewitnesses, Iraqi investigators and a U.S. official familiar with one of the American investigations, the account suggests Blackwater's rules of engagement worked against both the Blackwater convoy and the Iraqis left dead and wounded.
The State Department's rules of engagement for Blackwater call for a series of escalating measures starting with signaled and verbal warnings to halt and progressing to the use of deadly force.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry account of the shooting is familiar by now: a car carrying a young family was ordered to stop by a traffic policeman so a Blackwater convoy could pass through. But the car rolled forward, resulting in Blackwater guards killing the driver, his wife and their young child -- and sparking the melee that followed.
But the Times reports that the car may have proceeded because its driver was already dead:
The car in which the first people were killed did not begin to closely approach the Blackwater convoy until the Iraqi driver had been shot in the head and lost control of his vehicle. Not one witness heard or saw any gunfire coming from Iraqis around the square. And following a short initial burst of bullets, the Blackwater guards unleashed an overwhelming barrage of gunfire even as Iraqis were turning their cars around and attempting to flee.
As the gunfire continued, at least one of the Blackwater guards began screaming, âNo! No! No!â and gesturing to his colleagues to stop shooting, according to an Iraqi lawyer who was stuck in traffic and was shot in the back as he tried to flee. The account of the struggle among the Blackwater guards corroborates preliminary findings of the American investigation.
Yesterday, Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater, said that it's far from clear that Blackwater did anything wrong. That response might be self serving, but it's not necessarily false -- at least from the perspective of the State Department-issued "escalation of force" policy.
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Last month, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) had a simple message: the President's nominee for attorney general, Michael Mukasey, wasn't going anywhere until the administration finally handed over documents he'd long been seeking.
But now it appears that things are moving along, though it seems that the administration hasn't handed over anything.
In a letter this morning, Leahy listed roughly a dozen questions he wanted answers to -- all of them relating to whether Mukasey would lead the Justice Department differently from Alberto Gonzales (e.g. would he fire a large number of U.S. attorneys at the direction of White House political operatives?). We've posted that letter below.
Chief on that list, apparently, is whether Mukasey would work with Leahy in a way that Gonzales, who often ignored Leahy's queries, did not. Leahy writes:
With so much to do and so much damage that needs to be repaired, I had hoped that the White House would have taken advantage of the time since the resignations of Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Rove to work with us to fulfill longstanding requests for information so that we could all agree about what went so wrong at the Department of Justice and work together to restore it. Instead, they have left you to answer the unanswered questions and left longstanding disputes unresolved.
Leahy offered to meet with Mukasey October 16th as a prelude to a confirmation hearing.
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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.
A new Supreme Court term, a new chance for a legal challenge to the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance efforts. Today the ACLU asked the Court to take up a case it brought last year against the administration by American citizens who suspect that their communications were unlawfully monitored.
Last year, District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ordered an injunction on the surveillance in response to the case, an order that led to the Bush administration placing the program(s) under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (well, for the time being). The Justice Department objected, saying the plaintiffs in the case -- a collection of "prominent journalists, scholars, attorneys and national advocacy organizations" -- couldn't prove they had been surveilled, since the administration wasn't revealing who it spied upon. Circuit Court Judge Alice Batchelder sided with the government in July.