Saturday, January 24, 2009


The latest book I've finished reading is Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army by Jeremy Scahill.
In the last decade the U.S. has increasingly been using private contractors to assist in its efforts to wage war. The spin that is given from Washington is that the contractors are just "providing security" and not actually involved in combat. Scahill clearly documents that these "contractors" are indeed involved in combat and in some cases even commanding enlisted members of the U.S. military.
The most disturbing fact about Blackwater is that they believe themselves to be above any law. They are quick to point out that as contractors they are not subject to the military justice system. They symultaniously claim that since the Pentagon counts them among the U.S total force that makes them immune from any civilian prosecution in the counties they operate, including the U.S.. So who do they answer too? They see themselves as above any laws besides their own company policies.
Scahill goes in depth into the leadership and history of Blackwater. The U.S. has officially claimed that the war in Iraq is a war against terrorism and not a religous war. This point seems to have escaped the leadership of Blackwater. Many of them are members of the Knights of Malta who still believe that the crusades are continuing and they claim to be gaurdians of the Christian hold lands in the Middle East.
The book was very scary. I found the book to be very well researched and I agree with most of the conclusions he has reached.
A few criticisms of the book:
Scahill's style is a little polarizing. He uses politically charged buzz words like "neo-con" frequently. That's surely his right, however his bias probably causes some folks who would have otherwise read it to put it down. A few of Scahill's conclusions were based on circumstaial evidence. He discloses this openly, but I question the ethics of including the conclusions at all without direct evidence.
I actually found much of the book to be rather repetative. Scahill seemed to have written several paragraphs to describe certian organizations, like the Knights of Malta and then inserted the same paragraphs all throughout the book whenever those organizations were mentioned. The result was that each chapter read as if they were separate stand alone articles and not one continuous book.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who is concerned about the details of how the U.S. is fighting the war on terror. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the the U.S. presence in Iraq. This book will have you seriously questioning the decision to fight this war with civilian mercinaries.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bringing the Dream Home

So the kids are all excited about having Martin Luther King's birthday off tomorrow. Eve was bouncing around the house and wanted to get some brown frosting so we could make cookies that look like Dr. King. I was a little concerned that she was more excited about having the day off from school and the prospect of cookies than she was Dr. King's accomplishments. So I asked her, "Eve, do you remember what Dr. King did for us." She didn't hesitate to answer and her response really brought it down to earth and convinced me that she really understood his accomplishments, "He changed the laws and made it so Selena and I could sit together."

Thank you Dr. King for making this picture and thousands more like it possible.

Monday, January 05, 2009

RE: The Accident New Years Day

Out of respect for the victims and their families I have removed my post about the car accident on New Years Day.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

How To Break a Terrorist

The latest book I’ve read is How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq by Matthew Alexander and John Bruning.

In the wake of the Abu Ghraib abuses, this story follows the actions of one interrogator in Iraq and his attempts to convert his fellow ‘gators to new methods that use compassion, understanding of their culture and religion to find common ground. Although his methods met with some resistance from the top as well as his peers, ultimately his methods are allowed to speak for themselves. While other other ‘gators are have no success with the traditional “fear and control” methods Alexander is able to build trust and provide valuable leads. He was able to get high level Al Qaeda leaders to sell out their superiors and ultimately Al Zarqawi for little more than an extra blanket and a paperback copy of a Harry Potter book.

This is the first book I’ve read that had large black marks through several paragraphs. Some of the information was sensitive to national security and was deleted by the Department of Defense. Originally the book had substantially more sections deleted by the DoD, but the author successfully sued to have those sections remain since he could show that all that information was also available from public domain sources.

One of the most interesting point to me was how few truly dedicated Al Qaeda leaders he actually found. Most of his peers used the phrase “Kool-Aid drinking Al Qaeda” to describe those who had truly forsaken all other ties including family to join the cause. By assuming that each detainee held these values the other ‘gators created an artificial barrier that they felt they had to tear down before they could get any other information from them. In actually this wall did not exist. Most would provide information to Alexander after he just explained to them that they both just wanted and Iraq where families could live in peace. The only true “Kool-Aid drinker” he found was a cocky 12-year old boy whose arrogance and desire to impress his captors provider valuable information. In the process of name dropping to show how high up he was in the organization he ultimately betrayed them. It’s both sad and comforting that this was the only “Kool-Aid drinker” Alexander found. Comforting because it shows how few are truly convinced that Al Qaeda is right. Sad because it shows how delusional the next generation may become.

One chapter of this book details how Alexander was forced to apologize to a family that was detained accidentally. His methods allow for and even demand that such efforts take place. By not automatically treating them as criminals and sticking to his philosophy of respect he was able to leave these law abiding Iraqis with a hand shack and a thank you. They even thanked and blessed him. Because in spite of the error they knew that he was honestly searching for a peaceful Iraq. If other chapters don’t convince you that we should be treating detainees with respect this one will.

If you believe that the ends justifies the means you won’t enjoy this book. If you think Al Qaeda was in Iraq before 2003 you won’t enjoy this book. If you think that harsh interrogation techniques like stress positions and water-boarding are effective and moral you will not enjoy reading this book. If you think that in order to fight and enemy you have to act like that enemy, and if you believe that dehumanizing your enemy will result in anything positive at all then you should avoid reading this book. Because in How to Break a Terrorist the author effectively demonstrates how simply treating a detainee with respect and building on things that we have in common is moral and effective, especially compared to the fear and control techniques used by others.