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Year 2005 No. 110, September 21, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Shame on Blair as Apologist for Bush Regime’s Criminal Negligence

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Shame on Blair as Apologist for Bush Regime’s Criminal Negligence

One Sentence That Tells Us So Much about Tony Blair

Statement of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) - September 11, 2005

Government Refusal to Take Social Responsibility is a Crime

Reject the Failed US State! The People Are the Only Reliable Force!

News From Behind the Facade

Overkill in New Orleans

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Shame on Blair as Apologist for Bush Regime’s Criminal Negligence

While the world has been truly appalled at what is at best the criminal negligence of the Bush administration over the plight and treatment of the population of New Orleans and other victims of hurricane Katrina, Tony Blair has seen fit to focus on the BBC coverage which he called “full of hatred for America”. The reports came via media baron Rupert Murdoch, with whom it is known the Prime Minister sees eye to eye on many matters pertaining to world affairs. In this context, Martin Bell, the former BBC foreign correspondent and independent MP, told the Scotland on Sunday newspaper, “Tony Blair was telling Murdoch what he wanted to hear because he needs Murdoch's support.” 

            Be that as it may, the burning sense of outrage felt by so many as a natural disaster became a conscious assault by a government on a whole section of its citizens was also reflected, and could not help be reflected, in the coverage, not only of BBC reporters, but of any commentary with an ounce of integrity. It could really count as a badge of honour rather than a criticism that in these circumstances the BBC’s response to the unfolding criminality of the US authorities was described as “full of hatred for America”.

            Could it be that the Labour government would like to have the BBC give only its “official” line? Such criticism of the BBC as Tony Blair’s is of a piece with the government’s hounding of the corporation over the affair of David Kelly and the infamous and discredited “dossier” over Iraq’s fictitious “weapons of mass destruction”.

            Tony Blair and the British government have been one of the chief elaborators of what is in their mouths the chauvinist doctrine of “failed states”, “failing states” and the like. The doctrine runs that any state not in the Anglo-American mould of representative democracy is deficient and probably evil also. If that state cannot take responsibility for its people, then it cannot be classed as a modern state, the argument goes, and deserves western intervention and correction as a “failed” or “failing” state. That doctrine has now come home to roost with the US administration, both as the tragedy of Anglo-American intervention in and occupation of Iraq continues to deepen, and now as the Bush administration washes its hands of its responsibility for the fate of its citizens as citizens. It has been left to the people’s forces themselves to organise on a simply humanitarian basis using their own resources and initiative in the face of the criminality and militarism of the authorities.

            WDIE condemns the criminal negligence of the Bush administration and the US “failed state”. We call on the working class and people also to condemn the response of the British government, and to draw the appropriate conclusions as to who, exactly, is blocking the progress of humanity, as to what, exactly, are the globalisation plans stemming from Tony Blair’s “conscience” designed to achieve in Africa and elsewhere.

            The agenda of the “war on terror” together with the disdain for the fate of the people together are demonstrating that it is the ruling elites of US and Britain which are a blight on society and must be swept aside by the people’s forces before unleashing even further devastation, war and fascism on humankind. The future lies with progressive humanity and the working class and people must organise to release the enormous potential and initiative which the Anglo-American criminals at the helm of state are striving to smash.

Article Index

One Sentence That Tells Us So Much about Tony Blair

Jonathan Freedland, Wednesday September 21, 2005, Guardian

You've got to hand it to Rupert Murdoch – he still knows a good story when he hears one. Like any good journalist, his antennae twitch, and he is overwhelmed by the urge to tell the world what he knows. No wonder he was bursting last Friday to tell a New York gathering about his latest confidential chat with Tony Blair. Turns out, he whispered, that while the PM was in India, he had watched BBC World's coverage of Hurricane Katrina. "And," Murdoch explained, "he said it was just full of hate for America and gloating about our troubles."

            Of course Murdoch couldn't keep that to himself. For that one little sentence speaks volumes about the British prime minister, about what he believes and where he now stands. It is a gem, worthy of the closest examination.

            Start with the central thrust, an attack on the BBC. The David Kelly affair dominated British politics for so long chiefly because it opened up a desperately needed debate about the honesty of the war on Iraq. But it also touched on another live rail that runs through our public life: the independence of a publicly funded broadcaster.

            The BBC took a hammering from Lord Hutton, losing its two top people as a result, yet polling showed that it retained the public trust. Downing Street had won the battle, yet oddly it had lost the war; one post-Hutton survey found that two in three Britons trusted the BBC, while less than a third of them had faith in the government. That was partly a verdict on the BBC's general performance, but it was also, surely, a statement of principle. People want a broadcaster rigorously independent of the state, one that will stand up to the politicians when the moment demands.

            Blair's remark to Murdoch shows he does not understand that simple point. He is still playing a game Downing Street should have given up after Hutton: seeking to intimidate the BBC into changing its editorial line.

            The fact that BBC bias was on Blair's mind at all is the second striking aspect of Murdoch's indiscretion. What does it say about Blair that his prime reaction to seeing the images of despair and suffering from New Orleans was not to wonder about the state of modern America but to rage against the BBC? How refreshing it would have been if Blair had shared with Murdoch, privately of course, his concern that a society so rich had done so little for its poor. Or his shock that a technological and military superpower could be so slow to save its own. Or his disappointment that Hurricane Katrina's victims seemed to have been colour-coded, that those who managed to get away were white, while those left waving from rooftops or floating, lifeless, in the floodwater were black.

            But no. This was not what made Blair shake his head in fury in his Delhi hotel room. What he saw on the BBC appalled him all right, but his ire was stirred by the messenger, not the message.

            It was left to Bill Clinton, Rupert's host, to subtly point out Blair's error. Not for the first time, he offered a remark that sounded like a defence of Blair but that, on closer inspection, made clear his disagreement with him. (The ex-president has done the same on Iraq.) He said he too had seen the specific report the PM had apparently referred to but had found "nothing factually inaccurate" in it. Still, he admitted, it was "almost exclusively" designed to criticise the Bush administration's response to the crisis.

            See the difference? Blair, as summarised by Murdoch (and Downing Street has not disputed his account), accuses the BBC of hatred of America. Clinton accuses the BBC of excessive criticism of the current US administration. That is a huge distinction, the same one cited in their defence by countless critics of the Iraq war. Their objection is not to America itself, but to this specific US government. Their stance is anti-Bush, anti-Republican perhaps, but not anti-American. Clinton can see that. Blair cannot. He believes that if you are outraged by Bush's lethargy in the face of a terrible catastrophe, then you are "full of hate for America" and gloat at its troubles. In fact, the opposite is true.

            But let's not overlook one of the key aspects of Blair's attack on the BBC – the fact that he voiced it to Rupert Murdoch. There is a political pander here, which is no crime but hardly edifying to contemplate. To state the obvious, Murdoch is a global broadcaster who has long had the BBC in his sights. He despises all it represents, starting with its status as a public, rather than commercial, organisation. It is a direct rival. By slating the BBC, Blair was tickling Rupert, hoping, perhaps, that the tycoon would see the PM as an ally.

            This deference to Murdoch, we know, is not new. The memoirs of the former spin operative Lance Price, before they were purged, reveal that Labour "promised News International we won't make any changes to our Europe policy without talking to them". It's worth remembering that one of the early accusations of Downing Street dishonesty in which Alastair Campbell was caught out was his 1998 denial to the lobby of the claim that Blair had intervened with the then Italian prime minister Romano Prodi on behalf of Murdoch. Campbell called the claim "a complete joke" and "crap" before having to admit that, er, the two leaders had discussed the matter after all. Murdoch was indiscreet on that occasion, too, confessing that Blair's report back on his call with Prodi had led him to change his business plans. He was clearly grateful.

            So we know that Blair is solicitous to Murdoch, to the point of subservience. That is all of a piece with a choice of friends that includes Silvio Berlusconi, the ousted the Spanish conservative José Maria Aznar and, lest we forget, George Bush. How dearly Blair wanted to add Angela Merkel to that list, his aides briefing anyone who would listen that Gerhard Schröder was history and that Merkel would carry the Blairite torch in Berlin.

            Therefore we owe Murdoch a great debt. He has given us a single sentence that says so much. It reveals a Labour prime minister whose every instinct is at odds with the movement he leads. The BBC or Fox News? He chooses Fox. The victims of Katrina or the Bush White House? His sympathies go to the White House. German Social Democrat or the Prussian Thatcher? He chooses Thatcher.

            This is Tony Blair, utterly out of step with the party he has led for 11 years. There is no outrage, just a shrug of the shoulders. Next week at the party conference he will get a standing ovation, as out of reach as an American second-term president – there is no realistic way of getting rid of him. Instead Labour will just wait for the day he goes, off to meet his inevitable destiny – the US lecture circuit – to earn millions and eat fine dinners with the Kissingers and Murdochs, the Berlusconis and Bushes, who are for him what Labour never was: his natural home.

Article Index

Down with the US Failed State!
Let Us Together Affirm the Right to Be!
Organise to Change the World!

Statement of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) - September 11, 2005

On the occasion of the 4th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC, the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) condemns the Bush administration's "war on terror" which, far from defending the internal and external security of the peoples of the US and the world, is an excuse to unleash aggression and wanton destruction on Iraq and impose its "New World Order" based on US dictate. CPC(ML) reiterates its full support for the victims of US-led state terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and all terrorist acts around the world.

            On this occasion, CPC(ML) also expresses its profound condolences to the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and all the United States on the terrible loss of life and suffering as a result of the failure of the US state to handle the consequences of Hurricane Katrina. CPC(ML) condemns the criminal US failed state and its ruling class which has become most parasitic and superfluous. This ruling class must be pushed out in order to sort out the ever greater disasters which it is preparing for the working class and peoples of the United States and the peoples of the world.

            On this occasion, CPC(ML) calls on the Canadian working class and people to learn the lessons of the US war on terror and the participation of the Canadian government in US preparations to impose fascism and unleash another world war. Go all out to make the September 24 international day of action against imperialist war and occupation a success! Participate in all the actions in defence of rights at home and abroad. Let us together affirm the right to be! Organise to change the world!

Article Index

Government Refusal to Take Social Responsibility is a Crime

from Voice of Revolution , publication of the US Marxist-Leninist Organisation

Voice of Revolution extends its condolences to all those contending with the massive devastation and needless deaths in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We salute the heroic rescue efforts made by working people, firefighters, doctors, nurses, all those joining to lend a hand. We vigorously condemn the government for its refusal to provide all the resources, equipment and supplies needed to provide for everyone as quickly as possible. This is their duty and one they have abandoned. Once again President George W Bush is AWOL.

            While the hurricane itself is a natural phenomenon, the human catastrophe now unfolding in New Orleans and across Louisiana and Mississippi is man-made. The devastation shows with sobering and heart-rending clarity the results of a decaying system where government takes no social responsibility for the well being of the people. Government refusal to have needed supplies and equipment, like water, helicopters and buses on hand is directly responsible for the current catastrophe.

            Governments at all levels are brutally attacking the very conception that government exists to provide for the people and replacing it with the same callousness and disregard President George W Bush has shown the people in Louisiana and Mississippi. Death and destruction for the people, whether in Louisiana or Iraq, are of no consequence. The government exists to fund and defend its wars of aggression, its forces of repression, the private property of the monopolies. Massive cuts of vital necessities are imposed on the people. This too is brutally clear in New Orleans today, where funding cuts to the levees that protect the city from flooding are directly responsible for the flooding.

            The situation unfolding is one that gives pause, as it appears the government has orchestrated the disorder, given every appearance that it is both incapable and unconcerned, and now brings the military in to “restore order”. Many are rightly concerned that this military presence will become permanent, as the difficulties facing the region are expected to last for months. Many are equally concerned that far from making an effort to bring calm to the situation, government delay and inaction is fomenting fear and strife. Toward what end? To justify a permanent role for the military? To justify use of force against the people? Is it an accident that one of the military commanders of the National Guard brought out that many of the guardsmen are just returning from overseas and know how to use lethal force?

            The situation is a serious one. As the people take up social responsibility and go forward to lend a hand, let all be vigilant against government moves to use this catastrophe to increase the role of the military against the people.

Article Index

Reject the Failed US State! The People Are the Only Reliable Force!

from Voice of Revolution , publication of the US Marxist-Leninist Organisation

Voice of Revolution salutes all the organisations, affinity groups and individuals coming forward to lend a hand to the people of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama devastated by government failure to provide the assistance, resources and organisation needed in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. People are bringing to bear all their organising experience of the many struggles for rights and against imperialist war. They are rejecting the utter anarchy and violence the state has delivered and demonstrating that it is the organised people who are the only reliable force to provide relief. They represent the best of the American people, united to defend the rights of all

            Medics trained for demonstrations are heading to New Orleans and the surrounding communities. Food Not Bombs, well known for feeding demonstrators and communities, is setting up kitchens in the region and training local people to do the same. The many military families and others involved in the Crawford Camp Casey at Bush’s ranch have sent supplies, a bus equipped with satellite for communications and medicine, and are setting up a new Camp Casey in Covington, Louisiana.

            People across the country are outraged that a country where workers have produced tremendous wealth and a high level of production and technology is saddled with a failed government that refuses to take up its social responsibility to human beings both here at home and abroad – while refusing to get out of the way so the people themselves can solve these problems.

            There is complete rejection of the government’s shoot-to-kill orders in New Orleans. How dare they! How dare they allow even one more person to die by their hands. How dare they brand people organising to secure food and water and cooking it for families in need as looters. And how dare President George W. Bush choose to meet with segregationist Trent Lott, Senator from Mississippi. Lott was forced to resign as the Senate’s Majority Leader for publicly defending segregation, with its long history of state terrorism.

            It is the thorough-going racist character of the US state that guaranteed the blatant government brutality and racism witnessed in New Orleans and the region. It is this same racism that permitted Bush to stand with Lott. It is this racism that is also being rejected.

            Through their actions, everyone is showing their rejection of the failed US state and coming forward to show that they are the representatives of the people, they are the new, emerging in the face of this failure. Many have brought out, for example, that the massive efforts to get tens of thousands of people to Washington DC by bus for September 24 anti-war actions, with organised pick up points and known destinations, to set up tents and water and bathroom facilities, show the abilities of the people to organise to solve such problems. There is no doubt that, given the opportunity, transit workers could have organised the evacuations before the hurricane hit. Schools, universities, churches and nearby communities, like Algiers in New Orleans, could and can provide housing, and so forth.

            It is clear that the only way forward is for the people to utilise all their experience, guided by their principles of defending rights, and organise to themselves govern. The failed US state has only repression and military force in store. Now is the time to step up the work for political empowerment and strengthen all the many efforts to govern ourselves.

Article Index

News From Behind the Facade

John Pilger, September 13, 2005, first published in the New Statesman

When I lived in the United States in the late 1960s, my home was often New Orleans, in a friend's rambling grey clapboard house that stood in a section of the city where civil rights campaigners had taken refuge from the violence of the Deep South. New Orleans was said to be cosmopolitan; it was also sinister and murderous. We were protected by the then District Attorney, Jim Garrison, a liberal maverick whose investigations into the assassination of John Kennedy were to make powerful enemies behind The Facade.

            The Facade was how we described the dividing line between the America of real life – of a poverty so profound that slavery was still a presence and a rapacious state power that waged war against its own citizens, as it did against black and brown-skinned people in faraway countries – and the America that spawned the greed of corporatism and invented public relations as a means of social control; the "American Dream" and the "American Way of Life" began as advertising slogans.

            The wilful neglect of the Bush regime before and after hurricane Katrina offered a rare glimpse behind The Facade. The poor were no longer invisible; the bodies floating in contaminated water, the survivors threatened with police shotguns, the distinct obesity of American poverty – all of it mocked the forests of advertising billboards and relentless television commercials and news sound-bites (average length 9.9 seconds) that glorify the "dream" of wealth and power. A word long expropriated and debased – reality – found its true meaning, if briefly.

            As if by accident, the American media, which is the legitimising arm of corporate public relations, reported the truth. For a few days, a selective group of liberal newspaper readers were told that poverty had risen an amazing 17 per cent under Bush; that an African-American baby born within a mile of the White House had less chance of surviving its first year than an urban baby in India; that the United States was now ranked 43rd in the world in infant mortality, 84th for measles immunisation and 89th for polio; that the world's richest oil company, ExxonMobil, would make 30 billion dollars in profits this year, having received a huge slice of the 14.5 billion dollars in "tax breaks" which Bush's new energy bill guarantees his elite cronies.

            In his two elections, Bush has received most of his "corporate contributions" – the euphemism for bribes totalling 61.5 million dollars – from oil and gas companies. The bloody conquest of Iraq, the world's second biggest source of oil, will be their prize: their loot.

            Iraq and New Orleans are not far apart. On 13 April, 2003, Matt Frei, the BBC's Washington correspondent, reported the bloodbath of the American invasion with these words: "There's no doubt that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now to the Middle East... is now increasingly tied up with military power." Frei's apologies for the Bush regime from in front of the White House, and specifically for the architect of the slaughter in Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz, were consistent with his reporting from New Orleans, which was vivid. On 5 September, he described battle-ready troops of the 82nd Airborne trudging through the streets of New Orleans as the "heroes of Tikrit". Most of the killing in Tikrit and elsewhere in Iraq has been done not by "insurgents" but by such "heroes": a fact almost never allowed in the "coverage", whether it is on Fox or the BBC. Shaking his head in New Orleans, Frei wondered why Bush had done so little. Reality's intrusion was complete.

            Before the moment passes, and Bush's atrocities and lies in Iraq are again allowed to proceed, it is worth connecting his disregard for the suffering in New Orleans with other truths behind The Facade. The unchanging nature of the 500-year western imperial crusade is exemplified in the unreported suffering of people all over the world, declared enemies in their own homes. The people of Tal Afar, a northern Iraqi town now in the news as "an insurgent stronghold", refused to be expelled from their homes, and as you read this, are being bombed and shelled and strafed, just as the people of Fallujah were, and the people of Najaf, and the people of Hongai, a "stronghold" in Vietnam, once the most bombed place on earth, and the people of Neak Loeung in Cambodia, one of countless towns flattened by B-52s. The list of such places consigned to notoriety, then oblivion, is seemingly endless. Why?

            The answer largely is that so much of western scholarship has taken the humanity out of the study of nations, of people, congealing it with jargon and reducing it to an esotericism called "international relations", the grand chess game of western power that scores nations as useful or not, expendable or not. (Listen to British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw talk about "failed nations": the pure invention of Anglo-American IR zealots.) It is this rampant orthodoxy that determines how power speaks and how its historians and reporters report.

            Such orthodoxy, says Richard Falk, professor of International Relations at Princeton and a distinguished dissenter, "which is so widely accepted among political scientists as to be virtually unchallengeable in academic journals, regards law and morality as irrelevant to the identification of rational policy." Thus, western foreign policy is formulated "through a self-righteous, one-way, moral/legal screen [with] positive images of western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted political violence..." This is the filter through which most people get their serious news. It is the reason why the most obvious truths, such as the dominance of western state terrorism over the minuscule al-Qaeda variety, is never reported. It is the reason why America's destruction of 35 democracies in 30 countries (historian William Blum's latest count), is unknown to the American public.

            More urgently, it is the reason why the historic implications of Bush's and Blair's assaults on our most basic freedoms, such as habeas corpus, are rarely reported. On 9 September, the American federal appeals court handed down a judgement against Jose Padilla, an alleged witness to an alleged "plot" inmate of Guantanamo Bay, allowing the US military to hold him without charge, indefinitely. Even though there is no case against him, the Supreme Court is unlikely to overturn this travesty, which means the end of the Bill of Rights and of the "very core of liberty... freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive", as an American jurist once famously wrote.

            This was hardly news in Britain, just as Lord Hoffmann's remarks passed most of us by. A Law Lord, he said that Blair's plans to gut our own basic rights were a greater threat than terrorism. Indefinite imprisonment for those innocent before the law and the intimidation of a minority community and of dissenters – these are the goals of Blair's "necessary measures", borrowed from Bush. Who challenges him? His Downing Street press conference is an august sheep pen, the baa-ing barely audible. In India, the other day, reported the London Guardian's political editor, "Mr Blair stood his ground when challenged over the Iraq war" – by Indian reporters, that is. The Guardian described neither their challenges nor Blair's replies.

            Behind The Facade, the destruction of democracy has been a long-term project. The millions of poor, like most of the people of New Orleans, have no place in the American system, which is why they don't vote. The same is happening under Blair, who has achieved the lowest voter turnouts since the franchise. Like Bush, this is not his concern, for his horizons stretch far. Selling weapons and privatisation deals to India one day, preparing the ground for attacking Iran the next. Under Blair, the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, ran Operation Mass Appeal, a campaign to plant stories in the media about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Under Blair, young Pakistanis living in Britain were trained as jihadi fighters and recruited for the first of his wars – the dismemberment of Yugoslavia in 1999. According to the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, they joined this terrorist network "with the full knowledge and complicity of the British and American intelligence agencies."

            In his classic work, The Grand Chessboard, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the godfather of American policies and actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, writes that for America to dominate the world, it cannot sustain a genuine, popular democracy because "the pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular passion... Democracy is inimical to imperial mobilisation". He describes how he secretly persuaded President Carter in 1976 to bankroll and arm the jihadis in Pakistan and Afghanistan as a means of ensuring America's Cold War dominance. When I asked him in Washington, two years ago, if he regretted that the consequences were al-Qaeda and the attacks of 11 September, he became very angry and did not reply; and a crack in The Facade closed. It is time those of us paid to keep the record straight tore it down completely.

Article Index

Overkill in New Orleans

By Jeremy Scahill and Daniela Crespo, AlterNet, Posted on September 12, 2005

Heavily armed paramilitary mercenaries from the Blackwater private security firm, infamous for its work in Iraq, are openly patrolling the streets of New Orleans. Some of the mercenaries say they have been "deputised" by the Louisiana governor; indeed some are wearing gold Louisiana state law enforcement badges on their chests and Blackwater photo identification cards on their arms. They say they are on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and have been given the authority to use lethal force. Several mercenaries we spoke with said they had served in Iraq on the personal security details of the former head of the US occupation, L. Paul Bremer and the former US ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte.

            "This is a totally new thing to have guys like us working CONUS (Continental United States)," a heavily armed Blackwater mercenary told us as we stood on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. "We're much better equipped to deal with the situation in Iraq."

            Blackwater mercenaries are some of the most feared professional killers in the world and they are accustomed to operating without worry of legal consequences. Their presence on the streets of New Orleans should be a cause for serious concern for the remaining residents of the city and raises alarming questions about why the government would allow men trained to kill with impunity in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to operate here. Some of the men now patrolling the streets of New Orleans returned from Iraq as recently as two weeks ago.

            What is most disturbing is the claim of several Blackwater mercenaries we spoke with that they are here under contract from the federal government and the state of Louisiana. Blackwater is one of the leading private security firms servicing the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It has several US government contracts and has provided security for many senior US diplomats, foreign dignitaries and corporations. The company rose to international prominence after four of its men were killed in Fallujah and two of their charred bodies were hung from a bridge in March 2004. Those killings sparked the massive US retaliation against the civilian population of Fallujah that resulted in scores of deaths and tens of thousands of refugees.

Who Sent In the Mercs?

            As the threat of forced evictions now looms in New Orleans and the city confiscates even legally registered weapons from civilians, the private mercenaries of Blackwater patrol the streets openly wielding M-16s and other assault weapons. This despite Police Commissioner Eddie Compass' claim that, "Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons."

            Officially, Blackwater says its forces are in New Orleans to "join the Hurricane relief effort”. A statement on the company's website, dated Sept. 1, advertises airlift services, security services and crowd control. The company, according to news reports, has since begun taking private contracts to guard hotels, businesses and other properties. But what has not been publicly acknowledged is the claim, made to us by two Blackwater mercenaries, that they are actually engaged in general law enforcement activities including "securing neighbourhoods" and "confronting criminals”.

            That raises a key question: under what authority are Blackwater's men operating? A spokesperson for the Homeland Security Department, Russ Knocke, told the Washington Post he knows of no federal plans to hire Blackwater or other private security. "We believe we've got the right mix of personnel in law enforcement for the federal government to meet the demands of public safety," he said.

            But in an hour-long conversation with several Blackwater mercenaries, we heard a different story. The men we spoke with said they are indeed on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and the Louisiana governor's office and that some of them are sleeping in camps organised by Homeland Security in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. They told us they not only had authority to make arrests but also to use lethal force.

Where the Real Action Is

            We encountered the Blackwater forces as we walked through the streets of the largely deserted French Quarter. We were talking with two New York City police officers when an unmarked car without license plates sped up next to us and stopped. Inside were three men, dressed in khaki uniforms, flak jackets and wielding automatic weapons. "Y'all know where the Blackwater guys are?" they asked. One of the police officers responded, "There are a bunch of them around here," and pointed down the road.

            "Blackwater?" we asked. "The guys who are in Iraq?"

            "Yeah," said the officer. "They're all over the place."

            A short while later, as we continued down Bourbon Street, we ran into the men from the car. They wore Blackwater ID badges on their arms. "When they told me New Orleans, I said, 'What country is that in?'" one of the Blackwater men said. He was wearing his company ID around his neck in a carrying case with the phrase "Operation Iraqi Freedom" printed on it. After bragging about how he drives around Iraq in a "State Department issued level 5, explosion-proof BMW", he said he was "just trying to get back to Kirkuk [in the North of Iraq] where the real action is”.

            Later we overheard him on his cell phone complaining that Blackwater was only paying $350 a day plus per diem. That is much less than the men make serving in more dangerous conditions in Iraq.

            Two men we spoke with said they plan on returning to Iraq in October. But, as one mercenary said, they've been told they could be in New Orleans for up to six months. "This is a trend," he told us. "You're going to see a lot more guys like us in these situations."

            If Blackwater's reputation and record in Iraq are any indication of the kind of services the company offers, the people of New Orleans have much to fear.

* Jeremy Scahill, a correspondent for the national radio and TV programme Democracy Now!, and Daniela Crespo are in New Orleans.

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