By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
By Raillan Brooks
Aceh is especially important to Indonesia because it is headquarters for Exxon Mobil's large LNG plant, which provides gas to Asian markets. The gas is highly prized because it is cleaner than oil, and in the case of smog-choked and oil-sodden China, is being imported in larger quantities to ease the pollution.
And Aceh is key to Indonesia because taxes from energy sales go to the central government, as well as to the local government. Rebels have been waging armed struggle for independence since the 1970s. And it has been reported that under the guise of tsunami relief, the Indonesian army in fact has been blocking aid shipments and tightening the martial law that governs the area.
"You've probably been at a mall or airport and seen children on tethers. They're not being abused." - Guy Womack, attorney for Abu Ghraib guard Charles Graner, defending the practice of putting Iraqi prisoners on tethers, 1.10.05
Families of four Americans who were lynched last year in Falluja while escorting a convoy through the city are suing Blackwater Security Consulting, the North Carolina-based contractor that employed them, for wrongful death, claiming that the company did not give the men armored vehicles and other equipment. The amount of damages sought is not specified.
The suit alleges that the company promised that the men would be working in six-man teams in armored vehicles equipped with heavy machine guns. The company's "motivation was basically greed," says Dan Callahan, attorney for the families of Scott Helvenston, Mike Teague, Jerry Zovko, and Wesley Batalona. "They saved $1.5 million by not buying those [armored] vehicles."
There are thought to be upward of 6,000 civilians from Western countries doing armed security work similar to what the four lynched men had been doing.
"If these allegations are true, Blackwater is guilty of the most egregious conduct. But I'm sure they are not the worst security contractor operating in Iraq," David Isenberg, author of a report on military contractors, told UPI. "My intuition is there are a great many more stories like this out there, and there is a good likelihood more cases will follow if this one makes any progress."
The insurgency has pushed reconstruction onto the back burner. "In mid-July, U.S. officials admitted that fewer than 140 of the 2,300 reconstruction projects funded by the U.S. were under way," according to a report by the Center for Corporate Policy.
Last summer, Ambassador John Negroponte announced more than $3 billion of $18 billion in funds for Iraq had to be used for security, and not reconstruction, as was originally intended. But the increase in security personnel didn't do the trick. In December, Contrack International, lead partner in a $320 million transportation contract, quit because of high security costs.
Additional reporting: David Botti