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Contract Killings


Monday, 5 January 2009

Senior officer along with his son get rid of competitors in the field of industrial expertise with the help of contract killings

The criminal case against the former head of Rostechnadzor in the Samara region, Yuri Zolnikova charged with a number of serious crimes in an organized group, referred to the court. Next to him in the dock will and his son, who was a shadow director "NPF" Promekspertiza, as well as director of Samara branch of OAO Orgenergoneft "Igor Vlasov, transmits Interfax with reference to the press service of the prosecutor's office with Investigation Department of Samara Oblast.In Samara region completed an investigation into a gang, created by the former head of the regional Rostechnadzor. A senior officer along with his son get rid of competitors in the field of industrial expertise with the help of contract killings. The defendants are accused of creating a gang in order to monopolize the sphere of industrial expertise in the region, as well as in organizing the killing of master director of the Control Service, Vladimir Khokhlov and the attempted murder of members of the Samara Ros Igor Kuznetsov. In addition Zolnikovyh and Vlasov before the court appearance, five more business figures accused of committing crimes on the order of gang leaders. This Vladimir Kolsanov, Victor Sklyarenko, Victor Treshnikov, Yevgeny Gorbunov, and Yevgeny Frolov, said "RosBusinessConsulting". A preliminary investigation found that in Samara defendants created an organized criminal association "headquarters". This gang and deal with competitors from the market high-ranking officials, including through assassinations. At the same time, Yuri Zolnikov created controlled by OOO NPF Promekspertiza ", which was headed by his son, and, using his administrative resource, forced Rostechnadzor inspectors to enter into contracts with OOO NPF Promekspertiza and OAO" Orgenergoneft. "
From 1999 to 2006, members of criminal associations restrict market access of industrial expertise to other market participants, as well as to spread them. "This was done using the official leader of a criminal association Zolnikova - described in the press service. - All these actions have involved the use of violence to persons, preventing monopolization of the market."
Members of a criminal association charged under article 222 (illegal use of weapons), 210 (organizing a criminal association), 178 (exclusion, restriction or elimination of competition), 105 (murder), 30-105 (attempted murder), 161 (robbery) 162 (robbery), 163 (extortion), 158 (theft), 183 (unlawful receipt and disclosure of information constituting commercial, taxation and banking secrecy), 291 (bribery), 325 (kidnapping or damage of documents, stamps, seals or abduction excise stamps, special stamps or marks) the Criminal Code.

Earlier, the head of the Investigation Directorate of the Samara region Vitaly Gorstkin reported that section 178 applies in the Russian practice, almost the first time. Saving money for an official pack One of the major crime gangs Zolnikovyh was the murder of director of the SamaraKontrolServis Vladimir Khokhlov, who not only wish to retain their business, but would put the company in terms of free competition with OOO NPF Promekspertiza and OAO "Orgenergoneft. Khokhlov began to take action To shift Zolnikova from office, so he decided to kill him. 6 Sept., 2006 Treshnikov shot Khokhlova. According to testimony and Sklyarenko Gorbunov, Zolnikovy ordered them not only to murder, but beating objectionable in order to "intimidate or to take time out." "Fee" for each such attack was 30 rubles. The first in a chain of the victims was to be a former head of Syzran department, later became deputy head of the regional administration , Igor Kuznetsov. The organizer of the crime became Victor Sklyarenko, and performers - Yevgeny Gorbunov and his friends - Yevgeny Frolov and Andrei Mikhailov (he was driving a VAZ-2109, which gave Sklyarenko executing orders). First Kolsanov who worked at Zolnikova, a senior driver, and Sklyarenko followed Kuznetsov in Syzran and done filming, and then transferred Gorbunovu and Frolovu tape recordings and photographs Kuznetsova and his jeep Land Cruiser Prado, along with other data about the victim. According to the instructions Kolsanova, Kuznetsova had to be destroyed by briefly. The beating was to prevent an official mission and its transfer to Samara on his appointment to the higher post of Deputy Head of the regional administration . 1 February, 2007 Gorbunov, Frolov and Mikhailov drove to the cottage Kuznetsova in the village Rameno Syzranskogo area. For 3 or 4 days they had to follow the house, as Kuznetsov left the cottage is not one. Task is complicated by the fact that Kuznetsov is a man tall and strong build. Sladit with young killers (Gorbunovu at that time was 18 years old) showed no easy task. When finally, the official went out of the house alone, Frolov and Gorbunov approached him and asked the location of a street. When Kuznetsov turned criminals him in the face of the gas cans, and then Frolov struck the victim with a knife in the chest area. Kuznetsov and his wife, who was in the yard, began to shout. Immediately after the attackers fled. At a meeting with Sklyarenko in Samara attackers Kuznetsov received their 30 thousand rubles. But a few days Sklyarenko Gorbunovu telephoned and said that they had not fulfilled the task: people went to work as a knife allegedly hit him "somewhere in the wallet."
As it turned out later, Frolov got a knife in a stack of money, closed tubes, which Kuznetsov put in a breast pocket of the jacket. It is this batch of notes and saved his life: Breaks her knife wound only skin.

five people were wounded when a bomb exploded as they were walking near a shopping center in Bogota

five people were wounded when a bomb exploded as they were walking near a shopping center in Bogota, Colombian police said.An urban cell of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla group planted the 1.5-kilo (3.3-pound) bomb that exploded Monday night, Metropolitan Police chief Gen. Rodolfo Palomino said.
The bomb contained "shrapnel that shattered windows and damaged some stores," the police chief said.The blast occurred at 9:30 p.m. Monday at an appliance store in the Punto 169 shopping center, which is close to one of the TransMilenio rapid transit system's stations, but service was not affected.Three people wounded by flying glass were taken to a hospital for treatment, while the other two were treated at the scene.The explosion damaged at least four nearby houses and several stores.The Autopista Norte, one of Bogota's main expressways, was closed for a couple of hours while police investigated the bombing.Investigators said they believed the bomb was planted by the FARC as part of a scheme to extort money from merchants."Intelligence work can establish that this was an attack by the FARC," Palomino said, adding that merchants had received threats that something would happen unless they paid.Authorities are offering a reward of 50 million pesos (some $22,000) for information leading to the arrest of those behind the bombing, Palomino said Tuesday.Police have stepped up security on the Bogota mass transit system to prevent further attacks.Several bombings have occurred in Bogota in the second half of this year, with the most serious attack taking place on Oct. 4, when a woman died in a blast at a financial firm.The FARC, Colombia's oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, was founded in 1964, has an estimated 8,000 to 17,000 fighters and operates across a large swath of this Andean nation.President Alvaro Uribe's administration has made fighting the FARC a top priority and has obtained billions in U.S. aid for counterinsurgency operations.The FARC, whose leader is Alfonso Cano, has suffered a series of blows this year.On July 2, the Colombian army rescued former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, U.S. military contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, and 11 other Colombian police officers and soldiers.The FARC had been trying to trade the 15 captives, along with 25 other "exchangeables," for hundreds of jailed guerrillas.The rebels' most valuable bargaining chip was Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French citizen the FARC seized in February 2002 whose plight became a cause celebre in Europe.FARC founder Manuel Marulanda, who was known as "Sureshot," died on March 26.On March 1, Colombian forces staged a cross-border raid into Ecuador, killing FARC second-in-command Raul Reyes and setting off a regional diplomatic crisis.Ivan Rios, a high-level FARC commander, was killed March 7 by one of his own men, who cut off the guerrilla leader's hand and presented it to army troops, along with identification documents, as proof that the rebel chief was dead.A succession of governments have battled Colombia's leftist insurgent groups since the mid-1960s.In 1999, then-President Andres Pastrana allowed the creation of a Switzerland-sized "neutral" zone in the jungles of southern Colombia for peace talks with the FARC.
After several years of fitful and ultimately fruitless negotiations, Pastrana ordered the armed forces to retake the region in early 2002. But while the arrangement lasted, the FARC enjoyed free rein within the zone.

The FARC is on both the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist groups. Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom are the FARC's main means of financing its operations.

Number of servicemen implicated in violent crimes has raised alarm.

Nine current or former members of Fort Carson’s Fourth Brigade Combat Team have killed someone or were charged with killings in the last three years after returning from Iraq. Five of the slayings took place last year alone. In addition, charges of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault have risen sharply.Prodded by Senator Ken Salazar, Democrat of Colorado, the base commander began an investigation of the soldiers accused of homicide. An Army task force is reviewing their recruitment, medical and service records, as well as their personal histories, to determine if the military could have done something to prevent the violence. The inquiry was recently expanded to include other serious violent crimes.Now the secretary of the Army, Pete Geren, says he is considering conducting an Army-wide review of all soldiers “involved in violent crimes since returning” from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a letter sent to Mr. Salazar in December. Mr. Geren wrote that the Fort Carson task force had yet to find a specific factor underlying the killings, but that the inquiry was continuing.Focusing attention on soldiers charged with killings is a shift for the military, which since the start of the war in Iraq has largely deflected any suggestion that combat could be a factor in violent behavior among some returning service members.Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, the Fort Carson commander, said, “If they had a good manner of performance before they deployed, then they get back and they get into trouble, instead of saying we will discipline you for trouble, the leadership has to say, Why did that occur, what happened, what is causing this difference in behavior?”General Graham, whose oldest son, Jeff, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq a year after another son, Kevin, committed suicide, has made mental health a focus since taking command of Fort Carson in 2007. “I feel like I have to speak out for the Kevins of the world,” he said.
The inquiry, the general added, is “looking for a trend, something that happened through their life cycle that might have contributed to this, something we could have seen coming.”Last January, The New York Times published articles examining the cases of veterans of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan charged with homicide after their return. At the time, it counted at least 121 such cases. In many of them, combat trauma and the stress of deployment appeared to have set the stage for the crimes.
At Fort Carson, at least four of the accused killers from the Fourth Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division were grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder and several had been injured in battle.

One was John Needham, a 25-year-old private from a military family in California, whose downward spiral began when he sustained shrapnel wounds in Iraq and tried to commit suicide. This September, after being treated for stress disorder and receiving a medical discharge from the Army, Mr. Needham was charged with beating his girlfriend to death.
“Where is this aggression coming from?” asked Vivian H. Gembara, a former captain and Army prosecutor at Fort Carson until 2004, who wrote a book about the war crimes she prosecuted in Iraq. “Was it something in Iraq? Were they in a lot of heavy combat? If so, the command needs to pay more attention to that. You can’t just point all of them out as bad apples.”

The Fourth Combat Brigade, previously called the Second Combat Brigade, fought in Iraq’s fiercest cities at some of the toughest moments. Falluja and Ramadi, after insurgents dug into the rubble. Baghdad and its Sadr City district, as body counts soared. By 2007, after two tours, the brigade, which numbers 3,500, had lost 113 soldiers, with hundreds more wounded. It is now preparing for a tour in Afghanistan this spring.Most Fort Carson soldiers have been to Iraq at least once; others have deployed two, three or four times.Kaye Baron, a therapist in Colorado Springs who treats Fort Carson soldiers and families, said, “It got to the point I stopped asking if they have deployed, and started asking how many times they have deployed.”
Ms. Baron added, “There are some guys who say, ‘Why do I have to get treatment for P.T.S.D.? I just have to go back.’ ”While most soldiers returning from war adjust with minor difficulties, military leaders acknowledges that multiple deployments strain soldiers and families, and can increase the likelihood of problems like excessive drinking, marital strife and post-traumatic stress disorder.Domestic violence among Fort Carson soldiers has become more prevalent since the Iraq war began in 2003. In 2006, Fort Carson soldiers were charged in 57 cases of domestic violence, according to figures released by the base. As of mid-December, the number had grown to 145.Rape and sexual assault cases against soldiers have also increased, from 10 in 2006 to 38 as of mid-December, the highest tally since the war began. Both domestic violence and rape are crimes that are traditionally underreported.
Fort Carson officials say the increased numbers do not necessarily indicate more violence. Karen Connelly, a Fort Carson spokeswoman, said the base, whose population fluctuates from 11,000 to 14,500 soldiers, is doing a better job of holding soldiers accountable for crimes, encouraging victims to come forward and keeping statistics.
Even so, Col. B. Shannon Davis, the base’s deputy commander, said the task force was examining these trends. “We are looking at crime as a whole,” he said.The killings allegedly involving the nine current or former Fourth Brigade soldiers have caused the most consternation. The first occurred in 2005, when Stephen Sherwood, a musician who joined the Army for health benefits, returned from Iraq and fatally shot his wife and then himself.Last year, three battlefield friends were charged with murder after two soldiers were found shot dead within four months of each other. Two of the accused suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and all three had been in disciplinary or criminal trouble in the military. One had a juvenile record and been injured in Iraq.The latest killing was in October, when the police say Robert H. Marko, an infantryman, raped and killed Judilianna Lawrence, a developmentally disabled teenager he had met online. Specialist Marko believed that on his 21st birthday he would become the “Black Raptor” — half-man, half-dinosaur, a confidential Army document shows. The Army evaluated him three times for mental health problems but cleared him for combat each time.Senator Salazar, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to be secretary of the interior, called for the Fort Carson inquiry, saying the killings raised questions about what role, if any, combat stress played.“It’s a hard issue, but it’s a realistic issue,” he said.
Since arriving at Fort Carson, General Graham has spoken openly about mental health, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder, calling it an act of courage, not frailty, to ask for help.His 21-year-old son, a top R.O.T.C. cadet, hanged himself in 2003 after battling depression. He had stopped taking his antidepressants because he did not want to disclose his illness, fearing such an admission would harm his chances for a career as an Army doctor, General Graham said.“He was embarrassed,” the general said.He added: “I feel it every day. We didn’t give him all the care we should have. He got some care, but not enough. I’ll never be convinced I did enough for my son.”
At Fort Carson, in cases of dishonorable discharge, General Graham asks whether the soldier might be struggling with combat stress disorder.He has sometimes opted instead to grant medical discharges, which entitle veterans to benefits. All Fort Carson soldiers who seek medical attention are now asked about their mental health and, if necessary, referred for treatment.Still, some sergeants view stress disorder skeptically and actively discourage treatment, some therapists and soldiers say.Billie Gray, 71, who until recently worked at a base clinic helping soldiers with emotional problems, said “that was the biggest problem at Fort Carson today: harassment” and “the very fact they are harassed made their mental status worse.”Ms. Gray said she believed she was fired in October for being an outspoken advocate for mental health treatment. Base officials declined to comment, citing privacy reasons.Colonel Davis, the deputy commander, acknowledged that sergeants had been reprimanded for discouraging treatment. “We have had to take corrective action,” he said, “but fewer and fewer times.”John Wylie Needham, one of the accused killers whose case is now being examined by the task force, was “cracking up” in Iraq, he told his father in an e-mail message. Yet, he felt he had to fight to get help, his father said in an interview.In October 2006, during his first week in Iraq, Private Needham, a California surfer, watched a good friend die from a sniper bullet. Months later, he was blasted in the back by shrapnel from a grenade. To cope with his growing anxiety, he stole Valium and drank liquor. Caught twice, he was punished with a reduction in rank, a fine and extra work, a confidential Army document shows. Eventually, he was prescribed medication, but he wrote to his father, Mike Needham, that it did not help.Private Needham became angry at the way other soldiers reacted to the fighting, and he did not hide it. “They seemed to revel in how many people they had killed,” said a friend in his unit who spoke on condition of anonymity.In September 2007, Private Needham tried to kill himself with a gun, the Army document states, but another soldier intervened. Mike Needham, a veteran, said that rather than treating his son, the Army disciplined him for discharging a weapon and confined him to barracks. The Army declined to comment.“I’m stressed to the point of completely losing it,” Private Needham wrote to his father in October 2007. “The squad leader brushed me off and said suck it up.”He added, “They keep me locked up in this room and if I need food or water I have to have 2 guards with me.”The Army evacuated Private Needham to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to treat his back and his post-traumatic stress disorder. But a month later, he was back at Fort Carson.“The first words out of the Mental Health Authority was, ‘we are severely understaffed,’ ” Mr. Needham said in an e-mail message to an officer at Walter Reed. “If you’re suicidal we can see you twice a week, otherwise once a week.”
Fort Carson assured Mike Needham that his son was receiving proper care. But during his son’s visit home during the Thanksgiving break, Mr. Needham found him smearing camouflage-colored makeup on his face and frantically sharpening a stick with a kitchen knife.“He was a total mess,” Mr. Needham said.He was treated at a California naval hospital until last July when he received a medical discharge from the Army. While Private Needham was in the early stages of getting help from a Veterans Administration clinic, he spent his days depressed and often drinking at his father’s condominium.Then last summer, Private Needham met Jacqwelyn Villagomez, a bubbly 19-year-old aspiring model who saw him as a kindred spirit, said Jennifer Johnson, who had helped raise her. Her mother had died of AIDS when she was 6 and her father had left the family. Ms. Villagomez, “who saw the good in everyone,” had recently kicked a heroin habit, Ms. Johnson said.“She thought she could save him,” Ms. Johnson said. But a month later, the police say, Private Needham beat Ms. Villagomez to death in his father’s condominium.
Mr. Needham said the Army handled his son’s case poorly, but Ms. Johnson finds it hard to muster sympathy for him.“I’m sure what happened to him was awful,” she said. “I’m sure he saw some horrible things that altered him. But this is a 200-pound guy who beat up this 95-pound little girl. It’s disgusting.”

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has issued a new strategy report broadly addressing foreign espionage activity in the US.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has issued a new strategy report broadly addressing foreign espionage activity in the US. The report, which has been circulated within the National Association of Chiefs of Police, claims that America is “targeted from nearly every corner of the globe”. Citing data from 2003, it states that “dozens of countries” had “hundreds of known or suspected intelligence officers [entering or traveling] within the United States”. Accordingly, FBI counterintelligence investigations spanned the entire country and involved “all 56 [of the Bureau's] field offices”. More importantly, the FBI strategy report stresses that foreign intelligence activity within the nation is today “far more complex than it has ever been historically” due to its increasingly asymmetrical character. The Bureau claims that “nontraditional, non-state actors” have been noted to operate alongside the more traditional intelligence services sponsored by foreign governments. Furthermore, the report alleges increased targeting of American “national economic interests” in the private sector. It then goes on to explain that the FBI has redesigned its Foreign Counterintelligence Program to extend the definition of “Critical National Assets” to “areas of economic espionage, academic research, and private sector research and development”. It is unclear whether this entails increased economic intelligence and counterintelligence operations against foreign companies competing with US firms for contracts abroad. The European Union has long accused the US of deliberately using its formidable intelligence capabilities to spy on European firms competing with American corporations

Georgia man charged with killing a woman has been without an attorney for eight months

Georgia man charged with killing a woman has been without an attorney for eight months, according to a lawsuit claiming the state's public defender system has failed to adequately represent him.The lawsuit on behalf of Jamie Ryan Weis underscores budget problems at the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council. Two private attorneys assigned to represent Weis were removed because the council didn't have the money to pay them, and two public defenders objected because they said they had heavy case loads and not enough resources.Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Weis, who is charged in the Feb. 2, 2006, death of Catherine King in her Pike County home in central Georgia.The lawsuit was filed on Weis' behalf by four prominent Atlanta lawyers."This is surely an unprecedented deprivation of counsel in modern times," the lawsuit said.Weis's appointed lawyers, Bob Citronberg and Tom West, were removed from the case when the council did not have the money to pay them.
An agreement was reached in April for Citronberg and West to return to the case if Mack Crawford, director of the defender system, signed a contract allowing them to be paid."He should not have delayed the reinstatement of counsel for eight days," the lawsuit said. "The delay of eight months is unconscionable."
Gerry Word, the acting head of the capital defender's office, who also is named in the suit, did not immediately return telephone messages Friday. Crawford declined comment Friday, saying he had not had a chance to read the lawsuit.
Scott Ballard, the district attorney in Pike County, called the case frustrating."Everybody wants the defendant to be well represented. We'll be ready to prosecute just as soon as they're ready," Ballard said.The lawsuit seeks a court order reinstating Citronberg and West.Georgia's public defender system has been plagued with funding problems. Lawyers for Brian G. Nichols, who killed an Atlanta judge and three others in a 2005 courthouse shooting spree, ran up a nearly $2 million defense bill. Lawmakers furious at the bill have used the trial as a rallying cry to cut funding to Georgia's public defender system.Nichols was sentenced last month to life in prison.

Capt. Robert Semrau is accused of shooting, "with intent to kill," an unarmed man in Helmand province

Canadian soldier who served as a mentor and role model for his Afghan counterparts during a bloody October battle against the Taliban has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of a presumed enemy fighter, officials said Friday.
Capt. Robert Semrau is accused of shooting, "with intent to kill," an unarmed man in Helmand province, where Afghan soldiers, their Canadian mentors and British troops had been defending the capital of Lashkar Gah from a persistent attack by insurgents.

large tattoo featuring an eagle and a tiger could be the key to identifying a man believed bludgeoned to death and the body dumped in Melbourne's east

large tattoo featuring an eagle and a tiger could be the key to identifying a man believed bludgeoned to death and the body dumped in Melbourne's east.Police have issued an image of the distinctive tattoo on the badly decomposed body, found by a former policeman on a dirt road at Park Orchards on Friday evening.The black ink tattoo, covering the man's entire back, features a roaring tiger with a swooping eagle above it and surrounded by swirling designs and clouds.An autopsy was held on the body - believed to be that of a middle-aged man - on Saturday, but the cause of death has yet to be established.It's estimated he died about two weeks ago, Homicide Squad acting Senior Sergeant Wayne Cheesman told reporters on Saturday."Because of the state of decomposition we are still doing some forensic tests to establish the race of the person," he said."We do believe it's male, possibly 175cm tall, we know the person had probably had long shoulder length black hair."There is severe trauma to the person's head, so we believe he's been struck a number of times by a heavy blunt object.The retired police officer and his wife who found the body had noticed a foul smell in the area for a fortnight.When they went to investigate, they found a leg protruding out of some plastic and bedding wrapped around a body.There were two diamond earrings in the left ear - one a silver diamond stud. Reading glasses were found in wrapping around the body."We are going through our missing persons reports and our records on tattoos, so hopefully we can make some progress through our forensic testing and those inquiries," Sgt Cheesman said."We also ask for people to come forward ... any help makes our job easier."If anyone in the area in the last two weeks saw cars coming or going, anything suspicious, call Crime Stoppers."
It was the third body found in Victoria in recent days, but Sgt Cheesman said he did not believe they were in any way linked.A man's body was also found on the Mornington Peninsula and another was washed up on a beach at French Island."It's a busy time for us but there is no indication they are connected," Sgt Cheesman said.

Raven 23 entered Nisour Square shooting erupted. And when it ceased fourteen Iraqis were killed and twenty wounded.

“Raven 23”, a tactical support team of Blackwater Worldwide security guards in Iraq, on contract to the State Department, was responding to an attack on another Blackwater convoy transporting a State Department person. As that convoy evacuated the site of the attack, Raven 23 -- headed back to the Green Zone -- turned around to come to their aid. Because the evacuating team had to pass through Baghdad’s Nisour Square to get to the Green Zone, Raven 23 entered the square to set up a roadblock to let the protected passenger convoy pass quickly. When Raven 23 entered Nisour Square shooting erupted. And when it ceased fourteen Iraqis were killed and twenty wounded. What happened is disputed: did they open fire in response to an attack, or did they open fire without provocation? On Tuesday, January 6, five of the eighteen members of Raven 23 will make their first appearance in US District Court in response to their indictment on charges that could result in their imprisonment for up to thirty years. The Raven 23 defendants are expected to plead not guilty: they will insist that they were fired upon and only acted in self defense within their mission parameters.
The government charges the five with voluntary manslaughter, aiding and abetting the killings and with the use of automatic weapons in commission of a crime. But there are problems with the indictments, both legal and factual. And the indictments fairly reek of politics.

Baghdad in September 2007 was a very dangerous place and Nisour Square wasn’t Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. During the week of September 16 -- according to a chart Gen. David Petraeus presented in his Senate testimony on April 8, 2008 -- there were about 790 attacks on Coalition Forces and diplomatic personnel. That’s about 112 every day, or more than four every hour. Raven 23 -- the eighteen men in four heavily-armored trucks -- knew that the odds were that every time they left the “Green Zone” they were headed into a two-way firefight.The first major problem with the indictments is factual. The Blackwater guards -- with the exception of one who plead guilty -- will say they fired only after being fired upon. Which brings up the question of motive. These men had nothing to gain by shooting innocents. Their job was to help protect State Department people operating in a war zone. Judging by the overall performance of Blackwater in the years they’ve been protecting State Department, CIA and other US civilians in Iraq -- no Blackwater-protected person has been killed or seriously wounded -- they presumably knew their jobs and did them well. But the Iraqis -- and many of our own military -- have never accepted their presence. The press, both there and here, often calls the guards who work for Blackwater and other companies such as Triple Canopy “mercenaries” and “trigger-happy cowboys.” The Iraqis briefly banned Blackwater operations after the Nisour Square incident, but then relented after the US agreed to a joint investigation. An Iraqi investigation found that the Raven 23 team fired without provocation. That conclusion -- disputed by all but one of the Blackwater guards -- falls into a legal void.Post-invasion Iraq has been a largely lawless place. Because there are too few troops trained in executive protection (far too few to protect the large number of State, CIA and other government employees in Iraq) the State Department and other agencies had to hire contractors to perform protective services. (According to a Congressional Research Service report, as of September 2008, there are still about 10,000 contractor personnel in Iraq providing quasi-military security services.)
Ever since the new Iraqi government began to function, there has been enormous political pressure to end the immunity from Iraqi law the contractors have had since L. Paul Bremer decreed it in 2003. Under the new Status of Forces Agreement, the immunity will no longer protect contractors from Iraqi prosecution, but Bremer’s decree was in effect at the time of the Nisour Square incident.
The biggest legal problem with the Raven 23 indictments is the statute that allegedly enables them to be tried for the shootings under US law. The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act enables US courts to punish crimes committed by Defense Department contractors overseas. It has been amended to include other agencies’ contractors who are acting in support of the DoD mission. But Raven 23 was acting under a State Department contract to protect a State Department official, which isn’t DoD’s job.The weasel-worded indictments stretch MEJA beyond the factual and into the political, saying that the Blackwater mission is “related to supporting the mission of the Department of Defense in Iraq.” But “related to supporting” could cover any crime in Iraq. Why is this alleged crime by non-DoD contractors “related to supporting the mission of the Department of Defense” being prosecuted when others have not, unless it is designed to make good on a political promise? That allegation that MEJA covers the Nisour Square incident is also highly suspect because three government agencies – including the State Department itself – have concluded that MEJA cannot be used to prosecute this case.
After the Nisour Square incident, Secretary Rice tasked a panel of outside experts to review the State Department’s security policy in Iraq. It reported in October 2007. The panel’s report says, in part, “The legal framework for providing proper oversight of Personal Protective Service (PPS) contractors is inadequate, in that the Panel is unaware of any basis for holding non-Department of Defense contractors accountable under US law.” If that were not enough, the Congressional Research Service’s report (number RL32419) has made the same finding both before and after the Nisour Square incident.The July 11, 2007 version finds that MEJA, “…does not appear to cover civilian and contract employees of agencies engaged in their own operations overseas.” The updated version dated September 29, 2008 says essentially the same thing: “Depending on how broadly DoD’s mission is construed, MEJA does not appear to cover civilian and contract employees engaged in their own operations overseas.” A third arm of the US government – Congress’s Government Accountability Office – adopted the State Department report in its own July 2008 report on oversight of private security contractors in Iraq.Raven 23 was part of a Blackwater group under contract to the State Department. In the Nisour Square incident, they were acting to help protect a State Department protected person whose own convoy was racing back to the protection of the Green Zone. In the indictments and in the proffer in support of a guilty plea of one of the Blackwater Raven 23 men, Jeremy Ridgeway, they are described as having violated the State Department’s “Mission Firearms Policy.”The government must be bound by the proofs it presents to the court. The facts alleged in the Ridgeway proffer show that the men of Raven 23 cannot be prosecuted. They were State Department contractors, on a State Department mission. Under States’ own analysis -- and that of both CRS and GAO -- they are not criminally liable under MEJA. All that is left is politics.Why is the law being stretched so thin to reach men working for the State Department on a State Department mission if not to make political points with the Iraqi government? The court should throw out the indictments and dismiss all charges because the law does not allow them.Unfortunately for the men of Raven 23 and for the rule of law, the case has been assigned to US District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina.

motorist at a Northwest Side intersection fired three shots into 24-year-old Tomas Garza, moments after authorities said Garza threatened the motorist

A motorist at a Northwest Side intersection fired three shots into 24-year-old Tomas Garza, moments after authorities said Garza threatened the motorist with a baseball bat in an apparent road-rage incident.The killing, the first of 137 recorded in San Antonio last year, was an act of self-defense, police later determined, and was classified by department officials as a justified homicide.
While the total number of killings in San Antonio barely budged in 2008 — up only slightly from the 134 recorded the prior year — detectives noted an upswing in cases in which the shooter was found to be within his rights, from instances of apparent self-defense to protecting one's home and family.According to Police Department statistics, justified homicides in 2008 rose significantly, from seven in 2007 to 17 mirroring a nationwide trend. Of the 17, city and other area police officers were involved in seven. “Nationally, it appears that justifiable homicides have increased,” criminologist James Alan Fox said. “The reasons could be many. We seem to be sending a message that it's acceptable to (use deadly force) even if there is a chance of fleeing.”Fox said less-stringent gun laws — and a tendency to treat people like heroes if they use violent means to defend themselves — could have contributed to what he said is a more general acceptance of deadly force.
“There's always been a self-defense element in law,” he said, “but what we've been telling people more and more is don't flee, and if you are afraid you can defend yourself.” [Mark Godsey]
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