Wednesday, October 31, 2007


By William Fisher

Diplomatic sources believe that the State Department official charged with managing private security firms such as Blackwater and other contractors in Iraq and elsewhere overseas was ‘thrown under the bus’ by the Bush Administration seeking a ‘sacrificial lamb’ to protect the more politically powerful people who supervised his office.

Richard Griffin, State’s Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and Director of the Office of Foreign Missions (DS), resigned abruptly on October 24 in the face of a gathering firestorm of criticism regarding the management and oversight of the ‘private armies’ charged with protecting US diplomats, Iraqi government officials, and visiting VIPs including members of the House and Senate.

A State Department source, who spoke on condition of anonymity ”because of the sensitivity” of the issue, said Griffin’s resignation was calculated to provide cover for several politically better-connected higher-ups who were responsible for the overall management and oversight of contractors who provide security services and others engaged in major construction projects such as the massive new American Embassy in Baghdad.

The protected officials were identified as Griffin’s boss, Henrietta H. Fore, Undersecretary for Management, and State’s Inspector General, Howard J. Krongard.

The House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, led by feisty California Democrat Henry Waxman, has been conducting ongoing investigations into Blackwater and other private security contractors, as well as reportedly large-scale problems in the construction of the Baghdad embassy.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice testified before the Committee last week, largely evading questions about the activities of Blackwater, while acknowledging shortcomings in the supervision of the Embassy construction project but claiming that it was the State Department itself that identified and moved to correct the problems.

Krongard is already under attack by Waxman, but Fore has thus far managed to keep a relatively low profile. However, according to a State Department source, “The Waxman investigation into (the Office of the Inspector General) would have implicated Fore and Griffin pretty quickly. Of the three -- Krongard, Fore, and Griffin, Griffin has the least political clout and support. So we think that he was sacrificed early in a public gesture in order to placate the Waxman committee and keep them away from Fore, who has the most clout.”

Appointed by President Bush in August 2005 as Under Secretary for Management, Fore is responsible for the State Department’s people, resources, facilities, technology and security, and is principal advisor on management issues. Among many other management and administrative functions, she leads the Department’s diplomatic security and overseas buildings operations – the two offices most directly implicated in the Blackwater and Embassy construction issues.

Fore is also State’s White House liaison and its representative on the President's Management Council. In the wake of a sex scandal that forced the resignation of Randall Tobias as Director of US Foreign Assistance, in May she was named to fill that post as well as becoming Acting Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

According to Waxman, government officials have accused Krongard of repeatedly blocking investigations into contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan, including construction of the new Embassy in Baghdad, and censoring reports that might prove politically embarrassing to the Bush administration.

The State Department source said, “Krongard’s guilt is that he helped cover up what Fore and Griffin did. Of the three, Griffin is the weakest link, so he gets to be the scapegoat for the other two.”

The organization that represents America’s diplomats, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) has called on Inspector General Krongard to “surrender day-to-day control of State’s vital Office of Inspector General pending the resolution of grave allegations of malfeasance leveled against him by numerous current and former career government officials.”

AFSA urged the Bush Administration to make it a top priority to obtain additional staffing resources for diplomacy. In Iraq alone, some 270 Foreign Service positions remain unfilled. State has also requested funds to hire an additional 100 DS Special Agents.

But the State Department source says Griffin is more than a mere scapegoat. The Bureau Griffin headed hired Blackwater and other private security firms including DynCorp and Triple Canopy, “ostensibly trained them, supervised them, and then failed to hold them accountable for errors. In fact, it appears that the DS Bureau actually covered up for Blackwater in several cases.”

One diplomat said, “While construction of the Embassy is supervised by another State office, Griffin’s office was also involved. It is responsible for supervising the construction of, and certifying, physical security features, such as bomb resistant walls, protective barriers, and so forth. In order for OBO to accept the building contractors' work, DS has to certify that the work on these features meets or exceeds their security standards. One complaint is that a wall, ostensibly certified by DS as meeting their standards (which should have been impervious to a rocket attack) was breached by a launched grenade (smaller than a rocket), which obviously meant that it should never have been certified as ‘safe’.” The Office of the Inspector General (IG) and Griffin’s office are accused of attempting to cover up this fact.

A diplomatic advocacy group, Concerned Foreign Service Officers (CFSO), said that Griffin and his deputy, “fostered the kind of ‘we are above the law - accountable to no-one’ environment which gave carte blanche to Blackwater and others to act as they saw fit.”

The organization said the killing of Iraqi civilians and other alleged excesses by Blackwater “come as little surprise to those who have complained for years about the ‘above-the-law’ culture that has developed in the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.”

It charged that DS believes “that the laws and regulations of the United States need not apply to those who are entrusted to enforce those laws or to protect American diplomats.”

Griffin, an ambassador-rank official who previously held senior posts with the Secret Service and Veteran's Affairs Administration, had been in his current position since June 2005.

The management and oversight of security contractors such as Blackwater intensified after Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad traffic circle on Sept. 16. The FBI, as well as the Iraqi government and the State and Defense departments are investigating the incident, but Baghdad has ordered Blackwater to leave Iraq and has vowed to overturn a law shielding contractors from prosecution.

Earlier, in 2005, a drunken American employee of Blackwater, had shot and killed one of the personal bodyguards of Iraq’s vice president the night before. Within 36 hours of the shooting, Blackwater and the embassy had shipped him out of the country. But as with previous killings by contractors, the case was handled with apologies and a payoff.

Blackwater fired the shooter and fined him $14,697 -- the total of his back pay, a scheduled bonus and the cost of his plane ticket home, according to Blackwater documents. The amount nearly equaled the $15,000 the company agreed to give the Iraqi guard's family.

The recent shootings have also triggered the disclosure of a number of similar events previously, and reopened a long-standing feud between the State Department and the Pentagon about who is responsible for the safety of US civilians serving in Iraq. Also at issue is the question of whether civilian contractors in Iraq can be prosecuted under US criminal law, the Pentagon’s Uniform Code of Military Justice, or not at all.

According to an email from a US Embassy spokesman to superiors. "If the [private security company] is found negligent, the only recourse is dismissal. In cases where there was clear criminal intent, a criminal case could hypothetically be pursued in US federal court, but this has yet to happen out here."

With State Department and FBI investigations underway, the military leaked its own report on the September 16 shootings, finding no evidence that the Blackwater guards fired in self-defense, as the company has maintained. US officers have publicly criticized the security contractors as out-of-control "cowboys" whose behavior alienates Iraqis.

Testifying before Waxman’s committee, Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince refused to comment on the September 16 shootings because they are the subject of ongoing investigations. But he defended his company’s record. He noted that 30 Blackwater employees had been killed in Iraq since the US invasion in 2003 and that there had been no casualties among those the company was charged to protect.

Some Democrats in Congress have pointed out that Prince and his family has long been substantial contributors to Republican candidates and causes, but State Department officials have said the contracting process is immune from political influence. Prince is a former US Navy Seal.

In response to the growing criticism of Blackwater and similar contractors, DS has more than doubled its three-dozen agents in Baghdad. It has deployed to Iraq a third of the 100-agent SWAT force it maintains for emergencies anywhere in the world. Secretary Rice has ordered that at least one DS agent accompany every Blackwater-guarded convoy leaving the Green Zone -- an average of six or seven each day -- and has directed DS to monitor and archive radio and video transmissions from Blackwater vehicles to be used as evidence in any future incident.

Some observers believe continuing Congressional scrutiny may force Rice to remove Blackwater's approximately 900 personal-security personnel from Iraq. And a new, $112 million contract was signed with Blackwater just last month may be in jeopardy, according to a senior DS official.

The new contract added 241 Blackwater personnel and increased its helicopter fleet in Iraq from eight to 24 to provide a quick-reaction air component for diplomatic transport, medical evacuation and rescue -- tasks the military has declined to take on.

According to documents obtained by Waxman’s committee, contractors are highly paid for security duties: Blackwater charges State $1,221.62 a day for a "protective security specialist," according to a 2005 invoice released by the committee.

But during a recent interview on the "Charlie Rose" television show, Blackwater head Prince said, “That is an all-inclusive cost. They get paid well, but they get paid only for every day they are at work in a hot zone. They pay significant taxes right off the top of that, state and federal. They have to cover their own insurance, their own housing allowance -- all those benefits that a soldier gets wrapped in."

In any case, Prince said, "I know it would be hard for the State Department to recruit other people to come over and do reconstruction work . . . if some of them are going home in coffins." Most of Blackwater’s security personnel have formerly served in the US military.

The Blackwater controversy intensified even as Secretary Rice appeared before Waxman’s committee, where she acknowledged that she regretted that oversight of security contractors was not as good as it could have been but generally defended her department's performance.

At the same time, however, ABC News revealed new evidence that the US sought to conceal details of Blackwater shootings of Iraqi civilians more than two years ago.

ABC charged that internal e-mails “show that State Department officials tried to deflect a 2005 Los Angeles Times inquiry into an alleged killing of an Iraqi civilian by Blackwater guards.

"Give [the Los Angeles Times] what we can and then dump the rest on Blackwater," one State Department official wrote to another in the e-mails. "We can't win this one."

One department official taking part in a chain of e-mails noted that the "findings of the investigation are to remain off-limits to the reporter." Another recommended that there be no mention of the existence of a criminal investigation since such a reference would "raise questions and issues."

In the May 2005 incident, a Blackwater convoy was transporting a senior US diplomat down a Baghdad thoroughfare when guards opened fire on an approaching taxi. The taxi driver told The Times that he was slowing to a stop when a burst of machine-gun fire cut into his taxi, wounding him and killing a 19-year-old passenger.

The Times began making inquiries after receiving a tip in August 2005. Peter Mitchell, then a spokesman for the US Embassy, told superiors that he planned to tell a reporter that the State Department had "thoroughly investigated" the incident and that "no criminal act occurred."

ABC charged that the e-mails indicate, however, that the only investigation done was "administrative." Two Blackwater employees were fired and sent back to the US after they were found to have violated operating procedures. Blackwater has declined to comment on the incident.

Following allegations of waste, fraud and mismanagement in the construction of the new Baghdad Embassy, a 182-page report prepared by the embassy itself concluded that "Currently, Iraq is not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anticorruption laws." As a result, the report said, corruption has become "the norm in many [Iraqi government] ministries."

The confidential report, first disclosed by The Nation magazine, said "All indications point to corruption as undermining the support of the population for Iraq's government." The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, it said, “is an enabler of the spreading corruption.”

It added,"The Prime Minister's Office has demonstrated an open hostility
to the concept of an independent agency to investigate or prosecute corruption cases. The Iraqi Government has been withholding basic support and resources" from an Iraqi Government commission formed to investigate corruption.

In her testimony before the Waxman committee, Secretary Rice vowed to examine corruption allegations against Maliki, but refused to discuss publicly what she said could be rumor. Rice said her office would look into these allegations as well as "hundreds of reports of corruption" among other Iraqi officials.

Meanwhile, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) says urgent action is needed to deploy more foreign service personnel worldwide, as well as to hotspots such as Iraq and Afghanistan. AFSA’s president, John K. Naland, says, “The magnitude of current staffing shortfalls is astounding.” He said the current deficit is 2,094 Foreign Service positions worldwide.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


By William Fisher

A diplomatic advocacy organization charged today (Oct. 15) that the a powerful State Department office and the Department's Inspector General are protecting Blackwater and other private security contractors by creating a "pattern of deceit involving direct collusion" to conceal a wide variety of problems from Congressional and American taxpayer oversight.

The organization, Concerned Foreign Service Officers (CFSO), said the State Department's Office of Diplomatic Security (DS) - which supervises Blackwater and other contractors - believes that "the laws and regulations of the United States need not apply to those who are entrusted to enforce those laws or to protect American diplomats."

"It is foolish to imagine that DS would hold contractors such as Blackwater to a higher standard than it holds its own agents. Until a culture of greater transparency, accountability and propriety is developed within DS, placing contractors under tighter DS control will not prevent further abuses. It will simply make it easier for the State Department to conceal those abuses from the American people and from Congress," the organization said in a statement.

A spokesman for the group, who spoke to Truthout on condition of anonymity, added that the State Department's Inspector General, Howard J. Krongard, has "routinely deferred to DS regarding what and who to investigate." Referring to the head of DS, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Griffin, the CFSO spokesman added that the Office of the Inspector General believes that "whatever Griff wants, Griff gets."

Griffin, who leads a powerful global force of 32,000 special agents, engineers, couriers, security specialists, and others who make up State's security and law enforcement arm, was appointed by President Bush in June 2005. His law enforcement background includes service as Deputy Director at the US Secret Service, where he was responsible for planning and directing all investigative, protective, and administrative programs. He began his career with the Secret Service in 1971 as an agent in the Chicago office. Subsequent positions included Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Presidential Protective Division, Special Agent in Charge in Los Angeles, Deputy Assistant Director in the Office of Investigations, and Assistant Director for Protective Operations.

Krongard, appointed as the State Department Inspector General by President George W. Bush in May 2005, has been under intense fire from key members of Congress, led by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), who earlier this month dispatched a 13-page letter to the Inspector General, accusing him of "repeatedly blocking investigations into contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan, including construction of the US Embassy in Baghdad, and censoring reports that might prove politically embarrassing to the Bush administration."

Waxman's letter said, "One consistent element in these allegations is that you believe your foremost mission is to support the Bush administration.'' He added that the allegations were based on the testimony of seven current and former officials on Krongard's staff, including two former senior officials who allowed their names to be used, and private e-mail exchanges obtained by the committee. The letter said the allegations concerned all three major divisions of Krongard's office -- investigations, audits and inspections.

Krongard has called Waxman's allegations "replete with inaccuracies." He said he has tried to assist other agencies without overlapping with other investigations.

A graduate of Harvard law school, Krongard has a long history of associations with establishment organizations and law firms.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which Waxman chairs, is expected to hold a hearing into the conduct of the Inspector General, and it is now generally thought that Blackwater is likely to become a central focus of the inquiry.

Meanwhile, Blackwater has come under attack from a variety of human rights and citizens' action groups.

Amnesty International said, "allegations of contractor involvement in serious human rights violations - including participation by contractors in the torture at Abu Ghraib - have emerged, yet Bush administration officials have made virtually no effort to hold contractors accountable or compensate victims."

The organization added that the US Justice Department "has largely failed in its obligation to prosecute US contractors for serious human rights violations, and worse, it appears to have taken steps to undermine access to justice."

It pointed out more than three years after the establishment of a Task Force by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, "the Task Force has not brought a single indictment against a contractor for abuse of detainees," according to Amnesty.

Another advocacy group, Working Assets / Act for Change, charged that "the September 16, 2007 lethal shootings of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater employees points out once again the need for accountability of contractors operating in conflict zones."

The organization declared that "Bush administration officials have made virtually no effort to hold contractors accountable or compensate victims. Indeed, the State Department seems to be doing its best to protect, not investigate, Blackwater."

"Blackwater employees who, after reportedly firing shots that killed at least 11 Iraqis, might never face criminal charges because loopholes in US law mean that civilian contractors are practically free to treat Iraq and Afghanistan like the Wild West," according to Will Easton, Manager of Act For Change. Com / Working Assets.

Various legislative proposals designed to reign in private security contractors are gaining momentum in Congress. Representative David Price's (D-NC) Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) Expansion and Enforcement Act of 2007 clarifies US jurisdiction to prosecute contractors of all US agencies operating near a conflict area, establishes an FBI unit to investigate incidents of use of force by contractors, and requires the Department of Justice to report on how it is handling cases of contractor crime.

The bill was passsed in the House on October 4 with a 389-30 vote. Senator Barack Obama then introduced companion legislation in the Senate, the Security Contractor Accountability Act of 2007 (S. 2147).

But not all observers agree with the view that Blackwater and similar contractors are out of control. One conservative news source, Newsmax, defended the company.

It said, "Blackwater's major 'sin' has nothing to do with Iraq, and everything to do with U.S. politics. Congressional Democrats have made the firm, and its founder Erik Prince, the punching bag for their anti-Bush campaign."

Newsmax went on to write, "One reason Washington insiders say (Blackwater founder and CEO Erik) Prince and company are being targeted is his unapologetic support for the GOP and conservative causes."

Prince, a former Navy Seal, worked as a White House intern under President George H.W. Bush. Prince and his family have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and other conservative and religious causes, according to The New York Times. He reportedly gave more than $500,000 to Focus on the Family from July 2003 to July 2006.

Inspectors General are appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate. The IG's mission is to independently investigate and make corrective recommendations regarding waste, fraud and improper conduct within their respective departments and agencies. IGs serve in all major government department departments, and smaller agencies, as well as in the military.

While the IG Act of 1978 requires that IGs be selected based upon their qualifications and not political affiliation, IGs are considered political appointees and are often selected in part because of their political relationships and party affiliation.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


By William Fisher

Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu has been disinvited to speak at a St. Paul, Minnesota, university because of allegations that he made "hurtful" comments about Israel that might offend local Jews.

Tutu, widely revered for his opposition to South Africa's apartheid system, was proposed to the University of St. Thomas administration as a speaker for a spring 2008 event planned by the local chapter of a youth group known as Peace Jam International.
According to a university official, Doug Hennes, vice president for university and government relations, "basic background research" about Tutu turned up "some red flags" concerning "some things that (Tutu) had said about Israel."

Hennes told a St. Paul newspaper he made some inquiries, including one to a spokeswoman for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. The organization's representative called Hennes' attention to a speech Tutu made in Boston in 2002 that was reportedly critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

She also said that Tutu's speech referred to a "powerful" Jewish lobby in the US, which she said invoked a stereotype of Jewish power, and another where he asked aloud if Jews had forgotten that God cares about the downtrodden.

Hennes said it was a "judgment call" made by St. Thomas' president, the Rev. Dennis Dease. "The basic response we got was that (Tutu) had said some things in the past that have been hurtful to the Jewish community," Hennes said. "When we looked at that, we just decided we're not going to invite him."

Tutu's 2002 speech was reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), an international news agency serving Jewish community newspapers and media around the world. But JTA critics, including Prof. Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, claim the news agency's reporting was distorted.

A transcript of Tutu's speech reveals he said, "The Israeli government is placed on a pedestal (in the US), and to criticize it is to be immediately dubbed anti-Semitic, as if the Palestinians were not Semitic. I am not even anti-white, despite the madness of that group. And how did it come about that Israel was collaborating with the apartheid government on security measures? People are scared in (the US) to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful - very powerful. Well, so what? This is God's world. For goodness sake, this is God's world! We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosovic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust."

Tutu added, "We should put out a clarion call to the government of the people of Israel, to the Palestinian people and say: peace is possible, peace based on justice is possible. We will do all we can to assist you to achieve this peace, because it is God's dream, and you will be able to live amicably together as sisters and brothers."

Many other Americans who are critical of Israeli government policies have been similarly criticized. These include former President Jimmy Carter, whose recent book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," was immediately attacked as being anti-Semitic.

Ironically, unquestioning acceptance of Israeli government policies is virtually unknown in Israel, where political debate tends to be ubiquitous, fractious and highly charged. Many in Israel are far more critical than either Carter or Tutu regarding Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

At the university in St. Paul, the Tutu controversy triggered heated pushback from some faculty members. A professor was stripped of her leadership post at the school's Justice and Peace Studies Program for the way she challenged the administration's decision.

And Marv Davidov, an adjunct professor, who said he was incensed by the Tutu decision, said, "I think the Israeli lobby in our country has been attempting to silence criticisms of Israel in the academic world. That does a disservice to the state of Israel and all Jews," said Davidov, 76, who said he experienced anti-Semitism as a child in Detroit.

He said anyone who criticizes Israel for treatment of Palestinians ends up labeled as anti-Semitic.

Two years ago, St. Thomas - a Catholic diocesan institution founded in 1885 and now the largest private university in Minnesota - hosted an appearance by incendiary
right-wing pundit Ann Coulter. Coulter once said of Muslims, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Coulter spoke at the school to promote her book, "Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right." Her appearance required extra security.

Bishop Tutu's most recent US appearance was as a guest panelist at an event sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative, an organization formed by former President Bill Clinton to bring together leaders from the private and public sectors, religion, science and technology, medicine, and many other specialties, to promote peace, healthcare, educational and other essential services to underdeveloped countries.

Meanwhile, the youth group that proposed Tutu to St. Thomas has moved its conference to another venue -- Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, where the Nobel laureate will speak on April 11.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


By William Fisher

As the government's fiscal year came to an end last week, the Bush Administration had resettled only slightly more than 10 per cent of the 7,000 Iraqi refugees it pledged to help - and an even tinier fraction of the estimated two million men, women and children who have fled to Jordan, Syria and other neighboring countries or the additional two million who have been internally displaced by ethnic and religious violence within their own country.

According to the US State Department, less than a thousand Iraqi refugees were given US asylum in FY 2007. In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last September, Ellen Sauerbrey, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, said the US would arrange US visas for 7,000 Iraqi refugees by September 30. She later revised the goal downward to 2,000.

Those seeking US visas include thousands of Iraqis who worked for the US Government as translators, drivers, cleaners, cooks, and a variety of other occupations. Many of these people live under death threats because of their support for the US-led coalition. The US Department of Labor has recorded the deaths of more than 250 translators alone.

Many experts familiar with this issue attribute the resettlement program's poor performance principally to the failure of the Bush Administration to assign it a higher priority, to bureaucratic inefficiencies, and to fear by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that some of the Iraqi refugees seeking admission to the US may be terrorists.

Eleanor Acer, Director of the Refugee Protection Program for Human Rights First, a legal advocacy organization, told Truthout the number of Iraqis admitted to the US during the past year is "embarrassingly low."

She said, "Given the size and scale of this refugee crisis, and the US's role in Iraq, this country has a moral obligation to step forward and lead efforts to address the plight of Iraqi refugees. The US needs to step up its aid to assist those states that are hosting the overwhelming majority of Iraqi refugees, but it also needs to demonstrate a real commitment to share the responsibility for providing refuge to Iraqis who are at risk."

The two largest destinations for Iraqi refugees -- Jordan and Syria --are currently hosting more than 500,000 and 1.5 million respectively. On a per capita population basis, Sweden has taken in more refugees than the US.

According to Acer, the US announced goal of resettling only 12,000 next year "is signaling that it will provide shelter to a only a tiny - token - number of those in need."

Currently, the DHS has only a handful of interviewers in Jordan and Syria. In a blunt cable to US to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice - leaked to The Washington Post last month -- Ambassador Ryan Crocker called on State and DHS to "at least" double the number of officers to interview asylum seekers who have already fled Iraq for neighboring countries.

But the subject was barely mentioned during the recent Congressional testimonies of Crocker and Gen. David H. Petraeus on the state of the Iraq War.

According to Secretary Sauerbrey's Senate testimony, "It is clear that the (resettlement) program has felt the impact of post September 11 expansions in the scope of terrorism-related inadmissibility provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). As a result, the Departments of State, Homeland Security and Justice have been engaged in efforts to exercise the inapplicability provision contained in the INA. This means that these amendments do not apply to refugee applications of individuals who pose no security threat to the United States and who we would otherwise wish to approve."

According to Acer, the US "should be able to allocate more officers to do these interviews in a more timely manner. Also there are steps that they can and should take to conduct the security checks in a more timely manner - and if the checks are being delayed because of lack of resources, then more resources are needed."

Acer adds, "The DHS has a desire to ensure that no one who is a security threat gets into the US. That is a critical objective, and everyone agrees with it. But that does not explain why they are not sending MANY MORE officers to Jordan to conduct refugee interviews."

Another major roadblock in the resettlement program is the policy prohibiting asylum-seekers from being interviewed in Iraq before they have been forced to flee to other countries. On this issue, Acer asserts that "It critical for the US to set up a process for interviewing applicants in Iraq. Iraqis who have risked their lives for the US should not be forced to further risk their lives by taking the dangerous trip to leave the country - and given the fact that they may not be allowed to cross the border into Jordan and soon to Syria, they will really have no options."

In her Congressional testimony, Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey said the State Department wishes it could allow as many as 20,000 Iraqis to seek asylum here. Yet she admitted that the difficulty of setting up asylum application centers in Iraq might make it impossible.

The State Department, however, has generally defended its performance. US Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky says "foreign policy pundits" unfairly accuse the Bush Administration of indifference to the plight of Iraqi refugees. Dobriansky says, "We have finalized security protocols enabling us to expedite the resettlement of Iraqi refugees in the US," adding that "progress has been made." Ms. Dobriansky points out that the US has funded 30% of the $60 million United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) $60 million Iraq appeal this year. While that totals only $18 million -- up from the $400,000 the US spent to support UN refugee resettlement efforts in 2006 -- Dobriansky says the US "intends" to provide $100 million more.

But there is also ample evidence that bureaucratic roadblocks are in part responsible for the program's lack of progress. For example, Crocker's cable to Rice suggested what he called "real alternatives," such as allowing State Department officers to conduct interviews, arranging DHS interviews by video from Washington or allowing Iraqis who work for the US Embassy to go through the process in Iraq, instead of outside the country.

But in a letter to Crocker the following day, Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of DHS's US Citizenship and Immigration Services, wrote that the ambassador's cable "does not reflect an accurate picture" of his department's commitment or performance to date."

Gonzalez disputed many of Crocker's points and blamed the State Department, which has overall responsibility for the US refugee program, and its partner agents, called Overseas Processing Entities. They handle initial security screening, medical examinations, sponsorships and orientation for applicants.

"It is the OPE's capacity to prescreen the Iraqi cases . . . that has been driving the pace of the Iraqi program," Gonzalez wrote. "I can assure you categorically that USCIS has sent refugee officers to conduct every interview requested" by State.

In May the DHS said it was "poised to approve the applications of nearly 60 Iraqis," and that it was adding new screening procedures for Iraqis to "supplement the checks conducted for all refugee applicants."

But the Wall Street Journal's (WSJ) editorial page disagrees with the government's claims of progress. It wrote:

"How many Iraqi refugees did the U.S. resettle in 2006? It settled 202. The State Department said it would resettle 7,000 this fiscal year. Halfway through, it has admitted 68. Meanwhile, the U.S. is spending $2 billion per week to wage the war that directly or indirectly has caused four million Iraqis to be forced from their homes. Whether the U.S. resettles 70 or 7,000, it amounts to a drop in the ocean of Iraqi refugees. Iraq's neighbors are inundated and they need meaningful international support to keep their borders open."

The WJS concluded, "it seems a bit tacky for the US undersecretary of state to tout this as an example of American largesse."

Iraqi refugees have placed substantial strains on the economies of Jordan and Syria. Those who have settled in these countries are not allowed to work and are surviving on savings and black market labor. Their children are not allowed to attend school and there is no provision for health care to displaced families.

While Iraq's neighboring countries have generally been cooperative in accepting the large numbers of refugees, the State Department has reported that Syria is now dragging its feet on issuing entry visas to additional DHS interviewers. That claim could not be verified.

Although Jordan was once the refuge of choice for many middle class professionals, in January 2007 Jordan closed its borders to virtually all Iraqi refugees. In recent months, Lebanon has also tightened restrictions on Iraqi refugees and detained and deported some Iraqis. While neither state has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention or its Protocol, under customary international law, all nations are obligated to refrain from returning refugees to persecution.

The international community also bears some responsibility for the plight of Iraqi refugees, according to a spokesperson for Amnesty International USA. Mary Shaw told Truthout the international community "is failing to adequately address Iraq's growing refugee crisis. Jordan, Syria and other destination sites for Iraqi refugees "lack adequate assistance from other states. Amnesty International calls on other states to do more to assist Syria and Jordan by providing increased financial, logistical, and material support to enable them to meet the needs of the Iraqi refugees, and by accepting more refugees for resettlement."

Meanwhile, some in Congress are seeking a legislative fix. Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) have introduced a bill that would provide safe haven to those Iraqis who are at risk because of their work with the United States or with US organizations.

The bill would create a new resettlement category for Iraqi refugees of special humanitarian concern; establish a special immigrant visa for Iraqis who worked directly with the US; require refugee processing in Iraq and in the region; appoint special coordinators for Iraqi refugees; and encourage assistance to countries in the region that host large numbers of Iraqi refugees.

The Iraq refugee numbers stand in sharp contrast to those from the Vietnam era. In 1975, the US airlifted 6,000 Vietnamese out of the country, the first in a series of actions addressing the refugee crisis. A year later, President Carter allowed the resettlement of 14,000 Vietnamese each month. In 1979, the Orderly Departure Program was established. It brought 500,000 Vietnamese into the US. By the program's end in 1994, 250,000 families had been reunited.

The refugees were airlifted out to relocation camps in the US. Then, after undergoing security checks, they were matched by the State Department with US churches, families and civic groups. "To do less," President Ford later recalled of his effort, "would have added moral shame to humiliation."