Witnesses describe Blackwater horrors

A federal grand jury investigating Blackwater Worldwide heard witnesses Tuesday as a private lawsuit accused the government contractor’s bodyguards of ignoring orders and abandoning their posts shortly before taking part in a Baghdad shooting that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.

Filed this week in U.S. District Court in Washington, the civil complaint also accuses North Carolina-based Blackwater of failing to give drug tests to its guards in Baghdad — even though an estimated one in four of them was using steroids or other “judgment altering substances.”

A Blackwater spokeswoman said Tuesday its employees are banned from using steroids or other enhancement drugs but declined to comment on the other charges detailed in the 18-page lawsuit.

Just say we won and leave Iraq

The Democratic presidential pack is desperate. Five senators, a governor and a representative are seeking one surefire way to capture hearts, minds and votes whenever they are asked what should be done about Iraq now that post-surge statistics show violence there has at least temporarily declined.

Their quandary is based on a false perception that many think and no one speaks: The misguided notion that good news for the U.S. military is bad news for Democratic presidential prospects.

In Iraq for the long term

How long will the U.S. be in Iraq? A very long time, according to Bush administration plans, on the order of the 60-plus years we’ve been in Germany and Japan and the 50-plus years in South Korea. In other words, more or less permanently.

President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki have signed a “Declaration of Principles” for a long-term relationship. Although it is nonbinding, it lays the groundwork for a formal, binding treaty to be signed next summer that would include a status of forces agreement laying out the conditions under which U.S. troops would remain in Iraq.

Abandoning our friends

One of the great scandals — maybe “disgraces” is a better word — of the Iraqi war effort is our treatment of the Iraqis who risked their lives to work for the U.S. military and government and American civilian contractors.

Many of them are in exile in neighboring countries, having been forced to abandon their homes and careers in Iraq and facing assassination if they return. Many want to settle in the United States, and they think that’s only fair because they lost everything in our service. And they’re right.

FUBAR at the FBI

Here’s a science question for you. When does an ounce of lead differ from another ounce of lead?

Answer: When it is being tested in an FBI laboratory.

Oops, my mistake. When it USED to be tested in an FBI laboratory for the purpose of identifying from which gun it was fired.

Another good reason to not bomb Iran

It’s tempting to think of all Iranians in terms of the mob that stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 or the intemperate remarks of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Israel and the Holocaust. But certain recent events in Iran provide insight into what its people are really like and why we shouldn’t be hasty about dropping bombs on them.

Hurry up and wait for citizenship

A wave of citizenship applications has overwhelmed US officials, leading to waits of more than a year, potentially keeping immigrants out of the voting booth for the 2008 presidential election.

The US agency that examines applications said Wednesday that it had received 1.4 million appeals for citizenship, almost double the number over the year before, and despite hiring some 1,500 employees to deal with the backlog, would-be citizens face long delays.

‘We’re on the wrong course’

Julie Murray says life is good. Yet gasoline prices are crimping her grocery budget, she can’t afford a larger house, and she says President Bush is not focused enough on people’s problems at home.

“My husband and I are happy,” said Murray, 46, a homemaker from Montpelier, Miss. “We just wish we could buy more into the American dream.”

State finds enough suckers for Iraq posts

The State Department said on Monday it had now found enough volunteers to serve in Iraq and would not have to force diplomats to go there.

Last month, in an announcement that angered many diplomats, the State Department said it might order staff to Iraq against their will if it could not fill 48 vacant spots in the U.S. embassy in Baghdad next summer.

However, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said all of the posts had now been filled by volunteers and there would be no need for “directed” assignments to the war zone.

Contractors get rich off U.S. wars

US contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan more than doubled from 2004 to 2006 to over 25 billion dollars but government oversight of the firms involved has slackened, a watchdog group said Monday.

“While the billions of dollars involved and the complexity of these war-related contracts has only grown, the lack of oversight has been staggering,” said Bill Buzenberg, head of the Center for Public Integrity.