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News :: Human Rights
Blackwater Mercenary Threatened to Kill US Gov Inspector in Iraq
30 Jun 2014
Blackwater Iraqi chief threatened to kill US govt. inspector - newspaper
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A senior official of the notorious private security company Blackwater allegedly threatened to kill a government investigator probing the firm’s Iraqi operation. The US embassy sided with him and forced the inspector to cut the visit short.

The shocking insight into the relations between the US State Department and the company hired to protect government employees in Iraq wasreported by the New York Time on Sunday. The newspaper cites documents which were turned over to plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Blackwater, including a memo describing the incident submitted by the investigator, Jean C. Richter, to his superiors in Washington.

Diplomatic Security special agent Richter was part of the two-man team together with State Department management analyst Donald Thomas Jr. that arrived in Baghdad on August 1, 2007 to inspect Blackwater operations in the country. The company was awarded a $1 billion contract to provide security for the State Department and the CIA in Iraq.

According to the documents, the investigators found numerous violations, including changing of security details without the State Department’s approval, reducing the number of guard details and storing of automatic weapons and ammunition in Blackwater employees’ private rooms. There were also discipline problems, with guards having parties with heavy drinking and female visitors, including one episode in which an armored Blackwater car was requisitioned by four drunken employees, who drove to a private party and crashed the $180,000 vehicle into a concrete barrier.

As the probe continued, apparently it irritated some people in power in Iraq. On August 20, Richter was summoned by the embassy’s regional security officer, Bob Hanni, who said he had received a call asking him to document Richter’s “inappropriate behavior.” The investigator contacted Washington and was instructed to take his partner to all remaining meetings.

The next day Richter and Thomas met Daniel Carroll, Blackwater’s project manager in Iraq, to discuss a complaint over food quality and sanitary conditions at a cafeteria in Blackwater’s compound. Carroll said Richter could not tell him what to do in his cafeteria and went on to threaten him.

The Blackwater chief said “he could ‘kill me’ at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” Richter recounted in the memo. “I took Mr. Carroll’s threat seriously. We were in a combat zone where things can happen quite unexpectedly, especially when issues involve potentially negative impacts on a lucrative security contract.”

Thomas corroborated Richter’s account of the events in a separate statement, saying that Carroll’s comments were “unprofessional and threatening in nature.” He added that the investigators were told by people in Baghdad to be “very careful,” considering that their review could jeopardize Blackwater’s operations there.

Richter said the company officials showed little respect either to State Department officials like himself or to FBI agents present in Iraq.

“To me, it was immediately apparent that the Blackwater contractors believed that they were the de facto authority and acted accordingly, in an alarming manner,” the memo said. “Blackwater contractors saw themselves as ‘above the law’ and actually believed that they ‘ran the place’.”

He said he was shocked when the US embassy in Baghdad sided with Carroll and ordered the two investigators to leave Iraq immediately. In an August 23 email, Ricardo Colon, the acting regional security officer at the embassy, told Richter that their mission had become “unsustainably disruptive to day-to-day operations and created an unnecessarily hostile environment for a number of contract personnel.” The next day the inspectors cut short their probe and left Baghdad.

“The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves,” Richter stated in the memo.

The events happened just weeks before Blackwater guards killed 17 civilians, including a nine-year-old boy in Bahgdad’s Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. The incident sparked outrage with American presence in Iraq among the local population. The US is currently trying to prosecute four of the five guards involved in the incident after a first failed attempt to do it in 2009.

Blackwater was founded by former Navy SEAL Erik Prince and grew to a private security giant with billions worth of contracts from the US government. After a series of scandals marred the company name, Prince sold it. Blackwater was renamed three times eventually merging with its competitor Triple Canopy to form what is now called Constellis Holdings.

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Who is responsible for the catastrophes in the Middle East?
30 Jun 2014
World Socialist Web Site -- 30 June 2014

“The United States of America is not responsible for what happened in Libya, nor is it responsible for what is happening in Iraq today,” Secretary of State John Kerry declared at a Cairo news conference held in the midst of his recent crisis tour of the Middle East.

As Kerry spoke, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and a growing Sunni insurgency were consolidating their grip over the north and west of Iraq, including the country’s borders with Syria and Jordan. Upwards of a million Iraqis had been displaced by the fighting, and thousands had been killed in the mounting sectarian slaughter.

Libya is in a state of complete collapse, with continuous fighting between rival militias, a government that exists in name only, oil production down by at least 80 percent, and over a million people forced to flee the country’s violence. Many thousands are incarcerated in a network of prisons run by armed groups that practice systematic torture.

Kerry’s statement merely made official the steady drumbeat from the political establishment and the media since the situation in Iraq turned into a complete debacle: “The US bears no responsibility.”

Typical was the commentary by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, a “human rights” imperialist who was a vocal proponent of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. He wrote: “The debacle in Iraq isn’t President Obama’s fault. It’s not the Republicans’ fault… overwhelmingly, it’s the fault of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.”

Maliki, the stooge put in power and kept there by the US occupation, is made the fall guy.

Thomas Friedman, the Times’ foreign affairs columnist, wrote Sunday that Maliki is an “arsonist,” who, “the minute America left Iraq,” deliberately unleashed mayhem. This is the same Friedman who in 2003 declared that the US invaded Iraq “because we could,” spoke proudly of US troops going house-to-house and ordering Iraqis to “suck on this,” and declared that he had “no problem with a war for oil.”

Listening to the chorus of statements insisting that the US has no responsibility for the deepening tragedy inflicted upon the people of Iraq and Libya, one is reminded of nothing so much as the Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, from Hermann Göring on down, rising one-by-one in the dock to declare themselves “not guilty.”

What are the crimes for which Kerry and so many others in the ruling establishment insist Washington bears no responsibility?

The description that they used for their own actions at the time was “shock and awe,” the unleashing of colossal destructive force upon a society already shattered by a decade of sadistic US sanctions. Killing hundreds of thousands of people and turning millions into refugees, the US war and occupation destroyed every institution of Iraqi society, while Washington deliberately fomented sectarian divisions as a means of overcoming Iraqi nationalism. The country’s deposed ruler, Saddam Hussein, was tried by a drumhead court and unceremoniously executed.

All of this was justified with warnings about the imminent threat from “weapons of mass destruction” and ties between Baghdad and Al Qaeda. As the whole world now knows, it was all lies.

There were no WMDs and there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq until US imperialism overthrew the country’s government and tore its social fabric to pieces. In fact, there was no Al Qaeda at all before Washington set about inciting a bloody war by right-wing Islamists in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

In Libya and now in Syria, the Obama administration abandoned the “war on terrorism” pretext for an equally cynical and fraudulent justification for regime-change: “human rights.” In Libya, the US and NATO heavily bombed the country while organizing and arming Islamist-led militias in a sectarian war that destroyed all of the existing governmental and social structures. As in Iraq, it ended its war with the brutal murder of the country’s secular leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

Washington is carrying out a similar war for regime-change in Syria, backing Sunni Islamist and sectarian militias that are led by ISIS, the same force that has overrun much of Iraq. The US hopes to end this war with the assassination of a third secular Arab head of state, Bashar al-Assad.

Just last week, Obama proposed to funnel $500 million in arms to the Syrian “rebels”—weapons that everyone knows will end up in the hands of ISIS, which the US is supposedly committed to defeating in Iraq.

As the contradictions and deceptions of Washington’s policy become ever more glaring, US officials simply act as though the American people won’t notice, or will believe anything. Or, for that matter, they won’t see that $500 million can be conjured up instantly to pay for a criminal war, while working people are being told “there is no money” for health care, education, housing or jobs.

The destruction that the US oligarchs have wrought in the Middle East, with all of its terrible human consequences, is the external manifestation of their destructive role within the US itself—smashing up the country’s manufacturing base, turning its economy into a gambling casino for financial parasites, destroying the jobs and living standards of millions of people. With no answers to the growing crisis at home, they turn to violence abroad, only compounding the catastrophes they have created overseas.

The “not responsibles” and “not guilties” from Kerry, Kristof, Friedman and the other advocates and apologists for American military aggression won’t wash. US imperialism is responsible for terrible crimes against humanity.

Yet no one has been held accountable. Not those in Washington—Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, et al.—who conspired to wage a war of aggression; not those in the current administration, from Obama on down, who conspired to shield their predecessors and continue the same predatory policies; not the military brass who carried out the war; not the private contractors who enriched themselves off of it; not the lying media that helped foist the war onto the American public; not the cowardly and conformist academics who justified and went along with it.

Together, they are responsible for the catastrophes that have been inflicted upon the peoples of Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Blackwater Mercenary
30 Jun 2014
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Nearly seven years later, four former mercenaries of Blackwater Worldwide are on trial in US court on charges stemming from a September 2007 attack that left 14 Iraqis dead and wounded 18 others in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.

In the trial that began June 11 in US District Court in Washington, DC, Nicholas Slatten is accused of first-degree murder, and Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty and Paul Slough are on trial for voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and gun charges.

If convicted, Slatten could be sentenced to life in prison, while the other defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years if convicted of the gun charge and at least one other charge. The former Blackwater guards have pled not guilty to all charges. The US Justice Department dropped charges against a fifth guard and a sixth reached a plea deal.

The events of September 16, 2007 have come to be emblematic of the brutal repression of the Iraqi people at the hands of the US military and its private contractor accomplices in years of neocolonial repression. An Iraqi government probe, as well as independent investigations by the New York Times and Washington Post, have already determined that the Blackwater mercenaries’ attack was unprovoked, and that they fired on unarmed civilians.

The FBI is coordinating arrangements for more than four dozen Iraqi citizens, including relatives of those killed in the attack, to travel to Washington in the coming months to testify in a trial expected to last months. US authorities refused Iraqi government demands for the Blackwater guards to stand trial in Iraq, and charges were dropped in 2009 before being reinstated in 2011 by a US federal appeals court.

In the prosecution’s opening statements, Assistant US Attorney T. Patrick Martin said some of the victims were “simply trying to get out” of the way of the gunfire of the Blackwater guards. He said that immediately after the guards got back to their base, they began circulating the lie that there were insurgents in the area that posed a threat to the security contractors.

Martin said that it took four days for the US State Department, which had hired Blackwater to protect its diplomats in Baghdad, to arrive on the scene to investigate the shootings. He said their investigation was haphazard and incomplete and that “most of all it seemed bent on clearing the contractors” of any wrongdoing.

Martin displayed graphic photos and video of the scene in Baghdad on the day of the shootings, including a picture he described as that of motorist Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y, who was the first to be shot in the head. Blackwater’s Slatten is charged with first-degree murder in his death.

The Times reported on the government’s first witness, Mohammed Hafedh Abdulrazzaq Kinani, who broke down on the witness stand last week as he recounted how his nine-year-old son Ali was shot in the head while riding in the back seat of the family car.

Mr. Kinani sobbed so uncontrollably that presiding Judge Royce C. Lamberth sent the jury out of the room. One juror, who said she had been too haunted by witnesses’ testimony to sleep, was excused by the judge from service.

The Blackwater mercenaries’ defense maintains that the guards acted in self-defense and were fired upon by what they perceived to be possible suicide car bombers. However, according to the New York Times report of the incident published October 3, 2007, the car carrying the first people to be killed did not approach the Blackwater convoy in the square until the driver—subsequently identified as Ahmed Haithem Ahmed—had been shot in the head and lost control of the vehicle.

Also testifying last week was Sarhan Deab Abdul Moniem, who was a traffic officer when the convoy of Blackwater trucks pulled into his traffic circle in Nisour Square and started shooting. Speaking through an interpreter, Moniem recalled how he ran to a white Kia sedan, where Mahassin Kadhim, Ahmed Haithem Ahmed’s mother, cradled her dead son’s head on her shoulder.

“I asked her to open up the door so I could help her,” Moniem said. “But she was paying attention only to her son.” Mrs. Kadhim was apparently shot as she held her son in her arms. The car then caught fire after the Blackwater guards fired some type of grenade into the vehicle. Ahmed’s father later counted 40 bullet holes in the car.

An initial burst of gunfire was followed by a torrent of bullets unleashed by the mercenaries, even as the Iraqi civilians were turning their vehicles around and attempting to flee. No witnesses to the shootings have reported gunfire coming from Iraqis in and around the square.

Fareed Walid Hassan, a truck driver, told the Times in 2007, “The shooting started like rain; everyone escaped his car.” He said he saw a woman dragging her child’s body. “He was around 10 or 11. He was dead. She was pulling him by one hand to get him away. She hoped that he was still alive.”

According to the 2007 Iraqi government investigation, Blackwater helicopters flying overhead also fired into cars, leaving bullet holes in car roofs. According to the Iraqi probe, in a separate shooting several minutes later, a Blackwater convoy, possibly the same one, moved north and fired on another line of traffic.

According to the Associated Press, the Blackwater mercenaries’ defense plans to call an expert witness who will “testify about the use of force in combat situations and the general threat level in Baghdad at the time of the shootings.” Another defense witness will testify that absolute proof of a perceived deadly or imminent threat is not required for a contractor to respond with deadly force.

At the height of the Iraq war, there were an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 security contractors employed by the US in its occupation. The activities of Blackwater and other private mercenaries were seamlessly integrated into the operations of the US State department and military. The September 2007 massacre was only one of the most publicized and egregious of the crimes of the Blackwater guards, who acted with impunity and with the support of the US government in terrorizing the Iraqi population.

In an effort to distance itself from its murderous operations in Iraq—particularly the 2007 massacre in the nation’s capital—Blackwater renamed itself Xe in 2009, and then Academi in 2011. According to recent German media reports, the US mercenary company is presently active directing the repression of pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine by the fascist forces of the NATO puppet regime installed in Kiev.

In an operation receiving little attention in the US media, the giant military contractor is reportedly coordinating the attacks by the fascist Right Sector militia, the Kiev regime’s National Guard, along with groups of football hooligans, leading to hundreds of casualties across east Ukraine.
The Shenyang Job - Was Blackwater in China?
01 Jul 2014
James Risen’s report in the New York Times on Blackwater’s death threat against State Department investigators in Iraq (and the US embassy’s craven decision to kick out the investigators for being “unsustainably disruptive to day-to-day operations” in response) also includes this interesting passage:

The company’s gung-ho attitude and willingness to take on risky tasks were seductive to government officials in Washington. The State Department, for example, secretly sent Blackwater guards to Shenyang, China, to provide security for North Korean asylum seekers who had gone to the U.S. Consulate there and refused to leave for fear the Chinese government would force them to go back to North Korea, according to company documents and interviews with former Blackwater personnel.

The backstory for the Shenyang job is presumably the flood of economic and political refugees from North Korea during the famine years of the early 2000s. Some refugees tried to get into various consulates in Shenyang as well as embassies in Beijing, and hope that they could obtain some kind of asylum/entry into a sympathetic foreign country instead of facing repatriation to North Korea.

Antoaneta Bezlova wrote the story for IPS in 2002 (via Asia Times Online):

The attempt by the family of five North Koreans to enter the Japanese consulate in Shenyang is the latest in a string of cases. On the weekend, two North Koreans entered the Canadian embassy in Beijing to seek sanctuary. The swelling flow of North Korean asylum seekers in China comes following the daring and successful asylum bid of 25 refugees who rushed into the Spanish embassy in Beijing in March. They were later allowed to leave the country and gained passage to South Korea through the Philippines. More attempts have followed. Last month, a North Korean sought asylum in Beijing’s German Embassy after scrambling over a two-meter wall into its compound, while two other North Koreans gained entry into the US mission. All three subsequently were sent on to South Korea.

The wave of asylum bids has been highly publicized in the foreign press as they offer a rare glimpse into the secretive society of poverty-wracked North Korea, which is plagued by a lack of food, heat and medicine. Between 250,000 and 300,000 refugees are believed to be in the hiding in the northern Chinese provinces bordering North Korea.

The PRC pushed back aggressively to control the influx of asylum seekers. The most troubling incident occurred at the Japanese consulate in Shenyang. Chinese police seized three family members as they tried to rush through a half-open gate at the consulate; two adults made it inside and police walked into the consulate and arrested them, without any apparent resistance from the consulate staff.

Per Bezlova, whether the Chinese had any tacit agreement from the Japanese government is a matter of dispute:

Japan and China agreed on Wednesday to release the five asylum seekers and send them to South Korea or the United States via the Philippines. The agreement was made during talks in Tokyo between China’s ambassador to Tokyo and Japan’s vice foreign minister. The incident in Shenyang was caught on videotape. At the time, China said that Japanese diplomats had given police permission to enter the compound to seize the asylum seekers. But on Monday, Japanese officials said that consent was not given and that Tokyo considered the incident a violation of its sovereign territory.

Maybe one of those “Officially, this is unacceptable, unofficially…meh” things.

The most interesting question is why this family, apparently both determined and with access to significant support from the escapee support network (which I imagine, must be highly selective in its choice of people to champion), was not discretely waved into some consulate for eventual emigration. Did the DPRK pass the message to the PRC and Japan that asylum/emigration for these particular people was intolerable? Or was the cooperation of family members already overseas deemed unsatisfactory, perhaps even evidence that they were double agents?

In any event, the family quickly became an unwelcome media and political headache with no upside.

In talking to the Japanese government immediately prior to the incident, Lee Young Hwa of RENK (Rescue the North Korean People Urgent Action Network) had warned of the hardball tactics the asylum seekers might theoretically employ to make it into the consulate:

From my experience of helping asylum seekers in the past, there is the strong possibility that refugees might be carrying suicide poison with them just in case. Also, with this worst case scenario in mind, they are also likely be accompanied by reporters.

It’s unclear if suicide poison was involved, but the media was certainly present:

South Korean activists who help North Koreans seek asylum showed once again their talent for public relations. The Yonhap News Agency, tipped off in advance, filmed the struggle on May 8 from a window across the street in Shenyang.

The Japanese government apparently cared enough about the family of five, or at least for Japan’s international reputation, to ensure that the group was allowed to journey onward to the ROK and/or the United States and not get repatriated to North Korea despite detention by Chinese police.

According to Lee, who was apparently the go-to guy at the time both for asylum seekers and foreign governments trying to get a grip on the asylum-seeking process, the response at the US consulate in Shenyang was somewhat more muscular:

In the case of the United States, however, the United States took refugees who rushed into the U. S. Embassy in Beijing and its Consulate General in Shenyang into protective custody without making a fuss, not allowing armed Chinese police to enter into either of its diplomatic compounds.

This looks like the suitable context for the Blackwater revelation.

Given the still inexplicable willingness of the Japanese consulate to waive its sovereign immunity and allow Chinese police to arrest people on its grounds, maybe the State Department decided it was necessary to bring in Blackwater and demonstrate that, no matter what was going on with Japan, and no matter how high the value of the asylum seekers sheltering in the US consulate (and despite, I would think, the ability of US embassy and consulate guards to refuse entry to Chinese police), whatever happened at the Japanese consulate should not in any way be misconstrued as a precedent for the US.

The alternate possibility is that Blackwater was there to make sure that the consulate wasn’t stormed by desperate asylum seekers. This is, however, unlikely. Asylum seekers would have to run a gauntlet of Chinese police to get to near the consulate. In any case, as Lee’s account of the Japanese consulate fiasco indicates, asylum seekers were not crowds of starving Korean peasants bum-rushing consulates and embassies; those unfortunates were, by and large, still bottled up on the DPRK/PRC border.

Asylum seekers, on the other hand, were part of an “elite” subgroup of refugees who could reasonably expect a friendly reception, for instance escapees who were Japanese residents (“returnees” i.e. ethnic Korean residents of Japan who had emigrated from Japan to North Korea and subsequently fled, and possibly had Japanese family members), ROK prisoners of war, people with relatives already overseas, or, it appears, attractive intelligence assets.

Their asylum gambits were choreographed and pre-arranged by a NGOs acting as concierges on behalf of particular individuals and families.

Other members of the family that tried to rush the Japanese consulate had already made a successful bid for asylum in Beijing, according to the New York Times:

The five people who were detained by the Chinese police while trying to enter the Japanese Consulate are all members of a family that has angered North Korean authorities with previous efforts to escape to Seoul, a human rights group said. Last June, other family members walked into the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Beijing demanding asylum and were subsequently resettled in Seoul.

The increased traffic in asylum seekers was definitely not welcome to the PRC—which installed barriers, heightened security to prevent approaches to embassies and consulates, and issued a notification laying out its disapproval.

The foreign states were not terribly averse to the Chinese message.

Overall, it appears that the bottom line was that the “underground railroad” had the potential to deliver “elite” refugees in quantities that the foreign states as well as the PRC deemed unacceptably disruptive, and the message was passed to the NGOs that qualified escapees should not be put in the pipeline on the presumption that they would be welcome when it came time to negotiate the final passage into a consulate or embassy.

In 2007, Adrian Hong of Liberty in North Korea described a failed approach:

“Last December, our field workers had moved to help 6 North Korean refugees from our underground shelters in China seek asylum. These refugees were judged to be high-risk; two orphan teenagers, a young 22 year old woman, and three older women. Many of the refugees have chronic injuries and illnesses. One of the refugees is mother of a North Korean refugee now resettled in the United States. During our underground railroad operation, our refugees and their escorts made the dangerous trek to the United States Consulate in Shenyang without incident, although not without several very close calls.

Upon arrival in Shenyang, I notified the authorities at the Consulate of our identities and intentions, to seek asylum and protection for these NK refugees. I took extensive measures, as always, to remain discrete, speaking over safe phone lines and using words and phrases that would signal our situation to educated Consular staff, but not to an eavesdropper. As the group waited a few hundred feet from the main gate of the US Consulate, in view of the United States flag and gates, I was told that someone would call me back.

A while later I received a call from a gentleman who identified himself as a member of the US Consulate. He referred to me by name, and said that they could not accept us, and that they suggested for us to “take the North Korean refugees and go to the UNHCR in Beijing. It goes without mention that US posts are subject to intense electronic surveillance, and sure enough, a short while later large numbers of Chinese authorities and police began to show up in the vicinity of our location.

I moved the refugees to a more discreet but still very close location, and called into the US Embassy in Beijing. I was told in very strong, scolding terms, that I had jeopardized the lives of the refugees, and that China’s Public Security Bureau had informed the US and other nations with posts in the area that North Korean refugees were seeking entrance to their compounds. I responded that the refugees took the calculated risk to seek asylum with the United States because their situation was already very dangerous, and that the Chinese authorities had likely been alerted by the irresponsible and indifferent actions of the US post in Shenyang. I spent quite a bit of time on the phone pleading with the officer in question.

At that point we were literally less than 100 feet away from the main entrance to the Shenyang post- it would have been a simple matter for any consulate official to step out and wave our refugees in, past the Chinese authorities, as is done for many visitors to the Consulate.

The officer continued to refuse and redirect us to the UNHCR in Beijing, despite my pleas, and we had no choice but to head towards Beijing. En route, our 6 refugees and their 2 American escorts were apprehended, and I was detained in Beijing. The group was imprisoned in Shenyang. Our LiNK workers were released and deported to the United States after 10 days; our refugees are still in Chinese custody today [they were released after several months’ detention and allowed to emigrate to South Korea—ed]

… Refugees are being turned away from the gates of US posts and sent to the UNHCR in Beijing – a dangerous journey that very few manage to make without capture. Funding for NGOs and underground workers has not been released; and less than a paltry three dozen North Korean refugees are now resettled in the United States. Our own refugees that I personally escorted to US custody last October arrived just last week- nearly four months after they had been accepted! It is my understanding that delays on their arrival here were not from the Chinese, but from our own State Department.

The passivity of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office in Beijing is apparently a sore point for North Korea activists. Any escapee who is able to run the gauntlet from the DPRK to the capital and “touches base” there is entitled to a review of the conditions of flight; if it is determined he or she is a political or religious refugee who would be expected to suffer persecution if returned to North Korea, the relevant principle is “non-refoulement” i.e. the individual is entitled to refuge and cannot be returned forcibly to the home country.

The US strongly supports the “touch base” privileges of Tibetan refugees who reach the UNHCR office in Nepal, characterizing the people who make the arduous and expensive trek over the Himalayas from the Tibet AR as political/religious refugees (though the Chinese government would beg to differ; over half of the “refugees” processed by the UNHCR and allowed to go on to Dharmsala are actually political/religious tourists who quickly return to Tibet, to the aggravation of Nepal and the suspicion of the PRC).

The UNHCR Beijing Office apparently has a lower profile out of deference to the PRC government, and, like the foreign embassies and consulates, appears a party to the limited processing of small numbers of “elite” refugees, as a group of NGOs complained in 2011:

However, we reluctantly must conclude that the UNHCR’s presence in Beijing is now unwittingly supporting the PRC government in its repatriation policy. It is our understanding that the UNHCR does not overtly pressure the PRC government in order to quietly help individuals and small groups of refugees reach safety. To the best of our knowledge even this kind of activity is severely limited at present.

The UNHCR made some amends in February 2014 by releasing a blistering report on human rights in North Korea, which addressed the plight of the tens of thousands of “non-elite” refugees in Northeast China and also took aim at PRC refoulement policies.

Although unable to conduct direct, on-the-ground inquiries either in North Korea or on the PRC side of the border, the UNHCR collected enough atrocity stories from émigrés and NGOs to compile a bulky dossier on the DPRK/PRC system for dealing with people fleeing North Korea for China.

The report concluded that Kim Jung Un’s regime had tightened border controls compared to the Kim Jung Il era, when a combination of corruption and famine-related realpolitik had caused border guards to turn a blind eye toward people fleeing across the Tumen River.

Border operations have now been placed under the aegis of the SSD—the State Security Department—instead of the army, and a protocol set up by which escapees either recaptured or forcibly repatriated are processed through a series of interrogations (abetted by food deprivation, beatings, and other tortures) to determine whether the flight motive was to seek economic opportunity in China (bad), Christian conviction (very bad), the desire to make it to the ROK (very, very bad), or in collusion with ROK intelligence (fatal).

Depending on the nature of the allegations against them and their background, the fate of repatriated persons is determined by the SSD. Persons found to have made contact with ROK nationals and/or Christian missionaries are sent for further interrogation at the provincial SSD headquarters. From there, they are sent either directly to a political prison camp (kwanliso) without any trial or imprisoned in an ordinary prison camp (kyohwaso) after an unfair trial. In cases considered to be particularly grave, such as having contact with ROK intelligence officials, the victim faces execution.

Conversely, those found to have solely gone to China looking for food and/or work are handed over to the MPS [Ministry of Public Security], where the interrogation process is usually recommenced. If the MPS confirms that the person is only an “ordinary” border crosser, it commits him or her to detention in a holding centre (jipkyulso). There, the person remains detained, sometimes for months, until MPS agents from the person’s home county collect him or her and place the victim, usually without a trial, for several months to a year in a labour training camp. [pg. 114]

The PRC cooperated with the DPRK by aggressively tightening up on border enforcement and capture, and has declared that all North Korean escapees are economic migrants who can be repatriated without any asylum review.

However, since the initial screening for all returnees is torture—i.e. cruel and inhumane treatment for the purposes of extracting a confession—followed by cruel and inhumane treatment –i.e. much of the same inflicted by the prison guards and administration out of sadism against people they consider less than human, especially women who have become pregnant by Chinese men and suffer the horrors of forced abortions–there’s a pretty strong argument that every North Korean, economic migrants included, who is detained in the PRC should be entitled to non-refoulement status until his or her qualifications for asylum are reviewed.

As the report put it:

The Commission therefore finds that many DPRK nationals, deemed by China as mere economic illegal migrants, are arguably either refugees fleeing persecution or become refugees sur place, and are thereby entitled to international protection. [pg. 130]

Furthermore, the UNHCR report alleged that the PRC pre-screens returnees and provides information to the DPRK upon refoulement, undercutting its “economic migrants” defense:

A former official, who worked on border security, stated that when the Chinese authorities repatriate DPRK nationals, they also provide the DPRK authorities with documentation regarding the living circumstances of the repatriated persons in China. The documentation indicated whether the DPRK nationals had simply lived with their “spouses” or have had contact with Christians or ROK nationals including with ROK intelligence agents. Such information was used by the DPRK authorities in determining the fate of those repatriated persons. Those believed to be working with ROK intelligence were executed in the DPRK, whilst those involved with Christian missionaries would be sent to DPRK prison camps without trial. The same witness also indicated that Chinese officials used differently coloured stamps on the documentation handed over to the DPRK authorities based on whether the repatriated persons planned to reach the ROK or not. Another witness also indicated that the Chinese authorities provided their DPRK counterparts with a document concerning her case upon handing her over. [pg. 131]

The report concludes with a rather quixotic call to refer the DPRK to the International Criminal Court—something that would have to be done through the UN Security Council i.e. with the support of the PRC. In addition to tying up its neighbor and quasi-ally in the ICC process, which the PRC detests on principle, such a proceeding would presumably expose PRC officials to the accusation, if not legal liability, for complicity in crimes against humanity.

The contradictions inherent in the UNHCR approach were highlighted, perhaps inadvertently, in the Guardian’s coverage:

The UN report “is a very strong indictment of North Korea, but China is clearly right there in the mix, and that’s the reason why they were reluctant to co-operate,” said Scott Snyder, a North Korea expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “And so the main purpose of the report, beyond making the case for a continued international response to North Korea through the international criminal court, is to move China.”

Unsurprisingly, China was unmoved. The PRC brushed aside the report as “politicized” and once again declared that all DPRK escapees were “economic migrants”.

Estimates for DPRK citizens clandestinely residing in the PRC near the Korean border range from 25,000 to 100,000, down from perhaps a quarter of a million during the famine years (and before the aggressive refoulement campaign). That is a manageable number but one that would surely grow if the PRC respected the principle of non-refoulement, started reviewing asylum dossiers…and began suggesting that the ROK and US live up to their human rights rhetoric and step up to take in thousands of brutalized and poorly educated DPRK refugees.

That’s an outcome that neither the PRC, ROK, the US, the other nations, or the UN are presumably eager to see right now.

So it looks like everybody’s quietly on board with the current system (with the noble exception of the NGOs that support refugees and the persecuted North Koreans themselves)—and Blackwater (now renamed once again as “Academi”) won’t be needed in Shenyang again for a while.

But that doesn’t mean the Blackwater crew is done with China.

Blackwater ex-jefe Erik Prince announced he was fed up with the political and legal heat associated with servicing the US government (and, perhaps, massacring clusters of Iraqis at roundabouts and threatening US State Department personnel with murder). He told the Wall Street Journal about his new job, new boss, and new market:

[Prince is] chairman of Frontier Services Group, an Africa-focused security and logistics company with intimate ties to China’s largest state-owned conglomerate, Citic Group. Beijing has titanic ambitions to tap Africa’s resources—including $1 trillion in planned spending on roads, railways and airports by 2025—and Mr. Prince wants in.
Re: Blackwater Mercenary Threatened to Kill US Gov Inspector in Iraq
01 Jul 2014
Modified: 06:59:00 PM
Tgirl Draws Her Life ----