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Haitian-Americans: Biden, Kerry, Bill & Hillary Accomplices in Human Rights Violations

PRESS RELEASE

Haitian Organizations in Brooklyn Accuse Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry; Bill and Hillary Clinton of being accomplices to the Mafia Government in Haiti

Brooklyn, NY, February 7, 2015 – Citizens Committee to Protect Haitians (CICOPHA) and Baz Ditmas Brooklyn accuse Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry; Bill & Hillary Clinton of being accomplices to the mafia government in Haiti.

Lawyers have already file charges in court against President Michel Martelly for violation such as: Corruption, protection of drug kingpins; protection of kidnappers, caused the death of a judge who ruled against President Martelly’s wife for corruption; theft of money slated for a variety of social programs, theft of money transfers from Haitians living in the Diaspora; theft of money from international phone calls, helped more than 300 prisoners escape from prison; associating with criminals, human rights violation and high treason. Furthermore, President Martelly has been in office for 4 years but has not organized a single election. Meanwhile, he has organized 7 carnivals.

In 2014, President Martelly and former Prime Minister Lamothe liberated more than 300 prisoners. Some are assassins, drug traffickers; kidnappers and rapists. The conditions have forced hundreds of thousands of people to go out into the streets to demand the arrest of Mr. Martelly and Lamothe; as well as the liberation of all the political prisoners. One would think that a country such as the United States that claim to support democracy would renounce such individuals. On the contrary the U.S. government supports them. According to Haitian newspaper Alterpresse, on October 23rd 2013, Vice President Joseph Biden spoke on the telephone with President Michel Martelly. He congratulated President Martelly for his effort in working with parliament to find a solution to the electoral crisis.

On December 16th 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that he saluted the “courageous effort” of President Martelly to find a solution to the electoral crisis. About 3 years ago, a picture of the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela White was posted on Facebook walking hand in waist with former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe at a carnival. On January 11th 2015, the Ambassador sat in the chambers of parliament assisting during a night session. On February 5th 2015, the Ambassador met with 6 of the 10 Senators who’s term had not expired to talk about the elections. Bill Clinton took more then $10 billion of Haitian reconstruction money. We want to see all the receipts! the question is would the U.S. government allow Ambassadors of China and Russia to sit in the Halls of Congress?

We demand the U.S. government to stop violating international norms and conventions immediately! We’re asking the U.S. Attorney General Mr. Eric Holder to launch an inquiry on Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry; Bill & Hillary Clinton for interfering in the internal politics of Haiti. We reserve the right to file lawsuits in Federal Court in the U.S. as well as World Court against all foreigners collaborating with the Haitian mafia government; whoever they are and wherever they may be. We demand the immediate departure of all foreign forces on the land of Emperor Jean Jacques Dessalines. It includes UN & US occupation troops. We demand reparations for all the victims of the cholera epidemic unleashed on the Haitian population by the U.N. occupation troops.

The future legitimate government of Haiti will declare null and void all contracts signed by this fascist regime to exploit Haiti’s natural and unexplored resources such as: Gold, petroleum; aluminum; marble, copper; zirconium, natural gas; iridium and uranium. That makes Haiti perhaps the richest country on the face of the planet; contrary to the worldwide propaganda that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The Haitian State will confiscate all lands bought by foreigners under this fascist regime which is a violation of the Haitian constitution. To end, there is a Haitian Creole proverb which states that “Haiti is extremely slippery ground like quicksand”; and as such, a stranger must tread very carefully on such ground without being sucked in.

Citizens Committee to Protect Haitians (CICOPHA) is a social-political organization recognized in the State of New York. Our mission is to defend the interest of Haitian and Haitian-descent people throughout the world.
Contact: Guinsly Etienne / Spokesperson
Citizens Committee to Protect Haitians
237 Flatbush Avenue #199
Brooklyn, NY 11217
Email: [email protected]

Drone Pilots Are Exhausted and Suffering From PTSD

Drone Pilots Are Exhausted and Suffering From PTSD

On Tuesday, The New York Times published the latest look at drone pilots. These Unmanned Aerial Vehicle operators are suffering such a high rate of exhaustion and stress that the US Air Force has been forced to cut drone missions down from a high of about 65 a week. They also currently have about 500 fewer pilots than they need.

Though they get to fight their wars in safety, and see their families every night, these new type of soldiers suffer from a surprisingly high burnout rate, and equivalent levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to fighter pilots. And though when that news first broke two years ago, the temptation to be withering and unsympathetic was strong (okay, maybe that was just me), perhaps that kind of a mental reaction says something vital about the dangers of war to the human soul. Even people who aren’t themselves in danger suffer when they’re killing innocent people.

dronePart of the stress comes from the fact that these 1200 pilots are not in a battlefield setting. Strangely, but logically, controlling a surveillance and/or killing machine from thousands of miles away, concern about backing up manned personal, or more likely, worrying whether you’re hitting a would-be terrorist or some innocent civilians is stressful, no matter if you are safe in some bunker in Nevada. Seeing your spouse and kids a few hours later heightens the alienation inherent in such a job. You’re on duty, but you’re at home. It has to be disconcerting. After all, PTSD doesn’t tend to be about cracking up on the battlefield. It’s about dealing with a banal job or life after you’ve been trained to be on edge all the time. These pilots have to do that daily in a manner which must feel like psychological whiplash.

Additionally, there aren’t really “enough” drone pilots, so the ones who are there are drained and exhausted. Why, though? In a 2013 New York Times piece, one of the co-authors of a Defense Department study offered this explanation, “Remotely piloted aircraft pilots may stare at the same piece of ground for days. They witness the carnage. Manned aircraft pilots don’t do that. They get out of there as soon as possible.” That makes sense. For the 100 years that airplanes have been dropping death from above, the policy tends to be do your thing and then get home as fast as possible. Drones and the eyes of their operators just linger indefinitely.

The constant presence of drones adds to the psychological torment of the people who live under their invisible shadow. It makes sense that it would be more stressful for the would-be killers as well.

A piece reposted at Salon back in March reports that drone pilots fly more than three times as many man hours as other pilots. The latter tend to look down on the former as well, implying that they’re just nerdy gamers playing, not real pilots. And even for the antiwar person, there is a temptation to look especially disdainfully at the chickenhawk. Even a bomber pilot is risking their own life when they go out on a mission. Drone pilots go home at night every night. Poor babies, right? Just stop.

And more and more people wish they would do just that. In April, the website knowdrones.org aired 15 second TV spots that urged drone operators to quit. Now, the group – which includes ex-military people – has put together a letter that urges the same thing. The letter says that drone attacks are against the law, and the 6,000 casualties are “undermining principles of international law and human rights.”

It’s terrific to see this effort going forward, but it’s impossible to feel optimistic about being able to reverse the progress of military drones. They are a cheap, easy way to keep literally a constant presence in countries with which the US isn’t even at war. Someday a terrorist may well use drones in their own form of blowback, but not even then is the US likely to reconsider their new toys. If they literally had nobody left to fly the drones, however, that would stop them from murdering.

It is murder. And that has to be part of why the operators feel so beaten down. One has to hope they know what they are doing and it has an effect on their psyches. In combat, the eventual suffer of PTSD is in peril. Perhaps they are worried about their fellow soldiers and being able to have their backs if necessary. The latter issue may come into play for drone pilots, but the former never does. And pictures clear enough to see the pink mist that was once a human – perhaps a nameless one, tracked from cell phone signal or suspicious patterns that might mean a terrorist gathering or a wedding is coming together – seem to be enough to damage the person who did the deed from thousands of miles away.

As I wrote last year, as much as it is unfortunate to have more people in mental distress, it does bode well for humanity that war hurts them. Not the “goodness” of World War II, nor the safety of drone war today will stop a soldier from feeling something if they take a life.

Pakistani military blocks anti-drone convoy from entering tribal region

Imran Khan says two-day convoy has been a success despite failing to reach intended destination

Makeshift roadblocks, security threats and warnings from Pakistan’s army forcedImran Khan to abandon his unprecedented attempt to lead a cavalcade of anti-drone protesters deep into the country’s restive tribal belt on Sunday.

Leading a convoy of thousands, the former cricketer was within striking distance of South Waziristan, where the CIA uses remote-controlled planes in the fight against Islamist militants, when he abruptly turned back.

Later Khan said he had changed plan because of warnings from the army and the risk of becoming stuck after the military-imposed curfew.

Addressing an impromptu rally of his supporters, he said the convoy had still been a huge success because he had gone to areas his political rivals “can only look at on maps”.

“We want to give a message to America that the more you carry out drone attacks, the more people will hate you,” Khan told the crowd of around 2,500 supporters. But after two days of travel, the U-turn seemed to surprise some, including a senior party official who got out of his car on the heat-baked roadside surrounded by arid scrubland and declared he had no idea what was going on.

Others expressed anger, saying Khan was more interested in using the event to burnish his popularity before a general election due at some point in the next six months.

“I am very disappointed,” said Khalil Khan Dawar, an oil industry worker who had travelled all day to get to the edge of the tribal agency. “We had to get to South Waziristan. For him this is not just about drones, it is about popularity and elections.”

Some have also questioned the relevance of Kotkai, the town in South Waziristan where Khan hoped to hold his rally, to the drone debate. Most drone attacks now take place in North Waziristan, and Pakistani army efforts to wrest control from militants have forced many of Kotkai’s residents to leave.

The abandonment of the much-publicised attempt to reach Kotkai was the second sudden change of plan on the same day. Earlier Khan had appeared to reassure a largely female delegation of the US peace group Code Pink that there would be no attempt to enter the tribal areas and that instead a rally would be held in the town of Tank.

By midday it was decided to push on regardless, apparently out of a desire not to disappoint the throngs of people who had joined his convoy along the road from the capital, Islamabad. That was despite the all-too evident disapproval of authorities who had placed shipping containers across the road at three different points.

The vehicles, including buses crammed with supporters waving the red and green flag of Khan’s political party, ground to a halt as throngs of protesters worked to push the obstacles out of the way, in one instance destroying a small building in the process.

Indignities and discomforts are nothing new to the mostly middle-aged and female activists of Code Pink, some of whom have been arrested while campaigning against US drone strikes. But being trapped on a bus travelling towards Pakistan’s tribal areas proved too much even for the most hardened of campaigners. “We had only one toilet break in nine hours,” said Medea Benjamin, leader of the 35-strong team of Americans who had agreed to join Khan on the march. They chose not to continue into, in the words of Benjamin, a “chaotic” situation.

To add to their miseries, their minders urged them to stay behind the curtains of their bus – emblazoned on its side with huge images of people killed by drone strikes – throughout much of the journey, particularly in many of the areas affected by militant groups. “It was hard for these people because they are protesters and they wanted to get out there,” said Shahzad Akbar, a lawyer who was looking after the group. “But there’s no way we are going to let them get out in some of those towns!”

Billed as a protest against drone strikes, which Khan and his supporters claim kill large numbers of innocent civilians as well as flouting Pakistan’s sovereignty, the procession had the feel of a political rally on wheels. Many of the vehicles eschewed anti-drone slogans and instead carried pictures of PTI politicians anxious to be included on the party’s official ticket in the upcoming elections.

Gaza: Children in crisis #GazaAftermath

The effects on the children of Gaza of permanent siege – punctuated by periods of extreme violence – go beyond physical trauma

Mona Samouni was 10-years-old when she lost her home, her parents and 19 other relatives, after they were crushed before her eyes in one of the bombing raids of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2009. In an award-winning film, she speaks of her past experiences with an almost eerie detachment, as if she is telling someone else’s story.

One can only guess at what is going on behind that calm facade, as she sends a heartbreaking message to other, luckier children: “I ask the children of the world to take good care of their mothers and fathers… People don’t appreciate the blessings they have till they lose them.”

For years after that shattering event, Mona obsessively drew and redrew the images that haunted her – “a sea of blood and body parts”. She suffered recurring nightmares, fits of anger and lack of concentration at school. But thanks to a loving family environment and intensive therapy, she seems to be gradually recovering.

‘Continuous PTSD’

Of the 900,000 children in Gaza, UNICEF reckons 373,000 are in need of “psycho-social first aid”.

The Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP), which runs three psychiatric clinics in Gaza treating both children and adults, struggles to cope. Psychiatrist Yasser Abu Jamei, who heads the GCMHP and who himself lost many members of his extended family in last summer’s onslaught, said: “There was no place for parents and children to hide… You never knew where the bombs were going fall.”

According to Dr Abu Jamei, the most common symptoms among children are anxiety and fear. They are afraid of being separated from their parents, have frequent nightmares and often develop a stammer. Schools report higher levels of aggression and low school achievement for many children. An important part of GCMHP’s work is training both teachers and parents on how to deal with the aggression.

Of the situation in Gaza, Dr Abu Jamei jokes: “This is a form of continuous post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)” – or, as I like to say, it can’t be “post-traumatic stress disorder” if it is not yet “post”. Because, beyond the daily privations of life in Gaza – the desperately overcrowded housing conditions, inadequate food, a contaminated water supply, badly damaged schools – the wider context is one of ongoing, unpredictable attacks.

Understanding Israel’s strategy  

The film in which Mona Samouni appears, Where Should The Birds Fly, gives the lie to Israel’s claim that its assaults on Gaza are purely retaliatory: we see the harassment of farmers attempting to harvest their crops and of fishermen trying to earn a living in the polluted stretch of sea where they are supposedly allowed to put down their nets. But for the presence of international observers, the casualties from such attacks would undoubtedly be much higher.

In seeking to understand Israel’s seemingly random brutal actions, we should remember a key slogan in Bill Clinton’s election campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

An Israeli-made film, The Lab, lifts the lid on the Israeli arms industry – a multi-billion dollar a year earner and the backbone of Israel’s economy. As the title indicates, Gaza is the place where the effectiveness of Israel’s super-sophisticated weaponry and new military strategies can be evaluated and demonstrated to the world.

Israeli industry minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer explains in the film how Israel has an edge over its competitors in the field: “People like to buy things that have been tested. If Israel sells weapons, they have been tested, tried out.”

Even more chillingly, Amiram Levin, former general and now an arms dealer, explains to a rapt audience the role of the Palestinian people: “You have to understand, most of these people [in Gaza] were born to die – we just have to help them.”

Israel has certainly been launching increasingly violent attacks on Gaza every couple of years since 2008, and arms sales have been soaring. Does this mean that the people of Gaza can expect a fresh all-out assault every time the Israeli arms industry needs a boost, irrespective of international conventions on the rights of civilians?

The recent report by the Israeli military whistleblower organisation Breaking the Silence, confirms that the Israeli army is now in open contempt of the accepted rules of armed conflict: last summer soldiers were told to shoot and shell anything within range – the range of a tank being two kilometres. Those who questioned these orders were told: “There are no innocent civilians.” No wonder the dead in the last onslaught were very largely civilians, including 537 children.

An uncertain future

But what if Palestinian children, both in Gaza and in the West Bank, were also unwitting subjects in another long-term experiment – one of social and psychological engineering? In the West Bank children may not suffer the traumas of those in Gaza – but when your parents are humiliated by soldiers and attacked by settlers before your eyes and you fear a violent incursion by heavily armed men in the middle of the night, what are the long-term psychological effects?

As Israel’s sophisticated psychologists must know, witnessing and experiencing violence and humiliation while being powerless to resist breeds anger, frustration and the desire for revenge. Is this precisely what Israel wants? Do they hope to produce a generation of disturbed young people, some of whom will be spurred to desperate acts of retaliation? There is a logic to it. Israel relies absolutely on provoking some form of violent response, however ineffective, that it can use to justify its demonstrations of military might and its ongoing expropriation of Palestinian land.

Gazan-British mental health worker Wasseem El Sarraj speaks of the “sustaining rituals” of everyday life in Gaza, which somehow survive: “There is laughter, happiness and beauty amid deep and profound suffering.” The population is fortified by a strong sense of identity, enduring family networks and the knowledge that both international law and natural justice are on their side. But all fear that Gaza’s legendary resilience may be put to the test once more, before long.

– Hilary Wise is a writer, an academic and an activist. She also was editor of Palestine News for eight years.

Military personnel have been convicted of $50 million worth of crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan

Large cash transactions, loose military oversight, and deeply corrupted local cultures have lured more than a hundred service members to steal, rig contracts, and take bribes

U.S. Army Specialist Stephanie Charboneau sat at the center of a complex trucking network in Forward Operating Base Fenty, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, that daily distributed tens of thousands of gallons of what soldiers called “liquid gold”: the refined petroleum that fueled the international coalition’s thirsty vehicles, planes, and generators.

A prominent sign in the base read: “The Army Won’t Go If The Fuel Don’t Flow.” But Charboneau, 31, a mother of two from Washington state, felt alienated after a supervisor’s harsh rebuke. Her work was a dreary routine of recording fuel deliveries in a computer and escorting trucks past a gate. But it was soon to take a dark turn into high-value crime.

She began an affair with a civilian, Jonathan Hightower, who worked for a Pentagon contractor that distributed fuel from Fenty, and one day in March 2010, he told her about “this thing going on” at other U.S. military bases around Afghanistan, she recalled in a recent telephone interview.

Soldiers were selling the U.S. military’s fuel to Afghan locals on the side, and pocketing the proceeds. When Hightower suggested they start doing the same, Charboneau said, she agreed.

In so doing, Charboneau contributed to thefts by U.S. military personnel of at least $15 million worth of fuel since the start of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. And eventually she became one of at least 115 enlisted personnel and military officers convicted since 2005 of committing theft, bribery, and contract rigging crimes valued at $52 million during their deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a comprehensive tally of court records by the Center for Public Integrity.

Many of these crimes grew out of shortcomings in the military’s management of the deployments that experts say are still present: A heavy dependence on cash transactions, a hasty award process for high-value contracts, loose and harried oversight within the ranks, and a regional culture of corruption that proved seductive to the American troops transplanted there.

CharboneauCharboneau, whose Facebook postings reveal a bright-eyed woman with a shoulder tattoo and a huge grin, snuggling with pets and celebrating the 2015 New Year with her children in Seattle Seahawks jerseys, now sits in Carswell federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, serving a seven-year sentence for her crime.

Additional crimes by military personnel are still under investigation, and some court records remain partly under seal. The magnitude of additional losses from fraud, waste, and abuse by contractors, civilians, and allied foreign soldiers in Afghanistan has never been tallied, but officials probing such crimes say the total is in the billions of dollars.

Those numbers might not seem huge — at least a million troops rotated through the region in this period, and the overall U.S. budget for these wars has so far exceeded $1.5 trillion — but those who investigate and prosecute military wrongdoing say the convictions so far constitute a small portion of the crimes they think were committed by U.S. military personnel in the two countries.

Former Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen, who served as the principal watchdog for wrongdoing in Iraq from 2004 to 2013, said he suspected “the fraud … among U.S. military personnel and contractors was much higher” than what he and his colleagues were able to prosecute. John F. Sopko, his contemporary counterpart in Afghanistan, said his agency has probably uncovered less than half of the fraud committed by members of the military in Afghanistan.

As of February, he said he had 327 active investigations still under way, involving 31 members of the military. “You don’t appreciate how much money is being stolen in Afghanistan until you go over there,” said Sopko, who says price-fixing and other forms of financial corruption are rampant in the country.

These and other experts, as well as some of those who have pleaded guilty to criminal wrongdoing, point to some recurrent patterns in the corrupt activity, which in turn illustrate the special challenges created when a sizable military force is deployed so far from lawful domestic routines. Sometimes ill-trained military personnel were given authority for making large cash transactions, in a region where casual corruption in financial dealings — bribes, kickbacks, and petty theft — was commonplace. Commanding officers, they add, were typically so distracted by urgent war challenges they could not carefully check for missing fuel or contractor kickbacks.

So far, officers account for approximately four-fifths of the value of the fraud committed by military personnel in Iraq, while in Afghanistan, the ratio was flipped, with enlistees accounting for roughly the same portion, according to the Center’s tally. The reasons for the difference are unclear. But Sopko said he expects more officers to be investigated for misconduct in Afghanistan as the U.S. military mission there continues, so the ratio could change.

Soldiers who had little or no prior criminal history, like Charboneau, say the circumstances of their deployments made stealing with impunity look easy, and so they made decisions that to their surprise eventually brought them prison sentences ranging from three months to more than 17 years. Many, like Charboneau, were savvy about the military’s way of doing things – her mother, her first husband and her second husband were service members, according to a statement her lawyer, Dennis Hartley, filed on Jan. 30, 2014, before her sentencing.

They say that they knew of other military personnel who also broke the law, but without getting caught. Hightower convinced her to steal fuel from Fenty, Charboneau said, by pointing out that the soldiers at nearby bases “aren’t getting caught, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it.”

Retired Army Reserve Maj. Glenn MacDonald, whose reports about fraud, waste, and abuse in the military reach a monthly Web audience of up to 6 million, said the volume and value of fraud committed by soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq seems higher to him than what he recalled as a young soldier in Vietnam in the 1960s.

MacDonald, 68, editor-in-chief of the website MilitaryCorruption.com, co-founded the site after a 33-year career in the Army and Army Reserve during which he says he witnessed many small instances of corruption. “What you can make out of these [recent] wars is staggering. It’s an opportunity for anybody, even a non-commissioned officer, to become very rich overnight,” MacDonald said.

Many have probably been tempted, he said, because they saw others getting away with the theft of thousands or even millions of dollars.

Pocketing thousands in cash from illicit fuel sales

Military fuel in Iraq and Afghanistan has been a perennial target of theft during the past 14 years of war. In Afghanistan, fuel moved around the country in “jingle trucks,” tankers adorned with kaleidoscopic patterns and metal ornaments. At Fenty, for example, jingle trucks bearing fuel arrived every few days from suppliers in Pakistan, all driven by locals under contracts with the base. Officers at Fenty then distributed it to 32 nearby bases, with the largest ones using up to 2 million gallons of fuel a week.

To describe the system as loosely controlled might be an understatement: Standard contracts allowed each driver to take seven days to bring the fuel to a destination that might be only a few hours away, according to Army Maj. Jonathan McDougal, who oversaw motor vehicle logistics in northeast Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 from Bagram Airfield. “It was like they planned for something to go wrong with every convoy,” McDougal told the Center.

Fuel pilferage was the “leading cause” of failed deliveries, according to McDougal. One out of every three truck convoys would lose, on average, about 11,000 gallons of fuel, amounting to more than 800,000 gallons of lost fuel during his 12 months in the country. Military vehicles would sometimes accompany the jingle truck drivers, but if the trucks carrying the fuel left the foreign troops’ designated safe routes — to get lunch in a nearby village, for example — the military escorts would just “have to let them go,” he said.

Charboneau’s role in the Fenty fuel theft ring was simple. She ordered trucks to transport more fuel than needed, then filed fake records showing the extra fuel had been delivered to a base. After leaving Fenty in a convoy, the extra trucks diverted their loads to prearranged meeting spots, where buyers offloaded the fuel and paid in cash, with the proceeds divided later among Charboneau and her co-conspirators. The scheme worked – for a while – because the fuel storage amounts and truck delivery amounts matched (although of course the bases’ records of delivered fuel did not).

This represented, Charboneau said, “a big gap” in the fuel oversight system. And the rewards were enticing — around $5,000 in net profit from a single extra truckload.

Charboneau already felt, she said, “lost all the time” in her job at the base. Her life had not been easy up to that point, either. As a child, she spent years living with an aunt and experienced financial instability, according to the 2014 sentencing statement. She became pregnant with her first child, Zander, while still a teenager.

One month after she joined the scheme, according to the government’s sentencing memo, filed on Jan.15, 2014, in U.S. District Court in Colorado, her supervisor, Sgt. Christopher Weaver, jumped in. She described the widening of the conspiracy in instant messages intended for her sister in Colorado, sent using the screen name “dollface_kc”:

dollface_kc

Although prosecutor Mark Dubester said in the sentencing memo that Charboneau’s use of the term “lmao” (Internet slang for “laughing my ass off”) demonstrated that she “saw humor in the situation,” Charboneau said she did not. When she returned to Fenty, she said, Weaver pulled her aside and told her that he knew how everything worked, and while he had not made much money off of the scheme so far, it would be wise of her to keep her mouth shut.

“It was … one of those things that, ‘if you tell anybody, you’re probably going to be sorry,’” said Charboneau. “I was his subordinate. He was in charge.”

“Thereafter, the conspiracy continued with all three involved, and this is when the bulk of the thefts occurred,” according to the sentencing memo that Dubester submitted. Weaver met with Charboneau and Hightower each morning to decide which trucks would make legitimate deliveries and which trucks were “going to go get stolen,” Charboneau said in the interview.

If someone had simply asked more questions about the deliveries — such as “‘I need to know where you’re sending these 15 trucks. Oh, you don’t have a destination for these five?” — it would have been much harder to pull off the scheme, Charboneau said. She, Weaver, and Hightower were able to continue stealing as long as they did, she said, because they were the only three people entrusted with keeping track of where the fuel went when it left the base.

Digital monitoring could also have stopped theft at military bases, she said. Scanning the fingerprints of the drivers when they left Fenty and arrived at the destination bases, for instance, would have deterred them from selling it on the side, according to Charboneau.

Weaver pleaded guilty to counts of conspiracy and bribery on Oct. 10, 2012, and is now serving a sentence of three years and one month in a federal prison in South Dakota. His former attorney declined to speak on the record about the case. In a letter to Chief U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger that Weaver filed with an October 2013 sentencing statement, Weaver wrote that he had originally taken the money to hire a lawyer because his “child’s mother was threatening to take my son away from me.”

“Of course, I took more than was needed,” he added. “I got greedy once I started.”

Hightower also pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States, and was sentenced on Oct. 28, 2013, to two years and three months in prison. He is serving his term in a federal prison in San Antonio, Texas.

The thefts alone caused more than $1.5 million in losses to the United States, according to the plea agreement that Charboneau eventually signed on Sept. 5, 2013. Her attorney, Hartley, told the court that her crime had also humiliated her husband, whose own Army unit had learned about it.

Charboneau said she is now haunted by how “I was so proud to be in the military, [and then] doing what I did.” After seven years as a soldier, trained to respect and trust her supervisors completely, she said, it was “really hard” to find out that a superior was engaging in theft.

Her advice to young soldiers deploying to Afghanistan today would be to “keep to themselves, learn the job that they need to learn,” and if confronted with a proposal similar to the one Hightower laid at her feet, just say no. “It wasn’t worth the forty-some-odd thousand dollars I made to be in prison for seven years, to be away from my…family,” she said.

Charboneau started serving her sentence in February, after a court-approved delay of five-and-a-half months, so she could briefly take care of her third child, Tate, who was born last July; all three of her children are now being looked after by her mother. In an email to the Center, Charboneau wrote that she was “adjusting alright” to prison but missed her kids, especially her newborn. “I’m afraid most days he will forget me,” she wrote.

A tangle of emotions and crime

Court filings in more than 100 cases reviewed by the Center show that many of the military personnel who wound up being convicted had earlier received honors and awards, and were well-regarded by their uniformed colleagues. Charboneau, for instance, won two medals for her service in the Fenty operations office. She received the first just months before she began stealing fuel with Hightower and Weaver.

So what makes such military personnel turn to crime?

The inspectors general for both warzones said criminal actions were provoked partly by the high volume of cash and resources flowing into the countries. “The more money you throw into a weak-rule-of-law situation, the more fraud you’ll see,” said Bowen.

Todd Conormon, a lawyer who served in Iraq in 2004 and now defends service members accused of wrongdoing, said that for some, the sheer pressure of combat “has a debilitating effect, and maybe makes it easier…to rationalize, ‘Well, I deserve this.’ ” Others grew used to seeing corruption all around them — like the widespread financial impropriety Sopko described — and convinced themselves that a little more wouldn’t interfere with the essential goals of the U.S. mission, Conormon said.

For some, the urge to steal was wrapped up in other temptations, such as an illicit romance with another service member, according to court documents.

An Army captain from Tacoma, Washington, named Cedar Lanmon, who served in Iraq on two deployments from 2004 to 2007, accepted gifts worth tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for helping the Albanian owner of a company called “Just in Time Contracting” obtain a $250,000 contract from the U.S. military, according to a complaint filed against him on Nov. 15, 2007, by U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Division Special Agent Derek Lindbom. He wound up getting caught after his estranged wife — referred to by her first initial “T” in the complaint — called Lindbom’s agency to describe her husband’s misdeeds, financial and marital:

Tlanmon

After Lanmon proposed that his wife join him and the new girlfriend in a “polygamous marriage,” according to the document, the couple “became estranged as husband and wife.” Lanmon served one year in federal prison and was released on Sept.11, 2009. A Washington state phone number under his name had been disconnected when the Center for Public Integrity tried to reach him.

Other fraud schemes in Iraq and Afghanistan occurred with the full knowledge — and sometimes the complicity — of the service member’s spouse. U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Eric Schmidt and his wife, Janet, both from California, engaged in theft and contract fraud during his deployment as a contracting officer at Camp Fallujah in Iraq in 2008 and 2009. They netted a total of $1.69 million, according to the sentencing memo that Assistant U.S. Attorney Dorothy McLaughlin filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Feb. 3, 2011.

They were an efficient team. Eric helped Iraqis pilfer equipment from the base, such as generators and air conditioners, and steered military reconstruction contracts to one local firm in particular, according to the sentencing memo.

Janet arranged for U.S. companies to supply smaller quantities or substandard versions of the equipment that the chosen Iraqi firm was supposed to be producing, the sentencing memo said. When the products arrived in Iraq, Eric signed a Defense Department form stating that the shipments had been sent by the Iraqi firm. The firm then sent the U.S. government a bill Janet had prepared, and when it was paid, the firm shared the proceeds with the Schmidts.

bowflexThe scheme escaped notice during the year Schmidt was deployed to Iraq, according to Daniel F. Willkens, a former head of investigations for Bowen. Schmidt even roped in two subordinate Marines to help him with the scheme, according to the sentencing memo. One of them, Staff Sgt. Eric Hamilton, received $124,000 from Schmidt and the Iraqi contractors for painting circles on generators in the military storage yard at Fallujah to show which ones they could take, and then unlocking the gate when the contractors came to get them, according to charges filed in the U.S. District Court for South Carolina on July 27, 2011, by U.S. Attorney William Nettles. Hamilton pleaded guilty to the charges on Aug.10, 2011, according to his plea agreement.

Schmidt was “judge, jury, and prosecutor of his operation,” said Willkens. “There were no checks, no balances.”

The couple was caught by chance. In 2009, five months after Eric Schmidt had returned to the United States and the couple had purchased costly property in California, Schmidt was arrested for assaulting his wife. While state police were inside the home, they noticed he had $10,000 in cash, and that the bills were stamped with the imprint of an Iraqi bank.

Investigators from Bowen’s agency, the Pentagon and the IRS were eventually able to confirm the money had come from Iraq and pieced together the rest of the story by examining the Schmidts’ financial transactions and correspondence. In the last report that Bowen’s agency submitted to Congress, in September 2013, the Schmidts’ case was described as the “biggest catch” of a special data mining team in his agency. In 2011, Eric Schmidt was sentenced to six years in prison, while his wife was sentenced to one year of home confinement and two additional years of probation. The couple was ordered to pay the U.S. government $2.1 million in restitution, including income tax.

“Most of our cases were triggered by unexpected tips [revealed by] someone who had their conscience pricked and came forward,” said Bowen. Because the whistleblowers could be endangered by receiving public credit, they are rarely mentioned in court documents.

Sopko confirmed that most of the cases his agency successfully investigates come from tips, when service members call government corruption hotlines or when disgruntled representatives of military services companies come forward to complain that a rival seems to be getting all the prime contract awards. Charboneau’s scheme, for instance, was uncovered after Weaver talked about it with a sergeant with whom he was romantically involved, she said.

In Afghanistan, Sopko and his investigators typically use sources, undercover techniques and firsthand testimony. Because record-keeping in the country has been poor, he said, “we don’t just rely on paper.”

The contract fraud model

One exception was an elaborate contract rigging scheme that culminated in the longest prison sentence given to any U.S. service member for fraud in Iraq or Afghanistan.

It began, according to court documents, as Army Maj. Eddie Pressley arrived at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait in October 2004 to work as a contracting specialist, ordering supplies for the base. Just before his arrival, he had received an Army Commendation Medal for exceptional service as a military recruiter.

His roommate at the base was another Army major, John Cockerham, who reviewed and awarded bids for Defense Department contracts to support the U.S. Army’s operations around the Middle East. By the time Pressley arrived, Cockerham had already been at the camp for three months — and had begun awarding contracts for goods such as bottled water in exchange for bribes, according to an indictment filed by a San Antonio grand jury against Cockerham on August 22, 2007.

During a trial hearing on Dec.12, 2009, Cockerham’s attorney, Jimmy Parks, said Cockerham agreed to participate in these schemes after a “lot of cajoling and convincing” by contractors, who told Cockerham that “our God requires that we bless you” for giving them “a chance to do business.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Pletcher responded that the payments had not been blessings, “just bribes.”

By March 2005, Pressley was likewise collecting bribes for awarding contracts and ordering extra goods under those contracts, according to the indictment that an Alabama grand jury filed against him on May 1, 2009. The men arranged for their wives to visit, collect the cash profits, and take the money home or send it to foreign bank accounts.

When an Army major and West Point graduate named James Momon arrived in the summer of 2005, Pressley and Cockerham took him for a ride in their jeep and described how their bribery scheme worked, according to descriptions of sealed testimony by Momon that federal prosecutor Peter Sprung and Pressley’s attorney, Clyde Riley, gave at February 2011 court hearings in Decatur, Alabama. According to Sprung, Momon said Cockerham and Pressley explained how they got the bribe money from the contractors, and how their wives and relatives helped move the illicit funds out of the country.

sigsCourt records and published reports by Bowen’s agency do not detail how the investigation began, but in late December 2006, federal agents executed a search warrant on Cockerham’s San Antonio home and discovered what they said was a highly incriminating ledger.

Cockerham had a compulsion to write down “everything from his dreams to the amounts of money he took,” according to Willkens. He neatly listed the names of contracting companies that paid him bribes, along with the values of the bribes he had already received and those he expected to receive. Of the $15 million he eventually hoped to receive in bribes, Pletcher told the court in the 2009 hearing, Cockerham had designated 10 percent to be used for building a church.

In total, Cockerham, Pressley and Momon collected at least $14 million in bribes, according to court documents detailing the conduct of which they were convicted. Cockerham ended up receiving 17½ years in prison, the longest sentence given to any service member convicted of fraud in the two countries. At least seven other soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait were convicted of participating in the conspiracy. A military-veteran-turned-contractor who investigators say played a pivotal role in the case, George Lee, pleaded guilty in February to paying a bribe to one of the lieutenants and is now in a Philadelphia jail.

The conspiracy — and the suicide of an Army officer who killed herself in 2006 after confessing to federal agents that she had accepted at least $225,000 in bribes from Lee — have garnered wide attention.

The challenges of bringing a successful case in the middle of war

Sopko and others warn that the steady flow of military reconstruction funds into the two countries will not soon subside, with the deployment of 10,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan recently extended to 2016, and new aid and military personnel starting to return to Iraq.

But auditors working for Sopko’s agency face increasing restrictions in Afghanistan. Military officials have told Sopko’s agency they would only provide civilian investigators access to areas within a one-hour round trip of an advanced medical facility, so that the U.S. government can provide them “adequate security and rapid emergency medical support,” according to a report Sopko’s agency issued in 2013. As a result, in 2014, Sopko’s investigators were only able to access one-fifth of the country.

Moreover, because the U.S. embassy in Kabul is shrinking, Sopko has been instructed by the State Department to cut his staff there by 40 percent, to just 25 positions, by mid-2016 — a dictum he says will hamper his ability to monitor wrongdoing by federal personnel. Everyone in Afghanistan, including his on-the-ground investigators, Sopko wrote in his agency’s report, will struggle over the next few years “to continue providing the direct U.S. civilian oversight that is needed in Afghanistan.”

Investigators say that even now, some service members whom they strongly suspect of fraud wind up getting away without prosecution because they simply cannot muster the evidence to bring them to trial, or because they prefer to go after large cases while letting smaller ones go.

In Iraq, recalled Willkens, he and his fellow investigators were sure they had uncovered the culprits behind certain lucrative crimes, but were equally sure they would not be able to prove it because the proceeds were stashed in inaccessible overseas accounts.

Bowen and Willkens also complained that stiff penalties were not assessed as often as they wished. “I suspected that many of these guys that we caught were perfectly happy to go to prison for a few years,” because they had much more money stashed overseas in places with little banking regulation, Bowen said, such as Cyprus or Jordan. “Prison was the cost of doing business for them.”

Other oversight officials confirmed that the amounts of money the U.S. government receives from service members convicted of fraud is rarely commensurate with their crimes. Restitution or forfeiture are set at whatever levels the judge decides is deserved, within the sentencing guidelines. In bribery schemes, for example, it is “often difficult to define specifically the loss to the government,” according to Peter Carr, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman.

Part of the challenge, according to Willkens, is that fraud is seen as a white-collar, non-violent crime. If the service members who stole millions from the U.S. government had taken the same amount during an armed robbery of a bank, he said, they would receive much higher penalties.

“Robbing the government is seen as a victimless crime,” Willkens added. “It’s not.”