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No Exit

BY YOCHI DREAZEN

Faycal Maroufi, a U.S. military translator from Florida, has spent the past three months confined to an American base in the deserts of Kuwait. The local authorities have promised to arrest Maroufi if he leaves the compound, and American officials have so far been powerless to help. Maroufi isn’t wanted for a crime or accused of wrongdoing. He, like more than 50 other U.S. citizens, is instead being effectively imprisoned in Kuwait because of a nasty and complicated business dispute between an American contractor and its local partner.

The histories of the Iraq and Afghan wars are littered with cases of low-paid contractors from countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan being kept in the war zones against their will by companies that forced them to work seven days a week and sometimes confiscated their passports to ensure that they couldn’t return home. The current standoff in Kuwait appears to be the first time that large numbers of American citizens have faced a similar predicament. The contractors are caught in the middle of a fight between two large companies, a battle they didn’t choose and don’t fully understand. For all intents and purposes they’re under house arrest despite not doing anything to deserve it.

Maroufi and his colleagues are currently living in hangars on Camp Arifjan and Camp Buehring, the two main U.S. bases in Kuwait, and using lockers and curtains to carve out small slivers of personal space. Their makeshift barracks are infested with bedbugs, and the nearest bathrooms are in trailers several minutes away. They aren’t allowed to access the bases’ military hospitals or leave the country for personal emergencies. One employee lost his mother but was blocked from returning to the U.S. for the funeral; another lost his father but was similarly confined to the base by Kuwaiti authorities. Iowa resident Majdi Abdulghani was arrested at the Kuwait City airport as he was preparing to board a flight back to the U.S. to see his ailing mother. He was jailed for a week.

“We are prisoners here,” Maroufi said by phone from Kuwait. “We’re pawns in a fight between these two companies. I want to go home and be with my family, but instead I’m stuck here, and I don’t know when they’ll let me leave.”

The linguists are now trying to get even. Late last month, Maroufi and 18 colleagues filed a lawsuit against their employer, Global Linguist Solutions, or GLS, a U.S.-based firm that has a piece of a $9.7 billion Pentagon contract to provide translation services to military personnel across the Middle East. GLS is a joint venture between defense contracting giants DynCorp and AECOM, so Maroufi and the other plaintiffs sued them as well. Joe Hennessey, their lawyer, says he plans to ask for damages “in the tens of millions of dollars, if not higher.”

GLS and DynCorp declined to comment, citing the litigation, but GLS argues that the Kuwaiti subcontractor, Al Shora General Trading and Contracting Co., bears full responsibility for what has happened to their employees. Al Shora couldn’t be reached for comment, either. However, the company’s owner, Reham Aljelewi, told Stars and Stripes earlier this year that she no longer wanted to work with GLS and accused it of making false allegations about her firm to various Kuwaiti officials.

American military and civilian officials say they’re doing what they can for the contractors, but have gone out of their way to emphasize that the entire crisis boils down to a fight between two private companies.

Ron Young, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, which oversees the GLS contract, said the military was working with the State Department to find a way to get the contractors out of Kuwait. But he stressed that the “current situation regarding the American linguists in Kuwait is a legal matter under Kuwaiti law.”

A State Department official said the American embassy in Kuwait had “reached out to Kuwaiti government officials at a variety of levels in order to seek clarification and identify a path to allow the citizens to depart Kuwait or otherwise address the matter.” The official declined to say whether Ambassador Matthew Tueller had personally lobbied the Kuwaiti government to allow the contractors to return home.

The dispute stems from a Kuwaiti law that requires foreign firms to partner with a Kuwaiti company, or “sponsor,” which is responsible for obtaining work visas for individual employees. GLS had initially partnered with Al-Shora, but chose to work with a different Kuwaiti company when it’s initial contract ended last year and the firm decided to submit a bid for a new one.

Here’s where things get tricky. According to the lawsuit, Al Shora warned GLS that severing the relationship could lead to legal problems for their contractors. GLS, the suit says, “made a conscious business decision” to do so anyway. GLS, for its part, said it had to sever ties with Al Shora because the Kuwaiti firm refused to submit a formal proposal for a share of the new contract. GLS says that Al Shora’s managing director, the sister-in-law of the country’s prime minister, responded by threatening to “destroy” the American company.

Things soon deteriorated even further. GLS says that Al Shora promised to transfer all of the U.S. contractors to the company’s new Kuwaiti sponsor, but never did. Instead, Al Shora told Kuwaiti authorities that Maroufi and the other GLS contractors had failed to show up their jobs, violating the terms of their work visas and putting them in breach of Kuwaiti immigration law. GLS said it tried to negotiate with Al Shora to rescind the allegations, only to have the Kuwaiti company demand $22 million in exchange for doing so. When GLS refused to pay, the Kuwaiti government began arresting individual contractors like Abdulghani, the Iowa resident trying to return home to see his sick mother.

The lawsuit claims that after the arrests of Abdulghani and a pair of other contractors, Maroufi and his remaining colleagues found themselves effectively under house arrest at Buehring and Arifjan.

“They were trapped because they could not venture out beyond the compound for fear of arrest by Kuwait authorities,” the lawsuit states. “Moreover, the Kuwait government would not issue exit documents or other papers to such plaintiffs because they were considered to be in the country illegally.”

Three months later, the bulk of the contractors remain marooned at the bases. The Army flies aircraft in and out of Arifjan and Buehring every day, and it’s not clear why the military doesn’t simply take the contractors out of the country on their own. It’s also not clear why the U.S. government, which sells large quantities of weapons to Kuwait and once went to war to restore its independence, isn’t doing more to pressure the Kuwaiti government to let the contractors leave. For the moment, only a lucky few have managed to do so.

Nada Malek has worked for GLS in both Iraq and Kuwait since the summer of 2010. This past February, her husband developed serious health problems and was put into an intensive care unit, but she was told she couldn’t return to her home in Nevada because of the fight between GLS and Al Shora. Malek’s husband eventually recovered, but she suffered a bigger blow last month when her son tried to kill himself. Staffers from the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid interceded on her behalf and she was finally allowed out of Kuwait. She returned home last Sunday.

Despite her family problems, Malek is paradoxically one of the lucky ones. The remaining contractors don’t have powerful political allies and face the real prospect of being stuck in Kuwait for months as the new lawsuit winds its way through the U.S. legal systems and back channel talks with the Kuwaitis plod forward. This Saturday is Maroufi’s birthday, and he will spend it thousands of miles from home.

“I still don’t believe that I can sit in my backyard and watch my husband take care of our garden,” she said. “I still feel like I’m stuck in Kuwait.”

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Dereliction of Duty: Obama Did Nothing to Save American Lives in Benghazi–and Lied About It

by Joel B. Pollak

Nothing. That is what President Barack Obama did on the night of September 11, 2012, as terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and killed four Americans, among them Ambassador Christopher Stevens. President Obama’s inaction was revealed in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday by outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey.

Under direct questioning by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Panetta admitted that he had no communication with President Obama after their “pre-scheduled” meeting at 5:00 p.m. EDT. The attack on the consulate had already been under way for 90 minutes at that time. Neither the president nor anyone else from the White House called afterwards to check what was happening; the Commander-in-Chief had left it “up to us,” said Panetta.

Panetta’s testimony directly contradicts President Obama’s own claim to have issued “three directives” as soon as he learned “what was going on” in Benghazi. As he told a Denver reporter in October:

I gave three very clear directives. Number one, make sure we are securing our personnel and that we are doing whatever we need to. Number two, we are going to investigate exactly what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Number three, find out who did this so we can bring them to justice.

That same claim was subsequently repeated by other Democrats, including Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who came to the president’s defense. But if those directives were indeed given–and proof has never been produced–they were given long after the attack, not while the attack was going on, during which time the president did nothing.

Panetta and Dempsey also admitted, under questioning by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), that they were not in touch with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the attacks, and did not receive a request for help from the State Department. Dempsey also testified that he had been “surprised” at Clinton’s testimony last month that she did not know of an urgent cable from Ambassador Stevens last August about the dire security situation.

To borrow a metaphor from the 2008 Democratic primary campaign: when the 3 a.m. call came (at 5 p.m. in the afternoon), neither Clinton nor Obama were there to respond.

Panetta was also forced to admit, in the face of vigorous questioning by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), that no military action at all had been taken to intervene in Benghazi after the attack had begun, promising only that a similar lapse would not happen again.

Later, on Thursday afternoon, during Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan’s confirmation hearing to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) demanded to know why the administration failed to interview a suspect in the attack.

Brennan’s response was merely that the Tunisian authorities who had arrested him “did not have a basis in their law” for allowing the U.S. to question him about the attack.

In sum: President Obama did nothing to save Americans under attack from terrorists. His Secretary of Defense did nothing. His Secretary of State did nothing. The Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff did nothing. His Deputy National Security Adviser defended doing “nothing” to help bring the perpetrators to justice. And the entire administration participated in an effort to cover up the truth. Because there was an election to be won.

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White House told of militant claim two hours after Libya attack: emails

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON | Tue Oct 23, 2012 9:11pm EDT

(Reuters) – Officials at the White House and State Department were advised two hours after attackers assaulted the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 that an Islamic militant group had claimed credit for the attack, official emails show.

The emails, obtained by Reuters from government sources not connected with U.S. spy agencies or the State Department and who requested anonymity, specifically mention that the Libyan group called Ansar al-Sharia had asserted responsibility for the attacks.

The brief emails also show how U.S. diplomats described the attack, even as it was still under way, to Washington.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Benghazi assault, which President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials ultimately acknowledged was a “terrorist” attack carried out by militants with suspected links to al Qaeda affiliates or sympathizers.

Administration spokesmen, including White House spokesman Jay Carney, citing an unclassified assessment prepared by the CIA, maintained for days that the attacks likely were a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muslim film.

While officials did mention the possible involvement of “extremists,” they did not lay blame on any specific militant groups or possible links to al Qaeda or its affiliates until intelligence officials publicly alleged that on September 28.

There were indications that extremists with possible al Qaeda connections were involved, but also evidence that the attacks could have erupted spontaneously, they said, adding that government experts wanted to be cautious about pointing fingers prematurely.

U.S. intelligence officials have emphasized since shortly after the attack that early intelligence reporting about the attack was mixed.

Spokesmen for the White House and State Department had no immediate response to requests for comments on the emails.

MISSIVES FROM LIBYA

The records obtained by Reuters consist of three emails dispatched by the State Department’s Operations Center to multiple government offices, including addresses at the White House, Pentagon, intelligence community and FBI, on the afternoon of September 11.

The first email, timed at 4:05 p.m. Washington time – or 10:05 p.m. Benghazi time, 20-30 minutes after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission allegedly began – carried the subject line “U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi Under Attack” and the notation “SBU”, meaning “Sensitive But Unclassified.”

The text said the State Department’s regional security office had reported that the diplomatic mission in Benghazi was “under attack. Embassy in Tripoli reports approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well.”

The message continued: “Ambassador Stevens, who is currently in Benghazi, and four … personnel are in the compound safe haven. The 17th of February militia is providing security support.”

A second email, headed “Update 1: U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi” and timed 4:54 p.m. Washington time, said that the Embassy in Tripoli had reported that “the firing at the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi had stopped and the compound had been cleared.” It said a “response team” was at the site attempting to locate missing personnel.

A third email, also marked SBU and sent at 6:07 p.m. Washington time, carried the subject line: “Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack.”

The message reported: “Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli.”

While some information identifying recipients of this message was redacted from copies of the messages obtained by Reuters, a government source said that one of the addresses to which the message was sent was the White House Situation Room, the president’s secure command post.

Other addressees included intelligence and military units as well as one used by the FBI command center, the source said.

It was not known what other messages were received by agencies in Washington from Libya that day about who might have been behind the attacks.

Intelligence experts caution that initial reports from the scene of any attack or disaster are often inaccurate.

By the morning of September 12, the day after the Benghazi attack, Reuters reported that there were indications that members of both Ansar al-Sharia, a militia based in the Benghazi area, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African affiliate of al Qaeda’s faltering central command, may have been involved in organizing the attacks.

One U.S. intelligence official said that during the first classified briefing about Benghazi given to members of Congress, officials “carefully laid out the full range of sparsely available information, relying on the best analysis available at the time.”

The official added, however, that the initial analysis of the attack that was presented to legislators was mixed.

“Briefers said extremists were involved in attacks that appeared spontaneous, there may have been a variety of motivating factors, and possible links to groups such as (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al-Sharia) were being looked at closely,” the official said.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Mary Milliken and Jim Loney)

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Report: Obama Administration Is Giving Away 7 Strategic Islands to Russia

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Posted by Jim Hoft on Saturday, February 18, 2012, 12:32 PM

May 1881 US explorers approached Jeannette Island and Henrietta Island and claimed them for the United States. According to some US individuals, including the group State Department Watch, eight Arctic islands currently controlled by Russia, including Wrangel Island, are claimed by the United States. However, according to the United States Department of State no such claim exists. The USSR/USA Maritime Boundary Treaty, which has yet to be approved by the Russian Duma, does not address the status of these islands nor the maritime boundaries associated with them.

The Obama Administration is reportedly giving away Wrangell, Bennett, Jeannette and Henrietta islands in Alaska to Russia. The federal government drew the line to put these seven Alaskan islands on the Russian side

Former senatorial candidate Joe Miller broke this story at World Net Daily:

The Obama administration, despite the nation’s economic woes, effectively killed the job-producing Keystone Pipeline last month. The Arab Spring is turning the oil production of Libya and other Arab nations over to the Muslim Brotherhood. Iraq is distancing itself from the U.S. And everyone recognizes that Iran, whose crude supplies are critical to the European economy, will do anything it can to frustrate America’s strategic interests. In the face of all of this, Obama insists on cutting back U.S. oil potential with outrageous restrictions.

Part of Obama’s apparent war against U.S. energy independence includes a foreign-aid program that directly threatens my state’s sovereign territory. Obama’s State Department is giving away seven strategic, resource-laden Alaskan islands to the Russians. Yes, to the Putin regime in the Kremlin.

The seven endangered islands in the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea include one the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. The Russians are also to get the tens of thousands of square miles of oil-rich seabeds surrounding the islands. The Department of Interior estimates billions of barrels of oil are at stake.

The State Department has undertaken the giveaway in the guise of a maritime boundary agreement between Alaska and Siberia. Astoundingly, our federal government itself drew the line to put these seven Alaskan islands on the Russian side. But as an executive agreement, it could be reversed with the stroke of a pen by President Obama or Secretary Clinton.

The agreement was negotiated in total secrecy. The state of Alaska was not allowed to participate in the negotiations, nor was the public given any opportunity for comment. This is despite the fact the Alaska Legislature has passed resolutions of opposition – but the State Department doesn’t seem to care.

The imperiled Arctic Ocean islands include Wrangell, Bennett, Jeannette and Henrietta. Wrangell became American in 1881 with the landing of the U.S. Revenue Marine ship Thomas Corwin. The landing party included the famed naturalist John Muir. It is 3,000 square miles in size.

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U.S. slaps sanctions on China state oil trader over Iran

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By Andrew Quinn

WASHINGTON, Jan 12 (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on China’s state-run Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp, which it said was Iran’s largest supplier of refined petroleum products, as it sought to impress on Beijing and Tehran its resolve to increase economic pressure over Iran’s nuclear program.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also imposed sanctions on Singapore’s Kuo Oil Pte Ltd and FAL Oil Company Ltd, an independent energy trader based in the United Arab Emirates, the State Department said in a notice.

The State Department said the move was part of a broadening international effort to target Iran’s energy sector and persuade Tehran to rein in its nuclear ambitions.

“The sanctions announced today are an important step toward that goal, as they target the individual companies that help Iran evade these efforts,” the statement said.

The sanction bar all three companies from receiving U.S. export licenses, U.S. Export Import Bank financing or loans over $10 million from U.S. financial institutions, the department said, stressing that the sanctions apply only to the companies and not to their governments or countries.

The U.S. announced the decision after China’s rebuff this week of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who traveled to Beijing to press China on U.S. demands it do more to help curb Iran’s oil revenues.

A Zhenrong spokeswoman and China’s Foreign Ministry both said they had no immediate comment.

‘SHOT ACROSS THE BOW’

Analysts said the U.S. move was largely symbolic, given that Zhenrong was unlikely to have much U.S. business exposure.

But the move will send a signal to Beijing and its state-run oil giants such as China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), China Petroleum and Chemical Corp (Sinopec Corp) and China National Offshore Oil Corp. , they said.

These companies have invested billions of dollars in the U.S. energy sector, and are much more exposed to the impact of potential sanctions.

“It’s a good shot across the bow and signals the U.S. is serious about vigorous sanctions enforcement,” said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington pressure group that favors stronger sanctions on Iran.

“This could be the beginning of a cascade of more sanctions on Chinese companies if China doesn’t curtail its Iranian trade.”

Zhuhai Zhenrong – one of four dominant Chinese state oil traders – brokered the delivery of over $500 million in gasoline to Iran between July 2010 and January 2011 in contravention of U.S. sanctions law, the State Department said.

While the U.S. move targeted Zhenrong for its gasoline sales, the Chinese company has a broader role in Beijing’s energy dealings with Iran.

It has been a major buyer of Iranian oil since at least 1995, typically selling the oil to Sinopec and PetroChina, the country’s two dominant refiners.

Zhenrong has been buying about 240,000 barrels per day for several years, representing about 5 percent of China’s imports. Sources last week said China would cut crude imports from Iran for a second month in February.

In mid-2010, Zhenrong joined Chinese state energy giants in filling a void left by Western oil companies and trading houses that had halted sales of gasoline to Iran because of toughening U.S. sanctions.

Derek Scissors, an expert in the Chinese economy at the Heritage Foundation think tank, said the action against Zhenrong would send a message to other Chinese state oil majors.

“We don’t want to be taking action against Sinopec, CNPC and CNOOC. They are huge, and politically powerful,” he said.

“But Zhenrong is close enough to them, and won’t really do that much harm beyond sending the signal.”

TARGETING COMPANIES

The U.S. announcement followed Western moves to tighten the economic noose on Tehran through unilateral sanctions.

President Barack Obama has signed a U.S. law imposing sanctions on financial institutions that deal with Iran’s central bank, its main clearinghouse for oil exports, while the European Union is expected soon to agree to a new ban on Iranian oil imports.

Washington has sought to impress on friends and foes that it means business, sending U.S. officials around the world to warn of the dangers of dealing with Iran.

A senior Obama administration official stressed that the purpose of sanctions was to draw Iran back to the negotiating table to discuss curbing its nuclear ambitions, the other half of the ‘two-track’ U.S. policy of pressure and engagement.

“The theory of the case here is that these two tracks will ultimately converge and Iran will make a decision that it is important to come to the table to try to remove some of these sanctions, to improve their economy,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The other two companies listed by the State Department, both well-known names in the Asian oil trading world, are smaller, private trading firms that typically specialize in shipping bunker fuel or heavy residual products but, like Zhenrong, had also begun doing deals to sell gasoline to Iran.

The State Department said Kuo Oil had provided over $25 million in refined petroleum to Iran between late 2010 and early 2011, while FAL provided over $70 million in refined petroleum to Iran over multiple shipments in late 2010.

Kuo had no immediate comment, a senior official said.

In all cases, individual deliveries were worth significantly more than the $1 million threshold under U.S. law and the total value of the transactions was well above the $5 million threshold for sanctionable activities within a 12-month period, the State Department said.

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