Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hired Gun Comes to Texas

Marina Mendez Ransanz

In September the government of Texas released a border security report titled Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment. The report, authored by General Barry R. McCaffrey and General Robert Scales, depicts a rather bleak situation in the south border, one comparable to a “war zone.” The report, commissioned by the Texas Agriculture Commissioner, states:

Living and conducting business in a Texas border county is tantamount to living in a war zone in which civil authorities, law enforcement agencies, as well as citizens, are under attack around the clock.

Texas Ag Commissioner Staples and Barry R. McCaffrey in center at
congressional hearing/ Texas Ag Dept.

Such statements, as well as the general content of the report, provoked strong reactions as in the case of U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso. Reyes called into question the accuracy of the report, arguing that the report is a political product aimed at bolstering Gov. Rick Perry’s border security operations. The report, which cost the Texas government $80,000, also praises the success of border operations by Texas Rangers.

General Barry R. McCaffrey is not new to the world of military and security consultancies or, for the matter, to raising questions regarding his integrity and potential conflict of interests.

Barry McCaffrey was the most highly decorated serving general at his retirement, having been awarded three Purple Heart medals, two Distinguished Service Crosses, and two Silver Stars. He also performed as the nation’s drug czar as the chief of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy for five years during President Clinton’s administration.

McCaffrey has continued adding roles to his impressive résumé as NBC and MSNBC military analyst as well as president of his own consulting firm, BR McCaffrey Associates. However, this highly notable career has been tainted with serious accusations that do not appear to have been investigated thoroughly.

The first blow to the General’s reputation came from an article written by Seymour Hersh published in The New Yorker in May 2000. The article, titled “Overwhelming Force,” recounts the events occurred at the end of the first Gulf War on the morning of March 2,1991, two days after the ceasefire had been declared. During the war, Barry McCaffrey was in charge of the 24th Infantry Division and that day he ordered an assault, considered by some witnesses as totally unjustified and atrocious.

The attack, carried out by Apache attack helicopters, Bradley fighting vehicles, and artillery units, killed apparently unarmed Iraqi soldiers and civilians, and destroyed some seven hundred enemy tanks, armored cars, and trucks. The massacre at Rumaila, as some have called it, has been described by some of the soldiers who witnessed it as an unprovoked attack ordered by McCaffrey against Iraqis who were fulfilling the requirements of the retreat.

Hersh reported that many of the generals he interviewed believed that McCaffrey’s attack had gone too far and that it had violated the “response in proportion to the threat” military doctrine.

One of the officers on the ground, Edward Walker, stated being ordered to head count of the Iraqi soldiers who had surrendered that day in Rumaila. 382 prisoners is the number he recalled. All of them had been immediately striped of their weapons. Next to the site there was a hospital bus, clearly marked with the Red Crescent symbol. In a very upsetting statement, Walker recounted: “They knew there were prisoners there. They knew they were unarmed. They knew the hospital bus was there…” Nonetheless, the attack proceeded.

The Pentagon started an official investigation of the events when an anonymous letter accusing McCaffrey of war crimes was received a few months after the division had returned home. The investigation was unable to produce substantial evidence against the official version, and McCaffrey has, ever since, defended his actions alleging that the attack was motivated by the need to protect American soldiers.

After Hersh’s article was published, ABC News followed with its own investigation. ABC interviewed six soldiers from the platoon of scouts that witnessed the attack, the same platoon Walker belonged to. All six interviewees confirmed the story reported by Hersh. The network also reviewed the internal investigation conducted by the army and found it “flawed and incomplete.”

New York Times graphic
The second blow to Barry McCaffrey’s credibility came from an article published in The New York Times in November 2008 by David Barstow. In the piece titled “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex”, Barstow exposed the conflict of interests resulting from McCaffrey’s several roles.

On one hand, the four-star Army general had been hired in 2007 as a consultant by the military contractor Defense Solutions. On the other hand, he was strongly recommending to the commanding General in Iraq David H. Petraeus the purchase of 5,000 armored vehicles produced by Defense Solutions.

The catch is that McCaffrey did not reveal to General Petraeus his personal involvement with Defense Solutions. He also omitted to disclose this information when he, as a military analyst, appeared on CNBC praising the company or when he told Congress, shortly afterwards, that it should immediately supply Iraq with large numbers of armored vehicles and other equipment.

Barstow described this opaque world, where mostly retired generals “had a foot in both camps as influential networks military analysts and defense industry rainmakers.”

McCaffreys’ triple role as media analyst, government adviser and businessman offered the perfect platforms to advance both policy goals and business objectives. Besides running his personal consulting company, BR McCaffrey Associates, McCaffrey also sat on the board of Mitretek, Veritas Capital, two other Veritas companies, Raytheon Aerospace and Integrated Defense Technologies, and performed as chairman of HNTB Federal Services.

All these companies directly competed for national security contracts or promoted linkages between government officials and contractors. The Nation, a few years earlier, had also pointed out that many former military generals held paid advisory board and executive positions at defense companies, while serving at the same time as advisers for groups that promoted an invasion of Iraq after 9/11. McCaffrey was mentioned as the ultimate example of this practice.

McCaffrey’s status as a four-star general gives credibility to the “strategic military assessment” of Texas border security. But the alarmist language of the report and its reliance on cherry-picked anecdotes to make the case that the border is a war zone raises questions about its integrity.

What is more, McCaffrey’s war record and his history as a hired gun for the Pentagon and the media should also cast doubt on the report’s analysis – and raise new questions about the use of Texas tax revenues during the Perry administration to underwrite fear-mongering reports and border security programs.

(Marina Mendez Ransanz is a Latin American Rights & Security intern at the Center for International Policy, working with the TransBorder Project.)

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