“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
In late September, the Taliban launched an offensive against Kunduz, a provincial capital in northern Afghanistan, capturing key buildings and freeing hundreds of prisoners from the city’s jail.
The offensive sparked a fierce battle between the militants and government forces, supported by US airstrikes. After several days of fighting, Afghan troops recaptured the city, and took down the Taliban’s flag from the central square.
American planes targeted Taliban positions, but at the beginning of October, a hospital run by medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) was hit, killing 22 hospital staff and patients, with many seriously injured. The Pentagon later admitted that the strike was a mistake.
Gaining exclusive access to the Taliban, VICE News filmmaker Nagieb Khaja spoke to fighters that briefly took control of Kunduz — the first major city to fall to the group since it was ousted from power in 2001.
On the frontlines in eastern Ukraine, a number of volunteer battalions fight alongside the Ukrainian army, holding the line against separatist attacks.
One of those volunteer groups is the Right Sector, an ultranationalist group who were prominent during the 2014 Euromaidan revolution. Unlike other volunteer groups, the Right Sector has not been absorbed into Ukrainian military structure and so oversight of their conduct is minimal.
Despite allegations of theft, torture, and extrajudicial killings, the group continues to operate on the frontlines in some of the most dangerous locations. But it has recently protested against the ceasefire, and clashed with police in the west of the country over an alleged smuggling ring.
In this excerpt from ‘Ukraine’s Failed Ceasefire,’ VICE News spent time with Right Sector soldiers at their positions outside the strategically important factory town of Avdiivka, just a few miles north of Donetsk International Airport, which is held by Donetsk People’s Republic rebel forces.
According to a review of the results of 12,000 blood tests, the world of track and field has a doping problem that is as big as the one cycling had at the height of Lance Armstrong’s popularity.
The track at Olympic Stadium during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Popperfoto/Popperfoto/Getty Images
That’s according to the Sunday Times and Germany’s public broadcaster ARD/WDR, which obtained a leak of documents with the bloodwork of 5,000 athletes.
The International Association of Athletics Federations, track and field’s world governing body, said in a statement that, indeed, the analysis from these news organizations was based on “an IAAF Data Base of private and confidential medical data which has been obtained without consent.”
According to a BBC reading of the data, it shows that a third of medals — including 55 golds — handed out at the Olympics and World Championships between 2001 and 2012 were won by athletes whose test results were suspicious.
More than 800 athletes, about one in seven of the 5,000 included in the leak, had blood results that experts consider “highly suggestive of doping.”
The Times reports:
“Two of the world’s foremost anti-doping experts, who reviewed the files for this newspaper, said the data provided compelling evidence that the IAAF had failed to take sufficient action against athletes with highly suspicious tests.
“Robin Parisotto, a scientist who regularly reviews athletes’ blood tests, said: ‘Never have I seen such an alarmingly abnormal set of blood values … So many athletes appear to have doped with impunity, and it is damning that the IAAF appears to have idly sat by and let this happen.’
“The second expert, exercise physiologist Michael Ashenden, who gave evidence against Armstrong, was equally appalled: ‘For the IAAF to have harvested millions of dollars from the broadcasting of athletics events around the world … yet only devote a relative pittance of those funds towards anti-doping, when they could see the terrible truth of what lay beneath the surface, is … a shameful betrayal of their primary duty to police their sport and to protect clean athletes.'”
The World Anti-Doping Agency said that it was alarmed by the findings.
“These allegations require swift and close scrutiny to determine whether there have in fact been breaches under the World Anti-Doping Code and, if so, what actions are required to be taken by WADA and/or other bodies,” WADA’s president, Craig Reedie, said in a statement. “As always, WADA is committed to doing what’s necessary to ensure a level playing field for clean athletes of the world.”
One bit of positive news: Test results for stars Mo Farah and Usain Bolt looked normal.
A defense attorney uncovers a brazen scheme to manipulate evidence, and prosecutors and police finally get caught.
Prosecutorial and police misconduct are often dismissed as just a few bad apples doing a few bad apple-ish things. But what happens when it’s entrenched and systemic and goes unchecked for years? That looks to be the case in Orange County, California, where the situation got so completely out of hand this spring that Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals issued an order disqualifying the entire Orange County District Attorney’s Office (that’s all 250 prosecutors) from continuing to prosecute a major death penalty case.
After literally years of alleged misconduct involving jailhouses informants, as well as prosecutors’ repeated failures to turn over exculpatory material, Judge Goethals determined in March that the office can simply no longer work on the case of mass murderer Scott Dekraai, who pleaded guilty last year to killing his ex-wife and seven others at a beauty salon in 2011.
Revelations of misconduct in the Dekraai case have raised questions about patterns of obstruction and deception that have unraveled various other murder cases in the county, which has a population larger than that of 20 different states. Other cases involving informants who were eliciting illegal confessions have emerged, entire cases have collapsed, and more may follow. The story goes way back to the 1980s, as R. Scott Moxley explains at length in the OC Weekly, to a prosecutorial scandal that ended in the execution of one defendant and a lengthy sentence for his alleged co-conspirator. Their convictions were based on the testimony of various jailhouse informants even though they told conflicting stories. That scandal rocked the area then, and this new one shows eerie parallels.
U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have stolen tens of millions through bribery, theft, and rigged contracts.
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 distributed daily tens of thousands of gallons of what troops called “liquid gold”: the refined petroleum that fueled the international coalition’s 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.
Troops 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 Americans troops transplanted there.
Charboneau, whose Facebook posts 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 troops in Afghanistan has never been tallied, but officials probing such crimes say the total is in the billions of dollars. And 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 Afghanistan.
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 abroad. Sometimes ill-trained military personnel were forced to handle or oversee 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 that 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 for Public Integrity’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.
Troops 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 troops at nearby bases “aren’t getting caught, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it.”
Retired Army Reserve Maj. Glenn MacDonald, editor-in-chief of the website MilitaryCorruption.com, said the volume and value of fraud committed by troops in Afghanistan and Iraq seem higher to him than what he recalled as a young soldier in Vietnam in the 1960s. “What you can make out of these [recent] wars is staggering. It’s an opportunity for anybody, even a noncommissioned 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 for Public Integrity.
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—about $5,000 in net profit from a single extra truckload.
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”:
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.
Jerry Lampe/ReutersChina’s national flag is raised during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at the National Stadium, August 8, 2008. The stadium is also known as the Bird’s Nest.
So secretive is China’s army that it began admitting foreign journalists to its monthly–and highly uninformative–briefings only last year.
But in the past few months extraordinary revelations have appeared in the Chinese media about corruption in the highest ranks of the People’s Liberation Army: a deputy chief of logistics built a mansion for himself modelled on the Forbidden City (among his treasures was a statue of Mao Zedong, in gold); the country’s most senior uniformed officer had a basement stacked high with cash; and in January it emerged that no fewer than 15 generals, including a former deputy chief of the nuclear arsenal, were being investigated for graft.
Never before in China’s history have so many high-ranking officers faced such charges at once.
REUTERS/StringerA visitor stands in front of a statue of China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong made of gold, jadeite and diamond during an exhibition in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, December 13, 2013. According to local media, the 50 kg (110 lbs) statue is worth more 100,000,000 yuan ($16,470,000).
The lifting of the veil that normally shrouds the world’s largest military force is evidence of the clout of Xi Jinping, the chief of the Communist Party, state president and, most importantly, commander-in-chief of what Mr Xi insists on reminding officers is the party’s army.
ReutersChinese President Xi Jingping
No leader since Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s has held such sway over the armed forces. His purge of its highest echelons may be partly aimed at crushing potential rivals.
But it is also part of Mr Xi’s campaign against corruption throughout the party and government and it has struck fear into the hearts of politicians and military officers, regardless of their loyalties.
Mr Xi should now use his grip over the PLA to achieve more than just suppress the rampant practice of buying ranks and doing dodgy business deals. The army remains largely unchanged in two important, and worrying, ways. First, it is still deeply wary of contacts with its Western counterparts.
During the cold war, America and the Soviet Union worked out codes of conduct to prevent accidents between their warships or fighter planes. In November China and America inched in the same direction. But the agreement between Mr Xi and Barack Obama is full of loopholes.
China’s army does not accept the kind of surveillance that the Americans and Russians routinely carried out near each other’s territory during the cold war. The scarcity of “mil-mil” contacts makes it harder for America and China to communicate in times of crisis.