Blackwater and co Iraq data-dump: mercenaries shot a judge with impunity, used bullets as hand signals, were not disciplined as this "would lower morale"

Four years after their initial Freedom of Information Act request, Gawker has received and published 4,500 pages' worth of detail on the way that mercenaries from Blackwater and other defense contractors conducted themselves in Iraq. Their basic procedure appears to have been to shoot any car that attempted to pass or tailgate any of the convoys they guarded, especially if the driver was a "military aged male." Then, with no followup (or very little), they would conclude that the driver was unharmed and drive on, filing a report later. One victim of a Blackwater mercenary shooting was a judge, who was wounded in the leg (though the mercs' report claimed he was unharmed). The State Department backed the mecenaries on this; in Gawker's words, 'The State Department determined that shooting at judges for driving too fast in their own country is "within the established Department of State policy for escalation of force."' Other drivers were shot because they carried passengers with "devices" in their hands -- such as mobile phones.

When Blackwater teams were caught lying about their roadside battles and executions, they faced little or no discipline. The State Department officials supervising the mercenaries' behavior were told that discipline "would lower morale" among the mercenaries, and seemed to accept this at face value.

A July 2007 email from one State Department official to several colleagues—apparently in reference to the judge's shooting—openly worried about contractor teams indiscriminately shooting their way around Iraq:

When was the last time we...looked into all the other contractor PSD elements running around Iraq? I'm hearing stories of quite a few PSD elements moving from Mosul to Irbil firing up to 50 rounds per move and using bullets like we use hand and arm signals, flashers, or a water bottle. [Security teams would often toss plastic water bottles at the windshield of a suspicious car to get the driver's attention—Ed.]

It doesn't appear that anyone wrote him back or addressed his concerns.

Blackwater subsequently rebranded itself as "Xe," and has just changed its name to Academi, and is still seeking lucrative government contracts. I reviewed Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army in 2007, and it remains an important read for anyone who wants to understand the way that US-funded mercenaries run amok in America's fields of war (and in America's disaster zones, such as post-Katrina New Orleans), murdering and rampaging with impunity.

‘Gentlemen, We Shot a Judge’ and Other Tales of Blackwater, DynCorp, and Triple Canopy’s Rampage Through Iraq

Petition to get a pardon for Turing's "gross indecency" conviction

The UK government has officially apologised to computing giant and war hero Alan Turing for forcing him to take hormone injections as "therapy" for being gay (driving him to suicide), but now a petition has been mounted to get an official pardon Turing's 1952 for "gross indecency."

We ask the HM Government to grant a pardon to Alan Turing for the conviction of 'gross indecency'. In 1952, he was convicted of 'gross indecency' with another man and was forced to undergo so-called 'organo-therapy' - chemical castration. Two years later, he killed himself with cyanide, aged just 41. Alan Turing was driven to a terrible despair and early death by the nation he'd done so much to save. This remains a shame on the UK government and UK history. A pardon can go to some way to healing this damage. It may act as an apology to many of the other gay men, not as well known as Alan Turing, who were subjected to these laws.

Grant a pardon to Alan Turing

UK Houses of Parliament police: no political material allowed in Parliament

Police officers at Britain's Houses of Parliament have been caught telling protesters that political material may not be brought into the government's deliberative house; reports say this wasn't the first time.

“As she arrived at security, a police officer confiscated her lobby briefing material and told her that she was not allowed to have anything of a political nature. In fact, she was told that this was a direction from the House authorities. The officer then spoke to a senior officer, who gave the same response.”

Police attempt to ban “political materials” from House of Commons (Thanks, Alex)

Enthusiasm for tablets grows in government

Government workers are dying to get their hands on tablet computers, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act and published by Government Attic. The files show, however, that security protocols may result in a slow roll-out at some agencies.

The Federal Trade Commission, National Archives and Records Administration, Deparment of Veterans Affairs, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Tennessee Valley Authority each produced internal records which discuss the merits of iPads and similar devices.

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Rejected designs for the Federal Housing Finance Agency seal

The Federal Housing Finance Agency was formed in 2008 amid the housing panic. Among other functions, it is the regulatory organ overseeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It has not escaped notice that the agency has one of the blandest seals in the federal sector, a design realm traditionally adorned with wreaths, garlands and star-studded ostentation. How did that happen?

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Regulating science the way we regulate restaurant kitchens

Peer-review does many things, but it isn't built to weed out fraud. In the wake of large scandals like the expose of Andrew Wakefield's fraudulent autism study, the British government is starting to consider regulating science for fraud the same way it regulates restaurants for public health. Brian Deer, the journalist who helped expose Wakefield, supports the idea. What do you think? (Via Ivan Oransky)