Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Aerial Surveillance Footage

Did any of the more than 500 unmanned aerial vehicles operating in Iraq back in 2003 capture video footage of either of the SUV's driven by Kirk von Ackermann or Ryan Manelick?

Kirk von Ackermann disappeared on one of only three major routes between Tikrit and Kirkuk. Tikrit was, of course, the home of Saddam Hussein's tribe, who at the time was still at large in Iraq and suspected of being in the Tikrit area.
In both Afghanistan and Iraq, the Predator system is being used to assist the ground commander in a number of missions. One of the most visible is its use in the hunting and targeting of high value targets (HVT). The Predator gives the commander a persistent long loiter capability in order to keep suspected HVT hide-sites under constant surveillance. Such coverage assists the ground commander in planning their attack. Avenues of approach and terrain can be evaluated and studied right up until the time of the attack without tipping off the enemy that they are under surveillance.
Ryan Manelick was killed in a drive-by shooting shortly after leaving Camp Anaconda on Route 1, the transit route to Baghdad.
Our [USAF security forces] troops are currently using the Desert Hawk’s electro-optical and infrared sensors to provide them “eyes” outside the fence line around bases in the [Area of Responsibility]. This extended look is helping us leverage air base ground defense assets in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Excerpts above from:

Testimony of Lieutenant General Walter E. Bucanan III
Commander, United States Central Command (CENTCOM) Air Forces
Commander, Ninth Air Force
Before the House Armed Services Committee
United States House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces
Regarding Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)
March 17, 2004

More reading:

U.S. Drones Crowding the Skies to Fight Insurgents in Iraq
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, April 5, 2005

Monday, January 18, 2010

Questions for John Dawkins

Seems like I am forever putting together lists of questions. Well, here's what I'd like to ask John Dawkins, one of the principals at Ultra Services back in 2003.

  1. How well did Safa Shukir speak and understand English? (Kirk von Ackermann was said to have called Shukir for help with a bad tire. When Shukir arrived, he was reported to have called Dawkins to tell him about finding von Ackermann's abandoned vehicle.)
  2. Likelihood of Dawkins traveling alone on the road between Kirkuk and Tikrit?
  3. What is Dawkins' version of the story of receiving warning shots when driving up to a military gate too quickly with Charles Phillips in the car?
  4. Where did the incident happen and when?
  5. Did Ryan Manelick help Kirk von Ackermann buy his vehicle?
  6. Where did von Ackermann pick the vehicle up from?
  7. What was the job offer that Dawkins made to von Ackermann?
  8. What was satellite service like at the time - how clear and fast were connections?
  9. How often did Ryan Manelick travel from Baghdad to Anaconda?
  10. Did Ultra Services have temporary 'field offices' on project sites in Iraq and if yes, where, and what were they like?

Friday, January 15, 2010


Iraq hostage Peter Moore arrives back in UK
BBC January 1, 2010

Iraq hostage Peter Moore is now home in the United Kingdom. Still no word on the last missing security guard, Alan McMenemy, 34, from Glasgow, Scotland who was also kidnapped at the time with Moore.

Three-part series from the Salt Lake Tribune on the open air Burn Pits operating at US bases in Iraq.

The satellite image to the left shows the burn pit at Anaconda (now known as Joint Base Balad) in October 2009. It is from Google maps - see the link in the right hand side bar.

According to the Army Times, in 2008, 'Balad’s average daily output of almost 250 tons of waste is three times higher than the average of 83 tons per day generated by the city of Juneau, Alaska, which has a comparable population [of 25,000].'

One of the theories I've put forth is that Kirk von Ackermann was killed on a US base and his body disposed of in a burn pit. The most likely candidate is Camp Anaconda near where Ryan Manelick was killed just two months later. As far as I know, investigations have never pursued the theory.

Part I: Government waits for proof - sometimes for decades - before caring for sick veterans
By Matthew D. LaPlante, The Salt Lake Tribun, January 15, 2010

The VA requires former service members to prove an illness was caused by military service.

Part II: Vets: Burn pits are killing us
By Matthew D. LaPlante, The Salt Lake Tribune, January 15, 2010

Sickened warriors searching for help will have to wait for science and government bureaucracy to link their conditions to their service.

Part III: Vets say toxic tests sickened them; government says prove it
By Matthew D. LaPlante, The Salt Lake Tribune, January 15, 2010

Army says it used 'voluntary human subjects,' but ill man says 'I was private first class, I did anything they told me to do.'

Also see:

Burn pit at Balad raises health concerns
By Kelly Kennedy, Army Times, October 29, 2008

Troops say chemicals and medical waste burned at base are making them sick, but officials deny risk.

Monday, January 11, 2010

T. Christian Miller on Fresh Air

Journalist T. Christian Miller was recently interviewed by Terry Gross for NPR's Fresh Air where he discussed contractors and their fight for care. Fingers crossed that issues surrounding implementation of the Defense Base Act are finally getting braoder public attention.

Wounded In Wars, Civilians Face Care Battle At Home
NPR, January 11, 2010

Miller, who wrote the book Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq, joins Fresh Air for a conversation about the battles these civilians face to get surgery, psychological counseling and even prosthetics — and explains the ins and outs of the laws and policies governing who's responsible for their predicament.
At ProPublica, read Miller's ongoing series, Disposable Army: civilian Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Sliver of Justice

They say, no good deed goes unpunished. I'm hoping that won't end up being the case to this particular story.

Back in March of 2007, ePluribus Media published the first article in a three-part series which I wrote, Iraq, Contingency Contracting and the Defense Base Act. In part, the article highlighted the situation of the von Ackermann family and the lack of insurance benefits they received after Kirk von Ackermann, a civilian contractor, disappeared in Iraq in 2003.

Von Ackermann's employer at the time, Ultra Services of Istanbul Turkey, did not carry Defense Base Act insurance, similar to workman's compensation for overseas contractors. The Defense Base Act pays benefits if a contractor is killed, injured or missing. Claims under the Defense Base Act are administered by the Department of Labor.

As a result of that series, an attorney retired from the Department of Labor contacted me with questions about the article and in particular, the plight of the von Ackermann family. I pointed him to the Missing in Iraq blog and as Megan has noted at her blog, he went on to eventually take on their case.

It is my understanding that he pursued benefits for the family under the War Hazards Compensation Act. The War Hazards Compensation Act is a component of the Defense Base Act but applies only to those killed, injured or missing due to the actions of hostile forces. The War Hazards Compensation Act reimburses by 100% all benefits. As the US Army CID had determined in 2006 that Kirk von Ackermann was abducted and killed by hostile forces, the claim falls clearly under the War Hazards Act.

In other words, even if Kirk von Ackermann's employer had secured Defense Base Act insurance as required, all benefits would have been reimbursed by the Federal Government any way, in effect rendering the middle man of an insurance company as moot.

While I don't know the details beyond what Megan von Ackermann has posted on her blog (see Yuliscious), just shortly before Christmas, a check arrived from the Department of Labor - over 6 years after Kirk von Ackermann disappeared in Iraq. The Department of Labor finally recognized her claim.

Without ePluribus Media, that little bit of righting a wrong might never have happened. I'd like to take a moment to thank here everyone who helped make the series possible.

Original credits for those who worked on the article, proofreading, editing, fact checking, etc at ePluribus Media are: rba, newton snookers, cho, intranets, steven reich, greyhawk, wanderindiana, XicanoPwr, standingup, roxy

Additional Reading

By Megan von Ackermann, Missing in Iraq, December 24, 2009

Defense Base Act vs War Hazards Compensation Act - graphic
December 23, 2008

The Defense Base Act - insurance for contractors
April 6, 2007

Iraq, Contingency Contracting and the Defense Base Act - reprint
March 7, 2007