Tara McKelvey

Tara McKelvey, a senior editor at the Prospect, is a research fellow at NYU School of Law's Center on Law and Security and the author of Monstering: Inside America’s Policy on Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War.

Recent Articles

Sure, Blackwater Is Bad, But What About DynCorp?

According to The New York Times , a Xe (formerly Blackwater) contract for aviation services in Iraq was supposed to expire today. Xe was to “be replaced by DynCorp International,” but DynDorps is not ready to take on the work. The decision to switch companies has been delayed, and questions could be raised about DynCorp in the meantime. More than a decade ago, DynCorp was a Texas-based company with a small government contract to fight the drug trade in Latin America. Today, it is one of the leading military contractors in the world. Like the employees of Blackwater, DynCorp workers have been accused of a variety of misdeeds over the years, including: the sex trafficking of children in the Balkans; drug-eradication programs in Latin America that apparently caused severe environmental damage; and, three years ago, the shooting death of an unarmed taxi driver in Baghdad, which outraged Iraqi officials and led to an investigation. The DynCorp workers were also known for hanging out in...

Contractors in Afghanistan.

The number of contractors now exceeds the number of troops, according to The New York Times . It is a combustible mix of the private and public sector that led in part to the Abu Ghraib scandal, where contractors set an example of wild, savage behavior when they watched over the detainees, and the soldiers followed suit. The problems continue to haunt places like the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. As Ginger Thompson reports , the Embassy “guards worked in a ‘ Lord of the Flies ’ environment." From a budgetary perspective, it is not clear what the really savings are, either. The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Frederick D. Barton told a Times reporter that “no one really knew whether having a force made up mainly of contractors whose salaries were often triple or quadruple those of a corresponding soldier or Marine was cheaper or more expensive for the American taxpayer.” The fact that the military continues to rely on contractors to such a large extent may seem odd at first...

The Enemy in Afghanistan.

A Washington Post article about a forthcoming report on the war from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says that “the Taliban is far more sophisticated than it was just a few years ago.” It is clear that the Taliban has gotten extremely good at fighting Americans, particularly since McChrystal is hinting that he wants more troops and that “greater “resolve’” is needed to win the war. But how bad things really are is not clear from many of the news accounts, particularly those that are based on commanders’ reports to people in Washington. Reports from people who actually live in Helmand Province reveal a far darker picture. Michael Yon , a former Green Beret who is now blogging from Afghanistan, describes what it is like: “The leadership tells us that the Taliban and associated groups control only small parts of the country. Yet enemy influence is growing, and so far, despite the fact that we have made progress on some fronts, our own influence is diminishing.” He says that the enemy is not...

Election Fraud in Afghanistan.

Everyone wanted things to go well on August 20, and few people have worked harder to make the polling stations safe and secure than the U.S. Marines. Lt. Col. Dale Alford was there on the day that Hamid Karzai was elected, overseeing a unit of men who were providing security at the polling sites. Up until that moment, they had been concerned about what would happen. “Back then,” he recalled, “everybody thought Al Qaeda would do massive disruption, but they didn’t.” This time around, he knew about the obstacles facing the people in Afghanistan and how difficult it would be Afghans to keep the peace on Election Day. “There are thousands of polling places that have to be guarded,” he told me. American troops had worked hard to help train Afghans who were protecting the polling stations, and the election was held, and people felt relieved when it was over. Unfortunately, however, as The New York Times says , reports of fraud continue to multiply, putting the legitimacy of the election...

Military Screens Journalists Before Granting Interviews.

In recent articles, a Stars and Stripes reporter has claimed that officials screen reporters before allowing them to interview people in the military or embed with a unit in Iraq or Afghanistan, and that they have been accepting or rejecting journalists’ requests based on whether or not their previous coverage has been favorable to the military. Defense and military officials acknowledge that they use assessments provided by a private contractor, the Rendon Group, to learn more about a reporter’s background. Finding out about a journalist, and reading their previous work, before they come for an interview is simply doing due diligence, and that is something that journalists expect. Nevertheless, as The Washington Post reports , some people have claimed that the military has turned reporters down because of stories they have written. Officials, however, deny that “the analysis has been used to exclude journalists from embedding with U.S. military units in combat zones or to bar them...

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