Flight of the Kestral

Washington, D.C.


Flight of the Kestral

Washington, D.C.

I was US deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics in the Pentagon from January 2006 to January 2009. I read Jeremy Scahill’s “The Secret US War in Pakistan” [Dec. 21/28] and found it to be a regrettable and baseless attack on Kestral Holdings and its distinguished CEO, Liaquat Ali Baig.

Kestral is a respected Pakistani firm that performed substantial work there for my Pentagon portfolio. There was nothing secret about it. Given the widespread appreciation for Kestral’s work, I am surprised that Scahill did not seek me out for comment.

Here are the facts: Kestral’s efforts have helped Pakistan resist extremism and the narcotics trafficking that sustains it. But Scahill–citing anonymous “sources”–distorted Kestral’s work and attacked Baig, endangering him, his family and his employees. Scahill certainly appreciates the weight of this attack and presumably is prepared for the consequences.

Today Pakistan and the United States are serious and willing partners against extremism along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. It was not always thus, and Kestral has been a positive influence. During my Pentagon service, and working with Pakistani authorities, Kestral executed important construction and procurement projects under the counternarcotics rubric. Kestral’s assistance and good work helped build relationships with the Pakistani Frontier Corps and Pakistani Army that pay dividends today for Pakistan, the United States and Afghanistan.

Scahill’s article implies that Kestral’s work with my portfolio was contrary to the will of Congress. I reject this. We kept the Democratically controlled Congress informed of activities involving Kestral in Pakistan. We were proud of these achievements and wanted Congress to see the tangible benefit of cooperation with Pakistan and to appreciate the capable Pakistani company accomplishing the work.

Construction work in Pakistan is unlike paving a road in Long Beach. It requires reliability, efficiency, competence and courage. Under the most difficult circumstances, Kestral and Liaquat Ali Baig demonstrated all of these qualities.

Scahill unjustifiably injures Kestral’s reputation and mischaracterizes events. He relied on sources too timid to identify themselves but only too willing to smear Kestral and endanger its CEO, his family and his employees. This speaks volumes about Scahill’s sources and indicates clearly that something other than “good government” motivated them.

The reckless and potentially deadly Scahill attack on Kestral and Baig reminds us of the harm that can be done by irresponsible and ideologically motivated reporting. It offers no credible insight into crucial events and no solutions. Without accountability, it heaps criticism on courageous people like Baig, Pakistani security forces and their partners in Pakistan performing dangerous work. Attacks from the sidelines by Scahill and his camp make cooperative international efforts to roll back extremism harder.

I hope Pakistan’s government, party leaders and editors recognize this destructive phenomenon and resist, before it can damage a deepening and vital Pakistan-US partnership. Kestral has been front and center during the growth of that partnership, and its positive contributions should be commended, not condemned.


Scahill Replies

Brooklyn, N.Y.

I wonder if Richard Douglas actually read my article. His letter reads more like the script for an infomercial for Kestral–a private Pakistani military firm that collaborates with the US military in Pakistan–than a response to anything I reported about that firm.

I find it telling that Douglas fails to respond to the reporting I did on Kestral–namely, that it has worked with Blackwater and that Blackwater’s men have accompanied Kestral’s forces on raids in Pakistan. Surely Douglas was in a position to deny that arrangement, and yet, conspicuously, he didn’t. A former Blackwater executive with direct knowledge of the arrangement told The Nation that Blackwater’s owner, Erik Prince, is a close friend of Kestral’s owner, Ali Baig. Douglas says nothing about that. Instead, he baselessly accuses me of a “reckless and potentially deadly” attack on Baig and Kestral. What does Douglas say about the wisdom of Kestral and “its distinguished CEO,” Baig, cavorting with the likes of Prince and Blackwater, a firm that has assisted the lethal US drone bombing that has killed scores of Pakistani civilians?

Douglas claims the United States’ work with Kestral is perfectly transparent; yet when The Nation attempted to get comments or information from the government and the military, we were told bluntly, “We cannot help you.” Kestral did not respond to repeated requests for comment, nor did Kestral’s US lobbyist, Roger Noriega, agree to provide any comment.

Douglas suggests that I should “commend” Kestral for its work in Pakistan. That is not the job of journalists. It is to hold the US government, the military and its contractors accountable. I stand by my story.


Taxi Driver

W. St. Paul, Minn.

As I read José Manuel Prieto’s “Travels by Taxi” [Dec. 14], I felt like the cabbie who asked his passenger (our author) what country he was from. When the author told him, he exclaimed “Cuba?” and then “Fidel Castro!” The cabbie then expressed his approval by “striking the palm of his hand with his left fist: ‘He gave to the Americans up the ass.'” All the hypocrisy of Cuba’s northern adversaries, from Eisenhower to Obama, was exposed. He mooned them all. Brilliant essay, thank you.


Los Angeles

José Manuel Prieto offers no facts, only a stream of vitriol and a longing for the idyllic days of Batista, when (some) Cubans lived like (some) Americans and nobody feared the secret police. He marvels that humble people like taxi drivers, all over the world, offer enthusiastic support for Fidel and the Cuban Revolution as a symbol of resistance to the oppression and miseries of imperialism. Surely the Cuban Revolution has faults, many of them due to the fifty years of hostility and siege by the colossus to the north.


Fort Washington, Md.

My husband and I were stationed at the US Embassy from August 1959 till January 1961, and from July 1979 to May 1982. Prieto’s essay is the best description of what has happened to Cuba and the Cuban people I have ever read.


Bronx, N.Y.

If I wanted to read articles like this, I would subscribe to The American Standard, The New Republic, etc. The Cuban system is not ideal, but it’s the result of an evolution imposed by US policies aimed at destroying the revolution that ended Cuba’s status as a US colony. The Empire succeeded in overthrowing the democratic government of Allende in Chile but failed in Cuba. Maybe Castro did the right things.


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