Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Trust-busting in Afghanistan

In March, President Obama’s top antitrust official announced that “that the administration would restore an aggressive enforcement policy against corporations that use their market dominance to elbow out competitors or to keep them from gaining market share,” according to The New York Times.

At the time, I remember wondering how this stated new policy was consistent with Obama’s support for the bailout of insolvent Wall Street financial institutions -- the greatest single transfer of wealth in U.S. history -- considering that letting companies like AIG fail would actually have been a step toward a more competitive financial services industry that rewarded firms based on performance, not political influence. But alas, it’s now clear the likes of Goldman Sachs, Obama’s top corporate campaign contributor, were never to be the target of the new trust-busting administration.

Rather, as Scott Horton at the Huffington Post reports, the U.S. government is focusing its attention on the true threat to America’s market system: “Raymond Azar, a 45-year-old Lebanese construction manager with a grade school education.” According to Horton:
Azar and a Lebanese-American colleague, Dinorah Cobos, were seized by "at least eight" heavily armed FBI agents in Kabul, Afghanistan, where they had traveled for a meeting to discuss the status of one of his company's U.S. government contracts. The trip ended with Azar alighting in manacles from a Gulfstream V executive jet in Manassas, Virginia, where he was formally arrested and charged in a federal antitrust probe . . . .

According to papers filed by his lawyers, Azar was threatened, subjected to coercive interrogation techniques and induced to sign a confession. Azar claims he was hooded, stripped naked (while being photographed) and subjected to a "body cavity search."
On a ride to the infamous Bagram air base in Afghanistan -- site of the torture-homicides involving U.S. interrogators exposed in the Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side -- Azar contends that a federal agent pulled a photograph of Azar's wife and four children from his wallet. Confess that you were bribing the contract officer, the agent allegedly said, or you may "never see them again." Azar told his lawyers he interpreted that as a threat to do physical harm to his family.
You will be relieved to know that Azar -- who “has the unlikely distinction of being the first target of a rendition carried out on the Obama watch” -- remains in federal custody.

(via Brian Doherty)


  1. What happens if it's an American company?

  2. I hope you're not suggesting that American and Lebanese companies should be held to the same standards. Moral equivalence!