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June 17, 2009

Shell Game

By: John Caruso

I've written before about the proliferation of misunderstood memos, but it looks like the problem is even deeper than I realized.  Consider the case of some of the letters Shell sent to the Nigerian government and security services:

In one document written in May 1993, the oil company wrote to the local governor asking for the "usual assistance" as the Ogoni expanded their campaign. There was a stand-off between the Ogoni and the US contractor Willbros, which was laying a pipeline. Nigerian military were called in, resulting in at least one death.

Man, you send one innocent message about the "usual assistance" and the next thing you know someone's dead—when all you really wanted was, oh, I don't know, translation services for gas flaring regulations.  And the comedy of errors just continued:

Days later, Shell met the director general of the state security services to "reiterate our request for support from the army and police". In a confidential note Shell suggested: "We will have to encourage follow-through into real action preferably on an industry rather than just Shell basis". The Nigerian regime responded by sending in the Internal Security Task Force, a military unit led by Colonel Paul Okuntimo, a brutal soldier, widely condemned by human rights groups, whose men allegedly raped pregnant women and girls and who tortured at will. Okuntimo boasted of knowing more than 200 ways to kill a person.

That's "real action" all right.  So what did Okuntimo do, thanks to his utter and complete misreading of Shell's benevolent intentions?

In October 1993, Okuntimo was sent into Ogoni with Shell personnel to inspect equipment. The stand-off that followed left at least one Ogoni protester dead. A hand-written Shell note talked of "entertaining 26 armed forces personnel for lunch" and preparing "normal special duty allowances" for the soldiers.

But surely they'd have gotten those "special duty allowances" whether they'd attacked the Ogoni protesters or just reasoned calmly with them over a few drinks, as Shell no doubt intended.  Right?  And Shell was probably just giving them lunch to make them feel better for the terrible mistakes they'd made based on their misinterpretations of Shell's intentions.  Who's with me on this?

Shell is also accused of involvement with the MPF [aka the "Kill and Go"], which worked with Okuntimo. One witness, Eebu Jackson Nwiyon, claimed they were paid and fed by Shell. Nwiyon also recalls being told by Okuntimo to "leave nobody untouched". When asked what was meant by this, Nwiyon replied: "He meant shoot, kill."

Yeah, yeah, we get the picture.  Look: it's not Shell's fault if its entirely innocuous requests were constantly misread by the Nigerian soldiers and paramilitaries they were paying, feeding, and harmlessly arming with Beretta semi-automatic rifles and pump-action shotguns.  If you think about it, it was just like a zany episode of Three's Company—except instead of Mr. Roper finding Jack in bed with Chrissy, some protesters were beaten and shot.  Oh, right, and hanged.  But otherwise exactly the same.

Whatever your feelings about all of this, though, I think we'd all agree that human communication is rife with misunderstandings.  For instance, if I say that Shell is a vicious corporate criminal willing to bathe in vats of human blood to boost its profit margins, you might think I'm being critical, right?  But you'd be totally mistaken, because all I really meant is that Shell is a major oil company and an important part of the global economy.  You see how it happens?

— John Caruso

Posted at June 17, 2009 09:50 PM

And really, a paramilitary organization nicknamed "Kill and Go" could be doing any number of things.

Posted by: darrelplant at June 18, 2009 04:34 AM

I think "Kill and Go" was on Blackwater's shortlist of new names before they finally settled on "Xe."

Posted by: SteveB at June 18, 2009 09:38 AM

Can't have an omlette without breaking a few eggs.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 18, 2009 10:49 AM

A terrible quandry, do I fill up with BP who want all of Iraq and willing to kill millions or do I fill up with Shell who ONLY want piece-of Nigeria.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 18, 2009 06:11 PM

Yah Shell. But it's neither the corp nor the corpus, it's the climate init? Selfishness exponentially metastasizing, internally, hidden, then appearing here and there as symptom through the broken skin of what was supposed to be human propriety and international niceness.
Not disease. The disease is way down in there.
Shell is a bubo, a pus-running sore, but egregious as it is it's a symptom. The pathogens aren't even visible.

Posted by: roy belmont at June 18, 2009 06:25 PM

PERHAPS YOU see my problem, roy. Although I have MANY friends and neighbors or their forth or fith deployment forced to fight tooth and nail for BP's bottom line, through experience, I find my vehicles get 1 or 2 more miles per gallon with gas made with Nigerian BLOOD. I want to save the environment so 1 or 2 mpg means a lot over the course of a year. Most Nigerians appear to be black like a lot of Americans (including OUR President)but the Iraqis look like a bunch of wetback Mexicans. Maybe I should just go by PRICE PER GALLON.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 18, 2009 07:33 PM

As Shell is a British company wouldn't it be more like an episode of Man About the House?

Posted by: RobWeaver at June 18, 2009 08:32 PM

Sorry, off-topic (although the topic is ALWAYS imperialism), hijacking your blog comments, etc., but the Wash-my-hands Post's firing of Dan Froomkin is just too disgusting. Greenwald (does that guy ever sleep?) has a great write-up, and Sullivan cites the recent Froomkin attack on evil, in the form of psychopathic liar "kill 'em all" Krauthammer, as being proximate cause:

"Froomkin just recently had a somewhat acrimonious exchange with the oh-so-oppressed Krauthammer over torture, after Froomkin criticized Krauthammer's explicit endorsement of torture and Krauthammer responded by calling Froomkin's criticisms "stupid." And now -- weeks later -- Froomkin is fired by the Post while the persecuted Krauthammer, comparing himself to endangered journalists in Venezuela, remains at the Post, along with countless others there who think and write just like he does: i.e., standard neoconservative pablum."

So the usual neocon crap will continue to pour forth from the "liberal" Washington Post. Wouldn't want their establishment K-street credibility to be tarnished by the truth. The Wurlitzer plays on!


Mike Meyer: Yes, it's impossible nowadays for a person concerned with morality, with "doing no harm," not to be tainted by contact with our imperialist "structures of sin." We're all immersed in that tar pit: some wake up, make it to the surface, take a lungful of air, and strike out for the shore, not realizing that the shore itself was long ago bulldozed of all vegetation.

All you can do is practice ahimsa with available options.

Posted by: Oarwell at June 19, 2009 11:56 AM

Hey, nuttin poysonul. S'jis bidness. An' you in daway.

"Budda-budda-budda" (the 'comic-book sound ot the tommy-gun) "Budda-budda-budda ... Budda-budda-budda"

Now, what's for lunch? Cucumbers-and-watercress? And a nice, dry, white wine?

Oh, don't mind the dead negroes...the dogs'll get 'em...

Posted by: Woody at June 19, 2009 12:21 PM

Maybe YOU should hitch up those HORSES for a while to save some dough. Then you could buy YOUR FRIENDS a DVD of Sir! No Sir!. Probably a better value per dollar than ALL THOSE PHONE CALLS. Sure WE PAY 'EM but your friends and neighbors CHOOSE TO FIGHT.

Posted by: ~ at June 19, 2009 01:57 PM

~: EXACTLY ON THE HORSES! In fact, "get a horse" IS what I'm all about but that's just me. I was just out trimming hoves while YOU were posting.
Also YES YOU PAY them and yes they volunteered to defend America. I just don't believe the middle east war is it.
As for the phonecalls, get back to me ONCE YOU'VE TRIED it.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 19, 2009 03:18 PM