Guest Column: Blackwater: The truth will be known

Thanks to the good work of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the truth is finally coming to light about Blackwater. The following information is taken from a memorandum released by the committee today, the first Monday in October. The facts are even more disconcerting than we could have imagined.

According to Blackwater’s own records, they have been involved in at least 195 “escalation of force” incidents in Iraq since 2005 that involved firing of shots by Blackwater forces. This is an average of 1.4 shooting incidents per week. Even though Blackwater’s stated role in Iraq is to provide security, in more than 80 percent of the shooting incidents, Blackwater reports that its forces fired the first shots. In recent days, U.S. military commanders have reported that Blackwater guards “have very quick trigger fingers,” and “act like cowboys.”

Blackwater’s own records show that their shootings have resulted in 16 Iraqi casualties and 162 incidents of property damage. Blackwater reports more shooting incidents than DynCorp International and Triple Canopy combined, although the other two report that more than half of their shooting incidents involve them shooting first as well. These incidents are severely undermining the efforts of our troops to “win the hearts and minds of Iraqis.”

On more than one occasion, U.S. State Department officials stepped in when Blackwater employees were involved with the killing of Iraqi citizens. The State Department took the stand of let’s “put this unfortunate matter behind us quickly.” The matter was when a Blackwater employee shot an Iraqi citizen in the head. There is no evidence that the State Department made any attempts to restrain Blackwater’s actions or even raise questions about the number of shooting first incidents.

The State Department also had full knowledge and gave the go-ahead for Blackwater to fly one of its employees out of Iraq within hours of a shooting he committed that resulted in the death of an Iraqi security guard. The employee was reported to be drunk by several witnesses, including Triple Canopy employees. Yet, nine months later, no charges have been filed against the Blackwater contractor.

Usually, the only consequence for Blackwater employees who behaved irresponsibly in one fashion or another is to terminate the individual’s contract with Blackwater. A review of documents submitted by Blackwater reveal that the company has terminated 122 employees under the State Department contract. The most common cause of termination was weapons-related incidents. These terminations included two for inappropriately firing at Iraqis, one for threatening Iraqis with a firearm, 12 terminations for negligent or accidental weapons discharges, and one for proposing to sell weapons to the Iraqi government. Other telling terminations involved employees let go for “publicly embarrassing Blackwater” that included speaking to the media without Blackwater’s authorization.

There are also hair-raising facts concerning Blackwater’s claim that they can do it “cheaper.” Blackwater charges the government $1,222 per day for the services of a single private military contractor. This is equivalent to $445,000 per year, greater than six times the cost of an equivalent U.S. soldier. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates testified, “My personal concern about some of these security contracts is that I worry that sometimes the salaries that they are able to pay, in fact, lure some of our soldiers out of the service to go to work for them.”

Blackwater has received more than $1 billion in federal contracts from 2001 to 2006, including more than $832 million under two contracts with the State Department to provide protective services in Iraq. Blackwater went from having government contracts worth less than a million dollars in 2001 to contracts worth more than half a billion dollars in 2006. Total federal contracts with Blackwater in 2006 alone equaled $593,601,952. There is also the issue of “overcharging and double-billing.” A January 2005 audit of Blackwater security contract by the State Department Inspector General found that Blackwater was charging the government separately for “drivers” and “security specialists,” who were the same individuals. The audit also revealed that Blackwater was improperly charging profit as part of its overhead costs, which results “not only in a duplication of profit, but also a pyramiding of profit because, in effect, Blackwater is applying profit to profit.”

Blackwater is owned by Erik Prince through a holding company, The Prince Group, LLC. Prince has also made political contributions of more than $225,000, which includes more than $160,000 to the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

All in all, the facts speak loudly for themselves. Let’s hope the people are listening.

Dan Kenney is co-coordinator of the DeKalb Interfaith Network for Peace & Justice.

from the Oct. 10, 2007, issue

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