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Friday, January 15, 2010

Blackwater - uncharted and bloody waters

In September 2007, Blackwater contractors were providing security for a convoy of state department officials, when they opened up fire and killed at least 14 Iraqis at an intersection - some shot in the back as they were trying to flee. Even US soldiers testified that Blackwater started the shooting. Four Blackwater employees were indicted for manslaughter, but a couple of weeks ago, all the charges were dismissed because the prosecutors used incriminating confessions that they had agreed not to use. It wasn't clear they could have convicted the shooters anyway given the legal vacuum that they operate within.

In a chilling interview with NPR's Terry Gross, Jeremy Scahill, author of "Blackwater" said that the Blackwater Chief, Erik Prince, sees himself as a "Christian Crusader" avenging the terrorism of 9/11. His band of veteran, mercenary soldiers - established less than 15 years ago - work outside the laws that our own soldiers must obey, with their own weapons, helicopters, and planes. Much of their work is kept secret - even from Congress - because the CIA and JSOC (special operations) don't have to report their contracts. The state department - which does report to Congress - paid the company more than $832million for security work between 2004 and 2006 alone.

From 2005 until the September 2007 shootout, Blackwater staff were involved in 195 shootings in Iraq, according to records gathered by Congressman Henry Waxman, and Blackwater employees fired first on 163 of those occasions.

Both Obama and Clinton - as candidates - said that we must stop depending on unregulated military contractors, but yet we still depend heavily on Blackwater in Afghanistan. As Congressman Waxman wondered in the hearings he convenened, how is it that we pay a group of mercenaries when we have an army, navy, CIA, etc. etc.? I am amazed that our laws allow for a Blackwater at all - with its own military planes, weaponry, training grounds, and soldiers. The company sounds like a right-wing militia group that is wildly successful because they target Muslims instead of the U.S. government.

There are many more shocking facts in the interview, this BBC article, and the Wikipedia entry.