Dark Truth about Blackwater

Blackwater’s all over the news today. A sobering piece in Salon concludes:

When the history books are written about the Iraq war, they will point to several critical turning points in U.S. efforts to beat back the insurgency that flourished after the 2003 invasion and “Mission Accomplished” victory speeches were the order of the day. Certain to make the list are the battle for Fallujah, the revelation of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, and now the shootout in Baghdad that left as many as 20 civilians dead, the entire country seething and U.S. operations at a standstill. What will distinguish these accounts from histories of past wars is the new common denominator for each of these incidents: the private military industry.

Another from Truthdig:

According to a devastating new report from the House Oversight Committee, Blackwater USA employees engaged in at least 195 “escalation of force” incidents since 2005, with the private security firm firing 80 percent of the first shots (despite its purely defensive mandate). What’s worse, the State Department has provided little if any oversight, instead assisting the company as it carried out damage control.

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (majority staff memorandum):

Blackwater Shootíng Incídents. Incident reports compiled by Blackwater reveal that Blackwater has been involved in at least 195 “escalation of force” incidents in Iraq since 2005 that involved the firing of shots by Blackwater forces. This is an average of 1.4 shooting incidents per week. Blackwater’s contract to provide protective services to the State Department provides that Blackwater can engage in only defensive use of force. In over 80% of the shooting incidents, however, Blackwater reports that its forces fired the first shots.

In the vast majority of instances in which Blackwater fires shots, Blackwater is firing from a moving vehicle and does not remain at the scene to determine if the shots resulted in casualties. Even so, Blackwater’s own incident reports document 16 Iraqi casualties and 162 incidents with property damage, primarily to vehicles owned by lraqis. In over 80% of the escalation of force incidents since 2005, Blackwater’s own reports document either casualties or property damage.

The reports describe multiple Blackwater incidents involving Iraqi casualties that have not previously been reported. In one of these incidents, Blackwater forces shot a civilian bystander in the head. In another, State Department officials report that Blackwater sought to cover up a shooting that killed an apparently innocent bystander. In a third, Blackwater provided no assistance after a traffic accident caused by its “counter-flow” driving left an Iraqi vehicle in “a ball of flames.” Blackwater also reports engaging in tactical military operations with U.S. forces.

In addition to Blackwater, two other private military contractors, DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, provide protective services to the State Department. Blackwater reports more shooting incidents than the other two contractors combined. Blackwater also has the highest incidence of shooting first, although all three companies shoot first in more than half of all escalation of forces incidents.

State Department Responses. Documents provided by the State Department raise serious questions about how State Department officials responded to reports of Blackwater killings of Iraqis. In a high-profile incident in December 2006, a drunken Blackwater contractor killed the guard of Iraqi Vice President Adil Abd-al-Mahdi. Within 36 hours after the shooting, the State Department had allowed Blackwater to transport the Blackwater contractor out of Iraq. The State Department Charge d’Affaires recommended that Blackwater make a “sizeable payment” and an “apology” to avoid this whole thing becoming even worse.” The Charge d’Affaires suggested a $250,000 payment to the guard’s family, but the Department’s Diplomatic Security Service said this was too much and could cause Iraqis to “try to get killed.” In the end, the State Department and Blackwater agreed on a $15,000 payment. One State Department official wrote:

“We would like to help them resolve this so we can continue with our protective mission.”

The State Department took a similar approach upon receiving reports that Blackwater shooters killed an innocent Iraqi, except that in this case, the State Department requested only a $5,000 payment to “put this unfortunate matter behind us quickly.”

There is no evidence in the documents that the Committee has reviewed that the State Department sought to restrain Blackwater’s actions, raised concems about the number of shooting incidents involving Blackwater or the company’s high rate of shooting first, or detained Blackwater contractors for investigation provides that Blackwater can engage in only defensive use of force. In over 80% of the shooting incidents, however, Blackwater reports that its forces fired the first shots.

Costs to Taxpayers. Using Blackwater instead of U.S. troops to protect embassy officials is expensive. Blackwater charges the government $1,222 per day for the services of a private military contractor. This is equivalent to $445,000 per year, over six times more than the cost of an equivalent U.S. soldier. In total, Blackwater has received over $1 billion in federal contracts from 2001 through 2006, including more than $832 million under two contracts with the State Department to provide protective services in Iraq.

Read the entire report here (opens .PDF file).

 

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~ by eaesthete on 10/02/07.

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