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Oversight Committee Raises New Questions About Blackwater Actions in Iraq

Posted on by Jesse Lee

In advance of tomorrow morning’s scheduled hearing, the Majority Staff of the Oversight Committee issued a memo to Members of the Committee (pdf) regarding additional information about Blackwater USA. Previously undisclosed information reveals (1) Blackwater has engaged in 195 “escalation of force” incidents since 2005, an average of 1.4 per week, including over 160 incidents in which Blackwater forces fired first; (2) after a drunken Blackwater contractor shot the guard of the Iraqi Vice President, the State Department allowed the contractor to leave Iraq and advised Blackwater on the size of the payment needed “to help them resolve this”; and (3) Blackwater, which has received over $1 billion in federal contracts since 2001, is charging the federal government over $1,200 per day for each “protective security specialist” employed by the company.

Selected excerpts:

III. State Department Oversight of Blackwater
The documents the Committee has received raise questions about the State Department’s oversight of Blackwater’s activities under the contract. Even in cases involving the death of Iraqis, it appears that the State Department’s primary response was to ask Blackwater to make monetary payments to “put the matter behind us,” rather than to insist upon accountability or to investigate Blackwater personnel for potential criminal liability. The most serious consequence faced by Blackwater personnel for misconduct appears to be termination of their employment.

In a statement last week, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte asserted that every incident in which Blackwater fires its weapons “is reviewed by management officials to ensure that procedures were followed.” The documents reviewed by the Committee do not substantiate this claim. If a review or investigation occurs after the shooting incidents, it is not reflected in the documents that the Committee has reviewed.

On the incident in which a drunken Blackwater contractor shot the guard of the Iraqi Vice President:

The incident also may have increased tensions between Iraqis and the U.S. military. The day after the Christmas Eve shooting, Al-Arabiyah Television erroneously reported, “A drunken U.S. soldier killed the escort of Iraqi Vice President Dr. Adil Abd-al-Mahdi at the presidential headquarters in the Green Zone today.” Inforwarding the Al-Arabiyah account within the company, a Blackwater employee wrote, “At least the shooters ID gets the heat off of us.” As of today, nine months after the shooting, no charges have been brought relating to the killing of the Iraqi Vice President’s guard. According to the State Department, the incident is still under investigation by the Justice Department. However, given the passage of nine months with no charges filed, it is unclear whether there is any serious effort to pursue a prosecution in this matter.

On accountability for repeated incidents:

C. Contract Terminations
According to the documents the Committee has received, the only sanction that has been applied to Blackwater contractors for misconduct is termination of their individual contracts with Blackwater. These contract terminations have been surprisingly frequent.

A review of documents Blackwater submitted to the Committee reveals that Blackwater has terminated 122 employees under the State Department contract for protective services. This amounts to more than one seventh of Blackwater’s current workforce under contract with the State Department in lraq. Table C summarizes the principal causes for termination.

On Republican Party ties:

Blackwater is owned by Erik Prince. Mr. Prince is a former Navy SEAL who owns the company through a holding company, The Prince Group, LLC. In the late 1980s, Mr. Prince served as a White House intern under President George H.W. Bush. Mr. Prince’s father was a prominent Michigan businessman and contributor to conservative causes. Mr. Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, is a former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party who earned the title of Bush-Cheney “Pioneer” by arranging at least $100,000 in donations for the 2004 George W. Bush presidential campaign. Her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., is a former Amway CEO and was the 2006 Republican nominee for Governor of Michigan. Mr. Prince himself is a frequent political contributor, having made over $225,000 in political contributions, including more than $160,000 to the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Blackwater has hired several former senior Bush Administration officials to work for the company. J. Cofer Black, who served as director of the CIA Counterterrorist Center from 1999 to 2002 and as a top counterterrorism offrcial at the State Department until 2004, now serves as Blackwater’s vice chairman. Joseph E. Schmitz, the Inspector General for the Defense Department from 2002 to 2005, is now general counsel and chief operating officer of the Prince Group, Blackwater’s parent company.

On contracts received under President Bush:

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