Oversight Committee Raises New Questions About Blackwater Actions in Iraq
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.
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.
Contact the Congressional OVersight Committee Chair Henry A. Waxman
In Washington, D.C.
2204 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
(202) 225-3976 (phone)
(202) 225-4099 (fax)
Sign the petition asking that Congress demand that the State Department & DoD cancel all contracts with Blackwater USA.