…And so Blackwatergate continues:
Employees of Blackwater USA have engaged in nearly 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005, in a vast majority of cases firing their weapons from moving vehicles without stopping to count the dead or assist the wounded, according to a new report from Congress.
In at least two cases, Blackwater paid victims’ family members who complained, and sought to cover up other episodes, the Congressional report said. It said State Department officials approved the payments in the hope of keeping the shootings quiet. In one case last year, the department helped Blackwater spirit an employee out of Iraq less than 36 hours after the employee, while drunk, killed a bodyguard for one of Iraq’s two vice presidents on Christmas Eve.
(NY Times, 2nd October)
The Times also reports in some detail one particular incident in which a drunken Blackwater employee shot and killed an Iraqi bodyguard, was disarmed, then given back his weapon, not interviewed by police, and then flown back to the United States with the complicity of the US State Department.
The acting ambassador at the United States Embassy in Baghdad suggested that Blackwater claim that the shooting was accidental, apologize for it and pay the dead Iraqi man’s family $250,000, lest the Iraqi government bar Blackwater from working there, the report said. Blackwater eventually paid the family $15,000, according to the report, after an embassy diplomatic security official complained that the “crazy sums” proposed by the ambassador could encourage Iraqis to try to “get killed by our guys to financially guarantee their family’s future.”
The report did not identify the acting ambassador, but a State Department spokesman, Karl Duckworth, said it was Margaret Scobey.
The shooting is under investigation by the Justice Department, but it remains unclear what laws might be applied in the case, because it occurred overseas.
According to the report, which was based largely on internal Blackwater e-mail messages and State Department documents and compiled by the Democratic staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the episode began between 10:30 and 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 24 when the off-duty Blackwater employee, who witnesses said had been drinking heavily, passed through a gate near Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s compound in the Green Zone.
When confronted by bodyguards to Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi of Iraq, the Blackwater employee fired his Glock 9-millimeter pistol, hitting one of the guards, Raheem Khalif, three times. Mr. Khalif, 32, later died at an American military hospital.
The Blackwater employee fled to the Triple Canopy guard post, where he told the guards that he had been in a gunfight with Iraqis who were chasing him and shooting at him. But the guards had not heard any shots.
The next day, the Blackwater employee told Army investigators that he had fired in self-defense after the Iraqi bodyguard shot at him. On Dec. 26, Blackwater flew the man out of Iraq to Jordan, and then to the United States.
Blackwater security contractors in Iraq have been involved in at least 195 “escalation of force” incidents since early 2005, including several previously unreported killings of Iraqi civilians, according to a new congressional account of State Department and company documents.
In one of the killings, according to a State Department document, Blackwater personnel tried to cover up what had occurred and provided a false report. In another case, involving a Blackwater convoy’s collision with 18 civilian vehicles, the firm accused its own personnel of lying about the event.
The State Department made little effort to hold Blackwater personnel accountable beyond pressing the company to pay financial compensation to the families of the dead, the documents indicate.
And it’s the failure of State to regulate the behaviour of the private military corporations it hires which looks to be the main area of investigation now: “There is no evidence in the documents that the Committee has reviewed that the State Department sought to restrain Blackwater’s actions, raised concerns about the number of shooting incidents involving Blackwater, or the company’s high rate of shooting first, or detained Blackwater contractors for investigation,” is how one memorandum from the HOC puts it.
It’s one thing to have a bunch of hotdoggin’, gun-totin’ private sector cowboys yeehawin’ their way around the new frontier, but to do so in a way which so glaringly highlights weak political or governmental control? Well, that takes real genius. Not that this is likely to descend into partisan mudslinging followed by backroom expediency or anything…