Tuesday, October 2, 2007

FBI investigating Blackwater in wake of Sept. 16 rampage

The FBI is sending a team of investigators to Iraq to investigate the bloody September 16 rampage by Blackwater mercenaries against Iraqi civilians at a busy traffic roundabout in Nisoor Square in Baghdad. At least 11 civilians died, including a family of three that burned to death in their vehicle. The heat was so intense that the two-year-old child was melted to his mother’s body.

Special Agent Richard Kolko confirmed that the FBI is initiating the investigation at the behest of the State Department. "The results of the investigation will be reviewed for possible criminal liability and referred to the appropriate legal authority," Kolko said.

Blackwater has had a tremendous termination rate among their mercenaries in Iraq. 122 have been fired, or about one in seven Blackwater mercenaries have been terminated for various reasons, ranging from substance abuse to violent behavior and misuse of weapons. This low ratio raises serious questions about the character of the people hired by Blackwater. On Christmas Eve of last year, a Blackwater mercenary, drunk and belligerent, gunned down a bodyguard for Iraq’s Vice President, he faced no consequences and was spirited out of Iraq within 36 hours.

Officials in Baghdad and Washington then dickered with Blackwater on the compensation for the family of the guard, Raheem Khalif. An unnamed official in the State Department's Diplomatic Security service complained that the $250,000 payment proposed by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was too much, because it might lead Iraqis to "try to get killed so as to set up their family financially," according to a State Department e-mail obtained by the committee.

When a Blackwater contract employee killed an Iraqi in Hillah in June 2005, the State Department asked the firm to pay $5,000 in compensation. "(W)e are all better off getting this case — and any similar cases — behind us quickly," a department official wrote.

A report prepared by the majority staff of the House Oversight Committee that was released today reveals that Blackwater has been involved in 195 shooting incidents since 2005 – approximately 1.5 per week. In 84% of the instances, Blackwater fired first – even though the contract the company has with the State Department calls for the defensive use of force only. Blackwater has been involved in more live-fire incidents than the other two *Security Contractor* companies combined.

"In the vast majority of instances in which Blackwater fired shots, Blackwater is firing from a moving vehicle and does not remain at the scene to determine if the shots resulted in casualties," according to the report.

The staff report paints Blackwater as a company that's made huge sums of money despite its questionable performance in Iraq, where Blackwater guards provide protective services for U.S. diplomatic personnel.

Blackwater has earned more than $1 billion from federal contracts since 2001, when it had less than $1 million in government work. Overall, the State Department paid Blackwater more than $832 million between 2004 and 2006 for security work, according to the report.

The report was presented to committee members today, in advance of testimony before the committee by Blackwater founder and chairman, Eric Prince, scheduled for tomorrow.

Anne Tyrrell, a Blackwater spokesperson, made the obligatory ‘we look forward to the opportunity to clear our name’ remarks in advance of the hearings: "We look forward to setting the record straight on this issue and others tomorrow when Erik Prince testifies before the committee." quoth Anne Tyrrell.

Several investigations are being undertaken into the incident,

The mercenary company has a few friends on the committee, who have requested that the hearings be postponed until the ongoing investigations are complete.

In a Sept. 28 letter, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., and six other Republicans said the committee should wait until these investigations are complete.

"We feel it would be irresponsible for the committee to rush to judgment until all the facts are considered," the letter states.

Rep. Tom Davis or Virginia, the committee's top Republican, did not sign the letter.

Prince is just one of the witnesses scheduled to testify. Several State Department higher-ups are scheduled to appear as well, including the assistant secretary for logistics management and the assistant secretary for diplomatic security.

A spokesman for Davis said that the Congressman had no objection to the hearings moving forward because the State Department officials were scheduled to appear as well.

Lets hope that everyone appearing before the committee is asked to explain the apparent collusion between State and her Praetorian Guard to cover up incidents of Blackwater violence against Iraqi civilians.