Blackwater Vigilantism Under Global Corporate Rule
Eddie J. Girdner
Department of International Relations, Izmir University, Izmir, Turkey (email@example.com)
“We are not simply a ‘private security company,’ we are a professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability cost-effective means of affecting the strategic balance in support of security and peace, and freedom and democracy everywhere.” (Statement on Blackwater Worldwide website)
“Even if a private security guard committed cold-blooded murder, there may be no legal basis for prosecuting the guard in U.S. courts under current law.” (Patrick Kennedy, U.S. State Department)
“Total Intel is bringing the skills traditionally honed by CIA operatives directly to the board room.” (Cofer Black, Blackwater)
“We’ve outsourced nearly everything.” (Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of staff to Colin Powell)
(From one of the “Dust Bowl Ballads” of Woody Guthrie)
Blackwater has become the symbol of an entire era, the US War on Terrorism. This article discusses the explosion of private military contracting under the US occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan as part of the rapid turnover of functions of the U.S. Government to the private corporate sector. Particularly, we focus upon the firm, Blackwater Worldwide (renamed Xe in 2009), which became notorious for killings of unarmed civilians in Iraq during the US occupation. The most notorious case was the killing of 17 civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad on September 16, 2007. Efforts to hold the company responsible for the massacre of civilians in Iraq in a number of incidents have yielded slim results. On December 4, 2008, five former Blackwater guards were indicted on manslaughter charges to await trial in 2010. On the last day of the year, 2009, however, the case against the guards was dismissed in a US federal district court. Private firms, in practice, operate largely outside the law in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, there is much evidence that the U.S. Government, including the US Justice Department, acted to protect private security companies operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This article suggests that the explosion of private contracting, as a colossal expansion of the military-industrial congressional complex, is ushering in an era when private corporations participate more directly in global imperialist rule. Blackwater, and its subsidiaries, have now become absorbed as a part of US multinational corporate complex profiting on providing security to its capital around the globe. The state extracts taxes from the people as private corporations are guaranteed profits and capitalist accumulation by the state. This may be ushering in an era of de facto private corporate dictatorship, albeit with a fictitious democratic gloss which hides the reality. Corporate America no longer sees the US as a democracy, but a “plutonomy” in which only one percent of the population rules. The political economic polity of the United States, has made great strides in this direction already, and is poised to anoint itself as the shining example for other countries to follow.
American Capitalism in Crises:
In the wake of the collapse of major banks and insurance companies, such as Lehman Brothers and American International Group (AIG) in the financial crisis of 2008-2009, the federal government, Department of the Treasury, under Treasury Secretary Tim Geitner and Federal Reserve Chief, Ben Bernanke, moved to increase government regulation of major companies which were seen as “too large to fail.” This seemed to be a huge power grab by the state and alarmed conservative members of Congress. On the other hand, the Federal Government was engaged in the act of pulling out all stops to bail out companies by infusing massive amounts of cash into failing firms and buying up the “toxic assets” of banks. The trillions of dollars of quantitative easing to save the commanding heights of the capitalist economy dwarfed the help forwarded by the government to help the people. The reaction of the stock market was positive. The people were angry. These moves showed the commitment of the government to the capitalist system, and would perhaps greatly increase the power of capital, in league with the government, rather than restrict its power. After all, the history of government regulatory agencies has been that they are generally captured and controlled by the private entities they are supposed to regulate. Indeed, this happened massively in contributing to the risky and speculative ventures built up by the financial sector before the 2008 collapse.
In the twilight of the dying George W. Bush Administration in the late summer of 2008, many American intellectuals looked forward to the return of a sane US approach to dealing with the world. It was widely acknowledged that the neoconservatives had broken new ground in their reckless sabotage of post World War II global order. The US, under George W. Bush became the most feared nation on the face of the earth and possibly in history by the vast bulk of mankind, which was revealed in numerous polls. As a candidate for President, Barack Obama, spoke of restoring America’s image around the world, which was comforting to those who worried about the forward American rush to illegal invasions, “pre-emptive war,” secret prisons, torture of al-Qaeda suspects, disappearing individuals from any point on earth, “accidental” bombings of wedding parties in Afghanistan and Iraq, domestic government spying on citizens, and support of the illegal policies of Israel in Gaza and the West Bank. The George W. Bush neoconservative revolutionaries turned American into an outlaw nation, a rogue state, demonstrating a whole range of the characteristics of a “failed state.”
On the domestic front, America’s version of late capitalism, which economic pundits seriously promoted as a model for the rest of the world, was resulting in at least three million American families losing their homes, some 1000 a day at one point, and long lines of Americans attempting to get their savings out of banks gone belly up. The U.S. economy was in a recession and the American dollar at record lows against other major global currencies. Middle-class Americans, for the most part, gave up the idea of vacationing in Europe with the high exchange value of the Euro.
Many Americans hoped that the country would turn over a new leaf. Perhaps America could not be the shining example of a city on the hill, but at least, it could return to being somewhat more decent, less hated, and stop fueling the incentives of terrorists who resented American policies.
What these admirable and idealistic hopes of decent Americans with a spark of humanity for the downtrodden of the world overlooked, perhaps, was that the Bush wrecking-ball approach to international relations had generated greater profits for American and sometimes other global corporations than any government in history. There is a rather hard and fast rule in the way things have come to be run in America. If a way cannot be found to make a public policy generate profits for the private sector, then it is probably dead on arrival. Perhaps the most obscene is the principle that health care in America, almost exclusively, is based upon the profit motive. War-profiteering, which this chapter is about, has made great strides since the year 2000. The Bush Administration was able to bring about institutional change which locked capitalist profits with waging war even more tightly. The immoral and dangerous malady which Eisenhower warned about, the military-industrial complex, became even more institutionalized with mad “doctor” Cheney pulling the strings for his former company Halliburton. This was eminently predictable.More disturbing was the surge in the market for vigilante violence under the rubric of “security” in the wake of nine-eleven terrorism. Security, some would say terrorism, emerged as never before in history in the emergence and establishment of private security companies. This development was bolstered by extreme right wing trends promoted by the neoconservatives, such as right-wing Christian political ideology, right-wing capitalist ideology, warning about the evils of state spending and the glories and miracles of private enterprise, and the constant harping on the “war on terror.”
It can be noted that from the perspective of Wall Street, it really does not matter if a war is won or lost; it is the bottom line that counts. The Vietnam War was “lost” but nevertheless, “won” from a corporate perspective. Private security firms emerge as the big winners in the so-called “war on terror” and the emerging champion was the firm of Blackwater Worldwide/Xe. The trick was to embed the private security armies so deeply into the government that whatever happened, the government could not operate without them. The government would be absolutely dependent upon private capital. It would be a huge leap forward in the establishment of the dictatorship of the corporate boardroom under the name of liberal democracy.
The Rise of the US Mercenary Military:
The US invasion and occupation of Iraq was different from any other war in history. The Bush Administration doubled the amount of money going to private contractors to $400 billion. The number of private mercenaries employed by the United States and Great Britain was roughly equivalent to that of government soldiers. The corporate press adopted the convention of referring to such forces as “private contractors,” which numbered around 190,000 in 2008. US and coalition soldiers numbered around 180,000 at the time. Those in Iraq working for private security companies were involved in security, intelligence, road building, financial systems, transport and supplies. Some 137,000 “contractors” were working under US Defense Department contracts while others were under contracts from the US State Department, and US Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as other government agencies. It was clear, as pointed out by US Representative David Price, that these contractors were “being used to mask the true extent” of US “involvement in Iraq.” The situation is similar in Afghanistan as this war has been escalated by the Barack Obama Administration and sets the precedent for future US imperialist ventures.
Historically, reliance upon military contractors in WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam was about 5 percent of force strength. In the Gulf War, the share of the total force from civilian contract employees increased to about 10 percent. But in the Iraq occupation, it reached 50 percent. The spending by the State Department on private contractors rose about 80 percent from l997 to 2007. In fact, given the wide range of activities which the US Government took upon itself, the occupation essentially constituted de facto colonization of the country. The pretense that Iraq had been sovereign since the end of the Provisional Coalition Authority, in June 2004, was a thinly veiled lie. In an interview on the program Inside Iraq, on al-Jazeera, on July 12, 2008, US Ambassador Ryan Crocker talked about “restoring complete sovereignty” to Iraq. This was a clear admission that the US had not considered Iraq sovereign after June 2004.
The political Right-Wing in the United States portrayed the rise of such private security companies as Blackwater Worldwide/Xe, at Moyock, North Carolina, Dyncorp, in Falls Church, Virginia, Triple Canopy, in Herndon, Virginia, and many other private military companies, as the cutting edge of market efficiency and professionalism and a giant leap forward. In fact, the system of outsourcing military contracts to private industry has traditionally been at the cutting edge of government waste and private plunder. It should be observed that the occupation of Iraq has broken new ground in this tried and true mechanism of plundering the pockets of American taxpayers to swell capitalist profits and capitalist accumulation even beyond their wildest boardroom fantasies. Driven by former Vice President, Dick Cheney, the occupation of Iraq and “War on Terror” revved up this orgy of banditry from the American citizens to previously unheard of summits. Moreover, these private security firms employed former combat personnel from such countries as Chile and South Africa for deployment in Iraq. These mercenaries had worked for the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, the Israeli Defense Forces, the South African Defense Force, South African Police, and other militaries around the world, which are often known for their brutality and abuse of human rights. Other personnel have come from Fiji, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Ukraine, Bosnia, the Philippines, Nepal, and Serbia. Boomed by the war on terror, private military companies “may be the fastest growing industry in the global economy.”
Blackwater Worldwide, renamed Xe in 2009, was a part of The Prince Group, a holding company owning some two dozen businesses, more later, before some were sold. According to Sourcewatch Encyclopedia, “Xe will be a one-stop shopping source for world-class services in the fields of security, stability, aviation, training and logistics.” The company was founded in l997 by Erik Prince and Gary Jackson, who were former US Navy Seals. The company was owned by Erik Prince, a billionaire from his father’s company, a right-wing fundamentalist Christian, a major supporter of the Republican Party, and part of a powerful Michigan Republican family. Prince worked as an intern in the George H.W. Bush White House and campaigned for conservative Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan in l992. Prince’s sister, Betsy has served as the chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and is married to Richard Devos, who is notable for being the founder of the company, Amway, which has been involved in promoting conservative causes. These families have contributed heavily to Bush presidential campaigns. Over 10 years, until 2007, the family gave more than $325,000 to Republican candidates. Prince resigned as head of the company in March 2009. The company has now been sold to a consortium of investors.
The main training facility of Blackwater Worldwide/Xe is located on a 7000 acre sight in Moyock, North Carolina, now renamed as US TrainingCenter. The company has another 824 acre facility at Potrero, California, near San Diego. The Midwest sight is located in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, near Chicago. Another western sight was planned in Idaho for police training. The firm also has offices in KuwaitCity. Blackwater/Xe claimed to operate in nine countries, but the actual number seems to be much larger. Trainees are former military and police personnel and pay $20,000 for an 8-week course. The facility in North Carolina has a 65,000 square feet (5980 square meters) headquarters with 300 rooms, used for classrooms and so on. The training involves such skills as learning to crash cars, shoot targets, board ships, storm schools, break down doors, and rescue hostages. The company logo was changed in 2009 to an eagle head, getting rid of the bear paw and cross hairs. By 2009, the company was training police departments all across the US and had trained over 50,000 military and law enforcement personnel.
In Currituck County, North Carolina, where part of the facility is located, residents complained about bombs exploding in the night, shaking their houses, and claimed that the gun ranges were illegal. The Internal Revenue Service has ruled that Blackwater violated federal tax laws by treating an armed guard as an “independent contractor.” This would allow the company to avoid paying social security, medicare, unemployment and related taxes.
In 2009, top officials in the company included Gary Jackson, as head of the company, after the resignation of Erik Prince and J. Cofer Black, as Vice Chairman. Black is a major figure in the world of private military and intelligence companies. Black spent 28 years in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at the Directorate of Operations. At the end of his career, he worked as the former head of counterterrorism at the CIA. Leaving the CIA, he became the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the US State Department from 2002 to 2004. By 2005, he was running his own intelligence company, The Black Group was merged with two others to join the Prince Group of companies as Total Intelligence Solutions, headed by J. Cofer Black. Black served as the advisor to Presidential Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, in 2007. The purpose of Total Intelligence Solutions is said to be to “bring CIA-style intelligence to fortune 500 companies.” The also spy on private citizens on behalf of the companies.
Another officer of Blackwater Worldwide/Xe was Robert Richer, Vice-President for Intelligence. He is also former employee of the CIA, being the former Deputy Director of Operations, the CIA station chief in Amman, and head of the Near East Division.
J. Cofer Black was also responsible for building the Extraordinary Rendition Program under President Bill Clinton. A senior executive, Joseph Schmitz, was the Pentagon Inspector General under Donald Rumsfeld. About 75 percent of the approximately 1000 Blackwater employees working in Iraq until May 2009 were Americans.
Kenneth Star, who investigated President Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky affair has served as counsel for Blackwater. He served as Solicitor General under President George H.W. Bush.
Blackwater Worldwide/Xe expanded rapidly as a private military firm into the areas of US border security, homeland security, intelligence operations, the war on drugs, flight operations for the Pentagon, and production of new equipment for military, security and police operations. The family of companies included Aviation Worldwide Services, Greystone Ltd., Presidential Airways, Inc., Guardian Flight Systems, and GSD Manufacturing. Other shell companies were set up to hide the Blackwater identity. In 2009, the company claimed to be shifting away from private security to operating training facilities around the world. Contracts with the US Government have brought Blackwater some $1.5 billion since 2000.
After the Sept. 16, 2007 shootings in Baghdad, in which 17 civilians were killed, and which tarnished the company’s image, the company re-branded itself as “Xe,” billed itself as working in “peacekeeping operations,” and relabeled its employees as “global stabilization professionals.” But actually it was being used as part of the “war on terror,” often in secret operations, some run out of the CIA.
After Hurricane Katrina, some 150 Blackwater troops were sent to New Orleans. The guards were paid $350 a day for “securing neighborhoods” and “confronting criminals.” The contract for some $73 million came from the Department of Homeland Security. Other companies also got contracts, such as Instinctive Shooting International (an Israeli company), Dyncorp, Intercon American Security Group, Blackhawk, and Wakenhut. Foreign soldiers were being brought in as mercenaries on US soil. At one point, Blackwater guards shot some blacks on a bridge in New Orleans, who apparently had guns.
Domestic operations became a rapidly expanding area for the company as it tapped into the new “Homeland Security” budget. These companies smell and track pockets of government money like a bloodhound after a fox.
Blackwater also moved into the area of border security between the US and Mexico, which is another area of rapid privatization. The 824 acre training complex near the Mexican border at Potrero, California, has been used for training. This is “Blackwater West.” The facility includes weapons firing ranges, tactical driving tracks, helipad, urban simulation training areas, armory, dorms and classrooms.
The corporate shenanigans for acquiring facilities are tiresomely familiar. In fact, Blackwater followed a similar model of other corporations, such as waste companies and mining firms, which touted themselves as good citizens, did a few good charity deeds for publicity spin, and proceeded to worm their way into the local community. Blackwater got help from California Congressman Duncan Hunter, a Republican. The area was formerly in Hunter’s Congressional District before 2001. Congressman Hunter helped to get the owner of the former chicken ranch, 45 miles east of San Diego, to sell the land to Blackwater. Hunter was the ranking Republican member on the House Armed Services Committee. Local residents formed an organization and protested the deal and tried to get it shut down. But they were bucking up against powerful corporations whose standard operating procedure was to simply bulldoze citizens, democracy, and anything else that gets in their way of profits.A congressman representing the area, Representative Bob Filner, opposed the Blackwater sight and attempted to block mercenary training sights in the U.S. off military bases.
Blackwater also received a $92 million contract for flights for the Pentagon in Central Asia. The company was under consideration for part of a $15 billion contract with the Pentagon for the War on Drugs. The company opened a Maritime division with a 184 foot long ship equipped for paramilitary use. The company started production of the Polar 400 unmanned ship, for marketing to the Department of Homeland Security. The company also developed an armored vehicle, part SUV and part combat vehicle. Blackwater moved rapidly into the areas of Homeland Security, floods, fires and so on. More significantly, the company tapped into the private intelligence market, where in the US, 70 percent of the US national intelligence budget of the 16 intelligence agencies was already in the hands of private contractors.
Total Intelligence Solutions was formed when Erik Prince bought two companies, The TerrorismResearchCenter, and Technical Defense. These were merged with the Black Group, J. Cofer Black’s company. Total Intelligence Solutions officers included Robert Richer, a former 22-year CIA associate deputy director of operations who worked in the Iraq war and Matt Devost, who previously owned the Terrorism Research Center and had contracts with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Customs, and U.S. Special Operations Command. Total Intelligence Solutions had some 65 employees, monitoring business risk in some 60 countries in 2008. The headquarters was called the “GlobalFusionCenter.” Most of the information was mined from internet sites. The company monitored global political developments, overseas regulations and so on. Obviously this was very useful for private business. One sees how former state functions were being merged with private business as the private corporate sector actually moved to more direct global rule.
Former CIA officials also bragged about having ties to world leaders. Richer knew King Abdullah of Jordan. The CIA trained Jordan’s intelligence service and then Jordan hired Blackwater to train its special forces. As independent companies, these firms do not have to worry about congressional oversight. They are essentially “rent-a-spies.”
Blackwater and Privatization in the US State Department:
The World Wide Personal Protective Service Program (WPPS) of the US Department of State is a security program for US diplomats which operates in at least 27 high risk countries. The five-year contract was awarded in 2005 to three security companies, Blackwater, Dyncorp and Triple Canopy, who compete for tenders under the “umbrella” of the contract. Blackwater had reportedly carried out some 1873 missions up to September 2007 and claimed to have used weapons in 56 missions. Dyncorp had 157 security guards in Iraq and Triple Canopy 250. State Department payments to private security and law enforcement agencies increased from $1 billion in 2003 to $4 billion in 2007.
The State Department began privatizing seriously back in 1994 with a contract to Dyncorp for 45 American police officers for security in Haiti for $30 million. Over the next two years, $250 million worth of contracts were given for police training and diplomatic security in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. After 2001, Dyncorp was given a $400 million contract to train police for Afghanistan and guard President Hamid Karzai. After the US invaded Iraq, an initial $27 million contract was given to Blackwater to guard Coalition Provisional Authority head, Paul Bremer, in Iraq. This increased to $100 million a year later. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, a part of the State Department, issued a $2.2 billion contract for police training and eradication in Iraq, Afghanistan, Latin America and elsewhere, with 94 percent going to Dyncorp.
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security, a State Department office, oversees all the State Department contracts around the world, covering at least 2500 employees. The 1000 Blackwater employees in Iraq were paid $1222 per day per guard by the US Government, coming to $445,000 per year, more than six times the cost of a US soldier.
Private Security Firms in Iraq:
There are said to be some 180 private security firms in Iraq alone. By May 2007, 917 contractors had been killed in Iraq and 12,000 wounded, including truck drivers, translators, security guards, and construction workers. There is no requirement that the US Government track the number of these employees who die and statistics are not readily available. Also the firms are not required to release such information. It is believed that 50 to 60 percent of truck convoys came under attack. Weekly pay for an Iraqi translator was only $60 and for a truck driver, $1800. Blackwater men made around $6000 weekly until they were expelled from the country in 2009. They could easily shift to the same job in Afghanistan.
Other major private military firms operating in Iraq included Aegis Defense Services, a British firm, Erinys Iraq, and Armor Group International, also a British firm. In Sept. 2007, the US Army awarded a $475 million contract to Aegis over two years. The firm got another contract to provide intelligence services to the Army and security for the Army Corps of Engineers on construction work in Iraq.”
The Battle of Fallujah:
Fallujah first put Blackwater on the map of public consciousness. This incident happened on March 31, 2004 in Fallujah, when four Blackwater guards were killed in their jeep. This led to the battle in Fallujah later in November 2004. Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, Michael Teague and Scott Helvenston, all Blackwater guards, were killed and their burned bodies strung up on a bridge outside the city. Blackwater was clearly breaking the rules in this incident to cut costs, as the Mitsubishi Pajeros in a supply convoy were not armed, even though the contract had paid for armored protection. Their families sued Blackwater in January 2005.
Kathryn Helvenston-Wettengel, who’s son was killed in the Fallujah incident, said the company was corrupt, and that Blackwater failed to provide armoured vehicles, machine guns, proper maps, and a full compliment of guards.
Bloody Sunday and Aftermath:
The most notable incident of Blackwater guards shooting innocent citizens in the streets of Baghdad happened in Nisour Square on September 16, 2007 beginning around . This Sunday 17 Iraqis were killed and 27 injured. The square is located in the Mansour District of Western Baghdad. USAID diplomats were meeting in a secure guarded compound about one mile north of Nisour Square. Bombs reportedly exploded in the road median a few hundred yards away. This caused no injuries, but the decision was made to evacuate the Americans at once. A Blackwater convoy carried the diplomats south against the flow of traffic to the square while another Blackwater convoy came with four sport utility vehicles to block traffic.
Some guards emerged from the vehicles and took up positions in the street. At , at least one guard began firing at a white car, a Kia, killing its driver. More shots were fired, killing an infant in the passenger seat. After the family was shot, a type of grenade or flare was fired into the car. The car burned and other Iraqis were killed as the shooting continued. The woman in the white car was Mahassin Mohssen Kadhum Al-Khazali, the wife of Haythem al-Rubaie, a doctor. Their son, Ahmed Haithem Ahmed al-Rubia’y, age 20, was also shot in the head. There was also a minibus in the square with passengers. Afrah Sattar 27 was a passenger on the bus. His mother, Ghaniyah Hassan Ali, who was also a passenger was shot and killed. Hassan Jaber Salman, a lawyer, was ordered to turn his car around and go back. He did, but 12 bullets hit his car and he was shot four times in the back. A taxi driver, Sami Hawa Hamud al-Sabahin, 42, was shot in the back and left thigh as he drove with his 13 year old son, Izzedine. He was able to stumble out of the car and make it to Yarmouk hospital. Women and children began to jump out of their cars and crawl on the road to escape being shot. But to no avail. A mother was shot and her son of ten was shot in the head.No Americans were injured.
The indictment lists 14 killed in the incident and 20 injured, although it is known that three others died.
A joint commission was formed to investigate the incident, which consisted of five US State Department officials, three US military officials, and eight Iraqis.
Why the shooting started is not clear. Some Blackwater guards said they believed they were being fired upon. The guards claimed that the white car failed to stop and feared it had a bomb. The commission was under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security of the State Department.
It is possible that Iraqi commandos in nearby guard towers may have fired or that shots came from Blackwater helicopters overhead. At one point, one or more Blackwater guards tried to stop another guard from shooting, but the firing continued. The Blackwater spokeswoman, Anne Tyrell, at first denied that any of the victims were civilians, saying they were “armed enemies.” An investigation by American investigators also found that at least one guard drew a weapon on a fellow guard who did not stop shooting. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) office looks down on the square. A party official, Omar H. Waso, called the event a “massacre.” Hassan Jaber Salman, the lawyer who was shot in the back, said that no one had fired at the guards, but they began to fire randomly at people.
An attempt to investigate the incident by Blackwater was reportedly ordered stopped by the US Government, but this was denied by Blackwater spokeswoman, Anne Tyrrell. An Iraqi investigation concluded that the guards shot without provocation. After the incident, Blackwater reportedly repaired and painted its vehicles, making it difficult to determine whether enemy fire provoked the attack.
It was reported that three days later, Blackwater guards came to al-Khilani Square in Baghdad and threw frozen bottles of water into store windows and auto windshields. A deputy director at the BaghdadCity Government office noted that it was normal for Blackwater guards to shoot as they drive through the square.
Just a few days before the incident in Nisour Square, September 9, 2007, Army General David Petraeus, the US military commander in Iraq, and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified in Washington about the progress being made in Iraq. On this day, there was another little reported incident. A clerk in the customs office in DiyalaProvince came to Baghdad to pick up and drop off paper work in Khilani Square near the Green Zone. This was Batoul Mohammed Ali Hussein. When she was in the square, a US Embassy convoy came through and some construction workers began to throw rocks at the convoy vehicles. Blackwater guards opened fire, hitting and killing Ms. Hussein. She was shot several times and four other people were also killed. In the next week Blackwater shot at least 43 people in Baghdad. In the same period, two Blackwater guards were also killed by an IED.
In early October, in Hillal, a Blackwater convoy hit a student’s car and sprayed the traffic circle with bullets. A retired businessman, Hussein Karim Fakhri Hilal, was killed. Another incident in southern Iraq killed six, near Samawa, the capital of MuthannaProvince, 160 miles south of Baghdad. Police said there was no reason for this shooting at cars from behind. The US claimed they could do nothing due to the immunity granted to private security companies.
Action by the Iraqi Government:
The Iraqi investigation, carried out by the Government, was dismissed by the US authorities who did not cooperate and denied the Iraqi investigators permission to interview Blackwater guards. The team included officials from the Iraqi Interior Ministry, the National Security Ministry and the Defense Ministry. The report said: “The murder of citizens in cold blood in the Nisour area by Blackwater is considered a terrorist action against civilians just like any other terrorist operation.” Interior Ministry Spokesman, Major General Abdul-Karim Khalif, reported that the Iraqi investigation showed that the Blackwater guards were responsible for the deaths, based upon witness statements and a videotape from the nearby headquarters of the National Police Command. It also emerged that three of the guards working for Blackwater were Iraqis and could possibly be charged. The nine-minute police video showed that Blackwater was not fired upon, according to Iraqi National Police. General Hussein al-Awadi, commander of the Iraqi National Police, said there were Blackwater helicopters above but there was no fire from them. The lead Iraqi investigator, Col. Faris Saadi Abdul, said “Blackwater shot without any cause.” He says the police found no weapons in the cars. One police, Sirhan Diab, was shot when he pulled out his police radio to call.
The Iraq Government initially made several demands in its report. The Government said Blackwater must leave the country within six months. Compensation of $8 million should be paid to the families of those killed for each person killed ($136 million). Iraqi officials also demanded that Blackwater guards be handed over to be tried in Iraq. Iraq also wanted to replace the foreign security firms with Iraqi firms.
The Iraqi authorities seemed to believe that it would be possible for them to take some legal action against the foreigners working in Iraq at the time, despite the formal immunity of the guards. Complaints from Iraqi officials were many. Deputy Interior Minister Husayn Kemal protested that they complained, but “our complaints went nowhere.” An Iraqi judge on the Supreme Judiciary Council (High Court), Abdul Sattar Ghafour Bairaqdar, said that “the criminal will be referred to the Iraqi court system. This company is subject to Iraqi law, and the crime committed was on Iraqi territory, and the Iraqi judiciary is responsible for tackling the case.” The Iraqi officials argued that Blackwater had no immunity in Iraq because its license to operate in Iraq had expired on June 2, 2006. It said that Order number 17, promulgated by Coalition Provisional Authority administrator, Paul Bremer, did not give Blackwater immunity. But, of course, this was simply not the case. The US Embassy Spokeswoman in Baghdad, Mirembe Nantongo, said the US diplomatic mission would have no comment on the Iraqi report.
The Iraqi Government also sought to repeal Order number 17 and wrote a new bill designed to control foreign contractors sending it to the Consultative Council (Shura) for consideration. Jawad al-Bolani, the Iraqi Interior Minister, said he would authorize raids on western security firms. The spokesman for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Ali al-Dubbagh, said at the White House in October, 2007, that “Criminal Blackwater must leave Iraq.”
The US Perspective on the Legal Issue:
Looking at US actions after these events suggests that there may well be ways in which the US could hold the guards responsible if there was the will. There seemed to be laws, but it seemed that the US was not willing to use them. In fact, the US needed Blackwater, as the company and other private security companies, were an integral part of carrying out US occupation and imperialism around the world. This was seen in the routine practice of smuggling individuals out of the country at once, when an incident occurred, so that there could be no question of Iraqi prosecution. Of course, the safety of the individual was also an issue. But at the time, the US made no attempt to deal with the issue of justice for innocent victims, other than to offer a small and wholly inadequate sum to the families in blood money. In the case of the Blackwater shooting, this was $10,000, but was refused by the families of the victims. Ultimately, the settlement would amount to some $100,000 per killing and $30,000 for each injured.
Smuggling the individual out was also the case when a Blackwater guard killed the bodyguard of the Iraqi Vice President, Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Andrew Moonen shot the bodyguard on Christmas Eve 2006 after drinking at a Christmas party. No one was charged at the time. There are many other incidents in which guards were whisked out of the country. Also the US failed to provide information asked for by the Iraqi Government about the private firms operating in Iraq. The US State Department is understandably interested in keeping its officials alive.
The Pentagon has argued, through Spokesman Geoft Morrill, that civilians working under Department of Defense contracts could be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ.) This would not include Blackwater employs under the State Department contract, of course. But lawyers argue that the UCMJ cannot be used for civilians in any case, because it may be unconstitutional. Civilians would face a jury of uniformed military personnel, and civilians might be recognized as a stealth army.
It is even possible for the US to waive the immunity of the individuals, according to Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Former CIA officer Robert Baer, has said that the US should rescind Order number 17 granting immunity and provide their own security. He says that under the Vienna Convention, the Iraqi Government could expel the guards. The Iraqi Government, in reality, lacked the sovereignty to stand up to the US Government and demand action.
In October, 2007, some of the guards involved in the September 16 shooting were given “limited immunity” in exchange for giving sworn statements to the investigators about their involvement in the shootings. This meant that these statements or evidence gained as a result of their testimony could not be used against a guard in a criminal proceeding. However, this later caused controversy as five of the guards were indicted for manslaughter and their earlier testimonies were used in an apparent attempt to prosecute them by the US Justice Department.
On January 23, 2007, a Blackwater helicopter was shot down in the Sunni Fadhil area north of Baghdad and five civilians were killed, all Blackwater employees, four shot in the head. The helicopter was downed by a machine gun as Blackwater was assisting a US Embassy guard convoy. By this time, 22 Blackwater employees had died in Iraq.
At least 10 fatal shootings had involved Blackwater before the Sept. 16 incident, with Blackwater having around 860 guards employed in Baghdad. On February 7, 2007, at the Iraqi Justice Ministry, a quarter mile from the Green Zone, a Blackwater firing killed three Iraqi guards working for the Iraqi Media Network (al-Iraqiya TV), a major state media source, which reaches 22 million Iraqis, some 85 percent of the population. A US diplomat was in a meeting in the Justice Ministry building in the location. Four Blackwater SUVs came with 20 Blackwater guards. A Blackwater sniper on the roof of the Justice Ministry shot a 23 year old Iraqi guard. Another guard was shot in the neck and a third guard was shot on the balcony of an adjacent building.
The Iraqi police report called the incident “an act of terrorism” which was caused by Blackwater. The Iraqis said that no one fired on the Blackwater guards. But, typically, Blackwater guards insisted they were fired upon.
In this case, the State Department covered up for Blackwater and the company said the shootings “fell within the approved rules governing the use of force.” Only a “cursory investigation” was carried out and no compensation or apologies were offered by Blackwater. Faisel Rahdi, the media network legal advisor attempted to sue Blackwater in court but the judge rejected the case, based upon Order number 17.
Blackwater In Congress:
Congressman Henry Waxman’s committee, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, released a report giving the background on Blackwater and citing a number of incidents. Prominent was the Christmas Eve 2006 shooting of the Iraqi Vice President’s bodyguard, mentioned above.The Blackwater Guard, Andrew Moonen 26, drunk and coming from a party, was responsible for the murder of Raheem Khalif. The acting US Ambassador to Iraq, Margaret Scobey, wanted to pay the dead man’s family $250,000. Blackwater, however, ended up paying only $15,000. A diplomatic security official suggested that such a large payment would give the guards an incentive to get themselves killed just to enrich their families!
In another incident, on October 24, 2005, Blackwater guards fired on a car that, according to company employees, failed to stop. A civilian bystander was hit in the head with a bullet but Blackwater guards did not stop to help the victim. On June 25, 2005 in Hillah, Blackwater shot and killed a father of six in the chest. Blackwater did not report the incident and tried to cover it up. On Sept. 24, 2006, a Blackwater convoy of four vehicles was driving the wrong way. A red Opel failed to get out of the way of the Embassy convoy. The Opel was run off the road by a Blackwater vehicle that collided with it, hit a telephone pole and burned. Blackwater guards did not stop to assist those in the car to get out but fled the scene.
On November 28, 2005, A Blackwater convoy traveling to and from the Iraqi Oil Ministry collided with 18 different vehicles. Two Blackwater guards were punished by being fired, the only action taken.Another incident on October 9, 2007, involved the Australian contractor Unity Resources Group. Two Armenian women, Maro Bougos and Jenna Jalal, were shot dead in a taxi as the car approached a convoy and faced a hail of 40 bullets, according to Ivana Vuco, a UN human rights officer in Iraq. The convoy was protecting a USAID delegation. On October 18, 2007, the British-South Africa company, Erinys, fired on a taxi in Kirkuk wounding three. One was a woman journalist who worked for TV Zagros, the TV station of Jalal Talabani, Iraqi President and head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) political party.
The report noted that Blackwater guards shoot from their moving vehicles and do not stop to count the dead or assist the unjured. Saad Mohamad Saed, an NGO worker in Baghdad, said his car was shot and destroyed but he was told he could not file charges against Blackwater. The House Committee Report found that Blackwater was involved in more shootings than Dyncorp and Triple Canopy combined, being involved in 195 shooting incidents in Iraq since 2005 and in eight out of ten cases, Blackwater fired first. There were 162 cases of property damage. The State Dept. merely asked Blackwater to pay money to families of victims, rather than investigating these incidents.
The US Congress can be seen to share the blame. First, the contractors were given immunity by Paul Bremer. Instead of passing specific legislation, Congress only instructed the Defense Department to draw up rules for how to deal with private soldiers, but the rules were never issued by the Department of Defense. A group of senators, sponsored a bill to bring the Defense contractors under the UCMJ, but this might not apply to Blackwater. The bill became law, holding contracted employees in the 180 security firms in Iraq subject to the UCMJ. But aside from the fact that it might be ruled unconstitutional if used against a civilian, the guidelines as to how to use it were never issued.
The US military also criticized Blackwater for being heavy-handed and arrogant, but some officers thought that it was what the US State Department expected. News reports quoted an unnamed US military officer as saying, “It was obviously excessive, it was obviously wrong… they behaved like impervious cowboys.” Blackwater “personnel opened fire without provocation and used excessive force against civilians.” These comments went along with those of civilians who were under Blackwater protection, such as Adam Hobson, a political aide in Baghdad. Blackwater shot an Iraqi in a car while transporting him. Janessa Gans, a US official in Baghdad, complained that the guards careened around corners, jumped road dividers, reached 100 mph in towns, often crossed over to the wrong side of the street, honked loudly, threw water bottles at Iraqis, menaced civilians with weapons, ran cars off the road and bashed them into barriers, when the Iraqis drove at normal speeds.
Suspension of Blackwater:
Following the Sept. 16 incident, the US Embassy halted Blackwater operations and was forced to suspend all ground travel for its diplomats across Iraq outside the Green Zone, demonstrating how dependent the diplomats were on Blackwater. The Iraqi Interior Ministry announced that it had “revoked Blackwater’s license.” The FBI took over the investigation from the State Department.
US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, then sent a commission, led by Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, as an envoy to Baghdad. Others included Eric Boswell, a former diplomat, Retired Army General George Joulwan, and former Ambassador Stapleton Roy. The State Department Security Chief, Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Griffin, resigned over the ongoing affair. Secretary Rice announced new measures for oversight, such as cameras on vehicles and a State Dept. official in each convoy.
Missing Planes and Guns:
A report claimed that in 2005 Blackwater attempted to ship planes out of Iraq and when caught, refused to return the planes, which were said to be “lost.” Congress Henry Waxman’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigated whether Blackwater illegally shipped automatic weapons, night-vision scopes, armour, gun kits, and other military goods to Iraq without a license. Erik Prince, former Blackwater Chairman, was also called to testify to this committee. Prince stated that the company acted appropriately in the Sept. 16 killings. It was believed some of the weapons shipped to Iraq may have been hidden in shrink-wrapped pallets. Prince admitted some were hidden in dogfood. Some of these weapons went missing in Iraq. Later Turkish authorities seized American weapons from the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). Some 190,000 pistols and automatic riffles supplied to Iraqi forces in 2004-5 went missing. Two former Blackwater employees pleaded guilty in Greenville, North Carolina to federal prosecutors. There was also an investigation as to whether Blackwater had permits for automatic weapon used for training in the Moyock training center.
The State Department was reluctant to cooperate in the investigation. Waxman sent a letter to State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard (“Cookie Krongard”), charging him with “impeding an investigation” into weapons smuggling into Iraq. The investigation was conducted by the US attorney’s office in Raleigh, NC. Waxman stated that “the State Department is acting as Blackwater’s enabler.”
Later, it turned out that Howard Krongard’s brother, Alvin Krongard (“Buzzy Krongard), was a paid consultant to Blackwater and a member of the Blackwater Advisory board. Previously, he was the number three man at the CIA in 2002, as Executive Director of the CIA and helped Erik Prince get his first contract, one with the CIA, which was a $5 million contract to go to Afghanistan after 9/11. They were “hunting buddies.” This was just a year before the first $27 million contract with the State Department came through. Howard Krongard first denied any relationship between his brother and Blackwater at the Congressional hearing, but then changed his mind and reported it. Howard Krongard was forced to resign over this relationship in December 2007.
Blackwater also received a contract to work for the Halliburton subdivision, Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), which turned out to be illegal, because the Halliburton contract is from the Defense Department. KBR had the Log Cap III contract (Logistics Civil Augmentation Program). The Army was supposed to provide the protection for KBR but in the Fallujah operation, Blackwater guards were protecting KBR. Halliburton was ordered by the US Army to repay $20 million, but could have been held liable to pay back up to $400 million.
Five former executives of Blackwater, including ex-President Gary Jackson have been indicted on charges of conspiring to violate federal firearms laws. Other cases against the company involve an alleged plot to bribe Iraqi officials to the tune of a million US dollars and charges that the company conspired to murder witnesses in legal cases.
The Security Firm’s Lobby:
As it turns out, the security firms in Iraq already have their representative to oversee their interests in the country. The Private Security Company Association (PSCA), headed by Lawrence Peter, represents some 50 firms in Iraq and is funded by firms like Blackwater. He suggested that an “Iraqi face” should be put on the firm’s activities. Peter is also a consultant to the Pentagon’s Defense Reconstruction Support Office which issues contracts. He wrote the initial drafts of Memorandum 17 (June 26, 2004). This is a separate document from CPA Order number 17 of June 27, 2004, promulgated the day before Paul Bremer left the country. There was also International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), which represented security firms in Iraq, headed by Doug Brooks.
A Test of Sovereignty:
The period following the September incident was the first time the Iraqi Government had reacted strongly to the operation of the military security firms, although it was common knowledge that Iraqis hated Blackwater. The September 16 events would reveal starkly the hollow claim that Iraq was a sovereign country capable of taking affairs into its own hands. Even though the Iraqi Interior Ministry announced that it was expelling Blackwater from Iraq and that Blackwater would be prosecuted, Blackwater was back on the street only four days later doing business as usual. Even though Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called the Blackwater massacre “criminal” he quickly backed down when the US State Department officers could not get on the road without their trusty Blackwater escorts. Secretary Condoleezza Rice apologized to al-Maliki, but emphasized that the US had to have protection for its diplomats. The Iraqi Prime Minister said the event was “a serious challenge to the sovereignty of Iraq that cannot be accepted.” The Iraqi Government really had no choice at the time. Clearly, the US diplomats would be sitting on their thumbs, grounded in their dug-out in the Green Zone without the protection of the Blackwater gun-toting cowboys.
The al-Maliki Government was forced to climb down. A few days later, al-Tahseen Sheikhly, a representative of the al-Maliki Government said that it would cause a security vacuum to expel Blackwater from Iraq at once. Muqtada al-Sadr also called for the expulsion of Blackwater. As some 20 Blackwater guards remained under investigation, Erik Prince made a statement saying that the Iraqi court system was not “fair” and “we will not let our people be taken by the Iraqis.”
Consideration of Practical Results of Contracting:
The rules for the use of force say that “security contractors are authorized to use deadly force only if there is no safe alternative and the guards or the people they are protecting face ‘imminent and grave danger.’” Obviously there is much room for interpretation and misjudgment in such a statement, especially when Americans and other Blackwater employees are like sitting ducks in a hostile country. In the case of the State Department, there have been vast cost overruns, poor contract performance and violence has gone unpunished. There have been too few American officials in Iraq to enforce the rules applying to private security companies. The conduct of the contractors has undermined the goals of ending the insurgency and establishing democracy. The behavior of the guards alienated Afghans and Europeans with the level of violence. Some 27 Blackwater guards had died in Iraq by October 2007. These findings are from a report from a review panel. Condoleezza Rice wanted to give guards more training in the local culture and language and formulate new rules of engagement. An auditors report showed that records of millions of dollars paid to Dyncorp were in disarray.
The State Department admitted that its diplomats were dependent upon contractors and not interested in seeking sanctions against them. An internal review of State Department handling of private security firms found “deficiencies” and, in fact, after the Sept. 16 incident, the person in charge of the companies, Richard J. Griffin, head of US diplomatic security, was “forced to resign,” apparantly fired. He was replaced by Acting Head of US Diplomatic Security, Gregory Starr.
It was not clear if the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA), under which five of the guards were indicted in December 2008, applied to them because some lawyers argued that it only applied to the military. Others said it could apply to Blackwater as the company was part of the whole contingency operation in Iraq. But Blackwater lawyers argued that the company only provided security. There was also a basis to act against Blackwater under the War Crimes Act. Some said this was really all about war crimes. But clearly the US Government was not going to go down this route. The Department of Justice had never yet prosecuted a security contractor in Iraq regarding what happened to Iraqis.
Another attempt to find justice was a law suit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights in the United States, which charged that Blackwater and affiliates violated U.S. law in committing “extrajudicial killings and war crimes” and that Blackwater “created and fostered a culture of lawlessness.” The court action was filed in the name of Talib Mutlaq Deewan (injured) and in the estates of Himoud Saed Atban, Usama Fadhil Abbas, and Oday Ismail Ibraheem, seeking damages and punitive damages.
Future and Recontracting:
After the incident, the State Department implicated that the Blackwater contract might not be renewed in May 2008. By December 2007, however, it appeared that Blackwater had inside information that the contract would be renewed. The contract was, in fact, renewed in May 2008, being extended for the third year of the five-year contract.
It was reported, however, that the State Department had agreed to stop protecting employees of Blackwater and other security companies from prosecution in Iraqi courts after December 2008. Private security contractors in Iraq said “There’s no question it’s a disaster if this got passed.” Private security firms feared being held responsible for their actions under the local laws of Iraq. It is also clear that US officials put pressure on members of the Iraqi Parliament not to ratify a new law to cancel the immunity granted by Order # 17. But by December 2007, Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, had moved to give the US military more control over the contractors working for State Department security. The security convoys would be coordinated with the military. Contractor oversight would be centralized under a single military authority, under Gates’ proposal. But this also reflected the attempt by the Department of Defense to win a bureaucratic victory over the State Department. The US was engaged in an effort to get the Iraqi Government to agree to a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) for US military troops before the end of 2008.
In October 2007, federal prosecutors set up a grand jury, a formal criminal inquiry, to further investigate the September 16 killings. The court issued subpoenas to five of the Blackwater guards involved. Federal agents found that at least 14 of the 17 killings were unjustified and violated deadly force rules in effect for security contractors in Iraq. Apparently only six of the 19 guards fired. In August, 2008, six Blackwater guards were notified that they could face prosecution. Blackwater hired a law firm to represent the guards.
By August 2008, the grand jury had questioned at least 40 witnesses. At the end of May, four Iraqis were brought to Washington to testify, including the father of a 9-year old boy killed and two policemen who were at the scene. Mohammed Abdul Razzaq, whose son Ali was killed in the back seat of his car, told journalists: “It was a true massacre, a slaughter.” He said that Blackwater had offered him $20,000 condolence payment if he would not testify, but he refused. The two policemen, Serhan Dhieb and Hussan Abdurrahman, stated that the Blackwater guards fired without provocation upon civilians. Serhan Dhieb was quoted as saying, “It is not a security company, it is a terrorist company.”
At the time, it was questionable whether the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA), could be used as defense attorneys would certainly argue that the guards were not “supporting the mission of the Department of Defense overseas.” The investigation continued and on December 4, 2008, five of the Blackwater guards were indicted on manslaughter charges. Each of the five guards were charged with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter, using and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, and aiding and abetting and causing an act to be done. The five were listed as Donald Ball, a former marine from West Valley City, Utah; Dustin Head, a former Marine from Knoxville, Tennessee; Evan Liberty, a former marine from Rochester, New Hampshire; Nick Slatten, a former army sergeant from Sparta, Tennessee; and Paul Slough, an army veteran from Keller, Texas. A sixth guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, from California, was not indicted, because he confessed to killing at least one Iraqi and turned states evidence, promising to testify at the trial against the other guards.
Ridgeway said that the guards used automatic rifles and grenade launchers to fire on cars, houses, a traffic officer and a girl’s school, starting with the firing on the white Kia sedan which posed no threat. Ridgeway said he fired multiple rounds from an M-4 assault rifle into the front passenger side, killing the passenger. The driver was also killed. Several other guards continued to fire on the car and at least one launched a grenade. The car burst into flames. No attempt was made to provide reasonable warnings to the driver.
Joseph Persichini, FBI Assistant Director, said: “The tragic events… were shocking and a violation of basic human rights. These individuals must be held accountable not just for the American people but for the Iraqi men, women, and children whose lives were destroyed.” But Paul Cassell, a lawyer representing the men, said: “We think it’s pure and simple a case of self-defense, tragically, people die.” The trial was assigned to a court in Washington, D.C.
The indictment relied upon the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA), claiming that the law applies to not only Defense Department contractors, but also contractors working for any agency working “in support of the mission of the Department of Defense overseas.” It was clear, however, that defense lawyers would challenge the use of this law to prosecute the guards.
The question of immunity was also muddled. The State Department claims its agents did not offer blanket immunity from criminal prosecution but only promised that statements the guards made on the scene could not be used against them in any prosecution.
The date for the trial, combined with several other cases, was set by US District Judge Ricardo Urbina for 2010. The guards entered a “not-guilty” plea.
Status of Forces Agreement between Iraq and the United States:
The status of forces agreement was finalized and approved by the Iraqi Cabinet on November 16, 2008. The Iraqi Parliament ratified the agreement on November 27, 2008. According to the agreement, the US retains judicial jurisdiction over its forces and civilian contractors of he Department of Defense inside agreed upon facilities and during missions. Iraq will have jurisdiction “in respect of premeditated and gross felonies” outside of the facilities and when personnel are not on a mission. Iraq has complete jurisdiction over other US contractors and their employers. Military operations may be carried out with the agreement of the Iraqi Government. The US can no longer arrest anyone except with an Iraqi issued order. By December 31, 2011, US forces must withdraw from Iraqi territory. US forces were to withdraw from Iraqi cities and villages by June 30, 2009. However, there were loopholes to these deadlines regarding training of Iraqi troops and supporting Iraqi security forces. In fact, it is certain many US troops will remain in Iraq after the end of 2011 and the US Government is backpedaling on this.
Moqtada al-Sadr and others protested that the agreement prolonged the occupation, along with concerns expressed by Grand Ayatollah Sistani.
The House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform addressed three questions: Is Blackwater’s presence advancing or undermining U.S. efforts in Iraq? Has the State Department responded appropriately to shooting incidents involving Blackwater forces? What are the costs for U.S. taxpayers of the reliance on Blackwater and other military conractors?
In 2007, Barack Obama introduced legislation into the US Senate to close the legal loophole on private contractors. This legislation failed to pass, so in this case, prosecutors have had to rely upon the 2004 amendment to the MEJA. The court will, in time, give its opinion as to whether this act gives the court jurisdiction to convict the guards. This was a step in the right direction, but there are larger questions.
Following these events, in January 2009, the State Department decided not to renew the State Department contract for Iraq for Blackwater and shifted its duties to Triple Canopy. The Iraqi Government would not renew Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq and also forbade them to operate aircraft in Iraq. Blackwater’s 1000 personnel and some 12 aircraft would be forced to leave Iraq.
However, what the public is told, hides reality. In practice, Blackwater contracts continued in many countries around the world simply because the US Departments of Defense and State need such private contractors badly to operate the vast imperialist network of embassies and military operations. Blackwater engaged in various machinations, such as rebranding and setting up some twenty shell corporations with new names to help hide its identity. Blackwater kept right on operating around the world, particularly expanding operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. CIA Director Leon Panetta stated that the CIA had to hire Blackwater because it underbid other firms by $26 million on a $100 million contract in Iraq. It was revealed that CIA operations were contracted out to Blackwater beginning in 2002, under Director, Porter Goss, including planned assassinations. Among these, reportedly, was a plot against A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani Nuclear Scientist. Another plot surfaced in Germany against Mamoun Darkazanli, a dual Syrian-German national who the CIA suspected of being linked to al-Qaeda.
Leon Panetta, head of CIA, claimed to have shut down the relationship, but CIA Blackwater employees were later killed while carrying out a CIA operation in Khost, Afghanistan. Blackwater was given a contract to find and kill al-Qaeda operatives and seemed to be carrying out secret operations in Pakistan. Blackwater was also involved in drone missile strikes and carrying out extraordinary renditions with its aircraft. The company apparently had the contract to load the missiles on the drones in Pakistan.
In December 2010, Blackwater was “sold” to an investment group, USTC Holdings set up for the purpose, and financed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. It was reported that the company feared it would lose US Governmentcontracts if Prince remained the owner after warnings from the State Department. In March 2010, Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, stated that the Pentagon should consider banning Blackwater/Xe from a one billion dollar contract to train Afghan Police. Erik Prince will still profit from the company being paid an “earn out” based upon company earnings. Jason Deyonker of Forte Capital, part of the investment group, has long been the portfolio manager for Prince and helped expand Blackwater in the past. While designed to distance the company from its past “stigma” of brutality in Iraq, this new arrangement seems more cosmetic window dressing than anything else. Prince, himself, and his family have reportedly moved to Abu Dhabi.
Blackwater: Symbol of an Era:
It has been noted that Blackwater has become a symbol of an entire era, just as Agent Orange, produced by Dow Chemical, was a unforgettable symbol of the Vietnam War. The climax of these particular cases of Blackwater brutality in Iraq came at the end of 2009. Several cases had been combined in the lawsuit that was dismissed by Judge Urbina. Blackwater made a blood-money deal with the families of 100,000 dollars for death and 30,000 dollars for injury and pretty much forced the families to take it or leave it. The family members signed in a Baghdad Hotel. It was strongly suspected that the US Justice Department sabotaged its own case to get Blackwater off the hook. It seemed likely that the case they presented based upon evidence provided under immunity would sink the case in court. Moreover, the Justice Department had come to broadly defend the actions of the US Government in the War on Terror, including torture of prisoners.
Today, security firms such as Blackwater and intelligence firms are becoming the backbone of the western imperialist bid to continue to rule the world and beat back resistance everywhere. This is a part of the necessary counterterrorism. It is clear that this is but an extension of the imperialist control of the Cold War when such movements were referred to as “revolutionary” rather than “terrorist.” Blackwater is out to control the world everywhere, as its website indicates. This includes domestic control and surveillance. Blackwater subsidiaries such as Total Intelligence Solutions and TerrorismResearchCenter are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to keep a watch on political activist groups who criticize corporate operations. Total Intelligence Solutions is said to be “Monsanto’s intelligence arm.”
Hiding the identity of the company under new ownership changes nothing. The name “Xe” did not fool anybody. Today US imperialism is increasingly carried out by the corporate sector ruling class which profits not only from imperialism but by providing its own security. The American taxpayers have officially become the de-facto drones who pay the bill as they are robbed of their labor and sink deeper into poverty and misery. Inequality reaches ever more obscene dimensions. The private Blackwater vigilante army and other security forces have now been absorbed into mainstream American corporate capital. They are the new Pinkertons of the world. Neoliberalism is rapidly forwarding the coming global dictatorship of the corporatariat on every continent.
 The Pinkerton National Detective Agency founded in l850 performed security guarding and private military contract work. They were used by companies to enforce strike breaking measures. Once the largest private law enforcement organization in the world.
 The “vigilantes” in the labor movement in the USA were groups of men paid by company officials to intimidate workers who were attempting to organize, and in the westward migration during the Great Depression, they kept migrants “moving on” away from their towns.
 “Blackwater gurds charged over Iraq carnage that left 17 civilians dead,” Times on Line, Dec. 9, 2008. James Vicini, “Judge Sets Trial in 2010 for Blackwater guards,” Reuters, Jan. 6, 2009.
 That this is the case is seen in the psychology that some firms were “too big to fail.” In general, when the economy began its precipitous crash in September of 2008, all stops were pulled out in a panic to save capital and capitalist firms. This was the priority. The U.S. Government became an agency working on behalf of the banks and other capitalist firms. This was said to be the best way to ensure the interests of the people who were then losing their homes in thousands of foreclosures!
 This has been explored most fully in Tim Shorrock, Spies for Hire: The Secret World ofIntelligenceOutsourcing. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008 and Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of theWorld’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. New York: Nation Books, 2007.
 I have explored this in USA and the New Middle East. New Delhi: Gyan Books, 2008.
 Joanne Kimberlin and Bill Sizemore, “Blackwater: Inside America’s Private Army,” The Virginia Pilot,July 23, 2006.
 Under this program, individuals are kidnapped at locations around the world, by those working under US authorities, and secretly sent to various countries for imprisonment and torture. The US has established a system of secret prisons around the world. GuantanimoBay seems to be a very insignificant part of this growing US Government gulag archipelago. Sometimes individuals are turned over to authorities of other countries.
 The CIA has been running airlines through private companies for many decades. This seems to be the same type of operation.
 “Blackwater Changes Its Name to Xe,” New York Times, Feb. 13, 2009. “US security firm mired in Iraq controversy changes its name,” The Guardian, Feb. 13, 2009.
 Jeremy Scahill, “Blackwater Down,” The Nation, 10 Oct. 2005.
 “Residentsprotest proposed Blackwater USA training camp,” AP, Oct. 8. 2007. Eilene Zimmerman, “Blackwater’s run for the border,” Salon News, Oct. 23, 2007.
 Dana Hedgepeth, “Blackwater’s Owner Has Spies for Hire.”
 Glen Kessler and Karen DeYoung, “Blackwater Focused on Cost, Not Safety, Report Says,” WashingtonPost, 28 Sept. 2007.
 John M. Broder and David Rohde, “Use of contractors by State Dept. has soared.” New York Times, 24 Oct. 2007.
 Jeremy Scahill, “Mercenary Jackpot,” The Nation, Aug. 28, 2006.
 John Broder and James Risen, “Contractor Deaths in Iraq Soar to Record,” New York Times, May l9, 2007.
 Alec Klein, “U.S. Army Awards Iraq Security Work To British Firm,” Washington Post, Sept. 14, 2007.
 “US Security Firm mired in Iraq Conroversy changes its name,” The Guardian, Feb. 13, 2009.
 The incident was widely covered in the press. Leila Fadel, “Blackwater guards killed 16 as U.S. tauted progress,” McClatchy Newspapers,Sept. 27, 2007. James Glanz and Sabrina Tavernise, “Blackwater Shooting scene was chaotic,” New York Times, Sept. 28, 2007. Richard Lardner and Mike Baker, “Blackwater Blamed for Guard Deaths,” AP, Sept. 25, 2007. Bushra Juhi, “Survivor Recalls Blackwater Shootings,” AP, Sept. 20, 2007. Jeremy Scahill.
 Richard Lardner, “Who Watches US Security firms in Iraq,” AP, Sept. 19, 2007.
 Leila Fadel, “Blackwater guards killed 16 as U.S. touted progress.”
 Bobby Calvan and Laith Hammoudi, “Shooting reignites Iraqi furor; U.S. issues apology,” McClatchy Newspapers, Nov. 18, 2007.
 Tina Susman, “Iraqis tell of guard’s reckless behavior,” Los Angeles Times. Oct. 8, 2007.
 Jeremy Scahill, “Making a Killing,” The Nation, Sept. 27, 2007.
 Kevin Peraino, “Blackwater: The Confidential Iraqi Incidence Report,” Newsweek, Sept. 30, 2007.
 Mussab Al-Khairalla and Paul Tait, “Iraq aims to end immunity of security firms,” Reuters, Sept. 21, 2007.
 Sumedha Senanayake, “Blackwater business leaves Iraq reeling,” Asia Times Online, Sept. 28, 2007.
 Steven R. Hurst and Qassim Abdul-Zahra, AP. Oct. 8, 2007.
 “Iraq Determined to Expel Blackwater USA,” AP Oct. 24, 2007. Salem Faraj, “Iraq determined to rein in private guards,” AFP, Oct. 8, 2007.
 Sharon Behn, “Contractors may fall under military law,” Washington Times,Sept. 27, 2007.
 Jonathan Karl and Kirit Radia, “State Department Crants Immunity to Guards Investogated for Shooting Iraqi Civilians,” ABC News,Oct. 31, 2007. This type of immunity is more limited than transactional immunity, which would prevent any prosecution. But in the event, the guards seemed safe enough from being prosecuted,
 The network was modeled on the BBC and launched by the US Government. The network produces TV, Radio, and newspapers. The main function is defined as to “explain democracy to the people and support the new Iraq.”
 Steve Fainaru, “How Blackwater Sniper Felled 3 Iraqi Guards,” Washington Post, Nov. 8, 2007.
 Congress of the United States, House of Representatives. Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Memorandum, Oct. 1, 2007.
 Eric Schmitt, “Report Details Shooting by Drunken Blackwater Worker,” New York Times,Oct. 2, 2007.
 Anne Penketh, “Blackwater faces war crimes inquire after killings in Iraq,” Independent, Oct. 12, 2007.
 Sharon Behn, “Blackwater won’t allow arrests,” The Washington Times, Oct. 17, 2007.
 Of course, whether “establishing democracy” was really a goal of the war is doubtful. It was trotted out as a rather thin justification after the initial rationalizations were exposed as lies. But then again, you don’t have to fool all the people all of the time.
 Broder and Rohde, “Use of contractors by State Dept. has soared.”
 Anne Gearan, “Blackwater likely to be out of Iraq,: AP, Oct. 17, 2007.
 “Blackwater’s legal protection might end,” UPI, July 6, 2008.
 “New Law May Spell End to Iraq Contractors,” CBS News, Nov. 9, 2007. Draft Legislation, “The Law of Subjecting Non-Iraqi Security companies to the Provisions of the Iraqi Law (2007).
 Pauline Jelinek, “Tighter Control of Blackwater Seen,” AP, Dec. 5, 2007.
 David Johnston and John M. Broder, “U.S. Prosecutors Subpoena Blackwater Employees,” Nov. 20, 2007.
 ABC News, May 27, 2008. “Criminal charges not likely for Blackwater in killings,” San FranciscoChronicle,May 10, 2008.
 Matt Apuzzo and Lara Jakes Jordan, “Blackwater probe narrows focus to guards,” AP, Dec. 8, 2007.
 James Bone, “Blackwater guards face prosecution in US over motorcade massacre of civilians,” The Times, Aug. 19, 2008, p. 10.
 “Blackwater Guards charged in Iraq Deaths,” Islamonline.net, Dec. 6, 2008. “Blackwater guards chatged over Iraq carnage that left 17 civilians dead,” Timesonline, Dec. 9, 2008. “Blackwater’s Guards and a Matter of Justice for Iraqis,” Washingtonpost.com., Dec. 9, 2008.
United States District Court for The District of Columbia, Grand Jury Sworn in November 15, 2007. United States of America v. Paul Alvin Slough, Nicholas Abram Slatten, Evan Shawn Liberty, Dustin Laurent Head, Donald Wayne Ball, defendants. Criminal No. CR-08-360, Dec. 4, 2008.
 Ramin Rahimian, “Plea by Blackwater Guard Helps Indict others,” New York Times, (AP), Dec. 8, 2008.
 “Plea by Blackwater Guard Helps Indict Others,” New York Times, Dec. 8, 2008.
 “Blackwater guards chared over Iraq carnage that left 17 civilians dead,” Timesonline, Dec. 9, 2008.
“Ex-Blackwater guards charged with manslaughter,” CNN, Dec. 8, 2008.
 James Vicini, “Judge Sets Trial in 2010 for Blackwater Guards,” Reuters, Jan. 6, 2009.
 “Iraq’s SOFA: What changed, what didn’t, and what officials are saying about it,” Antiwr.com, October 21, 2008. “Protests as Iraqi Government Approves SOFA,” Indybay, Dec. 7, 2008.
 Congress of the United States, Memorandum, Oct 1, 2007.
 Charley Keyes, “Firm to take over Blackwater/Xe’s Iraq Contract,” CNN, April 1, 2009.
 “Report: Blackwater Created Shell Companies,” ABC News, Sept. 3, 2010. Some of these were set up in offshore tax havens. Companies included XPG and Greystone. Secret contracts came from the CIA.
 David Crawford, “Germany Investigates Blackwater-CIA Report,” Wall Street Journal.
 Jeremy Scahill, ‘Blackwater and the Khost Bombing: Is the CIA Deceiving Congress?” The Nation, Jan.6, 2010. Mark Hasenball, “Two Americans Killed in Attack on CIA Base worked for Xe-Formerly Blackwater, Newsweek.com, Jan. 6, 2010
 Statement by Dean Bosacki, a managing partner of Manhattan Partners.
Andrew Ross Sorkin and Ben Protess, “Blackwater Founder in Deal to Sell Company,” New York Times,Dec. 16, 2010. The deal was reportedly around $200 million. The aircraft had previously been sold for around $200 million to AAR Corp. “Former Blackwater Group Sold,” Sunnews.com, Dec. 18, 2010.
 Wright Bryan, “Blackwater Founder Exits Security Firm With Sale to Private Investors,” NPR, Dec. 17, 2010. It had earlier been reported that Blackwater had been sold to Monsanto.
 Mike Baker, “Blackwater Settles Civil Lawsuits Over Iraq deaths,” AP, Jan. 7, 2010.
 Jeff Huber, “Old Blackwater Keeps On Rollin,” Antiwar.com, Jan. 7, 2010.
 An investment group named USTC Holdings and based in New York was set up for the sale and involved such groups as Forte Capital Advisors and Manhattan Partners. The capital was provided by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.