Cross-posted on Daily Kos.
Today in the understated language that is his style, Rep. Henry Waxman, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a memorandum of Additional Information about Blackwater USA. In actuality, the memo is a shot across the bow of Blackwater and the craven Republicans on the committee and the State Department who will rise to defend the firm and its CEO Erik Prince who is scheduled to appear before the committee Tuesday, October 2 at 10:00 AM.
The memorandum, prepared by the Majority Staff, reveals:
Incident reports compiled by Blackwater reveal that Blackwater has been involved in at least 195 “escalation of force” incidents in Iraq since 2005 that involved the firing of shots by Blackwater forces. This is an average of 1.4 shooting incidents per week. Blackwater’s contract to provide protective services to the State Department provides that Blackwater can engage in only defensive use of force. In over 80% of the shooting incidents, however, Blackwater reports that its forces fired the first shots.
195 “incidents” coming at an average of 1.4 per week since 2005 where Blackwater shot first over 80% of the time.
Since this is a work of the U.S. government and not copyrighted, I’m going to quote liberally from the memorandum, which continues:
In the vast majority of instances in which Blackwater fires shots, Blackwater is firing from a moving vehicle and does not remain at the scene to determine if the shots resulted in casualties. Even so, Blackwater’s own incident reports document 16 Iraqi casualties and 162 incidents with property damage, primarily to vehicles owned by lraqis. In over 80% of the escalation of force incidents since 2005, Blackwater’s own reports document either casualties or property damage.
So not does Blackwater shoot first in 80% of the time, 80% of their “escalation of force incidents” either causes “casualties or property damage”. With the September 16 massacre at Nissour Square in Baghdad, the Iraqi investigations concluded that, once again, Blackwater was unprovoked. (Details of the Iraqi report can be found in the mentioned article in The New York Times, in victim accounts, survivor accounts, and in my diary, ‘Blackwater, Private Security Contractors “Making A Killing”‘. Even the ‘first blush’ report by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad has reached similar conclusions according to the Washington Post.) The number killed in the Nisoor Square massacre has been reported between 11 and 28 people. The memo continues:
The reports describe multiple Blackwater incidents involving Iraqi casualties that have not previously been reported. In one of these incidents, Blackwater forces shot a civilian bystander in the head. In another, State Department officials report that Blackwater sought to cover up a shooting that killed an apparently innocent bystander. In a third, Blackwater provided no assistance after a trafft accident caused by its “counter-flow” driving left an Iraqi vehicle in “a ball of flames.” Blackwater also reports engaging in tactical military operations with U.S. forces.
The State Department’s own people claim Blackwater has, at least on one occasion, tried to “cover-up” a crimes committed by one of its mercenaries. Almost everywhere Blackwater convoys go, they leave a trail of death and destruction at a rate significantly higher than the other two “private security contractors” employed by the State Department. The memo continues:
In addition to Blackwater, two other private military contractors, DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, provide protective services to the State Department. Blackwater reports more shooting incidents than the other two contractors combined. Blackwater also has the highest incidence of shooting first, although all three companies shoot first in more than half of all escalation of forces incidents.
In a September 20 article in the Washington Post, ‘Where Military Rules Don’t Apply‘. Jack Holly, a retired Marine colonel who oversees several private security firms as director of logistics for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said “the State Department was partly to blame for what he described as Blackwater’s ‘heavy-handed, almost arrogant’ tactics. ‘It’s obviously condoned by State and it’s what State expects, because they have contract oversight and if they didn’t like it they would change it,’ he said.” Other reports have made it pretty clear that these mercenaries are Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s private army. Immediately after Blackwater’s Nisoor square massacre, Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other senior officials in Iraq’s government expressed their outrage and initially tried to expel Blackwater from Iraq claiming this was a “crime” and an affront on Iraqi sovereignty. However, the Iraqis backed down after Rice apologized on Blackwater’s behalf and agreed to a joint-investigation to what happened that day. Since the massacre, Blackwater has remained defiant and maintains their employees were provoked.
The memorandum examines the State Department responses to the many Blackwater incidents. In nearly every case, the department payed a wergeld, blood money, to the victim’s family trying to quickly hush-up the matter. The memo states:
In the end, the State Department and Blackwater agreed on a $15,000 payment. One State Department offrcial wrote:
“We would like to help them resolve this so we can continue with our protective mission.”
The State Department took a similar approach upon receiving reports that Blackwater shooters killed an innocent lraqi, except that in this case, the State Department requested only a $5,000 payment to “put this unfortunate matter behind us quickly.”
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.
There is no evidence of oversight of or accountabliy for Blackwater in Rice’s State Department. The Los Angeles Times reported that normally misdeeds by private security contractors are covered-up. “Several U.S. diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity said in interviews that past private security misdeeds had been swept under the rug. ¶ ‘It’s one of the big holes we’ve had in our policy: the lack of control, the lack of supervision over the security force,’ a U.S. diplomat told The Times on condition of anonymity because of the topic’s sensitivity. ‘No one took on the responsibility of policing these units, neither the military or the Regional Security Office [the embassy’s security department]… So many people, not just the Blackwater people, are there in Baghdad unsupervised with basically diplomatic immunity,’ he said.”
The memorandum shatters the myth that private contractors is saving the U.S. taxpayer money.
Using Blackwater instead of U.S. troops to protect embassy officials is expensive. Blackwater charges the government $1,222 per day for the services of a private military contractor. This is equivalent to $445,000 per year, over six times more than the cost of an equivalent U.S. soldier. In total, Blackwater has received over $1 billion in federal contracts from 2001 through 2006, including more than $832 million under two contracts with the State Depafment to provide protective services in Iraq.
The cost differences between the U.S. military and using mercenaries is startling. In a diary today, John Campanelli writes that Washington Post reporter, Walter Pincus, found that Gen. David Petraeus earns $493 per day, compared to the Blackwater Manager who make $1,075 per day.
And while Blackwater and other private contractors got their start during the Clinton administration, the memorandum from the oversight committee notes:
Blackwater’s government contracts have grown exponentially during the Bush Administration, particularly since the start of the war in Iraq. Blackwater went from having government contracts worth less than a million dollars in 2001 to contracts worth more than half a billion dollars in2006. Figure A shows the increase in Blackwater’s government contracts over the past six years, while Table A shows the dollar amounts Blackwater received in each of these vears.
Not only is Blackwater and other mercenaries not helping save money for the Unites States, but Blackwater’s numerous incidents are making the United States’ stated mission in Iraq more difficult. Blackwater is hated by the Iraqis and the State Department’s mercenaries are confused by the Iraqis with American troops. The use of Blackwater and other mercenary firms undermines the U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq. Incidents like the 2004 deaths of Blackwater employees in Fallujah were found to be the fault of Blackwater, but yet triggered a major escalation in response by the U.S. military.
According to a TPM Muckraker exclusive, a report by private-military contractor expert P.W. Singer concluded “What the contracting industry diminishes in political cost it compounds in actual cost to counterinsurgency. Iraqis view private companies like Blackwater as lawless, and they have no reason to distinguish between private contractors and U.S. troops — thereby compounding the danger to U.S. forces from infuriated Iraqis… ¶ Even more simply, private military contractors aren’t in the chain of command, meaning U.S. officers are powerless to stop them from engaging in activities deleterious to a command plan.” And, the Washington Post reported last week that the U.S. military has formed similar conclusions in an article called ‘Private Security Puts Diplomats, Military at Odds‘:
In high-level meetings over the past several days, U.S. military officials have pressed State Department officials to assert more control over Blackwater, which operates under the department’s authority, said a U.S. government official with knowledge of the discussions. “The military is very sensitive to its relationship that they’ve built with the Iraqis being altered or even severely degraded by actions such as this event,” the official said… “This is a big mess that I don’t think anyone has their hands around yet,” said another U.S. military official. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing these guys are being held accountable. Iraqis hate them, the troops don’t particularly care for them, and they tend to have a know-it-all attitude, which means they rarely listen to anyone — even the folks that patrol the ground on a daily basis.”
“This is a nightmare,” said a senior U.S. military official. “We had guys who saw the aftermath, and it was very bad. This is going to hurt us badly. It may be worse than Abu Ghraib, and it comes at a time when we’re trying to have an impact for the long term.”
Not only is the presence of Blackwater undermining U.S. strategic efforts in Iraq by increasing the mistrust of Iraqis and further endangering U.S. military personel, but also the U.S. taxpayers are paying through the nose.
The memorandum from the House oversight committee is 15 pages long and it is densely packed with information. It is Waxman’s investigative bow shot and he lowers the boom on Blackwater and the State Department during the October 2 hearing. May he hit his mark and sink the use of mercenaries by the United States government.