Blackwater Investigation Update

Posted by Sean McCormack
September 26, 2007

I woke up this morning in New York to new headlines about the conduct of U.S. government security contractor Blackwater and the multiple investigations and reviews underway concerning their work in Iraq for the State Department. For those who have not followed the story closely, the recent round of stories dates to a September 16th incident in which a number of Iraqis, apparently including some innocent bystanders, died after a firefight involving Blackwater contractors in Baghdad while protecting U.S. employees working outside the international zone (the so-called "Green Zone"). There are conflicting accounts of how the firefight started, so we (the State Department) are now trying to piece together an account of what happened by interviewing as many witnesses as possible and collecting whatever other evidence may exist. Any next steps will depend on the outcome of the investigation, which our Embassy in Baghdad is conducting with the assistance of the U.S. military. We are also conducting a joint review of security contractor operations in Iraq in conjunction with the Iraqi government. In Washington, Secretary Rice launched an internal review of personal security contractor (the companies that protect our diplomats when they leave the Green Zone) operations in Iraq. Pat Kennedy, one of the Department's most experienced management officers and someone who has served in Baghdad, is heading up the review. I expect in the next day or so we will announce the names of some senior people from outside the Department to participate in the review. That leads me to one detail and one headline in today's Washington Post.

Buried in a long front page story is an anonymous quote from a Pentagon source saying, "[w]e are making the State respond, conduct an investigation and come up with recommendations." I have no idea who the person is, but they could not be more wrong. First of all, any time there is an incident like what occurred on September 16th, our security personnel start an investigation. An investigation is part of our standard operating procedure. Second, Embassy Baghdad originated the idea of a joint commission with the Iraqi government to look into personal security contractor operations. Secretary Rice fully supported the Embassy initiative. Third, I can tell you first hand that Secretary Rice initiated the Washington-based review of how our personal security contractors operate in Iraq -- including among other issues the rules of engagement and the authorities under which they operate -- in a call to Deputy Secretary John Negroponte on the flight back from Tel Aviv last Thursday.

You can expect to hear more on the issues related to U.S. Government personal security contractor operations in Iraq in the days ahead, as Congress starts to look into the issue. I expect John Negroponte will field a fair number of questions on the topic today when he testifies about the State Department's supplemental budget requests before congressional committees responsible for appropriating funds to the State Department. Congressman Waxman, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also plans hearings on the issue. Secretary Rice made very clear to me this morning that she expects all State personnel and contractors, including Blackwater, to cooperate with requests on the personal security contractor issue by Chairman Waxman's committee. So, don't be fooled by the headline.

Comments

Comments

Tom
|
District Of Columbia, USA
September 26, 2007

Tom in Washington writes:
Had your administration listened to professionals in the first place, there would be no need for such an investigation. But the desire to keep the whole Iraq fiasco as benign as possible in the average citizen's eye led to too few troops, too little equipment, and no plan for the day when "major combat operations have ended."

John D.
|
Ethiopia
September 26, 2007

John writes:
It is not only investigation needed in this situation. A system by which to try security contractors is desperately needed. If they are not subject to Iraqi law, as they appear not to be, what law are they under? Are they to get a court-martial as if they were soldiers? A murder trial in U.S. court? Or will this just be an "investigation" with some classified briefing resulting from it? The American people at least need to know what the investigation found and how they found it.

Robin
|
Romania
September 26, 2007

Robin in Romania writes:
I have a clue of the outcome: Blackwater USA is not guilty of any wrongdoings. As a matter of fact, they responded to an attack!

I saw an incident where a U.S. Military employee, a soldier, killed a great Romanian singer in a car accident because he didn't respect even the most basic rules of driving. Guess what: the Court Martial found him innocent. How about that?

In the end I must stress that, in my humble opinion, such incidents have nothing to do with justice. It's only a matter of public image!

wrldwz
|
United States
September 26, 2007

wrldwz in U.S.A. writes:
"They protect us, and we protect them."

This is a quote from a US diplomat concerning Blackwater.

How can State possibly justify a quid pro quo protection scheme with a private army?

Given the corruption in Iraq, investigations into Blackwater for under the table arms deals, and Sec Rice's recent move to classify previously public documents that show your own internal assessments have zero confidence that corruption can be mitigated, how does State intend to handle the appearance of outrageous impropriety?

Thank you.

Dan
|
United States
September 26, 2007

Dan in U.S.A. writes:
From today's Los Angeles Times:

"The State Department has interceded in a congressional investigation of Blackwater USA, the private security firm accused of killing Iraqi civilians last week, ordering the company not to disclose information about its Iraq operations without approval from the Bush administration, according to documents revealed Tuesday." Henry Waxman released these documents yesterday.

Is there any truth to this?

mel
|
United States
September 27, 2007

Mel from U.S.A. writes:
Why not just paint a bull's eye on these guys backs? Releasing information that could give information to the enemy would be nothing short of suicidal. What is it that you don't understand about "war zone"?

These are brave guys who protect American lives when they work & travel in this dangerous city...of course no compromising info can be made public! Get real!

JD
|
Ireland
September 27, 2007

JD in Ireland writes:
When your business is waging wars, what incentive do you have to obtain peace? From a business point of view, peace equals bankruptcy... Do you see a problem with this business model?

Marc
|
Germany
September 27, 2007

Marc in Germany writes:
@ Marc -- I will need to agree with John's post above. Military members are subject to Host nation (not discussing JUST Iraq here) laws and the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. Government civilians are subject to host nation and our laws. But where do these mercenaries fall? John does bring up a good point ..under what LAW can they as individuals and the company itself be help accountable?

Andrew
|
Texas, USA
September 28, 2007

Andrew in Texas writes:
It never ceases to amaze me that so many government officials anonymously leak things to the press but what I find more astounding is that anyone from State feels the need to publicly air the infighting that occurs within different departments. Why can't the employees on both sides just do their jobs, all working towards the same goal?

It's no wonder that nothing ever seems to get done in Washington.

David
|
Florida, USA
October 1, 2007

David in Florida writes:
I get pretty sick of hearing all the security teams described as mercenaries. Most go quietly about their business taking huge risks to get the job done. I've used several companies to deliver several thousand vehicles to the Iraqi government, with very few problems.

There are the crooked security companies, like Custer Battles, the shoot em up cowboys like Blackwater, and another whose recruiting policy was described to me by a retired SEAL as hiring ex-cons, red-necks and idiots! I've been run off the road by Blackwater and had vehicles damaged by their ice bombs. The military is having a tough enough time as it is, without these crazies being hired by State.

Yi
|
Mongolia
October 3, 2007

Yi in Mongolia writes:
Most of you can sit in the comfort of your offices in U.S.A. and criticize other people all you want, but if your are boots on the ground in Iraq, outside the GZ [Green Zone], and people want to kill you just because you are an American Diplomat, I bet you will want the best people there to protect you!

Eric
|
Minnesota, USA
October 5, 2007

Eric in Minnesota writes:
Is there a person, "George Sherwood," assigned to the Department of State, having Blackwater or other mercenary group employment or other ties? Yes/no? If "yes" could you post details.

Malen
|
Alabama, USA
October 9, 2007

Malen in Alabama writes:
The Press makes it seem like the security companies are just running around unsupervised. They almost always are charged with the protection of Americans needing meet and work with the people of Iraq. The work I did there with the reworking of the Fire Service would not have been possibe if not for men like them. Even then we lost people to IEDs and that was men from these companies also. Yes they get paid well but too many have had to die protecting those of us that needed to get out to do our work.

Ralph
|
Greece
October 10, 2007

Ralph in Greece writes:
Here's an idea. Hows about we let State do their investigation along with the FBI and stop convicting the Blackwater folks before the evidence is all in. I find it hard to believe that these professionals who are paid to protect the U.S. diplomats would "on purpose" just start shooting people. What would be the motive behind that? At any rate, I certainly find it more difficult to believe the Iraqi civilians eyewitnesses (who mostly hate us or at least are afraid of showing support for us) to be truthful when describing what really happened.

Again, let the professionals (i.e., FBI, State, DoD) do their investigations and let's leave "Monday Morning Quarterbacking" where it belongs...

Enza
|
New Jersey, USA
October 11, 2007

Enza in New Jersey writes:
I posted my comments below on another site, but after reading Sean's remarks, I thought my comments were more appropriate here:

In the past two weeks, I have read and watched all the information that I could obtain on the Oversight Committee hearings and private contracting. Thanks to archives, I have watched most if not all of the testimony.

I do not understand what the Committee is supposed to be investigating. The investigation seems to morph into a "cause de jour."

I do not mean to be insensitive, but why are the committee members more concerned about investigating dead Iraqis (who they claim Blackwater contractors killed) than the four dead americans that Iraqis killed in 2004? Why were the murders of the four dead Americans at the hands of the Iraqis not investigated? There is plenty of footage, why were the persons responsible in Iraq not brought to trial?

Also, how can the Oversight Committee members insist that the Blackwater contractor who was involved in the 2006 shooting of the Iraqi guard should have stayed in Iraq for Iraqi "justice" when the Iraqi official who was investigating government corruption was forced to seek asylum in US because of the corruption? Does anyone believe the contractor would have gotten a fair trial?

While it is sad that people most die during war, I applaud companies like Blackwater. They provide a service that most of us do not have the ability or the strength to undertake. I would not do that job for any amount of money.

Bob
|
Washington, USA
October 13, 2007

Bob in Canada writes:
The whole congressional hearing (and most of the media reports) are means to attack the Administration's Iraq policy. It has next to nothing to do with Blackwater or any other contractors.

A dozen-plus people being killed is wrong and those responsible should be held accountable..but don't blame Blackwater or State for the lack of defined jurisdiction..that is the CPA's fault. Bremmer enacted the CPA Order shielding contractors from Iraqi prosecution. The Dems are blaming Erik Prince for the fact that his employees weren't arrested. Would you hold the CEO of IBM accountable if one of his employees wasn't arrested by the local police for a crime?? NO.

Lastly...please take a look at the facts. Over 15,000 missions for all of the contractors (not mercenaries..they are defensive in nature and don't go out on combat ops) and they have only used deadly force 54 times. That is a pretty good record of restraint in a true war zone.

There are lots of problems with the USG mission in Iraq..I personally don't think we should be there. But I served in the Big Sandbox and 99% of the contractors I work with (I am direct hire) were decent people doing a very dangerous job. As for the military complaining that BW is making it harder to do their job...give me a break!!! The military kills more Iraqi civilians in a month than any contractor kills in a year.

Enza
|
New Jersey, USA
October 15, 2007

Enza in New Jersey writes:

@ Bob in Canada -- I totally agree with Bob from Canada. Because certain members of Congress are concerned about the fall out of attacking the military directly, they have made private contracting and security their latest focus of attack. They should be aware that the American public are not that gullable.

As far as these premature conclusions made by the Iraqi government and low level military on the Sept 16 incident, first, how could they have completed an investigation of that magnitude in less than five days? Secondly, how were they able to determine that no one shot at Blackwater vehicles when those vehicles were driven or towed away and not inspected yet? Finally, the same CNN article that quoted the Iraqi officials also mentioned the three military officers who were killed several months ago and whose Id were recently found, but whose weapons have never been located. Who is to say that the Iraqis are not using military weapons against our forces or private security?

Laugh of the day was Scott Horton of Human Rights First on C-Span when asked about whether he was left or right of mainstream, he commented that he was center as was his organization. If that is true, we are all in trouble.

FInally, we talk about accountability, my question is to the State department is aren't foreign diplomates in this country immune from US laws and prosecution. Is it not true that if a foreign diplomate commits a crime, the only recourse for the US is to have the diplomate deported and hope that their country takes some action? If that is the case, the Blackwater immunity is not unprecedented.

Enza
|
New Jersey, USA
October 15, 2007

Enza in New Jersey writes:
@ Robin in Romania -- You are incorrect that the U.S. Marine in Romania was not disciplined when he had an accident with the Romanian singer. The U.S. justice system works. While the Marine was found not guilty of manslaughter, he was disclined for obstruction of justice and appropriate action was taken.

Enza
|
New Jersey, USA
October 17, 2007

Enza in New Jersey writes:

Mr. McCormack. I'm tired of reading about all the assumptions and misinformation in the media who report these assumptions as fact. Please provide an update on the Blackwater investigation. Why is CNN and the like able to report that U.S. and Iraq have made final determinations without FBI/State involvement?

ionescu
|
Romania
August 9, 2008

Ionescu in Romania writes:

i think for this comment....no comment

John
|
United States
December 12, 2008

John in U.S.A. writes:

Thank you.

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