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Blackwater in Iraq


Dr_Evil_Mouse
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It's enough to make you feel sorry for the US military.

Iraq Contractors Accused in Shootings

— There are now nearly as many private contractors in Iraq as there are U.S. soldiers _ and a large percentage of them are private security guards equipped with automatic weapons, body armor, helicopters and bullet-proof trucks.

They operate with little or no supervision, accountable only to the firms employing them. And as the country has plummeted toward anarchy and civil war, this private army has been accused of indiscriminately firing at American and Iraqi troops, and of shooting to death an unknown number of Iraqi citizens who got too close to their heavily armed convoys.

Not one has faced charges or prosecution.

There is great confusion among legal experts and military officials about what laws _ if any _ apply to Americans in this force of at least 48,000.

They operate in a decidedly gray legal area. Unlike soldiers, they are not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Under a special provision secured by American-occupying forces, they are exempt from prosecution by Iraqis for crimes committed there.

The security firms insist their employees are governed by internal conduct rules and by use-of-force protocols established by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S. occupation government that ruled Iraq for 14 months following the invasion.

But many soldiers on the ground _ who earn in a year what private guards can earn in just one month _ say their private counterparts should answer to a higher authority, just as they do. More than 60 U.S. soldiers in Iraq have been court-martialed on murder-related charges involving Iraqi citizens.

Some military analysts and government officials say the contractors could be tried under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, which covers crimes committed abroad. But so far, that law has not been applied to them.

Security firms earn more than $4 billion in government contracts, but the government doesn't know how many private soldiers it has hired, or where all of them are, according to the Government Accountability Office. And the companies are not required to report violent incidents involving their employees.

Security guards now constitute nearly 50 percent of all private contractors in Iraq _ a number that has skyrocketed since the 2003 invasion, when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said rebuilding Iraq was the top priority. But an unforeseen insurgency, and hundreds of terrorist attacks have pushed the country into chaos. Security is now Iraq's greatest need.

The wartime numbers of private guards are unprecedented _ as are their duties, many of which have traditionally been done by soldiers. They protect U.S. military operations and have guarded high-ranking officials including Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Baghdad. They also protect visiting foreign officials and thousands of construction projects.

At times, they are better equipped than military units.

Their presence has also pushed the war's direction. The 2004 battle of Fallujah _ an unsuccessful military assault in which an estimated 27 U.S. Marines were killed, along with an unknown number of civilians _ was retaliation for the killing, maiming and burning of four Blackwater guards in that city by a mob of insurgents.

"I understand this is war," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., whose efforts for greater contractor accountability led to an amendment in next year's Pentagon spending bill. "But that's absolutely no excuse for letting this very large force of armed private employees, dare I say mercenaries, run around without any accountability to anyone."

___

Blackwater has an estimated 1,000 employees in Iraq, and at least $800 million in government contracts. It is one of the most high-profile security firms in Iraq, with its fleet of "Little Bird" helicopters and armed door gunners swarming Baghdad and beyond.

The secretive company, run by a former Navy SEAL, is based at a massive, swampland complex in North Carolina. Until 9-11, it had few security contracts.

Since then, Blackwater profits have soared. And it has become the focus of numerous contractor controversies in Iraq, including the May 30 shooting death of an Iraqi deemed to be driving too close to a Blackwater security detail.

"The shooting of that Iraqi driver has intensified tensions," Schakowsky said. "The Iraqis are very angry."

Company spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell, in an e-mail to The Associated Press, said the shooting was justified. "Based on incident reports and witness accounts, the Blackwater professional acted lawfully and appropriately," she wrote. There was no response to AP inquiries seeking further details.

Other alleged shootings involving private contractors include:

_ An incident in which a supervisor for a Virginia-based security company said he was "going to kill somebody today" and then shot at Iraqi civilians for amusement, possibly killing one, according to two employees.

The two, former Army Ranger Charles L. Sheppard III and former Marine Corps sniper Shane B. Schmidt, were fired by the company, Triple Canopy, and responded with a wrongful termination lawsuit. Their suit did not identify the shift leader they said deliberately opened fire on civilians in at least two incidents while their team was driving in Baghdad. He was described only as a former serviceman from Oklahoma.

On its Internet site, the company said all three were fired for failing to immediately report incidents involving gunfire. Triple Canopy, after an initial investigation, reported no one had been hurt and handed its information to the U.S. government.

Patricia Smith, a lawyer representing Sheppard and Schmidt, said the U.S. Justice Department declined to investigate. The Justice Department declined comment on the case.

On Aug. 1, a Fairfax County, Va., jury ruled that Triple Canopy did not wrongly fire the two men. But jury forewoman Lea Overby also issued a scathing note on behalf of the panel, saying the company displayed "poor conduct, lack of standard reporting procedures, bad investigation methods and unfair double standards."

The judge's jury instructions, Overby said, left no choice but ruling against the former employees. "But we do not agree with the Triple Canopy's treatment of (them)," she wrote.

_ Disgruntled employees of London-based Aegis Defence Services, holder of one of the biggest U.S. security contracts in Iraq _ valued at more than $430 million _ posted videos on the Internet in 2005 showing company guards firing automatic weapons at civilians from the back of a moving security vehicle.

In one sequence, a civilian car is fired on, causing the driver to lose control and slam into a taxi. Another clip shows a white car being hit by automatic weapons fire and then coming slowly to a stop.

In the videos, the security vehicle doesn't stop. It speeds on, leaving the civilians and their shot-up vehicles behind.

After initially denying involvement, Aegis, run by former Scots Guard Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, issued a statement saying the shootings were legal and within rules-of-force protocols established by the now-defunct CPA. Those guidelines allow security guards to fire on vehicles that approach too close or too quickly. U.S. Army auditors, in their own investigation, agreed with Aegis.

In the chaos of Iraq, where car bombings and suicide attacks occur over and over on any given day, such contractor shootings are commonplace, military officials say. The numbers of Iraqis wounded or killed by private guards is not known.

_ Sixteen American security guards were arrested and jailed by U.S. Marines in battle-scarred Fallujah in 2005 following a day of shooting incidents in which they allegedly fired on a Marine observation post, a combat patrol and civilians walking and driving in the city, about 40 miles west of Baghdad.

The guards, employed by Zapata Engineering of North Carolina, were imprisoned for three days. "They were detained because their actions posed a threat to coalition forces. I would say that constitutes a serious event," Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Lapan said at the time.

The contractors were released and returned to the U.S., where they claimed the Marines humiliated and taunted them in prison, calling them "mercenaries" and intimidating them with dogs. The private guards denied taking part in the shootings.

Last year, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service closed its criminal investigation of the case "for lack of prosecutive merit," a spokesman said. None of the 16 men where charged.

But days after the shootings, Marine Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Johnson, commander of western Iraq, banned the 16 contractors from every military installation in the area.

In letters to each man, the general wrote: "Your convoy was speeding through the city and firing shots indiscriminately, some of which impacted positions manned by U.S. Marines.

"Your actions endangered the lives of innocent Iraqis and U.S. service members in the area."

___

Since American contractors first swarmed into Iraq, animosity has run high between soldiers and private security guards. Many of the latter are highly trained ex-members of elite military groups including Navy SEALS, Green Berets and Army Rangers.

"Most military guys resent them," said former Marine Lt. Col. Mike Zacchea, who spent two years in Iraq training and building the Iraqi army. "There's an attitude that if these guys really wanted to do the right thing, they would have stayed in the military."

Zacchea, now retired in Long Island, N.Y., said that as a senior battalion adviser, he was offered jobs by several security companies, with average salaries of $1,000 a day. He wasn't interested. "I didn't want to go to Iraq as a mercenary. I don't believe in it. I don't think what they're doing is right.

"Really, these guys are free agents on the battlefield. They're not bound by any law. They're non-uniformed combatants. No one keeps track of them."

In late 2004, the Reconstruction Operations Center (ROC) opened in Baghdad. Its purpose was to track movement of contractors and military troops around the country and to keep records of violent incidents.

Participation, however, is voluntary.

Military leaders say the government should demand that contractors report their movements and use of weapons. Last year, officials of the 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad told visiting GAO auditors that lack of coordination continued to endanger the lives soldiers and contractors. Private security details continued to enter battle zones without warning, the military leaders said. In some cases, military officers complained they had no way of communicating with private security details.

Many large contractors say their guards coordinate with the ROC, and file "after-incident reports" of shooting episodes. But government auditors in Iraq reported last year that some contractors said they stopped detailing such shootings because they occurred so often it wasn't possible to file reports for each one.

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  • 1 month later...

The plot thickens....

Iraqis Angry at Blackwater Shooting

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By Hugh Sykes

BBC News, Baghdad

US security firm Blackwater says it acted "lawfully and appropriately" after its convoy was "violently attacked by armed insurgents" in Baghdad earlier this week.

Blackwater security guards then opened fire in a busy Baghdad square.

Eyewitnesses and recovering victims of the shooting - in which 11 Iraqi civilians died - say the Blackwater account is wrong.

Asked by the BBC if anyone shot at the convoy, an Iraqi policeman, speaking anonymously, answered unequivocally: "No."

Two men shot and wounded in the incident corroborated the policeman's account.

One, a Baghdad lawyer who had four bullets removed from his body, said: "I swear to God no-one shot at the security company."

Another man, who was wounded in the back and thigh, said: "They shot us randomly - no-one shot them."

The initial US embassy account of the incident stated that there had been an exchange of fire when the Blackwater men guarding a US diplomatic convoy reacted to a car bomb "in the proximity".

The policeman witness confirmed that there had been a car bomb. But he said it was 500m (1640ft) away from the convoy, and happened at least 20 minutes before the Blackwater convoy arrived at the intersection where they opened fire.

'Criminal act'

Iraqis are very angry about the incident, from people in the street to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

Blackwater is especially widely resented, with one Iraqi saying that the company's employees are "much worse than the American military".

One Baghdad driver told me that security convoys like those operated by Blackwater had a "bad attitude", tended to panic when they were stuck in traffic jams, and sometimes kept moving by using their vehicles to push private cars out of the way - regardless of the damage they caused.

A government spokesman talked about "this flagrant assault", and Mr Maliki has pledged to stop Blackwater from working, describing the shooting as a "criminal act".

The initial response of the Iraqi interior ministry was to terminate Blackwater's licence to operate in Iraq, and to order its employees to leave the country.

But now Blackwater is merely suspended pending the outcome of the investigation into the incident.

Wider issues

The Americans have stopped any road travel by their diplomats, who are transported in Blackwater convoys when they leave the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.

It is not clear now long this ban will last, with a US embassy spokesperson saying it will be reviewed on a daily basis.

There is now a joint Iraqi-US committee to look at the wider issues raised by the shooting - like the status of security companies in Iraq.

For example, it is not clear whether or not they still enjoy the immunity from prosecution provided by a regulation, known as Article 17 and dating back the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which administered Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

But the core issue here will almost certainly not be resolved.

Eleven people were killed in al-Nisur Square on 16 September. Their deaths need to be explained.

In any normal country with a properly functioning legal system, the men who opened fire would appear in court, and face a jury - who would judge their guilt or innocence on the basis of the evidence.

Even in the military they would appear at a court martial, and witnesses would be called.

But security guards in Iraq are not civilians, and they are not soldiers.

So will they ever have to face justice?

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Geez, these guys are really Christian jihadis - founder Eric Prince being the son of the guy who bankrolled the Family Research Council, the brother-in-law of a cofounder of Amway.... Frighteningly, the stuff of history books centuries hence (if we all make it that far) here....

Interview: Amy Goodman and Jeremy Scahill (author, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army )

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what are the odds that if Blackwater do get booted they'll just create another army and call it Bloodwater or something, have a few different names in the upper management but come back new and improved?

hell i wouldn't be surprised if they somehow profited from this– parlay their equipment and ammo and everything to the new mercenaries (at maximum profit) and get the american public to pay for it (again)

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Hmm... from today's New York Times:

Guards' Shots Not Provoked, Iraq Concludes

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BAGHDAD, Sept. 21 — Iraq’s Ministry of Interior has concluded that employees of a private American security firm fired an unprovoked barrage in the shooting last Sunday in which at least eight Iraqis were killed and is proposing a radical reshaping of the way American diplomats and contractors here are protected.

Meanwhile, for the first time since the shootings United States embassy convoys began to leave the Green Zone today on “a very limited basis,†Mirembe Nantongo, an American Embassy spokeswoman, said in a statement. “This decision has been taken after consultation with Iraqi authorities.â€

The convoys all but stopped on Tuesday, when the Iraqi government banned Blackwater USA, a company that guards all senior American diplomats here, from working in the country. But neither the statement nor another embassy official confirmed whether Blackwater was involved today, or who was providing security or where they traveled.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, conceded that it was “likely†that Blackwater was involved. There would appear to be few alternatives. The embassy could turn to State Department diplomatic security officers or another military contractor, but these options appear unlikely.

Earlier, Ms. Nantongo, the embassy spokeswoman, appeared to confirm Blackwater’s involvement when she was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying about the security personnel that, “Yes, it is Blackwater.â€

Iraqi leaders have yet to comment on the subject.

In the first comprehensive account of the day’s events, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior said that security guards for Blackwater fired on Iraqis in their cars in midday traffic.

The document concludes that the dozens of foreign security companies here should be replaced by Iraqi companies, and that a law that has given the companies immunity for years be scrapped.

Four days after the shooting, American officials said they were still preparing their own forensic analysis of what happened in Nisour Square. They have repeatedly declined to give any details before their work is finished.

Privately, those officials have warned against drawing conclusions before American investigators have finished interviewing the Blackwater guards. In the Interior Ministry account — made available to The New York Times on Thursday — Iraqi investigators interviewed many witnesses but relied on the testimony of the people they considered to be the four most credible.

The account says that as soon as the guards took positions in four locations in the square, they began shooting south, killing a driver who had failed to heed a traffic policeman’s call to stop.

“The Blackwater company is considered 100 percent guilty through this investigation,†the report concludes.

The shooting enraged Iraqis, in part because they feel powerless to bring the security companies to account.

“What happened in Al Nisour was that citizens felt their dignity was destroyed,†Jawad al-Bolani, Iraq’s interior minister, said in an interview. The Iraqi “looks at the state and wonders if it can bring him back his rights.â€

“It’s important that the company show its respect to the law and Iraqi law,†he said in an interview on Thursday. “Iraqi citizens need to see good treatment, especially when they operate on Iraqi soil.â€

And while Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has demanded that the State Department drop Blackwater as its protector, security industry experts say that such an outcome is highly unlikely because American officials rely heavily on the company, setting the two sides on a diplomatic collision course. The Iraqi version of events may be self-serving in some points. The ministry report states that no Iraqis fired at the Blackwater guards, even though several witnesses in recent days have said that Iraqi commandos in a watchtower did. Blackwater, in its first and only statement, said militants had ambushed its guards.

If the accounts of Iraqi gunfire from the tower are accurate, a central question is when the Iraqis in the tower began to shoot. As the Americans investigate and build their case, it will probably hinge on timing and on the interpretation of the various sources of gunfire. Ms. Nantongo, hinted at that in a conference call on Thursday.

“Right, they came under fire, but what is the sequence of events?†she said.

The Interior Ministry report recommends scrapping Order No. 17, the rule that was written by American administrators before Iraqis took over the running of their own government and gives private security companies immunity from Iraqi law. It recommends applying criminal law No. 111, part of Iraq’s penal code that was issued in 1969.

Another of the report’s recommendations is for the company to pay compensation to the families of the dead.

Perhaps the part that will bring the most debate is the recommendation to limit foreign security companies.

“We recommend replacing all the foreign security companies with Iraqi security companies in the future,†it said. “These American companies were established in a time when there was no authority or Constitution.â€

But even if the government succeeds in changing the rules, it will have difficulty enforcing them. Four private security companies, all Iraqi, have been prohibited from working in past years, but all of them continued operating by changing their names, according to a former security contractor.

“How are they going to enforce what they come up with?†the contractor said.

Blackwater had been operating without a license for more than a year, though it had made an attempt to register this spring. Mr. Bolani said that the government was not moving forward with its registration, but that not being registered would not set the company apart from many other foreign security companies operating here. Only 23 foreign companies have licenses, Mr. Bolani said.

The report said that Mr. Maliki had “demanded†that the State Department drop Blackwater as a protector, “for the sake of the two nations’ reputation.â€

In the Interior Ministry’s version of that day, the events began unfolding when a bomb exploded shortly before noon near the unfinished Rahman Mosque, about a mile north of Nisour Square. Embassy officials have said the convoy was responding to the bomb, but it is still unclear whether it was carrying officials away from the bomb scene, driving toward it to pick someone up or simply providing support.

Whatever their mission, and whoever was inside, the convoy of at least four sport utility vehicles steered onto the square just after noon and took positions that blocked the flow of midday traffic in three directions. But one family’s car, approaching from the south along Yarmouk Street, apparently did not stop quickly enough, and the Blackwater guards opened fire, killing the man who was driving, the ministry account says.

“The woman next to the driver had a baby in her arms,†said an official who shared the report, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to share it. “She started to scream. They shot her,†the official said, adding that the guards then fired what appeared to be grenades or pump guns into the car as it continued to move. The car caught fire.

“The car kept rolling, so they burned it,†the official said.

The account said that the guards entered the square shooting, although Ali Khalaf, a traffic policeman who watched events from a flimsy white traffic booth on the edge of the square and spoke in an interview on Thursday, said a guard got out of the sport utility vehicle and fired.

Mr. Khalaf, who has also been interviewed by American investigators, spoke standing near his traffic booth on Thursday afternoon. He said that he had tried to reach the woman in the seconds after the man she was riding with was shot. But a Blackwater guard killed the woman before he could reach her, Mr. Khalaf said.

What is still unknown is when, or if, Iraqi security forces stationed in at least two compounds adjacent to the square began firing their own weapons.

If the Iraqis began firing early in the episode, investigators could conclude that the Blackwater guards believed they were under attack and were justified in conducting what they might have considered to be a counterattack. Some of the casualties could also have been caused by bullets fired by Iraqis.

Mr. Khalaf, though, said that he never fired a shot. When one of the American investigators asked why he did not fire at the Blackwater convoy, Mr. Khalaf said, his answer was simple.

“I told him I am not authorized to shoot, and my job is to look after the traffic,†Mr. Khalaf said.

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And yet more in the continuing story....

Iraq Has Incriminating Blackwater Tape: Official

Last Updated: Saturday, September 22, 2007 | 9:04 PM ET

The Associated Press

Iraqi investigators have a videotape that shows Blackwater USA guards opened fire against civilians without provocation in a shooting last week that left 11 people dead, a senior Iraqi official said Saturday.

He said the case was referred to the Iraqi judiciary.

Interior Ministry spokesman Maj.-Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said Iraqi authorities had completed an investigation into the Sept. 16 shooting in Nisoor Square in western Baghdad and concluded that Blackwater guards were responsible for the deaths.

He told the Associated Press that the conclusion was based on witness statements as well as videotape shot by cameras at the nearby headquarters of the national police command. He said eight people were killed at the scene and three of the 15 wounded died in hospitals.

Blackwater, which provides most of the security for U.S. diplomats and civilian officials in Iraq, has insisted that its guards came under fire from armed insurgents and shot back only to defend themselves.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said Saturday that she knew nothing about the videotape and was contractually prohibited from discussing details of the shooting.

Khalaf also said the ministry was looking into six other fatal shootings involving the company in which 10 Iraqis were killed and 15 wounded. Among the shootings was an incident Feb. 7 outside Iraqi state television in Baghdad that killed three building guards.

"These six cases will support the case against Blackwater, because they show that it has a criminal record," Khalaf said.

No charges yet

Khalaf said the report was "sent to the judiciary" although he would not specify whether that amounted to filing of criminal charges. Under Iraqi law, an investigating judge reviews criminal complaints and decides whether there is enough evidence for a trial.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh denied Saturday that authorities had decided to file charges against the Blackwater guards.

"The necessary measures will be taken that will preserve the honour of the Iraqi people," he said in New York, where Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki arrived Friday for a UN General Assembly session. "We have ongoing high-level meetings with the U.S. side about this issue."

Al-Maliki is expected to raise the issue with U.S. President George W. Bush during a meeting Monday in New York.

Law could block prosecution

It is doubtful that foreign security contractors could be prosecuted under Iraqi law. A directive issued by U.S. occupation authorities in 2004 granted contractors, U.S. troops and many other foreign officials immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law.

Security contractors are also not subject to U.S. military law under which U.S. troops face prosecution for killing or abusing Iraqis.

Iraqi officials have said in the wake of the Nisoor Square shooting that they will press for amendments to the 2004 directive.

A senior aide to al-Maliki said Friday that three of the Blackwater guards were Iraqis and could be subject to prosecution. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Shortly after the Sept. 16 shooting, U.S. officials said they "understood" that there was videotape, but refused to give more details. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to release information to the media.

Joint investigation

Following the Nisoor Square shooting, the Interior Ministry barred Blackwater from operating in Iraq but rolled back after the U.S. agreed to a joint investigation. The company resumed guarding a reduced number of U.S. convoys on Friday.

The al-Maliki aide said Friday that the Iraqis were pushing for an apology, compensation for victims or their families and for the guards involved in the shooting to be held "accountable."

Hadi al-Amri, a prominent Shia lawmaker and al-Maliki ally, also said an admission of wrongdoing, an apology and compensation offered a way out of the dilemma.

"They are always frightened and that's why they shoot at civilians," al-Amri said. "If Blackwater gets to stay in Iraq, it will have to give guarantees about its conduct."

Allegations against Blackwater have clouded relations between Iraq and the Americans at a time when the Bush administration is seeking to contain calls in Congress for sharp reductions in the 160,000-strong U.S. military force.

Release Iranian, president says

Adding to those strains, President Jalal Talabani demanded the immediate release of an Iranian official detained Thursday by U.S. forces in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah.

The U.S. military said the unidentified Iranian was a member of the Quds force, an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards accused of arming and training Shia militias in Iraq.

A statement issued Saturday by Talabani's office said the arrest was carried out without the prior knowledge or the co-operation of the Kurdish regional government.

"This amounts to an insult and a violation of its rights and authority," said the statement, quoting a letter Talabani sent to Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Talabani, a Kurd, is one of Washington's most reliable partners in Iraq.

Talabani said Iran had threatened to close the border with the Kurdish region if the official were not freed. That would be a serious blow to the economy in the president's political stronghold.

"I want to express to you our dismay over the arrest by American forces of this official civilian Iranian guest," Talabani wrote to Petraeus and Crocker.

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  • 2 weeks later...

US firm out of control in Iraq: report to Congress

Last Updated: Monday, October 1, 2007 | 11:31 PM ET

The Associated Press

The U.S. security firm Blackwater is an out-of-control outfit indifferent to Iraqi civilian casualties, says a critical report released by a key U.S. congressional committee.

Among the most serious charges against the prominent security firm is that Blackwater contractors, who protect U.S. diplomats, sought to cover up a June 2005 shooting of an Iraqi man and the company paid, with State Department approval, the families of others killed by its guards.

The 15-page report from the House of Representatives oversight and government reform committee says Blackwater has had to fire dozens of guards over the last three years for problems ranging from misuse of weapons, alcohol and drug violations, inappropriate conduct and violent behaviour.

Just after the report was released, The Associated Press learned the F-B-I is sending a team to Iraq to investigate an incident that has angered the Iraqi government.

On September 16, 11 Iraqis were killed in a shoot-out involving Blackwater guards protecting a U.S. diplomatic convoy in Baghdad.

Blackwater says its guards acted in self-defence after the convoy came under attack. Iraqi witnesses say the shooting was unprovoked.

The FBI team was sent at the request of the State Department and its findings will be reviewed for possible criminal liability.

The 122 personnel terminated by Blackwater represented roughly one-seventh of the workforce Blackwater had in Iraq, a ratio that raises questions about the quality of the people working for the company.

The only punishment for those dismissed was the termination of their contracts with Blackwater, said the report, which used information from Blackwater's own files and State Department records.

The report, prepared by the majority staff of the committee, also said Blackwater has been involved in 195 shooting incidents since 2005, or roughly 1.4 a week.

In more than 80 per cent of the incidents, called "escalation of force," Blackwater's guards fired the first shots, even though the company's contract with the State Department calls for it to use defensive force only, it said.

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

Blackwater made huge sums of money: report

The staff report said Blackwater has made huge sums of money despite its questionable performance in Iraq, where Blackwater guards provide protective services for U.S. diplomatic personnel.

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

Blackwater bills the U.S. government $1,222 a day for a single "protective security specialist," the report said. That works out to $445,891 on an annual basis, far higher than it would cost the military to provide the same service.

Blackwater, founded in 1997 and headquartered in Moyock, N.C., is the largest of the State Department's three private security contractors. The others are Dyncorp and Triple Canopy, both based in Washington's northern Virginia suburbs.

The report said Blackwater has had more shooting incidents than the other two companies combined.

The report is critical not only of Blackwater. In two cases, the State Department recommended Blackwater make payments to the families of Iraqis killed by its guards.

On Dec. 24, 2006, a drunken Blackwater employee shot and killed a bodyguard for Iraqi Vice-President Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

The AP previously reported the contractor became lost on the way back to his barracks in Baghdad's Green Zone and fired at least seven times when he was confronted by 30-year-old Raheem Khalaf Saadoun.

The guard was terminated by Blackwater. Within 36 hours of the shooting, the department allowed the 26-year-old contractor to be transported out of Iraq, the staff report said.

An unnamed State Department official then recommended Blackwater pay the guard's family $250,000 as an "apology."

But the Diplomatic Security Service, the department's own law-enforcement arm, said that was too much money and might prompt other Iraqis "to 'try to get killed"' in order to provide for their families, the report said.

"In the end, the State Department and Blackwater agreed on a $15,000 payment," the report said.

The negative fallout from the event affected the relationship between the U.S. military and Iraqis, many of whom see little distinction between the private guards and U.S. troops, the report stated. Initial news coverage by Middle Eastern news media of the killing said a "U.S. soldier" was responsible.

In a company e-mail obtained by the committee, a Blackwater employee said the mistake in the news "gets the heat off of us."

The report said the U.S. Justice Department is investigating.

In another instance, the department recommended Blackwater make a $5,000 payment after guards killed an "apparently innocent" Iraqi bystander, said documents the committee examined. In this same case, the Blackwater personnel failed to report this shooting and "covered it up," the report stated.

There is no evidence, the report said, "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."

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said he has not read the report and could not comment.

The report was distributed to committee members on the eve of a hearing on private security contracting.

Maybe, just maybe, privatisation isn't always a good thing....

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Here's an interesting concept - Blackwater theology. A letter from the Blackwater chaplain:

PERSPECTIVE

Definition: Subjective evaluation of relative significance; a point of view...

Blackwater Security Contractors - September 16 - Baghdad, Iraq - Nisoor Square...

We were not there... We did not share their point of view...

Facts are not yet clear and for those of us not there...

For those of us not inside the Company...

And not privy to the FBI investigation details...

The facts may never be clear!... At least not for us!

The media, much of Congress and critics are using every opportunity to express and publish anti-war and anti-Blackwater sentiments...

They bash the State Department for using Security Contractors for the protection details...

And ignite negative sentiments against everything that they can imagine that does not suit the people doing the inciting.

Many of you who read these words will have some level of identifying with the Blackwater personnel who were in that incident. Some of you will be able to identify with them personally because you have been involved in some life threatening incident where someone else could have taken you out, or actually did try taking you out of the battle or out of this life just because you were there and they wanted to eliminate you and anyone with you.

Many of our government leaders do not comprehend the logistics of the demands of duty upon our military and the Security Contractors in Baghdad and all of Iraq... Nor upon our Peace Keepers here at home. Many media reporters use the story of the incident to grind some set of details into the minds of the readers... To instill some opinion that the reporter is pushing themselves. Some of these actions are so obvious as to sicken the stomach if one pays full attention to their words and actions.

If I were in a battle zone such as that one in Nisoor Square, I would be practicing great care knowing that it could be a death trap if any enemy wanted to cause great damage... This would likely be such a place. Then to see the traffic described... To do a sweep of the people present... To wonder why this car is not slowing and stopping...

Or why that motorcycle is riding right into this jam... To question the motives of Iraqi Police standing by but taking no effort to control the approaching traffic...

All of this would be in my mind if I were one of the forward looking SC (Security Contractors) in that lead vehicle and in either of the following vehicles. I cannot state how I would react because I was not there but I can say that we all should bide our time and not rush to judgment in relation to the ones who were there and we assuredly should not be swayed by all of the past incidents that are being dredged up and spread all over the media every day since September 16th. Did innocent people die in that incident?... Most likely! Was their deaths intentional murder?... We may never know all of the details that would give us a clear answer... We might never be afforded the views seen by all of the SC involved.

If I had been there and the situation demanded that I fire my weapon in order to live and deliver the "Package" for which I was responsible, what would I have done?...

I settled that question long ago for myself. Several people lived another day because they obeyed my instructions in several different incidents and I did not have to fire my weapon... but I was ready, willing and able to fire if they did not comply.

If I had a silver coin for each negative cut and comment that has been made against Blackwater and Security Contractors, just in the past three weeks, I would not be able to carry all of the coins... Yet we would not have been able to function, as we have in Iraq, if they had not been there doing their jobs and some of them making the ultimate sacrifice.

Erik Prince did a great job of focusing upon the truth and details of the incident as he and the Company Executives knew it then. He did a tremendous job of keeping the attention where it needed to be kept. He handled the interests of Blackwater very, very well and was a credit to the great community of Peace Keepers who have given and do give their service for the good of this great nation and it's interests.

There is a spiritual precept at work here, "Judge not [neither pronouncing judgment nor subjecting to censure], (until you have all of the evidence) and you will not be judged; do not condemn and pronounce guilty, (until you have all of the evidence) and you will not be condemned and pronounced guilty (until HE has all of the evidence); acquit and forgive and release (give up resentment, let it drop), and you will be acquitted and forgiven and released." Luke 6:37 (Amplified) (Bold italics, mine) Of course that is the Christian point of view and that is from where I must approach this situation.

Truth and Justice are attributes of my Commander-in-Chief. HE loves Truth and Justice. If we follow HIS instructions HE will bring about Truth and Justice... That which is hidden will be revealed. That which should be known will be known.

I am willing to pray for those involved and wait for the results of the investigation. I have been involved in enough incidents of my own, as a Peace Keeper, to know that this is the only path that any of us should take until all of the knowable information is in...

True Justice must follow the evidence. Public and media attention should have no significance.

That's all that I have to say about that.

If you pray, pray for me this week. In the past few months I had to work as much as possible to meet income needs. I had to take three weeks off from work in order to take care of personal business and my disabled daughter is having in-patient surgery next week. When I do not work, I do not get paid. It is a part-time job with no benefits and no leave. I had just reached the good place of having caught up with meeting financial obligations and now I had to be off and we will be facing more medical expenses.

I miss all of my compatriots when I am not on the field where I belong. I look forward to being back out there soon.

Thank you for all that you have done and are doing to keep the rest of us safe and able to live as best we are able. This world would be a terrible place in which to live if it were not for people such as you doing what you can to provide peace and safety.

THANK YOU... THANK YOU... THANK YOU...

"BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!" Be always, alert, watchful, suspicious and wary. Take the very best care of you that is possible while you are taking care of others. See to your spiritual welfare for you need to be spiritually strong to have good success.

Call or write if I may be of any service.

As it has always been... So it still is...

"VICTORIOUS WARRIORS WIN FIRST...

AND THEN GO TO WAR,

WHILE DEFEATED WARRIORS GO TO WAR FIRST...

AND THEN SEEK TO WIN." Sun tzu

ONLY LIVE PEACE KEEPERS SEE THE VICTORY!!!

THEY SEE IT ONLY BECAUSE OTHERS HAVE MADE THEIR ETERNAL

PAYMENTS OF SWEAT, BLOOD, TEARS AND LIFE FOR THAT VICTORY!

WITH THE DEEPEST OF APPRECIATION AND RESPECT...

BE BLESSED (A CONDITION TO BE ENVIED)...

BE SUCCESSFUL... BE SAFE...

[My injunction to be safe means doing all you know to do as you do your job... it means

doing the best you can with what you have where you are using all your faculties to get

the job done well and with good results conquering evil and keeping or restoring peace...

it does not mean to avoid duty and honor... it does not mean to cower or allow anything

to hinder you in the process of duty according to rules, law and ethics... it means that if

the demand takes your earthly life you destroy as much evil as possible in the process.

That is my definition of being safe... doing the best you can and leaving the rest to God

or whomever else is responsible... being best employed for the sake and protection of all

the things and people that we hold dear.]

I represent, write for... and give the credit to:

God the Father (my Commander-in-Chief),

Jesus Christ the Son (the Eternal Captain of my life) and

the Holy Spirit of God (my Eternal Teacher, Keeper and Guide).

In Christ I live... with Him and for you I serve...

And I rejoice that you are there whether you are Christian or not...

D. R. (Don) Staton, Chaplain to Peace Keepers

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