State Department grants*** Blackwater immunity
But it apparently didn’t tell FBI agents before sending them to Baghdad to investigate the Sept. 16, 2007, incident that left 17 Iraqis dead.
The investigative misstep comes in the wake of already-strained relations between the United States and Iraq, which is demanding the right to launch its own prosecution of the Blackwater bodyguards.
Misstep? The U.S. State Department can’t seem to get a grasp on oversight. The U.S. embassy offers to pay Iraqi families $12,500 for each Blackwater victim. Who’s running this joint? FEMA?
Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell declined comment about the U.S. investigation.
It’s not clear why the Diplomatic Security investigators agreed to give immunity to the bodyguards, or who authorized doing so.
Of course not.
Bureau of Diplomatic Security chief Richard Griffin last week announced his resignation, effective Thursday. Senior State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said his departure was directly related to his oversight of Blackwater contractors.
But Blackwater branches out and expands its contracts, even though it was accused of stealing Iraqi airplanes, smuggling and illegally selling weapons, almost killing a U.S. soldier and evading taxes.
Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered a series of measures to boost government oversight of the private guards who protect American diplomats in Iraq. They include increased monitoring and explicit rules on when and how they can use deadly force.
Right. Cultural awareness training. Yeah. That’ll fix it. Heckuva job, Condi.
At least the immunity explains why Blackwater CEO Erik Prince “welcomes extra oversight,” has employed a new PR campaign and blitzed (blizted with Blizter … get it?) the media, chatting with everyone but Letterman, and asked reporters to contact Congress on Blackwater’s behalf. Sort of his own little “bring ‘em on” statement.
***Oh, wait. Blackwater always had immunity.
Oh, that Bush. He’s such a kidder.
Need more laughs?
We believe that Iraq as a market will continue to grow for some time due to the outsourcing by the US government in terms of convoy logistics, in terms of guarding, that will continue. The fact that there are obviously huge oil reserves in Iraq and international companies will go back in once the security situation stabilises a bit more. – Patrick Toyne-Sewell, ArmorGroup International, The Independent, Oct. 24, 2007
Here are some of the companies with government contracts in Iraq:
Posted by Becky @ 3:11 pm
Blackwater testifies before House committee
Blackwater USA founder and owner Erik Prince testifies today before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, starting at 10 a.m. (streaming live here).
I still want to know: Who were the U.S. diplomats being guarded by Blackwater employees on Sept. 16, 2007, and will they be required to testify before the committee?
Posted by Becky @ 11:00 am
Blackwater: Billion-dollar cowboys in Iraq
The headline says that “cowboy” aggression works for Blackwater. For Iraqis? Not so much.
But it is largely accepted that the Pentagon doesn’t have enough troops to fight both the war in Iraq and perform all the tasks contracted out to firms such as Blackwater, including protecting diplomats and other civilians in one of the world’s most dangerous places.
The Pentagon doesn’t have enough troops for protecting diplomats. Here’s a thought. For starters, why not stop the revolving-door dignitary visits by elected officials?
Posted by Becky @ 8:56 pm
Blackwater’s got some ‘splainin’ to do
Federal prosecutors are investigating Blackwater USA regarding smuggled weapons sold on the black market in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iraq looks into other incidentsinvolving Blackwater USA and civilian deaths. But Blackwater USA operations are “back to normal” today. It’s got that $1 billion contract to fulfill, you know.
The Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing yesterday, Abuses in Private Security and Reconstruction Contracting in Iraq: Ensuring Accountability, Protecting Whistleblowers.
Posted by Becky @ 11:40 am
State Department halts dignitary visits … for four days
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is pissed. Blackwater USA employees killed one Iraqi police officer and 10 Iraqi civilians and wounded at least 13 Iraqi bystanders in a shootout in Baghdad on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007. Maliki called the action criminal, threatened to prosecute those involved, canceled Blackwater’s operating license and ordered the company out of the country on Monday. On Tuesday, the United States suspended all land travel by U.S. diplomats and other civilian officials in Iraq outside the Green Zone in Baghdad.
Scratch that. Convoys guarded by Blackwater resumed today after suspending them for only four days. The U.S. embassy struck back at the prime minister, releasing a report that details corruption in his government.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got the prime minister to agree to set up a commission to “look into the matter.” Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., asked Blackwater USA founder and owner Erik Prince to appear before the House Government Reform Committeeon Oct. 2, 2007, to determine if private contractors serve U.S. interests in Iraq and whether Blackwater USA “has advanced or impeded U.S. efforts.”
I’m curious. Who were the U.S. diplomats being guarded by Blackwater employees, and will they be required to testify before the committee?
Was it Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and his delegation — Reps. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., and fourth-timer Steve Pearce, R-N.M. — who recently returned from an “intense two-day tour” of Iraq? No. They were there the weekend before last.
Was it Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Ohio, and his delegation — Reps. John Boehner, R-Ohio, Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., Peter King, R-N.Y., Tom Latham, R-Iowa, Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio — who just returned from Iraq? No. They were in Baghdad earlier last week. (Gosh, it’s hard to keep track, isn’t it?)
Was it third-time visitor Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and her delegation — Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., fourth-timer Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and third-timer Ken Salazar, D-Colo.? Maybe. They were on the heels of the other delegation and were in Iraq on Saturday and Sunday.
Blackwater spokeswoman Anne E. Tyrrell said Blackwater’s contractors acted lawfully and that the “civilians” who were killed were armed enemies. An Iraqi report said Blackwater guards were not ambushed. Instead, they fired at a car when it did not heed a police officer’s call to stop, killing a couple and their infant. In video shot after the episode, the child appeared to have burned to the mother’s body after the car caught fire.
In the meantime, Blackwater remains in Iraq, and Rice is telling everyone she has ordered a “full and complete review” of security practices, including Blackwater, which has a $1 billion, five-year contract with the U.S. State Department.
USA TODAY added an update to its breaking-news blog:
Update at 4:45 p.m. ET:We’ve requested comment from Blackwater USA. In the meantime, campaign finance records show that Prince has been a big donor to the Republican Party. In July, he gave $20,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Nice try, but that’s just the beginning.
Prince also gave the National Republican Congressional Committee $25,000 in 2005, $25,000 in 2004, $20,000 in 2000, $15,000 in 1989, $1,000 in 1986, as well as $71,950 to the RNC Republican National State Elections Committee in 2000, and the following:
- $1,000 on Nov. 2, 2004, to Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who visited Iraq in September 2006.
- $1,000 on Sept. 26, 2005, and $1,000 on Nov. 16, 2004, to Rep. Thomas DeLay, R-Texas, who visited Iraq in August 2003.
- $1,000 on Oct. 29, 2004, to Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who visited Iraq in February 2005.
- $500 on Sept. 21, 1999, $1,000 on Aug. 24, 2004, and $1,000 on March 31, 2005, to Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Minn., who visited Iraq in August 2003, September 2003, June 2004 and November 2004.
- $1,000 on Oct. 29, 2004, to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who visited Iraq at least six times.
- $2,100 on Aug. 23, 2006, to Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., who visited Iraq in November 2004 and February 2007.
- $1,000 on Nov. 2, 2004, to Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., who visited Iraq in September 2003.
- $1,000 on Jan. 4, 2006, and $2,000 on Dec. 19, 2005, to Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who visited Iraq in February 2004, September 2005 and April 2007 (his fifth visit).
- $750 on Oct. 29, 2004, to Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who visited Iraq in February 2005.
- $1,000 on Oct. 31, 2005, and $500 on Sept. 26, 2005, to Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., who visited Iraq in October 2003 and July 2005.
- $1,000 on March 31, 2005, to Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., who visited Iraq in September 2003.
That’s just for starters. I’ll keep looking. The USA TODAY guy might want to do the same.
Posted by Becky @ 4:36 pm
Arms + Middle East x $20 bil. / defense industry = peace?
The Bush administration plans a $20 billion deal to sell weapons to Saudia Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman to “counter Iran’s rising influence.”
I don’t know. Isn’t that kind of like putting Tony Blair in charge of peace and Paul Wolfowitz in charge of the World Bank?
Posted by Becky @ 3:55 pm
Presidential candidates strike a pose on war
Before the ink was dry on the $120 billion war-funding package passed without withdrawal deadlines by the U.S. Senate and House on May 24, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., returned her focus to her campaign with this: “If President Bush does not end the war, when I am president, I will.” It has become a mantra (slogan, if you will), repeated on her blog.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said in April, “So I make a solemn pledge to you, as president, we will be out of Iraq.”
As senator? Not so much.
Last I heard, Congress still had some power. Why are they willing to wait until 2009 (or beyond) to end a war the majority of Americans wanted to end with the influx of Democrats they voted into office last year?
In the Democratic debate on June 3, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., mentioned getting 2,500 mine-resistant V-shaped armored vehicles into Iraq by August to “save lives,” and he has pushed this idea several times since. It seemed oddly specific, so I looked it up. Those vehicles are called MRAPs, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. They will not be available by August. They will not be available until 2009, at a cost of $900,000 each. The U.S. Army plans to buy 2,500 MRAPs over the next three years, at a cost of $2.25 billion. The U.S. Marine Corps plans to replace its 3,700 Humvees in Iraq, which will cost $3.7 billion. That’s a sweet $6-billion deal for some defense company. Do Biden and his colleagues want to prolong this war another two years so they can fulfill contracts?
According to The Center for Responsive Politics, the defense industry gave more than $48 million to elected officials since 2002. Two of the companies that make MRAPs are BAE Systems and General Dynamics, two of the top defense contributors. GD has given $4.5 million to elected officials, and BAE has given $2 million since 2002. Let’s look at some of the 2008 presidential candidates.
- Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., took $246,410 from the defense industry in 2006, including $20,000 from BAE.
- Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., took $96,800 in 2006.
- Clinton took $72,200 in 2006, including $8,000 from BAE.
- Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., took $53,500 in 2004, including $1,000 each from BAE and GD.
- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took $2,000 in 2006 and $18,000 in 2004.
- Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., took $1,000 in 2006 and $2,000 in 2004.
As for the Democrats who recently refused to end the war, the 25 senators who voted for the war funding in May have taken money from defense companies, while only 12 did not. The 66 representatives who voted for the funding taken money from defense companies, while only 20 did not.
Whose interests do they really serve?
Posted by Becky @ 4:56 pm