NEWS

Blackwater USA Sought to Cover Up Deadly Iraq Shootings

By Matthew Harwood

There's more bad press for Blackwater USA today—real bad.

The New York Times is reporting that not only has the private security contractor fired its weapons more than any other security contractor, but that a congressional report uncovered it has also sought to cover up those incidents with the collusion of the State Department, its primary customer in Iraq.

Employees of Blackwater USA have engaged in nearly 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005, in a vast majority of cases firing their weapons from moving vehicles without stopping to count the dead or assist the wounded, according to a new report from Congress.

In at least two cases, Blackwater paid victims’ family members who complained, and sought to cover up other episodes, the Congressional report said. It said State Department officials approved the payments in the hope of keeping the shootings quiet. In one case last year, the department helped Blackwater spirit an employee out of Iraq less than 36 hours after the employee, while drunk, killed a bodyguard for one of Iraq’s two vice presidents on Christmas Eve.

In the most recent  incident of violence Blackwater USA contractors were associated with in mid-September, at least eight civilians died when the State Department convoy the security contractors were protecting was alleged attacked. The Iraqi government has called Blackwater's response "cold-blooded murder."

Today, the House Committee on Oversight and Government reform is holding a hearing reviewing Blackwater's activities in Iraq regarding three areas: 1) Is Blackwater helping or hindering the U.S. mission in Iraq?; 2) Has the State Department held Blackwater accountable for any of its shooting incidents?; and 3) How costly to taxpayers is the government's reliance on contractors like Blackwater.

Regarding the second question, the congressional report issued prior to the hearing is not kind on the State Deparment.

There is no evidence in the documents that the Committee has reviewed that the State Department sought to restrain Blackwater's actions, raised concems about the number of shooting incidents involving Blackwater or the company's high rate of shooting first, or detained Blackwater contractors for investigation.

Currently, the State Department has three open investigations regarding the September 16 shootings, which raises the question: "Can those guarded impartially investigate their protectors?"

UPDATE: Blackwater USA founder Erik Prince has finished his testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government and has defended his security contractors for their actions in the September 16 shooting that left at least eight dead or 11 dead, depending on the news report. Find coverage of his testimony from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, here, here, and here.

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