Created on Tuesday, 25 September 2007 07:47
Written by Agence Global
Blackwater: Hired Guns, Above the Law
by Jeremy Scahill
My name is Jeremy Scahill. I am an investigative reporter for The Nation magazine and the author of the book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
I have spent the better part of the past several years researching the phenomenon of privatized warfare and the increasing involvement of the private sector in the support and waging of US wars. During the course of my investigations, I have interviewed scores of sources, filed many Freedom of Information Act requests, obtained government contracts and private company documents of firms operating in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Testifying before a Senate committee today, The Nation's Jeremy
Scahill describes the deadly pattern of conduct by Blackwater USA and
other security contractors in Iraq. Acting with impunity and immune
from prosecution, this shadow army is fueling the spiraling violence.
[republished at PFP with AG permission.]
[Editor's Note: This is an edited transcript of the prepared
Jeremy Scahill before the Senate Democratic Policy
Committee, September 21, 2007.]
When asked, I have attempted to share the results of my
investigations, including documents obtained through FOIA and other
processes, with members of Congress and other journalists.
would like to thank this committee for the opportunity to be here today
and for taking on this very serious issue. Over the past six days, we
have all been following very closely the developments out of Baghdad in
the aftermath of the fatal shooting of as many as 20 Iraqis by
operatives working for the private military company Blackwater USA. The
Iraqi government is alleging that among the dead are a small child and
her parents and the prime minister has labeled Blackwater's conduct as
"criminal" and spoke of "the killing of our citizens in cold blood."
While details remain murky and subject to conflicting versions of what
exactly happened, this situation cuts much deeper than this horrifying
incident. The stakes are very high for the Bush administration because
the company involved, Blackwater USA, is not just any company. It is
the premiere firm protecting senior State Department officials in Iraq,
including Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
This company has been active in Iraq
since the early days of the occupation when it was awarded an initial
$27 million no-bid contract to guard Ambassador Paul Bremer. During its
time in Iraq, Blackwater has regularly engaged in firefights and other
deadly incidents. About 30 of its operatives have been killed in Iraq
and these deaths are not included in the official American death toll.
the company's operatives are indeed soldiers of fortune, their salaries
are paid through hundreds of millions of dollars in US taxpayer funds
allocated to Blackwater. What they do in Iraq is done in the name of
the American people and yet there has been no effective oversight of
Blackwater's activities and actions. And there has been absolutely no
prosecution of its forces for any crimes committed against Iraqis.
indeed Iraqi civilians were killed by Blackwater USA last Sunday, as
appears to be the case, culpability for these actions does not only lie
with the individuals who committed the killings or with Blackwater as a
company, but also with the entity that hired them and allowed them to
operate heavily-armed inside Iraq -- in this case, the US State
While the headlines of the past week have been
focused on the fatal shootings last Sunday, this was by no means an
isolated incident. Nor is this simply about a rogue company or rogue
operators. This is about a system of unaccountable and out of control
private forces that have turned Iraq into a wild west from the very
beginning of the occupation, often with the stamp of legitimacy of the
What happened Sunday is part of a deadly
pattern, not just of Blackwater USA's conduct, but of the army of
mercenaries that have descended on Iraq over the past four years. They
have acted like cowboys, running Iraqis off the road, firing
indiscriminately at vehicles and, in some cases, private forces have
appeared on tape seemingly using Iraqis for target practice.
shown little regard for Iraqi lives and have fueled the violence in
that country, not just against the people of Iraq but also against the
official soldiers of the United States military in the form of blowback
and revenge attacks stemming from contractor misconduct. These private
forces have operated in a climate where impunity and immunity have gone
hand in hand.
Active duty soldiers who commit crimes or acts
of misconduct are prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military
Justice, the court martial system. There have been scores of
prosecutions of soldiers -- some 64 courts martial on murder-related
charges in Iraq alone. That has not been the case with these private
forces. Despite many reports -- some from US military commanders -- of
private contractors firing indiscriminately at Iraqis and vehicles and
killing civilians, not a single armed contractor has been charged with
They have not been prosecuted under US civilian law; US
military law and the Bush administration banned the Iraqi government
from prosecuting them in Iraqi courts beginning with the passage of
Coalition Provisional Authority Order 17 in 2004. The message this
sends to the Iraqi people is that these hired guns are above any law.
contractors in Iraq reportedly have their own motto: "What happens here
today, stays here today." That should be chilling to everyone who
believes in transparency and accountability of US operations and
taxpayer funded activities -- not to mention the human rights of the
Iraqis who have fallen victim to these incidents and have been robbed
of any semblance of justice.
The Iraqi government says it
has evidence of seven deadly incidents involving Blackwater. It is
essential that the Congress request information on these incidents from
the Iraqi authorities. What we do know is that in just the past nine
months, Blackwater forces have been involved with several fatal
actions. Last Christmas Eve, as Katy mentioned, an off-duty Blackwater
contractor allegedly killed a bodyguard for the Iraqi Vice President.
Blackwater whisked that individual out of the country. Iraqi officials
labeled the killing a "murder" and have questioned privately as to why
there has apparently been no consequences for that individual.
Blackwater says it fired the individual and is cooperating with the US
Justice Department. To my knowledge no charges have yet been brought in
This past May, Blackwater operatives engaged in a
gun battle in Baghdad, lasting an hour, that drew in both US military
and Iraqi forces, in which at least four Iraqis are said to have died.
The very next day in almost the same neighborhood, the company's
operatives reportedly shot and killed an Iraqi driver near the Interior
Ministry. In the ensuing chaos, the Blackwater guards reportedly
refused to give their names or details of the incident to Iraqi
officials, sparking a tense standoff between American and Iraqi forces,
both of which were armed with assault rifles.
The actions of
this one company, perhaps more than any other private actor in the
occupation, have consistently resulted in escalated tension and more
death and destruction in Iraq -- from the siege of Fallujah, sparked by
the ambush of its men there in March of 2004, to Blackwater forces
shooting at Iraqis in Najaf with one Blackwater operative filmed on
tape saying it was like a "turkey shoot," to the deadly events of the
Colonel Thomas Hammes, the US military official
once overseeing the creation of a new Iraqi military, has described
driving around Iraq with Iraqis and encountering Blackwater operatives.
"[They] were running me off the road. We were threatened and
intimidated," Hammes said. But, he added, "they were doing their job,
exactly what they were paid to do in the way they were paid to do it,
and they were making enemies on every single pass out of town." Hammes
concluded the contractors were " hurting our counterinsurgency effort."
General Karl Horst, deputy commander of the 3rd Infantry Division said
of private security contractors, "These guys run loose in this country
and do stupid stuff. There's no authority over them, so you can't come
down on them hard when they escalate force.... They shoot people, and
someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the
place." Horst tracked contractor conduct for a two-month period in
Baghdad and documented at least a dozen shootings of Iraqi civilians by
contractors, resulting in six Iraqi deaths and the wounding of three
That is just one General in one area of Iraq in just 60 days.
conduct of these private forces sends a clear message to the Iraqi
people: American lives are worth infinitely more than theirs, even if
their only crime is driving their vehicle in the wrong place at the
wrong time. One could say that Blackwater has been very successful at
fulfilling its mission -- to keep alive senior US officials. But at
It is long past due for the actions of
Blackwater USA and the other private military firms operating in Iraq
-- actions carried out in the names of the American people and with US
tax dollars -- to be carefully and thoroughly investigated by the US
Congress. For the Iraqi people, this is a matter of life, and far too
often, death. In the bigger picture, this body should seriously
question whether the linking of corporate profits to war making is in
the best interests of this nation and the world. I would humbly submit
that the chairs of relevant committees in both the House and Senate use
their power of subpoena to compel the heads of the major war
contracting companies operating on the US payroll in Iraq to appear
publicly before the American people and answer for the actions of their
I am prepared to answer any questions.
is a frequent writer for The Nation magazine as a Puffin
Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. He is the author of
the bestselling Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful
Mercenary Army, published by Nation Books. He is an award-winning
investigative journalist and correspondent for Democracy Now!, the
national radio and TV program.
Copyright Â© 2007 The Nation
Released: 21 September 2007
Word count: 1,598
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Released: 21 September 2007
Word Count: 1,598