The aftermath from yesterday’s hearings on Blackwater were by MSM accounts, barely worth mentioning.

The chairman of the Blackwater private security firm said yesterday that guards working for his company have “acted appropriately at all times” while protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq and accused critics of making “baseless allegations of wrongdoing” against them.

In a contentious hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Erik Prince said it is up to the Justice Department, not Blackwater, to investigate shootings and other acts of violence involving Blackwater employees and, if warranted, prosecute personnel involved in the deaths of Iraqi civilians.

“We fired him,” he said of a Blackwater employee who allegedly shot and killed a security guard of one Iraq’s vice presidents last Christmas Eve while intoxicated. The man was fined “multiple thousands of dollars,” Prince said. But “we can’t flog him. We can’t incarcerate him. That’s up to the Justice Department.” The guard has not been charged.

But senior State Department officials testified that it remains unclear whether U.S. laws cover the contractors. “The area of laws available for prosecution is very murky,” said Richard J. Griffin, head of the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. “That lack of clarity is part of the problem.”

A “lack of clarity” was the problem, like the deaths of so many Iraqi civilians at the hands of a group of PMC mercs was in fact just a big misunderstanding, an accounting mistake of karma.  Prince’s answers were rather bad, but few if any Democrats really asked the big questions:  why the hell are we using more contractors than soldiers in Iraq anyway?

Over at Wired, P.W. Singer has more on the fallout.

The best encapsulation of the entire hearings on this important matter of national security was that offered by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).  He led his remarks by saying, “Hopefully, we will get to serious discussion.” Then he proceeded to talk about everything from diabetes drugs to — as opposed to the issues at hand.

Much of the air was taken out of the hearing by the decision made to restrict from discussion the events of September 16th. There was a sensible reason for this: The FBI opened an investigation the day before (coincidentally or not, depending how much of a conspiracy theorist you are). No one wanted to say anything to contaminate an ongoing investigation. But it sure made things less exciting and less important, since September 16th was what had prompted the hearings in the first place.

The hearing revealed a fascinating, but also disturbing, lack of awareness in Congress about the private military industry. Members on both sides repeatedly struggled with the most basic facts and issues that surround the over 160,000-person contractor force in Iraq: Everything from the number and roles of contractors to their status and accountability, or lack thereof. It was quite clear that this was the first time that many had been forced to think much about the issue (even though the industry is over a decade old and the supplemental funds have been paying for the use of contractors in Iraq, year after year).

What I found especially telling, given the consistently weak grasp of the issues, was that multiple representatives opened their remarks by talking about how Blackwater contractors protected them while on visits to Iraq. They often meant this as a compliment to the firm, and also a way of establishing their credentials on the issue.  But it usually backfired, revealing a lack of simple curiosity.  It showed that they’ve known about the massive use of contractors for years – they just didn’t bother to ask any questions, even when the issue was in their faces.

Many representatives questioned the issue of legal status of contractors and why they weren’t being held accountable. No one had a good handle on this.  Prince, for one, frequently mentioned how he had fired employees who may have violated some law, but could not go beyond such an action.  And no one was there from the Department of Justice to explain why they have avoided prosecuting these same employees.

The lack of clarity on the legal issues was perhaps illustrated best in an odd exchange between Representative Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) and Mr. Prince. The Congressman pressed Prince about what laws contractors might be held accountable under; the chairman of one of the leading firms in the industry found himself unable to give an immediate reply. (Note: This discussion also left aside the cold, hard fact that none of the various laws they pondered have actually been used for a battlefield contractor in Iraq.)

He’s right.  Congress hasn’t had to think about the PMC issue because until yesterday, they hadn’t really had to face the elephant in the room.  For years now we’ve been outsourcing the war to government contractors who are getting rich off taxpayer money.  It’s not so much a private army, but a privatized Army, if you’ll excuse the pun.

And given the GOP record on privatization over the last 5-6 years, is anyone surprised that they turned it into a smörgåsbord of graft and quid pro quo where wealthy GOP donors reap the benefits of access to the fat cats at the expense of American jobs, money, and in this case lives?  The GOP has done the exact same thing to nearly every aspect of government control: let the industry regulate itself by removing any and all oversight and let the foxes in charge of the entire poultry business, not just the henhouse.  Years of this has affected the quality of our food, our toys, our infrastructure, our environment, our health care, our schools, our lives.  At every turn we’re expected to pay for it with far greater costs than regulation would set the government back, but that would rob the GOP of the chance to line the pockets of the wealthiest.

So again, why are we surprised that unregulated PMCs are really just a graft operation with guns and dead Iraqis?

And let’s not forget the incident that started this all.

It started out as a family errand: Ahmed Haithem Ahmed was driving his mother, Mohassin, to pick up his father from the hospital where he worked as a pathologist. As they approached Nisour Square at midday on Sept. 16, they did not know that a bomb had gone off nearby or that a convoy of four armored vehicles carrying Blackwater guards armed with automatic rifles was approaching.

Moments later a bullet tore through Mr. Ahmed’s head, he slumped, and the car rolled forward. Then Blackwater guards responded with a barrage of gunfire and explosive weapons, leaving 17 dead and 24 wounded — a higher toll than previously thought, according to Iraqi investigators.

Interviews with 12 Iraqi witnesses, several Iraqi investigators and an American official familiar with an American investigation of the shootings offer new insights into the gravity of the episode in Nisour Square. And they are difficult to square with the explanation offered initially by Blackwater officials that their guards were responding proportionately to an attack on the streets around the square.

The new details include these:

A deadly cascade of events began when a single bullet apparently fired by a Blackwater guard killed an Iraqi man whose weight probably remained on the accelerator and propelled the car forward as the passenger, the man’s mother, clutched him and screamed.

¶The car continued to roll toward the convoy, which responded with an intense barrage of gunfire in several directions, striking Iraqis who were desperately trying to flee.

¶Minutes after that shooting stopped, a Blackwater convoy — possibly the same one — moved north from the square and opened fire on another line of traffic a few hundred yards away, in a previously unreported separate shooting, investigators and several witnesses say.

But questions emerge from accounts of the earliest moments of the shooting in Nisour Square.

The car in which the first people were killed did not begin to closely approach the Blackwater convoy until the Iraqi driver had been shot in the head and lost control of his vehicle. Not one witness heard or saw any gunfire coming from Iraqis around the square. And following a short initial burst of bullets, the Blackwater guards unleashed an overwhelming barrage of gunfire even as Iraqis were turning their cars around and attempting to flee.

Let’s not forget that this was but a single example of the butchery that happens daily in Iraq in our name, as Erik Prince put it, “A lot of people call us mercenaries. We are Americans, working for Americans, protecting Americans.”

And they accomplish this by killing Iraqis, taking the money, and running.  And people wonder why we’re losing in Iraq.

0 0 votes
Article Rating