Blackwater’s Trigger-happy Criminals

Blackwater, which now goes by the name Xe, is again all over the news. Two of its guys were among those killed on December 30 in the suicide attack at the CIA station at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan. According to Jeremy Scahill, author of the international bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute, of the two Blackwater operatives killed at this bombing–one was a former Navy Seal; the other was an Army master chief sergeant–”and that there was a third Blackwater operative that was wounded in the blast.

This report proves that the notorious mercenary group is still heavily engaged with the CIA for many clandestine activities not just inside Iraq but also in other territories including Afghanistan. What is also quite revealing from this incident is that CIA had lied to us again when it said that it had stopped all connections with Blackwater or Xe a month earlier. As recently disclosed in a Democracy Now interview with Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a leading member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, such on-going collaboration with Blackwater, which is a repeat offender and known to have killed innocent civilians and committed war crimes, puts the very mission of the United States at risk, threatening and endangering the lives of the very Americans it is supposed to protect.

In his interview with the Vanity Fair magazine, CEO Erik Prince confirmed Blackwater’s deep-rooted association with the CIA. Shortly after 9/11, Prince claimed to have assembled a team, a secret clandestine team for the CIA that trained not at any of the official CIA facilities, but at one of his homes in Virginia. He trained this team, and then they were deployed around the world. And they would go into countries, and, in some cases, the CIA chief of station in the countries that they went into wasn’t even notified that they were going in there. They even went to Germany to hunt down suspected links to al Qaeda. The German government is embarrassed by such a revelation. Last Wednesday, prosecutors in Germany announced that they had launched a preliminary investigation into a report that the CIA and Blackwater had planned a secret operation in 2004 to assassinate a Syrian-born naturalized citizen of Germany in Hamburg with suspected ties to al-Qaeda.

In the last few days, two former Blackwater operatives — Justin Cannon, 27, and Christopher Drotleff, 29 — were arrested on murder charges stemming from their alleged involvement in the shooting deaths of two Afghan civilians and wounding a third in Kabul in May.[1] These killings took place under the Obama Administration. This news surfaced just hours after it was revealed that Blackwater had reached a settlement with Iraqi victims of a string of shootings, including the Nisoor Square massacre, who had sued the company for the "senseless slaughter." Even a U.S. military investigation conducted soon after the massacre found that Blackwater was unprovoked when it killed Iraqi civilians in Nisoor. The company is reportedly paying $100,000 for each of the Iraqis killed by its forces and between $20,000 and $30,000 to each Iraqi wounded. The amount of compensation is pitiful by American standard. It is worth noting that Blackwater received $1.5 billion dollars from the US government for its security and other clandestine activities in Iraq. As noted by Scahill 90 percent of this company’s revenue comes from the US government. For them to pay, two or three million dollars hush-money for their war crimes is nothing –” only a bargain – basement sale price (Libya paid $10 million for each of the Lockerbie victims)!

News of the settlement came a week after a federal judge in Alexandria, VA, dismissed manslaughter charges against five Blackwater operatives involved in the Nisoor Square massacre that killed seventeen Iraqi civilians and wounded 27 in 2007. The lawsuit was filed by 70 Iraqis. The shootings, in which the guards opened fire with grenade launchers and machine guns on civilians in a busy Baghdad traffic circle, have since then become a rallying point for Iraqi resistance and grievances against America. To many Iraqis, the massacre is a symbol of U.S. disregard for their lives. U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina threw out the indictments because he found that prosecutors and agents had improperly used statements the guards had provided to the State Department with the understanding that the statements would not be used against them.

As is quite evident now, Condoleezza Rice’s U.S. State Department had given immunity to those killers, which violated its own policy in that regard. The appropriate legal venue for the trial should have been Iraq and not the USA. To avoid any trouble inside Iraq, those Blackwater employees were secretly ferried out of the country in the dead of night by the State Department and Blackwater, taken to the US, where they then got off on murder–on manslaughter charges, on a technicality.

Family members of the dead and survivors said that the judge’s decision added a painful epilogue to the incident, making a mockery of the justice that the United States was supposed to bring to their country. [2] The Iraqi government also protested the judge’s decision. There is little doubt that the judge’s decision would fuel anti-American rhetoric and may affect the outcome of the important parliamentary election scheduled for March 7.

As noted by Scahill, there is yet another lawsuit filed by some other Iraqi victims against Blackwater in the state of North Carolina. The man who was perhaps the single most prominent witness to the Nisoor Square shooting was driving a vehicle right behind the first vehicle that the Blackwater guys shot. His nine-year-old son was shot in the head. His head exploded on a van, on his cousins and other people in the vehicle. That man has retained counsel in North Carolina and is suing. That could be a very problematic case for Blackwater, because they’re not only suing Erik Prince of Blackwater, they’re suing the individual shooters in state court in North Carolina.[3] One can only hope that this lawsuit ends up actually going to trial.

As hinted earlier, Blackwater’s has been deeply involved with the CIA on a number of covert activities. The group was part of a covert program in Pakistan that included planning the assassination and kidnapping of Taliban and Al-Qaeda suspects. It is also said to be involved in a previously undisclosed U.S. military drone campaign that has killed scores of people inside Pakistan. Its operatives have been working under a covert program run by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the military’s top covert operations force. As noted by Scahill, Blackwater operatives are effectively running the drone bombings for both JSOC and the CIA inside Pakistan. Not only that, the group is taking part in ground operations with Pakistani forces under a subcontract with a local security firm – Kestral. The operations have included house raids and border interdictions in northwest Pakistan and other areas. Not surprisingly, many in Pakistan hold Blackwater responsible for some of the worst bombings inside Pakistan. Blackwater personnel have also been accused of posing sometimes as aid workers. According to Scahill, JSOC has no regard for civilian population in its hunt for the so-called bad guys. Its drone attacks are known to kill more civilians than real ‘targets.’ [4]

Blackwater has also been given responsibility for planning JSOC operations in Uzbekistan. The program has become so secretive that the top Obama administration and military officials have likely been unaware of its existence.

It is worth pointing out that the JSOC used to be headed by General McChrystal who has now been promoted and is the head of all US forces and NATO forces in Afghanistan. With such a development, one can expect more involvement from mercenary groups like Xe (or erstwhile Blackwater). It is not difficult to understand why more civilians have died from drone attacks in Obama’s first year than the preceding eight years of Bush. [5] This is a sad resume of a president who had just won the Nobel Peace Prize!