Thursday, October 11, 2007

Blackwater ‘may be worse than Abu Ghraib’

Blackwater ‘may be worse than Abu Ghraib’
Posted September 26th, 2007

To describe the ongoing Blackwater scandal as a fiasco would be a dramatic understatement. Not only do we have a situation in which private security contractors stand accused of killing Iraqi civilians without provocation, we also have deep divisions brewing between the Pentagon and the State Department, coupled by State stonewalling a congressional investigation.

A confrontation between the U.S. military and the State Department is unfolding over the involvement of Blackwater USA in the shooting deaths of Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad square Sept. 16, bringing to the surface long-simmering tensions between the military and private security companies in Iraq, according to U.S. military and government officials.

In high-level meetings over the past several days, U.S. military officials have pressed State Department officials to assert more control over Blackwater, which operates under the department’s authority, said a U.S. government official with knowledge of the discussions. “The military is very sensitive to its relationship that they’ve built with the Iraqis being altered or even severely degraded by actions such as this event,” the official said.

“This is a nightmare,” said a senior U.S. military official. “We had guys who saw the aftermath, and it was very bad. This is going to hurt us badly. It may be worse than Abu Ghraib, and it comes at a time when we’re trying to have an impact for the long term.”

At this point, the State Department seems to be treating Blackwater contractors as the agency’s own private army, accountable to no one outside the department. The Maliki government believes Blackwater is a criminal enterprise, the Iraqi people resent Blackwater’s presence, the Pentagon believes Blackwater is lying about the Sept. 16 incident in Nisoor Square, and congressional Democrats have questions about what has transpired — which the State Department refuses to answer.

This is a debacle so severe and humiliating, only the Bush administration could pull it off.

David Kurtz offers this helpful timeline of events that sets the stage for where we are now.

Sun, Sept. 16: Blackwater incident in which 11 Iraqi civilians are killed after State Department convoy reportedly comes under fire, an account disputed by the Iraqis.

Mon, Sept. 17: Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee announces his committee will investigate the Blackwater incident.

Tue, Sept. 18: The American Embassy in Baghdad suspends diplomatic convoys outside the Green Zone.

Wed, Sept. 19: In a phone call, Acting Assistant Secretary of State William Moser warns Blackwater that no information regarding the Blackwater contract can be released without State’s prior written approval.

Thu, Sept. 20: Moser repeats the warning in a second call to Blackwater, and State sends Blackwater a follow-up letter again asserting again that the information possessed by Blackwater belongs to State and cannot be disclosed.

Fri, Sept. 21: The four-day suspension of State Department convoys ends and Blackwater resumes business. Secretary of State Condi Rice announces that her department will undertake a “full and complete review” of diplomatic security in Iraq.

And while it’s certainly nice of Rice to suddenly take an interest in accountability, Congress, which has oversight responsibility and is paying the bills for all of this, believes a bipartisan review on Capitol Hill will produce a more accurate picture of what’s transpired.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice not only refuses to cooperate, her office has also ordered Blackwater not to answer any questions from lawmakers.

The State Department has interceded in a congressional investigation of Blackwater USA, the private security firm accused of killing Iraqi civilians last week, ordering the company not to disclose information about its Iraq operations without approval from the Bush administration, according to documents revealed Tuesday.

In a letter sent to a senior Blackwater executive Thursday, a State Department contracting official ordered the company “to make no disclosure of the documents or information” about its work in Iraq without permission.

I appreciate the fact that outrage fatigue is inevitable when dealing with the Bush gang, but this is truly ridiculous. We have American taxpayers financing a private security army, whose members stand accused of slaughtering civilians. The Secretary of State believes no one should ask any questions about this, and those who do must be ignored. It’s pure lunacy.

The State Department’s cooperation with a congressional inquiry is not optional. Rice can’t simply refuse to divulge information, and ordering others to remain silent is getting fairly close to the obstruction-of-justice line.

When these guys act like they have something to hide, it’s almost always because they have something to hide. Stay tuned.

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