Friday, October 05, 2007

Blackwater Faulted By Military for Baghdad Carnage

So today a senior US military official announced that reports from US soldiers present at the scene of the Nisoor Square shooting spree by Blackwater indicate that Blackwater was never fired on by insurgents and used excessive force in the incident. The total Blackwater killed is listed at 14 by Iraqi hospital records. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government revealed that the Blackwater convoy instigated another shooting a mere 150 meters after leaving the square, firing on five fleeing vehicles and killing another unarmed and innocent civilian. In response to its investigations, the US military has halted issuing weapons permits to mercenary companies through the DoD, holding the current level of such permits around 7,000.

"It was obviously excessive, it was obviously wrong," said the U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the incident remains the subject of several investigations. "The civilians that were fired upon, they didn't have any weapons to fire back at them. And none of the IP or any of the local security forces fired back at them," he added, using a military abbreviation for the Iraqi police. The Blackwater guards appeared to have fired grenade launchers in addition to machine guns, the official said.

The company has said its guards acted appropriately after being attacked. Blackwater Chairman Erik Prince, in previously unpublicized remarks prepared for delivery at a congressional hearing Tuesday, said the Blackwater guards "came under small-arms fire" and "returned fire at threatening targets."

Time for Congress to pass an amendment censuring Prince for lying to them and the American people. Time for American politicians to be serious about crime again, instead of flying murderers home first class and letting them loose on our streets. Defenders of Blackwater are quick to portray their mercenaries as former US soldiers (when they aren't former members of Columbian death squads), and to ask you who you want to defend you: Congressman Waxman or Prince. (Surely we have not come to the point in the US where we judge the integrity of a man by the size of his muscles?)One of them heads the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The other one heads a private army operating outside an oath of loyalty to the American people, but amassed on our shores. (Like the Madhi Army, say.) One stands for democratic traditions upon which America was founded and the other one isn't even a real American. One defends liberty and justice for all, and the other one wants to hold power over the streets of our cities without answering to the Constitution. And let's remember how they would exercise that power on the defenseless:

Mohammed Abdul Razzaq was driving into Nusoor Square with his sister, her three children and his 9-year-old son Ali at the same time the Blackwater team arrived.

"They gestured stop, so we all stopped," Razzaq said. "It's a secure area so we thought it will be the usual, we would stop for a bit as convoys pass. Shortly after that they opened heavy fire randomly at the cars with no exception."

"My son was sitting behind me," he said. "He was shot in the head and his brains were all over the back of the car."

Blackwater also lied to Democratic Rep. Waxman of the when it claimed that it could not release documents requested for current congressional investigations without State Department approval. But State Department spokesman Tom Casey revealed that State had already granted permission. Congress isn't the only one having difficulty investigating the Sept. 16th incidents. Blackwater has refused communication with the Iraqi government outside of the FBI's investigation, stating that it is under no legal compulsion to cooperate. Additionally, Blackwater's been giving the US military the cold shoulder:

U.S. soldiers have reviewed statements from eyewitnesses and video footage recorded at Nisoor Square, the official said. Members of a U.S. unit working with Iraqi police were present in the area at the time of the shootings. U.S. soldiers also helped ferry victims to hospitals.

Blackwater, whose primary task in Iraq is to protect U.S. diplomats, has been unwilling to share information about the incident with the U.S. military, the official said, adding that military officials went to Blackwater's compound in the Green Zone but were denied access to company managers.

So far, Blackwater's key public strategies have included lying about what happened, and stressing that their mercenaries are mostly former US soldiers, in an attempt to dilute what it means to actually have the uniform on. As the details out of Nisoor Square get more gruesome as each day passes, these tactics are likely to cause the military to seek more distance in public, as it has today. A desperate Blackwater just hired itself a Public Relations firm to save it's public image. Really. The company in question, Burson-Marsteller, represents such clients as the cigarette maker Philip Morris, nuclear power plants, and the makers of Botox. How fitting of course, since Botox is an toxic agent of war. Even juicier is that Robert Tappan, one of the executives in charge of the account, worked at the State Department as the deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, and he spent six months in Baghdad as director of strategic communications for the Coalition Provisional Authority under Bremer. Undoubtedly, guarded by Blackwater mercenaries.

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