Wednesday, October 31, 2007
In an October 30 news release from his presidential campaign, Edwards called for a congressional investigation of State Department immunity for Blackwater contractors, and for a redoubling of Justice Department probes.
Edwards failed to disclose that one of the trial lawyers suing Blackwater, David Kirby, is his former partner. Kirby is the North Carolina end of the lawsuit brought forth by California trial lawyer Daniel Callahan. Callahan requested that Rep. Nancy Pelosi, now speaker, and Rep. Henry Waxman "initiate" hearings on Blackwater. Waxman complied, calling Callahan's clients as witnesses and has recycled the trial lawyer's legal briefs as congressional "investigative" documents.
Could Edwards be jumping on the anti-Blackwater issue to help his trial lawyer friend make money?
She has said nothing publicly about Rep. Henry Waxman's latest attack position: that Blackwater evades paying federal taxes by treating its contractors as contractors instead of as employees.
Schakowsky has never been this slow to pick up a new allegation against the protector of our diplomats in Iraq. Some people think it might be related to the fact that her husband is a convicted felon who committed bank fraud and tax evasion.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
The company's hometown newspaper, the Virginian-Pilot, reported this weekend that Blackwater has started to help deliver food and supplies to victims of the wild fires in southern California.
So far, according to the report, "Blackwater has made three deliveries of food, water, personal hygiene products and generator fuel to 300 area residents, many of whom have been trapped for days without supplies."
Photo: California firemen pass San Diego blaze.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Latest to condemn Blackwater: Senators who accused US troops of atrocities and compared them to Nazis
Durbin joins fellow Illinois Democrat Barack Obama in a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, echoing Congressman Henry Waxman's allegation that Blackwater has evaded federal taxes by paying its contractors as contractors, and not as employees.
A muckraking blog is running what is purported to be the text of the Durban-Obama letter on October 26. For Kerry's latest, see the post below.
"We are writing to ask for a full investigation and audit of Blackwater USA’s practice of classifying many of its personnel as independent contractors instead of employees. As House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman recently found, Blackwater may have enjoyed an unfair competitive advantage over other contractors if its classification were incorrect, and as a result, may owe the American taxpayer millions of dollars in Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes," the letter says.
The most prominent critic of Blackwater in the Illinois congressional delegation, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, has been silent on the tax issue. Her husband is a convicted tax evader felon.
In a 2005 speech on the Senate floor (pictured), Durbin recanted his abuse of American military personnel, saying that "some may believe" he crossed the line (though not admitting so himself), wrapped himself in Abraham Lincoln and stressed how much he loves his country:
"Some may believe my remarks crossed the line. To them I extend my heartfelt apologies. There’s usually a quote by Abraham Lincoln that you can turn to in moments like this. Maybe this is the right one. Lincoln said “If the end brings me out right what is set against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong ten thousand angels swarming at his right won’t make any difference.” In the end I don’t want anything in my public career to detract from my love of this country, my respect for those who serve it, and this great Senate. I offer my apologies for those who were offended by my words, I promise you that I will continue to speak out on the issues I think are important to the people of Illinois and to the Nation. Mr.President I yield to the floor."
Friday, October 26, 2007
So who instigated Senator Barack Hussein Obama's call for Senate hearings to beat up the company that protects our diplomats in Iraq?
Might it be his campaign supporter, convicted felon Robert Creamer? Creamer is the husband of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, the anti-Blackwater activist. He worked for the Barack Obama presidential campaign to train young political activists after serving time in federal prison for bank fraud and tax evasion.
Is it a pure coincidence, then, that Obama is the first US senator to call for a Senate investigation of the Blackwater guys who protect our diplomats in Iraq? Could Obama's call for an inquiry be motivated by a convicted felon?
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Ambassador Ryan Crocker (pictured), considered one of the top professionals in the US Foreign Service, called the September 16 incident "horrific" but said he stands by the company.
Not only that, but he assumed personal responsibility for the Nisoor Square incident that left 17 Iraqis dead.
"Those guys guard my back. And I have to say they do it extremely well. I continue to have high regard for the individuals who work for Blackwater," Ambassador Crocker said in comments reported by the Associated Press.
Crocker said he personally bears final responsibility for the shooting.
"I'm the ambassador here, so I'm responsible," said Crocker. "Yes, I certainly do wish I'd had the foresight to see that there were things out there that could be corrected."
The ambassador grew "introspective" as journalists pressed him on the security company, AP says.
"I think about those things all the time. When I came here [in March], I started looking at different elements of this operation, and I changed a lot of things. I'm the guy who's responsible so I certainly wish I'd had the foresight or the insight to say 'We've got to get on this one [security contractors] right away.'
"Being as honest and frank with myself as I can," he told the reporters, he did not see the private security guard situation as "a disaster waiting to happen." He says that in hindsight he still sees no warning signs that could have anticipated the tragedy.
"And, indeed, I don't even make that connection that this was an accident waiting to happen," he says. "Something bad did happen and what we've got to do now, sobered by that, is then look at the whole thing and that's what we've done."
Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA, pictured) has led the hearings in response to a request from trial lawyer Daniel Callahan.
Bloomberg reports, "Blackwater officials, in their response yesterday to Waxman's accusations about the Fallujah incident, said there were 'striking similarities' between Waxman's report and a lawsuit filed against the company on behalf of the families of the four victims.
"The complaint and the Waxman report, for example, both accuse Blackwater of not using armored vehicles as a way to save costs. Waxman's report 'intentionally or not, tracks the litigation position,' Blackwater said.
"The report also noted a Dec. 13, 2006, letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in which an attorney for the families urged Congress to investigate allegations of cost cutting by 'extremely Republican companies' such as Blackwater."
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
That's what a Blackwater report to Congress explains, in the company's first significant public comment on the matter. A California trial lawyer is suing Blackwater, alleging that the firm was negligent in sending its men on the fatal mission. That lawyer, Daniel Callahan, has been the source of congressional allegations against the North Carolina company.
After years of silence, Blackwater gives a revealing account of a well-prepared ambush of private security guards Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, Michael Teague and Scott Helvenston. The Associated Press gives the following highlights:
- Sectarian Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) personnel "intentionally betrayed" the Blackwater guards and led them into the ambush;
- "It was ICDC betrayal and enemy ambush — not contractor incompetence — that led to the deaths of four Blackwater personnel on March 31, 2004," the company says.
- "Stronger weapons, armored vehicles, ammunition or maps would not have shielded these brave military veterans from the certain death that awaited them on that morning," Blackwater says. "Even if Blackwater had placed six men on the mission, the result would likely have been the same."
- ICDC representatives showed the Blackwater guards the quickest route through Falljuah. At a downtown crossing, Iraqi police stopped the convoy.
- As the convoy moved out of the intersection, at least five gunmen opened fire at close range with Kalashnikov assault rifles. Two of the shooters held video cameras in one hand.
- "The fact that the assailants were set to record the murders is further proof that there was a pre-existing plan at work," according to Blackwater.
- Oncoming traffic cut off the escape route. The non-US drivers escaped. The four American guards never had time to fire a shot.
- "The ambush, apparently, was only intended to kill the Americans."
- Nearly four hours passed before the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps or Iraqi police began to investigate.
Murdered Blackwater Men Were the Victims of a Well-Coordinated Ambush and Attack - A tragedy for which no one but the terrorists are to blame
Moyock, NC - In response to a document issued by Chairman Waxman's Majority Staff in September, Blackwater has issued its own report that is the first publicly available account by Blackwater on the tragic events leading to the death of four of its personnel in Fallujah on March 31, 2004.
The full Blackwater report, available on Blackwater's website at http://www.blackwaterusa.com/press_releases/pr_07-10-23.asp, explains the following:
Blackwater personnel were deliberately led into a well-planned ambush by personnel of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corp and enemy insurgents.
Blackwater uses the facts to refute findings of the Majority Staff Report regarding the staffing, preparation, equipment and other resources used: the experienced team of military veterans who were killed, including an Arabic speaker, had all of the resources they needed.
The Majority Staff Report seeks to assess blame for the death of Americans in Fallujah. Within a year of these events Fallujah was the subject of significant U.S. military effort and casualties, when Marines and Army personnel were required to take this city back from the enemy insurgents block by block, and faced severe and well organized military resistance.
The lower profile manner by which the Fallujah mission was carried out is blamed by the Majority Staff for the death of the Blackwater personnel. The same staff has criticized Blackwater for excessive use of force on September 16, 2007. For years Blackwater critics have inappropriately and inconsistently labeled Blackwater as being too casual and unprepared (see Fallujah) and too aggressive (see September 16). The truth is Blackwater professionals are the same personnel trained by the U.S. military and law enforcement, and who do their best every day in a very dangerous war zone, where the enemy has a vote.
Blackwater demonstrates the significant overlap between the complaint of trial lawyers suing Blackwater and the findings of the Majority Staff Report.
The entire Blackwater family mourns the loss of these heroic lives. Our thoughts remain with their families.
Guided by integrity, innovation, accountability, and a desire for a safer world, Blackwater Worldwide leverages state-of-the-art training facilities, professional program management teams, and innovative manufacturing and production capabilities to deliver world-class, customer-driven solutions.
AP reports that the panel is keeping all options open, pending the conclusion of an FBI review. Once the FBI report is completed, the US Embassy in Baghdad, in the words of the panel, should assess "whether the continued services of the contractor involved is consistent with the accomplishment of the overall mission in Iraq."
Secretary of State Condolezza Rice has already ordered some interim changes in how the private diplomatic security service contractors are administered and overseen. Blackwater had requested at least one of those changes in 2005, but State Department lawyers denied the request.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to come up with additional changes to ensure that Blackwater's aggressive security services for the State Department do not conflict with the softer counterinsurgency efforts instituted earlier this year by Gen. David Petraeus.
It's not a very big offensive, though. The headline looks a bit overblown. The "offensive" consists of a single e-mail to friends and supporters, urging that they tell Congress "the Blackwater story."
Click here for a PDF of the email that Blackwater sent to Michael Carney at USA Today. Here's the full text:
The Blackwater family is comprised of dedicated and active service providers that work vigorously to support the American nation. In this tumultuous political climate, Blackwater Worldwide has taken center stage, our services and ethics aggressively challenged with misinformation and fabrications. Letters, e-mails and calls to your elected Congressional representatives can and will create a positive impact by influencing the manner in which they gather and present information.
While we can’t ask that each supporter do everything, Blackwater asks that everyone does something. Contact your lawmakers and tell them to stand by the truth. Correspondence should be polite and professional. We don’t support generating negative messages. Tell the Blackwater story and encourage your representatives to seek the truth instead of reading negative propaganda and drawing the wrong conclusions.
- Cost efficiency of Blackwater – saving the US taxpayer millions of dollars so that the US Government doesn’t have to take troops from their missions or send more into harms way
- Professional population of service veterans and mature law enforcement personnel
- Sacrifice in lives lost by Blackwater saving US diplomats without one single protectee harmed
If you see a lawmaker speaking good things about Blackwater, contact their offices and let them know that they have your support. Find and contact your federal, state, and local officials by visiting http://www.congress.org/.
Expanding our communications effort starts with you. Pass the word – pass the truth.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Blackwater says it had asked for the cameras on May 17, 2005, "in response to a false accusation against one of our teams in Baghdad." Blackwater employees searched for prices and models of various still and video cameras to be mounted on dashboards and in rear windows.
The Washington Times reports the story in its October 24 edition.
A State Department Diplomatic Security agent in Baghdad, David Brackins, agreed, but the next day, on May 18, State Department official Paul Nassen called Blackwater and told the company to "stand down" because lawyers had "legal issues" and would not allow the company to incorporate the cameras.
Blackwater is strictly bound under a 1,000-page contract to comply with all State Department specifications and wishes.
(Photo: Dash Hound 1 video camera, one of the models that Blackwater considered and that State Department lawyers denied in 2005.)
According to the Washington Times, "Asked why the department had rejected Blackwater's request, spokesman Tom Casey said on Thursday [October 19]: 'I have no reason to believe that actually occurred. ... I've never heard that that idea was ever proposed.'
"Later that day, a Blackwater official said the company had received an indication from DS that Mr. Casey's remark would be 'corrected.' Mr. Casey was given an opportunity to do that on Friday, but said he had nothing to add to what he had said the day before."
Waxman is using an IRS field office letter from March that says Blackwater should treat a contractor as an employee. Blackwater has appealed the IRS letter, saying that the individual was an independent contractor who was responsible for his own FICA and tax withholding. The letter says the ruling "may be applicable to any other individuals engaged by the firm under similar circumstances." Blackwater says another federal agency said it was operating safely under IRS guidelines.
Waxman released the IRS field office letter to the press on October 22, generating headlines that Blackwater stands accused of tax evasion. (The IRS never accused the company of tax evasion; only the congressman did.)
According to CNN, "Blackwater said the company appealed the ruling, and 'no final determination by the IRS has been made.'"
"Chairman Waxman has released a new thirteen page letter alleging that Blackwater cannot treat its personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan as 'independent contractors,' and contends that they must be treated as employees for IRS purposes. The Chairman’s contention is incorrect.
"The United States Government has always been aware of Blackwater’s relationship with its deployed personnel. The U.S. Small Business Administration has determined in an official finding applying 'the criteria used by the IRS for Federal income tax purpose,'that 'Blackwater security contractors are not employees.' The Chairman’s contention depends heavily upon a single letter from an IRS Field Office. Chairman Waxman’s letter fails to point out that this IRS Field Office letter is not a final determination and by law 'may not be used or cited as precedent.' The Chairman also fails to mention that Blackwater has appealed the ruling by the IRS Field Office and that no final determination by the IRS has been made.
"At the recent hearing before the Committee, Blackwater answered questions about the difference between employees and independent contractors and described why the contractor status was a superior method to suit the contractor’s needs. It is unfortunate that the Chairman has relied upon a one-sided description of the issue to color public perception without all the facts being presented."
Monday, October 22, 2007
"U.S. troops backed by attack aircraft killed 19 suspected insurgents and 15 civilians, including nine children, in an operation Oct. 11 targeting al-Qaida in Iraq leaders northwest of Baghdad.
"Al-Maliki's government said those killings were a 'sorrowful matter,' but emphasized that civilian deaths are unavoidable in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq."
Quiz: Where in the story did this information appear? In the lead, just like the coverage of civilian deaths in the September 16 incident, in which Blackwater guards said they thought their convoy was under terrorist attack? No, the above passages are buried at the end of the AP story: Paragraphs 26 and 27.
The sad thing, of course, is that this is not the case at all. One of the reasons we try to avoid wars is because innocent civilians always pay with their lives. When our leaders determine that we must go in and fight, we go to extremes to protect innocent life with our precision weapons, our special operations forces, and our military's general approach to warfare.
Now we have news that Iraqi families, including small children, were the victims of a US helicopter attack on Iranian-backed Shi'ite extremists in a Baghdad slum. Initial reports say that helicopter fire wounded and killed people who were sleeping on their roofs at night to say cool because of the continued lack of electrical services. Others reportedly died when projectiles pierced their houses.
But where the Maliki government was quick to denounce Blackwater as committing "deliberate murder" in the September 16 incident, is shows great understanding, bordering on dismissiveness, that the Sadr City deaths were an unfortunate byproduct of war.
AP, reporting on the images of dead toddlers and wounded family members, reports: "An Iraqi military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said the government would ask the Americans for an explanation of today's raid and stressed the need to avoid civilian deaths.
"The government has issued mixed reactions to the raids and airstrikes, particularly those that have targeted Sunni extremists.
"US troops backed by attack aircraft killed 19 suspected insurgents and 15 civilians, including nine children, in an operation Oct. 11 targeting al Qaeda in Iraq leaders northwest of Baghdad.
"Al-Maliki's government said those killings were a 'sorrowful matter,' but emphasized that civilian deaths are unavoidable in the fight against al Qaeda in Iraq."
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Congress has no legitimate reason to know the profits of a private company. Yet, at the behest of a trial lawyer who stands to make millions by suing Blackwater, Waxman is using his committee to try to do just that.
The Washington Post provides us the answer. Essentially, the Pentagon lacks the personnel with the proper training, lost interest in protecting the diplomats when the State Department opened its huge new embassy in 2004, and the State Department's own Diplomatic Security cadre are too small and too overextended to do the job.
Post reporter Karen DeYoung's bias seeps through the first quarter of the October 21 article, but after she settles her scores she provides much new and balanced information.
Here's a summary of some of that reporting: After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) led by Paul Bremer reported directly to the Pentagon. The Pentagon contracted Blackwater to provide security for the CPA chief and other top US civilians in Iraq.
In 2004, with the US preparing to return sovereignty to Iraqis and to build a huge embassy in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "lost a bid to retain control over the full US effort, including billions of dollars in reconstruction funds," according to the report. "A new executive order, signed in January 2004, gave State all authority over all but military operations. Rumsfeld's revenge, at least in the view of many State officials, was to withdraw all but minimal assistance for diplomatic security."
"'It was the view of Donald Rumsfeld and [then-Deputy Defense Secretary] Paul Wolfowitz that this wasn't their problem,' said a former senior State Department official. Meetings to negotiate an official memorandum of understanding between State and Defense during the spring of 2004 broke up in shouting matches over issues such as their respective levels of patriotism and whether the military would provide mortuary services for slain diplomats."
But many at State conceded DoD's point that soldiers lacked the training to serve as personal guards. Other diplomats were concerned that surrounding civilians with uniformed soldiers would undermine the American image in Iraq," according to the Post.
The mission was beyond the capabilities of the State Department's small Diplomatic Security (DS) service. As the opening of the new embassy approached in mid-2004, "we had to decide what we were going to do," said the former State Department official. "We had to get jobs done, and to do that we had to have some protection."
The State Department "chose the most expedient solution: Take over the Pentagon's personal security contract with Blackwater and extend it for a year," the Post continues.
We might have been off by a half-billion dollars.
Citing figures supplied by Congressman Waxman's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, we showed that Blackwater fields its force for about $400,000 per person per year. This sum includes infrastructure, training, helicopters, and other expenses.
State Department Diplomatic Security personnel cost about $500,000 per person per year to field, according to the State Department's own figures in the Waxman hearing.
The Washington Post gives information on October 21 that shows that Blackwater may be saving the taxpayer much more than $100 million a year.
William Moser, the deputy assistant secretary of state for logistics management, told Waxman's committee that the cost of sending an American diplomat or diplomatic security agent abroad "ranges from around $400,000 for a regular mission around the world to around $1 million for an American diplomatic position in Iraq." Moser added, "So when we talk about using contract employees, it think that we have to be very careful to consider what the fully loaded costs would be of direct hires."
As we have seen, with about 1,000 guards in Iraq at a given time, Blackwater's $400,000 annual cost per person versus the State Department's $500,000 annual cost for government-employed guards equals $100,000,000 in annual savings.
If the actual taxpayer-funded cost of a government employee in Iraq is not $500,000 but $1 million per person per year (with Blackwater's costs at $400,000 per), then Blackwater could be saving the public up to $600,000,000 per year.
Waxman won't say anything positive about the savings, though - he's too interested in demanding how much Blackwater might be making as it saves so much money.
Friday, October 19, 2007
- It provides tactical training to every branch of the armed services and many federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
- In the past two months, it has been named one of five companies to share a five-year federal counter narcotics contract that could be worth up to $15 billion and has won a four-year, $92 million contract to provide aviation services in central Asia. Its aviation affiliate owns 40 aircraft.
- It has acquired an oceangoing ship for training and potential paramilitary use.
- It is building and marketing an armored personnel carrier and a surveillance airship.
- It continues to seek a role providing private armed forces in support of international peacekeeping and nation-building operations. The company is organizing a symposium to promote the idea Dec. 4-5 in Washington.
Reflecting its broadening horizons, the company has recently changed its name from “Blackwater USA” to “Blackwater Worldwide.” Anne Tyrrell, a company spokeswoman, said the rebranding has been in the works for nine months.
Reading the tea leaves, Sizemore and fellow critic Robert Young Pelton speculate that Prince has decided to go on without the State Department as a client. What follows is from Sizemore's October 19 article headlined "Blackwater, Prince looking ahead after media blitz":
"'I think he’s given up on the State business,' Pelton said. 'I think he got told, "You’re outta here," and he said, "OK, I want to tell my side of the story." And that’s when you saw him on TV. …
"'I could be terribly wrong, but the way he’s burned his bridges, there’s been some huge rift between Blackwater and the State Department. … If he keeps that business it’ll be a miracle.'
"The Associated Press has quoted unnamed US officials as saying they do not expect Blackwater to continue its diplomatic security work in Iraq after its current contract expires next May.
"In an interview with The Washington Times, Prince took an unusual swipe at the State Department, expressing disappointment that it has not come to the company’s defense."
Thursday, October 18, 2007
At an October 17 White House news conference, the president said he is awaiting an analysis of the diplomatic security provider's performance, but as the Washington Times reports, he quickly added his own personal praise.
"I will tell you, though, that a firm like Blackwater provides a valuable service," said President Bush. "They protect people's lives, and I appreciate the sacrifice and service that the Blackwater employees have made."
The Associated Press also carries the president's supportive comments.
Blackwater won't be fired or eased out, but is not "expected" to seek to renew its diplomatic security contract. So say today's reports.
This blogger isn't convinced. Most security experts on Iraq seem to agree that no other company can fill Blackwater's shoes in so short a time. And if the US Embassy can't function without the services that Blackwater provides, then there's reason to be skeptical about the reports.
For its part, Blackwater says it will do what the State Department wants it to do in terms of providing security in Iraq.
Right now the mood is dark in the shadow of September 16 incident at Nisoor Square in Baghdad. Top Iraqi officials are demanding a lot of cash, as so many usually do. They aren't kvetching about the US military's continued accidental killings of their civilian countrymen, not making a stink about reparations, not demanding American troops' expulsion, not demanding they be accountable under Iraqi law. The focus is on Blackwater. One must wonder why.
A lot can happen between now and May, 2008. My bet is that Blackwater stays - if it wants to.
"The Backup Training Corporation provides superior CD-ROM training courses and online access to training coursework. Their training products are used in over 9,600 police departments nationwide. With this acquisition Blackwater Worldwide continues to build its core capability as a premier training provider, delivering efficient, effective, and economical global training solutions for the 21st century."
Backup Training was developed in 1997 by businesswoman Yvonne Ellis of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
The column, by Center for Security Policy Vice President Michael Waller, exhumes the skeletons from the closets of the Center for Constitutional Rights and its president, Michael Ratner, to show their decades-long legal and propaganda efforts on behalf of terrorists, murderers of FBI agents and police officers, and Soviet spies.
The column also links pro-terrorist attorney Ratner to Jeremy Scahill, author of an inflammatory if partially accurate book about Blackwater, showing how the lawyer and writer worked together in opposition to ousting Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic.
This blog covered part of the group's record, and that of lawyer Shereef Hadi Akeel, when the suit was announced last week. The New York Post is the first newspaper known to have published that record since Ratner announced the suit.
October 17, 2007 -- HERE'S a new twist in the Blackwater story: A legal group with a four-decade record of aiding and abetting terrorists, spies and cop-killers is suing the company.
Joining it is an Egyptian attorney who has been representing what the U.S. Treasury Department calls a fund-raising operation for al Qaeda.
The Sept. 16 incident in Baghdad's Nisoor Square resulted in at least 17 deaths. Three families of the Iraqi victims, plus one injured survivor, are suing the "contract-security" firm. But their choice of attorneys is remarkable.
The legal team includes attorneys from the Philadelphia firm of Burke O'Neil LLC - plus the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, as well as CCR's president, Michael Ratner - plus Shereef Hadi Akeel of Akeel & Valentine PC.
The Center for Constitutional Rights calls itself a civil-rights group, working for the "least popular" in society in order to defend the rights of all. But it seems to specialize in defending the enemies of American society.
The CCR and its lawyers have provided legal aid to the murderer of two FBI agents; bombers and bank robbers from the 1960s, and '70s terrorist groups. It has even litigated on behalf of illegal-combatant detainees at Guantanamo and mounted a spirited moral defense of Lynne Stewart, convicted for conspiring with the spiritual leader of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
If a terrorist needs help, the CCR isn't far away. Its lawyers gave legal aid to the Puerto Rican FALN terrorists who planted more than 100 bombs in Chicago and New York. You know, the group that in 1975 blew up the Fraunces Tavern in New York City, killing four and wounding 54.
CCR leader Michael Ratner went to the U.S. Supreme Court to get constitutional protections extended to captured terrorists and illegal combatants. He sued to weaken post-9/11 counterterrorism laws.
He's also an aggressive propagandist of the Soviet old school who knows how to make headlines to spin public opinion. Where he once pushed communist causes, today he's pushing Islamist extremism. His involvement in the Blackwater lawsuit must be seen in that context.
Joining Ratner as counsel in the suit is Akeel, an Egyptian-born lawyer in Michigan who has represented a group the Treasury Department says is a fund-raising operation for al Qaeda.
Akeel has been a defense counsel for the Islamic Relief Agency, which Treasury says supports Osama bin Laden. A federal court backed Treasury's findings in a decision earlier this year, rejecting Akeel's request that the government unfreeze his client's assets.
CCR lawyers, either individually or as part of the organization, provided legal help to the late Soviet KGB agent Wilfred Burchett, who operated undercover as a journalist; and to a U.S. Marine guard at the U.S. embassy in Moscow who was seduced to betray his country for the Soviet KGB.
They gave legal and political support to Leonard Peltier, an Indian militant convicted of murdering FBI Special Agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams. They've defended or litigated on behalf of cop-killers who left a trail of dead policemen and deputies in Georgia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
They gave legal support to Abdul Majid and Bashir Hameed, now in prison for snuffing the life from New York City Police Officer John Scarangella and attempting to kill his partner. They provided legal counsel for Joanne Chesimard, convicted of murdering New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and now hiding in Cuba.
They filed motions for Jamil Abdullah al-Amin, a Muslim cleric formerly known as H. Rap Brown, now serving a life sentence for murdering Georgia Deputy Ricky Kinchen.
They provided legal counsel for Mousa abu Marzouk, a leader of Hamas; Mazin Assi, who firebombed a New York-area synagogue; and Japanese Red Army terrorist Yu Kikamura, who attempted to bomb a Manhattan building on behalf of Libya's Muammar Qaddafi.
They provided legal and political support to Lynne Stewart, the lawyer convicted of providing "material support" to Omar Abdel-Rahman, the "Blind Sheik" who was behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York and was considered a spiritual leader to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
The CCR's Ratner has gone to the mat for Stewart, even after her conviction for supporting terror. At the same time, he has been a harsh - even hysterical - critic of Blackwater, serving as a longtime source of comment for The Nation magazine's anti-Blackwater agitpropster Jeremy Scahill. (Ratner and Scahill go back to at least 1999, when they co-wrote a bulletin on the former Yugoslavia denouncing NATO military involvement against the Milosevic regime.)
As we await the facts to establish responsibility for the Sept. 16 tragedy in Nisoor Square, we must demand answers to another question: Of the million-plus lawyers in the United States they could have chosen to sue Blackwater, how did ordinary Iraqis manage to pick the few who aid cop-killers and terrorists?
J. Michael Waller is a vice president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
"We will not let our people be taken by the Iraqis," Prince tells the papers reporters and editors.
"In an ideal sense, if there was wrongdoing, there could be a trial brought in the Iraqi court system. But that would imply that there is a valid Iraqi court system where Westerners could get a fair trial. That is not the case right now," Prince said.
While defending his people until all the facts are in about the September 16 tragedy at Nisoor Square, Prince has acknowledged the possibility of misconduct on the part of some of the guards. He is presuming them innocent until proven guilty. He has not been reticent in the past to fire personnel for misconduct (even for having dirty weapons or un-approved scopes), and has turned over some suspected of crimes to federal authorities.
The Washington Times reports that Blackwater CEO Erik Prince "accused the State Department of not coming to the company's defense despite Blackwater's fullfilling every part of its contract and never having lost a State Department client in years of protecting them.
Here's the big clue that a sellout is in the works: silence from the cleverlings.
"'For the last week and a half we have heard nothing from the State Department,' said Mr. Prince. 'From their senior levels, their PR folks, we've heard nothing — radio silence.'
"'It is disappointing for us. We have performed to the line, letter and verse of their 1000-page contract,' he said. 'Our guys take significant risk for them. They've taken a pounding these last three years.'"
Louis Paulos of Schaumburg, Illinois, writes in a letter to the Chicago Daily Herald, "Most, if not all, Blackwater personnel are combat veterans including Navy Seals, Green Berets and Navy Recon. These men have already served their country in the military and are now doing it again as civilians. They are true patriots who are putting their lives on the line so that [a local Blackwater critic] has the freedom to write his dribble. Sure they are well paid, but they receive no medals, no recognition and serve in anonymity.
"People like [the critic] are the reason we cannot win. War is a tough business; sometimes the wrong people get hurt. But we put our people in danger and jeopardize our ability to win by second guessing every action.
"To blacken these dedicated and highly motivated men who are doing a thankless, difficult and extremely dangerous job, is a crime."
Monday, October 15, 2007
Says Prince, in the segment broadcast on October 15: "There was mention that last week about putting cameras in the vehicles, putting additional government staff, diplomatic security agents in the vehicles, and monitoring the radio communications. That’s actually something we’ve asked for in writing a year and a half ago. So we welcome those additional measures."
Prince made a similar statement in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer aired October 14.
"Blackwater faces criticism in the wake of a Sept. 16 shooting by the company's guards that the Iraqi government says killed 17 civilians, a crisis that appears to threaten the company's livelihood. Yet at Blackwater's headquarters here, where the sound of gunfire and explosions is testament to the daily training of hundreds of law-enforcement and military personnel, Mr. Prince's ambition is on display.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
That's how the Iraqi side is painting it, anyway, with an aide to Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki saying that Blackwater's departure from the country within six months is "non-negotiable" and that the State Department was not "insisting on Blackwater staying."
Problem is, nobody has the infrastructure to fill Blackwater's shoes in that timeframe.
There are probably several reasons, including Blackwater's very high visibility operations to keep American diplomats and others safe from attack in the Sunni Triangle.
But there's also another possible reason: Bribery. Blackwater is a stickler for following American law to the letter. Its current political problems stem from not from it having broken any laws, but because Congress failed to update the laws on hiring private security contractors even as it continued to appropriate and authorize money for the purpose.
Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, it would be a crime for Blackwater to bribe Iraqi officials. And Iraqi officials are notorious for their fondness for bribes. The Ministry of Interior tried to shake down Blackwater for more than a year to pay "fees" for permits it was not required to have.
British, United Arab Emirates and other security companies in Iraq aren't accountable under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Which could explain why the Iraqi leaders don't have a problem with them, even with they do the types of things that Blackwater is accused of.
The paper cites the prime congressional critics of the company - all partisan Democrats - including: Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH); and Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Barack Obama (D-IL).
Another critic is former Senator John Edwards (D-NC), a presidential candidate who is trying to link Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) to Blackwater.
One of Edwards' former trial lawyer partners stands to make millions presently by suing Blackwater, but Edwards has not revealed that apparent conflict of interest.
Antiwar activists are intent on stopping the planned Blackwater training facility at Potrero, California, but Brian Bonfiglio, a company vice president overseeing the project, tells the San Diego Union-Tribune, "Their charter is to make this thing work even more now."
Activists are trying to stir up public oppsition to the 824-acre development by saying that Blackwater will train "mercenaries" there, but they're flat wrong, says Bonfiglio. "No independent contractors would be trained here," he says. Just law enforcement and military personnel.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
The page-one feature, headlined "Building Blackwater: Founder Seeks 'Better, Smarter, Faster' Security as History, Iraq Shape Firm's Fortunes," is far from a puff piece but tells readers a lot about the inside of a company that has been the subject of a lot of really inaccurate reporting.
"Blackwater has an airstrip and hangar filled with gleaming helicopters, a manufacturing plant for assembling armored cars, a pound filled with bomb-sniffing dogs and a lake with mock ships for training sailors. An armory is stacked to the ceiling with rifles. Throughout the place are outdoor ranges where military, intelligence and law enforcement authorities from around the country practice shooting handguns and assault rifles at automated metal targets made by the firm. An incessant pop, pop, pop fills the air.
"There's no other place quite like Blackwater, at least not in private hands . . . .
"Some law enforcement officials trained by Blackwater consider the firm a resounding success.
'They're the Cadillac of training services,' said J. Adler, national executive vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. 'You've got the best of the best teaching close-quarter-combat tactics.' . . .
"The organization most people think of as Blackwater is actually a collection of companies with Prince and his McLean-based holding company, the Prince Group, at the top. Prince, a former Navy Seal and heir to an industrial fortune, owns everything.
"Blackwater Maritime has a 183-foot long ship for naval training. Two aviation-services businesses operate more than 50 planes and helicopters. Blackwater Manufacturing makes special armored cars the firm hopes to market to the military, as well as moving metal targets for training. Total Intelligence Solutions is led by former CIA officials, including Blackwater executive Cofer Black, who worked on counterterrorism at the CIA and State Department. . . .
"More than 100,000 people in the military and in local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including those in Virginia and Maryland, have taken the center's courses. So have thousands of special operations personnel from the Navy, Army and other federal agencies. Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the training center hosted up to 50 people a day. Now the number of students on a given day is 500, sometimes higher. The company has more than 550 full-time employees and 1,400 contractors, who operate in nine countries, including Jordan, Azerbaijan and Burkina Faso. . . ."
It's a huge story, spanning from the Post's front page to a two-page spread inside, and illustrated with charts and photographs. All in all an interesting and informative piece, despite an occasional cheap shot likely added, we're sure, by an overzealous copy editor.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Joining him is a militant activist lawyer the core of a decades-long operation to support terrorists through the legal system.
Egyptian-born Shereef Hadi Akeel of Birmingham, Michigan, is listed as a counsel to the plaintiffs in the anti-Blackwater suit. Akeel has also been involved in support for reputed terrorist organizations. In 2004, Akeel provided legal defense for the Islamic American Relief Agency, an arm of a Sudan-based group that US officials say funneled charitable donations to al Qaeda. According to the US Treasury Department, Akeel's client supports Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. A US district court in Washington, DC upheld an earlier decision in February to permit Treasury to freeze the organization's assets based on its support for terrorists.
Michael Ratner, head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, is also listed as counsel to the plaintiffs on page 17 of the legal complaint against Blackwater. Ratner's politics are so extreme that he supports the communist Fidel Castro regime in Cuba and openly admires Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Under Ratner's leadership, the CCR and its attorneys have provided legal support to a variety of terrorists and terrorist groups, from the FALN and Macheteros of Puerto Rico to Hamas and al Qaeda. (See item below.)
In the complaint against Blackwater, the legal team alleges at the bottom of page 8, "Blackwater actions harm the United States."
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) provides legal defense and litigation services to political extremists from around the world, from Marxist-Leninists to Islamist fundamentalists. The group's leader, Michael Ratner, is an occasional collaborator with Blackwater critic Jeremy Scahill.
Depending on one's perspective, the CCR has been described variously as a "human rights" group, a "civil rights" group, a "terrorist support" group and a "fifth column law factory."
As we reported on September 19, Ratner and CCR lawyers have represented or advocated for a rogue's gallery of cop-killers and enemies of the United States. Over the years they include:
- Abdullah al-Muhajir (aka Jose Padilla) , the convicted al Qaeda conspirator known as the "dirty bomber";
- Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted cop killer;
- Leonard Peltier, convicted of murdering two FBI agents;
- Clayton Lonetree, a former Marine convicted of spying for the Soviet KGB;
- Wilfred Burchett, a journalist and KGB agent.
- Victor Manuel Gerena, a Puerto Rican terrorist on FBI's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list, now hiding in Cuba;
- Kurt Groenwald, a German Red Army Faktion (Baader-Meinhof Gang) terrorist lawyer;
- Yu Kikamura, a Japanese Red Army terrorist working for Libya;
- Jamil Abdullah al-Amin (aka H. Rap Brown), a convicted cop killer;
- Abdul Majid and Bashir Hameed, both convicted cop killers;
- Assata Shakur (aka Joanne Chesimard), a convicted bank robber and cop killer;
- William Morales, a Puerto Rican convicted terrorist bomber;
- Mousa Abu Marzook, a leader of HAMAS;
- Mazin Assi, a Palestinian convicted of firebombing a Bronx synagogue;
- Omar Abdel Rahman, the "Blind Sheikh," a spiritual leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad who was convicted of being behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York; considered an early spiritual leader of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
- Lynne Stewart, convicted of aiding a designated terrorist organization; a lawyer and activist on behalf of Omar Abdel Rahman.
Don't look near the leads of the stories for that option, though. It's buried in the last sentence of an Associated Press report.
- September 17: "During the operations, the driver of a vehicle that approached the security perimeter of the ground force was assessed to have been killed by coalition fire that destroyed the vehicle." (American Forces Press Service)
- September 20: "Meanwhile, an Iraqi civilian was killed and seven wounded Thursday as US and Iraqi forces raided the Shiite Sadr City in east Baghdad, according to media reports. The source added that a US helicopter dropped bombs on the area during the raid that lasted for two hours, damaging a house and setting ablaze seven civilian cars. The forces also detained eight people during the operation, he said." (Deutsche Presse Agentur)
- Sept. 27, 2007: "The US military says it is investigating the deaths of nine women and children in an area south of the Iraqi capital, where US forces had been conducting ground and air operations. A statement says five women and four children were killed Tuesday evening in a village, Babahani, west of the town of Musayyib. It says structures in the area have been used as safe houses for al-Qaida in Iraq. Local police officers told the Associated Press the victims were in a house that was attacked by US jets." (Voice of America)
Will Waxman hold hearings? Before the trial lawyers get involved?
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Paul Gessing, a senior editor for FreeLiberal.com, says, "Let’s be clear here. I opposed the Iraq War from the very beginning and, if it were my decision, I’d bring the troops home right away. That said, I think the ongoing controversy over the presence of Blackwater and other private security firms in Iraq has been vastly overblown by the left and those who oppose the Iraq War. In fact, I believe and will argue that the so-called 'contracting out' of this and future wars will actually further efforts to prevent future, large-scale military conflicts."
Click here for the full text of Gessing's essay.
President Bush and a Republican Congress failed to fix the problem. Now that the Democrats are in control of both houses on Capitol Hill, whom do they blame?
They don't blame those who make and enforce the nation's laws. Instead, they blame the contractors. The New York Times highlights the legal uncertainties in a "news analysis."
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
[The radar unit] points high-powered radio waves westward toward mainland Asia to hunt for enemy missiles headed east toward America or its allies.It goes on to explain:
The Americans work for Raytheon and Chenega Blackwater Solutions, who, respectively, run the missile radar and provide security at the base.Just another way that Blackwater is not only protecting a key piece of infrastructure which makes America safer, but is also helping our friends and allies in the free world.
A meager 200 activists turned out over the weekend to protest Blackwater's planned facility in San Diego California, despite the presence of a local congressman, a gaggle of reporters, and international controversy that makes the company a hot issue.
Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA), awaiting trial for assault and battery against a woman in a Washington-area airport, pledged to stop the security provider. “Blackwater is a black mark on American democracy.”
We say "reportedly killed" because the number keeps changing, yet we hear there aren't enough bodies with proper autopsies that would match the numbers of casualties given. This isn't to minimize the seriousness of the deaths of civilians, but big questions remain about whether all the dead were indeed innocent or civilian. The Blackwater guards say that they were shot at by men in uniform, yet the Iraqi Interior Minister and witnesses insist that that was not the case. Photos of the aftermath of the incident show that a Blackwater vehicle was disabled by gunfire - physical evidence that contradicts the Interior Ministry's construct of a one-sided shootout.
The corrupt Iraqi administration apparently has upped its pre-September 16, having failed to extort "fees" from Blackwater previously. Reports say that Blackwater refused to pay bribes to the notoriously inept Interior Ministry.
A three-man team led by the defense minister has declared Blackwater guilty of "deliberate murder" in the September 16 incident, in a curiously-timed statement that coincided with the first meeting of an official US-Iraqi investigative team.
We'll wait for a real conclusion from real investigators, as there seems to be much more to this story than meets the eye.
The Shi'ite-dominated government - especially the Interior Ministry - has been posturing against Blackwater since the incident first occurred, with extremist Shi'ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr echoing a similar line. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki recently welcomed al-Sadr into his ruling coalition.
The US has been having more problems with some of the Shi'ites recently. General David Petraeus has singled out the Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad as being part of a clandestine Revolutionary Guard unit responsible for supporting insurgents that have killed American troops.
Could there be a link between the increased rhetoric of General Petraeus against Iran and its Iraqi allies, and the shrill anti-Blackwater rhetoric from top Iraqi officials?