Thursday, November 29, 2007

Justice Department may have to twist the law to prosecute Blackwater guards

Congress never bothered to update the law to include private diplomatic security guards when it appropriated State Department funds to hire private security contractors in Iraq and elsewhere.

Now, the US might have to twist the facts and possibly the law itself if it chooses to prosecute Blackwater for the September 16 incident in Iraq.

National Public Radio interviews former assistant US attorney Bob Chadwell, who says this about Justice Department lawyers: "They are going to have to shoehorn the facts into a statute that wasn't designed to address that concern, and that is a problem."

"If the law isn't meant to address something, it is sometimes like trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. Sometimes it just can't be done," Chadwell adds.

The NPR Morning Edition commentary says, "Legal experts say the Justice Department is likely to shoehorn the case into one of two American laws. One applies to people employed by or accompanying US armed forces overseas. If they commit a crime that would result in more than a year in prison had it been committed in the US, they could fall under US jurisdiction."

Yes, but Blackwater's diplomatic security people are employed by the State Department and accompany diplomats - not the armed forces. No such law exists to prosecute for the September 16 incident. That's not Blackwater's fault. It's the fault of Congress.

Is it really justice if government lawyers have to "shoehorn the facts" in order get their prosecution?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lawyers for al Qaeda and other terrorists sue Blackwater

A group of trial lawyers that includes a representative of an al Qaeda front group and a longtime advocate of terrorists has filed suit against Blackwater in US district court.

The suit claims to be on behalf of victims of the September 16 shooting incident at Nisoor Square.

But why the lawyers' terrorist connections? And why didn't AP and other news organizations report those connections, which are on the public record?

The Associated Press and other news organizations don't report it that way, of course, citing only the lead attorney who is not known to be tied to terrorists. But as this blog has reported several times, the cooperating attorneys are well known for their terrorist connections.

Lead attorney Susan L. Burke is the only member of the legal team quoted. Not quoted are Shereef Hadi Akeel, who represents a group that the US says is an al Qaeda organization, and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who has devoted his legal career to advocating on behalf of terrorists, cop-killers, and other enemies of society.

The terrorist lawyer connection adds a new twist to the September 16 issue. See the posting below about parallels between the Nisoor Square incident and the 2005 Haditha incident.

September 16 incident: Another Haditha?

The September 16 incident at Nisoor Square, in which Blackwater security men were engaged in a firefight that left a reported 17 people dead, bears striking resemblance to an incident involving the US Marines in 2005. In that case, Marines were charged with the murder of innocent civilians in Haditha, Iraq, raked over the coals in the press and even accused by congressmen of being murderers, only to be found innocent after a real investigation took place.

The November 2007 issue of the US Naval Institute's Proceedings magazine discusses the Haditha case, and prompts this blogger to place the September 16 incident in context with quotations from the article about Haditha:

Awful reality: "Casualties of War"
  • "The 2005 incident occurred after a devastating roadside bomb attack. . ."

  • ". . . shot several Iraqi men who approached their position after the explosion."

  • ". . . assaulted suspected insurgent positions in a nearby built-up area. They killed more civilians in house-to-house clearing operations."

  • ". . . commanders, well trained in the law of war, regarded these deaths as collateral to legitimate combat action."

  • "There was no cover-up."

"War is Complicated"

  • "Combat leaders today . . . face complex arrays of political, social, legal, and military problems that are unprecedented. . ."

  • "In some cases it is simply impossible to resolve these complexities in the glare of combat, particularly when a clever, ruthless enemy takes advantage of local American and international sensitivities."

  • "The legal consequences of difficult decisions in combat are simply too stark."

  • "A young person . . . suddenly faces an instantaneous decision in close combat - and it may cost him his life. Unless he makes a decision that is exactly correct, he might be killed, or he could face murder charges for killing somebody else."

  • "It is unrealistic to suppose that even well-trained young people will choose correctly every time in such complex circumstances. This is not what we have expected of even our best troops in the past."


"Fine Lines amid Violence"

  • ". . .the charged . . . admit killing civilians but claim the deaths occurred while they acted in accordance with the rules of engagement."

  • ". . . dropped all charges . . ."

  • ". . . recommended that charges be dropped . . ."

  • ". . . one . . . charged with murder. . . . dropped the charges in this case as well."

  • ". . . a third hearing officer has recommended that charges be dropped . . ."

  • ". . . charges were dropped in one other cases . . . in return for testimony, while at least some immunity deals were struck with other personnel before any charges were brought."

  • ". . .disparate results were, and probably will be, inevitable . . . along with political and media pressures. but this is not the way to fairly dispense justice . . ."

"Fairness is Possible"
  • "The overlapping . . . investigations and inconsistent outcomes are confusing, bad for morale, and make our judicial system appear capricious - or just plain off the rails. Civilian losses occur with more frequency as a result of air attack, but pilots and their commanders are rarely, if ever, accused of murder for mistakes in targeting."

  • "As an alternative to all-out prosecutions, why not develop procedures whereby troops involved in potentially serious law of war violations would have their cases reviewed under the equivalent of a good-faith exception to courts-martial? This concept applies in cases of police misconduct that are technical, but not malicious."

  • "But when it appears that troops may have overreacted, acted mistakenly, or acted under extreme duress without obvious criminal intent, commanders -with legal guidance - could address the matter non-judicially or administratively."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Blackwater successfully test-flies airships

Touting a revolutionary design, Blackwater successfully tested its airship prototypes from a World War II-era Naval air station in North Carolina.

The test of a 170-foot non-rigid blimp, called Polar 400, excited the crew. "It's very responsive. It's the most maneuverable blimp I've ever flown," Blackwater test pilot Doug McFadden tells the Virginian-Pilot.

The Virginian-Pilot's website contains exclusive photos of the airship prototypes and tests.

Blackwater Airships, a unit of Blackwater Worldwide, designed the blimp to carry intelligence-gathering cameras, sensors and communications gear for counterterrorism, counternarcotics and border security operations. The blimp is to be unmanned and piloted by remote control from the ground.

Blackwater intends for its airships to be low-cost alternatives to other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The blimps can fly at 10,000 feet and require only a crew of three.

"With a few engineering innovations, Blackwater hopes to turn a time-tested platform - the Navy used blimps to watch for enemy submarines in World War II - into a modern tool for combatting terrorism and for other 21st-century needs," the Virginian-Pilot's Jon W. Glass reports.

"Hoping to wedge its way into a highly competitive market, the company is touting its airship as a lower-cost, longer-operating alternative to the fixed and rotary-wing unmanned aerial vehicles now widely used by the Air Force and other military services."

For Blackwater's news release of its airship tests, click here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Scahill writes in Aljazeera

Blackwater critic Jeremy Scahill, the longtime collaborator with terrorist attorney Michael Ratner, is now writing against the company in Al Jazeera magazine.

Friday, November 16, 2007

De-bunking some of the myths about Blackwater

As most people seem to understand but can't quite nail down, there are a lot of untruths, myths and urban legends about Blackwater Worldwide.

Here are a few points and counterpoints to de-bunk some of those myths. This will be a growing list and we might ultimately set up a separate site to deal with them. In the meantime, here some points and counterpoints concerning Blackwater and private security contractors in general:

Myth

Private security guards in Iraq “operate with little or no supervision, accountable only to firms employing them.” Such contractors are “not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

Facts


Myth

Contractors are above the law and do not get prosecuted for wrong doing. No Blackwater contractor has been prosecuted for conduct in Iraq but over sixty active duty servicemen were prosecuted in Iraq during the same time frame.

Facts

  • Only one Blackwater contractor in Iraq has been officially accused of potential criminal misconduct. While he has not yet been charged, he is subject to an ongoing Justice Department investigation in which Blackwater is cooperating. A comparative look at the total force sizes in Iraq illustrates the norm. Blackwater has no more than 890 personnel in Iraq at any given time. The percentage of US military prosecutions of uniformed personnel in Iraq to date represents an equivalent Blackwater proportion of slightly less than 1 contractor.

  • The absence of prosecutions of contractors in Iraq can just as easily be ascribed to the different role contractors and military personnel play and the extensive military experience of many contractors.

Myth

There are over 150,000 private contractors operating in Iraq and Blackwater is the largest employer of these personnel. Blackwater has the largest "private army" in Iraq. Besides Blackwater there are only 2-3 other security firms operating in the country.

Facts

  • Blackwater is one of more than 170 US, Coalition, and Iraqi security firms conducting business in Iraq, totaling an estimated 25,000 guards. Whenever an incident occurs anywhere in the country the assumption is Blackwater is involved. The probability in fact is that it is another company, because Blackwater represents about 3.6 percent of the 25,000-person private security contractor presence in-country.

  • Tht total number of Blackwater personnel doing diplomatic security work in Iraq is fewer than 900 (see below); many of these are support personnel (medical, clerical, logistics, TOC watch standers, etc.).

  • Blackwater is supporting the US efforts by providing rigidly screened and highly trained diplomatic protection personnel to the US Government. Quality, experience and training of Blackwater diplomatic security personnel are stipulated a contract that requires extremely high caliber contractors with a minimum Secret level security clearance.

Myth

Contractors are amateurs who make $1,000 per day while the professionals in uniform earn far less.

Facts

Blackwater contractors in Iraq are seasoned professionals who are paid between $450 and $650 per day. Blackwater compensation packages are base pay only and are comparable to that earned by members of the US Military when total service compensation (bonuses, lodging, uniforms, health benefits, retirement, base and special pays) are taken into account.

Most Blackwater contractors are former non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and officers in the elite light infantry or Special Operations community. They average 10 years military experience and 3 years post military career security experience. The average age in 37. Over 65% are former US Army, approximately 25% are former US Marine Corps personnel, and the remaining is a mix of men with SEAL and SWAT backgrounds. Approximately 55% had prior combat time under their belt – mostly pre 9/11 experiences, before joining Blackwater.

Blackwater contractors work temporarily and are paid only for the days they work, unlike members of the US military who are paid by salary. Most work 180 days a year. This works out to a considerable savings for the American taxpayer. Blackwater has challenged Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Cal.), Chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, to do a cost analysis to determine the best value for the taxpayer, but the lawmaker and leading Blackwater critic has not done so.

Myth

Blackwater contractors are unruly “cowboys” who shoot first and ask questions later. They do not have to follow use of force rules as enforced in the US military.

Fact

Blackwater security professionals are issued use of force rules by the US Government and must sign acknowledgement of these rules before weapons are issued. Since Blackwater's diplomatic security contract in Iraq is issued by the State Department, the company must abide by State Department guidelines that differ from those of the Department of Defense. The Department of State use of force policy with an escalation of force continuum that includes many non lethal steps or actions before warning shots are fired. This places the Blackwater security detail members at risk when the suspicious actions turn out to be a coordinated attack.

The State Department uses of force rules are more restrictive than the US military. An attack by itself does not justify an aggressive response. The diplomatic security detail’s primary task is to evacuate the principal – not to engage hostile enemy formations or individuals. They are not required to achieve firepower superiority but must use controlled, aimed shots to eliminate threatening obstacle to their evacuation movement.

Blackwater has conducted nearly 17,000 Baghdad “Red Zone” protective missions conducted over the last 3 years. In 195 of these missions Blackwater was required to discharge weapons. That's 1.1 percent of the time. The vast majority of these events were warning shots or vehicle disabling shots that did not involve casualties. Blackwater teams were engaged by enemy fire over 500 times in the same period. No protectee was harmed or lost however, Blackwater lost 27 diplomatic protection professionals.

Myth

The use of private military contractors (PMCs) and private security contractors (PSCs) is a new phenomenon which began in the current Bush administration.

Fact

The historic use of private sector expertise in support of the military in the US goes back to the Revolutionary War. In the 1990s President Bill Clinton downsized the US defense structure and by policy deferred those tasks that could be better in times of national need by the private sector. Kosovo and Bosnia were the first robust tests of his new approach. After the events of the USS Cole attack in Yemen and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Blackwater was ready willing and able to assist the nation by providing critical support services.

Myth

Blackwater does not have to bid for its contracts and relies on cronyism and politically motivated sole source handouts to grow its business.

Fact

Blackwater has received no preferential political treatment and in fact has competed for all but a very few of its contracts over the last ten years. The few noncompetitive contracts were issue, as permitted under law, in time of emergency when the government needed services immediately, and were of limited duration. Blackwater, like all other American companies doing business with the US Government, must wait for public posting of potential contracts, write and bid to the specific US contract requirements, and then wait for the US Government to review all submissions based on stringent Federal rules that ensure fair and open competition.

Myth

Blackwater has assembled an army of mercenaries who work for the highest bidder. These men have allegiance to no nation, no laws, or to any moral code of conduct.

Fact

Blackwater is an American company that operates under American law. Its security professionals are persons who have served honorably in the US military or in US law enforcement. They have taken oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. They are required to pass a rigorous screening process which includes background checks and security clearance due diligence. They must demonstrate their skill area or proficiency by completing a US government mandated program of instruction and testing. The US government checks off on each person’s reliability and suitability for duty. Then the personnel are deployed overseas to work under the supervision of a US government agency. Blackwater does not provide services or products abroad without the explicit written approval of the US government.

Myth

Blackwater attempts to sway active duty personnel – encouraging them to leave the military for the higher pay they will receive in the private sector. This has caused the US military to experience a drop in recruiting/retention. It has also adversely impacted on the military's ability to fill the all volunteer force during time of war.

Fact

The US military has never claimed that it is failing to meet the volunteer service targets. Indeed, it specifically noted in a July 2005 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that the percentage of force lost to the private sector to no less or greater over the last few years. It also stated that personnel leaving the service were entering into all categories of private life than it was previously. It is misleading and false to state that the private security industry or any company in that industry is guilty of undermining the national security objectives of the United States.

Myth

Blackwater is the linchpin of the Department of Defense (DoD) in Iraq and is currently working on multiple DoD contracts there.

Fact

Blackwater does not support any active DoD contract in Iraq . The vast majority of its roughly 900 in-country personnel are bravely supporting a Department of State diplomatic protection mission that was funded and authorized annually by bipartisan majorities in the US Congress.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

New: Blackwater Alumni Association

The Blackwater Alumni Association is a new organization of former trainees, contractors, families and friends of Blackwater Worldwide.

According to the Association's website, "As a charter member, you will receive:
  • A subscription to Serviam, a bi-monthly private contracting industry magazine
  • A monthly Alumni newsletter available at the Blackwater Alumni Association website (www.blackwateralumni.com) bringing Blackwater news to its family
  • A certificate for the face value ($35) of your membership that can be used toward the cost of tuition in a Blackwater training course
  • A current training course calendar
  • E-mail alerts with sign-up at http://www.blackwateralumni.com/
  • Source to send anonymous suggestions regarding anything Blackwater at alumni@blackwaterusa.com
  • A unique membership identification card that can be used for a 10% discount in Blackwater's Pro Shop (in person or online at http://proshop.blackwaterusa.com/) (some restrictions apply)
  • A distinctive alumni lapel pin

Membership applications are available online or by contacting alumni@blackwaterusa.com.

Click here for the association's newsletter.

Do they screen you to make sure you're legit? Of course!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Would Blackwater ever let this happen to its protectees?

The State Department's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) failed to keep a bloody-handed kook from harassing the Secretary of State at a recent congressional hearing.

A professional who has worked high-profile security details brings us the photo on Blackfive, with the comment that Blackwater would never let such a thing happen to the diplomats under its protection. His headline: "Fire the DSS and keep Blackwater."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pentagon praises Blackwater for anti-narcotics work in Afghanistan

The Department of Defense is "very happy" with Blackwater's work in Afghanistan to train local anti-narcotics forces.

The Wall Street Journal quotes Richard Douglas, deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics, counterproliferation and global threats, as saying that Blackwater's training of the Afghans made them more effective in fighting illegal drug production. "We've been very happy with the results of our association with them in Afghanistan," Douglas said.

Monday, November 12, 2007

In college, the future Blackwater founder was a volunteer firefighter and sheriff diver

He could have done anything he wanted in college and he did: Erik Prince chose to serve as a volunteer firefighter and an underwater rescue worker with the local sheriff.

A profile of Prince's college life at Hillsdale College shows what the future founder of Blackwater is made of. A straight, civic-oriented guy who worked hard serving others.
According to the Hillsdale Daily News of Michigan, "As a full–time student and part–time firefighter, Prince made an impression on some of those who knew him. . . .
"Prince also worked on the diving team for the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Department, spending his free time rescuing bodies and pulling people from vehicles. Those skills and the leadership–by–serving philosophy again served Prince well later in life, he said.
"'While here he was a hard–working, honest, dutiful, noble guy, and that hasn’t changed,' said [Hillsdale College] Vice President for Administration Rich Pewe."

DynCorp throws stones in its glass house

The circular firing squad mentality among some private security companies (PSCs) is far from productive. The other day, DynCorp CEO Herb Lanese slammed Blackwater in a conference call with investors, only to find that one of its own guards shot dead an Iraqi taxi driver.

DynCorp guards are very well regarded and, like Blackwater, are among the very few elite enough to serve as State Department diplomatic security providers in Iraq. The facts of the case aren't in, and there's no good reason to prejudge. All we can point out here is the irony: Lanese rips Blackwater on issues concerning rules of force, only to find his company involved in killing an Iraqi civilian just days later.


"Unfortunately, it's very visible work that tends to attract a disproportionate amount of attention that I believe unfairly distorts the image of DynCorp. I don't need to tell you what kind of work we do or how long we've been at it, because I realize all of you understand and know that. But I do want you to know that in this narrow space in which we compete with Blackwater, we believe we are a very different company. . . .

"And we've developed our own rules for the use of force that are more detailed than those issued by the U.S. government. In fact, our rules for the use of force are based on the most conservative elements of the three sets of rules in effect in Iraq. . . .

"When you look for the rules for the use of force or rules of engagement in Iraq, there really are three sets of rules. And I think in recent Blackwater testimony, when asked, the person who was testifying said, 'Well, we follow the rules of force - rules for the use of force in Iraq.' Well, there's three of them. Which one do you follow? All three are not the same.

"There's the Coalition Provisional Authority Rules for the Use of Force, the Department of Defense Rules for the Use of Force, and the State Department Rules for the Use of Force. We've gone through and looked at the most conservative nature, or requirements, of each of those and developed rules for the use of force that apply to all three at all times, and that's what we do and operate under.

"Look, we're not taking any pleasure in Blackwater's troubles, because I think it's harmful for not only other companies that do this work, like ourselves, but it's harmful for our country as well and our relations with Iraqi people. But I think our investors deserve to know how very seriously we take the work we perform and how responsibly we carry it out."

Three days after the DynCorp chief's words were reported in the Charlotte, North Carolina News & Observer, a DynCorp guard killed the Iraqi taxi driver.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Dynamic Duo targets Blackwater from Congress

Two Members of Congress who skirt the edge of the law have targeted Blackwater in a new bill designed to shut down Blackwater's diplomatic security service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sponsor 1: Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA), who is awaiting trial for alleged assault and battery against a woman.

Sponsor 2: Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), whose husband just marked a year since his release from federal prison on bank fraud and tax cheating convictions.

Fringe Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Socialist, introduced similar legislation in the upper house.

"Mercenary armies can overthrow a democracy," Filner said as he anticipated his trial for allegedly manhandling a female airport employee. "We are going to fight Blackwater until there are no more mercenaries."

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Schakowsky's felon husband looks back on prison life

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky's crooked husband, observing a year since being released from the slammer, says from his "insider's view" that "everyone wants the time to pass."

Felon husband Robert Creamer (pictured) served time in 2006 for tax evasion and bank fraud. (A tame story in the Chicago Sun-Times says Creamer was guilty only of "writing bad checks.")

Among Mr. Schakowsky-Creamer's observations: "Even though all of the inmates are men, there is no nakedness in your sleeping area or washrooms. The norm is to change your pants in the privacy of a shower stall."

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

AP video describes Blackwater 'tent city' for fire victims

The Associated Press has run a highly informative video of Blackwater's "tent city" for victims of the wildfires in southern California. The quick, 92-second video describes the charitable relief operation and shows how the temporary housing is being put together for those made homeless by the fires. Click here to view the video.

Administration misses deadline; jeopardizes private contractors

Despite President Bush's personal support for the private companies that provide security and military support in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush Administration has missed a deadine to provide a federal court with information that would be helpful Blackwater. Trial lawyers are suing the company for a fatal accident that occurred while supporting US troops in Afghanistan.

That failure could be a victory for the trial lawyers and spell defeat for US military forces and diplomats who need private sector support for their wartime operations and safety.

"After the President has said that, as Commander-in-Chief, he is ultimately responsible for contractors on the battlefield it is disappointing that his administration has been unwilling to make that interest clear before the courts," Blackwater CEO Erik Prince tells Time magazine after the administration missed a November 7 deadline. "And this is happening even as our professionals risk their lives every day in support of vital US priorities, while Congress and several federal agencies publicly discuss the issues at stake in this particular lawsuit."

A trial lawyer win would spell doom for the industry and the US government's dependence on it. According to Time, "Blackwater and other contractors say that if the Florida damages case is allowed to proceed, it will expose them to potentially large liabilities that could cripple their ability to play the role for which they're hired by the U.S. government. Blackwater has argued that because [a Blackwater operation in Afghanistan] was under the command and control of the U.S. military, the company should be covered by the same 'sovereign immunity' that protects the U.S. military from lawsuits."

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Exclusive! Blackwater camp for California fire victims


Blackwater has been quietly helping victims of the wildfires in southern California by providing food, water and shelter for those left homeless. It hasn't done much to promote that fact, any more than it has in Iraq, where it runs humanitarian projects frequently but seeks no credit.

We got this exclusive photo of Blackwater's freshly made camp for fire refugees in San Diego County.

Monday, November 5, 2007

'Don't blame Blackwater'

It's wrong to blame Blackwater for its aggressive security tactics when protecting diplomats, because the State Department requires those tactics in its contract. So argues blogger R. J. Hillhouse in the Christian Science Monitor.

The issue "isn't an overly aggressive contractor," she writes. "It's the State Department's zero tolerance for casualties of its employees in Iraq. Such an approach makes tragedies such as the September episode more common – and it marginalizes the lives of innocent Iraqis who just might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Placing so many diplomats and civil servants on nation-building assignments in the middle of a civil war has a high price – perhaps too high, as officials at State have finally started to acknowledge.

"The US government appears to tolerate a certain number of casualties from the all-volunteer military. But civilian employees are a different story. Images of dead diplomats being dragged through Iraqi streets or videotaped beheadings of civil servants, it's assumed, would undermine already tenuous public support of the war.

"The very branch of the US government charged with fostering relations with the Iraqi government and people is responsible for the behavior that has helped erode support from the Iraqi populace. The State Department Diplomatic Security Service set up aggressive rules for the use of force for its contractors in what's called the Mission Firearms Policy. These rules are more aggressive than those used by the military for its contracted forces. In fact, the Secretary of State's Panel on Personal Protective Services in Iraq recommended last month that these guidelines be amended to require basic assurances: 'due regard for safety of innocent bystanders,' 'every effort to avoid civilian casualties,' and only aimed shots – a nod to the fact that pointing and spraying rounds isn't explicitly banned," Hillhouse says.

"The American public and Congress should not be distracted by the fact that the State Department's grittier work was outsourced to a contractor. They should not allow the government to let a contractor take the fall while it sidesteps accountability for a cold calculus that its diplomats and aid workers have to be protected at all costs – costs that may include some innocent Iraqi lives."

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Happy anniversary, Rep. Schakowsky!

Today marks a happy anniversary for Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, the Illinois Democrat who's best known for her crusade against Blackwater.

On this day one year ago, Schakowsky's husband, Robert Creamer, was released from the Federal Correction Institute at Terre Haute, Indiana (pictured), where he served a prison term for felony tax evasion and bank fraud.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Blackwater publicist describes getting hosed by New York Times

Here's a great example of how some hostile media outlets twist the facts about Blackwater. Mark Corallo, a former Department of Justice spokesman who did some PR work for Blackwater, gave a lengthy interview to the New York Times. On November 1, the Times ran a story quoting Corallo as speaking in derogatory terms about the company. The reporter pulled a lone quote out of context and ignored all the positive information, Corallo says in a lengthy piece published by National Review Online. The full text appears below:

I woke up Thursday morning, checked the Blackberry, and found an e-mail from a television-producer friend asking about comments attributed to me by the New York Times about Blackwater USA. Remembering my lengthy conversation with a reporter about the security firm, I expected a thank-you call from my former clients. Then I read the story.

I’m not na├»ve and I’m no rookie in dealing with the media. But when one spends 40 minutes on the phone with a highly respected reporter, singing the praises of a company that does heroic service to our country, one expects those comments to be reflected in the story.When the Times’s John Broder called me about Blackwater, he wanted to know what I made of the company’s recent public-relations push.

My response was that it was long overdue: For far too long, the State Department gagged Blackwater, barring them from defending themselves from unfair attacks in the media and by liberal congressman trying to score political points with the MoveOn.org crowd. I explained that the men of Blackwater were true patriots, heroes who volunteered to go into harm’s way to protect the lives of American diplomats and elected officials, some of whom were attacking the very company that kept them safe overseas. Yet because the antiwar Left (most vocally supported by liberal Democrats in the House and Senate) wanted to score political points, they constantly accused Blackwater of being unaccountable and above the law. Nothing, I said, was further from the truth, and these so-called legislators should be ashamed of themselves for being ignorant of the statutes governing the conduct of security contractors overseas.

I went on at length about the vision and commitment of Blackwater’s founder and owner Erik Prince. Instead of spending the rest of his life relaxing on the interest from a sizeable inheritance, Prince decided to become a Navy Seal. While serving on active duty he realized that the Navy lacked the facilities to conduct the kind of training that would make our soldiers, sailors, and Marines even more proficient and skilled war fighters. When he left active service, he created Blackwater USA and dedicated his life to making America even safer.

I told Broder stories of bravery from Blackwater employees in Iraq, who suffered injury and death to save the lives of the American civilians in their care. I told him about the standards to which Blackwater holds its employees — standards that exceed those of our armed forces. I told him of their dedication to the rule of law and the Constitution.I told him of a cable from a State Department employee who literally watched Blackwater heroes die while rescuing her from enemy attack in Baghdad — how she owed her life to them and would never be able to repay them. I then told him that when Blackwater was being dragged before Henry Waxman’s oversight committee back in February in a blatant effort to help a civil lawsuit, the State Department would not allow them to even quote from that diplomat’s message in order to describe what Blackwater is really about.

I told Broder that our uniformed military are not trained to do personnel security missions — that it would be too costly and a waste of their time and talents. I reminded him that for every soldier deployed forward, it takes eleven support personnel behind them. Blackwater can support 50 security professionals with one support employee back in the States. I told him that for all the talk about the high cost of security contractors, the cost of having our soldiers do the job would be three or four times higher to the taxpayer. I told Broder that I stopped representing Blackwater for a number of reasons, chief among them my inability to help them under the State Department’s gag order. I told him of sitting in a meeting with the State Department’s contracting officer, who told the company’s representatives that if they so much as popped their heads up in the media, he would ruin them.

I did say that — as would be true of just about any corporation — there were some inside Prince’s organization (but not Prince or his senior team) who were unsophisticated in the ways of Washington and didn’t understand or particularly like the congressional-oversight process. I did say that there were a couple of guys who had a “cowboy mentality.” But those comments were in the context of the company’s image — a necessary one for business purposes. Let’s face it, nobody is going to hire a bunch of wimps or trust their lives to guys who aren’t willing to act with speed and determination under fire. So the cowboy tag was a double-edged sword. At the end of my conversation with Mr. Broder, he said that “after this story, the company ought to send you a check.” I told him I didn’t want money from Blackwater. I was just glad that I could finally tell their story, defend them, take a few hard whacks at the elected officials and bureaucrats who were so ungrateful to these brave men who were protecting them from an enemy that draws no distinction between uniformed military and civilians. I’m pretty sure that Dennis Kucinich would not have appreciated the things I said about his ignorant ranting, his uninformed accusations, his general idiocy.

A million people will tell me that I shouldn’t be surprised that the New York Times mischaracterized my comments and omitted 99.9 percent of what I said because it didn’t fit the story the Times wanted to tell. They’ll tell me that I should have expected it and that I should never have trusted a reporter from the country’s leading left-wing newspaper. But I did expect more, and still do.

I’m not holding my breath for a retraction, but I am sorry I ever spoke to the New York Times about Blackwater. Blackwater is a great company that protects Americans in hostile environments. They haven’t lost a single one of the Americans in their care, despite suffering over 30 deaths and countless injuries. They are maligned daily for doing exactly what their government has asked them to do, and they do it better than anyone else in the business. And their main client — the U.S. State Department — refuses to tell the real stories of the real people who owe their lives to these heroes. I’m glad that Blackwater has decided to defend itself, even if it means losing contracts. I’m betting the State Department bureaucrat who threatened to ruin them can’t wait to “review” their contracts — another reason why one of the biggest outrages here is the inability to fire incompetent, abusive career civil servants. So today I’m again left wondering why Erik Prince doesn’t just fold up the tents and head to the beach. I know the answer — same reasons why guys who have seen combat over and over go back and face the fire. Those are reasons that the liberals and the media cannot comprehend.

— Mark Corallo, a consultant with Corallo Comstock, Inc., is a former DOJ spokesman who represented Blackwater in private practice in 2006.

AP says it didn't fall for hoax

The Associated Press has contacted this blog to say that it did not fall for the phony Code Pink news release purporting to be from Blackwater.

Paul Colford, AP's Director of Media Relations, writes to Standish, "Please be advised that the Associated Press did not fall for the bogus press release, as your Nov. 1 post claims. Moreover, the Editor & Publisher article linked within your story makes no assertion about the AP.The AP checked out the group that issued the news release and determined it was fake. A correction is in order. Paul Colford, Director of Media Relations, The Associated Press."

The Editor & Publisher article says that The Politico first surfaced the phony release and that CBS News picked it up. We got the information that AP had also reported it from FrontPageMag.com. A click on the FrontPageMag link referencing AP leads us to a Fox News page containing a story by a Fox News combined with material from AP.

Durbin wrote on behalf of Schakowsky's tax cheat felon husband

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) is demanding a federal probe of Blackwater on alleged tax evasion charges - but he interceded for a real tax cheat who was convicted in court and served prison time.

The convict, liberal political activist Robert Creamer, is the husband of Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), considered one of the most shrill anti-Blackwater critics on Capitol Hill.

Schakowsky reportedly signed the fraudulent tax returns that her husband illegally filed.

Bloggers comment on Schakowsky tax fraud issue:
"Schakowsky ire phony as kited checks"
"More Dem corruption"
"A hero of the common man"
"Checks and balances for Seals"

Thursday, November 1, 2007

CBS falls for Code Pink hoax

Some media outlets are out to get Blackwater so badly that they'll believe anything negative about the company and report it as "news."

CBS was one of several news organizations, including the Associated Press, that fell for a phony Blackwater press release. The militant group Code Pink reportedly had written the release as a spoof.

The sloppy reporting first surfaced in the website of a throw-away Washington, DC paper called the Politico.

According to Editor & Publisher magazine, "With all of the news about Blackwater USA's problems, it wasn't a surprise that a fake story about the company creating a 'Department of Corporate Integrity' would make it on to several valid news sites. CBS News and Politico.com were among the victims of the fraud, reportedly perpetuated by Code Pink, according to Politico, which posted a correction today. CBS reprinted a Politico story on its site.

Politico issued a correction: "Code Pink today pulled off a hoax that pulled in Politico and a number of other news outlets when it ginned up a fake release, saying that Blackwater USA was creating a new 'Department of Corporate Integrity' that would put the 'mercy back in mercenary.' That should have been a tip off."

Waxman twists immunity issue

Congressman Henry Waxman has twisted the Blackwater immunity issue to mislead the public about what the State Department's post-Nisoor Square action really means. Brit Hume, Morton Kondracke, Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes discuss the issue on Fox News. A partial transcript follows:

HUME: The issue is Blackwater. And the irrepressible Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Congressman Henry Waxman, the investigator of California, is saying this in a letter to the Secretary of State: "This rash grant of immunity was an egregious misjudgment. It raises serious questions about who conferred the immunity, who approved it at the State Department, and what their motives were."

And what grant of immunity is he talking about? He is talking about a grant of what is called "use immunity" to certain of the Blackwater USA personnel who were involved in that shooting incident last month in which 17 Iraqi civilians were killed.

There is a big investigation going on. The State Department conducted its own, and immunity was granted. Now, is this all total immunity from prosecution? Who better to ask than Mort Kondracke?

KONDRACKE: This is called a "Garrity warning," and it refers to a 1967 Supreme Court case in which police officers and others public officials whoa re required to testify and give evidence or lose their jobs cannot have what they say be used against them.

HUME: Used against them, but it can be used against others, though.

KONDRACKE: But it can be used against others. So—

HUME: And they are not immune from prosecution, but they just cannot have their own words used against them.

KONDRACKE: right. That is the warning that was given in this case. Now some FBI people, and Jennifer Griffin quoted one of them last night on our air, saying that this is going to make an FBI investigation more difficult, especially because, apparently, some of these guards are using the Garrity, this limited immunity as an excuse not to talk to the FBI, which I do not think is allowed, but, nonetheless, that is what they're doing.
The bottom line here, it seems to me, is that these are professionally trained people. And they ought to be able to do both things that they are required to do—protect Americans, including Congressman, in Iraq, and not kill civilians at the same time.

And the early evidence suggests that on September 16 there was not enemy activity—we do not know this for sure—but there was not enemy activity and they shot up a bunch of civilians.

KRAUTHAMMER: We do not know that there was no enemy activity.

Commentators look at motives for attacking Blackwater

Fox News commentators discuss the motives of Congressman Waxman, and senators like John Kerry, for attacking Blackwater. Excerpts of the October 31 discussion between Brit Hume and Charles Krauthammer follow:

KRAUTHAMMER: One of three things happened [at the September 16 Nisoor Square incident]. Either there was shooting, in which case the response of the guards was appropriate. There was not, but they imagined or thought or had the impression that they were under attack, in which case it is a tragic error, it requires discipline, but not locking them away. And the third option is that these are psychopaths who are itching to kill civilians wantonly while running protection for Americans in convoys.

The way that Democrats have attacked these guards and this operations implies—I think it seems as if they are assuming that third option, and acting accordingly.

Look, this is a proxy way of attacking the U.S military. The Democrats learned 30 years ago that if you attack American soldiers in war the way that John Kerry did 30 years ago, you suffer politically for 30 years and more. And nobody does that in this war.

But these contractors, who are called "mercenaries," are fair game. And it is a way to actually do that.

I would call them honorable Americans earning a living in a way that is helping a war effort, and at high risk to themselves.

HUME: They are protecting the hindquarters of members of Congress who visit over there all the time, not one of whom has had a hair on his or her head harmed.

KRAUTHAMMER: That is absolutely right.

HUME: They have, however, lost some 30 of their own.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think 30 of their own have died.

Fred Barnes attests to Blackwater role

In the final part of the October 31 Fox News discussion on Blackwater, commentator Fred Barnes tells of his personal experience with the company and why the security providers have fallen under partisan attack:

BARNES: There are strikingly different versions of what happened on September 16, and I don't think they have been sorted out yet. Obviously, people in the Iraqi government believe what they heard from some citizens, which was that there was no provocation for this killing of the civilians.

Blackwater does a fantastic job. I have actually been protected by Blackwater when I was over there and going around with American officials there. They are very good, they are very professional. Most of their work is done by competitive bidding. They are not overpaid. They often get killed. They have had casualties, and they do a job that it would take 15,000 troops to do.

Why is this an issue? Because the war is going well. Democrats do not want to talk about that, so they have made up a Blackwater scandal.