Thursday, January 31, 2008

Blackwater Gets New Rules - Sort Of

A few hours ago the Associated Press fired off a story with the headline, "Iraq Security Guards Getting New Rules." Though lacking the vitriol of some others, the AP story is typical of ambiguous and misleading media reporting on Blackwater and other private security contractors.

The opening sentence of the story says that "Bush administration officials outlined stricter rules for these armed guards during a three-hour meeting Wednesday at the Pentagon." But read a little further: "Chris Isleib, a Pentagon spokesman, said the closed-door meeting was an opportunity for both sides to exchange opinions and ideas." That hardly sounds the government crackdown on out of control contractors, as some would construe it to be.

Read a little further and you find this gem: "Security contractors are covered by the same code of justice that applies to American military personnel." You'd never have guessed, given the way the media loves to talk about Blackwater 'lacking accountability.'

Finally, the AP points out that "the military does not want to assume responsibility for guarding large numbers of US officials, and the State Department's own security force is too small and already stretched too thin."

So let's review: a story that initially looks like Blackwater getting reprimanded by the government ends up telling us that the private security contractor is filling a gap no one else is willing or able to fill, that they're doing so within the framework of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and in open and ongoing dialog with government officials. Why couldn't they have said that from the start?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Nurse Praises Blackwater Protection

As the story of 2-year-old Amina Al'a Thabit continues to unfold in the press, new details continue to praise Blackwater's role.

The Bowling Green Daily News cites registered nurse Lisa Van Wye (pictured), who works at the Vanderbilt Medical Center. She was part of the medical team that first brought little Amina to the United States.

From the Daily News:
“My job was basically to help take care of Amina and her mother during the trip,” [Van Wye] said....

Van Wye and the several others who accompanied Amina were also wary as they made their way through the war-torn country to an airfield in neighboring Jordan.

“We were in a convoy of vehicles protected by Blackwater security. There was a little bit of anxiety, but I felt very safe.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Another rescue: Blackwater and Marines save sick little Iraqi girl

A little Iraqi girl with a fatal heart defect has better prospects of survival after a cooperative effort between the US Marines and Blackwater to evacuate her from al Anbar province to a hospital in Nashville.

The Marines discovered three year-old Amina Al'a Thabit during a "routine meet and greet" patrol in Haditha, and recognized from bluish features on her face that she suffered a serious heart disorder.

Amina has a number of heart-related birth defects, including an inability to oxygenate her own blood. No facility in Iraq could help her.

“The first day we saw her we thought she was the cutest girl,” said Sgt. Bryan C. Velasquez, 23, a Company L squad leader from Houston. “We just fell in love with her.”

The Marines raised $30,000 in private funds, mainly from Blackwater Worldwide, which also covered the costs of transporting her to Nashville. Neither the Marines story nor the Los Angeles Times blog that covered the story mentioned the company, though a report in the Orange County Register of California did.

"The Marines, in conjunction with numerous government agencies, initiated an effort dubbed 'Operation Amina,' to transport the girl and her mother stateside. The travel and related costs were financed by private donors, the release said," according to the Orange County Register, whose report was picked up by MSNBC. "The battalion raised $30,000 to fly them to the US via Jordan with the assistance of a US medical team and extensive cooperation from Blackwater Worldwide, the hospital said."

Monday, January 28, 2008

'Blackwater's coming to rescue us' - Video from Kenya

A Michingan TV station aired exclusive video of the three Christian missionaries being evacuated from mob violence in Kenya. Here's the clip from the January 2008 operation. A Blackwater operative based in Kabul, Afghanistan, flew to the African country to lead the evacuation. Click here for more coverage.

Waxman is making up stories again

Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Cal.), who is using his chairmanship of a House oversight panel to help a trial lawyer sue Blackwater, is recycling his old allegations into new headlines again.

This time he's generating news by repeating old statements alleging that Blackwater's contractors aren't really contractors, and that the security provider should be paying tens of millions of dollars in back Social Security, Medicare and other federal taxes. He's now accusing the company of committing a crime.

As part of the Democrat Party's jihad against defeating al Qaeda and Iranian-backed terrorists in Iraq, Waxman is trying to bring financial ruin on the company that serves a linchpin to ensure secure US diplomatic operations in Baghdad. He's also helping a big California trial lawyer sue Blackwater for at least $20 million. The trial lawyers are the largest business group that funds Waxman's party. Lawyers in general give overwhelmingly to Democrats.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Former private contractor in Iraq takes on media distortions

A former private security contractor (PSC) who served in Iraq challenges media distortions about Blackwater and other companies who protect American facilities, convoys, diplomats, and visiting VIPs.

PSC veteran Mark R. Taylor writes that accusers of Blackwater in Congress and the media are more interested in politicizing the war effort and pushing their own agendas than they are in finding the truth.

"Where are the stories of the majority of circumstances, the many successes of Blackwater and how many lives were saved because of them?" Taylor asks. "The stories are in the same place as the successes of KBR, buried by the media and told only by handful with a mission to tell the truth about our role in the Middle East. The attacks on the military by government officials and the media created a backlash that sent the same scurrying for a new scapegoat, the American contractor. With no regard for our families, our children and our lives, they continue to denigrate our mission in the hopes of creating a true quagmire for George W. Bush, or of engineering a Democrat victory in ‘08.

"There is a mutual respect among the military and contractors that is not recognized by the dignitaries who rely on Blackwater to keep them alive. I recall that, while in Iraq, a delegation of American dignitaries arrived at Camp Victory, visiting Black Jack DEFAC. It was only Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA, who even bothered to take the time to visit with us, at least to show some concern and support. Why didn’t the others visit us? Were they repulsed at our arrival - dirty and sweaty from a two day mission, driving across Iraq to deliver mail to our troops - or were they made uncomfortable merely by our presence? Or were they disinterested?

"While they returned to their clean, uparmored air conditioned bus, heading for the next photo op, we returned to our dusty unarmored trucks to continue our missions and face the enemy.

"We worked, we fought, we cried, we bled. And in some cases, we died beside our military counterparts who are our friends. A majority of us eventually returned home to our jobs and our families, our contributions rarely noted, but even today, it pains us to see our brothers and sisters attacked in the media while they fight a ruthless, bloodthirsty enemy overseas."

Friday, January 25, 2008

Time magazine: Evidence backs Blackwater's version of Nisoor Square shootout

Evidence is backing up Blackwater's version of the September 16 Nisoor Square incident in Baghdad, where 17 Iraqi civilians reportedly died.

The Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MOI) led a propaganda campaign to accuse Blackwater guards firing unprovoked into a crowd of innocent people - a theme echoed on Capitol Hill by Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) - but Time magazine reports that physical evidence is backing up Blackwater's original insistence that the diplomatic convoy under its protection had been fired upon.

"One observer close to the investigation told TIME that U.S. authorities have examined a log from a command post, or Tactical Operations Center (TOC), showing that Blackwater guards radioed repeatedly that they were under attack from persons wearing police uniforms. Photographic evidence of Kalashnikov shells scattered around the site of the shooting could also suggest that the Blackwater convoy did come under hostile fire," Time reports on January 23.

Time writers and editors chose to bury the information deep in the story, showing their bias by emphasizing that, regardless of the outcome of investigations, the controversy could cost the security company its contract protecting American diplomats in Iraq.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Judge maintains protesters' jail time; says he's 'grieved' by their disrespect for law

A judge kept the sentences of anti-Blackwater protesters to jail time served, after saying he was "grieved" that they would not respect the law.

North Carolina Judge Russell Duke added no extra sentence to the convicts, a group of left-wing activists who vandalized Blackwater property in an October 20 protest. After a discussion of politics and the law, the judge told the defendants, "You’ve told me you’re not going to abide by the law. You’re not going to respect my judgment. That grieves me."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

AP and USA Today challenged for sloppy reporting

The Associated Press and USA Today received a correction for sloppy reporting about the armored vehicles that Blackwater security guards used at the September 16 Nisoor Square incident in Iraq.

USA Today ran an AP story on January 12 headlined "Blackwater fixes hinder shooting probe."

The report purported to show that the company destroyed evidence prior to a federal investigation of the incident, in which a reported 17 Iraqi civilians were killed.

The lead of the story stated: "Blackwater Worldwide repaired and repainted its trucks immediately after a deadly September shooting in Baghdad, making it difficult to determine whether enemy gunfire provoked the attack, according to people familiar with the government's investigation of the incident."

Three paragraphs down, AP reported, "The repairs essentially destroyed evidence that Justice Department investigators hoped to examine in a criminal case that has drawn worldwide attention."

The reader is led to believe that the company "destroyed evidence" in the high-profile case. The facts are different:
  • The State Department - not Blackwater - owns the vehicles in question.

  • The State Department requires Blackwater contractually to keep the vehicles properly repaired and maintained at all times.

  • The State Department instructed Blackwater to repaint all the vehicles in the Baghdad fleet, including the ones struck by bullets at Nisoor Square, because the vehicles were of an "easily identifiable color and were painted as a precautionary measure in case they were being specifically targeted," according to Tyrrell.
Click here for the full text of Tyrrell's letter, as published in USA Today on January 23.
(Cartoon by James Mojonnier. See his artwork at

Losers: Anti-Blackwater protesters lose appeal in court

A jury denied the appeal of a group of beatnik protesters who trespassed on Blackwater land and vandalized property in order to make a political statement. The group was convicted in October; a judge closed the trial to the public because the radicals wanted to turn his courtroom into a propaganda show. WRAL-TV of Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, has the story.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Guard reports that diplomatic convoy was fired at

One of the Blackwater security guards involved in the September 16 shootout at Nisoor Square, Baghdad, said in a sworn statement that the diplomatic convoy he was guarding was fired upon and that he feared that an oncoming vehicle, which ignored signals to stop, was a suicide bomber.

ABC News publishes the sworn statement that the guard, identified only as "Paul," made to the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service about 48 hours after the incident. About 17 people were reportedly killed in the incident. Parts of the document, including specific names, are redacted.

He says in the statement, "As our motorcade pulled into the intersection I noticed a white four door sedan driving directly at our motorcade from the west bound lane. I and others were yelling, and using hand signals for the car to stop and the driver look directly at me and kept moving toward our motorcade. Fearing for my life and the life of my teammates, I engaged the driver and stopped the threat."

He continues, "At the same moment, I started receiving small armes fire from the [guard] shack approcimately fifty meters behind the car. I then engaged the individuals were the muzzle flashes came from. A uniformed individual then started pushing the vehicle toward the motorcade and again I shouted and engaged the vehicle until it came to a stop. I was told on our radio that the command vehicle [of the motorcade] was down, and that we were still taking fire."

The guard described shooting a man who was aiming an AK (Kalashnikov) assault rifle at a Blackwater guard in the rear vehicle of the motorcade: "Fearing for the gunner's life, I engaged the individual and stopped the threat." Paul described small arms fire coming from a red bus in the intersection, and that he returned fire at the bus, and then on an oncoming car that he feared was a VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) suicide bomber.

The case is still under investigation. A Blackwater spokeswoman tells the New York Times that the company cannot comment pending the probe.

'It's open season on security contractors' has a great review of the Human Rights First report on private security contractors.

Written by Robert Y. Pelton, the commentary says, "the report doesn' t really cover new ground but it makes the same points made by many others that a) there are more contractors now than at any other time in recent military conflict, b) they are being protected by official and unofficial methods to avoid prosecution or liability, and c) security contractors have joined the ranks of baby seal bashers, Salvation Army bucket thieves, celebrity paparazzi and Nigerian 401 spammers as the profession most hated by the media."

All in all a fine and funny critique, with comments on the larger issues at hand. "While the media and the Left focus on pointing out the obvious, that security contractors were designed to be a 'use once and throw away when done' solution to GWOT, they have become a critical part of both military and humanitarian operations," Pelton writes.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Blackwater credited with saving 180 American lives

Readers of this blog know about how Blackwater Worldwide recently rescued three young American women from deadly mob violence in Kenya. The three are only a fraction of Americans whose lives Blackwater is credited with saving.

Over the past six years, Blackwater personnel have saved the lives of more than 180 Americans around the world.

In Iraq from 2004-2007, Blackwater rescued or medically treated and evacuated more than 40 U.S. soldiers, Marines and U.S. Government officials. Virtually all instances were humanitarian responses to calls for volunteers. The incidents involved fires, post-missile and mortar attack response, suicide bombing involving mass casualties, and day and night rescues of stranded or trapped Americans.

On the U.S. Gulf Coast in the immediate aftermath of hurricane Katrina, Blackwater volunteers rescued over 50 Americans trapped on rooftops. Blackwater also conducted emergency medical evacuations for 175 Americans in the first week of the 2005 disaster.

In Africa in 2006, Blackwater medical personnel saved an American in Chad by administering emergency life saving surgery and medical evacuation Burkina Faso. They also conducted a rescue of three American missionaries and seven aid workers in Kenya in January 2008.

In Afghanistan 2007 Blackwater personnel rescued three Americans from a bombed and burning hotel. In January 2008 Blackwater again rescued one American from a hotel bombed by the Taliban.

In over 90 percent of these cases, Blackwater was not paid a dime to act. The company and its people did so out of a professional drive to help Americans in danger whenever possible.

Federal contracts required Blackwater to repair shot-up vehicles

After its armored vehicles were shot up by enemy gunfire during the September 16 incident at Nisoor Square in Baghdad, Blackwater made repairs as required under its State Department contract.

But the company is coming under criticism for destroying evidence in the process, even though no federal investigation was underway when the repairs were made.
It's another case of the security provider getting stuck between two departments of the federal government: the State Department, for which it protects US diplomats in Iraq, and the Justice Department, which opened an investigation of the Nisoor incident - well after Blackwater fixed the damaged vehicles.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell tells AP that any repairs "would have been done at the government's direction." According to AP, "Blackwater's contract with the State Department requires that the company maintain its vehicles and keep them on the road." That means the company acted properly in repairing the damaged vehicles. Blackwater also repainted its Baghdad fleet shortly after the incident, on State Department instructions, as a security measure to make the familiar white vehicles less conspicuous.

People who allege an obstruction of justice don't know what they're talking about. Especially because the repairs and paint jobs took place well before the FBI and federal grand jury investigations. The ruined evidence, as AP notes, would have ratified Blackwater CEO Erik Prince's word tht his men were fired upon at Nisoor Square and acted properly. AP reports that the repairs make it "harder for Blackwater to prove its innocence."

True to form, the State Department won't talk about it. According to AP, "The State Department would not comment on whether it ordered the repairs to the vehicles involved in the shooting."

Friday, January 18, 2008

Human rights group says contractors are essential and that most obey the law

Private security contractors are essential to the U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the overwhelming majority are fine professionals who risk their lives, a human rights group reports.

In a sharp critique of the Justice Department, Human Rights First, a New York-based group, claims that contractors operate with "impunity." But Scott Horton, a Columbia University law professor who served as a senior consultant to a Human Rights First report, has high praise for the contractors.

"The great majority of the contractors involved, including the security contractors, are conscientious, dedicated professionals who are out there at great personal risk, performing magnificently," Horton tells the Voice of America. "So we should not view this [report] as tarring the entire group of contractors or even the entire group of security contractors, but it is a question of accountability."

Blackwater Worldwide certainly would agree with that assessment. It's been pushing for clearer rules of the road and better accountability all along. But Congress, as the post below reports, hasn't seen fit to update the law to make it happen.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Congressional failure: 'Gaps in law' may not allow prosecutions

"Gaps in the law" are among the problems the Justice Department is finding in the prosecution of Blackwater guards involved in the September 16 shootout in Baghdad, where 17 civilians were killed.

The antics of a few showboating congressmen, including Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Cal., pictured), have followed the script of a California trial lawyer who stands to make millions suing Blackwater, and have diverted lawmakers from the real problem: Gaps in the laws that they themselves are responsible for writing.

The New York Times reports that those "gaps,"as well as State Department immunity for the Americans who risk their lives daily protecting diplomats and VIPs in Iraq, are complicating and might not even permit a prosecution of those allegedly involved.

We reported last November that, because of Congress's failure to update the law, the Justice Department might have to "twist" the facts of the case and even the law itself in order to prosecute the diplomatic security guards.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Video of rescued girls arriving home

They're teenage girls, all right, judging by their happy squeals as they run toward family and friends at a Michigan airport. Blackwater Worldwide rescued the three - sisters Brittanie and Aubrey Vander Mey and friend Jamie Cook - from mob violence in Kenya, where the girls were doing Christian missionary work.

For more news about the rescue - which Blackwater staged from Afghanistan - see the posts below.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Blondes for Blackwater

Blackwater heroes saved Brittanie and Aubrey Vander Mey and Jamie Cook (above) from mob terror in Kenya last week as the US government stood by fecklessly.

CEO Erik Prince ordered the rescue operation at the request of Brittanie and Aubrey's dad. The girls were doing Christian missionary work with AIDS orphans.
A Blackwater operative flew from Afghanistan to Kenya to run the operation.
Another of many unheralded Blackwater rescues. A couple, such as the evacuation of the Polish ambassador to Iraq after an assassination attempt, have received some coverage, but most have not.

The blog commentary is pretty funny, ranging from very informative to tasteless. Click here for reader remarks on Sharon Weinberger's blog.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Blackwater praised for Africa rescue

Congressional weenies might want to beat up on Blackwater, but the company is winning praise from Real America for its daring operation to rescue three young Michigan women from near-certain horrors in strife-torn Kenya.

"Unable to locate a helicopter or airplane to pick them up," the father of two of the girls, Dean VanderMey, "called his mother, who reached Blackwater founder Erik Prince [pictured] through a mutual friend, U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids," Bill Sizemore reports in the Virginian-Pilot.

"Soon, VanderMey said, he got a phone call from Prince, who told him, 'We're going to do everything we can do to get your girls out.'

"A Blackwater employee flew from Afghanistan to Kenya to run the operation, VanderMey said. The company located a 10-passenger single-engine plane, which picked up the women at an airstrip near the orphanage in the village of Kimilili and flew them 185 miles to Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, where they got a commercial flight home.

"paid the charter fee for the plane, but Blackwater charged him nothing for its services.
'Erik wouldn't hear of it,' VanderMey said. 'He said, "This has nothing to do with money. This is about getting Americans out of harm's way."'

"'They got it done. I was pretty impressed.'"

Monday, January 7, 2008

Blackwater rescues Michigan orphanage workers from Kenya terror

How did three American charity workers escape spiraling violence in Africa when their government couldn't help them?

Blackwater Worldwide.

Michigan orphanage volunteers Brittanie and Aubrey Vander Mey and their friend Jamie Cook were in Kenya readying to care for HIV and AIDS orphans in Kimilili, a town 180 miles from Nairobi.

But post-election violence was spreading, with militants 45 miles away torching a church filled with women and children.

Yesterday the women were scheduled to return to their Michigan hometown where their local paper, the Grand Rapids Press, has the story.

"Dean Vander Mey, of Byron Township, Brittanie and Aubrey's father, said he credits their return to God's intervention and the private security firm," the paper reports.

"'My daughter (Brittanie) told me today, "Every town around us has been ripped apart,"' he said. 'Their little town was the only safe town. ... I have to attribute (their safety) to the Lord.'"

When his frightened daughters alerted him by phone of the spreading violence, he realized the women could not escape by car and renting a helicopter was impossible. He asked U.S. officials, congressmen and others for help.

"Vander Mey said he recalled relatives were friends with the family of Blackwater founder and Holland [Michigan] native Erik Prince and decided to give the company a call.

"'They had internal contacts and everything,' Vander Mey said. 'They had people who could help.'"

And help they did. Blackwater, according to Vander Mey, sent in a plane and rescued the three women and other international workers, bringing them safely to Nairobi.

"It's been a nightmare and a miracle," Vander Mey said.