Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
He says in the interview, “the government’s case in this situation is highly leveraged on the idea that there was no incoming fire. That these gentlemen misperceived the situation and created a massacre."
The source gave a vivid account of what he heard, real-time, over the radio in the TOC. "My source heard them describing Iraqi policemen in uniform and other folks in civilian clothes engaging them at this time."
Using clinical language, Hanson posts the description as an exclusive on his blog. Blackwater's Raven 23 convoy entered Nisoor Square to stop traffic, when a white Kia sedan failed to stop and the gunner, Jeremy Ridgeway, opened fire. Apparently members of Raven 23 mistook the Kia driver as a suicide bomber. Excerpts follow:
"The convoy entered the square and stopped traffic. The white Kia approached and ignored signals to stop. It was engaged and as stated in his proffer Ridgeway began engaging the passenger. A nearby Iraqi IP responded to the passenger side and was likely trying to assist the passenger, but to the guards it appeared he was pushing the vehicle toward them as it was still moving forward. They oriented fire toward him and he returned fire at them. This led other IP in the area to join and support his fire."
Standard practice for Blackwater is to get its protectees out of a hot situation as quickly as possible. In this case it didn't happen - the Raven 23 command vehicle had been put out of commission by incoming fire. The armored vehicle needed to be towed away. Hanson continues:
"This caused them to remain in the area longer while engaged attempting to put tow chains on the vehicle. During this time the Blackwater personnel continued to fire at muzzle flashes they identified from multiple areas around the square. Once the vehicle was ready to go they exfiltrated the area."It's understandable why Raven 23 so easily mistook the oncoming white Kia as a suicide bomber. Over the previous week, insurgents had ambushed Blackwater convoys almost daily; days before a Blackwater helicopter was shot down, with a rescue team coming under attack by dozens of insurgents. Based on the reconstruction from his source, Hanson describes what the previous week had been like for the Blackwater guards:
"To the guards this may have seemed like another ambush in what had been a week of sophisticated ambushes almost every day. Less than a week prior one of their helicopters had been shot down with an RPG and the DART team sent to extract it was ambushed by several dozen insurgents. A day later a convoy was hit by up to 50 insurgents causing a large gunfight as they sought to disengage. The same week one of their vehicles was hit by an EFP, fortunately it hit the engine block and didn’t kill anyone. But the over force from the explosion actually ejected a turret gunner into the street and they had to recover him while again under fire."
Hanson has loaded his blog with photos, documents and other information relating to this case. Check it out at http://www.blackfivemedia.net/.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
- "Radio logs from a deadly 2007 shooting in Baghdad cast doubt on U.S. government claims that Blackwater Worldwide security guards were unprovoked when they killed 14 Iraqi civilians."
- "Because Blackwater guards were authorized to fire in self-defense, any evidence their convoy was attacked will make it harder for the Justice Department to prove they acted unlawfully."
- "The logs add a new uncertainty to an already murky case."
- While AP received a secondhand, anonymous report that at least one Blackwater guard "saw no gunfire," "others in the convoy told authorities they did see enemy gunfire. And Blackwater turned over to prosecutors pictures of vehicles pocked with bullet holes, which the company says proves the guards were shot at."
- Prosecutors don't even purport to know who shot whom: "And though they can't say for sure exactly which guards shot which victims, all five guards are charged with 14 counts of manslaughter."
- Federal prosecutors are now on the defensive and won't talk about the issue: "Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined to discuss the contents of the logs."
Newsday reports, "Prosecutors said the men unleashed a gruesome attack on unarmed Iraqis. But the radio logs from the Sept. 16, 2007, shooting, turned over to prosecutors by Blackwater, suggest otherwise. The guards were authorized to fire in self-defense, so any evidence their convoy was attacked will make it harder for the Justice Department to prove they acted unlawfully."
The Salt Lake Tribune, covering the defense team in Salt Lake City, reports the story under the headline, "Blackwater Logs Depict Mortal Threat to Guards."
Below is a summary of the logs, as reported by the Associated Press. Raven 4 is a Blackwater convoy protecting an American diplomat near a car bombing. Raven 22 is a Blackwater unit that responds to assist Raven 4. Raven 23 was sent to secure Nisoor Square, a traffic circle, at which the deadly shootout occurred.
The following timeline from the September 16, 2007 Blackwater radio logs is from the Associated Press. The quotes are from the AP report:
11:59: Raven 4 reports a car bombing
12:00: Raven 22 leaves the Green Zone through Checkpoint 12 to back up Raven 4
12:10: Raven 22 and Raven 4 depart for Green Zone
12:11: Raven 23 reports securing Nisoor Square
12:12: "Raven 23 reports multiple insurgent small arms fire"
12:13: "Blackwater air support advised of small arms fire at Nisoor Square. Raven 23 reports Iraqi police shooting at convoy" [Note: The FBI would later credit the Iraqi police with helping build the federal prosecution of five Raven 23 team members.]
12:14: Raven 23 is ordered to proceed to Green Zone checkpoint 2
12:16: Raven 23 says that its command vehicle is disabled
12:18: Raven 23 attempts to tow its disabled command vehicle but says its members are still under attack
12:20: Raven 22 is "advised of Raven 23 shooting at Nisoor Square." Checkpoint 12 of the Green Zone is closed.
12:20: Raven 23 reports it is in traffic, "still taking sporadic small arms fire."
A Justice Department official did tell the Associated Press that prosecutors are "fully aware" of the documents, but they'll wait to answer them in court.
"We cannot comment on evidence related to a pending case, but we are fully prepared to address in court arguments made by the defense concerning the documents you reference," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd tells AP.
This is the same Justice Department that had no problem scripting carefully worded accusations against the five military veterans of "unprovoked and illegal attacks on civilians." Now it won't comment on evidence that the attacks might have been provoked and therefore legal.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
An Iraqi military spokesman said, "The operation was based on information about some officers facilitating terrorist activities and helping outlaws and the remnants of the vanquished [Baath Party] regime," according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Minister of Interior says the whole controversy is a politically motivated hoax to affect elections next month. An Iraqi judge threw out the case, citing lack of evidence. However, many remain concerned that the ministry, which controls the national police, remains a haven for Shi'ite terrorists and insurgents as well as criminal elements.
The matter is especially important to followers of Blackwater because the Ministry of Interior has been a primary source of some of the most sensational allegations against the company and its men over the Nisoor Square shootout.
An independent US commission of retired American generals and police chiefs recommended that the Ministry of Interior be closed down and reorganized due to its inherent dysfunctionality. US prosecutors have relied heavily on the Ministry of Interior and national police to build their case against five former Blackwater guards.
That's why the defense team released the Blackwater radio logs of September 16, 2007, concerning the Nisoor Square shootout.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
“The era of Blackwater must finally end. The incoming Obama administration can proceed with the knowledge that even the Bush administration acknowledges that outsourcing overseas security to private firms like Blackwater is a mistake,” Kerry says.
Kerry's words matter now, because the Massachusetts senator is replacing Vice President-Elect Joe Biden as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which authorizes the money for the State Department to pay Blackwater.
"These guys are some of the most highly trained people in the world," said Liberty's father, who told the Globe that his son joined Blackwater as a way to continue serving America after leaving the Marines: "It wasn't for the money. He saw this as a way to serve his country."
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Testifying before Congress on October 2, 2007, Prince alerted lawmakers to pending legislation that would fill holes in the law and tighten ambiguities, thus taking away the gray areas that made accountability difficult in the private security contracting business for the US government abroad. He said he was "happy" with the proposed legislation, authored by Rep. David Price (D-NC) and endorsed it. The House later passed the bill.
Fourteen months later, the LA Times is finally on board. Here's what the editors say in a December 15, 2008 editorial:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that "there is a hole” in the law where prosecution of private contractors was concerned.
Rice may be right. The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act allows for the prosecution of civilians who are "employed by or accompanying the armed forces outside the United States." A grand jury concluded that even though the Blackwater defendants worked for the State Department, they were supporting a military mission and are thus covered by the law. Certainly that interpretation is in the spirit of the law; whether it satisfies the law's letter must be decided by the courts. (The defendants also argue that they can't be prosecuted because they were offered immunity by the State Department.) Meanwhile, Congress should enact legislation passed last year by the House that would allow for the prosecution of U.S. contractors in foreign countries -- regardless of the agency for which they work -- if the foreign country doesn't choose to prosecute. If the "hole" mentioned by Rice exists, it should be plugged.
No doubt the LA Times editors are clueless about this, and think that they're sticking it to Blackwater. In reality, the company wants tight laws and rules for accountability and responsibility, so that it can operate without the legal ambiguity that has been so problematic.
Standish is writing to the LA Times editors to congratulate them and to ask them to recognize Blackwater for endorsing the legislation more than a year before they did.
Jeffrey A. Taylor (pictured), United States Attorney for the District of Columbia said, "It bears emphasis that today's indictment is very narrow in its allegations. Six individual Blackwater guards have been charged with unjustified shootings on September 16, 2007, not the entire Blackwater organization in Baghdad. There were 19 Blackwater guards on the Raven 23 team that day at Nisour Square. Most acted professionally, responsibly, and honorably. Indeed this indictment should not be read as an accusation against any of those brave men and women who risk their lives as Blackwater security contractors."
Blackwater CEO Erik Prince cites Taylor's comment in an op-ed he wrote for the Wall Street Journal.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Blackwater CEO Erik Prince personally knows more than a thousand of the military and police veterans he has hired and trained to run diplomatic security operations for the State Department in war zones. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Prince introduces the public to one of them with a compelling personal story:
One of these brave people is Derrick Wright. In April 2007, a rocket tore through the Baghdad living quarters where Blackwater personnel were sleeping. Fortunately, no one was killed. But many were seriously injured, including Mr. Wright, a West Point graduate, Army Ranger and father of three. He suffered grave injuries when a portion of his skull was shattered in the attack.
Stabilized in the Green Zone, Mr. Wright was airlifted to a hospital in Europe where his prognosis was bleak. When Mr. Wright's wife arrived, she found her husband coming out of brain surgery and described him as a man who "had one foot in this world and one out." He has since shown remarkable progress after extensive physical therapy, a cranioplasty to repair damage to his skull, and many other procedures.
Derrick Wright and the other team members injured that day were not in Iraq to fight the war. Just like every Blackwater professional who makes the trip to Iraq, they were putting their lives at risk each day to protect U.S. Department of State officials and other civilians working in the country. Yet somehow that role and the part they play in this war have been grossly misunderstood.
While some of our critics seize upon inaccurate labels, I doubt they have ever known one of our contractors personally or been protected by them. Our teams are not cooking meals or moving supplies. They are taking bullets. They are military veterans who have chosen to serve their country once again. Very few people know someone who would voluntarily go into a war zone to protect a person he has never met. I know 1,000 of them, and I am proud that they are part of our team.
"But that’s exactly what happened last Monday (December 8)," Patrick McGuigan writes in Tulsa Today. "After more than a year of gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses around the world, a grand jury found no evidence to indict Blackwater and, instead, indicted five of the contractors who were working for the company on September 16 when a shooting incident occurred in Nisour Square.
The editor adds, "no other company has been subjected to anywhere near the level of media scrutiny, Congressional hounding, or prolonged investigation that Blackwater has weathered.
"So after all the public condemnations and damning headlines just how bad is Blackwater? It turns out that there’s not a shred of evidence that the company has done anything wrong at all. In this instance, a few of its contractors appear to have been caught in a bad situation in Baghdad and innocent civilians were caught in the crossfire – it’s terrible but it’s war; our troops have been involved in similar situations countless times. And just how evil is Blackwater? So evil that every single person they’ve protected is alive and well because of that protection."
"Looking at the facts," McGuigan says, "it’s hard to come up with a company that has been more thoroughly vetted. Maybe, just maybe, they deserve a little credit for doing a good job."
(Photo: General David Petraeus in Baghdad with a Blackwater diplomatic security team who saved the life of Poland's ambassador to Iraq.)
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
This is the same force that's so plagued with corruption and infiltrated by terrorists that it can scarcely function.
The same force under the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, which a panel of retired US generals and police chiefs said was so dysfunctional that it should be shut down and that the police should be "disbanded and reorganized." The panel, called the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, concluded,
One of the members of the panel was Gen. James Jones USMC (Ret.), whom President-Elect Barack Obama recently appointed to be his National Security Advisor.
"The Ministry of Interior is a ministry in name only. It is widely regarded as being dysfunctional and sectarian, and suffers from ineffective leadership. Such fundamental flaws present a serious obstacle to achieving the levels of readiness, capability, and effectiveness in police and border security forces that are essential for internal security and stability in Iraq."
The group's report was published and released in a highly publicized news conference just 10 days before the Nisoor incident.
And the FBI says the force that Gen. Jones said should be shut down was "instrumental" in helping build the case?
Click here for a PDF of the independent commission's report.
QUESTION: If I could just follow up on your answer on MEJA, your contention is then that the State Department was in Iraq supporting the Department of Defense?
MR. ROWAN: Well, our contention is that, well first of all let me make it clear. Our evidence on this point is something we will present to the judge and the jury, and they will have the opportunity to determine whether or not we've provided sufficient evidence of this point. What we are saying is that the defendants who we've charged were supporting the mission of the Department of Defense and that's the charging language we use, that's the predicate for the use of MEJA in this case.
QUESTION: So any U.S. personnel in Iraq at the time were supporting the Department of Defense, is that the theory here?
MR. ROWAN: I wouldn't go so far as to say that's so. We believe -- and again I'm obviously avoiding getting into the evidence. But we believe the evidence in this case is sufficient to establish that these individuals were supporting the mission in the Department of Defense.
And they're demanding the deaths in the name of "justice."
That's right - they say that the three former Marines and two former soldiers being prosecuted for the Nisoor Square incident should be executed, murdered, or turned over to the Iraqis to be lynched. Many of them don't even want a trial. Just death.
This one, anonymously posted on December 8, is representative of the junk coming in:
I hope all 5 of them rot in jail - or better yet get shipped back to Iraq to be killed. It sickens me to be an American when I learn about them.How progressive! Sounds like the same crowd that's been drinking Jeremy Scahill's conspiracy Kool-Aid and voting for Jan Schakowsky.
Now - for everyone else: Go to the online editions of any newspaper or magazine that runs stories about the Blackwater case, and post your comments to those stories. Be sure to be civil and polite, leaving informed commentary and not just a rant. Rants don't help. Civility and facts do.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Jeremy P. Ridgeway pleaded guilty to the killings and is now seeking leniency by turning state's evidence against his former Blackwater colleagues. In the first paragraph of his "Factual Proffer In Support of Guilty Plea," he makes a false statement:
"Defendant Ridgeway's employment as a Blackwater contractor related to supporting the mission of the Defense Department in Iraq."The statement is false because, as the proffer specifies, Ridgeway and colleagues were contractors for the Department of State.
This is an important point. Federal prosecutors are relying on the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA), which applies only to civilian contractors for the Department of Defense. MEJA was later amended to include contractors who "support" the "mission" of DoD, which is why prosecutors made Ridgeway use that wording in his proffer.
The prosecution's case is weak. We reported a year ago that the Justice Department would "shoehorn the facts" to make its allegations stick.
Blackwater clearly and explicitly is supporting the State Department's mission, not the Pentagon's, in Iraq. Its Worldwide Personal Protective Services contract is with the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security, not with the military. The contract is to protect US Embassy civilian personnel - including diplomats and US Agency for International Development people - and, according to reports, explicitly places Blackwater security personnel in Iraq under the operational control of the State Department.
Constitutionally, the State Department is the highest-ranking cabinet agency, and therefore outranks the Defense Department under the law. DoD supports the State Department, not vice-versa.
Hat tip to The Skeptical Bureaucrat for pointing this out.
People from around the United States are voicing support for the former Blackwater security guards accused of manslaughter while protecting the life of an American diplomat in Iraq.
Important support can be seen in reader comments attached to online news stories. Readers of the Union Leader, New Hampshire's largest statewide daily, have submitted comments in support of native son Evan Liberty, who served as a Marine before working for Blackwater. They should inspire all of us to voice support across the Internet wherever we can.
Forget all the trash talk comments. What's fresh and new is all the new, supportive commentary, like this:
- "I support Evan Liberty 100%. I was not there and neither were any of you ignorant people posting ridiculous comments here. I am a Marine and I KNOW that the circumstances under which this event occurred may very well be entirely different than what is being broadcast by the media. Semper Fi, Evan and family, stay strong." - Sarah C., Nashua, NH.
- "If you change Mr. Liberty's name to mine that would be my son. He too works for Blackwater. Their stories are almost identical. These men are all highly trained members from the elite branches of the military. They all have served in war zones. They are not cowboys. They put their life on the line to protect anyone from the ruler of these countries to the entertainers who want to go there to say, 'I've been in a war zone to be with our troops.' They have never lost a client. If they are so bad why are they asked for by people that go visit there ? Even people that bad mouth them now.
"If you think Blackwater hires just anyone who wants to make money,why not go to thier site and try to apply for a job. You would have a better chance applying for a job as astronaut." - JZ, Texas
- "Charging these guys is what I like to refer to as 'Feel good political policy' and these guys are the scapegoats for the government." - Mike, Manchester, NH.
- "This is a war zone. Who can second guess their actions if you have not been in the same situation, same place, etc. Sounds like a lot of politics to me. When it's all said and done, I'll bet they're acquitted." - Bob Ahern, Derry, NH.
- "Given the lethally chaotic situation in Iraq, at the time, I'm willing to give all involved the benefit of the doubt. I'm sure all reasonable people will do the same. I hope the country's hatred (in some cases maniacal) of Bush doesn't negatively effect their trials. Good luck and Godspeed. - Mike P., Manchester, NH.
- "I wish your son and the rest of these men the best. They are veterans who served our country with great honor, and are now getting thrown to the wolves. What next - start punishing the troops who are deployed? I am sure thats what some anti-military people would say. People in this country have become so libralized that they have forgotten bad things happen during war." - D.S., Amherst, NH.
- "I have known Evan Liberty since the fourth grade. We were in the same class all the way to high school and I knew him in high school also. He is a very good kid and he was an embassy guard before he went to Blackwater. Only the top ten percent of all marines are selected to carry that title. he was a standout. He is a great guy and always has been. If he fired his rifle he had too, and he is definitely not a cowboy. He is a hero and it makes me so angry to see America turn its back on him. Shame on this country and its government. How come no one is 'supporting our troops' now? It also makes me sick to see some of the comments left on this page. I bet all the negative ones are from idiots who have never fought for this country. Evan, you're a hero in my book." - Jeremiah, Rochester NH.
That's how friends and acquaintances describe Paul "PJ" Slough, the Army veteran among the five former Blackwater guards now being tried on manslaughter allegations while protecting the life of an American diplomat.
"Knowing P.J. the way we did, obviously we are going to be on his side," says his former teacher and football coach, Mike Norrell. "I know those men are trained . . . and I suspect they were in a hostile situation and one thing led to another," he tells the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I think they thought they were doing their jobs. That’s the kind of guy P.J. is, the one who will always do his job."
An ankle injury prevented Slough (pronounced "Slo") from being a paratrooper, but he joined the Army straight out of high school as an infantry soldier, served in Bosnia, was honorably discharged, then joined the Texas National Guard and served in Iraq before joining Blackwater.
The Star-Telegram cites an ABC News report that quoted Slough as recounting the start of the September 16, 2007 shootout at Nisoor Square: "'Fearing for my life and the lives of my teammates, I engaged the driver and stopped the threat,' he said in the statement.
"There were other shots too, he said — from a shack behind the car, from a red bus and from another red vehicle, as well as from a uniformed person pushing a vehicle toward the convoy and from a man in a blue shirt with an assault weapon, his statement said. 'I was engaged in order to stop the threat.'"
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Raven 23 was the callsign of the Blackwater diplomatic security unit during the incident.
The defense team's court documents are among the information being loaded onto the site.
Standish has been getting some nice notes of support for the former guards, including people wanting to know how to help with legal defense. This blog isn't connected with the defense team, but we're passing along the website and will report from it as needed.
Even the judge presiding over the case in Utah has ruled that Ball, a court baliff, may keep his .40 caliber Glock pistol, according to AP.
"The 26-year-old's co-workers at the Salt Lake City Justice Courts, where he works as a security officer, were dumbfounded by the charges of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter levied Monday. They say Ball is a man of unquestionable integrity who could not have intentionally killed an innocent person.
"'I'd have him on my side at any time,' said Angie Oldham, a security officer at the court who is also a classmate of Ball's at the police academy at Salt Lake Community College.
"Deputy Terry Thomas, who trained Ball for his duties at the court, called Ball 'an upstanding young man,'" the Salt Lake Tribune reports.
"Thomas observed Ball on the job and saw him remain calm under stress, never raising his voice. The charges didn't make sense, Thomas said.
"'There's no way you take four or five guys, highly trained - they're not going to open fire unprovoked on a crowd of civilians,' said Thomas, who was one of the law enforcement responders at the Trolley Square shootings. 'It's sad to see guys like that who sacrificed their time, put their lives on the line every day to fight for the people of Iraq ... they get the shaft."
Ball enlisted in the Marines after 9/11 to "honor" the memory of his late father and to continue his family's generations-long tradition of serving in the military. Family members say he signed up with Blackwater to continue that service. According to the Tribune, he used the money to buy a home for his widowed mother.
"Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said it would be difficult for the government to win the case because of jurisdictional questions and the immunity issue," the Los Angeles Times reports.
"'Some of these problems result from the U.S. government's failure to create a clear, workable framework for private security contractors, so they operated in a legal vacuum,' Tobias said."
"We are . . . very concerned about the political considerations that appear to have motivated this indictment," the defense team says in a court document posted on Raven23.com. "It is unusual to say the least for the DOJ to bring high profile criminal charges in a case with international political overtones during the transition of presidential administrations and Justice Department officials.
"However, in the past weeks and months the U.S. Government has been negotiating a Status of Force Agreement with the Iraqi Government that will govern the future of the U.S. military presence in Iraq and has been anxious to see it ratified by the Iraqi Parliament. During this same period the Department of Justice has been conducting its investigation and has also sent agents to Iraq to provide briefings on this case.
"The filing of these charges at this time gives every appearance that these young men are being prosecuted to curry favor with factions in the Iraqi government that have been hostile to the U.S. presence and highly critical of the conduct of U.S. forces. More simply put, the DOJ indictment at this delicate time creates an overwhelming appearance of political influence in an effort to win support in Iraq. This is intolerable."
Monday, December 8, 2008
"A decorated Marine, Donald Ball had completed three tours of duty in Iraq when he decided to return as a guard. He originally joined the U.S. Marines after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, [brother] Troy Ball said, to honor their father after his 1999 death of a heart attack," the Salt Lake Tribune reports.
"'It was his way of making a difference in the world,' Troy Ball said, calling his brother a hard worker and Eagle Scout who had a great love for his country.
"After three tours of duty, Ball returned to Iraq as a Blackwater guard.
"'He was doing what he felt was right,' he said."
Ball is pictured above. Friends are turning out to show their support for him and his colleagues as they face arraignment.
"I can't speak any higher of the guy," says Chris Buslovich, who enlisted in the Marines with Liberty eight years ago.
Buslovich tells Foster's Daily Democrat, the hometown newspaper of Liberty in New Hampshire, saying the Marine "wanted to do more" and underwent "grueling training" to be part of the Marines' elite security guard force to protect American embassies. According to Foster's Daily Democrat, "Liberty eventually did become a guard and served in security detachments for the US embassies in Egypt and Guatemala, where he earned numerous commendations."
In 2005, after leaving the Marines, Liberty signed up to train with Blackwater, a company that Buslovich calls the "Marine Corps of contractors."
"They're the best of the best," he says.
Are military vets who sign up with Blackwater driven by greed, as the critics allege? The paper reports that Buslovich says such a perception is wrong: "they risk their lives in dangerous places like Iraq to protect people they 'don't even know.'"
Matt Apuzzo and Lara Jakes Jordan report in what AP calls a "breaking news update":
- "The five Blackwater Worldwide guards indicted for a deadly 2007 Baghdad shooting are all decorated military veterans who have served in some of the world's most dangerous places."
That's what the New York Times is reporting. In a December 7 story headlined, "US Prosecutor Goes to Iraq to Work on Blackwater Case," the Times says that the Justice Department official will meet with families of those shot in the September 16, 2007 Nisoor Square incident and help them "make claims."
The source is an anonymous Iraqi official. The Times does not identify the US prosecutor.
The place of the meeting looks like someone purposely planned to inflame sentiments. According to the Times, the Justice Department bureaucrat will meet with families at "a large dining center in Iraq’s National Police Headquarters, just a stone’s throw from Nisour Square."
"'The prosecutor is coming on Saturday to tell people what is going to happen, and especially how to make claims,' said the official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about the investigation. “He will speak in front of all of them. The families of the victims deserve to know what comes next.”
If the report is true, the unnamed bureaucrat will put the Justice Department in the awkward position of helping professional terrorist defense lawyers and lawyers for cop-killers, including a lawyer for an identified al Qaeda front group. The lawyers have banded together to sue Blackwater on behalf of Nisoor families.
"Justice officials have faced trouble with the case nearly from the start," adds the Wall Street Journal. "Investigators from the State Department, which had jurisdiction over the guards, gave the men immunity in exchange for providing statements immediately following the incident. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrived to take over the probe weeks later, having to reconstruct a crime scene on public streets, and tracking down witnesses. The men said they fired in response to shooting from insurgents; some Iraqi witnesses disputed that there was any firing other than that by the Blackwater guards."
"These battlefield incident prosecutions are notoriously difficult to win no matter what the forum," says former Navy lawyer Tara Lee.
"Plaintiff attorneys also plan to argue that the men's work for the State Department doesn't fall under the authority of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, the law originally written to cover Pentagon contractors and now being used to prosecute the men," according to the Journal.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Decorated combat veterans - including an Eagle Scout - are among the five Blackwater security guards indicted for allegations against them for their actions while defending a US diplomat from an ambush at Nisoor Square in Baghdad.
The indicted men include three Marines, a former US Army soldier from the 82nd Airborne, and a former Army infantry soldier. During their military service, all had been decorated for good conduct and other achievements. They served in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq before joining Blackwater.
They are, according to the Associated Press and Washington Post:
Donald Ball, 26, of Utah. Corporal, US Marines, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 2001-2005; a squad team leader with two tours in Iraq. Honor graduate, School of Infantry, Camp Pendleton, California. Among his honors: Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his leadership while coming under sniper fire; Certificate of Commendation for his combat service in Fallujah; Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal and others. The US Embassy in Baghdad praised him for heroically sticking with his mission and not losing focus in the midst "numerous improvised explosive devices and small arm attacks." Ball was an Eagle Scout.
Dustin Heard, 27, of Tennessee. Corporal, US Marines, Security Force Battalion, First Fleet Anti-Terrorist Security Team, 2000-2003. Secured oil platforms off Iraqi coast during invasion in 2003. Member, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2003-2004. Deployed to Afghanistan. Among his honors: Received three certificates of appreciation from the US Embassy in Baghdad for securing the Embassy and the "Ministry of Parliament," and for protecting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Evan Liberty, 26, of New Hampshire. Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, 2001-2002; Marine Security Detachment, US Embassy Cairo, 2002-2003; Marine Security Detachment, US Embassy Guatemala, 2003-2004. Among his honors: Meritorious Mast, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, White House Communications Agency Certificate.
Nick Slatten, 25, of Tennessee. Sergeant, US Army 82nd Airborne, 2002-2006, served in Iraq; graduate of Army Sniper School, with two combat tours in Iraq. Among his honors: Army Good Conduct Medal.
Paul Slough, 29, of Texas. US Army 3rd Infantry Division, 1999-2002, with tour in Bosnia; Texas National Guard, 2/142 Infantry, 2002-2006, with tour in Iraq. Among his honors: Army Commendation Medal and Army Good Conduct Medal.
Seventeen Iraqi civilians died, and it has not been established who killed them. Blackwater provided evidence that its armored vehicles had been hit by gunfire; one was disabled from hostile shots during the September 16, 2007 incident.
The Iraqi Ministry of Interior publicly accused the Blackwater men of murder, even though it presented no evidence. Most reporting and commentary is based on the ministry's unsubstantiated allegations.
The military veterans can't speak for themselves, so their defense lawyers are fighting back on their behalf.
"The indictment is an effort by bureaucrats in Washington to second-guess split-second decisions made by honorable men during a firefight in the most dangerous neighborhood in the world," says Tom Connolly, who represents Nick Slatten, a former sergeant in the Army's 82nd Airborne who served two combat tours in Iraq prior to working for Blackwater to protect US diplomats.
"Once the jury understands the events of Sept. 16, they are not going to do what the Department of Justice is doing - which is second-guessing honorable men in a firefight," Connolly adds in a Washington Post report. "Even if they have jurisdiction, we will prevail when we meet them on the facts."
The US Attorney's office and the Justice Department won't comment. A year ago, a former US Attorney said the government would have to "shoehorn the facts" in order to make a case against the men.
A lawyer for Dustin Heard, a former Marine who served in Afghanistan and Iraq prior to joining Blackwater, says the men committed no crime but "were defending themselves and their comrades who were . . . receiving fire from Iraqis they believed to be enemy insurgents."
The US is prosecuting the veterans as individuals. Blackwater is not a defendant in the case, but has been standing by its men. (In cases of clear wrongdoing Blackwater has not hesitated to hand over its personnel to federal authorities and to assist prosecutors.)
Friday, December 5, 2008
The latest cause for caution is headlined, "US Mulls Unusual Tactic as Charges Loom," by the AP's Matt Apuzzo (pictured) and Lara Jakes Jordan.
Apuzzo and Jordan breathlessly report that some people in the Justice Department are considering use of the "Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988" as an inspired flash of brilliance in a long-shot effort to convict Blackwater security guards involved in the September 2007 incident at Nisoor Square in Baghdad.
It's another non-story that AP axe-grinders crank out to blow more smoke about Blackwater, leading people to think there's now some kind of drug connection. There's nothing "unusual" about the 1998 law, incorporated into the federal statute called 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).
That law makes it a crime to use any gun in connection with a "violent crime." Of course, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 was a Reagan-era law designed to crack down on drug traffickers. Now, some in the Justice Department want to twist the intent of the law so they can go after Blackwater.
The law in question provides legal beagles of the world a whole a la carte smorgasbord of extra charges to heap on an accused person in order to try to scare them into making a plea.
Abusing 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) in order to scare people of forcing a plea is nothing "unusual."
If Apuzzo and Jordan at AP had looked at the Nazario case (the Marine accused of killing Iraqis) that they trotted out in their very own article, they would have promptly seen that the charge was used there.
In fact, they could have checked out just about any federal court case involving allegations of “violent crime” and they’d have found The Anti-Drug Abuse Act charge at work.
Want a statistical measure of how “new” and “unusual” is this count? Well, in 1990 it was used 4,000 times. In 2000 it was used 5,000 times.
If our intrepid mudslingers weren’t up to going down to the courthouse and digging through legal cases (usually they're content to let trial lawyers and political hacks feed them with dirt), even though they wanted to spout off about them, they could have found out how "unusual" is use of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) by going to Wikipedia. An entry there describes 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) as “a frequently used section of the federal criminal code.”
But we can't expect those two AP reporters to be careful or objective. Apuzzo admitted that he was a "D" student in college before he decided to become a journalist. And if AP stuck to professional journalism standards, it would never hire someone like Jordan to cover contentious political issues because her husband is a career Washington political operative.
Washington correspondent Lara Jakes Jordan is one of them. Her reporting uniformly undermines almost anything to do with fighting terrorism, and she's been sloppy (to be polite about it) in her reporting on Blackwater.
Small wonder: Her husband, Jim Jordan, is an accomplished partisan political operative. Jim ran Senator John Kerry's political operations for five years, serving as manager of Kerry's presidential campaign.
Veteran newsman Joseph Farah commented on Lara Jakes Jordan's partisan political connection a few years back. He said, "When I got started a quarter century ago, there was an old newsroom saying that went like this: 'I don't care if you sleep with elephants as long as you don't cover the circus.'
"Mrs. Jordan violated that old newsroom ethic. She abdicated her right to cover the circus because she was sleeping with an elephant – or, in this case, a donkey."
Jordan, he wrote, is a "politically motivated reporter with a big ax to grind. . . . The largest news-gathering organization in the world, the Associated Press, owes the American people an apology for continuing to assign Lara Jakes Jordan to politically sensitive stories."
Makes you wonder whether she's part of the trial lawyers' highly partisan effort to discredit the company. A PR firm in Washington, Levick Strategic Communications, brags that it has planted "thousands" of stories in the press for its clients - clients that included captured enemy combatants in Guantanamo. Trial lawyers hired Levick to trash Blackwater. Jordan has been out front covering both the Gitmo detainee issue and Blackwater. It would be interesting to go back and check if Jordan has served as a mouthpiece for Levick's paid propaganda.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
The report, which is stirring a controversy in Germany and worldwide, fuels criticisms that the Bundeswehr's 3,500-man presence in Afghanistan isn't as useful as it might be. Most German troops are stationed in the relatively quiet north, with a main job of helping the locals fight illegal narcotics production and trafficking.
US troops are forbidden to drink alcohol in Afghanistan, but NATO's contribution includes the delivery of 260,000 gallons of beer and 18,000 gallons of wine last year for the German military contingent.
A German military report says that 40 percent of its soldiers between ages 18 and 29 are overweight, and 10 percent are "clinically obese." About 70 percent are said to be heavy smokers.
German troops are not supposed to drink more than two cans of beer a day, and even then, not while on duty, according to the Defense Ministry.
One German lawmaker suggests that Berlin provide its military with "an alternative to beer drinking, such as sports and cultural activities."
We have a different idea. How about if the German military helps fight the Taliban and al Qaeda, or at least does its job of training the Afghan police to root out illegal drug production? On second thought, the Bundeswehr has already been given the chance and has blown it. Let's outsource the job to private companies.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
"The agreement," says the Washington Times in an editorial, "provides no guidance on a number of critical questions: What happens when the United States and Iraq disagree over a due process standard? Could Iraq prosecute Americans for past 'crimes'? This last question is particularly important because the Iraqi government's insistence on ending legal immunity for American contractors results in large part from the September 2007 Blackwater incident, during which security guards who came under fire in downtown Baghdad killed 17 Iraqis in a firefight. The Iraqi government's hurried decision to blame Blackwater despite the weight of evidence that its guards were ambushed does not bode well for American contractors in Iraq who try to protect themselves against future attacks.
Monday, December 1, 2008
One of the most skilled helicopter pilots in the sky, he was decorated for valor for saving lives at home.
In January 2007, Art Laguna and his crew were killed while flying a mercy mission to save the life of an American diplomat pinned down by enemy fire in Iraq. The Department of Defense posthumously awarded him the Legion of Merit earlier this year - a decoration for "exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements."
Yet when many people hear his story, they don't think of him as a hero at all.
His widow, Marybeth, writes in the Washington Post that she's pretty angry about it. In her words:
My anger, however, doesn't come from the direction you might expect. I'm not angry at Art for the risks he took in life, or at the war that took that precious life. Instead, I too often find myself operating at a slow boil, sometimes exasperated and sometimes irate at those who never knew my husband or his colleagues, yet who insist on tarnishing their memories each day.
Because when Art died, he wasn't working for the military. He was working for Blackwater.
Art considered his job with the private security firm that protects US diplomats in Iraq a continuation of his service to this country. He told me that he believed in the job and respected the mission. But somehow, this one word - Blackwater - gets in the way of a lucid, reasoned discussion.
Art first went to work for Blackwater in August 2006 and was on his second deployment with the company when he was killed. When I tell people these facts, they rarely express appreciation for his services. Instead, most suggest that he was crazy to go back. I've had people repeat the ridiculous urban legend that Blackwater instituted martial law in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and ask me whether Art had been a part of that. At a recent social event, someone asked me whether Blackwater was the same company that 'goes around shooting people.' I've heard the news media and even elected officials casually throw around words such as 'cowboy' and 'mercenary' to describe men and women who voluntarily go into harm's way to protect others. Those caricatures are wrong. They might describe someone's antiwar agenda, but they don't describe my husband or his colleagues.
Marybeth Laguna says her husband wanted to use his military skills to serve his country again. That's why he joined Blackwater in Iraq, flying the company's famed "Little Bird" helicopters for the State Department's security detail. As she puts it,
My husband and his fellow contractors answered a call. Art didn't do it for the money. He wanted to contribute in any way possible so that his kids and grandkids could continue to enjoy the American dream. He wanted to test himself and give back to his country using the training he'd received throughout his life.
Just like soldiers, security contractors based in Iraq face daily threats to their lives. Rather than demonizing these men and women, we should be thanking them for the essential service they provide. Whether they are working for Blackwater or directly for the US military, they are all risking their lives to work for the United States. And they deserve our respect.
And our gratitude.
'Overseas, a lot of traffic accidents are happening because the guys aren't used to the characteristics of the vehicles,'" says Jim Sierawski, Blackwater Vice President for Training.