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September 23, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BLACKWATER UPDATE...The Iraqi government confirmed today that it has videotape of the Blackwater shooting incident from last week:

Iraqi investigators have a videotape that shows Blackwater USA guards opened fire against civilians without provocation in an incident last week in which 11 people died, a senior Iraqi official said Saturday. He said the case had been referred to the Iraqi judiciary.

.... Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said Iraqi authorities had completed an investigation into Thursday's shooting in Nisoor Square in western Baghdad and concluded that Blackwater guards were responsible for the deaths.

He told The Associated Press that the conclusion was based on witness statements as well as videotape shot by cameras at the nearby headquarters of the national police command.

How conclusive is this videotape? On the one hand, apparently conclusive enough that Iraqi officials are claiming they plan to bring criminal charges against the Blackwater shooters. On the other hand, perhaps in a sign that compromise is on the way, at least one Iraqi spokesman is already making conciliatory noises:

"If we expel this company immediately there will be a security vacuum that will demand pulling some troops off the battlefield," Tahseen Sheikhly, a civilian spokesman for the seven-month-old offensive against militants in Baghdad and surrounding areas. "This will create a security imbalance in securing Baghdad."

David DeVoss who spent six months in Iraq working for USAID, describes his first encounter with a Blackwater guard: "The look was designed to inspire dread, but it was carried to such cartoonish extremes that the man resembled Yosemite Sam more than the Terminator." More here.

Kevin Drum 1:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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Comments

There are some real high-speed guys in the private security area. But as the Yosemite Sam comment illustrates, far too many are not properly trained, experienced, vetted, etc. Which gives us incidents like this.

Want more fun? Look at the results of using civilian contract instructors, especially in the military intelligence arena.

So it goes when free markets take over military affairs.

Posted by: bubba on September 23, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, Kevin.

How about a post on the study that found that nursing homes that are bought by private investment groups are killing people?

Apparently the free market has determined that old people need to die.

Posted by: Disputo on September 23, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

My nephew asked me if blackwater were like dementors in the Harry Potter series. I think it is a pretty apt analogy.

Posted by: tomboy on September 23, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

I find the apparent decision of Condi & Bush to ignore the order of the Iraqi government, which strenuously wants to evict Blackwater, to be astonishingly foolish. If there were anyone so foolish left on the planet who beleived that the US actually gave a hoot about what the Iraqi people think, this action will likely disabuse them of that notion.

Posted by: bigTom on September 23, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Blackwater is finally beginning to get some mainstream media attention, but it deserves a lot more attention. Read the Wikipedia article, which includes this sentence: “The [April 19, 2006, The Nation] article discussed the removal of the word ‘armoured’ from already-signed contracts, and other allegations of wrongdoing.”

Read the The Nation article at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060508/scahill

Here are the three paragraphs in the The Nation article:

All this was shady enough--but the real danger for Helvenston and the others lay in Blackwater's decision to cut corners to make even more money. The original contract between Blackwater/Regency and ESS, obtained by The Nation, recognized that "the current threat in the Iraqi theater of operations" would remain "consistent and dangerous," and called for a minimum of three men in each vehicle on security missions "with a minimum of two armored vehicles to support ESS movements." [Emphasis added.]

But on March 12, 2004, Blackwater and Regency signed a subcontract, which specified security provisions identical to the original except for one word: "armored." Blackwater deleted it from the contract.

"When they took that word 'armored' out, Blackwater was able to save $1.5 million in not buying armored vehicles, which they could then put in their pocket," says attorney Miles. "These men were told that they'd be operating in armored vehicles. Had they been, I sincerely believe that they'd be alive today. They were killed by insurgents literally walking up and shooting them with small-arms fire. This was not a roadside bomb, it was not any other explosive device. It was merely small-arms fire, which could have been repelled by armored vehicles."

So what became of Helvenston's mom's lawsuit? You can find that out in a City Barbs story of July 13, 2007 at http://www.citybarbs.com/?p=123

And also take a look at this Norfolk Virginian-Pilot story of May 20, 2007:

http://content.hamptonroads.com/story.cfm?story=125049&ran=114114&tref=po

Sorry, this blog has a limit of one hyperlink per comment, so you'll have to copy and paste the other three URLs into your browser yourself.

Posted by: Joel Rubinstein on September 23, 2007 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

From the LA Times article:
"To avoid congestion, we bounced over traffic medians, ran through a police checkpoint and used an offramp to enter the Doura Expressway, which rings eastern and southern Baghdad. As we sped down the wrong side of the freeway, a DynCorp guard tethered to the helicopter warned approaching traffic to get out of the way by throwing plastic water bottles at cars.

The return trip was much the same, save for the Iraqi one of our cars clipped when he walked into the road from between two parked cars.

Back inside the Green Zone, I told several colleagues about not stopping after hitting a pedestrian and then asked if I should report DynCorp's behavior to the U.S. Embassy. "You got back safely, didn't you?" came the response. "So what's your problem?"

-----

This is going to turn into a really big deal I think. You KNOW that the overwhelming majority of people that live there and experience something like this (possibly every day) are really, really, pissed off. I bet when we do leave-oh, and we WILL leave there, I'm even more sure of that now-there will probably will be a lot of celebrating. More celebration than when we "liberated" them.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on September 23, 2007 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Where is this "battlefield" I keep hearing About. Could someone please show it to me on a map?

Posted by: smiley on September 23, 2007 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

"...mercenaries are undisciplined, cowardly, and without any loyalty..."

While I personally have nothing against the concept of mercenaries (and indeed in certain circumstances I would use them as they are fungible by their nature) it's very hard to control them.

Posted by: MNPundit on September 23, 2007 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Our government has no valid reason to hire mercenaries and all of the presidential candidates should vow to end the use of all mercenaries anywhere and to extradict all mercenaries who have committed crimes in Iraq or other countries. This is truly shameful behavior on the part of the Bush Administration.

Posted by: freelunch on September 23, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Will Hil Leave GI's in Mesopotamia 'Till 2016?

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=am.hIsAsiOXk&refer=us

"Clinton said she couldn't promise to bring all U.S. troops home in her first term if she is elected president.

``I don't know what I'm going to inherit,'' Clinton said on ABC. ``I don't know and neither do any of us know what will be the situation in the region.''

She also condemned an advertisement by the anti-war group MoveOn.org that Republicans and other critics said questioned the integrity of General David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq"

Posted by: simon on September 23, 2007 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

We going to get to see this video? Or are we going to be just looking at Joseph McCarthy shaking sheets of paper in his hand?

Posted by: harry on September 23, 2007 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

"If we expel this company immediately there will be a security vacuum that will demand pulling some troops off the battlefield," Tahseen Sheikhly, a civilian spokesman for the seven-month-old offensive against militants in Baghdad and surrounding areas. "This will create a security imbalance in securing Baghdad."

Which struggling faction right now would benefit greatly from having a "security imbalance" in Baghdad? Which faction pretty much runs much of the Interior Ministry? Which one has made the most noise about getting private security firms out of Iraq?

Posted by: harry on September 23, 2007 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

The tape shows private contractors firing on "poor, helpless civilans, eh?"

You mean the poor helpless civilians that plant ieds, the same child Iraqis that are trained to set up car bombs, the same elderly female Iraqis that carry glocks and rifles under there burkas?

At this point, you have to expect that most of the Iraqis are in some way culpable, and most cannot be trusted. Hence, most regular Americans aren't going to shed too many tears when American private contractors attempt to preemptively protect themselves from a bunch of "innocent" Iraqi civilians. Of course, the liberals who consistently disparate our troops and our flag are the only ones making a big deal about this.

Posted by: egbert on September 23, 2007 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

We going to get to see this video? Or are we going to be just looking at Joseph McCarthy shaking sheets of paper in his hand?

Right, because the evidence so far has been so slim. Look, there is a 5% chance the Wastewater crowd is on the up and up and this incident, unlike so many that proceeded it, shows them to be entirely in the right. But slinging around accusations that this is some kind of McCarthyite slander is just stupid. First, because right-wing nuts like you have been defending McCarthy for decades and second because the evidence has almost always been that things in Iraq are worse than apologists like you keep claiming.

Posted by: heavy on September 23, 2007 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

There are a lot of histrionics about private security. Do I think it would be better if soldiers were available for the jobs done by Blackwater? Sure. Do I think Blackwater provides a necessary function? Also sure.

The real arguments seem to boil down to (1) too expensive and (2) excessive force.

Well, anyone who has been to Iraq will tell you that you risk your life. What is that worth? Expense is in the eye of the beholder. I have been twice this year and won't go back, even for that "excessive wage", under any circumstances.

There have undoubtedly been incidents of excessive force, there always will be. It is also undoubtedly the case that Iraqi civilians have attacked our vehicles. Often. With bombs, bullets, and RPGS. And then lied about it. Believe me.

So: investigate the incidents, hold those accountable if they need to be accountable, but don't forget it is a war zone, not downtown Roanoke. Those convoys do get attacked, by Iraqi civilians, and the guards respond with deadly force. I know I would, and I don't even know how to shoot. It is your life and the lives of others, on the line.

Posted by: searp on September 23, 2007 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Counter Insurgency Films Presents: Operation Singing Sword

Posted by: The Black Knight on September 23, 2007 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

"Ah, Kevin. The tape shows private contractors firing on "poor, helpless civilans, eh?"

Ah, egbert. Is there no subject safe from your stupidity? Of course not, you heartless slug -- um, I mean, expert on Middle Eastern Affairs.

Posted by: Kenji on September 23, 2007 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK
…anyone who has been to Iraq will tell you that you risk your life. …convoys do get attacked, by Iraqi civilians, and the guards respond with deadly force …searp at 4:08 PM
Anyone, even those who haven't been to Iraq, know that the US is an invading and occupying power. Anyone, even those who aren't in Iraq, know that if you give guns and immunity to a bunch of trigger happy mercs, you are asking for trouble. This is not an incident of security guards being attacked; it is another incident of murder by the occupiers of Iraq.

Security should be in the hands of the trained military and even then there have been horrific crimes against the Iraqi people by American soldiers. Security should not be delegated to loser sociopaths with guns, big paychecks, and a license to kill.

It remains true that no mercenary has been held accountable in either an American or Iraqi court not matter what the deed or the evidence.

Posted by: Mike on September 23, 2007 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

"She (Hillary) also condemned an advertisement by the anti-war group MoveOn.org that Republicans and other critics said questioned the integrity of General David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq." Posted by:simon
===
No, she did not. She was asked if she condemned the ad, and she replied, very Clintonesqe, "I do not condone the ad...," then she changed the subject and Stephy never followed up.


Posted by: majarosh on September 23, 2007 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

The American SS.

Posted by: angryspittle on September 23, 2007 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

This article about the 'security contractors' from the New Republic, is from 2004 but just as useful today.
Cowboy Up

Posted by: Ya Know... on September 23, 2007 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

We going to get to see this video? Or are we going to be just looking at Joseph McCarthy shaking sheets of paper in his hand?

Yeah, Kevin, get your lazy ass along to the Iraqi PM and ask for that video because harry isn't going to stand for any slurs against hombres armados (the John Sayles one) without proof. Proof I tell you; identifiable slugs entering identifiable civilians and make sure it's in color! Do you really think you can get away with these baseless accusations?

Posted by: TJM on September 23, 2007 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

Look, there is a 5% chance the Wastewater crowd is on the up and up and this incident, unlike so many that proceeded it, shows them to be entirely in the right.

Cue the psychos who whine repetitively about the "viciousness" of calling these people "wastewater"...but can't seem to find the energy to be similarly concerned about the civilians Blackwater is allegedly murdering with zero provocation. You can't make that kind of pathology up...it's been going on here all week.

Posted by: shortstop on September 23, 2007 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

Now, what WOULD be interesting here is the Iraqis decide that there's a murder case to answer, that they have the evidence and that the death penalty could be the outcome.

Would love to see monkeyboy bleat about his support for Iraqi democracy and the rule of law then...

Posted by: ally on September 23, 2007 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, Kevin, get your lazy ass along to the Iraqi PM and ask for that video because harry isn't going to stand for any slurs against hombres armados (the John Sayles one) without proof. Proof I tell you; identifiable slugs entering identifiable civilians and make sure it's in color! Do you really think you can get away with these baseless accusations?

Yeah, "proof." What a weird concept.

Posted by: harry on September 23, 2007 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

"Yeah, 'proof.' What a weird concept."

Dear heart, the silliness of asking Kevin to procure and display that video was what TJM was referring to. Do try to keep up, won't you?

Posted by: PaulB on September 23, 2007 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

I find the apparent decision of Condi & Bush to ignore the order of the Iraqi government, which strenuously wants to evict Blackwater, to be astonishingly foolish.

Agreed. If Maliki plays it right, he can become the Iraqi De Gaulle.

What losers Condi and Smirky are.

Posted by: Bob M on September 23, 2007 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

"The look was designed to inspire dread, but it was carried to such cartoonish extremes that the man resembled Yosemite Sam more than the Terminator."

And is there a difference between the Terminator and Yosemite Sam when it comes to cartoonish extremes? Or to be more precise, isn't the the Terminator more cartoonishly extreme?

Posted by: Ross Best on September 23, 2007 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

"If we expel this company immediately there will be a security vacuum that will demand pulling some troops off the battlefield,"

Yeah, just think how awful that would be. Without Blackwater, the vacuum may be filled by reckless people who will fire unprovoked on civilians.

Posted by: Seitz on September 23, 2007 at 7:37 PM | PERMALINK

A prediction:

There will come a day when the the US will regret the formation of quasi-military armed forces that were naively assumed to always act in the interests of the US.

Posted by: Neal on September 23, 2007 at 8:09 PM | PERMALINK

"The look was designed to inspire dread, but it was carried to such cartoonish extremes that the man resembled Yosemite Sam more than the Terminator."

Guys like that are all the same: they have an unrealistic idea of how cowardly everybody else is, and an unrealistic idea of how brave they are compared to everyone else. So they think things like tough looks make a big impression when they don't. I remember a Marine officer looked at me just like that when I visited a friend on a Marine base. I was surprised because the guy started talking loudly all of a sudden, but I wasn't impressed with the man: my first thought was something like, "Well, the Marines have to listen to you..."

Posted by: Swan on September 23, 2007 at 8:57 PM | PERMALINK

But as the Yosemite Sam comment illustrates, far too many are not properly trained, experienced, vetted, etc. Which gives us incidents like this.

It's just because they have that dorky Republican personality, and they think they're pulling off some kind of a trick. The guy who does this isn't the dork-exception- he's the rule.

Posted by: Swan on September 23, 2007 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

Security should be in the hands of the trained military and even then there have been horrific crimes against the Iraqi people by American soldiers. Security should not be delegated to loser sociopaths with guns, big paychecks, and a license to kill.

Ok, I think it's pretty well known that these guys are all, or virtually all, ex-military, but I have to be the "training solves everything" debunker here once again, and point out that we don't know yet whether this incident was a murder or not yet, and crimes can be and are certainly committed by individuals with vaunted-of "training."

Posted by: Swan on September 23, 2007 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK

and I like to know something else.

Why IS the US national press on this issue:

E.g. where's Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, who pushed his colleagues to hold numerous hearings on rampant corruption in the oil sector when it was managed by Saddam and the UN?

Why isn't Senator Coleman asking the administration what the 20 "paid American consultants" are doing who currently oversee the ministry of oil -- where corruption is reported to be "pervasive"?

In June, DoD reported that as much as 70 percent of the fuel processed at Iraq's key refinery was sold on the black market. Although neither the Iraqis or Americans know precisely how much oil is being produced, some 100-300,000 barrels of oil per day go unaccounted for.

So where's Norm and the rest of the Congress who raised such a ruckus before about illicit payments and black market sales of Iraqi oil?

"This is world-class racketeering that we're in charge of advising," Rep. Ackerman aptly observed.

The Bush administrations MADE a huge deal of "oil for Food" corruption - Bush's own appointed people can't keep track of Iraq oil - 70%.

The press is completey mum on deal.

Posted by: Me_ again on September 23, 2007 at 9:26 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently the don't stop for civilians you run over thing has been going on for quite some time. I remember meeting an electrical contractor returning from Iraq, on a plane. This was spring of 04, just as the infamous Falujah incident was happening. He claims that driving really fast, and never stopping for anything was standard practice. He said his convey from Baghdad to Kuwait ran over at least eight civians on that single trip! So the misbehavior was started very early, and with it any chance to do nation building rather than occupation of a hostile population.

Posted by: bigTom on September 23, 2007 at 9:28 PM | PERMALINK

Wait, wait. Eggie, are you saying the majority of Iraqi civilians are involved in the 'insurgency' against us? Isn't that a sign, we should get out? I thought it was just a few Dead enders?

Posted by: Northzax on September 23, 2007 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

Northzax, I believe Egbert is saying that by indiscriminately murdering as many Iraqis as possible, we can liberate Iraq. Only when every Iraqi is dead will democracy truly flourish there. Those who protest that they want to live--well, they just hate freedom.

Posted by: shortstop on September 23, 2007 at 9:59 PM | PERMALINK

'...your willingness to presume the Iraqis are telling the truth is proof of..."

selective attention, selective perception and selective retention.

The statement "Iraqi investigators have a videotape that shows Blackwater USA guards opened fire against civilians WITHOUT PROVOCATION in an incident last week in which 11 people died, a senior Iraqi official said Saturday. He said the case had been REFERRED to the Iraqi judiciary." is a translation of statements MADE BY AN UNNAMED Iraqi official. The 2nd sentence was later contradicted by the Iraq Minister for National Security when he said they expected the results of the investigation would be referred to the Iraqi court system in a couple of days, where it will be assigned to an Investigative Judge who will conduct his own investigation and decide if charges will be filed, and if so, who will be charged and what any charges will be.
There's more of interest, though my guess is few are interested in the rest of the story.

Posted by: majarosh on September 23, 2007 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

Blackwater is that dirty little secret of modern warfare that we, the general public, shouldn't know about nor need to know about. We clamor for fewer and fewer casualties, leaner standing armies, a full-volunteer army, yet we demand that the these guys still have to maintain all the other work loads.

I don't wish it to appear that i believe blackwater is above and beyond the law or the reach of Congress, it's just that I balance this out with the thought that I don't need to know EVERY last detail about how this or any other war campaign is fulfilled.

Posted by: ny patriot on September 24, 2007 at 12:12 AM | PERMALINK

Don't be naive. Blackwater will pay an enormous fine (either openly or under the table), then promise to kill fewer civilians in the future and the incident will be forgotten. At worst Blackwater will find a scapegoat and send him back home to a cushy desk job.
And of course everything will be paid for by the US govenment.

Posted by: Bruce rosner on September 24, 2007 at 1:07 AM | PERMALINK

I'm blown away about the SURPRISE being put forward by many in our media and the public in general about the fact that there is a HUGE presence of paid contractors in Iraq...for several years as we routinely listened in to AAR (especially when they had a line-up worthy of listening to) we heard various hosts speak of this...SO WHY IS THIS BEING TREATED AS NEW NEWS????? Is it just the ADD that is prevalent in AMERICA???

Posted by: Dancer on September 24, 2007 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK


harry: Yeah, "proof." What a weird concept.


who needs proof when you have the one-percent doctrine?

Posted by: mr. irony on September 24, 2007 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

I would just like to say that I think nearly every police officer and security guard I have encountered in the last six years is under the impression that civil rights laws have been repealed and that most would do in America what Blackwater guards are doing in Iraq if only it weren't for all those pesky liberal courts. I say that as someone who was threatened with summary execution when I rolled down my window and politely asked a police official around the White House if it was okay for me to turn around and go the other way in order to avoid stopped traffic for a White House entourage. Yeah, I don't drive around the White House anymore. If I ever serve on a jury asked to judge the reasonableness of the reaction of police officers, believe me, I'll be thinking about that guy.

Posted by: Barbara on September 24, 2007 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

Looks like Erik Prince calkled in his chits. Once does not contribute so much money to the RNC and not expect something in return and here it is. There are other security companies that could provide personnel to fill the security vacumn. Heck, the U.S. military could do it too. But Blackwater's "connections" and maybe a few family jewels secrets it knows keeps them from getting what it honestly deserves.

U.S. soldiers are dying for a puppet government. Remember that.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on September 24, 2007 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

"At this point, you have to expect that most of the Iraqis are in some way culpable, and most cannot be trusted."

So, what are we still doing in Iraq, Egbert? If most of the Iraqis can't be trusted, it sounds like utter futility to stay there.

Posted by: TR on September 24, 2007 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

In other bright news from Iraq, today, a rumor is circulating that Gaul did find Democracy in sometime around the late 1700s - There could be light in the tunnel, yet.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 24, 2007 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

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